Patreon Topic 42: On Godspousery

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Godspousery.”

Of the topics I could talk about this is one of the most fraught in Heathenry. There are fierce opponents to the notion of Godspousery. There are those who are fierce proponents of it. I am neither. Godspousery is a real spiritual phenomena and relationship, and whether or not it is modern in origin is beside the point. Far too often in Heathenry whether something ‘has pedigree’ in the lore dictates its acceptance in our communities. I would far rather we accept that our relationships come through a myriad of ways, and that, though rare, Godspousery is one them.

Godspousery is what it sounds like: a God takes a human consort. This has plenty of precedence throughout human cultures, and the one most people look to when they think of this as an example is that of Catholic nuns who take an oath to be a Bride of Christ. In my understanding of Godspousery this is one example of many, but probably the most accessible so folks can gain an understanding of the phenomenon. For another Heathen’s exploration, Erin Lale wrote an excellent piece posted here in Eternal Haunted Summer that is both accessible and a non-judgmental exploration of it.

What are we to make of this as modern Heathens? Godspousery is a real spiritual phenomena. Like a lot of spiritual phenomena and initiation, it should only be entered into after a lot of thought, prayer, personal exploration, divination, and conversation. That conversation should not only be with the God in question, it should be with the communities that person has ties with. Why?

An oath to a God or Goddess of marriage is perhaps one of the most serious that could be made with the most dire of consequences for a person and their community should that oath be broken or harm made to the relationship. Ties of hamingja, communal luck/power and the ties that bind a community, and the expression of megin, personal luck/power are bound up in the oaths we take and keep. It is not to be made lightly. Dependent on the community a Godspouse may or may not take up a unique role within that community. In such a case there are responsibilities and demands as a change in relationship also turns into a change in their job within their community.

Being a Godspouse takes a lot of forms, and rather than exhaustively go over every iteration, suffice it to say, they are relationships that develop over time. Unlike a Catholic nun, a Godspouse in Heathenry may have changes in how their relationship expresses itself. The relationship in its youth may be like a new fire, blazing and passionate, and over time this transforms into a bed of embers, warm and comfortable. The relationship may be quite regimented and become less so over time, or vice versa. It may remain the same throughout a person’s life. For whatever reason a God has chosen a human to be Their consort, and at least a portion of that person’s life is given over to that God.

Why might a God take a spouse? Because They are fascinated, attracted to, and/or find a useful quality in/of a person’s Being. To bring a person into deeper mysteries, magic, and/or power. To solidify an alignment with humanity in a given community. To bring together disaprate groups of Gods a given community worships together. To bring a teaching or technique to a person/community. They may have simply accepted the proposal from a worshiper out of love, and the acceptance is an honoring of that proposal. It could be all of these things, none of them, or more. I am not the Gods, and it is up to anyone called to such a thing to figure this out.

While Heathens should not be uncritical of Godspouses, we should do more to support them. By this I do not mean we put them on pedastals, allow poor treatment from or to them, or to treat them as wholly separate members of our communities. If anything, this status requires they be under more scrutiny for their actions, as their actions can have wide ripples in the communities they are part of. I would have the wider Heathen communities give space for Godspouses because an accepting and warm community can help folks weed out genuine experience from sock puppets and assumptions, and help the person as well as the community develop good discernment. More community support would also cut down on the number of cultish behaviors we see when folks pop up claiming power and relationship with Gods. These steps could easily be taken with anyone engaging with the Heathen communities in a spiritual specialist role, not just Godspouses.

When legitimate spiritual experiences and expressions are denigrated, called fake or unreal, it pushes those experiences down in the community, but it does not eliminate them. It pushes them underground, and at least this makes them go quiet. At most, this can cause the communities to splinter or break apart entirely. Without oversight or support it has allowed for some truly toxic behaviors from folks posing as Godspouses. Now, if for whatever reason you/your community absolutely refuses to engage with or accept a given spiritual phenomena and it keeps coming up, one of two things are happening: a) you are right and all these folks are merely engaging in some delusion or deception even if they are reporting their genuine experiences, or b) you are wrong and these folks are reporting genuine experiences that are true.

Given that so much of modern Pagan religions, Heathenry included, is built on so much of b) that it is part of most of our formal theologies, this puts folks denying the reality of Godspousery on some fairly shaky ground. Heathen religions are revivals or renewals, with reconstruction being a methodology and not a religion unto itself; it is a tool of our religions. There is a lot of our own gnosis, understanding, and beliefs we have to put into practice in order for Heathen religions to make any kind of sense, let alone have cohesion, create communities, develop cultures, and pass them on to others. Gnosis is the glue that makes Heathen religions work. It is no less a valid and understandable a religious phenomena than that of seiðkona, spiritworkers, or goðar.

If folks commit to ‘only what is sourced in the lore’ as our standard for acceptable practice in Heathenry we are going to have precious little available to us. Healthy, vital, and vibrant Heathen communities requires us to be open to new, or, at least, new-to-us experiences and understanding. It requires lived relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Some folks will be called one way, and others another. It does not make us any inherently better or worse than one another, it just makes our pathways in Heathenry different. It is with this understanding that I believe Heathens should embrace Godspousery as a real and a vetted phenomena within our communities. It is far better for all of us to provide welcome, supportive environments for religious growth, discernment, understanding, and expression.

The Lay of the Ancestors in Ragnarök Time

This poem was begun March 30th, 2015, and finally, I had the inspiration to finish it.

Ancestors ancient! Askr and Embla!

Shoulders supporting the feet of your son

Hear my words as I wander

Sarenth seeks your counsel!


Gebo’s ways are woefully wended

The Lakes lay lacquered with rot;

How to heal the horrors of humans

Between the spirits and society?


The forests find the foe fierce,

Blood-embers eager to eat;

How to end the hunger

When the mouth may never close?


Thus the Disir directed:

Ally where one can find,

and stand strong upon the shore;

Galdr and growl, giving no peace


To the mouth give mending

Bind its baleful maw

Never will it quit its need

To eat seed, soil, and tree


Grow well and wise with work

Spirits will show the steps to strength

Listening, learn the lay of land

Whispers come the ways of waters


Hearths are hallowed in holiness

Eldr held whole in every home

The binds bite bitter the breaker

When the ways are walked well

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 40: For the Unknown Ancestors

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

This was requested by Leslie for the Unknown Ancestors.

I do not know your names

You call to me

You know me

I am yours

I do not know your faces

Still you call to me

Still you know me

I am yours

I do not know the paths you tread

Still you call to me

Still you know me

I am yours

Family! Kin! Tribe!

Faces and names long forgotten

Still, you reckon I am yours

So you are mine!

I do not know your names

I call to you

I would know you

You are mine

I do not know your faces

Still I seek you

Still I would know you

You are mine

I do not know the paths you tread

Still I call to you

Still I would know you

You are mine

I am yours

You are mine

I am yours

You are mine

I am yours

You are mine.

Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

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

From Elfwort comes this question:

“Would you talk about decolonizing magickal practice vs honoring ancestral traditions?”

I am going to start with the point that I do not view this as an either/or. I look at this with the perspective that this is an ‘and’ approach. In my view honoring Ancestral traditions requires we decolonize them. We also need to be clear when borrowing has occured vs appropriation. If information, techniques, or inroads into relationships were shared that would be one thing, and quite another if these were gained by pressure, stolen, or obtained under false pretenses.

Decolonizing our practices may require us to do a lot of work, including digging, soul searching, and work with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Lots of websites feature discussions of decolonizing ecology, education, and so many more ways. I like to define terms before digging into how we are going to apply them. So, what is decolonizing? To briefly summarize, it is deconstructing white Western European methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, worldview, and perspectives as the dominant and privileged ones. It is bringing in other modes and methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, and perspectives as co-equals, and centering them.

Each Pagan community and person will have its own decolonizing to do. This work, in and of itself, can have many layers. At the least we Heathens have to separate out Christian, atheist, nationalist, and racist influences on our communities. Decolonizing our worldview and personal mindset requires us to reckon with the nationalist and racist history behind modern Heathen revivals. It also requires us to approach the stories and myths we have with a critical eye, as many of these were originally written down by Christians, and later interpreted through Christian or Christian-dominated frameworks. Doing this work gets us closer to our Ancestors’ worldview, and so, doing the decolonizing work and honoring Ancestral traditions goes hand-in-hand.

Taking off that many layers in front of our understanding of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the root culture we are reviving can seem like a lot at first. In practice we begin with the best information we have, make our cultus as good as we can, and that as new and useful information comes to light we integrate this new understanding. Not all information is useful to our endeavors, even if it is based in history. Likewise, we have to be critical with what information we take in and apply. A given author may be furthering outmoded or historically incorrect ideas, and this can be true of modern Heathen authors as it can scholars. A given author can also be speaking for or on behalf of the Ginnreginn and the information they are sharing does not apply to us, our situation, or is wrong for our relationships with the Ginnreginn.

Decolonization of our mindset also requires us to look at what spiritual tools, technologies, ideas, and work we employ, why, for what reason. If we have learned these from someone else we need to ask if they have the authority to teach it to us and we have the permission to use it and/or pass it on. For instance, I do not do smudging. It is a ritual unto itself. I have not been taught how to do it. What I do with mugwort, aka Ama Una, whether I work with Her as an offering, cleansing by reykr (smoke) as incense or by smoking Her, etc, are not a Native American teachings, rituals, or relationships. When we are firmly rooted in our own relationship with the Ginnreginn we have no need to appropriate others’ cultures, practices, relationship, ways, or spiritual technologies.

This is not to say that we should not look to Native Americans for how to live with the vaettir we share this world with. An example: I offer the landvaettir tobacco, something I picked up by observation and teaching from Native American friends of mine. However, I also offer alcohol to the landvaettir, and this is something that is generally acceptable in our relationship with Them as Heathens that would not be with the Native folks I know. So why would I offer tobacco and not engage in smudging?

Smudging is not merely the burning of herbs in a shell or other fire-safe holder. It is a ritual, one I have not been taught or cleared to do. Offering tobacco, so far as I know, is open to everyone, and a good gift to almost every vaettr I have encountered. One is a closed practice, the other is not. Smudging would be theft of a spiritual practice while offering tobacco is being a good neighbor with the vaettir. Decolonizing our ways excludes those practices that harm, diminish, or marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) while also including those practices that center their voices, experiences, and practices as they are appropriate for us to engage in.

Honoring Ancestral traditions can be a powerful, lived experience. Since a good many of us Heathens are reviving our own, and some of us are starting to pass on our ways to a second or even third generation, this is a huge responsibility on our parts. Decolonizing our traditions as much as we can before passing them on, and being willing to correct ourselves and our descendents when we err is our responsibility. The creation of Ancestral traditions is also very much in our hands and that of our Ginnreginn. Perhaps the older ways no longer apply because we live in radically different climates, or our relationships with Them are so different that we have to develop new traditions.

There is NOTHING wrong with developing new traditions when the old no longer can apply to us. Given how many of us are taking up broken threads across a good expanse of time in reviving our Heathen religions, there are a lot of traditions that are next to impossible to revive, and then there are traditions we cannot revive because we live in a wholly different society. We are going to have to develop new traditions in many cases, and this provides both us and the Ginnreginn with powerful opportunities to turn aside from the colonization that has marked a lot of modern Pagan religions.

One example that comes to mind is the establishment of vé, sacred space. We know our Ancestors had them outside, and given the role of hearth cultus, they likely had them inside as well. Each of us has the ability to develop family hearth cultus, and traditions that unfold from that. We have the ability to bring in old customs with respect to how to worship and treat the húsvaettir (house spirits), and together with Them, we can make new ways forward. After all, few of us live in a farm house so a lot of the ways you would build a relationship with, interact with, and/or ask for help from a tomte, nisse, etc may no longer apply. Those that we interact with might be totally different since They are likely not attached to a farmhouse, but apartments and single-family homes. Hearth cultus itself has had to change over the years since vanishingly few Heathens even have a literal hearth!

These subjects can range far and wide. Just the two websites I linked on decolonization go over education and ecology. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s books Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass are powerful explorations of her lived Native relationship with science and ecology. Erika Buenaflor covers Curanderismo centered in Mexica and Maya cultures in her book Curanderismo Soul Retrieval. Sade Musa does ongoing education and anti-colonialism work for African American diasporia, especially with regards to herbs and healing ways with her Roots of Resistance. We had both Erika Buenaflor and Sade Musa on Around the Grandfather Fire.

I cannot hope to cover all perpsectives with this post or to do them justice. Whatever our paths forward, we can decolonize our paths while honoring our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and the traditions we build with Them.

Patreon Prayer/Poem/Song 39: For Reindeer

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

This was requested by Elfwort for Reindeer.

Your hooves strike the powdery snow

Follow the leader on where to go

Together we walk, together we walk

Eat the green and growing grass

Build up the herd’s great stores of fat

Together we walk, together we walk

Bear the young and suckle soon

Each one is a beloved boon

Together we walk, together we walk

When the cold snaps the blood runs hot

The annual dance of the winter rut

Together we walk, together we walk

Mark the passing of the Dead

Who walk behind and walk ahead

Together we walk, together we walk

The herd goes on, the herd is strong

From birth to death we travel on

Together we walk, together we walk

Together, we walk

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

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

The cold has come

So have I

With kernels and seeds

To ease your cry

Eat well, eat well

Now crack the shell

Eat well, eat well

Let your bellies swell

Eat well, eat well

The frost is here, the cold has come!

So eat well, eat well, eat well!

Authenticity in Heathen Religions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patreon Topic 27: Heathen Dream-work

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From my third Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

“Any recommendations on how to incorporate dream-work into one’s Heathen way of life?”

It depends on the dreamwork we are talking about. I will not be digging into dreamwork as approached by Freud, Jung, or others as talked about on the Wikipedia page. Rather, I will be approaching as a kind of spiritwork and how we might approach it. Before we dig into this, dreamwork is not one of my specialties, it is not something I have engaged in recently, and everyone may experience dreamwork in different ways.

As with a lot of spiritwork I recommend caution before applying something to your life. A while back a dear Brother of mine, Jim Stovall, coined the phrase Spiritual Accounting. Jim’s formula is (M+C³)xR=V. M is message, C is Confirmation, R is results, and V is verified. He actually has a spreadsheet with Gods, Ancestors, and spirits he puts through this evaluation and it has borne good results for him. You can actually buy a shirt here and here that displays it and supports our podcast, Around the Grandfather Fire. In previous writing I have likened it to a three-legged stool, where we have lore (written and archaeological records), experiences (our own and others’), and divination.

So what is dreamwork? I understand and approach dreamwork in two ways: as getting messages from the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir in dreams, or accomplishing tasks/goals. With regard to getting messages, sometimes they can be quite vague and may require some deep work to understand, or even a follow-up with other divination. Sometimes this comes in the form of lucid dreams and other times it is under direction by a God, Ancestor, vaettr, or group of Them.

Most of my dreams are random psychological phenomena or entertaining. The ones that definitely involve the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir happen every so often and not with any pattern I can discern. I have not been pushed to encourage them, and to be honest, I will not since so much of my free time is taken up with spirit work.

What can I offer to those who are interested or are being pushed to engage in dreamwork? Questions and advice, mostly.

Why engage in dreamwork? Is it part of your toolbox, or a part of your toobox that you want to expand? Are you being required to work with this technique by a God, Goddess, Ancestor, vaettr, or group of Them? If you have a choice in engaging with this tool, is there a better one you could learn to work with where you have more direct control, or one that might be better suited to the aims you want to accomplish with this technique?

What tools do you already have at your disposal that will allow you dreamwork to be effective and remembered well by you? Do you have a journal to record the work, the experience, and the results? Do you have alarms set so you do not just float away and ignore your body’s needs too long? Do you need all but essential electronics turned off? Do you need isolation, silence, or darkness for a few hours, day(s), and do you have the means to get that? All of these are useful tools for anyone considering dreamwork.

What tools do you need to bring in for dreamwork? If you have a hard time getting to sleep or coming out of sleep have you spoken with a doctor about it and if there are options you have not tried yet? Some folks find it easier to sleep hot and others cold. Some folks find added weight, such as with a weighted blanket, helps them to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. While I would avoid caffeinated drinks, especially before dreamwork, a specially made tea for the working can be a powerful preparation. So might satchet pillows, charms under, over, or around your sleeping area. Stuffed animals and blankets with designs of any helping spirits, fylgja, etc can be a good way to bring them in.

When you have determined why you are going to engage in dreamwork setting the stage is going to be pretty important. You are not merely going to sleep. You are lying down to sleep with a spiritual purpose. It is not altogether different than if you were preparing for útiseta (sitting out, such as at a grave, mound, or riverside), hamfara (literally skin/shape travel/fare, to fare forth in your hamr or second skin/self), or other spiritwork. In fact, what your dreamwork may have you do would be hamfara, so preparing for that can save you from being spiritually hurt or lost. So, putting together protection, including shields, wards, and anchor-points for your soul parts well ahead of time would be at the top of my list. Well before any kind of spiritwork I would have at least a weekly preparation, and at least in the three weeks leading up to the working an every day preparation of cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding. The day of the dreamwork, before lying down to sleep, do another round of that preparation, and double check your wards, anchors, and any other tools you are bringing into the dreamwork.

The reason I brought up the journal so early in this post is because it could well be one of, if not the most important tool for this work. Done well, a journal for spiritwork functions as a kind of work log, grimoire, record, diary, and personal journal all in one. Done poorly it becomes a literal paperweight and something you have to work to push through to write in. So, do whatever you need to so your journal is organized, moddable to your needs, and functions well. Take those steps now so you are not scrambling should you need to reference a working or try to remember something. This journal will also help you track your progress and long-term trends in your dreamwork. The journal can be digital, print, or both. Whatever your choice it needs to be accessible upon waking up. You can lose infromation in

Patreon Topic 26: On Regional Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Regional Cultus. Not just in the realm of honoring the local spirits, but also in how the gods are reflected differently in different times and places.”

When I first started writing on this I was approaching this purely from an academic perspective, noting the resources we have available to us are mostly coming after conversion and almost all the earliest sources through Christian writers. The scholars and academics who later gave us interpretation and understanding of these sources, and even the archaelogists, all are operating within a Protestant Christian dominated background.

Generally, our Gods in the academic fields are not being approached as Gods. We have living, dynamic relationships with Them. Even over the course of my life my cultus with Óðinn has gone through changes, so I would hardly expect in a generation other Heathens to carry anything like the same relationship as I. When I began to worship Him, He came to me sometimes as Father, but mostly as Rúnatýr, and Yggr primarily. He was fierce, harsh, and a taskmaster in the early times. He still is at times.

How the Gods are reflected differently in different times and places depends on how the Gods fit into the landscape/environment we live in now, and the relationships we hold with Them. I would have a far harder time relating to Skaði if I lived in a place without snow, and relating to the Gods of the ocean is a lot harder for me here in the Great Lakes than it is when I visited the ocean. I still hold cultus for the Gods of the ocean, but it is a more remote one, less in-my-face than that of the Great Lakes Goddesses.

A big difference in regional cultus I can confidently point to is mine with Jörð, Freya, Freyr, and Gerða. I relate to Jörð through the Earth I stand on, and while Jörð is still Jörð wherever in Miðgarð I go on Her, I relate to Her differently here, especially in my home, vs a hotel room. The difference between worshiping Her on land I have helped cultivate vs a hotel room is quite stark. I have no relationship to the land in a hotel room beyond a place to rest my head. My thanks to Her is much more general, eg She is of the place, and I am grateful for Her being the floor and eventually the ground beneath my feet. Contrast this with the relationship I hold with Her being the good, black Earth I helped to till and plant in that our good harvest has grown from. My cultus with Freya, Freyr, and Gerða is embedded in no small part in that same gardening. It is not that I cannot relate to Them outside of the home, the hearth, or the garden, but that it lacks the specific ways in which our relationships flow as they do there.

The asparagus plant is one group of vaettir in which I relate quite a bit to these Gods locally. As before, I associate Jörð with the garden it grows in. The plant itself clearly associated with Freyr given its virility, fertility, and phallic shape. It is also associated with Gerða in that to harvest it, it must be cut down, and this fits in with my understanding of Freyr as a Sacrificed God whose blood renews the fertility of the Earth. Freya I associate with the pollinators, especially the bees and their sweetness, and the preparation work that must go on so the plants can prosper. It is not just through the garden and all the vaettir within it that I relate to these Gods. I relate to these Gods through the actions I take with the land. Tilling, planting, gardening, weeding, harvesting, all of this is done in relationship with the landvaettir, with Jörð, with Freya, with Freyr, with Gerða, and with the Ancestors, especially those who farmed and/or gardened. All of this with just one kind of plant. How much more so with a garden! How much more so with a biome!

Regional cultus grows from our living relationship with the environment, and if I can find that much connection in and through a single plant then we can certainly make them through the land we live on. It is worth pointing out that Yggdrasil holds the Worlds, and the Worlds are also in relationship with one another. Asgarðr and Jötunheimr are across a river, Ífingr, from each other. Jotunheimen is the name of a range of mountains in Norway. The Worlds are said to be in different direction, eg Niflheim to the North, Muspelheim to the South. We can likewise locate our relationship with the Nine Worlds in such ways, much as our forebears did with regard to directions and the landscape. Perhaps rather than strictly in the East, Jötunheimr is in or has connections to the World in the far more wild forest behind the home. A special rock becomes a hörgr, a stand of trees a vé, and from there perhaps new relationships form with Jötun Gods.

It is really hard predict how regional cultus will develop over time. After all, my family has only lived in Michigan for five generations, including myself and my children. Between major predicaments like climate change and peak oil, the unfolding of the next election and the consequences from that, our unique land here in Michigan, and the unfolding relationships we hold right now, it is anyone’s guess how it will develop. Given the ongoing Work and relationship I have with Óðinn, our strong commitment to direct experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the land we live, and our work on the land, we will have many avenues to understand our Gods and develop relationships through.

Patreon Topic 24: Crafting Ritual

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From Alec comes this topic:

“Do you think you could possibly go over how you create a ritual? I understand if maybe it’s too personal but I always find myself having a hard time organizing a ritual and there’s so much confusing information I would love to know what you do, if you’re okay with sharing.”

This is something I have gone over in my blog before, but not quite in this way. The posts on ritual praxis are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. However, since that was covering specifically Heathen praxis I thought it was worth revisiting it here for a more general polytheist and Pagan audience.

First, to define what a ritual is. According to the OED a ritual is “1 A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Thankfully, this definition tells us nothing of what that religious or solemn ceremony actually consists of, only that there is a prescribed order. The fun part of being a Pagan is that your prescribed order may be entirely worked out with your Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and/or developed on our own depending on the relationships, roles, and the reasons for the rituals we engage in. Likewise, our solemnity may follow either the first or the second definition rather than the first alone: “1 Formal and dignified. 2 Characterized by deep sincerity.”

Rituals may be performed anywhere. I mean that sincerely. We may be more or less prepared to do a ritual in whatever the ideal ways are for us are. Ritual is available to us as a way and tool of connection, power, and relationship wherever we go. They can be incredibly simple, from three deep breaths and a “Thank you” to the Goddess Sunna for shining down on us or as complex as a community-wide Haustblot (Autumn Sacrifice) with animal sacrifice and feast.

To make how I craft a ritual easier to follow I will break it down into steps.

Step 1: The Reason for Ritual

Before we begin to design a ritual we need to know why we are doing ritual, what ways of doing ritual are respectful for my Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and what role(s) are in that ritual. Is this ritual’s purpose right? That is, does a given ritual deepen my right relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestors, vaettr, or group of Them? If it is not a devotional ritual, but something like a rite for empowerment or protection, does the ritual provide some kind of positive result for the ritualist(s)?

Step 2: The Form of the Ritual

This is how the ritual will be conducted and where it will be conducted. The language you use, the cadence, tone, and other delivery of it may change depending on if you are approaching the Gods in a formal way or an informal way, or if you are doing ritual for a group. It can also depend on the size of a give group, or the kind of emotion the ritual is supposed to tap into. In the case of a simple devotional rite, like the one above with three breaths to Sunna and a “Thank you”, it a simple ritual of thanks. With a Haustblót it can be incredibly complex, with many ritual steps including leading a group through prayers, offerings, divination, and sacrifice.

Step 3: Consideration for the Ritual

This is about where the ritual taking place and how best a ritual space can be accomodating to its ritualists and attendees. Can the ritual be performed as desired in that space? Is the place for the ritual accessibile to folks with mobility disabilities? Is the ritual or ritual prep going to take a long time and the ritual crew and attendants need food/drink? Are there special props, offerings, etc that must be included or excluded? If alcohol is at the rite is there a non-alcohol option for folks who do not drink it?

Step 4: Roles for the Ritual

This is about who does what in the ritual. If you have a spiritual specialist, or several, what role(s) do they serve and how do they serve it? If you are doing a solo ritual, how do you create your role within the ritual so that you can enact the ritual while also experiencing it? Are there aspects of the ritual you can ask others to perform or do you need to do it yourself, eg divination after the rite? While this step takes on a bigger function in a group setting thinking about your role as a ritualist in private rituals can be helpful in considering how a given rite might affect you, and what you need to do to be in a good mindset for each part of it.

Once these questions are answered we can get into designing the ritual itself. We will go over my basic ritual outline below.

1. Cleansing. Cleanse yourself, the area, and anything being brought into the ritual not consecrated to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. Likewise, cleanse any spiritual or other tools that you bring into the space. Cleansing can be done by tradition-appropriate methods, eg khernips or reykr/recels, or by a simple blessing spoken over water and sprinkled on an area/person/item.

2. Grounding. This is letting go of any excess energy whether accumulated throughout the day or disturbed by the act of cleansing. This can be as simple as three long breaths, letting your muscles relax, and getting ready for the next step, or as complex as a multipart tree visualization where you put your ‘roots’ into the Earth and exchange energy with the Earth and/or an Earth Goddess.

3. Centering. This centering yourself in what you are doing and why you are here. For ritual work this is coming to focus on the ritual. In other contexts centering might be focusing on the hereness of your body, the next step in whatever task you have before you, or being present and acknowledging thoughts as they occur and letting them go.

4. Shielding/Warding. This is present in Wiccan traditions as casting a circle, and while most non-Wiccan polytheist religions do not normally do this, there are definitely ways in which a person is shielded or a place warded. Atropotaic symbols adorn temples as well as people the world over. We wear symbols of our Gods, which not only serve as signs of our devotion, but also may call to our Gods to protect us, and/or give us strength to protect ourselves. The bringing of fire around a space in Heathenry to cleanse a space also serves to set the sacred boundary so it is a two-in-one cleansing and shielding. I put this step here because some folks, myself included, usually have a step where a space is formally declared sacred when it is not at our home altars, shrines, or vé and we cannot use something like fire to cleanse and ward.

5. Set the Intention of the Ritual. This can be a simple declarative statement such as “Thank you, Sunna, for shining down on me. I share this coffee with You in gratefulness.” It can be as complex as “Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir! We come together today to celebrate the Haustblót, to celebrate the Fall Harvest, and to sacrifice our offerings so that cycle of gift for a gift continues! Hail to all of our Holy Ones!” The point of Step 5 is to firmly fix what the point of it is and to get undewray.

6. Call to/invite the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Again, this can be as flowery or as simple as your Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tradition, or style of ritual allows for. Sometimes simple is way better, especially starting out. Be sure if you are calling to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir by certain titles, epithets, heiti, etc that you know what they are and what calling on Them in that way means.

7. Engage in the ritual itself. Take the time you need to do it well. Immerse in the experience in the moment and analyze your experiences after the ritual.

8. Thank the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their Presence. Make offerings, prayers, and do any work needed in thanks, in reciprocity, at this point.

9. Do any ritual aftercare, cleanup, and take down of the vé, altar, etc if needed.

Especially for new folks or folks who are out of practice it may take doing more than a few to get everything down. The work will teach you how to do the work. If you have questions, comments, or thoughts leave them in the comments or email me and we can work from there.