Patreon Topic 21: Fylgja v Spirit Animals

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From Leslie comes this topic:

“”Fylgja v. ‘Spirit Animals’ and Why Fylgja is probably the word you mean.”

I’m going to break this up into two parts, the first covering what Fylgja and spirit animals are, and then “Why Fylgja is probably the word you mean.”

Fylgja translates as “to accompany”, “to follow” or “follower”. Fylgjur is its plural form. Huginn’s Heathen Hof has a good overview of what a fylgja in Part 1 and Part 2. A fylgja is a vaettr, a spirit, who follows. Boiled down to its essence, that is it. A lot of authors and scholars interpret the fylgja as a fetch or wraith, and while that interpretation has some merit, I think that is hardly the whole of it.

To start, as with anything regarding ancient Heathen sources for our religions, it has to be noted that most of our source material in the written works comes from a small spread of time. We also need to note that, generally, what we have is not from Heathens, is not in any way a religious text, and is transmitted by Christians. Archaeology has very little to say regarding fylgjur from what I have read and seen. However, it is clear from what we have that the ancient Heathens would have seen their world alive with Gods, their Ancestors, and vaettir.

It is also legitimate that our own perspectives may not line up exactly with what scholars purport the ancient Heathens believed. A lot of academic work with regard to ancient Heathen sources of knowledge, when it is not directly sourced in the materials themselves, is educated speculation. Again, given the sources we have are relatively few and widespread literacy is a relatively recent phenomenon historically, most information would have been given orally. As many of the everyday and religious items were fashioned from organic materials, namely wood, it is little wonder we have little to no evidence of cult objects.

All of this is to say that I follow a very expanded idea of fylgja that may be at odds with stricter interpretations of what they are. What some authors and scholars refer to in the role of fylgja, namely as fetch or wraith, I look more to the idea of vörðr, guardian. So, how do I understand fylgjur?

A fylgja is a vaettr that accompanies you, that has some kind of vested interest in you whether that be to teach you something, to guide you, to guard you for a time, or to observe you. They may or may not be attached to your familial line. This is where I make the distinction here of fylgja and kinfylgja. A fylgja or kinfylgja can take a variety of forms, human and non-human.

Why would a vaettr accompany you if not because it is part of, embodies, or is a member of your family? A given vaettr might be attached to a God or Goddess that you worship. It might be part of your family, eg a vaettr that adopted your family or has had dealings with them. It might be a vaettr interested in watching your potential in a given profession or work grow. It might be a vaettr who wants to make new ties not unlike the ones traditionally associated with fylgjur. It is important to keep in mind that you are likely the first person in a very long time to pay any attention at all to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, so there’s any number of possible reasons for a given Being to come forward.

Contrast the view of what a fylgja is and does with that of a spirit animal. When folks use the term spirit animal they are usually saying something to effect of “That is my spirit animal.” I understand the term as it used today to mean that this is an animal that has claimed a person or has been assigned to them after a vision quest or some kind of deep spiritual work. I generally only see it seriously referenced regarding certain Native American tribes. This Metis-Anishinaabe breaks down why spirit animal is appropriative in non-Native contexts in this post. Given the connotations of Native American cultures and how one comes into relationship with a spirit animal I do not use the term and encourage others to not use the term.

Given that fylgja has its own cultural connections with Heathenry I would rather not see it become the next internet catch-all when what people are generally talking about is something completely unnatached to Heathenry. When folks use the term spirit animal in a spiritual context vs a meme one, they are usually talking about some kind of tutelary spirit, a spirit they have a deep affinity for, or a spirit they identify with/as on a soul level.

Instead of fylgja or spirit animal, I would far rather have folks who are not Heathen or Heathen-adjacent use tutelary spirit or spirit guide to mean a spirit that instructs or guides them. For those spirits they have a deep affinity for, perhaps a beloved spirit. For those who may identify with/as on a soul level to another spirit, perhaps the term kin spirit may work.

What I hope to do is clear up the waters of terminology rather than muddy them. I see part of that muddying is made when folks use terms that do not apply to them. To put it plainly, if you are not Native American then there are other words to use rather than spirit animal. If you are not Heathen there are other words to use in place of fylgja/fylgjur.

For Kuro

It feels like we just met

Seventeen years ago

I insisted I did not like cats

You didn’t seem to care about that

You wrapped your paws around my neck

Buried your face in mine

You became my boy that day

 

You were quiet at first, often hiding

Your brother, Aoshi, the loud one, the outgoing one

You so gentle and soft, quiet and affectionate

When he died all that changed

 

You were there, we made sure of it

You cuddled with him a bit, not quite knowing

Soon it dawned when we went home

and he stayed behind

 

You understood soon enough

Then something amazing happened

You came out, were loud, and demanded attention

You had taken your brother’s place

 

My sweet boy

You crawled into laps and curled into chests

You whined loud enough to wake the dead at mealtime

You purred so loud I could feel it when we cuddled

 

Weeks have passed since we saw each other

This damn isolation

You recognized me on the screen when I called

Purred and nuzzled the screen

 

Your Mom called me

You had taken a turn for the worst

Despite good food, medicine, and care

Nothing else could be done

 

I ran home, up the stairs

So small, so tired

You stared at me with your beautiful green eyes

You held on for me

 

O my sweet boy

I held you and I know you knew

I heard your gasping meow

I felt your sweet, slow heart

 

It ripped at me to see you like this

Yet blessed too

You held on for me

So I could hold you

 

We prayed, all of us, your Mom and I

To Freyja, to Bast, to Sekhmet, to Hela

That your death was as painless as could be

That it was quick

That your brother walked with you at the end

That you know we love you

 

An hour later the call came through

You were dead, your pain at an end

My eyes filled with tears

My heart with sorrow, prayers answered

 

I ache that this was the first time I saw you

In eight weeks

But blessed to see you

Before you had to go

 

Rest well my sweet boy

Rest and know we hear you

Walk with your brother and Ancestors

Visit us when you can

I love you, Kuro

Patreon Topic 1: Deathwalking Part 2

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 here on my Patreon.

This post continues from the groundwork laid in Part 1 here.

Caring for the Soul Matrix

Some parts of the soul matrix may take care of themselves upon death, especially those tied into the lyke, the body itself, such as the litr (health/vivacity), and önd (sacred breath/sacred energy). Others need coaxing, direction, and help moving on. Now, because the whole soul matrix does not immediately dissolve on the person’s death, each soul part will need respect due to it, and depending on the person, each part of the soul matrix may need to be cared for. For instance, the lyke deserves respect as it is still a part of the person’s soul, so unceremoniously chucking the Dead’s body in a hole disrespects the person’s physical soul part and the rest of the soul matrix as well. Remembering a person well honors a person’s various soul parts, including their munr (memory).

Deathwalking, then, is a process involving the whole of a Being, and to keep this as organized as possible I will be going through the Soul Matrix with ways to do deathwalking with each part of it. Before trying to deathwalk any part of a person’s soul matrix, especially that of a spirit worker or magic worker, do your divination and talk with their community members, especially if they have apprentices, students, and/or living Elders for how best to proceed. It may be they need to do work post-mortem and rather than helping you are interfering.

This is a basic overview of the soul matrix that I work with and my general suggestions on deathwalking with it. I will not be writing much on the particulars of how to do a deathwalk ritual here as I covered that in detail in the last post.

The Lyke

This is the physical body.
Giving the lyke good care after death, eg ritual washing and grooming, dressing and so on, and then a good burial, cremation, or other form of caring for the Dead’s body post-mortem is part of deathwalking. It is among the first steps for both the Dead and those the Dead leave behind in fully reckoning with a death. Hopefully deathwalking steps take place much earlier, eg making final arrangements with a living will, power of attorney, funeral home, and so on. However, most of us find ourselves having to make decisions rather quickly and decisively about how our Dead are to be cared for, so be sure to talk with those you can now and develop plans/outlines for cases where you will be the next of kin or called on to help with final arrangements.

Even here, how a person dies has immediate impact on how their body may be cared for in a ritual context. If their body is damaged beyond repair or if they died of a communicable disease then certain options for viewing or funerals may be entirely closed to you. If a Heathen person died in combat then addressing Odin, Freyja, and the valkyries is sensible when making prayers for the Dead. If a person drowned or died at sea, then prayers should be made for the Dead to Ægir and Rán. If the person died and willed their body to be used for science or medical needs, then prayers and offerings to Eir, Mengloth, and our other Gods associated with healing, medicine, and so on would be excellent. If a person died of illness then prayers to Hela are appropriate; likewise, anytime one worships or works with the Dead and/or Ancestors one should make prayers and offerings to Her.

The Hamr

The hamr is the spiritual double of a person. It could be analogized to the astral body in general occultism.

I find deathwalking with the hamr is usually simple in terms of spirit work. If someone was particularly hamramr, that is, shape-strong, a shapeshifter, they may have one or many forms which were special to them. Giving the hamr good care after death is making prayers and offerings to the shapes their hamr may have taken. I find the hamr tends to hang around at least for awhile after death. As most people’s hamr is just a human shape, then making offerings of food, water, and other things they enjoyed in life are good ways of honoring them and inviting their hamr to move on from their body. If a given person was hamramr then making appropriate offerings to the shape their hamr took may be quite powerful and healing for them. These offerings could be in the form of food, water, and other traditional offerings, and they could also take the form of service offerings. For instance, if a person who died was strongly connected with a raptor then making a donation to a rehabilitation service for them, or for some kind of group that protects them, would be a good offering. Likewise, making prayers and offerings to any Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir that are tied to the Beings whose hamr they had is a good way of caring for the hamr in death.

The Litr

The litr is health and vivacity.

I find that the litr is one part of the soul matrix often extinguished on death. I have yet to encounter an instance where one’s litr outlived the person’s body. Were I to help deathwalk this part of a person’s soul matrix I would likely engage in the activity that brought them the most joy, or that they most dearly wished to do before they died. Deathwalking this soul matrix part is, as I know it, accomplished by those who are with the person as they are dying. Letting go of the litr is, generally, what the body does on death. To cause as little trauma to it and any other soul parts during the dying process, the dying person should be allowed and helped to do what causes them joy, to engage their vivacity one last time. When death comes, encouraging the litr, alongside the ond, and the lyke itself to let go will help the other parts of the soul matrix let go and move on. Simply giving permission, letting the person know that they will be alright, and that their loved ones will be alright, may be all they need. If they are having a hard time accepting death they may need to be walked with spiritually on the Helvegen, the Way to Hel, until they are where they need to be or until a God,Goddess, Ancestor, or powerful spirit comes to collect them. Working with the litr, together with the other soul parts in the rituals mentioned in Part 1 should be a big help here.

The Vili

The will, or the Will, the part of the person’s soul matrix that brings power to action.

I find that the Vili is another part of the soul matrix that goes with them in death. Deathwalking here is especially potent in a similar way to the litr: by helping them come to grips with the understanding that they are dying, they will not put their will to surviving at all costs. Deathwalking engages the vili in embracing death in a way that is accepting of the process before the dying person. Fighting with a person’s vili should be avoided for the same reason that you avoid fighting with their litr: you do not want to needlessly traumatize them or their loved ones. Working with the person on accepting they are dying, and helping them through that process is likely the best way forward for most. Now, if the person was a powerful spirit or magic worker, then they may require more prayers and offerings before they go to help disengage from the lyke and other earthbound soul matrix parts. If the person was a particularly powerful spirit or magic worker then the Vili being especially strong and even present after death would make sense because of the time and development of this in the course of their life. It may even work with other soul parts in a similar way, guiding the hamr to act in certain ways on death. Again, do divination and talk with their community members to see if any work on your part is needed.

The Moðr

The mood and emotional content of the soul matrix.

While you could look at the Moðr as exclusively belonging to the physical body, I also see it tied up with soul parts not tied to the body, namely the Vili, Oðr, Vé, and Goði/Gyðja. If someone dies in a particularly harsh or isolating way, their unresolved anger, grief, and/or other emotions may be enough to keep their spirit in a place. Many hauntings may simply be spots of unresolved Moðr from someone whose soul parts are cycling through the same trauma over and over again. I find that offering a way for that emotion to release can solve the issue. It could be offering the spirit prayers or an offering, and at times it can be just listening to them express themselves. Deathwalking this soul part is letting the dying or Dead person express themselves as fully as they need. It is helping them be as emotionally fulfilled as they can be so they can face the next step of their afterlife.

The Önd

The breath, spiritually akin to chi, ki, or pneuma.

This soul part goes with the person when they die. It is the circulation of spiritual energy, and in my view has ties to all the soul parts while we live. It is part of how we engage with our other soul parts. For instance, someone who works with their önd on a regular basis can engage their óðr in a deeper way because it is done with intent, and the development of skill in doing so.

The Huge

Thought. The way we think, the paradigms of understanding we have, and the worldview we hold.

This soul part goes with the body, generally speaking, unless enough parts of the soul matrix hold together after death. Deathwalking this part of the soul before death is working with the dying person in a sacred way, engaging with the Moðr, and helping the person understand as best they can that they are dying. For a person who has died but has kept their Huge active, this could be as simple as speaking with the Dead at their funeral, inviting Them to join the Ancestors.

A common trope I have heard as both a priest and funeral assistant, one which I get quite angry with, is that funerals are only for the living. No. They are liminal spaces where those who are Dead are mourned, remembered, honored, and invited to join the Ancestors. They are where the living can receive closure, come together in community during loss, and engage with the Dead and one another to grieve and do the right things so the Dead are let go. What does this have to do with Huge?

Sometimes a spirit will stick around if it feels that it needs to stay for the good of a loved one. Final rites, including blesssing the dying, and funerals, allows for the spirit to understand that it no longer needs to stay. That it has, in fact, transitioned from one state of Being to another. This is part of why I advocate for folks to give their prayers orally rather than only in one’s head or heart. Sometimes the act of hearing, the effect of working with one’s önd to communicate a message to a Being who can no longer call on önd as we do, can impart the understanding that a person is Dead. Likewise, the making of prayers, the giving of offerings, lighting of candles, and reykr (burning sacred herbs to cleanse/consecrate/bless) for the Dead. Not only are these made on Their behalf, it is also for us as a bridge to communicate and/or work with Them. Working with the spirits of Mugwort, for instance, we ask the Mugwort to bring Her cleansing and Her ability to communicate to bear so we can bring cleansing to an area, place, or Being. Deathwalking with the spirit’s soul matrix in ceremony not only cleanses and brings the lyke to a state that the Dead person may pass on, it can help bring each soul part to grips with its reality and aid in the disollution of the soul parts that need to go, and the passing on of the soul matrix that remains.

The Munr

The Memory. This is the living memories of the person, and, in my view, those memories that live on after we die.

The Henry Adam Bellows translation of the Hávamál, Stanzas 77-78 illustrate this well:

77. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
But a noble name | will never die,
If good renown one gets.

78. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now | that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

Deathwalking with a person’s Munr is listening to their stories before they die, if you can. After death, it is passing on the stories that best capture their life, the stories that enable them to live long after the Earth has reclaimed them. To a certain degree our Munr are interconnected. We do not determine history on our own, and likewise, our memories cannot be made in isolation. Remembering the Dead, then, is also tied to community. Deathwalking can occur with a person’s Munr at their funeral and a post-funeral feast, and it can occur in the private sharing of amusing anecdotes, songs, and stories of a person’s life.

The Goði/Gyðja

The Highest Self.

In my understanding this is one of the soul parts that will certainly stay around long after a person is dead. The Chieftain that guided the person, that they may or may not have been striving to be, may not respond to the dead person’s name after death because it is moved on from that. Deathwalking the Goði/Gyðja is done by doing well by the soul matrix as a whole. It is engaging the dying person well, if you have the ability to, and when a person is dead, to do the vigil, rites, prayers, and offerings well by them.

The Fylgja/Fylgjur

The Follower, or Followers.

The Fylgja holds an interesting place in Heathenry. On the one hand most folks equate it to the fetch, and yet, it appears in a number of different ways. As I understand it fylgja, or fylgjur, are part of the soul matrix because, much like our hamingja is built in community so our spiritual Elders, allies, friends, and acquaintances are made in community. Since I understand it in this fashion I can only touch on how I might work with the Fylgja-as-fetch: namely, by making prayers, offerings, and thanks for its work. While I follow a similar line of thought with regards to fylgjur-as-spirits-in-community the relationship held between the Dead and the Fylgja/Fylgjur is different. This is where obligation comes in, and understanding the person needing the deathwalking as clearly as possible. Where there are questions this is where being a good diviner and having good diviners as backup or to reference if you are too close to the Dead is a good idea.

My view is that deathwalking is done with the Fylgja/Fylgjur rather than to the Fylgja/Fylgjur. These are spirits with independent existence from any one person’s soul matrix. When I am dying part of my deathwalk will be to be sure that the vaettir with whom I am aligned, have worshiped and worked with ove the years are done well by. This means prayers, offerings, and speaking with Them as I can, or having another do it in my stead. This may also mean carrying over certain relationships with my family, Kindred, apprentices, students, and so on. For instance, my Runes will go to my apprentice that I brought into Runework. He can then pray to Them, work with Them, honor Them, and build different ties in this form that continue our relationship. When a person is dying or has died, a simple form of deathwalking with the Fylgja/Fylgjur would be to ask Them to be present at the vigil, the funeral, and so on. To help inform the passing on of the Dead’s Munr. To help honor well the Lyke and other soul parts of the person, and to be involved.

The Kinfylgja/Kinfylgjur

My view of the Kinyfylgja/Kinfylgjur is along similar lines to the Fylgja/Fylgjur. Treating these spirits well, inviting Them to the deathwalking, the vigil, funeral, and so on is important not only because of the ties of friendship, initiation, and/or community. Kinfylgja/Kinfylgjur are what the word says on the tin: They are spirits, Followers, that are Kin. Relatives. This may refer to Ancestors, to animals or plants especially tied to a person’s family, or to initiated lineage. Treating Them with respect and bringing Them into a person’s deathwalk is not only respectful, They may be actively angry with a person or the family if excluded.

The Megin

Personal might/power.

Often tied to honor, this idea of Megin is the power one has and the ability to put one’s power to use. Each person holds Megin, but how they are able to express it, use it, and work with it differs person to person. It can refer to your ability to do something, guided by the Vili. It can refer to the pull you have socially. Power expressess itself in a number of ways, some overt, eg the ability to move weight, and others subtle, eg the ability to move people to emotion. It can also refer to spiritual power employed in magic. A person’s Megin may not go away when a person dies. The effects a given person has or can exert on a community post-mortem can be quite a testament to the ongoing effects, or ongoing work, their Megin is engaged in.

Given the ways Megin can find expression there are only so many ways I can write on deathwalking and Megin. A person might invest quite a lot of Megin in a given craft or items, such as Runes, ritual tools, and items that have deep connections with certain Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. They might also invest a lot of Megin in the running and operations of a community, though this will intersect with Hamingja as well. Deathwalking Megin, then, is how we work with a person’s might or power and the things it is invested in, in a healthy way. In the case of a community, it is continuing the community’s operation in a good, healthy way, or, if it is not going to outlive this person, to dissolve it with grace. In the case of their things, it is making sure anything they want to be passed on is done so in a sacred manner. For those that are not meant to be passed on, they may wish to take them to the grave or pyre. Burial with one’s prized possessions is an ancient practice, so knowing the person, especially having a list from them in their will or other documents is something I recommend everyone put some thought into. Not only will it help your transition, but having a will and other documents in order to wrap up your estate and disposition will make putting your affairs, including your soul matrix, into as easy an order as possible for everyone you leave behind. You can put in writing how you want any items attached to your soul matrix taken care of, including who they go and how, and make the job of anyone doing your execution of your will and/or any deathwalking that much easier.

The Hamingja

Group luck/power.

Where Megin was power built on one’s own, Hamginja is built in community. It is what we inherit from our forebears, and affects the shape of our Urðr. It is built within the relationships we build well, harmed by the relationships we neglect, and can grow quite strong if we do the work necessary for it to. Each oath kept, each work done that helps the community adds to one’s own and others’ interwoven hamingja.

Deathwalking this part of the soul matrix is honoring the ties they hold and clearing debts a person may have to those in their community. It is atoning as best they can for wrongs done, and acknowledging the things they need to do before they die. It is also, crucially, celebrating the things their life has allowed Hamingja to do and what they have done with their Hamingja. Deathwalking a person’s Hamingja is calling on their community to carry the Dead’s Hamingja well, since this soul part will live on long after death. If a person is dying I would include a part where the person intentionally acknowledges their Hamingja as taking place in and residing not only in themselves, but the loved ones and communities they were part of in life. If they were initiated, in addition to calling on their Kinfylgja, reminding them that live on in the lineage they are part of. Post-mortem deathwalking rites should remind the community and reinforce their mutual responsibility in carrying the Dead’s contribution to their hamingja forward.

The Vé

The sacred place, or, in terms of the soul matrix, a person’s sense of, sensitivity to, and aptitude in working with the sacred.

This part is deathwalked in the rites performed, the sacred objects treated well, and the person’s involvement in the rites. Whether you are doing a deathwalking with someone who is dying or someone who is Dead, the way to involve the spirit is to give them sections where they themselves can take part. Giving a section of a funeral or memorial rite where the Dead is given space to speak can be powerful not only for the attendees, it can be equally so for the Dead.

Crucially for deathwalkers, if a person’s sacred places were violated while they were dying or after they die, deathwalking them can also mean righting wrongs here. Disposing of sacred items in a good and sacred way can avoid a lot of heartache and gives closure to the Dead. Encouraging families who suddenly now have to handle a lot of sacred materials can be a challenge, particularly if the family has no connection or interest in the religion of the Dead. Depending on how acrimonious the relationship was, a deathwalker may need to do some corrective work, or at the least hear the grievances of the Dead whose Vé has been violated.

Good ways of taking care of a person’s Vé would involve taking good care of any shrines or holy places they tended, and taking care of the items that were part of their cultus. As in the section on Megin, this may be figuring out what goes where, or how. It can also be who takes care of what items, or in the case where there are traditions around a dead person’s spiritual items being disassembled or passed on, to do everything one can to honor that. Community connections will be critical here, particularly if a deathwalker has been called in from the outside to provide support. If you do not have the ability to handle the sacred items, either because of your own taboos or those of the religion, then your job is to find the people who can and be sure things proceed well.

The Oðr

Frenzy. The ability of a person to enter into altered states of consciousness, and sacred states.

Deathwalking the Oðr of a dying person could be helping them achieve their altered state as they are dying after anything they have needed to say has been said. Uniting their soul matrix through song or guided meditation, engaging in ritual, calling on their Holy Powers, and so on can help them transition from life to death much cleaner than they might otherwise. It can also give the soul parts places to go (eg Hugr concentrating on the next step), things to do (eg Oðr engaging them fully in the process of dying), and ways to pass on the soul parts that need to be passed on, (eg parts of the Lyke if they are donating, passsing on Hamingja and/or Megin to their community members, and expresssing gifts of Oðr such as a final poem, song, or workings).

Your average person may not need much in the way of direct deathwalking help, since this soul part is not worked with by most people and generally leaves on death. If the person was a poet, worked a lot with altered states, and/or was a spiritual specialist, then directly deathwalking this soul part in ritual may be needed. Again, depending on the particular taboos a person could be under, someone who is in their community, an Elder, co-religionist, or student may need to be present if not running things to be sure things are done correctly.

Deathwalking this portion of a person after death can be quite dangerous -I put the word frenzy as the first thing because it may well be the thing you encounter with a person whose Oðr is still around after their death. If they were particularly potent in working with the soul part you may need to do some serious spiritual work, especially if there is no one available to do the work from within their religious group. This can include contacting and securing the help of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir the person was tied to in life and is after death. This can also include disassembling, destroying, or reducing harm from objects or tools tied to their Oðr in life, and workings they did while alive that now need to stop. It may also be simply giving space in ritual for their frenzy to be expressed, to be heard, and/or for that gift to be passed on. As with most parts of deathwalking this is going to need to take a willingness on the part of the deathwalker to be careful, to do their due diligence in speaking with the dying or dead person’s community, and doing follow up to be sure the right rituals and actions are done.

The Örlög

One’s personal thread in the tapestry of Creation.

Deathwalking this soul part is tied up in the same rites of remembrance and care mentioned in this and the previous post. Honoring a person’s life and death is part of deathwalking the Örlög. Deathwork can take the form of helping the dying person to die well. Deathwalking this soul part for the Dead to be being sure the Dead is well-remembered and the rituals around their death and final disposition of their soul matrix, and anything they may have left behind or wanted to pass on, is done well.

The Urðr

The tapestry of Creation.

As with Örlög, this soul part is tied up in the rites of remembrance and care. Whereas Örlög is one’s personal thread in the tapestry, Urðr is the place where that thread is and the way this thread fits into the overall tapestry. Each person affects the tapestry differently over the course of their lives, and acknowledging their place in things, as with Örlög. Unlike Örlög, which is about each person’s thread, Urðr is the way each thread interweaves with each other. So, while deathwalking this soul part can be done in similar ways to the Örlög, emphasizing the person’s impact on and relationships within a given community during any vigil, ritual, or memorial is important. Understanding ourselves as being bound up in this great tapestry is a comfort to many. It may help a deathwalker to acknowledge a person’s place in Urðr, and that their time to find their place in that tapestry is at an end for this life.

I have covered deathwalking about as exhaustively as I can without specific questions or scenarios to explore, so if you want me to dig into this further sign up my Patreon for the Uruz, Thurisaz, or above level here on my Patreon.

Patreon Topic: Deathwalking Part 1

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What is deathwalking? When my patron introduced the topic I was directed to Kelly Harrel, and found this article on her site.

Deathwalking, from my perspective, is making sure that a being leaving (or that has left) form has closure on the life that came before leaving, that the being is escorted to the threshold of What Comes Next, is at peace with going beyond that threshold into the next destiny, and leaving the being in the place to do just that on its own terms.

Deathwalking, in short, is spiritual hospice.

First, I want to acknowledge that there is the possibility of a variety of afterlives in Norse Heathenry. When thinking about dying and the Old Norse worldview most folks default to Valhalla/Valhöll. However, there is also Helheim, where most of our Dead live. There is also Rán and Ægir’s hall for the Dead who die at sea, Fólkvangr with Freyja who chooses the first half of the slain warriors, and the burial mound which we may or may not understand as being connected with/to Helheim. When we are talking about deathwalking how we die in the Heathen worldview does matter because it can depend on who you end up with. The way of dying has an impact on how we engage in a deathwalking.

Second, I want to acknowledge that there is a soul matrix within Heathenry, and it is seen as having as few as four parts or as many as seventeen depending on which soul matrix you work with. I work with the seventeen part soul matrix model. This matters insofar as deathwalking is concerned because some parts of the soul matrix go away upon death of the lich (physical body) and others are shared between people, such as with the hamingja. If deathwalking is needed for certain soul parts you may need to do certain rites and/or to be a spiritual specialist to do this.

As we dig into deathwalking we need to dig into death and dying itself. These require questions that are often hard or uncomfortable, but are questions which we each need to think critically about. What is a good death? At what point do you cease treatment for an illness or injury? What is your treshold of tolerance for pain? What are you unwilling to go through? Do you have family members and/or loved ones who will carry out your wishes in the face of you dying? Do you have spiritual specialists or volunteers to help you through the dying and death process, eg priest, shaman, vaettirverkr, death midwife, etc.?

If we are going to approach the idea of deathwalking as spiritual hospice then we need to take a look at how we wish to approach the end of life both ideally and practically. If this is hard for you to think on your own then I suggest looking for a local Death Cafe and reaching out to the Polytheist Death Guild and other Pagans, especially locals, to talk with on the subject. It is important to know that getting help when someone is approaching death or dies is a good thing. If you are close to the dying/Dead you will likely need it.

While going into all the factors you will want to consider for your own death is beyond the scope of this post, some things to think on for care after you are dead are: Are there vé (sacred space), ceremonial objects, etc that you want passed on or need special disposing/cleaning/cleansing/offering of? If so, who can you trust to do those things? Are there donations that you want your clothing, goods, unclaimed ceremonial objects, etc to go to? What kinds of ceremonies do you want for your soul matrix? What kind of disposition would you like for your body after you die? Do you want a vé set up at your final place of rest? Do you want specific things placed with you in the grave/urn/mound/tree roots/etc.? Do you want pieces of your body given to certain causes, eg organ donation? Do you want your bones (such as knucklebones for divination), skin (eg tattoo skin pieces as memento mori) or other body parts to be given to loved ones, Kindredmates, etc.? Again, if you need help to research and answer these questions I recommend the Polytheist Death Guild, Death Cafes, talking to your local funeral homes, and talking with fellow Heathens, polytheists, and Pagans you trust.

With this in mind we can explore deathwalking from a Heathen perspective.

Dying and Deathwalking in Heathenry

On Dying

Death is the end of one life cycle and the beginning of another. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, Heathenry acknowledges several afterlives. Death is not ‘the end’; it is a transition. Where you spend that afterlife with what soul parts, or at least some time in that next life before transitioning in corporeal life, is dependant on how you die.

Dying, then, is not a punishment. It is a consequence of having lived. The concept of ‘an early death’ is an odd one in which everyone’s örlog in the tapestry of urðr is woven according to the length and strength of its own thread. We may have had the the potential for more life if we had woven our örlog different, but death comes when it comes; it is not early or late.

Likewise, when you die where you end up is not a punishment. I say this even for oathbreakers and traitors. Their destination is the Náströnd, to be chewed by Niðögg in the lowest realm of Helheim. They are too polluted by their choices to go anywhere else. This differentiation of punishment vs consequence is actually fairly important. A punishment is “The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence.” and consequence is “A result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant.” Nowhere that I have read in the lore are the Dead punished. Rather, where the Dead end up is a result of the choices that They have made and where They have died.

On Deathwalking

Deathwalking in Heathenry is a multilayered process. Among these layers are the Holy Powers the person worshiped and worked with that the deathwalker will need to make prayers, offerings, and perhaps petition for help, as well as care for the soul matrix of the person who is going through the deathwalk. Since most of us are going to be walking the Hel-road, the road that leads to Helheim, and since most of our Ancestors are there, having a good working relationship with Hela now is something I firmly suggest.

Ideally the person helping the dying or the Dead is a vaettirverkr (spirits worker), but since we are so few and spread out one may not be readily available. For anyone taking on this work a daily regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and actively warding one’s home is a necessity. By grounding I mean letting go of excess spiritual energy, taking in that which you need, and otherwise being solid in the energy you yourself have. By centering I mean to center yourself, your soul matrix, in the goal you have at hand for the day and/or before doing spiritual work. by shielding I mean doing personal warding work, usually done with magic, the Runevaettir, and other vaettir with whom you are aligned, so that your soul matrix is kept safe. Warding your home is much the same, save you are working with your húsvaettir as well as the other components of personal warding work. The reason for all of this work on the daily is so you are clean to do the work, including offerings, rites, and so on that may be needed as you go through the deathwalk with the dying or Dead.

Knowing your limits is a big part of doing this work effectively, and both the deathwalker and the dying/Dead need a support system. For the dying this means that the deathwalker needs to have people they can talk with, reach out to, divine with/for them, and all the other support that one may need. Likewise, a support network for the dying person will help them to process their grief and other emotions, wrap up affairs, and ideally to do any other needed work before the person dies. For the Dead part of that support system is, generally, the Dead’s Ancestors, and the Gods and vaettir they worshiped and worked with before death, which is why offering cultus to those Beings is part of a deathwalker’s job.

I refer here back to Harrell’s post:

Deathwalkers don’t just see the dead. They feel their grief, their pain (physical, emotional, psychological), they somatically experience their deaths. This is the point that training in counseling technique and having various modalities of healing under your belt make a huge difference between someone who intuitively is aware of the dead, and someone who walks effectively and healthily among them–and back. No matter how much affinity you have with the dead, I’ve never met anyone who just knew how to deal with the emotional and psychological baggage it stirs, or how to deal with resistant dead. Again I say, find a mentor.

Deathwalking, wherever we are beginning from, whether pre-mort or post-mortem, starts with making prayers and offerings to the person’s Gods, as well as their Ancestors and vaettir. The reinforcement of right relationship with the Holy Powers the person holds dear can give comfort to the dying and smooth the transition from life to death for the Dead. It also starts off the person doing the deathwalking and any rites associated with it the best foot forward, especially if, before this, the deathwalker has never had occasion to worship and/or work with this person’s Holy Powers.

If the person one is doing deathwalking for is still alive, then focusing on the person is of the utmost importance. It is hard to overemphasize what a liminal point the person is approaching. Deaths have the power to bring families and communities together or see them shattered. Approached and engaged in well they can be deeply binding to the person and the people they are leaving, producing a good and beautiful death that instructs those they leave behind how to live well. A person who dies poorly, or whose passing is not respected or treated with care, may make wounds on the Dead and they in turn on the living.

These are the situations deathwalkers who are asked for help post-mortem may have to grapple with. Having a firm grasp on what you are there to do is necesssary. A deathwalker is there to tend to the Dead and Their needs, and whom you serve in such a capacity are the God(s) of the Dead, the Dead person, and perhaps through these connections you may serve the Dead’s family/kindred/tribe/community. First and foremost are the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead person. Being clear about this with any next-of-kin and holding this line starts things off on the right foot because this is what their support networks are there for. Likewise, this is what your own support networks are there for. If a family member is unsure about what to do with a given item, such as a Rune set the Dead left behind without instruction, this is where you as the deathwalker can tap into your own support network and ask for divination rather than shouldering everything yourself. You will have more than enough work to do with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead. If you can, delegating will save you a lot of energy better oriented towards deathwalking. Having community contacts that the family, kindred, etc can contact regularly through this process of grief and celebration can be of deep help because it takes having to do that heavy lifting off of your shoulders and puts it with someone who can devote their capacity to that.

So how to do this spiritual work? I will give here some examples for someone who might be or has been called to do deathwalking. Keep in mind during all this, as part of your own spiritual support you should keep up on your regular cultus as much as you can to keep your connection with your Holy Powers strong, and for your own wellbeing. There are several books on the subject of spiritual safety and wellbeing; the one I recommend here being Spiritual Protection: A Safety Manual for Energy Workers, Healers, and Psychics by Sophie Reicher.

Examples to Draw From

A Preparation Rite Sample for a Deathwalker:

This is an example of a cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding ritual.

Begin in as quiet a space as you can. Ideally, this is done in front of your vé, but I do this regularly in the shower before heading off to work as well. If you find a given spiritual technique I have listed here does not work for you try to change the sensory work before switching up the technique. It may be that, for instance, a tree meditation does not work for you visually but may work if you incorporate feeling roots connect to you, bark coming over your skin, and so on. To this end I will list two senses for each technique. Feel free to add music, scents from incense or burnt herbs, and so on as you feel called to. The music I work with most often for preparation rites are Wardruna, Heilung, Danheim, Forndom, and Paleowolf.

Preparatory Prayer

I begin each session with a simple prayer to the Holy Powers I worship and who help me in the preparation rite. Since I work with Runes in each part of this I include Runatyr and the Runevaettir specifically.

“Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Hail to my Gods and Goddessses! Hail to my Disir! Hail to my Väter! Hail to my Ergi! Hail to my Ancestors all! Hail to my fylgja! Hail to my kinfylgja! Hail to my vörðr! Hail to the vaettir with whom I am aligned! Hail to my landvaettir!” At the end I add the specific names of the places where I have good relationships with the landvaettir, eg my home, work, and so on.

Cleansing with Breath

Take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs as much as you can, and exhaling. Repeat this up to six or nine times, each breath filling your lungs and exhaling until they are empty, or nearly so. The point is not to hit a trance state, but to feel refreshed. You are taking in önd, letting it circulate, and expelling pollution, negative feelings, any dross from the day, and so on. You can combine this with some ice on the tongue and feeling the cleansing cold on your tongue as you breathe, asking Ice Itself to help you cleanse. If you are sensitive to cold, you could work with a sacred burning herb or incense, calling on the Being to help you.

I tend to start this by working with the Rune Ansuz here. I call on Ansuz first, galdr Ansuz, and then do the breathing technique. Do not forget to make offerings to the Runevaettir at least each week if you do this work with Them.

Cleansing with Fire

Have a candle dedicated to this work; I find seven day candles are really good, as are small chime ones if I need to be on-the-go. If you are staying in a hotel room that does not allow burnables then using a LED candle will work fine, since electricity is a form of Fire.

If this is the first time lighting the candle, ask Fire to consecrate the candle in addition to the usual Fire Prayer I make, which is:

“Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor!”

After this take the candle clockwise and circle it above your head three times clockwise, and then, if it is safe to (which is also why I like using seven-day candles), do the same around your waist, and placing the candle on the floor, rotate both feet one after the other sunwise around the candle. I then make a prayer of thanks as above, using “Thank you!” instead of “Hail!”

If you have had or anticipate an especially rough or draining day combining these two cleansing techniques together is a powerful way to cleanse. Likewise to combining these with a shower or bath.

Grounding with Jörð

This is a powerful connective practice with the Earthmother, and may itself be a ritual on its own.

Begin with a prayer to the Earthmother:

“Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing me to ground into You, Goddess beneath my feet, and all around me! Hail Jörð!”

Taking your hands and putting them to the ground/Earth, or as close as you can comfortably reach, breath in deep, and on the exhale give a long intonation of the word Miðgarðr. Do this two more times. As you do each intonation, feel the Earthmother take your excess energy, or if you are needing it, giving you the energy you need, and coming into balance within yourself, and with Miðgarðr Itself. A good audio cue for me if I need music during this is something with a lot of deep bass but no vocals. Scent-wise I tend to like those that remind me of a forest, so if you are doing this during a shower or bath having herbs, scents and/or soaps that are oriented towards each stage is a good idea. Once this grounding is complete thank Jörð and continue with the preparation rite.

Grounding as a Tree

By the nature of grounding, let alone existing, we are doing this on/within Jörð, so I make the same prayer as above.

With this grounding work you are tapping into Her, Miðgarðr Itself, and also reaching back to our Ancestors Askr and Embla, whose original forms was that of trees. I would make prayers to Them, and any trees you might work with for this grounding. If visualizing this works better, do this. If feeling the process works better, engage with this way of grounding. Remember to breathe deep and comfortably throughout this work.

Begin by starting with your feet on up through your waist. Your feet, your legs, and your pelvis become roots reaching deep into the ground. Your waist and through to your chest become the trunk of your tree body. Your head, your arms become branches, leaves or needles grow at their ends. Each breath bringing nutrients up into you, nourish you, and your give off breath and nutrients yourself. Then, when you feel a sense of fullness, or visualize yourself in balance with the Earth, the leaves and branches become your head and arms, the trunk becomes your chest and waist, the roots comes up into your feet, legs, and pelvis. The bark becomes skin, the leaves hair and skin. You are fully human in body and hamr. You are grounded.

Centering in the Self

Centering is the act of focusing the will and attention on a given goal. What I mean when I write centering in the self is that our focus is on internal balance, wellbeing, wholeness. To be ready to do the next thing, whatever that is. I generally do deep breathing while doing internal checks to see if I feel energetically off, needing adjustment, and run through my checklist of things I need to do, such as “Did I take my medication?” and “Did I get enough to eat/drink/sleep?” Without a directed focus I work with centering as taking internal inventory on if my needs are met, and from there, to focus on shielding and going about the rest of my day. If visualizing does not work well, deep breaths and verbally talking each point to oneself, and responding yes or no in an even tone can give a good assessment of where one is. This can also give one a good sense if one needs to go back and do more or different forms of cleansing or grounding, or if one is ready for the rest of the preparation rite.

Centering for Work

Working with deep breathing and using visualization and/or verbalizing on next steps, go over the work you will be engaging in. Go over it in general or as much detail as you need. This is a good place to pray for guidance if you have not done so and will need it. Especially for a deathwalking, this is the place where you will want to think about the first steps you will take when going into or setting up the sacred space for the deathwalk. However, do not let yourself be overwhelmed. This is not a spot for anxiety to take over, nor is it one for daydreaming. This is a place where you concretely lay down the first steps you will take once the preparation rite is over and you are ready to do work.

If I have not already done after grounding so I will usually engage working with Gebo here, thanking It and then galdring It, so that I have Gebo firmly in mind with all my work from here on out.

Making Shields

I do not generally make shields as part of my regular preparation rites unless there is a specific need. I felt that I would be remiss if I did not at least go over it though. Shields are a generic term in the Pagan and occult communities for spiritual protection. It can be as complex as a series of integrated visualized shields with a number of qualities (eg this one connected to the Earth, that one to Fire, both connected to with permission) together with charms, amulets, and the like, or as simple as visualizing a shield from Star Trek or Star Wars extending around you. They are highly malleable to the needs of the person. I find integrating as many sensations into a given shield as I can produces the best effects, so if you can integrate all five senses into a shield I would do so.

I do not recommend you ‘anchor’ a shield in yoursself. That is, do not have a shield draw its power from yourself if you can avoid it. If something is trying to get through to you, whether an angry spirit or emotionally charged backlash from a dying person or their family, it can be even more draining to you than just the blow by itself. Working with the landvaettir of your home, your Ancestors, and/or the vaettir of various stones, herbs, charms, and so on helps mitigate your personal energy’s involvement and the mitigates the drain on your energy stores. In part this is why charms, amulets, and other stores of protective magic are so useful. You’re not being tapped to initially empower the object, or to keep it empowered.

To make a shield we will start with a concept and build from there. So, for a general shield, imagine the shape of an egg or sphere, extending down into the Earth as well as above the body, and away from it by at least 2-3 feet. Visualize what it looks like and provide auditory cues by imagining for when it is simply ‘up’ or when it is ‘struck’ or dealing with interference. Perhaps integrating a smell of ozone or burning wire. A bitter taste. The sensation of crawling skin or feeling of ‘no’ when someone/something is trying to get through them. When this is done ‘set’ the shield by tracing its outline around yourself with your hands so no one sensation is fully in charge of the shield. It also keeps it out of the realm of only being something in the head; more of the soul matrix is involved this way.

Cleansing Shields

Once shields are up they will, at the least, accrue background gunk if they aren’t being actively hit by spiritual debris. Cleansing them regularly is as necessary as cleansing ourselves. Like our skin of our lyke, shields are the protection for our hamr (spiritual double/astral body) and the soul matrix in general from external attack/distraction/accidents/mistakes. You can use similar methods as cleanse shields as you cleanse yourself. I often do, and working with Fire as I describe above will likely cleanse everything on you. Sometimes, though, you have to consciously take a shield down to get it fully cleansed. This is doing this work in a warded and/or sacred space is so important: if you need to take down your shields to do the work you have the ability to do so.

Other ways of cleansing shields would be to work with salt and water. Ask Earth and Water Itself, and/or Jörð, Rán and Ægir to bless the salt and water respectively. The salt, being from the Earth, grounds out the energy of the shield and the waters cleanse it. Ground and cleanse the shield you want to work on by flicking the mixture away from yourself.

At this point I may work with the Rune Kenaz given Its affiliation with torches, illumination, and boundaries.

Reinforcing Shields

Once shields are put together and can be shown to stand up to pressure, sometimes you will find they need reinforcing. This is where good relationships with various vaettir really helps. Your Ancestors have a vested interest in seeing you live, and working with Them may help the use of heavier or more involved shielding work. However, doing deathwalking is rather powerful and potentially rough work, so heavier/more involved shields may be necessary depending on the situation you are walking into. So what does reinforcing shields look like? Sometimes, going with the example of the basic Star Trek/Star Wars shield, you work to put more power into it. This might mean asking another vaettir for help in reinforcing the shield, or putting up another shield to complement the one(s) you already have. The point is not to walk around armored to the teeth at all times (unless for some reason you need that) but to have adequate shielding to help mitigate the situations you are going to find yourself in.

A Preparation Rite for the Dying

Respect the wishes of a dying person. If they wish to be alone and face death alone, let them. Likewise, if they want the room full of people and for the deathwalk work to be done after they pass, accept this, and do it. Your job is to help them have a good death however they wish to face it. Sometimes just letting someone know that you are there and that together with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you will help them get where they need to go may be comfort enough for them to accept death. This rite is written with the understanding that the person dying has asked for help preparing to die.

The outline of the rite is similar to the daily preparation you should be engaging in as above. The big difference is that this will likely be the last time the person does this alive, and you may need to do all the physical ritual actions for them: cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding. This is preparation for their deathwalk. Be sure to have all the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that they worship and work with in this rite well before you walk into their room. I have written this rite a bit more vague because time may be of the essence, and far better to have a general outline than an exacting ritual so you can modify according to the needs of the dying and the requirements of their Holy Powers, religion, community, etc.

If at any point the person starts to die stop what you are doing and help them through this passage. This is why you walk in as prepared as you can be. Know the tools you have brought. Know your role. Does this person have a current DNR (Do Not Rescuscitate form) or other such vital documents stating they want to die in the case of a medical emergency or are they trying to hold out for a certain person or people to be there? Is there family you should be calling for them that they want present? Prayers for them as they die? Offerings made as they die or after they die? Is there a vigil to be held, and if so, who will hold it, are they prepared to do it, and if no one is available and a vigil is a requirement of their religion are you ready, willing, and able to hold that vigil? If not you, do you have someone available to you and okayed by the dying/their loved ones for a vigil if one is required? All things to think about well ahead of time, having as much available for the service of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and person dying and their family/loved ones.

This is also where a working knowledge of the person’s Holy Powers is quite useful and powerful. If a person was a lifelong devotee to Odin and the person dying wishes to meet with Him in Valhöll then marking the person over the heart with a blade could be a poignant request to Him. At this point you could ask Him, the Valkyries, and the person’s Ancestors in Valhöll to look to them and if Odin wishes the person to join Him, to claim them. Putting a weapon in their hand so they carry it with them into death is also a powerful thing to do for such a devotee. If a person had a lifelong devotion to Frey, a shaft of wheat, an antler, or a boar representation would be a good thing for them to hold, and carry with them through the death rite.

Make any cleansing or prayers you need to in the space before beginning with the dying person. Ideally you would have had time well before now to do your own preparations. If time is short, do the work as well as you can alongside the dying. Sometimes we do not get ideal situations. Cleansing prior to beginning the Preparatory Rite, even if you use the same kind of language, prepares the space for the Holy Powers and clears way if the person does begin to die, making the place holy and ready for any kind of work needed. If there is music that they find comforting or would like a playlist to play during each part, put it on.

Cleansing the Space

Asperge the area with water and salt, or cleanse the area with fire or smoke, making the appropriate prayers with each Being you work with in this initial cleansing. If a vé needs to be set up it would be good to set it up now.

Prepatory Prayer

Face the vé with the dying:

“Hail to the Gods of <N>! Hail to the Goddesses of <N>! Hail to the Ancestors! Hail to the vaettir that called <N> friend! Hail to the landvaettir of <N’s> home! We ask you to be here with us, and help us in this rite to prepare <N> for <pronoun> death.”

Cleansing

Make appropriate prayers to the Beings who will help cleanse the dying, for instance saying: “Hail <Being>! Thank you for cleansing us, for preparing us for the work ahead with our Holy Powers!” If the person cannot catch enough breath to do the breathing work here, breathe for them and allow them to be as comfortable as possible. If you work with breath to do cleansing, and they are comfortable with it, passing your cleansed breath over them may be a powerful and connective way of cleansing them. Depending on if they are on oxygen you may not be allowed an open flame; a LED candle will work fine for this, and aromatherapy oils, or a tisane or even tea will work in place of incense.

Grounding

Depending on the person they may not be in a state to ground using your usual methods. In this case having a bowl of dirt, salt, crystals, or the like on hand for the person to put their hands into/onto is a good idea. If these are not available or feasible to have, or if they want the connection, work with them in grounding with yourself using one of the above methods, or working alongside them with the bowl of Earth-oriented items.

Begin with: “Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing uss to ground into You, Goddess beneath our feet, and all around us! Hail Jörð!” Place your hands into the bowl, encouraging them to ground, or hand-in-hand, help the person ground.

Centering

Breathe deeply three times, encouraging them to do so as well if they are able, and say:

“We are here to prepare ourselves for the last walk: the deathwalk. We face the road before us together, celebrating life as we approach/cross the threshold of death.”

Shielding

The shielding portion may best be represented for the dying with objects that they can take with them into death, even if they are small representations of the items, such as tokens of a shield, sword, spear, antler, or are Runes, charms, amulets, and talismans.

“We ward ourselves and this space, knowing we are protected and safe as we walk this road together.”

Thanks and Offering

Any Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir called upon for this rite or those to come are thanked for Their Presence and offered to here. Thanking each God, Goddess, Ancestor, and the vaettir you know by name is a good thing to do, as is something to the effect of “Hail to the Holy Powers, named and unnamed, who are with us!” and make an offering of water, sacred herbs such as mugwort, or alcohol.

A Note on Prayers, Offerings, and Rites

Prayers used in this rite, and really any one you are doing, can be as complex and involving ritual actions as is required. The prayers here are supposed to be springboards rather than hard and fast rules. Having a copy of Cesiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer, Galina Krasskova’s Modern Guide to Heathenry, Starhawk’s The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, or any of the many devotional books to the Gods that Krasskova, Bibliotecha Alexandrina, Asphodel Press, and others have put out is very useful to have on-hand. If you have trouble coming up with spontaneous prayers or need sources of inspiration for your own, these are good sources to have.

As with prayers, offerings can be quite simple or elaborate as the particular Holy Powers and traditions call for. If all that is available or allowed withing a facility is water, salt, coffee, and the like, then that is far better than nothing. If other offerings are called for post-mortem in such a situation then negotiations with the Holy Powers on the part of the deathwalker may be needed. This can be as simple as a request made in prayer to the Holy Powers, or someone off-site making prayers on behalf of the deathwalker and the dying. To give exhaustive examples would require one, if not several books, and still leave room for more to be said.

The rites many of these aforementioned books describe are good guides for developing rituals that will be useful to deathwalking and a variety of other practices. Again, adapting the rites, but not necesssarily the requirements of those rites, is the responsibility of the deathwalker so that the dying person has a good death and starts off their journey into next World(s) right. Above all else the focus of the deathwalker needs to be in service to the Holy Powers of the dying person and the dying person themselves.

A sample rite for deathwalking the dying:

Engage in the Prepatory Rite

Welcome the God(s) of Dying, Death, and the Dead

If a given person was multitradition it may be on the deathwalker to invite and make offerings to many Gods of Dying, Death, and the Dead. Given this is a Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan post and most folks are not going to die in combat I have made prayers to Hela.

“Hail Hela, Goddess of the Dead! You, Who welcome the Dead into Your ever-abundant Hall! You, Who offer food, drink, and bed to all who enter Your Hall! Hail Lady of Gracious Hospitality! Thank You for opening the way once again between us and the Ancestors. May the gate be open that the guest may be received! May the gate be open that the Ancestors may receive their own! May these offerings be good Gebo for the gifts You have given us! Hail Hela! Ves ðu heil!”

Welcome the Ancestors

It is good to know as many of the dying’s Ancestors as posssible. Knowing the major names of their family lines will help, especially because personally inviting family to tend to their dying relative can be a healing and powerful experience for the Ancestors involved as well as the dying person themselves. Doing this work also shows reciprocity to the family who has helped the person throughout their life, respect for their loved one, and a continuance of the cycle of respect through the initiation of death. Having one’s own Ancestors helping, with one’s powerful Ancestors acting as intermediary and/or helping the work, can lighten the load on a deathwalker and aid the dying in transition so the deathwalker’s focus is on the dying person and the ritual they are engaged in.

“Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ergi (or Þver)! Hail to the lines of <N>! Hail <name of line>! Hail to all the Ancestors of <N>, named and unnamed! We ask you to be here, to bear witness and help <N> to join you, O Ancestors. Help them to walk with Death gently, welcome them warmly, and bring comfort to their family, Kindred/Hearth and/or tribe, and the people who loved them. May they walk the Hel-road well and may you meet them at the gate with open arms. Ves ðu heil!”

Welcome the Vaettir

As with Gods and Ancestors it is good to know as many of the vaettir a person works with as possible for similar reasons as knowing the dying person’s Ancestors. This is a good time to offer thanks and worship to the dying’s vaettir, including their fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr. Fylgja, (one of the many meanings being ‘follower’), as I use the term, is any vaettr the person had a relationship with whether this is tutelage, initiation, guardianship, or friendship. A kinfyglja then is a vaettr related to them in this way via their Ancestors, whether an Ancestor vaettr Itself or a representative of/to Them such as an animal, messenger, and so on. A vörðr (pl varðir) is the guardian vaettr of a person and would have been following the person throughout their life. This is also the time to offer and pray to the vaettir of the place the dying is in. If they are dying in a facility such as a hospital or hospice, then asking the vaettir of the facility to help the staff be helpful, caring, comforting, and professional is good practice.

There are a number of important factors to think of here regarding the landvaettir whether the person is dying at home or not. Among them there is an old practice of speaking with the húsvaettir or and landvaettir, as in the old tradition of ‘telling the bees‘, which is talking with the bees when an event occurs with the family that shares the land with them. A similar process of worship and offerings to the landvaettir of the dying person should be undertaken by the next of kin of the family. This responsibility may fall to the deathwalker if the family is not part of the traditions of the dying or if there is no one beyond the deathwalker to fulfill them. The vaettir the dying person is leaving behind may Themselves be grieving at their passing, and so, the deathwalker may find themselves in the position of soothing entire groups of vaettir. Inviting the dying’s vaettir to witness their death and passsing on may be as healing and comforting for the dying as it is the vaettir they are leaving behind.

“Hail vaettir! Hail to the fylgja and kinfylgja of <N>! Hail to the vörðr/varðir of <N>! Hail vaettir of <N>, named and unnamed! Be with <N>. Help them to walk with Death gently. Help them to cross the threshold to meet their Ancestors. Help guide, guard, and walk with them once more among those who love them. Help them that they may they walk the Hel-road well, and meet you at the road with open arms. May love and fríð bloom between you. Ves ðu heil!”

Blessing and Preparing the Dying

This part will depend on what options are available to you. If fire is not an option then you can opt for water or ice, as available and appropriate. For this blessing and preparing of the dying person it will look a lot like a cleansing. The prayers, howoever, and the work you do with the different elemental powers will be different. The prayers for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir should directly address Them and ask Them for help in the person to die well and with as little pain as possible. These are only example prayers, and they should be changed to reflect a person’s relationship to the Elemental Ancestors, Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

For the Elemental Ancestors

Fire

“Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Bless this person and shine on the road before them. Let all blocks burn away so the road is clear. Let the light of the Ancestors burn bright in the halls before Them, and may They be welcomed warmly to Their fire. Hail Fire! Ves ðu heil!”

Ice

“Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Hail Jökull! Hail Snær! Hail Ýmir! Hail Kári! Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Bless this person and smooth the road before them. Let the road shine bright and roll well beneath them on their way to the Ancestors. Hail Ice! Ves ðu heil!”

For the Gods -A General Prayer

“Hail <G>! Bless <N> and help them to die. Clear away every obstacle and bless their journey that they may travel on Death’s road well, and to take their place in honor and fríð. Ves ðu heil!”

For the Gods -For a Fulltrui

“Hail <G>, Fulltrui of <N> in whose heart You dwell! Be with <N> as they prepare to take the Last Road in this life. Help take the embers of their life and tenderly keep their flame as they journey into Death. Help soothe their hurts and comfort them. Help them cross into the land of their Ancestors, and from there, to journey safely wherever they are to go. Bless and be with them, O <G>! Ves ðu heil!”

Readying the Dying

These words may be spoken over a person when it is clear they are ready to die, or in conscious preparation for the process. Give time so that anything that the person needs to say is heard clearly by those present.

“Hail <N>! The Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and your Kindred/Tribe/people are here. If anything lies between you and fríð, let it be removed. If anything needs to be said, let it be said. If anything needs to be passed on, let it be here.” Allow for whatever needs to be said to be said, whatever needs to be done let it be done.

“The Holy Powers and your Kindred/tribe/people are here for you. You are ready for the next journey.” Songs, poems, and prayers that are holy, ask for a good journey, that are comforting to the dying, are thanks to the Holy Powers, or blesssings for the dying are appropriate here. Have a selection of these songs, poems, and prayers available for folks who get emotional, tongue-tied, or need help to get their words out. Helvegen by Wardruna is a song that seems particlarly appropriate here.

Care for the Dead

Once the person has died, care for their lyke, their physical body, should begin as soon as it can be done. At the least the body should be cleaned with clean cloths and water. The people on hand, as with each stage of this work, should be ready to swap out if they are too tired to continue, the deathwalker included. Caring for the Dead’s body is a powerful physical devotion and can be quite intimate, so even if a deathwalker is ready to do the work of cleaning the Dead, they should step aside in favor of a parent, lover, or child. I would say the only time a spiritual specialist should insist on doing anything described here is if a dedicated Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan is not among those able to care for the dying or Dead according to their tradition(s). Far more important that the desires of the Holy Powers and the dying/Dead are taken care of than to allow an overzealous or uncaring relative, friend, or bystander, to disturb these important rites.

When I first started to write on this patron’s topic I was initially going to just write an 8oo or so word post, and it has gotten far more detailed than I intended. So, I will at least be splitting this up into a two post topic. Again, 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 here on my Patreon.

In Part 2 we will look at how to care for the Soul Matrix in dying and deathwalking.

We Walked Among the Dead

We walked among the Dead today

We walked side by side

Before, beyond, behind, with broom in hand, we walked where They still lie

We came upon the Warrior Dead, those Who held the Line

We came upon the Straw-Death Dead, who peacefully reside

Yet came we upon the Head of Graves, of this great and powerful host

What gave us pause and tears to shed were the youngest that hurt her most

She could not say why she sobbed, only that she must go

And in her face, as I kept pace, I saw the place of fear and woe

It has been said that tears are gifts unto the Dead

Each drop acknowledges the life from the mortal coil it shed

We must each take our rest deep within the Earth

I can only hope I have been an Ancestor of worth

(I began writing this September 8, 2014 and finally found the words to finish it.)

The Old Ancestors’ Ways

You fear

The Old Ancestors’ ways

Steeped in blood? Yes.

If bloody Gods so repelled humanity

The crucifix would be barren

Jericho’s death knell would go unpraised

No Hajj would be taken up

 

No, what rankles

Is the old ways require sacrifice

Giving of oneself

Whatever one can

Oh yes there are the special offerings

First fruits

The best animal

Swords and spears bent, broken

Books full of sacred words

There are the gifts given equal in piety

Cups of water

Sacred herbs

Sweat and blood of oneself

Words offered up in earnest

 

You fear

For we are not most important

We are one among many

Skin, meat, blood, and bone living atop the Dead

Grass and mushrooms

Trees and mosses

Mice and bears

Ants and bees

Chickens and eagles

Fish and algae

Spirits eating spirits

Spirits offering spirits

Spirits thanking spirits

Spirits gifting spirits

Spirits fighting spirits

Spirits loving spirits

 

You fear

The Old Ancestors’ ways are lost

That we are merely grasping

Of course we are grasping!

We were ripped away from our Gods

We were ripped away from our Ancestors

We were ripped away from our spirits

Remember, though: They have been grasping for us, too

We are the living relationship over the wound-chasm

We are the living bridge between the Ancestors and descendants

We are the revivers of the Old Ancestors’ ways

We are the co-builders of the Ancestors’ ways

We are the co-builders of the descendants’ ways

 

Offer up that fear

That you will fail

That you are not enough

That you cannot be worthy

Offer up that fear

What stands between you

The Gods, Ancestors, and spirits

Grasp, grasp firm

For They are there

Revive what you can

Build the rest anew with Them

I Call to You

I call to you

I call to you

I call to you

From the graveyard mound

From the plains of Hel

From the scattered ash

From the holy well

I call to you

I call to you

I call to you

From across the water

From beneath the Earth

From blazing fire

From icy birth

I call to you

I call to you

I call to you

From far away

From elder bones

From sacred places

From my own home

I call to you

I call to you

I call to you

100 Years

100 years since the signing of the Armistice.

100 years of silence and bells.

100 years since the end of World War 1.

The years that made our world what it is. The years that changed so much, that shaped so much. How to approach such a day?

With solemnity. With gratitude. With honoring. With remembering.

To the Warrior and Military Dead who sacrificed all they had to give.

To the Warriors and Military personnel who gave all they had to give.

To the families who never saw their loved ones again.

To the families that did.

To the lands that still bear countless scars of trenches and powder, artillery and countless bullets and the blood of all the Dead.

100 years and so many lives have passed that a great forgetting is coming over the nations.

We honor in remembering. In remembering the Dead live.

78. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now | that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

Havamol, translated by Henry Adam Bellows

Some resources:

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armgageddon

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

BBC Four: The First World War

BBC 26 Part Documentary on World War 1

On Ritual Praxis -Hearth Cultus

In the Beginning to Worship post I asserted that polytheisms the world over are first based in the home. This is referred to as engaging in hearth cultus and are often contrasted with state or communal cultus. The word cultus itself relates to “care, labor, cultivation, culture; worship, reverence”. The root of this word in Proto-Indo European, *kwel-, relates to “revolve, move around; sojourn, dwell”. The hearth cultus and temple cultus, then, are places where culture and religion come around to live and be cultivated, and are among the centers where worship and reverence take place.

Because a hearth cultus forms the heart of polytheist religions, it must have the backing of a solid worldview as to what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are, and what and how these Holy Powers are offered to, the hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, and how the hearth relates to the cosmology of the religion. Sacred space within the home is established through the acts of cleansing a hearth and setting up a vé, a sacred place for the Holy Powers, whether it is on a physical hearth such as a mantle, the only dresser in a dorm room, or in the heart of a home on an altar. Hearth cultus is engaged in the hearth in both formal and informal worship, and in engaging in divination to determine offerings, questions related to development of personal and hearth cultus, and communication between the Holy Powers and the hearth. All come together in the establishment, carrying out of, and passing on of a hearth cultus.

The center of the home has switched a bit for modern America. In the interim since actual hearths and their fires were the center of the home, literally, metaphorically, and spiritually, the role of the hearth has been split in most modern American homes between the living room and the kitchen/dining room. The living room tends to be where we enjoy one another’s company, socialize, engage in festivities like Yule gift-giving or New Year’s celebrations, and play. The kitchen/dining room is where we prepare our daily meals and eat, talk about our day, and spend a good deal of time together as a family. When the table is cleared sometimes we use this space to do homework, pay bills, play boardgames, or engage in feasting festivals like Thanksgiving or one of our harvest holidays, i.e. the Haustblot. It is unlikely any two hearths look alike for cultural/religious reasons or for the physical layout and needs of a given hearth. Still, most share commonalities of function for the hearth and its members.

The Microcosm and the Macrocosm

A given hearth’s sacred space is both its own space and a reflection of how a hearth relates to its cosmology. This is why a firm understanding of worldview and sacred stories is needed for any polytheist’s development, let alone any cultus. How we relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits of our cosmologies are important questions because it forms the core of who we are and why we do what we do. The worldview of the hearth is how the hearth is formed to begin with, how the members conduct themselves within the hearth, and how the vé of a hearth are made and maintained.

In setting up a hearth some questions need to be answered. Many of these questions were asked back in the post On Ritual Praxis -Beginning to Worship and serve as guides going forward.

The first question of any hearth is: What is a hearth’s place cosmologically, both in terms of representation of the larger cosmos and in terms of on-the-ground worship, reverence, and life for those who gather around it? How do members of a hearth relate to Fire Itself? How do the members of a hearth relate to Gods of the hearth? All of these are powerful questions, as each is intimately related to the kind of place the hearth itself occupies in the heart of a given home.

What Holy Powers are worshiped, revered, and called to in a hearth and how its cultus is shaped depends on how these questions are answered:

What are the Holy Powers and how do we relate to Them? Are there certain directions that are sacred to a given Holy Power, and if so, what are they? What Holy Powers belong in or to the hearth vé? How does the religion relate to Fire and Holy Powers of Fire? Are there established ways to light Sacred Fires within the religion? Are there Holy Powers that should not occupy the same spaces or be close to one another? Should some Holy Powers occupy certain places in a hearth not on the vé at the heart of a hearth, but in some other place such as above the stove, near the front door, near a source of running water, etc.? Are there specific ways each family member relates to the hearth and its keeping?

How the hearth and any vé besides the hearth itself are made and maintained depends on these:

What are the vé or equivalent sacred spaces in the religion? Are there traditional methods in existing sources as to how they are erected, or will new traditions around constructing one need to be made? Does the making of a vé differ whether it is an altar, shrine, hearthfire, and/or mantle? What are the right ways to treat the places where vé are kept? What offerings are good for making in vé? If a vé is at the heart of a hearth, such as above a fireplace or stove, or in the living room or kitchen, does it hold a special place for the family and in the culture/religion of the hearth? If so, what role does a given hearth member take on in relation to the vé?

These are how my own hearth answers these questions.

What a Hearth Is

The hearth is the heart of a family, or writ larger, a Kindred, tribe, or other similarly organized community group. It is where cleansing and purification begins, whether through Fire Itself or through the lives of sacred herbs such as Großmutter Una. It is where sacrifice takes place such as through the offering of Grandmother Mugwort or other burnt offerings, offerings of food which are consumed by the hearth fire or made outside, or where sacrifices and/or tools to make sacrifices are made sacred for their work.

The hearth is placed in an enclosure of Earth, whether it is outside in my family’s sacred grove firepit or in my Kindred main meeting home in a fireplace. The lighting of the Fire brings to mind the sparks that melted Nifelheim, and so, made our lives possible by allowing Ymir and Auðhumla to move about. The lighting of the Fire is also one made in honor of our Ancestors. Once kindled, the hearthfire is the boundless energy of Fire given bounds by Ice, in this case the entropy that occurs as heat and light is given off in the burning of fuel, and contained by Earth in which the Fire is housed and whose fuel Fire burns. Water results from the Ice melted and pushes to the surface of the burning log/Tree, and wisps of smoke from the log and any offered herbs continue the sacred burning of Fire Itself and Air from the smoke of the log and/or herbs. Each Fire is related to Muspelheim and each log to every tree, so we engage in the cycle of Fire that burns the Earth from which we come so that heat and light can warm us and shine on us, take in our offerings, and take up our prayers to the Holy Powers, including Fire Itself and each individual Firevaettr that comes to rest in our hearth.

So, each hearth made and each hearthfire lit is a living recreation of the Creation Story. Each hearthfire lit is itself connected with the First Fire and is a vaettr, a spirit, unto Itself. Each log burned is itself an offering of the Earth and we give offerings to Fire, Earth, and every other element involved in its lighting. In the midst of all this, a hearthfire is also a signal of cleansed, holy space to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and an invitation for all of us to come closer.

Personal and Sacred

Hearth cults are diverse, whether due to personal relationships a hearth has with its Holy Powers, the land one lives on, or any number of personal factors. A hearth cultus for a lone college student living on campus will look utterly different from that of a family on several acres of land. This diversity should be embraced.

Having been on both sides of this, restrictions can abound for college students that don’t exist for folks in a home. A prohibition against candles will mean that, instead of turning to a lighter or matches, one will probably turn to LED candles to represent the glow of a hearthfire. There is nothing inherently wrong in this; after all, electricity is a form of Fire. Some folks live in homes where size restrictions means that at most LED or tea lights will be the only sources of fire beyond, perhaps, the stove. Whatever the location of a hearth’s vé, the place will need to be undisturbed by animals and respected by those who will be in its presence. If the vé needs to be temporary, only pulled out when actual ritual is going on, then its holding place should be one held in sacred regard.

What matters for a vé is not the size of it, but that it is a place of good and sacred contact between a Heathen and their Gods. Even if the container for one’s hearthfire is a small tin, containing only an image of the Holy Power(s), a tea light, some matches and a small bowl for offerings, this will be enough so long as the Holy Powers are pleased and the cultus can be carried out with reverence. When I first became a Pagan I had a vial with five salt crystals to represent the Five Elements in my rituals. My altars grew from these small beginnings into the altars over time seen here, here and here. My mobile vé for conventions tends to be my collection of prayer cards, an offering vessel, and maybe a few representations of the Holy Powers otherwise. What matters it that you have the means to cleanse the vé, make some kind of offering, and have a container for the vé itself. This is where the map of lore meets the territory of being for Heathens. We bring forward as much as we can, learn as much as we can, and it is here, in hearth cultus, where we put all of this into lived relationship with our Holy Powers.

Making a Hearth

Cosmology, including what directions are sacred and why, what Beings related to the hearth, Fire, etc., need to be known in order for a hearth to become established. A hearth is the culmination of the macro and the micro of a cosmology, the welcoming in of Holy Powers, and establishment of sacred space. Without understanding why it is important to establish a hearth, what establishing a hearth itself means, or the importance of cosmology, myth, and how we relate to the Holy Powers, especially Fire Itself in the creation of a hearth, there is no structure for establishing a hearth nor how to do it. Without these bones there is no point to a hearth, no sacred direction to place it or space one may make it. Without the foundation there is no point to making a hearth. Without meaning behind it, then, there is no hearth.

A hearth is the central sacred space of a home.  For many of us, having a physical hearth is an impossibility.  So how do we bring in the hearth for hearth cultus without a fireplace?  Candles are one way, whether they are burnable or LED.

Are there traditional methods we can see in how to erect a hearth? We can look at how the ancient cultures Heathens erected their homes, and what information remains to us from how their own hearths were established. Most of the information useful to this goal will not be blatantly stated. Given that most of what is available to us in lore is relevant to rulers, not the average ancient Norse, Anglo-Saxon, etc, and given the sources are mostly for skalds and poets to read aloud or for instruction, much of the establishment of modern hearth culture will need to be derived from what we can find for the hints at mindset and worldview in the sources, and from there our own intuition and interactions with the Holy Powers.  A simple example is the centrality of the hearth from lore and archaeology. What remains to us is acknowledgement that the path of the Sun was sacred, and so East is a good candidate for a vé to face or be placed in.

As with a great many things, where lore and archaeology tell us little or hint at things, modern Heathens will need to make our best guesses, do divination, and be willing to correct ourselves when new information rises.  Likewise, the practical needs of any given space will need to be taken into account as well.  Even though the East is a good candidate for a vé to face in, my family’s Gods’ altar stands in the North before the only window in the room.  This table has the best space so our Gods’ representations and offerings are not crowding one another and best fits in front of the window.

Since we do not own the home we are living in and our altars are all upstairs, our vé hold primary places for us in the family, namely our bedrooms.  Were we to be living on our own I imagine the different vé we worship at would be spread over the home.  The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we hold the closest cultus to might be in a central vé, such as above a literal hearth on a mantle, or on an altar in the center of the living room.  The making of a vé does differ, as a literal hearth at the center of our home would invite variations of ritual that our current set up does not.  If our vé were on a mantle we might not have an altar cloth, or if we did it might be made of very different materials such as pelts/fur and/or heavier cloths.  Our current Gods’ vé is adorned with different colored cotton cloths marking the different seasons.  Sometimes we change our Ancestor vé cloth colors as well to mark the seasons.  We have small heat-resistant stands for when we burn candles, incense, reykr, or offerings.  Given we are in bedrooms and the smoke alarms are very touchy we do not tend to light candles or burn much in the way of offerings or reykr.   This would this change with having a hearthfire, and so would the care of the ashes.  Living on our own, we might collect the ashes of the hearthfire to use in crafting sacred things, such as soaps for cleansing or in leatherwork for fur removal.

Our hearth cultus centers around the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we are closest to.  For each of us that differs with our individual relationships, but for both our family and our Kindred it is Oðin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, Gerða, Loki, Angrboða, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Mimir, and Hela for the Heathen/Northern Tradition Gods.  Other Gods of our family hearth are Brighid, Bres, Lykeios, Lupa, Bast, and Anubis.  For our Ancestors we give cultus not only to our blood Ancestors, but also to the Ancestors of our lineages, such as the spiritworkers who came before me, and to those who have inspired me over the years such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Among the vaettir we hold cultus for are the landvaettir and housevaettir.  Each of us also tends our own personal vé to different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We engage in our hearth cultus daily, including night prayers and offerings at the hearth, and at the dinner table with meal prayers.  We also occasionally share in ritual celebration of different holy days around our hearth, or with the Kindred around its hearth.

An Example of Daily Hearth Cultus

My family’s daily hearth cultus tends to be quite simple. Most of our hearth rites are some variation on this:

  1. Begin by cleansing.
    1. Most nights we do this by deep breathing three times, expelling the dross of the day out of ourselves and away from the vé, and breathing in good, clean air so we concentrate on the prayers and offerings we are going to make. If we have had a particularly hard day, if we are in a time of powerful transition (such as after a funeral or during a holy tide), if a ritual calls for it, or if it just seems time to, I make a Sacred Fire with Großmutter Una, making reykr over all of us, and the vé. We may pass a lit candle in a similar fashion to working with Grandmother Mugwort, or work with both Fire and Großmutter Una together, passing them over the vé once or three times in a clockwise fashion around the altar. The number 3 is one we recognize as holy, and clockwise works with the turning of Sunna’s journey and the seasons She helps to bring.
    2. Cleansing by Reykr
      1. Make a prayer thanking the Fire, a simple one such as “Hail Eldest Ancestor!” or, a more elaborate one like “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Firevaettir! Hail Eldest Ancestor! Ves ðu heil!”
      2. Lay down the herb to be burned, in this case Mugwort. Make a prayer of thanks, simple like “Hail Großmutter Una!” or “Thank You for Your gift, Großmutter Una, that cleanses us and brings our prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir!”
      3. Light the match, lighter, or strike the flint and steel. Waft the smoke around once, or three time around yourself, any attendants, and the altar and its contents. If there are items you would like the Holy Powers to bless, waft Them through the smoke before doing this so the item comes into the vé cleansed.
  2. Make prayers.
    1. Most of our prayers are fairly short and to the point. We have a Night Prayer we follow, which is a rote prayer my wife and I developed for our many Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It serves two purposes, the first being is a unifying prayer of thanks for all the gifts our Holy Powers give us throughout our lives, and it also helps our children to come to know the Gods through at least one attribute that They gift to us, and to be thankful for it. We take this time to give any other prayers, whether thanks to Thor for protecting us in the latest thunderstorm, or to Frigg for peace in our home.
    2. Prayers at the Vé
      1. Following the format of our Night Prayers, you could use the simple formula of “Thank You <Holy Power> for <Blessing/Gift/Function>! Hail <Holy Power!>”, for example “Thank You Freyr and Gerða for the World around us!” Another form of prayer would be to gather at least three heiti for a Holy Power you are close to, have fondness for, or are trying to get to know, and pray in a format like this: “Hail Oðinn, the Inspirer! Hail Alföðr, the All-Father! Hail Rúnatýr, God of the Runes! I seek to know You better!”
  3. Make offerings.
    1. It is not enough for us to only pray. We exist in a flowing relationship with our Holy Powers, receiving and giving good Gebo, gipt fa gipt, or gift for a gift. Given we have several altars we dedicate one day to each group of Holy Powers, the first to our Gods, the next to our Ancestors, and the third to our vaettir. Each God has some kind of vessel in front of Them. Our mainstay offering is water. We also make special offerings, such as whiskey, mead, coffee, or food. If we make a special offering that could spoil before our next round of offerings, we respectfully dispose of it in the sink if it is liquid, giving a prayer to the God it is for and a thanks for Their blessings. If the offering is food or herbs we do not burn at the altar, we place it outside in our sacred grove’s Yggdrasil representation, or wait until a Sacred Fire to burn it. We count food offerings among our special ones because we live on the second floor of a shared home and respectfully disposing of the food offerings as described above once the Holy Powers are done with them is harder to do, especially since most of our offerings are made and disposed of at night.
    2. Making Offerings
      1. As our usual offerings are water, herbs, and on occasion stick incense, I will use these as examples.
    3. For Water Offerings
      1. Since our worldview is polytheist steeped in animism, we recognize the Elements Themselves as part of our Ancestry. In recognizing this we thank the Elements Themselves and the vaettir Who we are offering to the Holy Powers. We might offer a prayer like “Hail Water, Elder Ancestor! Hail Watervaettr! We thank You for the gift of Your body, that we offer to the Holy Powers!” Good offerings to give in turn to Water and the watervaettir would be care for our sources of water, prayers of thanks and recognition of all that these Holy Powers bless. Honoring Water and the watervaettir are other sources of good Gebo in our daily conduct with water, including conserving and care for water sources we rely on and/or come across.
    4. For Burnt Herb and Incense Offerings
      1. Follow the structure above in the Cleansing by Reykr section 1, and in 2, change the language to reflect an offering is being given. Something like “Hail Grandmother Una! Thank You for the gift of Your body in offering to our Holy Powers!” or “Hail Mugwort! Hail to You for being our offering! Holy Powers, we offer this Gebo to You!” or “Hail Holy Powers, we make this offering of Mugwort in gipt fa gipt with You!” When addressing the Holy Powers directly, simply saying “Hail <Holy Power>!” or “This offering is for You, <Holy Power>!” or “I make this offering for You, <Holy Power>!” can be enough.
  4. Divination and Follow Up Work
    1. If divination has been called for, whether due to some accident like dropping an offering or knocking over an idol, divination having been requested earlier, or just a prompting from intuition, we usually do it here after prayers and offerings. Some folks regularly practice divination as part of their daily work in heart cultus. I generally do not, since much of our daily cultus takes place at night not long before I have to go to work and I haven’t gotten the message or intuition to incorporate this. Your needs as a hearth and your ability for/access to divination will be the best guide here.

Maintaining Hearth Cultus

The first step to maintaining a hearth cultus once it has been established is to care for the vé physically and spiritually. Cleaning the space regularly, including the disposal of offerings and changing out cloths, and keeping the icons of the Holy Powers clean promotes mindfulness and reverence for the place it holds in a hearth. The next step is to make prayers, offerings, and to do whatever other daily work needs doing at the hearth regularly.

If the vé is in a fireplace then the cleaning of it serves a practical function in keeping the chimney clear of debris and in good working order. This idea is equally true whether the vé is a fireplace, a mantle, a desk, or even a mini altar-tin.  Since the practical is part of the spiritual work, understanding the hearth and the process of cleaning the hearth from a cosmological standpoint makes the work take on deeper meaning. In setting up the vé you are asking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to help you make an ordered Sacred Space.

The fireplace is no longer just a fireplace; it becomes the hearth, the spiritual heart of the home. The mantle, the desk, the tin is no longer just a mantle, desk, or tin.  In cleaning the vé, the hearth being the micro to the cosmos’ macro, you are helping to bring cleansing and order to this cosmos. It is the where you develop contact with the Holy Powers, worshiping Them and making offerings. As your hearth cultus goes on it may grow or shrink, (or in the case of tins maybe you will make/collect more) and so may the qualities it comes to represent and the meaning the place holds in your home and religious life. No matter your source of Fire for the vé, whatever you put into the Fire or set with It needs to be safely burnt.  Treating the Fire with utmost care is paramount. Every Fire is connected in our understanding, whether the smallest match, the electricity in an LED, or the largest star, and as the hearthfire itself represents Fire Itself, the care each Firevaettr is given should reflect on that relationship.

Whether it is five minutes a day, a half an hour or longer, many times a day, or as we do, cycling prayers and offerings different days of the week, the point here is to maintain a regular practice of devotional work and care for the hearth. Integrating the hearth into one’s life and keep it at the heart may be a struggle for many folks who have never grown up with this. Regular engagement with the hearth physically and spiritually will help this become part of one’s life. Keeping it front and center in one’s home centers the Holy Powers around which the hearth is based, and right along with it, the cosmology and its worldview.

The hearth is one’s cosmos in miniature even if one doesn’t have all the representations of the Holy Powers yet. As I wrote earlier, there was a time when all I had was five salt crystals no bigger than my pinky nail. Now, my family has statues for some Gods and representations for others. Some folks may find they cannot get or afford statues of the Gods. We have statues of Odin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, and Thor by Paul Borda of Dryad Designs that we bought from different Pagan/Pagan-friendly stores. For Gerða we have a corn dolly with a rake in Her hand we found at a thrift store. Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn’s representations are a slat of red fox skin for Loki, a badger claw for Sigyn, and wolf fur for Angrboda, each representation gifted to us. Sometimes the Holy Powers are looking for different ways for us to come into Their representations because the representation has something to say or it exposes us to worshiping Them in a new way. Sometimes a representation is what we happen to have at the time; during Many Gods West I had to leave a lot of representations and spiritual tools at home and ended up printing off pictures of the Gods for the event altar and my own.  At the end of the day, use what works to connect your hearth with the Gods.

If one’s hearth cultus is mainly in the kitchen your relationship with the cultus may change, and the Holy Powers one worships there, calls to first, or maintains the boundaries during prayer, offerings, and ritual. One might start a ritual in the fireplace by first calling on the Gods of Fire and then Gods of the Hearth, Hearthkeeping, and/or the Home. A ritual in a hearth’s vé located in the kitchen may do it the other way around, first calling on Gods of the Home and then Fire Gods, as the set up and priorities for the hearth may differ from a fireplace’s hearth.  One’s way of offering might change from Fire being the primary element into which offerings are made to Water.  One’s focus of the hearth cultus might be on the Wells rather than Fire, since the main tools one practically uses in this space shifts from containing and maintaining Fire centrally to containing and maintaining Water.  It does not mean that Fire’s importance is lost, only that the focus of the hearth cultus shifts.

For our family, our relationships with the Gods of family, social order come ahead of Fire given we generally do not work with Fire as much in our daily rites.  We involve Fire when we light candles, turn on the light for night prayers, or sit down to a meal, but the centrality that would be there were our vé on a hearthfire or on a mantle is not present.  Something that was suggested to me by my dear friend and Brother, Jim, is that since the namesake of our Kindred comes from Mimir and the Well of Wisdom, and that so many of our offerings and work involve water and water-based offerings, that while Fire Itself is still recognized as the First Ancestor, that Water, the Well, and honoring Mimir takes priority.  Our family is still working this out with our Holy Powers.

Understanding the role of Fire as central to the hearth does not change, nor does it shift the cosmological importance of Fire.  Without Fire we do not see, our altars are not illuminated, our food goes uncooked, our reykr cannot smoke.  What does change is how we relate to these Holy Powers and how these relationships unfold in our vé.  The cosmogenic unfolding from Fire and Ice meeting still is a powerful source of understanding, one that informs how the Waters that are more central to our familial hearth come about.  The Gods of our home will still be central to our hearth cultus even if Mimir and the Well of Wisdom are honored ahead of Them.  The fixed points of cosmogeny and cosmology do not change, only our points of relating to Them and the place they hold in our rites with the Holy Powers.

Differentiating Hearth Cultus Rites from Other Rites

What differentiates hearth cultus rites from many other polytheist and Pagan rituals is the general lack of altered states of consciousness and its focus on devotional worship and reverence. There is no ulterior goal or motive in daily hearth cultus. You’re worshiping and revering the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of your hearth. That is its goal and its focus.

When I was doing the #30DaysofMagick challenges I set the times I did my work with the Runes apart from my hearth cultus work. Not only did this keep my focus on the rites at hand, it also kept my family’s focus since we do hearth ritual as a family and I am the only one among us that does Runework. In keeping the rites separate I kept the kind of ritual focus needed for good hearth cultus in its place, and Rune work in its own. I do have a daily devotional rite I do with Runatyr and the Runevaettir, but again, that is separate from my hearth cultus because that is personal cultus and work I hold with Runatyr and the Runevaettir. Because neither my wife nor our children have initiated into doing Runework that buffer also protects them from collecting obligation or entanglement with Them beyond my family’s already existing ties.

I differentiate hearth cultus from other rites in the use of altered states since, broadly speaking, the focus of the rites which use altered states are generally to another end beyond devotion, worship, offering, and prayer. Altered states like deep trance work tend to operate as uncontrolled liminal spaces even if they are guided. Unlike a hearth rite, in which there are very clear steps, a focus, and end steps in a methodical way, once one enters into even an altered state, let alone contact with a Holy Power in an altered state, the directions one can go with it are many. There may be spiritual work one needs to do, initiation work to prepare for, or, the raw and intense experience of just being in a Holy Power’s Presence among the possibilities.

Gathering Around the Hearth

Hearth cultus can be engaged in by anyone regardless of aptitude for altered states, magical work, initiation, or experience. Its focus, steps, goals, and means to achieve them are clear and accessible to everyone. Many other rites require some kind of ongoing study and/or engagement with Holy Powers and spiritual forces, such as one’s hamr or önd. Some rites will require initiation and others will require exclusive focus on a goal other than worship or reverence.

The heart of polytheism is in hearth cultus. Through hearth cultus we come to worship, pray to, offer to, and know our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping hearth cultus accessible to everyone keeps our religions, traditions, and communities alive, vibrant, and engaged. Through hearth cultus anyone can begin, continue, and deepen relationships with the Holy Powers. We bring our traditions from the maps of lore, linguistics, and archaeology into the lived experience of worship, reverence, and engagement. Our worldview is lived through hearth cultus. Through it, our relationships with the Holy Powers is strengthened and enlivened individually and communally. With hearth cultus our religions are not mere abstractions, a collection of holidays or ideas. Through hearth cultus we pass on these ways of life to each generation. With hearth cultus being at the heart of our cultures and our religions, they are part of our lives, immanent for each of us and connective between us. Here, in each of our hearths, our ways of life are made and lived in good relationships with the Holy Powers and ourselves.

On Ritual Praxis -What and Why?

In tackling the subject of ritual praxis I think it is most useful to tackle head-on what ritual and ritual praxis is, why we have ritual praxis, and then, how and why we develop it.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the definition of a ritual is:

1. A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.

and praxis:

1. Practice, as distinguished from theory.
2. Accepted practice or custom.

The purpose of ritual praxis is that it is an established body of beliefs and actions rooted in serving a specific end. In devotional work this is fostering right relationship with the Holy Powers, that is, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. In magic, ritual praxis is established so that enactment of the ritual ends in the aims of the magic being attained. Generally, we will be talking about the former: devotional ritual praxis. If devotional ritual praxis is how we establish and reestablish right relationship with the Holy Powers it makes sense not to have to consistently reinvent the proverbial wheel with each new polytheist.

A refrain I heard a lot when I became a Heathen was that Heathenry is “the religion with homework”. What this ends up meaning is that folks will often throw a book list at people and say “Go read and then when you’re ready to talk I’ll be here.” This approach may be keeping out a lot of folks who could be good community members if the barrier to entry was not there.

Do not mistake me, I actually employ a variation on this approach. However, the diference is that I give people interested in the Northern Tradition, especially those interested in joining Mimirsrbrunnr Kindred a book list with a mix of academic and spiritual work-oriented books rather than merely academic texts. The reason for this is to establish that the person is willing to put in work, is willing to adopt and adapt to a Heathen mindset, and to show that they are willing to put time and effort into the Kindred. In other words, show they are worthy of our time.

This is not where I have seen folks direct the “religion with homework” idea. Often, the would-be Heathen is given an exhaustive scholarly book list with little-to-no instruction on how to be a Heathen. The question is not how useful these resources are to a Heathen, but whether or not their use is to the right end. The ‘right end’ in this case being the teaching of, and eventual integration of a Heathen worldview into a Heathen newcomer’s life. It is worth reflecting on what sources we recommend to those showing interest in Heathenry. It is worth reflecting how useful our sources are to the stark newcomer so that we are not merely flinging books at people or building in an assumption that books are the best and/or only way to learn how to be a good Heathen.

I put far more emphasis in my instructions on working through the reading materials, on the doing aspect of the materials, than I do on the academics. The reason is twofold. First, I need to see that the person is actually willing to join the religion not only in mind but also in heart and conduct. Second, I know that some of the material can be damned challenging if not near-impossible to navigate. I found Culture of the Teutons to be a very useful book, one of the best exploring luck, honor, hamingja, outlawry and the like in ancient Heathen cultures. I do not assign this book in the reading list. I had a hard time working through it, and while useful, many of the concepts within it can be effectively condensed into a talk, lecture, or workshop.

The difference between doing the homework vs consistently engaging in what amounts to amateur debates is part of what I see holds Heathenry back. We have experts within our communities both academic and religious. Rather than have each and every Heathen engage in what amounts to lifetime research projects, I would rather see Heathens and polytheists in general develop materials for children and adults who are becoming polytheists. In ancient times intensive studies would have been for ritual specialists alone. Ritual praxis, meanwhile, was on everyone. Everyone knew their roles, and there was little question as to who did what because traditions, including beliefs and ritual praxis among them, had been passed down the generations. If we are to be lived religions, then this approach is the one to aim for. My long-term hope is that the approach I take to prospective members of the Kindred becomes obsolete primarily through oral teaching and intergenerational transmission of the worldview, Kindred traditions, including the Kindred’s Heathen religion and culture.

Where to Start?

The start of right ritual praxis, aka orthopraxy, is in right belief, aka orthodoxy. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy form the ground from which polytheism grows and matures. The two concepts are not in opposition, but rather, affect and inform one another. Some very basic orthodox beliefs in regards to polytheist orthopraxy are:

  • That the Holy Powers deserve to be worshiped and honored.
  • That ritual is a good way to worship and honor the Holy Powers.
  • That well-done ritual foments right relationship with the Holy Powers.
  • That there are ways of doing ritual correctly and incorrectly.

Basic orthodox beliefs of polytheism includes the baseline of polytheism itself: the belief in and worship of many Gods, and that of animism: that all of Creation is, or potentially is, ensouled. Other beliefs would includes the foundational Sacred Stories of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir as we have them and/or are taught them. The Sacred Stories we pass on help to inform the content of our worldview and from this, our rituals.

Right belief is vitally important. Without it ritual is rendered without meaning. Likewise, right action is important. Without it, right belief is rendered without root in the world.

This does not mean that one’s belief in the Holy Powers must forever be ironclad. One’s belief in the Holy Powers may not be very strong or well defined. What needs to be strong is the belief that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits), the Holy Powers, are real and deserving of good rites. In regards to offerings, the belief that the Holy Powers are real and worthy of offerings is all one truly needs to begin, or begin again, to have a strong connection with the Holy Powers. It is why I recommend making offerings and developing devotional relationships to absolute beginners fresh to polytheism. It is not that the academic background knowledge of the Holy Powers are unimportant, but a matter of prioritizing the development of relationship with the Holy Powers over the development of the person’s collection of books and book-knowledge. Ideally, I would have the two develop hand-in-hand.

Developing Rituals

So if we understand that right ritual praxis is conducted from right belief, then, how do we develop rituals? Baked into polytheism’s cake is the assumption that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are real and that They are active agents in relationship with one another, the world, and with us. How do They respond to us? Through divination such as sortilege and the reading of Runes, and through spontaneous forms of communication, such as omens or direct communion.

If we accept that the ways the Gods can communicate with us are many and active then it stands that some of the ways They may choose for us to develop rites will differ greatly from one another. With that said, what I lay out here are guidelines for the development of ritual.

Step 1: Determine the basic purpose of the ritual.
What is the basic purpose of a given ritual? Is it celebratory, offeratory, or a magical operation? Is it a very formal prayer, or one given to a Holy Power extemporaneously?

Step 2: Determine what the ritual is about.
What are the specific purposes of the ritual? Is it a celebration of a cyclical harvest festival? Is it a weekly offering to one’s household Gods? Is it a magical operation involving the Runes to a certain end, such as healing of a broken limb or protection on a long journey?

Step 3: Determine if there are special considerations for the ritual.
Are there taboos to be adhered to, special needs for spiritual specialists and/or laity, or specific requirements for the ritual to be done well? Are there to be certain offerings made, or a sacrifice to be held?

Step 4: Determine the set up of the ritual’s space, including boundaries, altar(s), and so on.
How is the space to be set up? Are there certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir who need to be present? If so, how? Is the ritual area completely inviolate during the ritual itself, or are people able to come and go as needed? If there are special methods for a person coming into/out of the ritual space, what if any means are there to mark the space and tools/instruments/people to make this so?

Step 5: Determine the order of ritual and the roles of spiritual specialists, celebrants and/or operators.
What kind(s) of purifications are to be done? How are the celebrant(s)/operator(s) to be prepared for the rite? How is the ritual to be blocked, if it involves certain prescribed ritual steps or dramatic enactors? How is the space to be held, i.e. festive, solemn, silence?

Be a Good Host, Be a Good Guest

If a rite is to be more contemplative, such as a meditation space, the ritual space may be more permissive in celebrants coming into and out of space. It may need more seating space, and different kinds of seating arrangements for folks with different mobilities, and potential body restrictions. If the rite is to be festive and wild, then the considerations of places that will be accepting of louder noise, places for celebrants to catch their breath, the provisioning of food and/or water will need to be considered. It may be that some celebrants or operators wish to be part of a rite, and have need of special consideration.

Not all celebrants/operators may be able to handle hours of dancing, but may still wish to participate in a wild, festive rite. Consider this in setting up the ritual that folks with mobility issues may need areas designated for them to be safe such as space for a seat and/or mobility aid, walkways, and so on. Consider that some folks have dietary requirements or restrictions, such as needing to eat at certain times or not eat certain foods, so be sure that everything food and drink wise that you have a list of ingredients for these things on hand so all your participants may be informed and safe. Most of these seem to be common sense, yet simple set up for seating in an especially long rite can be overlooked in the early planning stages and later bring great distraction to an otherwise well-planned ritual.

Clearly laying out the expectations for the spiritual specialist(s), celebrant(s)/operator(s), and/or guests is a must. It may not prevent a disruption in ritual, yet it can help mitigate issues as they come up in a ritual. Letting people know who to turn to if they forget a step, or how to say certain ritual phrases will make the ritualists jobs’ easier and make the rite flow smoother. That said, if people become disruptive or antagonistic to the rite, it is far better to eject a person than it is to try to keep soldiering on. Ignoring a disruptive or rude person may be directly insulting to the Holy Powers, or lessen the usefulness of the working at hand. At the end of the day, for the people involved being a good host to and a good guest is key to ritual going well.

The Small Details of Ritual

If a ritual is a a ceremonial act done in a prescribed order, then it follows that as many great details to figure out, there are small details to consider a ritual ought to go. Should cleansing be done with the right or left hand? Should one enter into ritual space on a certain foot? Should an idol be approached only by an initiated priest? Are there exceptions to these rules, where an idol which is usually only approached by a priest is shown to the laity?

Notice I said these details may be small -not unimportant. Especially as polytheists develop their own traditions of worship with Holy Powers the disposition of small details may become more important to the completion of a good ritual. There may be good reasons related to cosmology for offerings to be laid down a certain way. For instance, in offering to Gods of Muspelheim one may be directed to lay them down in a southerly direction, as in lore it is said that is where Muspelheim may be located. For Gods of the Underworld, or for those spirits who are located beneath the Earth, such as the Dvergar, placing offerings for Them in an elevated place may be insulting, so you place offerings on or in the ground for Them. Rivers may be seen as running throughout the Nine Worlds, and so, disposing of offerings into running water may be seen as near-universal for the disposal of offerings, or only for certain Holy Powers, depending on one’s view and relationships with the Holy Powers. Since all the Nine Worlds hang on or are within Yggdrasil, making offerings at a special tree serving as Yggdrasil’s proxy may be a good place for offering to any of the Holy Powers.

The consideration of the small things may be the entire point of a given ritual or magical operation. If the small things are unattended to, the rite may be spoiled or the operation fouled. Something as seemingly small as not setting down an offering in an exact order, or circumambulating with a censer or blessed water may seem minor to us. If our point is to worship and honor the Holy Powers, then even our small things need to be oriented towards this.

It is worth remembering that in many of our rites we are reenacting cosmological principles in even the small gestures we make. Going sunwise, then, is not just something we do in many of our Heathen rights because it is something we brought in from Wicca. The Sun, through Sunna’s chariot, brings the blessings of warmth, growth, and life through Her cycles. By not following Her rhythm in a ritual, say, to bless a garden, we may be bringing in other cosmological influences that are not in accordance with the rite. In this instance, by passing our hand over the garden against the sun or counterclockwise, we may be asking for Mani and the Moon’s blessing or Nott’s influence in darkness to vegetables that need a great deal of sunlight. The symbolism we employ, whether or not we realize it, is alive with meaning and import to each ritual, even, and sometimes especially in these small gestures.

The Roles of Divination

Divination and other forms of spiritual communication are a good part of how the balance of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is kept in polytheist religions. It provides direct communion and feedback with and from the Holy Powers. The methods of divination available to a diviner are likewise hooked unto orthodoxy and orthopraxy. On a basic level, the orthodoxy of divination, and divine communication in general, is that the Holy Powers are real, and can and do commune with us. The basic orthopraxy, then, is that in the act of divination we are open to change as well as reaffirmation of what has come before, both in terms of our orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Divination serves a number of functions in the creation and execution of ritual. Among the uses for the creation of ritual itself are:

  • The creation of a ritual calendar/cycle.
  • For whom a given rite may be dedicated.
  • The timing of a ritual/series of rites.
  • Determining the proper order of a rite.
  • Determining the sacrifice(s) for a rite.
  • Who should be doing what before, during, and after the rite.

Among the reasons one may wish to divine during a ritual are:

  • That the set up for a ritual is good and acceptable to the Holy Powers, that things are in order for the rite to begin.
  • Checking in when an incident or accident occurs during the rite, such as someone being burnt during the rite to see that it is merely an error/accident and not a response by the Holy Powers to the occurence.
  • That the offering laid down are accepted.
  • That any messages the Holy Powers have for those gathered are received.

Divination itself is beyond the scope of this post. Like ritual craft, divination is a craft unto itself. Like ritual craft, divination requires you to do it to learn how to do it better.

Bringing the Rites Home

Generally speaking, a good chunk of ancient polytheist religion was lived in the home every day. It makes sense that the majority of polytheists today are in a similar boat. While folks may read everything above and think of it in terms of larger group ritual, such as a Kindred or similar group getting together, it matters just as much, if not more so, to the people in their homes. After all, if the majority of polytheist religion is practiced in the home, thinking about why and how we approach ritual has immediate impact on how we relate to our home cultus.

So why do rituals in our home? It’s where we live when we’re not working or running errands. It’s where our roots are set. Our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, then, should be where the roots of our lives are set. Many of us live in places where going outside to do ritual is impractical, lack an outdoor space which would be undisturbed and kept sacred to the Holy Powers, and/or lack a temple space outside the home. By necessity then, the home is where most modern polytheists do ritual.

For my family the rituals we do as a family the most often are prayers to our Gods each day, each meal, and each night. We have rote prayers we have memorized for these, both because when we started to do them it was far easier to teach than how to do extemporaneous prayers. Doing things this way provided a set of common prayers for how to address our Holy Powers, a common well that we draw from in all our home rites. We do weekly offering rites which incorporate prayers, gestures, and the giving of physical offerings, usually water, food, and/or alcohol. We may celebrate the seasons and holy days doing much the same.

The beautiful thing about polytheism is that no one’s home cultus has to look like another’s. The how of how we do ritual in our home’s is individual. While my Kindred and I share similarities in home cultus, it is unique to each of our families. For instance, our altar setups are different. We use resin statues from Paul Borda of Dryad Design for many of our Gods, whereas another family uses statues from Unicorn Studio. Many of our offering vessels are clay, wood, or glass from garage sales and thrift shops. Our representation of Gerda is a corn dolly that came from a thrift shop with a wooden rake in her hand.

We also place different emphasis on different Gods depending on the household. In our home Odin and Frigga are the head Gods we worship and offer to, and then we offer to the others. Thor and Freyr may be the first Gods in other Kindredmates’ homes. Even between members of our family we have different emphasis on different Gods, even though we collectively worship the same Gods. Our son, for instance, has an altar to Thor and the housevaettir in his room that he takes care of on his own, while I emphasize Odin in my own practice and time where we do not worship as a family.

What unites us as a family and a Kindred is a shared worldview where the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are to be honored and worshiped, and shared ritual structures. What each of our Kindredmates does in our own home will have variations from each other depending on some combination of our relationships with the Holy Powers, what we have to carry out our rites with, and what we are able to do.

The Unfolding is Ongoing

As Heathenry and the Northern Tradition Pagan religions are lived through, rather than merely being set down in a book or series of books, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are continuously unfolding. Sometimes certain orthodoxy are held throughout one’s life and continue on through the generations, such as the Holy Powers being real and worthy of worship. Likewise, orthopraxy such as the giving of offerings for the Holy Powers are held right along with them. Some orthodoxy, such as the belief it is wrong to offer certain things may come to fall away with orthopraxy of divination to determine what are good and right offerings.

In the polytheist understanding of orthodoxy and expression of orthopraxy is that we are in living relationships with our Holy Powers. There is reciprocity consistently between ourselves and Them, lived in every thought we give to why and how we do what we do, and in the doing of the thing itself. There is reciprocity in the asking of “what should we do and how?” and following up on those questions. Why we do this is to live in good relationship with our Holy Powers. How do we do this? Eventually, all comes down to our relationships with the Holy Powers and Their impact on and in the lives of our communities, our families, and ourselves. As our relationships unfold with the Holy Powers, so too will our orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and along with these, our worldview and ritual praxis unfold.

We will explore how one can start to worshiping the Holy Powers in the next post.