Deity Work v Being a Polytheist

Rotwork wrote a post here exploring the idea of deity work that I will be pushing back on, and adding my own thoughts as I go.

Before I begin I want to be clear: I respect Rotwork a lot. I get that a lot of online spaces are cesspits, and produce a lot of toxic ideas that then get circulated. Those need to be pushed back on. That being said, I am going to push back a bit on some of the things they have talked about regarding deity work. There’s enough in here that I agree with in some respects that I feel like I am going to have dig into it a bit to be clear on where I disagree.

After exploring some of the ideas I posted on their Twitter feed and talking with friends, I find much of my issue is with baseline definitions. I understand deity work as any work assigned to you by a God. I often place deity work under the catchall term spiritwork, that is, work done on behalf of, for, or with vaettir (spirits), Ancestors, and/or Gods. I do not see prayers, offerings, or any of the normal praxis of a polytheist aka exoteric religion, as being deity work/spiritwork per se.

To quote what I said in the Twitter feed:

When I think of ‘deity work’ I think of stuff assigned to you by the Gods. Not the basic stuff of *being* polytheist like prayers, offerings, etc. Being a spiritworker is a *job* not the baseline of being a polytheist. Hopefully I’m making sense here.

When I use the word spiritwork, spiritworker, and/or vaettirvirkr that means the person is doing work with, for, or on behalf of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Real simple equation to my mind. In the case of ‘working with’ a God it’s to Their end even if it does benefit us.

Even in the cases where I got ‘hired out’ by Óðinn to do things for other Gods it was still in service to Him. When Óðinn came into my life like a whirlwind I could have said no, and did not.

Here is another point of contention: deity work is dangerous. It is dangerous in no small part for many of the reasons they claim it is safe, and thinking on it in the same terms. Gods are as dangerous as They are sacred. Gods that stop plagues can start them, eg Apollo. Gods that can control whether or not you win a battle can make sure you get killed so you come to Valhöll, eg Óðinn. The Gods of Fire that warm our houses have the ability to burn down forests. Our Gods are, to paraphrase CS Lewis, ‘not tame lions’. However, that does not mean that They’re in our lives just to fuck with us or do us harm. I find that, if your life is being flipped upside down by a God entering it then it probably needed to be -though there’s exceptions to every rule since Gods are individual Beings, and so are we.

The Gods do have limits -clearly. Óðinn is not omniscient, frequently refers to other Beings in the stories we have for Their knowledge and wisdom, eg Vafþruðnir and Mímir. This does not make me a selfish asshole. Further, Óðinn is a known oathbreaker. It means that I clearly know my lore and that not every God (or Ancestor or vaettr) should have trust extended unconditionally. Some Gods have very little to do with humanity since They have whole sections of Creation to deal with, deserving no less of our respect and worship. Some Gods are not the gentlest or even the most caring towards humanity. Again, They are deserving of respect and worship even if an individual polytheist chooses not to worship Them. Maybe if you are not interacting with, say, a river God in Their river then They have no reason to really pay you mind. Again, no They are no less deserving of respect or worship. You may just not be as interested in worshiping Them, or They in interacting with you, if you do not live on or near Their river.

Now, I will heartily agree that when it comes to deity work we are not working with the Gods as equals. We simply cannot. We are working for Them, which is why I refer to being a spiritworker as a job. It’s work. However, deity work is not worship.

Worship is the baseline of being a polytheist. It is what each and every polytheist should be doing in whatever their capacity is. It is the action of being a polytheist. Belief in the Gods is the baseline choice that any polytheist should hold. Note, I am not saying perfect faith or any of the other cluttering Christian notions regarding that. Belief in the Gods is a choice, a recognition. Faith is an emotion, transitory at best sometimes. I do not always have faith, but so long as I am a polytheist I have to have belief that the Gods are real and that I worship Them.

I have no disagreement with their bullet points, excepting that the Gods are mostly everywhere. It is too wide a point for me. I do not think that Óðinn or Loki are everywhere. I have no indication They are from either the lore available or my own experiences of Them. It is still monumentally stupid to be two-faced before our Gods, though.

The next point bears some digging into.

“But how do I know if I’m contacting the right entity?”

Now when it comes to addressing prayers to Gods, so long as you’re using the correct names and epithets your prayers are very likely being heard by the God in question. Now when you’re hearing a response of some kind? When you are looking for feedback or input? This is where doing your due diligence is necessary.

I will refer to my Brother Jim Two Snakes on this one: Spiritual Accounting. His breakdown is this: (M+C³)xR = V. M is messages, C is confirmations, R is results, and V is verified. Lore, divination, and community input are the three legs of this stool. Why would we need this? Because we can be mistaken. We can think we are talking to a God and getting input back and its a sock puppet we are fooling ourselves with or a spirit using that form to get attention/energy from us. Sometimes spirits lie. Sometimes we get stuff wrong, or we are not in a good place to experience the Ginnreginn (Holy/Mighty Powers) well at that moment. Working with Spiritual Accounting is a way to make sure that we get as much as we can right.

Unless you are looking for or are getting some kind of response though, this may not even be an active concern for you. Not every polytheist is, nor should be expected to be, a spiritual specialist whether as a spiritworker, priest, or otherwise. It is perfectly acceptable to worship the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in whatever capacity you can, and live by your life’s philosophy. You may get responses, or you may not; that is not the measure of a polytheist.

I started off my journey as a Pagan with 5 salt crystals in a thimble-sized glass jar. Size of the sacred space your worship takes place in, the offerings you make, and the prayers you make all can change over time. To my mind, these questions are key to the measure of a polytheist regardless of whether you are an individual worshiping at your hearth the size of an Altoid tin, or with a large community the midst of a stone circle:

Are you worshiping, praying to, offering to, and speaking with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits with respect? Are you worshiping, making prayers, and making offerings in ways that are respectful and in alignment with the religion, traditions, and individual Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you worship? If you are doing deity work, are you doing whatever work you have assigned in a manner your Gods find respectful? Not respect as I understand it. Respect as your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits understand it.

Are you living in good and respectful reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? That, in my understanding, is the measure of a polytheist. Your worship, and if you have spiritwork, your work, may not look like what others are doing. You are a person in relationships with Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. Whatever it is, however it is expressed, worship in respect to the best of your ability. If you have it, do your deity work and/or spiritwork in respect to the best of your ability. No one could reasonably expect more.

Patreon Topic 43: On Hel

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

From Alexis comes this topic:

“I would really appreciate reading what you have to say about Hel, if you have cultus with her. I don’t see a lot of heathens talk about her.”

Hela is a Goddess I have worshiped for quite a while. I began to worship Her some time after I began to worship Loki, so it has been about thirteen years or so.

Most of my early exposure to Her worship when I became a Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan was through Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova and their books. Few Heathens have talked about Her worship in most forms of media I have engaged with, though thankfully that is changing. Recently I saw Wolf the Red’s Youtube video on Her. If you browse the tags here on my blog you will run into no small amount of content for Her.

Given I worshiped Anpu prior to Hela, a lot of my experiences with Him prepared me for those with Her. In particular was the development of my Ancestor cultus, though that definitely grew in size and complexity when I became a Heathen. Unlike my experience with Anpu I did not become Her priest nor do I do much in the way of spiritual work with Her. While Anpu assigned me work and we still have ongoing spiritual work that I do about once a week to do with the Dead, most of my interactions with Hela are purely devotional in nature.

She is part of my family’s hearth cultus, as well as that of my Kindred so all of us make prayers and offerings to Her. Our most common offerings to Her are the same as our other Norse Gods: water, alcohol, herbs, and food. They are disposed of in the same way, which is usually under a tree, or into the sink respectfully poured out if they are liquid offerings and going outside is not an option.

She can be incredibly compassionate while also being incredibly strict, and of the two I have found that She tends to offer the Dead Her compassionate side whereas the strict side tends to be towards the living. Given Hers is the realm where most of our Ancestors end up I do not understand the aversion to Her worship. It seems to me that if Ancestors are important so too should the worship of the Goddess whose realm most of Them will be occupying.

I have had interactions with Her through other means beyond our home hearth cultus. The most frequent, even in the dead of Winter, is taking the compost to Her and Níðhöggr’s shrine. I wrote about that awhile back here in 2014. We have still kept up the traditions of making prayers and the offering of compost each time the bucket gets full.

She has featured in my adult life at every loss of a loved one. Our cats Aoshi and Kuro, my Grandpa, my Great Aunt. In times of grief I have turned to Her. She has never turned me away, as surely as She has never turned away our Dead.

She is a Goddess that receives. She receives grief, our loved ones, and in turn She gives Them a place to be, and contact with us. She is a powerful Goddess that, in Her cold compassionate ways, smooths the paths so we can heal not only within ourselves but across generations. She provides the place and time to our Dead and Ancestors necessary for Them to heal, to restore, to get ready for whatever may be next, and when They are ready to commune with us and share in our lives. Hail Hela, may You ever be hailed!

The Lay of the Ancestors in Ragnarök Time

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

Ancestors ancient! Askr and Embla!

Shoulders supporting the feet of your son

Hear my words as I wander

Sarenth seeks your counsel!


Gebo’s ways are woefully wended

The Lakes lay lacquered with rot;

How to heal the horrors of humans

Between the spirits and society?


The forests find the foe fierce,

Blood-embers eager to eat;

How to end the hunger

When the mouth may never close?


Thus the Disir directed:

Ally where one can find,

and stand strong upon the shore;

Galdr and growl, giving no peace


To the mouth give mending

Bind its baleful maw

Never will it quit its need

To eat seed, soil, and tree


Grow well and wise with work

Spirits will show the steps to strength

Listening, learn the lay of land

Whispers come the ways of waters


Hearths are hallowed in holiness

Eldr held whole in every home

The binds bite bitter the breaker

When the ways are walked well

On Blood Offerings

Something that has come across my YouTube, TikTok, and WordPress feeds a few times now have been comments on blood offerings in a Heathen context. Both Beofeld and Wolf the Red are opposed to them because of the lack of context, namely that we are not an agricultural society and blood offerings, especially those of animals, no longer hold the same societal context as they once did.

Sure, but we can approach the same point of view from literally any offering we could make, mead or even water included. Nothing holds the same cache as it once did to the Ancestors of our various religions. It cannot. We are not Them.

Both Beofeld and Wolf have made the point that, before the Gods, human blood is profane. This is one of the goofiest assertions regarding offerings I have seen in a long while whether we are looking at this from a historical standpoint or that of a modern Heathen one. Sacrificial sites containing both human and animal remains are part of most sacred spaces where the ancient Scandinavians are concerned. As noted in Children of Ash and Elm by Dr. Neil Price, bones and blood have been found among the sites, indoor and outdoor (211-218). Uppåkra’s temple (211), Götavi (213-214) and Hofstaðir (216) are just three notable examples. Bog and forest sacrifices show that not only were weapons and boats offered, so too were animals and people.

Wolf notes in his video that the ancient Heathens were giving the whole animal, and all that animal might produce. His assertion is that blood itself was not the offering, which to me seems rather disingenous given how much blood is found at offering sites, and the notion of the hlaut-twig sprinkling blood at blot mentioned in Heimskringla and Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. In short, blood hallows and there is no reason I have to believe that it is lacking in sacrality.

Among a great many other things, blood is part of our lyke, our body. The body is part of the soul matrix, and since we have neither original sin nor do we have a world-denying component to our religion, this assertion seems wrong-headed to me. Wolf made the point in his video that we are too polluted and that cutting ourselves for ritual purpose is miasmic and blasphemous. I wonder if this is not just a holdover from Christianity. We can offer our sweat, our tears, and the various things we procure through those things, including food, alcohol, herbs, water, and so on. Why would blood suddenly be off the proverbial table? If anything, it falls in line with all the others. Wolf notes in his video that looking at other polytheist religions whose religious terms and practices lived on, such as Hellenismos and Roman religion, blood was profane. I would argue this is where Heathenry differs significantly from them.

When it comes to offering blood I think that folks are more apt to have issues because of the overculture or personal issues rather than anything inherent to Heathenry as a whole. Perhaps there is something within Beofeld and Wolf’s Heathen religion(s?) that is not in my own. I have no reason to not give blood. Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir have called for it from me.

This may be an issue of exoteric practice vs that of esoteric. Exoteric practice are those things that are engaged in by most people while esoteric are not. In religion, exoteric practices are the things that are at the baseline of the religion, that everyone is expected to know and engage in. For Heathens these are things such as hearth cultus, offerings of food and/or drink, and prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Esoteric practice are those things that are still part of the religion, but they are engaged with by a small number of people. The quiet assumption within the word esoteric in how it is used today is that mystical, ecstatic, and similar experiences tend to belong to it, which is my experience with it. While exoteric practice is the firm foundation for my Heathenry, my spiritwork is decidedly in the latter category, and influences how my exoteric work comes about. Most Heathens do not practice seiðr, spá, or Runework to a great degree, so it is little wonder so few engage with esoteric practice.

Exoteric practice, generally speaking, would not call for blood at all, sacrificed by a person or an animal. Most of us have no call or need to work with it, and as Beofeld and Wolf have both pointed out, the sacrifice itself is largely lost on folks who would just buy pigs’ blood, as though the point was just to splash blood on everything. That being said, both exoteric and esoteric practice does have use for blood. It is a connection point. It flows through us, providing a powerful link between the gifter and receiver. Yes, regarding sacrifice of our own blood, you can regain the volume of blood you gift, but the blood you gift you can never come back. The point is the gift of the blood, the pain that it took to get the blood, and the lifeforce connection it carries with you.

We have to harvest the life force of others for any other sacrifice, whether the yeast needs to die for the mead to brew, the chicken dies for its sacrifice, or the herb needs to be harvested. Our entire existence is bound up in ties of Gebo, of gipt fá gipt. Our blood, sweat, and tears are one of the few things that belong to us that we are not taking from someone or somewhere else. We are a living embodiment of the hamingja of our Ancestors and the connections we hold when we make that offering. We are a living embodiment of the megin we have built, the hugr we have. It is a beautiful offering that we can give, though few of us may have cause to give it.

Being a diabetic I have no choice but to bleed every day. My blood sugar testing and my medicines require it. I have no interest in folks engaging in blood offerings or blood magic in an unsafe or unwise manner. There are safe ways to do it. A simple diabetic lancet kit with alcohol pads, cotton balls and bandages should be all a person needs to do blood sacrifice, assuming this is something that they need to do at all. This is where divination and negotiation come in, something all too seldom talked about in Heathen circles. Perhaps Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir have asked it of you, but needles or blood squicks you out, or you do not feel like poking yourself for Their benefit once a week. Negotiate on it. Ask for something else to take the place of that. Don’t engage with Them if that is Their line, or anyone who says you have to. Plenty enough Heathen Runeworkers get great results without going through what I do, and it may simply not be necessary for you.

It is worth pointing out that I have not just given my own blood. I have learned how to properly slaughter and have sacrificed animals to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. The aversion to death in our overculture has rendered much of our relationships with animals, and plants for that matter, to be completely inverse to what I understand it should be: based in reciprocity, with as much care taken as able to ensure a good death for the Being and good effect on the environment in the course of raising and taking the life of that Being. Blood offerings, whether from ourselves or others, are not some useless waste; they are a gift of life force, of blood, and of body. They are to be gifted in a holy way. This is why the animals to be sacrificed need to be treated with the utmost care and to die well, with as little pain as possible. It is why before making sacrifice, whether offering my blood or another’s, I cleanse.

The gifts we give need to be made cleanly whether it is of me or comes through my hands. This necessity to cleanse stands whatever the offering is, whether it is my blood, animal blood or parts, herbs, alcohol, and/or water. The necessity to cleanse is so that what comes from or passes through our hands is clean, free of anything but that gift. Everything needs to be made sacred before we gift it to the Gods so that we are giving in right relationship with Them, not because the world is fallen or that we are inherently polluted. To bring something to the Ginnreginn it needs to be made and/or brought to the Them in a good way. Cleansing is respectful and good spiritual hygiene whatever the gift is.

Most folks will have no cause to give blood whether the practice at hand is exoteric or esoteric. Where I have taken issue is several Heathen folks have made it seem as though blood offerings are outside of Heathen norms. While it may not be, and I would argue should not be common as an offering, it is a normal thing to offer it as a Heathen.

Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

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

From Elfwort comes this question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patreon Poem/Song/Prayer 38: For the Pack Ancestors

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

This was requested by Maleck Odinsson for the Pack Ancestors.

We wait at the edge

Between life and death

Between the first whimper and final breath

We wait in your heart

Between each beat

Between each joy and hurt

We wait in the stars

Between the expanse of here and there

Between air and empty

We are with you

We are beside you

We wait for you

Walk with us

Hunt with us

Howl with us

We are here

Patreon Topic 38: On Resting and Pushing

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

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic: “How do you know when to slow down and when to push through? When to let yourself rest and when to buckle down and power through?”

Before I tackle this, I have to say I giggled at this topic. Not because it is not needed or serious, but because I am really bad about slowing down, resting, and relaxing. Case in point, I am on a break and working on this topic instead of, say, playing a game on my phone, just listening to some music, watching something, or reading a book. My idea of reading for pleasure lately is cracking an academic-level book relevant to my religion, culture, or other topics of interest. I have found it a lot harder in the last couple of years to read fiction for pleasure. Exploring new forms of fiction or going back to the book equivalent of comfort food is probably in order because I used to read fiction all the time.

Óðinn and my other Gods have seldom had to push me to do or finish things relevant to my religion, whether that is research, spiritwork with Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir,, divination, and the like. Where He and other Gods have really had to push me is actually in the other direction: to relax, recuperate, and slow down. It’s damn funny to me when I type it out that right now I am actually working on relaxing. If I feel the writing bug and don’t scratch the itch it comes up later, sometimes worse. Often, in order to relax I have to do things that make me feel productive. It’s also true that some forms of work, like writing here, spiritwork, and divination can themselves be relaxing while also being work.

A pretty big tell for me if it is time to let myself rest is if Gods are telling me to slow down or relax. This is not something Gods do for/to me, generally, especially since there is trust and expectation on Their part that I will speak up if I am overwhelmed. So, if all I am thinking about is work, that is a big clue for me to explore what might be relaxing. If it is bad enough I will have to force myself to do something relaxing. Another big tell for me is that if I am doing something that I usually find relaxing, soothing, or enjoyable, and I am consistently worrying about ‘wasting my time’ then that means I need to acknowledge the feeling, let it pass, and keep on doing what it is I am doing.

If it sounds like I am doing a lot of working around anxiety that is because I am. Unfortunately, the United States’ work ethic is pretty horrible. Despite growing up Catholic and being a Heathen now, escaping the WASP overculture’s influence on how we view, engage in, and relate to work is something I am still working on exorcising. Telling myself or being told “I am enough” or “I have done enough” or even “I can relax” is hard to accept, especially if I do not feel it. It is odd, though, because my initial impressions are usually right with regards to “I can and should power through this” or “I can and should relax”. Where I tend to trip up is the expectations I feel I should be fulfilling, which is why “I can and should power through this” gets weighted far heavier in my head than “I and should relax.” So part of this is that I am trying to listen to my instincts better on this, and the other part is that I am trying to stick to those guns where relaxation, recuperation, and rest is concerned.

Far less rough for me is to know when to power through. If I am feeling challenged in a way that makes me excited to do the thing, even if I am exhausted, that is a pretty good tell. If the idea of not doing something outweighs my sense of frustration or weariness of it, that is usually a pretty good sign to power through it. I tend to feel this with regard to exercise. I have to make it fun or interesting. I need to do it for my health. So, squaring my shoulders (or legs) and just doing it provides me satisfaction after I am all said and done. Knowing when to power through feels fairly uncomplicated. I have something that needs to be done, and I do what I need to in order for it to be done. Getting to this point with rest, recuperation, and relaxation is a work in progress, and something I am aiming for.

I do not push through when it is clear the process I am going about is teaching me something through the process. Likewise, I do not push through when the relationship is unfolding through letting it unfold in an organic way. For instance, my relationship with Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir could not be pushed along. The unfolding of those relationships were teaching through the process and it had to unfold in an organic way or it would have been done poorly. When learning a new spiritual technique or engaging in a relationship that is usually not the time to push through. Things need to unfold as they will, and no amount of pushing is going to make a good relationships or make the lessons a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettr has for me stick.

I push through when it is clear I have hit a roadblock or that in order to progress further in a lesson, work, etc I have to do so. For instance, it is adding on the five minutes or adding the next 5 pounds to a weight when I can physically take that on. It is having an obligation that I will fulfill because I gave my word. It is doing everything I can to meet obligations, clear debts, and do what needs to be done so my relationships can be healthy. I push when it is needed for gipt fá gipt, reciprocity, to be fulfilled.

I do not always know when it is best to relax or power through something. A powerful way that I assess if I need to relax or power through something is that I talk with those I love and trust. I ask my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their input. I ask my family, my friends, my kyn. I ask for input, consider it, and sometimes follow it. I have avoided a lot of wasted energy this way, as well as avoided breakdown.

Some really useful phrases I have kept for a long while are “What does it do? How well does it do it?”

Does this action allow me to fulfill my obligations? How well? This action-oriented approach even to relaxing has made it easier for me to engage in relaxation. See, it takes relaxation out of the realm of something passive into the realm of something I am actively engaging in. I have to relax, I know I do, and in framing my relaxation as part of the cycle of Gebo, of gipt fá gipt, I do not need to justify my relaxation to myself. It justifies itself here. I am a more present, efficient, careful, and whole person when I have enough rest. It allows me to meet my duties, obligations, and engage in my interests by being well-rested. This evaluation works just as well when it comes to deciding whether I should power through something or not.

Figuring these things out, and even getting the skill to evaluate whether I need to relax or power through is a work in progress. I have had times where I clearly needed to relax, and instead, pushed through. I have done this with spiritual work, but it takes a toll, and unless there is an immediate need I do not recommend it. I have had times where I should have pushed hard to see something done and relaxed instead. Over the years listening to others, making mistakes and good calls, and learning from experience which intuitions and instruction to follow have been my best teachers.

Patreon Topic 35: On Paganism in the Future

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

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Where do you want to see paganism go in the next 5 years, 10 years, etc?”

This is a hell of a question given Paganism is such a big umbrella. I find thought questions like these fun. I am sure each Pagan branch will go its own way depending on theology (or lack thereof), so I will try to give my answers without writing a novel.

The Next 5 Years

In the next 5 years I would like to see worship of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits get somewhat equal parity with folks in hearth cultus as well as in the festival circuits that remain. I am starting to see trends in Paganism go this way to start with, which is a good thing. Why? Some folks balance to one group of Beings, and some do not which in and of itself is a good thing. We cannot be all things to all Beings. However, I think that generally most Pagans really need a balance, as there tends to be an emphasis on building good relationships with Gods to the exclusion of Ancestors and spirits. While it is good folks are building relationships with Gods, overlooking Ancestors and spirits neglects our duties to and relationships with those who came before us, and the spirits with which we live. In rebalancing this, trends within Paganism can be more oriented around where we live and how we live there.

This leads into my next point where I would like to see Paganism go in the next 5 years: regional cultus and ecological integration. Pagan religions, despite often being called earth-centered religions, tend to not have a lot of connection with their local environments. Some folks are still celebrating harvest festivals on arbitrary dates based on the Gregorian calendar. At least in the Heathen circles and some other polytheist religion circles I am in this is beginning to change as we apply reconstruction to our mindset on how we develop our worldview now, not just the accoutrement or the broader strokes of our religions.

We can see more regional variations of practice that deepen meaning of our practice of and engagement with religion for the average Pagan. That is not to say that, for instance, Pagans need to give up the Wiccan Sabbats if that is what works for them. What this means is that we orient our understanding of the Sabbats more around our lived world. Imbolc is one of the holidays that is least celebrated in my experience, and for good reason: few of us raise sheep, and we are not yet out of winter, given it is February 1st. So, to adapt that to Michigan we might emphasize the life-giving fire, cleansing, cleaning, and the like.

For Mímisbrunnr Kindred we celebrate Dísirblót around the last Friday in February. This more or less comports to the historical celebration’s time. It is a time of offering to the powerful female Ancestors, who protect, organize, and care for our Ancestral lines. Given the cold of the month this celebration allows us time to think on the struggles our Ancestors went through, the warmth and blessing of home and hearth, the unsung workers who made everything from clothes to blankets that allowed them and their families to survive, and those who toiled throughout the year so the family made it through the winter.

By adapting our practices to where we live and living in better concert with our environment, by comporting our relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this way, we bring even more of our religion into our everyday life. By integrating Them into our lived experiences we invite Them to share our lives. While I am seeing Pagan communities move towards this, I would really like to see them do so in the next 5 years.

The Next 10 Years

I would like to see Pagans building lasting intergenerational institutions. We have had a few successes in this, given that the ATC (Aquarian Tabernacle Church), ADF (Ar Draoight Fein, A Druid Fellowship), OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids), The Troth, and others have handed over responsibility to new generations of administrators. However, few of these groups, let alone Pagan groups in general ( though ATC is foremost in my mind for one that does) have permanent installations. Given I am part of an effort in Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary to create a lasting intergenerational Pagan space I would like many more of these efforts to spring up all over the world.

This does not mean that I only want to see permanent temples, hofs, and sanctuaries. I want institutions of all sizes. I would like to see more roadside shrines, and the kind of simple but beautiful shrine to Mercury that was erected in the NYC subway. I would like to see more public celebrations of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir with art such as murals, spraypaintings, and Godpoles. We have so much to offer our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities if we just started to do what is within us to do, no matter how it is starting off.

Taking cues from the previous section, I would like to see Pagan cultures really flourish in the places where they are. I am beginning to see this with folks taking the time to develop relationship and worship their local rivers, groves, and landvaettir. It is also being felt by how people are constructing their holidays around the cycles where they live. I would also like us to take more cues from the home cultures we take inspiration from, such as what Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen is doing with his Nordic Animist project. Together, these two dovetail into developing a whole culture, one that integrates where we live and how we live into our worldview so there is nothing left out.

It is within our capacity and, I believe, our duty as Pagans, to live well upon and with the Earth and all we share this world with. We must put our beliefs into action where we live and how we live. Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm is one part of what could be an entire web of community works that integrates learning, DIY skills, permaculture, and Paganism. I would like to see Pagans make serious strides towards supporting local farmers, eg a Pagan community buys a CSA membership, a pig, a cow, etc and shares it with its community members. Growing our own heirloom varietals, seed saving, or at the least supporting the members of our communities who do are ways we can start now and build up for the future. If we start doing this now, we could develop our own entire strains of locally-harvested and locally-produced food to at least supplement our communities’ intakes.

Something my friend Nick turned me on to was the idea of integrating our ecological awareness with our religious practice. His example was shrines to the Sun and Sun Gods at our solar panels. Let us take this out further: shrines to windvaettir and wind Gods at wind turbines, shrines to our landvaettir and various Gods of the Earth in our gardens and homes. The possibilities here, and the way these are integrated into a more wholistic model of living are endless.

I would like to see more systems of mutual aid within and between Pagan communities. We have seen the start of it, with Pagans in Need having begun its mission years ago and now expanded to 3 sites in Michigan. We can do so much more, and it starts with the support folks like PIN need, whose Patreon is here. There are likely other groups putting together mutual aid work projects, but this is the one I know from my backyard. With 10 years of good community investment PIN and its mission can grow. So can any similar community mutual aid we choose to invest our time, money, labor, and energy in.

It is not enough to just take care of each other in life. I want to see the good I have seen in the Death Doula community become more widespread. I want us to be able to choose how we die and when, and for that itself to be an honored and respected process. I want folks to have access to spiritual specialists to aid in the process of decline and dying. I want places for our Dead to rest, whether these are cemeteries, mausoleums, groves, grave mounds, etc, and people to tend them. These can be potent gathering places in addition to our other temples, shrines, hofs, and so on.

The Roads Ahead

I want us to honor the past, live in the present, and work to build a future that is centered in our values, our philosophies, our ideals, and our callings. I want to see Pagan communities ground ourselves in traditions that grow and adapt with change, retaining their solid foundations so that we build our communities well. I want to see Pagan communities that give rise to generations living more integrated, healthy, and whole lives that build upon our understanding of how we are to live well on and with the Earth, and with each other.

In the end what I would really like to see from the Pagan communities in the next 5-10 years is to grow in culture. I want to see Pagan communities supporting converts and parents that raise their kids in their religions, for us to support both newer and older folk alike, and for lasting institutions, grounded in our senses of duty and responsibility, to grow well. I want to see our Pagan communities taking care of each other, doing well by each other, and providing mutual aid to each other. I want to see us live well with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and each other.

Patreon Topic 34: On Rune Signs and Confirmations

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From Leslie comes this topic:”Do runes or runvaettir ever appear as signs or confirmations of a Working, well, working? Outside of divination, if they do, how might they do so?”

Oh yes, They can. I have had branches fall down in front of me, unmistakably forming a Rune after asking for a sign. Unless it is something that blatant I will ask that a Rune show up as an answer three times before I will accept it. Sometimes the way the Runes have made Themselves known to me is a little subtle, such as graffiti on a wall or municipal signs.

Sometimes I only see such things after the fact, eg the graffiti really sticks with me and I can’t figure out why until I sit with it. I had this once where Gebo showed up on a wall three times, and I just took it to mean Xs instead, maybe a tag or something. It hit me a little while later that the meaning of Gebo three times was a sign and fit with the question on my mind at the time. Sometimes you recognize it in the moment as something seemingly mundane that just…leaps out at you.

Can They make Themselves known in other ways? Sure. Understanding that Runes are vaettir, spirits, They can communicate with us other than through visual mediums, such as by touch. If you know the literal feeling of how a Rune feels when it has been cut into an object, then that can be a way They use to communicate, such as by running a hand or finger gently along a concrete wall or a wooden table. Since They are vaettir and can work with any of our spiritual senses that happen to be ‘on’ at a given moment, They can work through sound, even smell and/or taste if you have experienced Them in this way. There was a couple of books I encountered a while back where you would literally bake cookies and take the magic of the Runes into you through them, so if you did something like this with a recipe specific to each Rune even the taste of a cookie could kick-start a conversation.

Depending on the Rune(s) at hand, how They come to you, and whether or not you asked a question beforehand can have an impact on your answer. For instance, if I ask for a sign and get it by sight, smell, and feel I might consider that a confirmed sign, and then need to interpet what the medium of communication is saying to me, and what the Rune Itself means. For instance, if I see Hagalaz, smell a smell that I interpret as corresponding to Hagalz, and feel the etching of Hagalaz in a stone I felt called to pick up, then I need to interpret the meaning of Hagalaz from there. This is where having a cache of understanding for the Runes is really helpful. That cache ideally includes knowing the Rune poems well enough to where you can reference them for guidance, your experiences working with the Runes, and correspondences you have built up otherwise with the Runevaettir.

Let’s apply this to my example of Hagalaz showing up in sight, smell, and feel. When Hagalaz shows up in a reading I tend to interpret that much in the same way as a Tower card: things are going to go to shit. Unlike the Tower card where folks reading them might see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with Hagalaz that light may well be a damned train. It is one of the roughest Runes to get in a reading, and only occasionally do I get the understanding from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem of it being the ice that melts rather than the Icelandic Rune Poem where it is ‘cold grain, sleet, and sickness of serpents’. This translation here by Bruce Dickens on Wikipedia is a good, accessible one. Both Hægl and Hagall are hail, and hail can be incredibly destructive to crops and people. So, when this pops up in a reading whoever gets this Rune is generally not going to get away unscathed.

So how do I interpret this in context of “is a Working, well, working?” If Hagalaz shows up it is a hard “hell no, and this might turn quite ugly”. At the very least if I am asking an Up/Down or Yes/No binary answer it is in the hard “Down” and/or “No” category. Context is key, though. If the working was, say, to cut someone out of my life or to bring something to an end, then it may be effective, if painful.

The context I receive Hagalaz be sight, smell, and feel matters as well. If I receive Hagalaz by sight, say, on a building, then it may be a commentary on how the working was built up, especially if it is at the foundation or ground level. If I receive Hagalaz by smell, say a sharp, clean, and/or piercing smell like cleaner, new-fallen snow, or the like, it may be a comment on something I missed during the working or something that needs to be done so the working can be completed. If I receive the feel of Hagalaz on a stone I have picked up and it is jagged then it may be the working will be ragged, uneven, or is being disrupted by the process itself having been so. This is highly subjective, personal, and completely dependent on your relationship with the Runevaettir, your correspondences, your experiences, and your understanding of Them and yourself at minimum.

While the Rune poems and various books can point you in the right direction to interpret signs and omens from Them, in the end you are doing the interpreting. If I am not getting a clear enough signal I will usually take things to divination. There is nothing wrong with being sure you are understanding the message clearly. There are times you may not need that, and you will understand the meaning of the message crystal clear the first time you get it. In the end, it is up to your relationship with the Runevaettir, and your intuition and understanding.

Patreon Topic 33: On Laypeople vs Spiritual Specialists

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

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic: “Laypersons vs spiritual specialists and the levels between. What do they look like in Heathenry? Where do the lines fall?”

Spiritual specialists are folks who have been trained to fulfill needs within a given community. These can be clergy, practitioners of magic, healers, diviners, and so much more. They come from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. It is probably more useful to say what each kind of person does and then talk about what they look like in Heathenry, and where the lines fall between a layperson with an interest in a given spiritual specialty vs a spiritual specialist.

The biggest line between a layperson and a spiritual specialist is that the former can have an interest, say, in seiðr without responsibility to or developing skill and competence for other people in that interest. While a layperson may have training in seiðr, they are not offering services professionally and/or for/on behalf of a community. A spiritual specialist in seiðr will have trained in the work of doing seiðr, possess skill in it, have competency and expertise in its use, and may offer seiðr services. It is not a title alone that makes the difference here. There are community expectations of a spiritual specialist that do not generally exist for a layperson. The spiritual specialist bears a responsibility with and to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likewise a responsibility with and to the community/communities that they serve.

This is not to say that a layperson lacks skill or competence in the subject. A layperson may have skill and competence surpassing that of a spiritual specialist, but they bear no responsibility to or with the communities they are part of in the capacity of that spiritual specialist.

Another comparison might be that of a ritual leader vs that of a goði/gyðja for a Kindred or other group. Any Heathen can be a ritual leader whether you are solitary in your hearth cultus, or do regular cultus with your family or group. A goði/gyðja has formal responsibilities for and to the community they serve. They are responsible in their conduct to their community, for the particular ritual responsibilities they have within their role (these can vary by group so I’m being intentionally general here), and they are responsible to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir they conduct ritual with. Some goði/gyðja act as representatives to the Ginnreginn on behalf of their community in group cultus, and so, their skill and competency in the way they do ritual, including the making of prayers and offerings, as well as their general conduct, can have a significant impact on the rest of the group in the way that a layperson will not have.

Saying anything too general in regards to what laypeople vs spiritual specialists look like would be trying to speak for far too many communities at once. To be blunt, I do not know what an Anglo-Saxon Heathen spiritual specialist would look like vs that of a layperson because that is not my community. I know what I generally look for in spiritual specialsits, though: competence and expertise in the field at hand, an admission of what they do/do not know, training and experiences that are useful in the field at hand, and a community or series of communities that they serve in that capacity, even if that community is that of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I also will look for folks who will vouch for the spiritual specialist, especially if I am looking for a spiritual service such as magical work or divination.

In terms of ‘levels’ between laypeople and spiritual specialists this gets down to who I trust, what kind of work they do, who vouches for them, my experience with them, the experiences they have, and other qualitative evaluations. I might trust a layperson I know well with my life to do divination over a spiritual specialist next door that I do not know. I might only ever do my own magical working and never trust another person to do it for me, regardless of how well I know a seið worker.

I would imagine a lot of folks operate on this level. After all, in my case I am the goði for Mímisbrunnr Kindred. I am not everyone’s goði. I am a rýnstr (someone skilled in the Runes) or a rýni-maðr (Rune-man). While my services may not be for everyone, I offer my Rune services to the general public. I am responsible to those who hire me, eg for divination, to do my job well and to not bullshit them. This is the same responsibility I hold as a vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), whether that is to my Kindred or to those who come to me for this service, though how that responsibility shakes out may differ because of the relationships I hold.

Since every Heathen holds responsibility to hold cultus with their Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likely does so in their own way, spiritual specialists probably do not look all that different from laypeople. Since anyone can approach with and work with various forms of spirit work, magic, and the like, whether that is seiðr, spá, galdr, Runework, etc., differentiating laypeople from spiritworkers from the outside looking in can be a challenge. Looking at the relationships folks hold within a community, to W/whom they hold obligations and duty, what work they do and for W/whom they do things are probably the biggest divides between a layperson and a spiritual specialist in Heathenry.