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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.)

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 2 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.

My Roots Reach Deep

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment

My roots reach deep

Into soil and stone

To the core of Fire in Jorð

 

My roots reach deep

Into history and home

To the hearth of every Ancestor

 

My roots reach deep

Into trial and triumph

To the soul of each spirit worker

 

My roots reach deep

Into weft and warp

To every diviner’s domain

 

My roots reach deep

Into blood and battle

To the heart of each ulfheðin

 

My roots reach deep

Into Ash and Elm

To the First People

 

My roots reach deep

Into Odin’s steed

To roots entwined with Roots

 

My roots reach deep

Into Urðr’s well

To the waters shared in life

 

My roots reach deep

Into Flame and Frost

To the Eldest of our Kin

Smoking Prayers

July 14, 2019 Leave a comment

I breathe in slowly

Vindrvaettir about me

Drawing the holy smoke inside

I exhale a prayer

 

I breathe in slowly

Vatnvaettir thrum in my chest

Each limb enlivened

I exhale tension

 

I breathe in slowly

Eldrvaettir dance on the cigar’s tip

Dancing a holy ring on my lips

I exhale offering

 

I breathe in slowly

Jorðvaettir reach up to draw me down

My roots settle in

I exhale relief

 

I breathe in slowly

Ancestors sit beside me

Speaking, listening, smoking with me

I exhale with Them

 

I breathe in slowly

Gods on every side

Their Presence comforting, hearing my prayers

I exhale thanks

Relationships with Spirits -Part 1

July 9, 2019 5 comments

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

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

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

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

What are Spirits?

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

Mikilvaettir

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

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

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

A Vaettir-Filled Worldview

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

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

Kinds of Vaettir

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

Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disir

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

Väter

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

Ergi

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

Fylgja

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

Kinyflgja

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

Vorðr

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

Alfar

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

Dvergar

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

Jotun

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

The Dead

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

Elemental

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

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

Beginning Relationships

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

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

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

The Simplest Altar

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

A Simple Invitation Rite

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

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

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

 

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

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