Questions 12:  The Greatest Challenge and Reward

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

This questions was from Susannah Ravenswing:

From one shamanic practitioner to another: what do you find to be your greatest challenge and what aspect most rewarding?

My greatest challenge as a spiritworker right now is in self-care.  Whether making myself rest and relax or to do things like working out.  I had to think over this question for quite a bit, because I kept coming to things like ‘find enough time for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir’, and that is not true.  They’ve let me know, again and again, I am giving Them enough time.  No, the  greatest issue I’m having right now it’s finding enough time to give myself down time. To truly take care of myself.

Modern American society doesn’t care much for self-care. Rather, working until you drop is lionized. Working until you’re so exhausted you can’t see straight or you break down is held as some kind of achievement. Yet, this ideal of burning the candle until there’s no wax left doesn’t leave us very useful to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir.  It is still taking me some adjustment to the notion that self-care is a form of doing right by the Holy Powers -I cannot do my job effectively if I am worn out or broken down.

Like many things in my life, this is a work in progress.  It is something I am having to reaffirm as something not only that I need to do, it is also reaffirming that it carries deep value for me and my Work.  It is a daily choice to engage in that Work, and all the little bits of work that make it possible.  

My most rewarding aspect to this work is connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and helping others to do the same.  One of the biggest thrills I get is when someone says something along the line of “I laid down an offering”, “I have started to worship/work with x“, or “Things turned out well in following the advice from the Rune reading; I connected with x and I’m going where I need to be”.  Whether teaching the basics of polytheism at a local gathering, doing ritual, or Work of some other kind, I find that my joy tends to come from the doing and having done the Work.

I think that my greatest and most rewarding challenges tend to be one in the same.  For instance, I worked out on a regular basis for quite a bit, and then fell off from doing that.  It is self-care, and it made me feel amazing when I was finished.  It mirrors a lot of the same challenges I am facing right now in regards to self-care: making the choice to do the work out, caring for my body, and so on so that I can do the Work more effectively.  Through the exercise I connected with my more primal self, and did a lot of internal work, as well as offering my work to Thor, Odin, Sunna, and many of my Ancestors.  

So, in making the choice to care for myself and to do the little bits of work, I make the choice to take care in doing the Work.  My little actions ripple out into larger ones just the same as I do when I make devotional prayer and offerings at my altars.  Doing a big ritual every now and again is good, but far better to do 5-15 minutes of prayer a day than one every few months.  

That choosing, again and again, to build devotion is akin to making the choice to hit the gym.  In the choosing the gym and eating healthy, it is to live a life that better honors my body.  In choosing to do regular devotion, it is to keep ways between the Holy Powers and I well.  Some days making the right choice is easier made than others, and sometimes I outright fail at it.  What matters is that I go back to making the right choice, and do all I can to live in good concert with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir so I can get through the challenges I face and be ready to do the Work so that the rewards can come.

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Here We Have Stood, Here We Stand

August 20, 2017 3 comments

When people ask where the Heathens and  Northern Tradition Pagans are denouncing racism, I will remind folks there’s plenty of us that have been here, for years, doing just that.

Let me be clear: The Valknut is not theirs.  Mjölnir is not theirs.  The Runes are not theirs.  The Valknut is Odin’s.  Mjölnir is Thor’s.  The Runes are Their own, symbols of the very vaettir (spirits) of Creation who were in the Ginnungagap (Yawning Mouth, Primal Void) until Odin died, sacrifice of Himself to Himself, took Them up and brought Them forth.  These are sacred.  When white nationalists take up these symbols, use them to further their ideology, to further their brand of hate, they appropriate them and denigrate them.  

Fuck the racists, the Nazis, and the white nationalists who take up symbols of the Gods, the Ancestors, the Runevaettir, the vaettir, and the ways within the Northern Tradition and Heathenry.  Fuck the racist, Nazi, and white nationalist scum.

Wherever and whenever you can, deny the racists, the white supremacists, and the white nationalists these symbols as theirs.  Do not let the only time someone sees the symbols of our religions be on their flags, or in their rallies.  Do not let the only time someone hears of Heathenry or the Northern Tradition be at their rallies, riots, or press releases.  

Wear your symbols proudly whether on your neck, your arm, or your flesh.  Speak out and loud where you may.  Do what you can where you can. Be a living example of the good of our religions, our ways.  Be a living example, and let our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir be well-represented and well-known.  

For blog posts I have made relevant to these issues, look here:

Why Racism Harms Heathenry

White Guilt is an Indulgence

The Northern Gods Are Not White

Open to Questions Year 3

July 25, 2017 4 comments

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

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

Sinew and Breath

July 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Sinew stretches and breath is borne
Teeth bared and paws greet Jord’s Body
The deer runs on raggedly

Foam flecks and strength saps
Heart hammers and haggard hooves stumble
The wolves surround and circle

Fangs flash and blood flows
Throat thrums and tendons tighten
The pack descends in Death’s wake 

Teeth tear and bellies bulge
Ravens ring and crows call
The prey and pack feed the forest 

The Hospital Dead

June 11, 2017 2 comments

I feel the dead and the dying press around me
A pressure at first as soon as the doors part that builds
Each step bringing more
A throng of voices, shades walking down hallways
That no longer exist
Faces contort, bodies shuffle

What is left behind is rasping breath
Pained heartbroken moments
Loneliness

It does not take long to peel back layers
To see why these ones stayed
Most aren’t lost; they’re forgotten

They cannot understand why they never came back
Why they never came
I hear their lamentations

No one has come to grieve them, none to miss them
No one to lay down prayers or a flower
No one to say “Farewell”

In every hospital the Dead stay
So many unmourned, so many bound
Laying and shuffling in every floor

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down a flower

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down a coin

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down a drink

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down a plate of food

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down a song

There are no wasted prayers;
Lay down your tears

Do not ask “Do They deserve it?”
They are Dead
I lay down these lines
The pressure eases
Because someone remembers Them

I whisper prayers in a silent hall
The pressure eases
Because someone speaks to Them

I pour down an offering
The pressure eases
Because someone has slaked Their thirst

I lay down an offering
The pressure eases
Because someone has fed Their hunger

They do not leave
But each may do their part
To remember and honor the Dead

Reflecting on Media and Raising Polytheist Children 

June 1, 2017 12 comments

I am a pretty big fan of American Gods.  I read the book having come to Odin about a year beforehand.  Having worked my way through the first three episodes, and a good way into the fourth, I can say that Starz has outdone themselves with their portrayal of the book.  There is much that I think polytheists can get out of reading Neil Gaiman’s book or seeing it brought to life on the small screen.  There are aspects of the book that I hope do not make it at all into polytheist discourse, namely the central conceit of the book and show: that the gods need human beings to exist, and exist because of our faith and/or prayers.  I think placing ourselves so centrally would be a grave error.  By placing humans at the center of the universe, so to speak, the Gods are thus removed from it. 

I think that wrestling with media is something, at least as American polytheists go, is something we may have to do for quite a while.  Certainly, before we saw the Marvel Thor movies when my son was younger, I had to do a lot of work to put down firm boundaries so he did not mistake our Thor for Marvel’s.  In raising the next generation, we will encounter issues that are essentially no different than those anyone else will. How much media will we expose our kids to?  What kinds?  What will be off-limits until a certain age?

Our son Kiba has enjoyed Marvel movies and comics during most of his young life.  We have always placed the Sacred Stories and our beliefs before the depictions of Marvel, providing clear guidance on what is and is not Thor.  I think, especially for our youngest, this is important because we are providing the baseline understanding they are building for the Gods.  If we build up Thor alongside His depiction in Marvel, we are doing our Gods, our children, and future generations a disservice.  Being able to discern true signal from noise begins early.  By allowing that signal to be muddied we are allowing things into the lives of our children that should not occupy the same space.

It is not that any particular media, even if it features our Gods, is in and of itself a bad thing.  I think that media can be an excellent bridge for ideas.  For instance, ideas of animism clicked for our son when he was younger after watching My Neighbor Totoro.  We pray and offer to the treevaettir, the tree spirits, because They live here, it is Their home and They guard it.  There are landvaettir who depend on these trees as homes, as places to receive their own offerings, and so on.  The movie provided us touchstones for moving forward in his understanding of how we relate to landvaettir.

Media is not an enemy in and of itself.  D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myth remains a staple in our home of telling the stories of our Gods to younger people, providing a steady bridge from child to youth.  Rather, we need to be careful that our children do not mistake the entertainment that features our Gods, whether it is a depiction of Thor in Marvel comics or D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myth for our Gods.  That we clearly define what media, whether it is book, comic, movie, cartoon, etc. becomes the maps for the next generation is part of our responsibility.  Likewise, it is our responsibility that we exclude as much as possible from our maps the media that has no place with them.   

When I last wrote on this topic I noted then how I still have difficulty seeing Thor as a redhead because of depictions I have seen of Him growing up were always displayed with blond hair.  I am relatively lucky in that Thor was not a favorite comic character of mine growing up. No, for me that was Wolverine and Spider-Man.  Not a lot of deprogramming needed to happen when I became a Heathen, and this depiction of Thor with blond hair is one I still cannot shake.

So should I shake the imagery of Thor with blond hair?  Not necessarily.  As I have said before, if people look at the image of the Joker as a useful image to approach Loki through I do not take issue with it so long as it is quite clear they’re not worshiping the Joker, but Loki.  I think that where I run the deepest issue is when pop culture becomes a substitute for our Gods.  In other words, it would be an issue if the image of Marvel’s Thor overcame who and what Thor is, and likewise, Joker over who Loki is.  When the God is mistaken for, or taken for a media image.

I do think that media can touch our Gods.  Certainly, I felt that Gaiman and the show of his book both get really powerful, even deep aspect of Odin.  Something his character says in the show got me, something he says to Zorya Vechernyaya, is that above everything he seeks knowledge.  Fits pretty well alongside to His seeking power in my experiences of and knowledge of Him.  Likewise, the first scene we see Anubis in was very powerful for me, and it was everything I could do not to weep at the beauty I saw Him and His Work conveyed with.

It is not that I think we should cut ourselves off from all media.  I think we should be careful and discerning about how much we let it influence us.  At the end of the day comic books are meant to see just as much as books are.  I think that placing anything of our religion into a medium whose primary concern is making money first and foremost, and not on the increase of knowledge, experience, and so on of our Gods, needs to be treated with suspicion.  If we can draw connections, metaphors, and understanding of our Gods from the many sources of media about us, I think this is all to the good.  If our media, rather than our Gods, becomes the object of our worship is where the problem comes.

Media in American Gods actually is quite a good depiction of worship-as-consumption and replacing the Gods with media as the object of our worship.  If media becomes what we worship, then all that time spent in front of televisions and handheld devices replaces devotion.  It renders religion as vacuous a question as “So you wanna see Lucy’s tits?”  If religion becomes the mere process of consuming media or simply being in a place exposing ourselves to media then we’re not practicing religion, but ritualized consumption.  This is another area that I think Gaiman actually nails very, very well on the head.  For some spirits that kind of attention could easily turn into food.  It’s so seductive because that kind of passive consumption-as-doing is built into our society.  It has been for awhile, but I think I really saw it in full, naked vileness when, instead of calling Americans to do anything useful, President George W. Bush essentially called on the country to go shopping after 9/11.  Rather than, say, plant a victory garden or otherwise put that anxiety, pain, and frustration to something community-oriented and useful, the one person whose voice was supposed to call out the clearest and provide good leadership essentially said “Fall back asleep, get back to shopping.”

It’s part of why I think we need to be careful of how we depict our Gods, teach about Them, and teach discernment on whether we are praying to or offering to our Gods.  It’s why a grounding in the lore, without turning the map of that lore into territory of the Gods, is important.  It is why being clear on what our entertainment is, and what we worship is so important. We could well be feeding a spirit that has nothing to do with our Gods.  It’s not that every offering we make needs to come with tons of divination to figure out if we’re offering to the right Being.  I think, rather, that it is about keeping clean headspaces about the Gods and any media representations so we do not mistake one for the other, and seek to develop a relationship with a modern adaptation or interpretation of Them, rather than the Gods Themselves.  In regards to Ancestors, this would be like developing a relationship with Uncle Joe only through the stories his wife told, and being unwilling to relate with as his own person. 

Beyond what I have spoken about here and before, I do not have hard and fast recommendations with how we raise the next generation of polytheists.  I do know this, though: it is our responsibility to raise our children.

When he is in our presence, Sylverleaf and I are totally responsible for what Kiba gets sat in front of, or doesn’t, for what he learns or doesn’t.  How could we cede so much power to the overculture that our own kids would become beholden to those things, rather than what we teach him and how we raise him?  To raise him otherwise would be abdicating responsibility for raising our child to the overculture, which is very sick and very deeply needing to change.  The next generation cannot make those changes if we continually cut them at the knees, demanding to know why they never learned to stand.  

Night Prayers

May 15, 2017 1 comment

I place my hands on the glass table

I cleanse with breath, deep in and out

I am ready

We call to the Gods of our home

We call to the Ancestors of our home

We call to the vaettir of our home

Linked together, landvaettir chaining together road and wire

Linked together, landvaettir chaining together soil and root

Linked together through vaettir of arcing power, signal, and voice

We stand together though separate

In praise of our Holy Powers

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