Patreon Topic: Deathwalking Part 1

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.

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

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

Deathwalking, in short, is spiritual hospice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dying and Deathwalking in Heathenry

On Dying

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

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

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

On Deathwalking

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

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

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

I refer here back to Harrell’s post:

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

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

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

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

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

Examples to Draw From

A Preparation Rite Sample for a Deathwalker:

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

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

Preparatory Prayer

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

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

Cleansing with Breath

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

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

Cleansing with Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Grounding with Jörð

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

Begin with a prayer to the Earthmother:

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

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

Grounding as a Tree

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

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

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

Centering in the Self

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

Centering for Work

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

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

Making Shields

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

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

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

Cleansing Shields

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

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

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

Reinforcing Shields

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

A Preparation Rite for the Dying

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

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

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

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

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

Cleansing the Space

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

Prepatory Prayer

Face the vé with the dying:

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

Cleansing

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

Grounding

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

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

Centering

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

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

Shielding

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

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

Thanks and Offering

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

A Note on Prayers, Offerings, and Rites

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

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

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

A sample rite for deathwalking the dying:

Engage in the Prepatory Rite

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

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

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

Welcome the Ancestors

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

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

Welcome the Vaettir

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

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

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

Blessing and Preparing the Dying

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

For the Elemental Ancestors

Fire

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

Ice

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

For the Gods -A General Prayer

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

For the Gods -For a Fulltrui

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

Readying the Dying

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

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

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

Care for the Dead

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

When I first started to write on this patron’s topic I was initially going to just write an 8oo or so word post, and it has gotten far more detailed than I intended. So, I will at least be splitting this up into a two post topic. Again, if you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level here on my Patreon.

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

Open to Questions Year 3

I am once again looking for topics to write on, so if you, or someone you know, wants me to dig into a topic let me know.

Ask questions!  They can be on anything related to the Northern Tradition, Heathenry, polytheism, animism, Gods, Ancestors, vaettir (spirits), shamanic work, priest work, spirit work, definitions, lore, etc.

Thoughts On Clergy, Laity, Hierarchies and Roles in Polytheist Religions

This is a reflection on a post written by Keen, titled On Pagan Clergy, Layfolk, and the Struggle for Selfhood.  Some of what I have written here will be pulled from comments going back and forth with Keen on the article, and some will be from my thoughts since then.

 

As I was reading this post I found myself struggling a bit. I get why Keen is writing what they are, and agree that clergy need to be part of the solution, especially because in the hierarchy of things, we’re placed higher on the queue than others are for the reasons they mention in the post.

Part of what I do in my own group is consistently remind folks they all have things to contribute, things worthy of hearing, and that the measure of what makes a prayer or offering good is whether the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir like and accept it. I also make a point of emphasizing that I do not and cannot know everything. I actually really like it when I can hand part of a lesson or ritual over to someone else. It takes me out of the facilitation role, even if for a few minutes, and into the experiential one. It doesn’t mean hierarchy disappear, per se, but it does mean that everyone knows they’ve got stake in this group.

The problems seen as within hierarchy stems more from that our society has deeply dysfunctional relationships with hierarchy than that hierarchy itself is a source of problems.  Many of the ways that hierarchy functions,  such as the reciprocity between folks in a hierarchy, the complimenting of responsibilities that should help build up folks within a hierarchy, etc., are completely out of whack in our country.  Would-be Congressional representatives ignore the needs and desires of their constituents to the point where it blase now to say that legalized corruption has a death grip on our political processes.  The societal contract between States and workers is so shredded that it is an expectation in some cases that the pensions promised will be ‘negotiated’ or legislated out of existence so the younger folks can have a hope at a job just a bit above what would keep them out of poverty.  Bosses of all kinds hold the fact that employees need to make a living (read: provide for basic needs like food and shelter) above their head, exploiting their labor for personal and company gains in some of the worst ways.  Officers wield immense power over whether a person lives or dies, and the justice system actively works to shield those who, were they in a different walk of life or profession, from facing responsibility for their abuses of power.  These, though, are societal problems and not issues of hierarchy itself.  Hierarchy and roles are not abuses of hierarchy and roles.

Roles are important, and I think part of the issue that has emerged quite a bit is that there are a lot of roles lacking in modern polytheist religion. There are folks, like myself, who the Gods snap up and say “come do this thing!” and we go and spend time and a lot of hard knocks learning how to do it, whether it is priest work, spirit work, becoming a priest, becoming a shaman, starting a group, or what-have-you. Then there are folks who don’t get snapped up, and the communities around them have little to nothing for them to do, whether that is the communities around them form before they’ve gotten these lessons, or there are just not enough interested folks in this or that direction to form one, a million reasons.

A given person may have no desire or ability to lead, so while they might have a great knowledge base, they have no personal reason to put their name out there. Another might have been badly burned and is still in recovery from the last time they put themselves out there. Another may simply not know where to start.

In some cases, there is active backlash against establishing or established hierarchy, which can be an impediment to community building. I dig established hierarchies and find it important to know where I am in a pecking order, even if there is no pecking order, so at least I know if I am among a group of peers or there is someone I should be looking up to for cohesion. Part of why I was able to get so much done alongside my fellows when I worked for a nonprofit for 3 years was because each of us knew our role and responsibility and had established protocol for working together. How things were decided on, such as program design and budgeting, was a matter of everyone knowing Robert’s Rules of Order. This allowed us to know how to propose ideas, how to deny them, how to debate the merits of a given proposal, and how to present to one another in a way that communicated clearly and effectively.

This point
“it is no wonder that the layperson’s reaction to this anxiety, this threat against their sense of selfhood and their relationship with the Gods and spirits, is to try to become clergy themselves”

and their last point:

“keep in mind the power that you wield in this economy of social currency. And please, if you have to extol the merits of being god-deaf, head-blind, and otherwise without priestly responsibilities, try to mind how you do it; it’s easy to come across as patronizing in a world where everyone is vying for likes and authority to secure their selfhood.”

are other points where I was finding some struggle.

In the ancient polytheist cultures I have studied, there were roles for folks that made sense according to the religion, culture, and societal mores of the time. Part of the issues I think we are seeing are for the reasons I noted above, and because most modern Pagan religions and polytheist religions do not have them yet, or have actively dispensed with hierarchies. Rather than being a completely useful device for getting people engaged in a religion, I see that this flattens the field so that people feel like they need to be everything at once. However, there was a reason one consulted an oracle and not, say, the local baker. Their skills were not honed in the area of oracular work, divination, etc. even if they may have had the knack for it, especially to the degree of a full-time (or even part-time) diviner. That did not mean the baker was not necessary. Far from it. It meant the skillset of the baker was different from that of the diviner. I’m also not saying the baker could not be the diviner, like somehow laborious jobs might make a person less fit for divination, I’m just using it for example’s sake.

My issue is that it seems there’s quite a lot of pressure put on clergy, spiritual specialists, etc., to take this weight off of other people. As I am someone who doesn’t see hierarchy as an impediment, but a potential boon, part of how I view this is that the religious leaders, specialists, etc., regardless of the size of those they are leading, should be empowering folks to live full, active religious lives, just as they should be living full, active religious lives. The particulars of that life will differ according to responsibilities to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, the same with regard to one’s duties to community, family, other obligations, etc. I think this weight need to be removed both by the leadership and by the laity.

I also recognize that there are certain places in which, as a spiritual specialist with a highly active religious life, I simply will not be able to have folks able to empathize as well with me. My wife, Sylverleaf, is one such person. She is not a spiritual specialist, is not a leader, and is very closed from a spiritual input standpoint. She’s just as polytheist as I am, just as good as I am, and is very comfortable being laity. Sometimes I have to take a good deal more time to explain why I feel I need to do this or that, i.e. I need to do something because I have gotten ‘flash traffic’ from a God or Goddess I serve, or an Ancestor or vaettir wants something, and will help me with this or that in exchange. She may not understand how I am getting the information, but she is supportive both in the sense that she helps me do what needs to get done, and that she also will ask direct questions that may help me reevaluate or think deeper on a given request. On a few occasions, her help has had me go back to the negotiating board.

Likewise, I do not empathize as well with folks who do not have very active religious lives because I have seldom had one. When Sylverleaf gets ‘flash traffic’, though, it’s rather unmistakable, so with her there’s often not a large sussing out period, certainly not as much as with me. Part of what I do for her is help to keep a regular offering schedule and help set aside time for prayers. I grew up Catholic, so regular prayers and ritual times are something I am used to, whereas she grew up in a mostly atheist household, and it is harder for her to remember to do things regularly.

So, I think that laity and spiritual specialists and leaders can be helpmeets for each other, but it takes negotiating these relationships to a better degree than has been done. I certainly don’t hope to have all the answers, but I hope I am adding something useful to the dialogue around these things.

They asked me to elaborate on these points:

“I know that there is always talk of what kinds of relationship “styles” are possible to have with a Power, but rarely does that translate into a wider discussion of community relationships, with the Gods and spirits being considered part of the community ecosystem, you might say.

Might you have thoughts about that?”

Roles, in my experience, are trickier in online space. I mean, the thing with physical groups in proximity is that yeah, you can walk a way, but there is more on the line. These are people you share physical space with, folks you might have eaten with, and you might have had guest rights with them in their home. It’s more vulnerable, or a ‘closer’ kind of vulnerable in my view, and so, it is also has the possibility of being more intimate.

Relationship styles with the Holy Powers can have community-wide impact, but then again, we’re back to what constitutes a community. My relationship with Odin is easy to ignore online, relatively speaking, since all it takes is clicking that little ‘x’ in the top right of the screen if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, thinks it is loony, etc. and doesn’t want to bother writing a rebuttal to what I have said. Beliefs, information, all of it is easier to ignore or amplify online because of the way a lot of social media works, and increasingly (especially automatic or database-created) Search Engine Optimization that can allow for more of an echo chamber.  Whether your community is mostly/entirely online, or mostly/entirely based in a physical community changes the dynamics of how the relationships can unfold, where one may hold the primacy of one’s own experience, how validation can help shape one’s religious experiences and understanding, and a number of other factors I could spend several posts going into.

Religious communities help to establish boundaries around our understanding of, and relationships with the Holy Powers.  The looser these ties are the easier it can be to dispense with ill advice, but the same is true with good advice that may be uncomfortable or hard to take.  The ties we retain online are different than those we hold in physical spaces, and I am not one to say online relationships are wrong or fake.

I maintain a good number of my relationships, including with a good number of my fellow polytheists, online.  Talking with one of these friends on Facebook is all well and good, but meeting them at Many Gods West, sitting down to dinner with them, and enjoying their physical company, and dialogue, is quite a different thing.  Even meeting with some of these folks on Skype is still not the same as meeting in physical space.  Having done ritual online in different programs such as Second Life, and through the medium of Skype, there are different dynamics going on, and there is a sense of ‘being there’ but also not ‘being there’ that is utterly different from worshiping with folks in physical space.

Community relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir can be greatly affected if someone is in a powerful personal relationship with a/the Holy Powers. Close, powerful community relationships can also greatly affect our relationships with the Holy Powers as well.  My entire life is engaged in the worldview of a polytheist, and my powerful personal relationship with Odin, the taboos He and various Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have put on me, echo in ways big and small throughout my relationships. Folks who are close to me know about my food taboos, for instance, and so meals may be in part shaped by (or my bringing food) my taboos. In this regard it is not very different in terms of impact from my diabetes: folks who know I have it will try to have food I can eat even if the main course is carb intensive. They’ll let me know what’s on the menu ahead of time so I know to adjust my diet or if I need to get something else, I can.

What I just described is guest/host Gebo relations, reciprocity, gift-for-a-gift between guest and host. These factor pretty heavily into the various animist and polytheist religions and traditions, so while it may seem simple on the outside, these considerations get heavier in terms of spiritual weight and moral impact when one is an animist/polytheist than such things would be for someone who does not have such spiritual conditions around guest rights, host rights, and reciprocity between guest and host.

This has deeper impacts in terms of who I will and will not interact with. For instance, if I know that a group will be present that is actively hostile towards Loki, unless I am directly ordered to by Odin, I will not attend.

When it is brought up for serious discussion, as opposed to just being berated or sneered at, the subject of what function a godspouse would serve comes up. I would say that godspouses can, and actually do serve community functions, but how that comes about is entirely a result of how they and the Holy Power(s) negotiate the relationship, what form(s) it takes, if it has any impact on their community/communities, and so on. Basically, I am trying really hard not to gainsay the Gods here. Because I could say something general like “Godspouses are here to connect in a powerful, vulnerable, intimate way, and through this, bring to light different aspects of their God/dess and offer an understanding of their God/dess to others through that connection.”

I could also say that godspouses are a manifestation of a relationship with someone we humans can relate to here in Midgard, and through the godspouse we could come to a deeper rapport with a given Holy Power. I think that each godspouse may or may not have a mission or purpose of this kind to fulfill. It needn’t even be that kind of mission or purpose. A given Holy Power may simply desire companionship from a human for the duration of their life. It may be that a Holy Power wishes to manifest its Presence through this companionship and make Themselves known through this relationship. This person may simply be special to Them and has assented to a lifelong relationship.  It may be an expectation a culture places on certain cultus-holders or it may be a way of beginning a new cultus entirely.

In my view, though, very few powerful spiritual relationships are only about a simple connection, though I do not deny they could be. After all, I’m not a godspouse, and I wouldn’t speak on behalf of them when I’ve neither the experience nor the calling to be one. I can only speculate from the outside.

When it comes to folks like myself, called to spiritual specialist positions, leadership, and the like, the religious stances I take and the spiritual relationships I have, the alliances I forge, all of them interplay with one another. Hamingja, the interconnected luck of a community, means that I not only need to be very careful in fulfilling my obligations, but also to be mindful that any alliances, relationships, and so on that I start can affect the luck of those within my innangard (those within my gard, or inner circle), for good or ill. The relationship dynamics of those who are in one’s innangard, then, take on powerful new meanings. So if I screw up on a taboo, like the guest/host dynamic above, for instance, that can have repercussions for others in my innangard, and even those not as close, like some of my blood family who don’t share space with me and I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

When folks really tease out the implications of the world being full of Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, how we treat the Holy Powers and where we are in the hierarchy in relationship with and to Them become very important pretty quick. If I am living next to a stream that feeds my crops it is in my best interests to have a good relationship with the God/vaettr (depending on how It identifies and your relationship with/to It) of that stream. In my view, I am a guest on the land I live on. Many of the landvaettir and the Gods of this land were here long before I was, and will be long after I am dead. Certainly the old landvaettir can hold more sway than the younger by dint of experience, power, spheres of influence, etc. The oak growing on our property has a permanence here should it live well that I will not, and even when it dies, it is not ‘separate’ from the land, so much as the individual tree has died and its individuality may remain or fade, much like myself in relationship to the communities around me, when I die. Perhaps, like the tree, my persona will live on, be communicable in some fashion. Maybe certain soul parts like the liche will stick around with some or all of my persona intact to receive offerings, dispense advice, or chit-chat. Maybe I will become part of the landvaettir after awhile where I am buried, or immediately on being placed in a mound. Same with a blade of grass. I think this is not something I can fully answer, because each life and death is its own unfolding in wyrd, and how those strands interweave is part of the pattern, and I can only see so much.  Also, I’m not Hela, Odin, or any other God or Goddess who holds/hosts an afterlife.

It is a humbling feeling to understand the grass, the dirt, all the crawling things beneath your feet has as much if not more right to be there than you. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically subservient to Them any more than They to us, but it is a recognition of where we are in the web of things, and where we stand in terms of our circles of influence, and power to affect change and wyrd. So, to me, hierarchy takes on a kind of immediacy in understanding where we are in the scheme of things, who holds what power over/to do/to act when and where, and what spheres of influence we carry or are affected by. In some ways I am quite powerful in comparison to the stream; I can divert its flow, utterly destroy it with a machine, or mold its banks so they irrigate the way I see fit. If I angered the stream God/vaettr/vaettir by changing it in a way it did not want, it could respond by not giving up the water I need to water my crops, flood my crops, or drown me if I went to swim in it. Questions of consent and partnership are part of the equation here if the world around us has moral and spiritual weight not just for them, but for us as well. Making sure we get our due is also important, but I tend to emphasize the Holy Powers getting Theirs since our society does a hell of a lot of taking without much, if any, giving back.

This worldview and the resulting understanding, idea, morals, and so on trickle out, from the concept of Gebo, hamginja, innangard, utgard (those outside one’s personal circle; outside the gard or wall), one’s place in the hierarchies of Beings and where one is in relationship to the Holy Powers.

Being an animist and/or polytheist comes with taking on a powerful worldview, or set of worldviews, and all that results from it. This worldview shapes and affects ones’ relationships with the land one lives on, the company one keeps, and the way one conducts their life.  It can affect what one eats, one’s calling in life, and what paths can open up in a given person’s lifetime.  Equally so, it can determine what paths close, what ways are best to avoid, and provide direction when one is confused on where to go.  The worldview of animist or polytheist religion(s) hold within it an understanding of hierarchy, where one is in relationship to all Beings.  An animist/polytheist worldview affects how one understand the Holy Powers, how one forms relationships with Them and maintains them, and where they may find expression in one’s life.  These things unfold, helping us to weave our wyrd with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and is woven throughout our lives, relationships, and communities when they are not only thought on and considered, but actively lived.

 

 

 

The Jaguar and the Owl

I have been a co-host on The Jaguar and the Owl for the last year, but it did not occur to me that I had not been providing updates about it to my blog.

Introducing The Jaguar and the Owl:

This is a show and podcast about shamanism in it’s living form. We will explore it’s history, but also what it is like to be a shaman here and now. The challenges you will face, the advice and techniques that I and others use. Join me around the virtual sacred fire as I and other shaman talk about what the Spirits ask us to talk about. Are you the one the message is meant for?

We are on every other Tuesday on Para-x.com’s Live Broadcast at 8pm.  Our next broadcast is tomorrow, 9/29/2014 at 8pm.

Our most recent podcast is here, where we interviewed Galina Krasskova and talked on Ancestors and leadership in the communities we share.

 

 

The link to the Jaguar and the Owl WordPress is here, where you can download and share the archived episodes of the show.

The link to the iTunes podcast archives for the show are here.

Question 14: The Goddesses in the Northern Tradition

Thank you again, Freki Ingela, for this question:

What are your thoughts of the feminine divine in Germanic polytheism? I notice that very little is known about the household Gods, the Gods that women in their homesteads would have revered, the deity of the hearth, for example. This is a problem for me (I am a woman) and to be really honest although I am proud of my ancestral Gods I have a feeling that we have lost too much knowledge of the non-warrior Gods, the Gods of the women, the family, the hearth fire – so much so that we must look to kin-religions, such as Roman polytheism, to try to bridge the gap where so much knowledge has been lost. What are your thoughts on this?

That our ancestral lines were sundered is one of many great tragedies.  The loss of traditional communities, and much of the lore, rituals, and sacred sites have been a hard blow to recover from.  The power of religious movements such as the Northern Tradition is that we are living ties back to these things as much as we are carrying them forward.  It is worth remembering that at some point someone had to bring in a new rite, story, or commission a sacred site to be built.  Our Ancestors had to do this at one point.  One of our greatest challenges is that there have not been a line or tribe of living people, at least until relatively recently, to carry on what will inform our own traditions, rituals, and sacred sites.  Despite this heavy loss, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can, and should be asked to inform this revival.

When it comes to how to worship, wherever possible I try to keep within the tradition in question.  I think that looking to other religions for inspiration can be a powerful thing, yet, I also recognize that Roman polytheism is a different way than German polytheism.  There are different underlying assumptions in either religion, different cosmologies, and different ways of worshiping the Gods right and well.  While I am not strictly opposed to mixing traditions, I advise care and caution in doing so, as one practice or way of doing things may be fine in one culture but not translate well, if at all, to the other.  It is also worth mentioning that the Romans recorded aspects of Germanic life prior to conversion, i.e. the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar, so it makes sense to go to investigate these Roman sources.

I wish there were more resources available to us.  I wish that more had survived, especially from before the period of conversion.  There is a great gap of knowledge, even in what little we do have and know, between the Goddesses and the male Gods.  I think that, for what we have remaining, there are many Goddesses who Germanic, Scandinavian, etc. polytheists can call upon who may well fill many of the roles you cite here.  I feel that Sif is often overlooked, for instance.  She is mentioned very little in the sources, namely in Skáldskarpamál where Her hair is cut by Loki, and in the Lokasenna where She serves Him mead in Aegir’s hall.  She is a powerful, graceful Lady, one whom my family reveres for Her generosity and patience.

If one is looking for a Goddess of the home, I think of Frigga, Sif, Sigyn, and Frigga’s Handmaiden Syn.  I have read Roman polytheists had Gods for parts of the door and threshold.  Rather than look to the Romans for such a Goddess, I believe Syn would be one to worship and call upon as a Goddess of doors, their locks, and thresholds.  It says in the Gylfaginning (not the most current translation, but it is free) that:

“The eleventh is Syn: she keeps the door in the hall, and locks it before those who should not go in; she is also set at trials as a defence against such suits as she wishes to refute: thence is the expression, that syn[1] is set forward, when a man denies.”

As far as a Goddess of the hearth fire Itself, why not worship and revere Sinmora?  While the etymology of Her Name is still debated, as well as Her identity as Surt’s husband, She and Loki’s Daughter Glut, are the only Goddesses of Fire in the Northern Tradition that I know of.  Some would balk at this, given The are jotun.  I have yet to read where either Goddess means us harm, however, and given I have been praying to Them for some time, I have found both, especially Sinmora, to be a patient guide, and teacher in working with Fire.  If you mean a Goddess of the hearth where the fire is contained, the Goddesses I mentioned in terms of the home may be ones to worship and revere.  Also, for some reason, Snotra keeps coming to mind.  It may have to do with Her Name meaning “wisdom”, as a great deal of wisdom is learned around the home fire.  It may also have to do with the wisdom required in keeping the fire well, including the etiquette and understanding required to treat the firevaettir well.

Part of the challenge in living this path is reconstructing and reviving what we can, and being open to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir filling in quite a bit of what is no longer with us.  It is worth remembering, however, that reconstruction is a methodology rather than a religion.  My path is reconstructionist-derived; I recognize I do not strictly adhere to a reconstructionist model.  Sticking to the source material where possible and exploring where our Gods’ stories come from is a good springboard.  This does not set aside the importance of knowing the stories, doing research, and the like.  When confronted in situations like these, where there is a lack of stories and resources like archaeology, I am going to lean more heavily on my and others’ personal experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

A great, powerful, and often untapped resource seldom considered are one’s Disir.  These are the women who kept things together, who cared for the house, and who kept the traditions alive in Their time.  They may well do so again, if you ask Them.  The Disir keep the lines well, and many of the older ones might be interested in teaching you what They have to offer if you show interest and are respectful.  Whether or not you ask Them to help with connecting to the Gods, or walking the path, I believe it is more than worth it to set some space aside for Them, if you have it to give, and cultivate a good relationship with Them.  I would offer similar advice in regards to the Goddesses since They, far more than I, can give you good direction on these things.

 

Update: I included Glut in the section where I wrote about Goddesses of Fire. I knew I was missing Someone in this section and She just came to me.

Question 13: Frigg, Freyja, and Earth Goddesses

Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:

Do you consider Frigg and Freyja to be one and the same great Earth Goddess (eg, Nerthus), or do you consider they are separate deities.

I consider Them to be separate Goddesses, and I do not consider either one a great Earth Goddess, either.  They have particular roles in Their families and tribe.  While etymologically we may be able to say They were one and the same at some point in the past, either They became two separate Goddesses or They were separate to begin with.

I really have no dog in this race.  While it would be interesting to know how the people that worshiped these Goddesses developed their language and understanding of these Goddesses, I worship Them as separate Goddesses.  I also consider Nerthus and Jörð separate Goddesses even though both are identified as Mother Earth Goddesses.

While I do believe syncretism has its place, unless I know for sure that a name is a heiti, or that this God or that Goddess actually is x  as well as y God/dess, I tend to treat the God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir in question as a separate entity.  This approach is more cautious.  I would rather find out later that I have been giving a given God or Goddess more offerings than I thought I had than to find out I have been treating two Goddesses as one.

Question 12: Appealing to the Gods

Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:

Are the Gods great Gods whom anyone on Earth may appeal to, or are they ancestral tribal spirits who confine themselves to looking over the descendants of northern Europe, or are they both? Or are they neither in your opinion? If so, how do understand their nature.

The Gods of the Northern Tradition are Gods I believe anyone can appeal to.  I do not hold folkish views regarding the Gods.  The peoples who worshiped these Gods (and how, what particular understanding of these Gods were prevalent and practices were done in this regard differed region to region) ranged all over the world.  They brought back people from these expeditions, merchant voyages, conquests, and raids.  They sometimes settled in the new lands, usually as colonizers.  To my understanding there is no barrier to anyone worshiping the Gods of the Northern Tradition so far as ancestry goes.  While I do believe that some of the Gods may have brought Their power into tribes of people, such as recounted in the RÍgsÞula (The Lay of Rig), as well as many of the hero stories, I do not think this is what determines if someone is holier or better than another.  I also do not believe that having bloodlines connected to people who may have worshiped the Gods of the Northern Tradition automatically makes you better suited for the Northern Tradition, especially given how many Europeans worshiped Greek and Roman Gods in many of the same places the Northern European Gods were worshiped.  Prayers for the Gods made with a good heart in the right place are good regardless of who makes them.

To understand the nature of the Gods, I usually recommend people read up as much as they can on the Gods, and then, while they are doing so, set up a shrine to the Gods and to their Disir (powerful female Dead), Väter* (powerful male Dead), and their Ancestors in general.  I’ve lived in a dorm room, so I have had to make do with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir all sharing altar space together.  When the shrine is set up, make an offering of water, if nothing else, every day.  Take at least five to fifteen minutes a day to do this, not just setting down the water, but praying at that shrine.  If you have prayers of your own, say them.  If you need inspiration, or want to use prayers from others, feel free to use prayers from my blog using the search bar, from NorthernPaganism.org’s wide variety of online shrines, Michaela’s Odin’s Gift website, Galina Krasskova’s prayers, or any others you find.   If you don’t have space or if you are in a hostile place you can leave a digital candle to one of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at one the NorthernPaganism.org’s shrine pages, like this one to Odin.

This is the recommended reading list I have for the Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group, with explanation of why we use them:

  1. Neolithic Shamanism by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova
    1. Neolithic Shamanism is an experience of the Northern Tradition spirits, and only works with a handful of Gods, such as Sunna and Mani. The focus of the book is toward establishing right relationship with the Elemental Powers, the landvaettir, one’s Ancestors, and so one from the ground up.
  2. The Prose Edda by Carolyne Larrington
    1. This version of the Prose Eddas is very straightforward.  Having read both Bellows and Hollander, I agree with Galina that Hollander cuts things out with poetic license so the ‘flow’ goes according to what he wants.
  3. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera
    1. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner gives a good overview of the Northern Tradition, and has a good deal of practices such as prayers, how to use prayer beads, and what offerings are good or contraindicated for the Gods of the Northern Tradition. This book helped me deepen my religious practice.
  4. Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher
    1. Spiritual Protection is one of the best books on psychic/spiritual protection I have seen or read.  In a book market where protection is often given short shrift, this book goes to the absolute basics and is great to revisit whether you’ve been doing it for a little while, a long while, or not at all. As a word of caution I advise no one to seek to ground to any world but this one, Midgard, as even I haven’t gone and received permission yet to ground to another.
  5. Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
    1. Exploring the Northern Tradition gives a good overview of the demographics of Heathenry, some ideas of varying practice and culture, and is a good guide to the differences between traditions that you may find in them.
  6. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson
    1. This book gives an overview of the myths, Gods, and Goddesses. I would probably pair it with the Prose Eddas, but I also like people to dive right into the source material and make discoveries on their own, but if that style of study works better for you I don’t see a reason not to do it, particularly if the Eddas are a bit hard to work through.

Another book I would seriously recommend is Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson. It details some typical practices from both groups and personal practice.

 

*This is not a traditional name for the powerful male Dead.  It is German for “Fathers”.  I use it in preference of Álfar, since álfar means ‘elves’.