Relationships with Spirits -Part 2

This post was started a long time ago, and I am relieved to have finished it as well as I can. Part 1 is here.

Before we begin to address the question of how to begin a relationship with a vaettr, we need to address why we are forming relationships with vaettir at all. This really cuts to where we find ourselves in cosmology and how we relate to the different kinds of vaettir. Our worldview is vaettir-filled, where we as humans are not central to our cosmology and we live in co-existing and co-creating relationships with vaettir in Urðr/Wyrd. The default stance I take with Heathens and Northern Tradition Pagans in regards to vaettir is that of devotion -we form relationships that are devotional because we worship the vaettir and wish to cultivate right relationship with Them.

Stating the standard for our relationships is that of devotion gives proper place to our relationship to the majority of vaettir we exist in relationship with. We rely on various vaettir for our existence, such as the Ancestors without whom we would not be here in the first place, the vindrvaettir who form the air we breathe, the vatnvaettir that make up the water necessary for our lives, the eldrvaettir that makes so much of the modern world possible with Their fire that flows through our buildings, or the jordvaettir beneath our feet and that make up our homes, just to name a few. We can have a variety of kinds of relationships with vaettir. With devotion as the baseline we underscore our general relationship to the vaettir and can contrast it with the different kinds of relationships that can grow out of or beyond that baseline.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Ancestors

The easiest way to build a relationship with a vaettr (singular of vaettir, spirits) is to give space for that vaettr. Physical, real space on an altar or other kind of vé, a sacred place. As mentioned in the last post, the least you need is a surface with a cloth, a candle, matches or a lighter, and a cup for offerings. Water, sacred herbs, and food are our most common offerings to all of our vaettir. As you develop relationships with various vaettir They may make certain requirements for offerings known to you. The physical space and the giving of physical offerings given to the vaettr is necessary; it invites the spirit into your life in an utterly physical way, grounding the relationship in one’s life as well as in one’s space.

Before any other vaettir I recommend people start building relationships with their Ancestors, especially the Disir, Väter, Ergi, and Ancestors one knew before They died. This is because our Ancestors, especially the powerful ones, have our best interests at heart. The reason I recommend building relationships with those Ancestors we had relationships with in life is because it aids discernment, and can help smooth the process of reaching out to the rest of one’s Ancestors. I tip my hat to my Brother Jim for this. For those who have had troubled relationships with their recently dead Ancestors, I recommend going back further. If your mother or father were abusive, go back farther in your family line until you are away from the poison of that abuse. If you do not know the names of your Ancestors, do the geneaology research you can, and in the meantime ask the Disir, Väter, and Ergi to help you meet your good and healthy Ancestors.

When you are ready follow the Simplest Altar and Simple Invitation Rite of the last post. Remember that a gipt fá gipt/Gebo relationship is one that honors both participants, and it may take a while for the relationship to get beyond introductions. There is no timeframe you need to have for settling into a comfortable relationship with your Ancestors. It will take its own time. Setting the space and maintaining the right mindset and giving time for the relationship is vastly more important than courting powerful visions or experiences. If you want feedback from the Ancestors and do not get it in direct experiences get some kind of divination system, learn how to use it, and dedicate it to communication with Them. This divination system might only be useful for communication with the Ancestors, or it may be useful to communication with any vaettir. This is something that you will need to learn by experience. Directly asking the vaettir in question if They want a dedicated divination system does not hurt. Even if you do get direct experiencess with the Ancestors I would still heavily recommend learning at least one if not many divination systems.

If you are fully new to Heathenry or the Northern Tradition I would recommend spending anywhere from half to a full year doing regular Ancestor worship before starting any new relationships with other vaettir. Dedicating fifteen minutes a day after cleansing and other preparation to simple prayers and offerings each day, at least three to four times a week will build a solid foundation of devotion and understanding. There will be times when life intrudes; in that case, dedicate time the next day to your devotion. Explain to the Ancestors why you missed, not to beat yourself up or denigrate yourself, but because your Ancestors deserve the respect of an explanation.

Adding new items to the vé does not have to be big or elaborate. The most common additions to my family’s altars come from thrift stores and antique shops. Often our additions, especially with the Ancestor vé, are vessels that hold offerings and serve as representative of certain Ancestors. Whatever you add needs to be connective between you and the vaettir, and respectfully maintained. As time goes on you might find yourself accumulating items representing various Ancestors, but this is only a requirement insofar as the Ancestors make that requirement of you. There is something to be said for simple vé as well as busy ones. What matters is that the ve is a place of connection with your Ancestors.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Landvaettir

As with the Ancestors it is about giving space to Them so you have a common meeting place. In our home we have two different areas for different kinds of landvaettir. The housevsaettir have Their own space while the landvaettir have Their own on a different altar entirely. A really simple way of making a space for landvaettir is to ask the landvaettir for a piece of Them to bring into your ve. The rock we have on our jörðvaettir vé is a stone we uncovered while preparing our garden. Our housevaettir have a wooden bird feeder in the shape of a house. Our outdoor vé is a sacred grove with a single tree representing Yggdrasil and the landvaettir. Another option is to make a hörgr, a vé made of a pile of stones. You can make the vé for landvaettir indoors or outdoors, though given my experiences I would recommend both. It is far better to pay regular attention and cultus to the landvaettir who have a space on an indoor shrine or altar than to only occasionally visit Their shrine outside.

The Ancestors generally have our best interests in mind and will guide, follow, and walk with us in life. We literally live on and alongside the landvaettir. Having a good relationship with the landvaettir may start simple, but I can assure you that over time it will not stay that way. Having a good relationship with the landvaettir requires us to treat our homes, whatever your living situation, as places that are inhabited by Beings besides us. Thoses Beings have interests that may or may not align with our own. Living well with the landvaettir will probably push you to take a hard look at how you live, encouraging land-healing things like composting scraps, and altering your spending habits so you produce less garbage. Anyone can improve their relationship with the landvaettir by being more mindful of what we consume, how we treat the land we live on, and by growing what we can where we can, dedicating all these things as offerings to Them.

When beginning a relationship with the landvaettir perhaps the best questions you can ask yourself are related to how you live on the land. How can I honor the land I live on? How can I live as low-impact as possible on the land? What native plant species can I encourage where I live? If I cannot grow or raise my own food who can I patronize that can? Ask the landvaettir directly what they want, and go from there.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Fylgja, Kinfylgja, and Vörðr

In the Ancestor section of this post I recommended learning at least one if not many divination styles. Vaettir like fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr are why. As with other vaettir giving Them space in your vé is important. Unlike the Ancestors and landvaettir where you can have clear ideas of who They are, figuring out the identity of one’s fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr will likely require divination.

With fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr one of the best questions you can ask is: Why are you seeking Them out? Really dig into this, especially since a given vaettr will likely want to know why you sought Them out.

Do you just want to know who They are? Do you want a better working relationship with Them? Do you want to make new connections with a fylgja as a tutelary spirit in a field of magic or hobby you are interested in? Do you want to connect with kinfylgja your Ancestors still have connections with but only you are willing to put in the work for the relationship? Do you want to know your vörðr so you can better work with your guardian? Are you looking to develop power, skill, talent, or a bond that will help you out when you need it? There are a lot of reasons to seek out relationships with vaettir, and the more clear and honest you can be the cleaner you will be in looking for the relationship, and if reciprocated, engage in the relationship.

If you have an idea from divination what kind of vaettr the fylgja, kinfylgja, or vörðr is you can tailor your initial offerings and method of contact to Them.

It may require, either instead of or after divination, some kind of spiritwork. One example of this is utiseta, Old Norse meaning sitting out. One goes somewhere, such as one’s vé or on in a natural spot such as a clearing or grove of trees in a forest, then sits or lies down and enters into trance. Historically utiseta was connected with going somewhere to stir spirits up, do magic, or spirit work. Utisetsa itself, combined with a calling prayer, song, or something similar, may be enough for a vaettr to come to a person. If not, the more dangerous option may be open, known as hamfara, or one’s hame-shape faring forth, or engaging in spiritual journey work. This hamfara may be a requirement to meet certain vaettir, including certain fylgja or kinfylgja in a designated place. Perhaps it asks you to visit it in its home, perhaps on neutral ground. This kind of spiritwork in detail is beyond this post, but I would be remiss to not include it as a method some folks may need to engage in order to find or encounter a given vaettr.

This is not something I recommend for most people -at any skill level. If you can get the work done here in Midgarðr and don’t have to leave your body then you are far safer doing so. While not everything will be out to get you should you fare forth, there is enough danger to your hamr that I recommend folks do a good amount spiritwork before even going to a place friendly to them. I do not see vörðr as likely needing hamfara, but They, or more likely you, will need utisetsa to see them or communicate until the relationship is more solid.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Alfar

This section is going to be limited purely because I do not work with the Alfar all that much. As with any vaettir knowing why you want to establish a relationship with Them and giving Them a space in your life is key to starting a good relationship. Where the lore is concerned Alfar are often split into two or three separate groups: Ljossalfar, Dökkalfar, and Svartalfar which are light elves, dark elves, and black elves respectively. As I mentioned in the previous post, there is a great deal of confusion over identity and who each kind of Being is.

Wherever I can I try to relate to vaettir by Their own names, understanding Them as separate Beings. So, in my understanding of Them, the Ljossalfar, Dökkalfar, and Svartalfar are all different kinds of Alfar, each with Their own culture. It seems to me on first glance the Dökkalfar and Svartalfar are separate groups, so I will err on the side of caution here. What kinds of approach work for different kind of Alfar will depend on that culture, and on the individual vaettr.

Most of my interactions with Alfar in general have been with regards to visiting Freyr. When I have encountered Ljossalfar I was doing spiritual journeying in Ljossalfheim. This is not true of the Svartalfar, some of whom I have seen in Svartalfheim. However, most of the interactions I have had with Beings in and from Svartalfheim have been with Dvergar, dwarves. So, are the Dvergar Svartalfar? I am just not the spirit worker to ask on this. So, my recommendation is to read as much as you can of the lore and firsthand accounts of modern folks who have journeyed and have good relationships with these vaettir. Much of my advice for developing relationships with the Alfar in general is going to follow similar lines: do your research, learn what traditional offerings there are in the lore and make the ones you can to the Alfar you wish to develop a relationship with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Dvergar

The Dvergar or Duergar are generally known as Dwarves. They are said to be or share Svartalfheim with the Svartalfar. In my experience this is a shared world between these two peoples. Shared unevenly, but shared nonetheless.

They are renowned for being cantankerous and the best crafters in the Nine Worlds. Understanding this is why being really clear on why you want to develop a relationship with a given vaettr or group of vaettir is so important. Gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift, aka reciprocity) matters, and the Dvergar in my experience hold it in the deepest regard. That is not to say that developing a relationship with the Dvergar to ask for help in a given craft is a bad idea; far from it. Rather, do not approach Them only as a friend and then begin asking for Them to share secrets of the trade with you. If you want to learn from Them on how to do a given craft better then do it, but do not do it hidden under the guise of friendship. Sure, a friendly relationship could grow from such an interaction, but far better you are clear in your motives both for your own sake and the sake of the relationship.

In my experience the Dvergar enjoy well brewed items, including beers, mead, and liquors. This is especially true if you brewed it yourself or worked with a brewer to make the offering. From my rather limited interaction with this group of vaettir, meats and breads are also appreciated, the less processing done and the more care taken in cooking/baking it the better.

All of this said, my relationship with Andvari has been very different from my other devotional relationships. Mostly, it has consisted of being as clear as I can in what is mine. Apply the idea as broad and as thin as you can of being exceptionally clear on what is mine. This is an ongoing work that I do both for Him and I. Another quite powerful part of my relationship with Andvari has been developing a far better and healthier relationship with money and working at chipping down my debts. You could well ask why, and part of it is because that is what Andvari is really good at, where at least part of His focus lies. The sorting out of my debt is, in a way, sorting out what is mine and bringing back into my hands all that is mine so I can put it to my use. This is not all that different from a crafter making sure they have all their tools at hand and cared for. Money, having its own group of vaettir as well as being the means by which we trade our claim on labor for goods, services, and the repayment of debt, can bring power when we are in good alignment with it.

You may find that the Dvergar you interact with want the same kinds of offerings as other Holy Powers, but given my experiences I would not be surprised to find that They have very specific wants from you should They accept your cultus. Gifts of your hands, made to the best of your ability, may be accepted. Another may be ongoing dedicated work, such as learning a craft, which can vary as far as blacksmithing to knitting, brewing to soapmaking. Whatever the offering, it should be made with and in the spirit of excellence even should you be far from being master at whatever it is.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Jötnar

Jötnar are perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood group of Gods and vaettir in Heathen religion and the wider Pagan communities. Since this post is about vaettir I will dig into the Jötnar as vaettir rather than going over the various Jötnar Gods.

The notion that Jötnar are uniquely dangerous is rather undeserved in my view. All vaettir are potentially dangerous. Anyone who thinks deer are little more than placid creatures should watch videos of hunters who have had to tangle hand-to-hoof with one. It tends to end poorly for the hunter. It should be remembered no small amount of the Aesir that so many seem to think are less dangerous are actually ferocious and equally, if not more dangerous than many Jötnar. Many are Jötun or have Jötun ancestry Themselves even if the allegiance They hold is to the Aesir. All of the Gods are capable of being ferocious in battle, and anyone who tries to, say, pin the Vanir as uniquely being Gods of peace or specifically pacificity should be reminded that though Freyr gave up His sword for love, He still took up the antler as His weapon and fought Surt with it at Ragnarök. The Aesir and Vanir fought one another to a standstill which was only broken when hostages were exchanged.

So what are Jötnar? Put simply They are vaettir who are tied quite close to primal forces and natural phenomena, though They may or may not be the personification of that primal force and/or natural phenomena. They are often looked at and understood as wilder than Aesir and Vanir, with these two tribes of Gods often looked upon as the ‘civilized’ Gods. My experience with Jötnar is that They do tend to be more outwardly wild than the Aesir or Vanir, but that the claims that the Jötnar are uncivilized is dead wrong. They have cultures, distinct to the regions They live in and/or roam. This ties into the idea of regional cultus, the idea that our location, environment, place in time, and culture’s response to these factors impacts our spiritual relationships, making them unique to an area. Regional cultus has existed because we came to understand our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and our relationships with Them in context of where we live and how our culture’s traditions reacted to and reinforced those relationships. This understanding, to my mind, is a two way street: we relate to our Holy Powers in context of where we live and how, and They in turn relate to us through those ways. So some ways in which we relate to Jötnar may not translate 1:1 with our sources of lore. For instance: Michigan has a lack of mountains (except the Porcupine Mountains, for instance, in the Upper Peninsula) so that I have very little interaction with vaettir in general tied to mountains unless I journey to a place with mountains spiritually or physically.

Beginning a relationship with a landvaettr seems to make sense to people intuitively in an animist/polytheist way. After all, we live on the Earth, the Earth is a Goddess and is also full of spirits of that Earth. Why wouldn’t we want to have a good relationship with the land we live on? When it comes to Jötnar folks seem to forget this mindset, also forgetting that the Goddess whose name is Earth, Jörð, is Jötun. I do find that some Jötnar ride the line or are landvaettir Themselves. Others are Beings who take up space within the context of being aligned with a place, eg Jötnar aligned with bodies of water such as Undines tend to be there. They tend to be of or take up the wildest aspects of these places.

So why do we develop relationships with the Jötnar? They are part of the primal forces that make up our world, and They are found throughout most of the Worlds. We can encounter Jötnar most anywhere we do landvaettir. Additionally, we may find Them in the primal aspects of this world, among them storms, ice, snow, winds, forests, swamps, and animals. Some, given They live in Jötunheim, Niflheim, Múpelheim, and so on, may require a spiritual journey to meet with Them. My previous warnings on journeying apply here even more so considering how much more powerful the Jötnar generally are than us, how extreme these environments are to us, and that in journeying to these places we are entering their realms. If you can meet with Them here that is probably for the best. That being said, Jötnar are renowned in many arts, from medicinal to martial, magic, shapeshifting, and more. Seeking Them out for devotion is slowly becoming more accepted, but whether a thing is accepted or not, devotion to these Beings is a beautiful and powerful thing. They are among our Holy Powers. Seeking Them out for devotion, partnership, or help in an endeavor is a powerful working in and of itself. How much more so when you worship and/or ally with the primal Beings we share this and other Worlds with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -The Dead

Of any of the various vaettir one could work with the Dead are one I advise folks have a lot of caution before working with Them. It may seem counterintuitive, given how much emphasis I have put in this post and in my blog in general on working with our Ancestors. After all, They are Dead. The Ancestors are, at least in part among the Dead, but not all are the Dead, and for those that are, we hold unique relationships with Them. We do not have this connection with the general Dead. The Dead draw Their ranks from among every Being in every World. Some may retain grudges into whatever Their afterlife is, whereas some change entirely.

So what are the Dead? They are spirits of those who once lived. They come from every World. Some are human; most are not. It is not worth bothering most of the Dead. Most Dead who can be contacted know about as much, sometimes more and sometimes less, than those when They are alive. Likewise for the Dead’s ability to act in the Worlds. Contacting the Dead besides those methods approved by a God or Goddess of the Dead tends to be fairly dangerous. Not only are you risking wrangling with a potentially angry and dangerous vaettr, you may also be risking pissing off a God or Goddess of the Dead. So why develop a relationship with the Dead at all?

We all have Dead people, not just Ancestors, as part of our foundation. The Dead share this world with us. When we get right down to brass tacks, we literally stand on the Dead as the decomposed bodies on the soil of the Earth. Our homes are built on Them, our civilizations’ foundations, metaphorically and literally, rest on Them. We are in relationship with the Dead whatever our religion. Some of these Dead are part of the landvaettir, and others remain distinct. We might reach out to the Dead to form better relationships with the places we live. I live on land that the Patawatome, Ojibwe, Wyandot, Iriquois, and others may have lived on. To be in good relationship with the landvaettir I need to be good to the Dead that are part of Them, that live with or within the landvaettir.

We might reach out to different kinds of Dead as a devotional act. In my own case I give cultus to the Warrior and Military Dead, most of whom I am completely unrelated to. I honor the Dead as a priest of Anpu that come across my altar to the Dead as a kind of spiritual waystation. I maintain it per Anpu’s direction by providing a good place to rest for those Dead who need it, and for others who are ready to move on. This physical space is an offering in and of itself, giving the Dead the use of the waystation to go to where it is They need to. Others worship factions of the Dead because they relate to certain professions, callings, and the like. Whatever one’s reason for forging relationships with the Dead, one should have good relationships with one’s own Ancestors first, and clear ideas of boundaries around one’s relationship with any Dead one would like to make.

The safest way that I know how to build a relationship with the Dead is to first ask permission from Hela if the Dead are in Hel/Helheimr, or the God of whatever Dead you are trying to contact. If you are trying to contact one of the Dead who has drowned then Rán would be the Goddess to direct prayers to. If someone died in combat, then Freyja or Óðinn. I find it a cool and interesting part of Norse/Icelandic Heathenry that there are a number of places for the Dead to go, though the majority will go to Hel/Helheimr. If you secure the permission of the God of a particular group of Dead to contact Them, then, as with other vaettir make a space for Them on/in a vé, make offerings, and do your due dilligence to be sure that contact is made, the offerings are accepted, and the relationship has begun. I highly recommend the Dead have an entirely separate vé from your Gods, Ancestors, and other vaettir. Keeping clear and healthy boundaries is to your benefit and respectful to the Gods, Ancestors, and other vaettir you hold relationships with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Elemental

Elemental vaettir are what it says on the tin. Now, an obvious question here is “Are landvaettir elemental vaettir?” and my answer is “Yes.” The way that I figure it, is that all landvaettir are jörðvaettir but not all jörðvaettr are landvaettir. Sometimes a vaettr of the Earth, a jörðvaettr, is not part of or attached to a specific piece of land, but it may be an individual rock, bit of soil, a tree, and so on. So what are the elemental vaettir within Heathenry? They are beings of or related to the elements of Fire and Ice first, followed by Water, Earth, and Air. Fire and Ice, in the Worlds of Múspellheimr and Niflheimr, were the first two Worlds to emerge from the Ginnungagap (often referred to as “the yawning void”, but another interpretation can be the “power-filled space”) and from the meeting of Fire and Ice the Water flowed, Earth was uncovered in Niflheim, and the first stirrings of Air were made, the first breaths taken.

I understand that all elemental vaettir are related to and interconnected with each other. Looking at this from the perspective of Fire is helpful. Each eldrvaettr, fire spirit, relates back to the First Fire that burns in Múspellsheimr. Is that First Fire Surtr? I happen to believe so, but whether Surtr is the First Fire or the First Being that comes from the unfolding burning of that First Fire is rather immaterial. He is the the First God. That Fire that became or is Surtr is the Eldest Ancestor, the First Being that burns still from whom all Fire descends. Each fire, no matter how great or small is related back to that Eldest Ancestor, that First Fire. Each fire, whether an eldrvaettr, a jötnar, or a God associated with or possessing qualities of Fire relates in some way to that First Fire. Each fire, whether a small candle, a firecracker, a wildfire, a volcano, relates back to that Fire.

So how do we develop a relationship with elemental vaettir? We honor Them, we make prayers and offerings to Them just as we do other vaettir. We make prayers and are respectful to the powerful Beings connected to Them or from whom They descend. We understand each Being, no matter how small or great, is or is connected with a vaettr, and treat it well accordingly. We understand that the world is full of and is a vaettr.

Like with other vaettir we make space for it on a vé, and this can be very simple to start with: a simple white cloth on a surface with a representation of ice, or something that can hold actual ice or snow when able. For fire, a candle either a burning candle or LED if you are in a space where burning is not permitted. For water a small bowl or cup filled regularly. For earth a patch of dirt or rock from where you live; do not forget to ask permission and if you get it to make offerings to the landvaettir you take this from. For air an incense burner with incense, a pinwheel, or a bell. Really, what you can make a connection with here is going to matter far more than some examples I can give you. The point is that, whatever vé you set up for whichever vaettir, it should be something you can connect with.

Among the reasons we reach out to elemental vaettir as a devotional act to understand Them better, to have better relationships with Them. In understanding and working with Them better we understand and work with the basic elemental forces that make up the Worlds, that we live alongside, that we depend upon and are part of our everyday existence. We can develop deeper and better relationship with the Beings Whose bodies our modern world is built upon, and in so doing, come into better alignment with where They would have us be, and so, find ourselves embracing better ways of living in this World.

We Are Not the Center

Since we are not the center of our cosmology or the relationships we form within that cosmology, we must recognize that we are not the only ones capable of proposing or forming relationships. Any of the vaettir can reach out to us for a relationship for Their own reasons, reasons which They may or may not share with us. Being most of us are free agents in regards to the relationships we forge with the vaettir, we may accept or deny these connections, and then live with whatever consequences may come from that. Note: I assigned no value to this for a reason. We may have legitimate reasons for not wanting to develop a relationship with a given vaettr or group of vaettir. Your reasons for developing a relationship with a vaettr or a group of vaettir are just that.

There are a variety of factors beyond our basic worldview that can factor into our relationships with vaettir. Among them are the Gods we worship, and what role(s) we take on within our religious communities. Some find that worshiping the Æsir keeps them from worshiping Jötnar altogether, though this has not been my own experience. Some find that worshiping the Dvergar may be a factor in whether or not they can worship the Ljossalfar. Some do not. This is also why we have a broad range of spiritual specialists in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition Pagan religions. We cannot be all things to all the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If you came to me as a spirit worker and asked for help with the Ljossalfar I would be pointing you in another direction because I do not hold relationships with Them. I coud maybe do some divination for you, maybe something in the realm of yes/no, but anything digging in too deep with how to develop good relationships with Them or what to do when one comes knocking on your door? If you want to positively respond to that I generally do not have much for you. It does not make me a bad spirit worker or that the Ljossalfar bad Themselves, I just do not have a good relationship with Them.

A spirit-worker will likely have different kinds of relationships with different kinds of vaettir from the average non-specialist. After all, a non-specialist can have very deep relationships but carry no baggage from being sworn to a group of vaettir into a given relationship. The non-specialist here then has, potentially, quite an advantage over the specialist since many of us are grabbed up by or have otherwise come into the service of a group of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. We may not have the option of engaging with a group of vaettir that a non-specialist could. Being a spirit worker does not make us inherently better than a non-specialist, it just means we are geared or driven towards certain kinds of spirit work. It’s a job title like diviner or healer; some spirit workers get more than one job wrapped up in their job as a spirit worker, and some do not.

What matters, in the end, is that each person is willing and able to develop good relationships with the vaettir that they come to or vice versa. Really, this gets down to the core of being Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan. Whatever you do, whatever your role, whether Heathen, Northern Tradition, or just adjacent to these communities, you should be coming to the vaettir to develop a good relationship with Them. May these relationships be well-made and well-maintained.

Good luck and ves þu heil!

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 2: When a God Comes

From my first Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

What to do when a god, especially one as terrifying and as pushy as Odin, comes knocking? I think it would be good for future heathens who get called by Him.

Ideally, as a Heathen, you will have your life grounded in gipt-fá-gipt (gift-for-a-gift, aka reciprocity) with the Gods, the Ancestors, and the vaettir. If not, well, now is the time to start!

So this can be pretty delicate or dicey depending on how a God or Goddess comes to you. This is where spiritual specialists, even if you are one, are useful. Getting solid divination done to see if what you have experienced is indeed contact with the God or Goddess you think it is, if what has contacted you in the first place is even a God, what to do and where to go from here all should be asked of a diviner and/or vaettirverkr (spirit worker) you trust. If at all possible the diviner or vaettirverkr should have an ongoing relationship in good stead with the God or Goddess in question, and barring that, be in active good relationships with Gods related to the one in question.

This is not to say you cannot get some good divination and guidance from folks outside of a given religious path, in our case here being Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan. However, the likelihood is that folks within these religions will be able to give you clearer or more informed answers than those outside of it. Wherever you are, starting with folks you know, trust not to bullshit you, and will partner with you to help discern experiences you have is the first step.

From there, if divination finds that the experience you have had is from a God or Goddess then negotiation is going to be of deep help. Most folks are going to be in a decent place to bargain on boundaries and obligations unless you have done something like made some kind of formal oath to the God or Goddess already. If you have made an oath the best thing you can do is keep it. If you have made an oath to a God that you are literally unable to keep, then appealing to the God directly, or to another God within the God or Goddess’ family as well as your Ancestors is probably the way to go. Again, situations like these are delicate/dicey. They are nuanced and best worked out with a skilled diviner and/or vaettirverkr within your direct situation.

Assuming that you have had a genuine experience of a God or Goddess coming to you, have no big oaths or obligations hanging over your head to go this or that way, what do you do now?

Even if your boundary is “I cannot handle an intense relationship right now” doing basic, respectful cultus to the God is what I would do. It respects the God has reached out to you and you, in turn, give the God the space in your life that you can. As time goes on things can change, whether circumstances in your life open up so you can give effective time to the relationship, or following up on a hobby or interest opens a new door into your relationship with the God. Doing research into the God may open you up to different ways of understanding Him. You may find that a God entering your life is to open you up to other relationships with that God’s relatives or loved ones, rather than engaging intensely or only with Them.

Having a God like Óðinn knocking on your door can be damned terrifying. I think about the worst thing to do would be to ignore Him. If He is there, and divination bears that out, then I would honor Him by recognizing Him, revering Him, and doing your best to understand Him. Negotiate and engage with Him in good Gebo. He has taken time out to reach out to you, and in reciprocity, it is good to reach back to Him.

Moving Beyond the Wound-Chasm

I recently listened to Episode 28 of Everyday Animism, Animism and the Broken Path. The hosts raised some good points, among them being the understanding that decolonization of and embracing authenticity within our religious lives is an ongoing process. They hit the idea of the breaking of our Ancestors’ ties with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir quite a bit.

Heathenry has faced and is continuing to face the same challenges as those they were speaking to as animists. As Heathenry came up from the 70s, there has been quite an effort expended to come up with our own words, our own understanding of ourselves. Reviving religions and eventually cultures takes work and time. As academic fields came up with new information we adjusted our understanding of where we stood and where we are going. As new understandings of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir came forward many changed with them. Heathenry, like a lot of polytheist religions, does a lot of looking back.

Where I would like to see conversations like these move is beyond where our Ancestors’ wound-chasm lies, that place where our Ancestors destroyed or whose connection was destroyed to their culture and absorbed into Christian and Muslim cultures. We are not living there. It is important to look at it, to acknowledge it, and to work to heal it, but our point of view cannot live there. Likewise, I feel we need to shift the conversation away from cultural appropriation and into embracing our own cultures. Beyond surface-level idiocy, see the Coachella models wearing headdresses or the same at Burning Man, my understanding is that a lot of appropriation is a grasping for something. That grasping might be words to describe a thing, like when folks grasp onto the word smudging (which is a ritual in and of itself, not just waving around smoke to get rid of evil spirits) when we have reykr (Old Norse for smoke) or recan (Anglo-Saxon for cleansing something with smoke) as words for smoke cleansing. That grasping might be for ancestral spirits, where folks might grasp for totem (which is a corruption of the Ojibwe word doodem, itself being a noun needing a prefix) I would point them to kinfylgja (Old Norse for kin follower/helper spirits). Wherever we are grasping we should look to our religions, our cultures first.

This means that we need to embrace our own understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and ourselves over that of outsiders to our religions. Academics and others external to our religious and cultural communities are fine and should be looked to so long as their studies, commentary, etc are useful to us. Rather than this being an anti-academic or anti-science approach, this is an approach that weighs the usefulness and relevancy of outsider views on us, our religions, and cultures. Dr. Jackson Crawford and Dr. Caroline Larrington are excellent academic sources on Old Norse texts. What neither are is Heathen. Their expertise is not in religious instruction, nor would I want to put them in such a position. Likewise, the texts they have translated, the books they have written, and lectures they produce are not meant to be religious instruction.

Part of decolonizing ourselves and our communities is to radically embrace our own living religious worldviews. Decolonizing cannot be accomplished without this. Indeed, part of the point of it is to stop drinking the poison and to drink good clean water. We do this by understanding and especially living within our worldview. For Heathens this is living in good Gebo, reciprocity, with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and within ourselves. We are going to develop neologisms and work with words and concepts in new forms. My own use of the word Mikilvaettir and use of Ergi to describe and honor our Powerful Queer Ancestors is evidence of this. I understand that writing here on my blog, resources such as The Longship, and the work of countless individuals and communities developing their own relationships, vocabulary and worldviews all are part of this work. Whether we live quiet lives doing devotion or busy ones full of spirit work, or whether we lie somewhere in between, by worshiping Them and fuIfilling our part of Urðr we do the work of rejecting poison and drinking good water.

Reflection on Polytheism, Tribalism, and Politics

To hear most news and blog outfits tell it, tribal mindsets are part of the very problem which is subjecting us to such deep divides in the overculture of America and in particular Pagan communities. I would say that the exact opposite is the problem.

What do I mean by this? In the same vein that I completely disagree with folkish groups excluding people based on race or ethnicity I also disagree with the idea that any community should be open to anyone at any given time. I certainly don’t conduct my own Kindred like that. To do that would be irresponsible. You cannot just make familial relationships with anyone that happens by and expresses an interest in being Heathen. Kindreds are far, far deeper than that. These are the people you tie your orlog and Urdr/Wyrd in tight with. These are the people that rank right with your family in terms of priorities. So no, not just anyone can or should join my Kindred.

In other words, there are standards to join, and some of them are quite tangible, such as “Have you read and can you demonstrate an understanding of the lore? Have you done the work of being a Heathen and/or Northern Tradition Pagan for at least a year?” Others, such as actually getting along with current members and jelling with our structure are less tangible but no less important. Race and gender are not areas we care about. What matters to us is whether or not you believe in the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, if you worship Them, and if you mesh with the group and its beliefs.

We cannot be for everyone. Not even Heathenry itself is for everyone. Some folks will never want to worship the Heathen Holy Powers, and that is fine. Heathenry is not for you, then. Some folks will never believe that there are Gods, or that They, together with the Ancestors and vaettir, are real spiritual beings. Heathenry is not for you, then. To just accept that anyone who says that they are Heathen is Heathen is to make the terms Heathen, Heathenry, and the like meaningless. We are not just what we say we are. We are what we believe, and from those beliefs what we do, how we live our lives, and the worldview within which that life is lived.

Where I think a lot of folks in the Pagan and polytheist communities fall down is assuming that universal access to a given religion or tradition is, itself, a good. This is not something most religious communities hold as an expectation. Catholics expect anyone who is going to be an adult member of the Church to be a confirmed Catholic. Pentacostal Christians expect you to have accepted Christ as your personal savior. To put it simply, polytheist religions and Pagan religions are not for everyone. To expect they are or should be denies that there are rules and expectations that our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits hold for our comunities and for us as individuals. It denies that our own communities should develop our own codes of conduct, our own ways of living in reciprocity with our Holy Powers, or that we should decide who and how we should associate with. This is one of the ways in which cultures and religions are created, contained, and maintained as their own.

When it comes down to it, a lot of Pagan communities are actively cultivating their own cultures. Whether it is to communities linked to British Traditional Witchcraft, Dianic Wiccans and Neopagans, Feri, Neo-Wiccan groups, the myriad polytheist communities, and so on, polytheist and Pagan communities are right in the mix of defining for themselves who they are, what they believe, and what they do. The problem is that very few communities within Pagan communities are consciously engaging with an understanding of this or the implications it brings. The problems this brings goes both ways.

Z. Budapest was wrong to create an exclusionary ritual in the midst of a public multireligion gathering whose entire purpose is to bring together people across boundaries of religion, sex, gender, and so on. No matter how wrong-headed I find her gender politics or other views, as much as PantheaCon did not and does not owe her a venue, she has a right to her beliefs, and the right to gatekeep her community. Likewise, this right goes to anyone who chooses to join her. I can think folkish groups are as wrong as the day is long but in every case where I have spoken up and out against these policies, at the end of the day they are that group’s policies and not my own.

At the end of the day these people may be Pagan (in the broadest of senses) but they are not part of my Kindred or tribe. I have no obligation to accept their points of view nor an obligation to defend them. We have no ties of community, and so, no ties of hamingja or Wyrd. Insofar as they fit the criteria to be called Pagan or Heathen or what-have-you they have a right to identify in that fashion, but I hold no desire or compulsion to defend them as members of these religions. That said, it would be dishonest of me, engaging in No True Scotsman and similar fallacies, to deny that they are polytheist or Pagan. This kind of head-in-the-sand attitude is how our religious symbols have been coopted by white sipremacists, and how so many prisons have growing populations of white supremacist Heathens.

This, however, is where I will cross a proverbial line in the sand no matter the side. Since I do not count Z. Budapest and those like her among my Kindred or within my community I see no reason to go after her. Since I do not count folkish Heathens and those like them among my Kindred or within my community I see no reason to go after them. This may seem at odds with my stance here on this blog in regards to groups like Irminfolk Kindred or the AFA. Stating my disagreements with group policies, my disgust with their criteria for entry, my disdain for their politics, etc., does not prompt me to launch doxx attacks or harassment campaigns against them. I will note that in my Irminfolk article members of the group and their supporters did come into my space to hurl insults and death threats. However, I have not come into their space, either in meat space or online space to do likewise to them.

Much of my issue with the left-leaning members of the Pagan and polytheist communities has much in common with those of the right: I disagree with the tactics and many of the aims. I dislike how call-out culture, doxxing, and harassment have replaced discourse, dialogue, and disagreement. I also dislike how, unless you have seemingly signed on wholesale to one side or the other, then you’re open season. Even more open season if you do actually subscribe to one side or another.

In American political discourse I am seen as very left because I believe that trans people are valid within the QUILTBAG community, are the gender they say they are, and deserving of equal rights. I believe in basic things like healthcare being available for free at point-of-care and college being free from up-front tuition costs. In other words, I want America to join the rest of Western industrial society in the basic services our government provides its citizens. All of these things are services well within our ability to provide far cheaper and more efficiently than through for-profit models (look at healthcare costs and tuition hikes in colleges without checks on their growth) all for the good of our country. If I were to take a step back into the wider world, though, I would hardly rate as left in most of my views. I’m center, generally, maybe even center-right by more worldly standards. I believe in weapon ownership being a right while also believing you should have training in handling the weapon(s) you bear, most especially firearms. I view this as common sense, and the onus on the individual no better or worse than being licensed and insured to drive a car. I believe in freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and of the press.

I am not anti-government. I am for sensible reforms to our government, taxes, laws, and so on that will allow us to live well on this planet with one another, within our environments, and with respect to Jordh.

I recognize that our ways of doing things in American politics is in deep need of repair and reform if it is going to be able to address the predicaments of climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, and inequality before us. I recognize American politics may not be up to the task. This is not anti-American or anti-government, but a sober understanding of were we are in reflecting on our politics, economics, priorities, and where our policies in these areas are taking us. Capitalism seems bound and determined to ravage Jordh in its quest for the unequenchable thirst for ‘more’ bound up in a monetary system that must grow exponentially in order to meet the demands of our exponentially growing debt-based systems of exchange. Yet I am also in opposition to the understanding that humanity is ‘bound to progress’, as civilizations throughout time have shown us that not only is this narrative false, but that our Western civilization may just be another civilization due for a decline. I view American capitalism as being generally late-stage and doomed to failure in its state, quite possibly within my lifetime. Only massive reforms or revolutionary change in how we engage with our resources, our monetary systems, and how we treat the environment can affect the kind of change that will stop America from a full-on decline, if not dissolution. Note I am not calling for a dissolution of the government, only that I am recognizing that, between environmental policy, resource depletion, economics, and government running as usual, the USA is headed for decline if not dissolution.

When it comes to how other Pagan or polytheist groups, communities, and venues operate, I pay it very little mind unless it somehow affects me and mine. If Dunbar’s number is right, once we get out of about the 150 person range anyway, our capacity to care for anything more than that dwindles. My reason for keeping to this is twofold: One, my obligations are first to the Holy Powers, then my family, my Kindred, my tribe, my allies, and those within our communities. Two, I have limited time, energy, resources, and care to devote to the things that matter most. If you do not fall within 1, in all likelihood you will not matter to me much. I cannot pretend to care all that deeply about the 7 billion or so that I share this world with merely because we are all human. Those 7 billion or so other people will never share in my daily struggles, my life, or ever be part of my spheres of influence or world except in the most abstract of ways. I cannot relate to an abstraction. So I will not pretend to. I can relate to those who I share community with, and even though much of the discourse we engage in online can and does have ripple effects within our communities, I cannot pretend to have anything other than a largely abstract relationship with most Pagan and polytheist communities. When it comes to many of the hot-button issues that come across my Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds, I often will reflect as to whether a given topic is something I should spend my time on, usually with the rubric above or these questions: Is it something that affects mine or me? Is it something that needs my attention? Could my attention be better spent elsewhere? Does my tribe, family, friends, or allies require me to voice an opinion in/on this?

I have a community here in the flesh to be part of, to build up, to help, to support, to tend to. Things that get in the way of that tend to get set aside. The other side of the calculation of “Is this thing worth my time?” is the flip side of Gebo -namely, “Does this thing make itself worth my time?” Does the wider Pagan community contribute to my tribe, my Kindred, my innangard, my family, or to me? Generally speaking, no. While articles and blog posts, Facebook threads and Twitter exchanges may make me think or engage my brain in considering where I stand on things, generally speaking where I stand on things was long decided before I came into these conversations or dove into dialogues going on.

Generally, Pagan and polytheist communities I am not personally part of take far more than anything they give back. Part of this is due to a lack of coherent theology most Pagan groups have. Why? A coherent theology gives structure to a religion, and in organizing and structuring its religion, gives structure to its adherents. Without clear structures within and for understanding one’s religion, let alone one’s place in it, one’s political and/or personal proclivities become the deciding factor on what behaviors and views are correct for one’s religion and conduct. In other words, the religion and all structures change to fit individuals rather than individuals fitting a religion when theology lacks, or when religious structures are ignored or eschewed. From religious structure comes the basis for how we live in the world, and every single religion that I know of sets up in its basic foundation what right relationship with the Holy Powers, and from that with one another, looks like. When theology and resulting religious structures do not form coherent narratives, structures, or stories, I often see that non-religious elements are incorporated, whether that is from politics, science, or whatever interest the group or person holds.

Gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift in ON) exists as a given with the basic structure of Heathenry. It is in how we conduct ourselves with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another in communities. It is how we understand and set up all our relationships. When someone lacks this basic understanding it becomes painfully clear how one-sided a relationship is, and unless the other party is willing to do some values-adjusting, there can be no useful relationship.

Another major stumbling block I am finding of late is that much of the Pagan and polytheist communities are mixing morals and politics in a way that is utterly toxic to discussing either subject. Morals are “Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour” and “Holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct“. It is important to note the key term here: principles. That is, “A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.Politics, meanwhile, are “The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power” and “The principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status”. Morals and politics are two separate spheres that, when blended, can and have turned exceptionally ugly. One needs only look at the Moral Majority and the knock-on effects it has had since the 80s to see how it deeply impacted the political situations of their time, and how that movement still drives a good deal of political dialogue and situations now. Similarly, one can look to the Communist Revolution in several countries, such as the Soviet Union and China, and its destruction of religious structures, identity, etc. In a sick twist, these nations then twisted the kinds of symbolism and fervor from those often reserved for religion and into adoration for the State and its leader(s).

This is not to say religions should not hold religious morals with political outlook, or even that political/moral principles should be absent from religions. One of the two definitions above for politics is “principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status“. A given religion may be very egalitarian, with moral reasons grounded in its theology for being so; its political principles, then, are founded in egalitarianism. Likewise, a religion with a defined hierachy grounded in its theology is founded in a hierchical political view. In this relationship the morals inform the unfolding of politics rather than the other way around. I have yet to find a religion that says one must be, for instance, a registered Democrat or Republican. Many Heathens tend towards conservative agendas and candidates, yet in American politics I tend to skew left. Nowhere, as a religious grouping nor in my Kindred nor my allies are we required to be part of a political outlook or party. We hold principles from which our political values are informed and flow, but our religion does not dictate to us our politics nor do our politics dictate to us about our religion.

I see politics informing religion as utterly dangerous. Anyone who proposes mixing their religious morals with political agendas needs to only look at the Moral Majority of the 80s or the Army of God type movements in the example of Joel’s Army, The Family, and similar groups which wield disproportionate power now in the Republican Party. Look at the countless dead of the AIDS epidemic as those who suffered and died were blamed for their condition, their ‘sin’.

Today, there are calls from within Pagan and polytheist communities to unite under various political banners such as communism, anarchism, communitarianism, monarchism, primitivism, socialism, capitalism, and individualism, among others. Rather than Pagans and polytheists coming together and finding common cause in these various political views the shift has gone from “Pagans and polytheists tend to hold these political views in common” or “these groups hold these political views in common” to the implication, if not the outright statement, that to be a Pagan or polytheist (or at least a ‘good’ one) you need to subscribe to a certain worldview and/or set of politics. This is not a viewpoint limited to any one political camp; I have seen leftists, liberals, centrists, conservatives, and rightists all make similar claims. It is poisonous and dangerous because it ascribes religious authority to political theories.

It would be one thing if, say, a given polytheist community had a ruler as part of its religious makeup. Those who chose to be part and remain in that religious kingdom would still retain their political rights and freedoms, even should they choose to subsume them beneath this ruler. If all must be free to choose their own way religiously and politically then this freedom must continue to be held even if it means that a person willingly gives power over themselves to another person. Many Protestant churches operate in just such a fashion with de facto kings, we just know them as pastors, reverends, or bishops, operating within variously-sized kingdoms. Examples of famous figures would be Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyer. The Catholic Church and its various offshoots have never dropped their own hierarchy, with church leaders at varying times wielding different amounts of temporal authority over the centuries.

Some might say this is splitting hairs and any talk of people making religious kingdoms or the like are engaging in religious politics. They would be right, but the implication that this difference is unimportant is a wrong one. Any tribalist Pagan or polytheist group operates under the assumption of a religion having political roles. I have said many times here and elsewhere that Mimirsbrunnr Kindred operates under a tribal worldview and organization. I am the godhi of the Kindred. In this tribe I am the chieftain and its head priest. I am trusted by the community with the power invested in me as a chieftain and a priest. I am leader of the community and the Kindred’s representative to the Gods under the authority of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and under the consent of those part of Mimirsbrunnr Kindred. Should the Kindred decide to do so without me, the Kindred could disband at any point in time. In doing so we accept the consequences for doing so to any Holy Powers or fellow community members they have made in regards to oaths, promises, and so on. Ties of hamginja and megin are not easily broken, so anyone choosing to go this route thinks not only of themselves, but of the whole group collectively and each member individually. This is also true in regards to our regular choice to stay as an active Kindred. We choose each and every day we remain to tie our hamginja and megin tight, to live in good community with one another, in good Gebo with our Holy Powers and with one another. Our morality informs our political structure and how we conduct ourselves within and without the sphere of our own Kindred.

This understanding that religions engage in the political sphere in both the worldview and structure of the religion, as well as its intersections with larger society, does not stop with tribalists in Heathenry with polytheist and animist spiritual worldviews together with chief or similarly-organized group structures, nor Catholics with canon law and heavy hierarchical structures with Supreme Pontiff being among the Pope’s titles in Catholicism. Any religious group that comes together has a spiritual worldview from which its organizational and political worldviews (which may or may not be exclusive from one another) are derived. Whether the structural model for how leadership, decision-making, and other necessary aspects of organization are made is egalitarian, strictly hierarchical, or some other way, the foundation and structure of organization are in the foundation of the religion.

Folks are utterly right in this sense that it is impossible to separate politics from any thing because politics feeds into and touches all things since it is how we organize ourselves and our societies. On the other hand I would argue that if, as a polytheist, your aims are not for the worship, reverence, and living in relationship with the Holy Powers first, but rather for the attainment of some end that benefits humans or human society for its own sake then you are engaging in some form of politics. This is easy enough to see with Christians who are called on to leave the jugment of souls up to God and to take care of the poor, yet worship in megachurches while members of their own congregations face death penniless. This is easily seen when those same communities provide so little support for mothers and children within their communities while going on about how abortion needs to be stopped. Political activism and political organization, restructuring, etc., may be borne out of one’s religious convictions and calling, but we need to be cleaner and clearer when one is one and one is the other.

This seems to be less clear for folks when looking at the left. In part this is because the left is far less organized and codified than a lot of the right is. The left tends to have a problem with hyper-specialized language, the priding of obscure and/or academic minutae in both the forming of and keeping of left-oriented political communities and thought, and being far less accessible to the average person as a result. A favorite saying among many left and left-leaning folks is that it is not their job to educate, while in direct contrast the right and right-leaning folks produce pamphlets and media that easily and effectively educate others on their ideas, aims, structure, and goals. Where there may be differences in the details of structure, most right-leaning and right-wing religious groups follow top-down hierarchical models almost exclusively with cis heterosexual men in leadership positions. Because it is better organized and has been covered better, both by mainstream media and by what Pagan and polytheist media there is, I would argue that the right in general is far easier to see, and so, its excesses far easier to diagnose right now. Because many of the positions of the left are those many in Pagan and polytheist communities at least sympathize with if not actively embrace, there is less focus on groups being founded in left-oriented politics and philosophy. When leftists are calling for people in Pagan and polytheist religions to tear down or remove hierarchies from their organization they may not only be attacking organizational and political structures of a religious community. They may indeed be attacking a community’s religious worldview or structure that holds certain positions needing to be fufilled. Certainly a tribalist Heathen group needs a godhi or gydhja to lead it, if for no other reason than to fulfill the tribe’s need for a ritual specialist.

I am not a communist, Marxist, or anarchist. I find that Marxist and anarchist philosophies engage in no small amount of thought stopping in their engagement, whether it is the supposed Worker’s Uprising Marx believed was coming, or any number of utopian fantasies where the common people take over and all ends in mutually beneficial distribution of resources and labor. I have little hope such atheist salvific fantasies will come to light, and little hope that even stepping stones to more equitable distribution of wealth such as Universal Basic Income will ever come to the USA’s shores. Anarchism on its own is so bogged down in infighting, minutae, and ways of organizing (or resisting organization) that I find it hard enough to talk about in any meaningful sense, let alone engage with any of the particular sets of philosophies the different ‘camps’ engage in.

My general impression of anarchy is similar to that of communism: both have good critiques of the shortcomings of capitalism, especially modern/late capitalism, but both are utterly inept at providing workable solutions to the problems and predicaments they identify. Between the infighting I have been privy to from each group of communities and to the inability to organize people, let alone build solid foundations of community, I have no hope any of the camps of these two political philosophies will ever gain a foothold or provide useful ways forward to tackle the predicaments ahead of us. Further, both sets of these communities are generally atheist, and directly opposed to many of the major things I believe in as a Heathen, including my Holy Powers as real Beings worthy of worship, and the Heathen tribalism that is my worldview.

It is worth pointing out that I started writing this post in August of 2018 and it has gone through at least eleven revisions in that time. As I came back to it in the time since, I reflected on the things that I have written, and that have grabbed my interests in the fifteen years I have been a Pagan, about twelve of which now I’ve been a Heathen. Something I keep coming back to again and again is foundation.

Understand that I was a devout Catholic when I converted. I firmly believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Nicean Creed was not a mouthed thing to me; it was the organizing principle of my life. I went to church and took Communion. Prayer was (and is) a vital, powerful part of my life, as were mystical experiences as a Catholic. My faith community was not lacking in many of the regards that I have heard or read for why folks become Pagan. I was called by Gods that I could not ignore as I had when I was a young teenager, and I finally made a firm break with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit first, and then the Catholic Church.

I gave up salvation. Let me empasize that: I walked away from the Savior first, and the salvation His sacrifice offered me. I was choosing to walk into the fires of Hell when I walked away from that relationship. I was walking into the arms of my Gods, yes, specificially first into Brighid’s at the time, but understand what a leap of faith that is for a person raised in and firmly committed to the Catholic Church. I walked away from everything I knew because my body, my heart, my soul was being called by Someone Else; it turned out over the course of time to be a lot of Someone Elses. I walked away from the church I had attended since I was a kid, giving up fellowship with the hundreds of people who I had shared Holy Communion, devotion to God, devotion to Christ, and devotion to the Holy Spirit with. I gave up my relationship with the support of the Church itself and the billion or so members it has throughout the world. I was very conscious my choice could, and almost did, cost me my relationship with my family.

I walked towards the Gods because They called me. Who and what I am, the course of my life, all of it was changed because of who and what They called me to be. With all that I have given up, risked, and done to be a polytheist, a Heathen, a Pagan, it should be of little wonder that I believe, strongly and fiercely, that our communities need to be strong in our theology and theological convictions, orthodoxy, and the actions and work that come from them, orthopraxy. Understand then that when people attack the idea of theology, religion, polytheism, or say we should “set aside” our theology or the structures, hierarchy, and so on that follow on from them, or when the idea of worshiping Gods, Ancestors, vaettir or Gebo and reciprocity itself is attacked, you are attacking the very worldview polytheists live. In doing that, you are attacking us as polytheists. The foundation of my life and that of my coreligionists is bound up in this worldview and our place within it.

People will ask, sometimes horrified, if this worldview and foundation takes place prior to human concerns. It has to. One’s culture, one’s religion, one’s worldview is the very foundation of how one relates to everything. This is as true of polytheists as it is of atheists, as true of naturalists and humanists as it is of Platonists and Stoics.

If one’s culture, one’s religion, and one’s worldview is the foundation of how we relate to everything, then it follows we need to build and maintain solid foundations for our communities and their worldviews. We have people becoming polytheists who need that foundation. We have second and third generation polytheists coming up now who are living within these worldviews and who will build on these foundations. We cannot build these up if we are constantly ripping them up or modifying them for political expediency, whims, or convenience. I would see polytheists build for our communities, whatever their size, what we are called to by the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to build. I would see polytheists build for the needs to meet these callings and the needs of the communities themselves. Whether we are before our altars and shrines alone, or gathered in hearths, Kindreds, tribes, or other groups, whatever our organization I would have us build and grow like Yggdrasil: deep roots, able to weather storms, with plenty of space for all the Beings under and above Its branches.

The overculture of America is divided, as are Pagan communities, but this is not inherently a bad thing. Monocultures suffocate pluralism, ossify and become brittle. America’s overculture is grappling with a few monocultures coming under pressure from within and without. Certainly so is America’s Pagan overculture. It is not unlike someone planting a forest of a single tree. Tribal mindsets are healthy growths from different trees rooted in different soils. This tree is not less of a tree for not being that one. We do not need to draw from the same roots to share the forest.

Thinking on Modern Concepts of Money and Fehu

Something that is a current in many of the documentaries, blogs, and YouTube videos I watch is our modern society’s relationship with money. Money as we generally experience it in modern society is through the lens of fiat currency. This is true whether we are talking about the US dollar, kroners, or cryptocurrency. As I began to think on these things the Rune Fehu came to my mind.

Before I get into where Fehu gets into all of this, let us look at how modern currencies operate.

The US dollar ceased to be on the gold standard June 5th, 1933. On August 15th, 1971 dollars to gold ceased to be converted at a fixed value. What tethered the modern world’s reserve currency to any notion of physical boundaries disappeared a long while ago. Fiat currencies are the majority of the world’s currencies. So if there is no way that currencies are bound to physical things of value, where, then does our money come from?

All money is loaned into existence.

Both Investopedia and Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity have explanations that agree on this. What does it mean for us that all money is loaned into existence with no backing to the currency by a physical object to which the value of money is tied?

As Michael Ruppert pointed out in the documentary Collapse:

Before the great growth of populaton which occured with the advent of oil came this revolution in the monetary system as well. There was a time when a pound sterling actually meant a pound of sterling silver. There was only so much silver out of the ground. You couldn’t print silver, it was something real. You cannot print any more money than there is energy to back it up.

That last point is deeply important especially since the banking sector relies on fractional reserve banking. Again, quoting Michael Ruppert:

Then there is Fractional Reserve Banking. If you brought me $10 deposit I could make $90 worth of loans just based on having that $10 in my drawer. It is all calculated that not everyone is going to come in and want their cash all at once -that’s a called a run on the bank. When I lend now a total of $100 based on that $10 deposit that is more money I create out of thin air. Well gee, that means that in order to pay off whoever gets that money [that person] has to make more money still to feed in at the bottom so that the banks can create still more money.

Because all money is loaned into existence at interest this means that the economy as a whole is constantly having to produce money, and thus, all those things tied to the economy have to keep on producing things that make money to keep up with the demand of the economic system. When a company goes under, unable to pay back its debts and defaults that money entirely disappears from the economy. Likewise, when I pay back a loan. This encourages debt to a degree heretofore unseen.

This kind of thing simply does not exist in nature. You cannot take any more carrots out of the ground than there were carrots growing to harvest. You cannot take any more milk from your cow than she is able to give. You cannot pull any more oil out of the ground than there is to be had.

The Rune Poems are quite simple and profound in what they have to say about Fehu. These translations I found on The Ragweed Forge. Fé, Fé, and Feoh are the respective Rune to each poem.

From the Icelandic Rune Poem:

Wealth
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.

From the Norwegian Rune Poem:

  1. Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;
    the wolf lives in the forest.

From the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem:

Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

The first two poem sources note that wealth is destructive among kinsmen, while the last calls it a comfort. Fehu, the proto-Germanic reconstruction of the root to the Rune in these poems, translates to cattle. Fé and Feoh are both related to the word cattle and the concept contained within it: mobility, wealth, and mobile wealth.

It makes sense that Fehu is related to cattle. Cattle are a significant source of wealth in Proto-Indo European cultures for a few reasons. First, maintaining any size of herd is expensive due to their need for pasture. The land, the ability to hold it securely, to staff it, and to care for it need resources all their own to work allow for this. Second, cattle produce immense amounts of milk from the cows and any cattle slaughtered for meat produce a lot, as well as a lot of skin, fats, and bones, all useful for an incredible varied amount of foods and goods. Third, they produce incredibly useful manure that returns vitality to the soil and allows fields to grow green and tall. Cattle, in turn, require healthy places to range, protection, and care from those who raise them. There is reciprocity bound into the relationship as a mandate for animal husbandry to work -at all.

Contrast this with how our modern systems of money and value are utterly divorced from these relationships. Cattle cannot grow forever, cannot exponentially reproduce in their lifetime. They die. Like every other living being they go through a life cycle of birth, maturation, decline, and death. There is no International Bank of Cattle. To be sure, there are cattle ‘stocks’ per se, but these are based more on how much poundage a given rancher can squeeze out of their cattle. The rancher is actively encouraged by the economic system to ignore what is best for the cattle, and ultimately, their own livelihood and continued wellbeing, in order to squeeze a few more pounds onto their animals prior to slaughter. The maximization of profits at the expense of the cattle’s comfort, health, wellbeing, as well as that of the lands they graze, or in the case of CAFOs, the bare minimum square footage they occupy prior to being slaughtered. The introduction and continued use of sub-clinical doses of antibiotics, used to increase the weight of animals so they produce more meat for slaughter, now is affecting the ability of antibiotics to kill diseases. We now have diseases developing or that have developed resistance to every available antibiotic.

The way our money system works defies the value that Fehu, even on a basic reading of its etymology, presents to us. Go deeper. Fehu, in the idea of wealth, presents not only living concepts of wealth in that wealth is in the land, water, air, and our relationships with the living world. I firmly understand Fehu as living in right relationship. Cattle can only grow healthy, well, and in numbers able to keep the herd and the humans who work with it healthy in this way.

Why do both the Icelandic and Norwegian Rune Poems warn of Fé being a source of discord among kinsmen? In the Icelandic Rune Poem it is called the fire of the sea and path of the serpent. The fire of the sea is a kenning, as gold is often referred to in fiery terms and it was often raided for. The path of the serpent, in my understanding, is a direct reference to Fafnir, the dragon featured in the Volsungasaga who is slain by Sigurd. The path of the serpent is greed, hoarding, miserly behavior. Wealth accumulated for its own sake, not shared with the community, not allowed to flow, turns poisonous. What should be a healthy relationship with things of value, shared with the community, with friends and loved ones, when kept to oneself turns destructive, destroying both the ability of the hoarder to give and the community to receive. It destroys good bonds of hamingja, denies the vaettir the ability to circulate and develop relationships with those who the wealth would help, and in doing this, stops the wealth’s own ability to be a positive force. Fafnir’s lair is described as desolate, and the air and water around him as poisoned. If we understand the idea of wealth to be those things from which value is able to derive, eg good soil, clean air, clean water, right relationship with all these things, and so on, then the hoarding of wealth allows these things to be destroyed or spoiled. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the landowner who simply sits on land, allowing the buildings on it to crumple and blight a neighborhood. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the company that operates in a town for years then, once it has entrapped the local economy and destroyed local businesses, when it downsizes or goes abroad for cheaper, more exploitable labor, it leaves behind all its effluence and rips apart the town as it goes. Then it is free to do it again in whatever town it finds itself down the road.

So what of the wolf in the forest in the Norwegian Rune Poem? The wolf was a consistent source of strife for the farmers. You can invest countless hours of work in maintaining your herds of cattle, sheep, or flocks of birds, and find at least one if not many eaten. Those animals were going to help you and your family survive the oncoming harsh winter. Now, they go to feed something that neither lives in your community or contributes to it.

The wolf lives in the forest, meaning it is utgard (outer yard aka outside) to the innangard (inner yard aka interior) of the farm. When looking at the Norwegian Rune poem, the idea I get is of the outsider coming in to disrupt the right relationship wealth has among kinsmen. A prime modern example would be the Pennsylvanians featured in the documentary Gasland. The companies that came in to set up fracking sites made a situation where one neighbor who profited via their mineral rights were pitted against their neighbors who did not until towns, even neighbors, were at each others’ throats over fracking deals being made. Whereas the Icelandic Rune Poem is a caution against the path of the serpent where wealth is hoarded and poisons both the person hoarding it and those around them, the wolf in the Norwegian Rune Poem is the outsider who ravages or pits neighbor against neighbor, profiting from the discord and gaining wealth for themselves and depriving everyone else of it. Since the wolf in this case is utgard, having no bonds of loyalty to those innangard, its disruptive force is even more impactful as it breaks good, healthy bonds of hamingja as well as those of right relationship between communities and the sources of wealth that sustain them and allow them to thrive. The wolf gets its meal in the form of the broken communities it leaves behind and the community gets to clean up after the slathering wolf who bounds away from the community’s slain lambs, licking its chops.

Contrasting these two poems, thankfully, is the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. Where the previous two cautioned against the dangers of wealth, this Rune Poem extols its virtues. Indeed, wealth is a comfort to all. Good air, clean water, good soil, right relationship, and the ability to provide for one’s community and self through these things is a source of deep comfort. Without the ability to bestow it freely, and receive it in kind we are left either to hoard it or destitution. Which Lord’s sight would we gain in honor? In my view Odin or Freyr works here. Regardless, when wealth is allowed to flourish the good things of that wealth circulate. From here we are able to give good Gebo to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Without wealth our cup is empty. We cannot make offerings from an empty cup. The potential of wealth, and indeed money itself to do good is there. It needs to be cared for and allowed to flow to do so healthily. We must be free to care for the land, air, water, and our communities. We must be free to work with the sources of wealth, to bring up good things in it and from it, and to exchange in good Gebo with each other. Fehu’s usual entrance in Runic dictionaries of ‘cattle’ belies the deep ties and right relationships it requires.

So what of modern money and Fehu? If we understand that wealth is not money, but rather, money’s value is derived from wealth, it presents a very different understanding of things compared to how modern society operates. A fiat currency is only able to be exchanged as payment for goods and services because we, as a society, have decreed this currency is able to be used for that purpose. Untethered from any real good, such as gold, which could serve to give it a basis in reality for its value, money’s value fluctuates based on availability in the economy, at how much it is borrowed into existence, and the price of the goods it is able to buy. In the end, money in our society is backed up by the amount of energy that makes it able to purchase goods and services and to pay taxes and our faith that it is a good medium for exchange. This way of organizing how money works directly impacts how we care for all the sources of wealth, our communities, and ourselves. If the only way attain the value of a thing is to price it in terms of what x amount of dollars can buy y thing then unless the sources of wealth can be readily exploited and converted into cash they are deemed relatively worthless. This is why a single room apartment in New York City, cramped and with thin walls, can cost upwards of $2,000 a month where a two bedroom apartment here in Michigan can cost around $800 to $1,000 a month. This is why vacant farmland, cut up and parceled to sell to homeowners, can run anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 an acre just depending on how close it is to the nearest city.

Fehu requires us to tend the things from which wealth flows. The land, air, waters all must be tended so cattle, mobile wealth, can flourish. So we need to not only protect the land, air, and waters, we need to work to regenerate them. Yellowstone found that when wolves were reintroduced it had huge knock-on effects because rivers would come back and flourish. This was because the trees which held water and held the soil together were not being destroyed by hungry animals. This, in turn, allowed more and more of the park itself to flourish. Fehu, then, requires balance and true appreciation for those things which are the very sources of life, of wealth, and of the good things we can make of this life. We must be living well both spiritually and physically with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another. The soil and water must be healthy so the grass is healthy, so that in turn the grass is healthy so the cattle is healthy, and we who eat the cow then are healthy as well. What we value needs to be valued in life and in death. Slaughtering a cow is still a big undertaking. They need to be cared for well, they should be slaughtered humanely, they are heavy, and their body can make a lot of food and tools. All of this requires preparation, skill, and care to be taken with each step. Even without slaughtering a cow, while the excreta of cows is a potent fertilizer and balancer to the soil, it can only be so if it is allowed to compost properly so it does not present as a vector for diseases to soil, water, to the cows, or to us.

I agree with Kelly Harrel’s point in The Runic Book of Days: as the first Rune in the Futhark, Fehu is the warming power of Muspelheim where Uruz is cold solidity of Nifelheim. Both these Runes are thethered not only to physical concepts but to the spiritual and intellectual ideas found within the Runes. Again and again, wherever I look, Fehu is homeostasis, living balance found in living with the environment one is in. It is not peace; that is another thing entirely. Imbalanced, Fehu is the out-of-control population of hooved animals eating a piece of land to death, hot manure spread over soil, but not allowed to decompose. Imbalanced, Fehu is the path of the serpent and the wolf who breaks the boundariess of the yard, leaving privation and destruction behind.

Our ideas of money, then, should be oriented towards those things which allows the wealth of the soil, the water, the air, our bodies and our spirits to be healthy. This, in turn, makes our money useful to all these things while giving it the opportunity to grow in a useful way rather than for its own sake. When we herd we place boundaries on where the herd is able to go to protect the soil, the water, the air, and the cows themselves. We need to do the same with our money so it does not all leave us, just as we need to give it room to move and be useful. For our purposes, the budget shares the same purpose as the fence with cattle, and the objectives we turn our money toward are similar to the pastures we raise the cattle on. When it comes to Fehu and money I ultimately see a regenerative relationship should we keep in right relationship. The money we ‘graze’ today as investments can come back to us as good cows whose lives we honor by using everything they give us to its best extent. Ideally, we grow our sources of wealth and our money as we would actual cows: by making strong relationships that our descendents are able to benefit from and grow long after we become part of the Ancestors.

Relationships with Spirits -Part 1

Thanks to The Rusted Barrow for their dedication to writing on the spirits. Reading that post inspired my own.

Alongside The Rusted Barrow I got inspiration for this post from reading the book The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux. It has been an excellent, approachable, and informative read. It digs into the various kinds of household spirits, their places, and practices associated with Them, and then what Their origins may be. It predominantly focuses on European beliefs, including those of France, England, Norway, Angland, and Russia. I highly recommend reading it, as many of the practices will be right at home with hearth cultus for any Heathen or Pagans in general.

Having read both The Rusted Barrow’s post and The Tradition of Household Spirits in the same week, I felt I had to write something on the topic of spiritss and I got to thinking: there have not been many guides on what spirits are out there in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition, nor of how to start a relationship with one, or how to interact with spiritss you are not used to. What started off as a large single post look like it will become another series of posts all on its own.

I call the spirits by the Old Norse plural for the word, vaettir; vaettr is the singular. The vaettir are all around us and within us. There are vaettir in and of the earth, jordvaettir aka earthvaettir, just as there are vaettir in and of the fire, eldrvaettir aka firevaettir. There are vaettir within us, and we ourselves, both our essential or ‘higher’ selves and various of our soul parts, which have their own names, are vaettir. For this post I will not be writing on the Soul Matrix, since that is a subject all on its own. This post series will focus on the vaettir external to humans. I think it is important, though, to reflect that even we humans are full of vaettir, whether we are talking about the spiritual reality of the blood of the Ancestors running in our veins or the individual cells of our body each being in and of itself a vaettr that helps to make us up.

What are Spirits?

Any thing which is ensouled can be said to be a spirit. They are any thing which weaves and is bound up in the web of Urðr or Wyrd. What, then, can be ensouled and woven in Urðr/Wyrd? Potentially everything, from the tiniest of atoms to the largest expanse of space. Whether or not a thing has a larger or smaller sphere of influence depends on the effects it has on others and its ability to act in creation. A given thing being a spirit does not mean it operates or acts in a way we may consider logical or at all with our interests in mind. Planets have their own spirit, for example, but whether or not that spirit can or has the desire speak to me, or vice versa, is another matter.

Mikilvaettir

Over time I’ve worked out different words in Old Norse that get across ideas relevant to the experiences I and others have had with vaettir. One of those words is mikillvaettir.

Mikillvaettir or ‘big/tall/powerful/great spirits’ is similar in my understanding to a head/co-head and/or guardian spirit over a family line, specie of tree, animal, and so on. We can have close relationships with spirits, even the mikill, and so may appeal to them using more close, familiar terms. I call the mikillvaettr of Mugwort Grossmutter Una, German for Grandmother and Old Norse for Joy. Were I being more strict with my language I would be calling Her Amma Una. Mikillvaettir, both as a word and concept, is distinct from the term totem. Totem is a corruption of an Ojibwe word, doodem. As the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary notes, doodem itself means “clan, totem” and that “There is no simple independent word for clan, totem. A personal prefix goes with the dependent noun stem /=doodem-/ clan to make a full word.” Further, /=doodem-/ are related to personal clans in Ojibwe cultures. Mikilvaettir may be related to us, such as the Disir or Väter, our powerful female and male Ancestors, or They may be head of a kind or group of vaettir.

When viewed in this worldview, even the familiar takes on spiritual significance. If we understand that our cells can be ensouled, then so can a disease like the flu. The flu has a discernable way of coming into existence, of spreading, being fought, and triumphing over an infected host or being defeated. Since each iteration of the flu is a spirit, we can extend this knowing to the variouss strainss of the influenza virus and to the flu as a whole. The idea is that, as we might approach a mikilvaettr of a plant (for instance mikillgrasvaettr for ‘big/great grass or pasture spirit’) so we may have better relations with its ‘children’, we may also approach the flu. We could refer to as mikillsóttvaettr or ‘big illness spirit’. Understood this way we may not be able to beat the big illness spirit that, like our own Ancestral lines, governs the development of its own descendants. However, we may propitiate it or negotiate with it to tamp down on its rambunctious children. Barring that we might simply do spiritual work, alongside our physical remedies, to stop the small flu spirit from burning through a person, killing and dispelling the flu spirit so the person gets well. Since our own lich, our body, is a part of the Soul Matrix, in such an animistic view physical remedies for the flu are spiritual as well. The difference is how the remedies are made, where they affect, and what they affect. Some may be more effective than others. So would I take only a magical/spiritual approach to the flu? No. I vaccinate myself, I take care to wash my hands, and do all the other prudent things to ward off the flu just as I do unwanted spiritual influences by regular cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding work. The approaches work together.

A Vaettir-Filled Worldview

When we view what is often understood as ordinary, whether it is the electricity in the walls, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the places we live, where we work, all as being full of spirits, the world changes. Not only are we not alone, but literally everything around us is composed of spirits. Each spirit, in turn, has Ancestors of some kind. The concrete used in the construction of our buildings (jorðvaettir) to the furnaces (eldrvaettir) used to heat them, to the pumped water (vatnvaettir) going into them. Through merely co-existing in the web of Urðr/Wyrd we weave in relationships every moment of every day. Some may be perfunctory, some transactional, and some truly deep. In my experience most of our relationships with spirits are going to be on the same kind of level as we might passing a random person on the sidewalk as we are both heading opposite directions. We are neutral to each other, trying to stay out of one another’s way and just trying to get wherever it is we want to go. Except where one party or the other initiates contact for a deeper relationship most of our connections with spirits are really cursory. A simple example of this is when we come into cultus with the landvaettir and/or husvaettir. After all, we are living on and with Them so it is in our best interests to get along well with the very land we live on and those we share our home with. Sometimes we have to do a lot to even attract Their attention. Because of experiences with humans in Their past some vaettir may need some patience on our part, and for us to put our best foot forward early and often. With some vaettir, we need to know that we are not going to get along and leaving the vaettir alone is the best way for us to have good relations.

With a vaettir-filled worldview Heathenry does not allow for the centrality of humankind. This puts it at odds with many philosophies from the start, such as humanism, which proposes a human-centric worldview. Humanity in Heathenry is just one class of vaettir among many. With the centrality of humanity absent, understanding ourselves in relationships with the Earth (Jorð) around us and potentially any of the Nine Worlds, we then enter a region in which human desires must take a back seat to the needs of other Beings if we are to live well together. We do not denigrate ourselves or ignore the needs and wants we have in a vaettir-filled worldview. Rather, one of the central tenets of Heathenry is to live in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir; a human-centered worldview is utterly at odds with this.

Kinds of Vaettir

The Heathen worldview encompasses a lot of different kind of vaettir. My point here is to give a basic overview of what the vaettir are, and how one might encounter them rather than give an exhaustive look at specific vaettir.

Ancestors

Ancestors are those vaettir who are related to us. The tack I take with who the Ancestors are is very broad. Ancestors and ancestry is complex, a weaving of relationships of blood and bone, spirit, lineage, and adoption. Ancestors can be human and non-human, Gods as well as other kinds of vaettir.

Ancestors, especially the Disir, Väter, and Ergi (more on these later) have our immediate interests at heart. Generally, Ancestors are among the first vaettir to have our back in hard times and to work well with us. Each of us are Ancestors in the making and will someday join Them, so beyond being Their descendants They have a vested interest in us doing well so when we join Them we are best placed to help our own descendants.

Ancestors of blood and bone are those Ancestors we are directly related to through blood relations. These are the people you are looking for if you do geneaology or are looking for via DNA results. Taken at large, all of humanity shares blood Ancestors at some point in the distant past whether we are looking at our common early homo sapien Ancestors, or even further back through to Chromosomal Adam, or further back, Mitochondrial Eve. As a primarily Norse Heathen I look to Ask and Embla as our common human Ancestors in addition to those of our larger human ancestry.

Ancestors of spirit generally refers to Ancestors that are spiritual kin to us whether that is through a group of vaettir bringing us into their fold by adoption, by blood relations where a vaettr had a hand in the creation of a line of people such as Ing to the Ingvaones, through initiation/ceremony into a group who share common spiritual Ancestors, or by direct invitation into a vaettr’s family. These Ancestors may or may not be human.

Ancestors of lineage are our Ancestors related to us through our work, through initiated lines such as mystery cults, or are spiritual specialists like priests or diviners. These Ancestors might be also relate to us through crafts such as weaving, woodworking, painting, sculpting, brewing, etc., as most of these professions were, at varying times, initiated roles such as Master and Apprentice, or had deep spiritual significance in the ‘home cultures’ of Heathens.

Ancestors can be adopted as can we. Fostering is one way Ancestors can adopt us. Another is when we become part of a close-knit spiritual community, such as a Kindred and/or Heathen tribe. In my own Kindred I make offerings to all of our Ancestors, and include at least a few Ancestors of beloved people who are chosen family. A common refrain in various forms that I am seeing across the Internet lately towards QUILTBAG+ folks is “If you are disowned by your blood family for being who you are, I am now your parent.” If someone were truly taking on this role then I think in turn they would be adopted as sure as anyone fostering a child would be.

Disir

Disir are the powerful female Ancestors. Many of the alternative interpretations for what They are that I have found online I understand are among the roles the Disir occupy: They are the guardians of family lines, those who keep the other Ancestors in line, act as the voice of the Ancestors where needed, are instructors, and may act as mediators between Their living relatives and other vaettir.

Väter

Väter are the powerful male Ancestors. While many will use the term Alfar to refer to Them, I do not. I understand Alfar as Their own discreet kind of vaettir. The Väter occupy very similar places to the Disir in my experience of Them.

Ergi

Ergi are the powerful queer Ancestors, and occupy similar places in Ancestors to the Disir and Väter. Like the word queer, ergi used to be an insult which has been reclaimed. In this case, ergi referred to someone being unmanly, namely the recipient in homosexual sex, and was considered an insult deep enough to kill or outlaw over.

Fylgja

Fylgja is a word meaning ‘follower’. Generally it means those spirits that follow a given person. A fylgja is often conflated with the Celtic ‘fetch’ which appears as an omen or a familial vaettr to a person. Its sighting is said to portend the person’s death. I use the term to mean any vaettr which a person works with in a tutelary, guardian, familial, or similar capacity in which the vaettr in question would have reason to actually ‘follow’ or, along with its other meanings, to ‘help’, ‘attend’, or ‘serve’. Rather than describing the kind of relationship one has to a fylgja, it is a term for a vaettr that one is attached to or vice versa.

Kinyflgja

As with fylgja I use this word in its more general capacity. Here, however, it references those vaettir who are tutelary, guardian(s), helping, attending, or serving in reference to one’s Ancestors. These may Ancestors Themselves or vaettir related to our Ancestors, whether they are animals or plants asssociated with Them, or bonds our Ancestors made with vaettir that They have in kind passed on to us.

Vorðr

A word describing a vaettr, among whose meanings are ‘guard’, ‘guardian’, ‘watch’, and ‘warden’. This word is very-much what it says on the tin: it is a spiritual guardian. In spiritual sight it may take the form of an animal. It may also take the form of the hamr of a person, their spiritual body. So far as lore is concerned I have not found a definite answer to where the vorðr comess from. The origins of a vorðr may come from one’s Ancestors, either a spirit of the Ancestors or from the Ancestors, eg a spirit the Ancestors formed some relationship with to watch over Their descendents. Depending on its origin you can reckon a vorðr as fylgja or kinfylgja.

Alfar

The word means ‘elf’ and belies the vast corpus of beliefs that have grown up around this word. I look at the diminutive use of elf in the same way that Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits, namely that it, like dwarf, sprite, and others have been used so much to cram lore about various beings into it that we need to differentiate what we are actually talking about from the mass it has become in Medieval and later folklore. Rather than take the approach that any diminutive, ‘cute’ or similar vaettr is an elf, the Alfar are namely those vaettir who belong to the world Vanaheim. Though there may be cross-currents between Scandinavian and Irish sources for what elves may be, I look at the Tuatha de Denaan as utterly different beings to Alfar. Likewise, I differentiate from many other Heathens in that I understand the Alfar to be Their own distinct spiritual category of vaettir rather than the powerful male Ancestor (whom I call Väter) or from the Dead who occupy burial mounds. So what are Alfar? Vaettir who often take on many (often beautiful) forms who are powerful in magic. In my experiences with Them I have found Them statuesque, powerfully spoken even when ‘quiet’, a commanding presence, and able to make powerful magic and having varying connections with natural places, especially groves and wooded areas.

Dvergar

The word means ‘dwarf’, and like Alfar belies the absolutely immense amount of beliefs that have become attached to that word. As with ‘elf’, Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits how ‘dwarf’ came to mean an absolutely dizzying array of things, some of them interchangeable with ‘elf’. The Dvergar definitely have more to offer from the lore we have, including that They are the best crafters in the Nine Worlds. Their moods tend to be stern and They exact heavy tolls from those who cross Them. My experiences with Andvari is that They are concerned with what is Theirs, and that part of keeping frið (good social order) with Them is maintainin awareness of what is ours.

Jotun

Jotun is a word related to ‘consuming’ and ‘devourer’, while often glossed as ‘giant’ nowadays. Jotun tend to be related to wilderness, natural forces, and animals. They can be monstrous, achingly beautiful, both, and neither. As many forms as nature can take, so can They, and yet more. Some Heathens eschew relationships with Jotun entirely, others only with those aligned with the Aesir, and yet others are willing to work with Jotun from any corner. Where one falls on this depends on the understanding one has of what Jotun are, Their place in the cosmology, and what our relationships with Them as humans can be. For myself, seeing as how many of the primal Holy Powers are Jotun, eg Surtr and Kari, and individual Jotun may be vaettir related to specific weather events, nature, and similar things, having a working relationship with at least some of Them can be good, in keeping with doing right by Holy Powers underpinning our Worlds. We do not have to get along with every vaettr to have a good relationship with some of Them any more than we must worship every Heathen God or Goddesss to be a good Heathen.

The Dead

The Dead are any vaettir which once lived. While the Ancestors are generally looked on as Dead, not all of Them are. Some Ancestors may never have incarnated in Midgard, eg some Ancestors of spirit. The Dead encompass a wide range of vaettir, including the Dead of those mentioned above. Some of the Dead are ambivalent to the living, while others actively seek out the living. The Dead may be bound to a particular place such as a barrow mound or grave, they may wander free, or belong to a realm of a God or Goddess, eg Folkvangr, Valholl, and Helheim. In my understanding, most of our Ancestors’ graves and barrow mounds were both a resting place for parts of the soul matrix, and a point of contact or a possible ‘door’ between whatever afterlife They go to and where we are. Because a portion of the soul is in the lich, the bones, furs, teeth, and claws maintain powerful spiritual connections to the Dead.

Elemental

Elemental vaettir are directly related to the Elements of the Northern Tradition/Heathenry. While not reckoned in this way in the lore or other sources, I find looking at the elements Themselves in this way speaks to the breadth and length at which vaettir are in our lives. It also helps with organizing associations, unsderstanding, and where and how those relationships are made. Jorðvaettir are Earthvaettir, Eldrvaettir are Firevaettir, Vatnvaettir are Watervaettir, Vindrvaettir are Windvaettir, and Issvaettir are Icevaettir. Why look at the Elements Themselves in terms of vaettir? Because not all Eldrvaettir are necessarily Fire-Etins, nor all Issvaettir necessarily Thurs. Having kinship with or association to certain Elements does not make Jotun necesssarily vaettir of those Elements. An Elemental worldview does have its limits, and that is about when it stops being accurate to the Being of a given vaettir.

We can also break down what we mean when speaking about certain Elemental vaettir. Jorðvaettir is more of a broad category when we look at a piece of land, because it belies all the many vaettir contained on and within the land. A single big Earthvaettr may be made up of the trees, animals, insects, and other vaettir in that piece of land, and yet that does not negate that each of those trees, animals, and so on are, Themselves, vaettir. I count my húsvaettir, or housevaettir, among the Earthvaettir. As my relationships with the land and the house that lies upon it differ, so too does my relationship differ between their vaettir. It is also worth pointing out that how and in what form you engage with a given Elemental vaettir may have drastic consequences on how it responds to you. Just starting out working with Eldrvaettir? Probably best to start with candles rather than a bonfire. Regardless of the size or scope of its form give any vaettr its due respect.

Beginning Relationships

While each vaettr may have its own requirements for how it wishes to be reached, perhaps the easiest way to reach out is to make room for the vaettir on our home altars. If you are starting absolutely new to Heathenry or the Northern Tradition, my first recommendation is to build an Ancestor altar before anyone else’s. Not only will this encourage good relationships with your Ancestors, it will also have the benefit of the Ancestors you build good bonds with helping you to make new good and safe bonds with vaettir going forward.

To begin a relationship with a vaettr first you need to actually want to make a relationship with a vaettr. This might seem self-explanatory, but a good mindset is the best thing you can have starting off. Having a gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift) relationship, a relationship based in good Gebo, is not about transaction, but about wanting to establish and maintain right relationship. A gipt fá gipt/Gebo relationship is one that honors both participants, is good and wholesome. If you are looking for a transactional relationship where you put an offering out and get something immediately or near-term for it, that is fine to engage in with a vaettir you want to have a business relationship with. However, that is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is developing a long-term and powerful devotional relationship with vaettir.

Once you are clear that your intention is to develop a good relationship you need to make space for that relationship. Making a physical space for that vaettir on an altar, often called a vé, or sacred space, is a powerful way to invite that vaettr deeper into your life. After all, you are making or setting aside space in a sacred space dedicated to the spiritual relationships you have and you are developing. So if have never made an altar, how do you go about doing it?

The Simplest Altar

A solid surface with a white cloth, a cup for water, and a single white candle with a lighter or book of matches and a holder for spent matches. That is the bare minimum you need for a simple altar. The surface can be a table, a bookshelf, an Altoid tin, or a cigar box. The candle can be as big or small as you need, from a birthday candle clear on up to a big taper. The cup can be made of whatever material is best for your situation, so long as it is clean and holds water. Start small. Altars can always grow if they need to.

A Simple Invitation Rite

Most of my relationships with vaettir have begun in similar fashion. First, I realize and affirm that I want to begin a relationship with a vaettr or group of vaettir. Then, I make space for Them on the altar. Then, after cleansing an object representing the vaettir/vaettir, I make prayer and offerings, then consecrate the item as Their representation and/or vessel.

Before beginning the rite, for a simple cleansing, ask the Eldest Ancestor, Fire, to cleanse you and the space. Something simple like “Hail Eldest Ancestor, please cleanse me and this space.” then pass the candle over yourself and the area clockwise. If you are seeking to connect with the Ancestors the Eldest is the best one to go to first. Leave the candle burning through the ritual if you can, and invite the Ancestor(s) you wish to connect with. Simple is better, especially if you are just taking your first steps. If you are just beginning Ancestor worship I would call on the Disir, Väter, and Ergi first, along with any Ancestors you knew in life, and for the first few months just dedicate Ancestor worship to Them. This establishess your relationship with your powerful and known Ancestors first, which helps to protect you from interloper vaettir pretending to be Ancestors, and helps your own discernment. Once the vaettir have been invited and asked to bless the items dedicated to Them, spend a few moments speaking with Them about the relationship you would like to build with Them, and spend time listening to Them in turn. You may ‘hear’, ‘see’, etc nothing, get no kind of spiritual feedback. That is fine. What is important is that, regardless of your receptivity, you give in kind for the time you took to speak. If you have divination tools handy and want direct feedback through them, now would be the time to bring them out. It would be good to double-check that the rite is appreciated, the offerings will be accepted, and if there is anything else needing attending to.

Offerings can be a simple cup of water, any foods or drinks the Ancestors may have liked or were denied when they were alive, or sacred herbs such as mugwort, chamomile, or tobacco. You don’t have to smoke or burn offerings as incense, especially if you live in a place where burning is prohibited, such as a dorm room. In such a case, LED candles work for the same purpose and making the offerings at the nearest, biggest tree should be fine. If you feel you should burn the offerings, keep the offerings in a container, and burn them in a simple ceremony. Once the offerings are taken care of, thank the vaettir for Their Presence, and snuff the candle. Blowing on the candle means you may accidentally spit on it, and so, snuffing it tends to be more respectful to the Firevaettr and the Eldest Ancestor. I tend to make water offerings on the roots of the biggest, nearest tree after asking the treevaettr for permission.

 

This will be it for the first part of Relationships with Spirits. The next post will dig into how we can begin relationships with spirits, the kinds of relationships we can have with Them, and the ways we keep these relationships healthy.