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Patreon Topic: Deathwalking Part 1

January 17, 2020 Comments off

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.

Moving Beyond the Wound-Chasm

December 7, 2019 4 comments

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.

We Walked Among the Dead

November 5, 2019 Leave a comment

We walked among the Dead today

We walked side by side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has been said that tears are gifts unto the Dead

Each drop acknowledges the life from the mortal coil it shed

We must each take our rest deep within the Earth

I can only hope I have been an Ancestor of worth

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

Visions of Dionysus

November 4, 2019 1 comment

Strange dreams heralded Your coming

Intense, vivid, real

Ivy and mead, yes, but more:

Drums in the distance, heavy and echoing

Spears and swords gleamed

Fangs shone

Something deeper and darker

Slather and blood dripped

Grinning

You stir them up

Drinking

Dancing

Howling

At first I cannot follow your footsteps

I cannot follow your rhythm

I cannot dance with you

I am too afraid

You stir them up with that bestial grin

That snapping of teeth and pawing the earth

That thudding of Your thyrsus

You stir them up with that roar

That shaking of Your body

That unbridled ferocity

You stir them up

You stir them up

You stir them up

How can I do other than follow my soul

As it leads me to dance

As it leads me to release

As it leads me to rage

Your wolfish grin invites

The forest unfolding

Come and be who you are

Io! Io! Io!

O Enualios!

O Holy Wild One!

O Dionysus!

Reflection on Polytheism, Tribalism, and Politics

November 4, 2019 16 comments

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.

Between

October 8, 2019 Leave a comment

Empty lungs and full heart

Fluttered eye and grasping hand

Straining throat and bent spine

 

Taut skin and scraping bark

Quivering stomach and leaden feet

Croaking voice and sucking ground

 

Parted ribs and empty stomach

Open ears and iron tongue

Howling mouth and yawning void

A Prayer to the Starry Bear

September 6, 2019 3 comments
This came to me as I was listening to UruR and Isa by Wardruna. The experience I got as I was writing this was a combination of a skull and skin of a bear in a tree overlooking people in a thick forest praying to it, a bear on land walking in the forest, and a bear in the stars.

O mighty Bear Who looks upon us from the Tree!

O Starry-Eyed Bear Who gazes upon us from the Stars!
Praise to You, slain upon the Tree!
Praise to You, glory in the Stars!
Praise to You, Slain and Ever-living!
Your teeth tear the evil spirits!
Your claws carve mighty Runes in oak, ash, yew!
Your breath and roar cleanse and consecrate!
O Sky-Opened Skull, whose mind is full of spirits and stars, hear our prayer:
May our offerings be well received and may we follow you well in Earth and in Sky.
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