Question 1: Priest and Godatheow

From Dreaming in Smoke and Fire:

How did you reconcile your transition with Odin from priest to godatheow?
– How has this changed your outlook on spirituality?

For me there was no transition from being Odin’s priest to godatheow; I am still His priest, and I am His godatheow.  I am His priest.  I am here to do His Work for others, as an intercessor, one who blesses, and helps those who seek Him as best as I can, among whatever else He gives me in that role, i.e. officiating rituals for Him/His people/followers.  There are sometimes great lulls in this Work, as there have been with Anubis, and sometimes there’s a great flurry of activity where people wanting to connect to Him, or to the Norse/Germanic Gods in general all come at once.  It is kind of haphazard, and I’m not quite sure one moment to the next where the Work will come from or where it will take me.  I just try to be ready as best I can, and to be honest when I hit my limit on being able to help someone, and point them in a direction to go before they go their own way.

Becoming a godatheow meant a lot of things that I had taken for granted were locked down.  I do not do magic, I do not do divination, I do not horse.  This is why my entire ‘Shamanic Services section is shut down.  While being godatheow to Odin took away these things, at least for the time being, doing this has instilled in me, through my work with my teacher and following Him closer, discipline, clarity, and a better sense of who I am, what I am doing, and especially important for me, boundaries.  So, while I am leashed it has given me a deep amount of freedom.  The collar may never come off, but as it was put to me, the best dog you can have is one that does not need the leash, but will do as is needed and come back to your side.

For the years before I became a godatheow it was this thing that other people did, something that would not happen to me.  I saw how demanding it was, and I really did not want that.  I felt I had enough on my plate.  When things in my life came to a crashing halt, and there He was holding the leash, I felt betrayed.  Why would He not have told me?  Why?

I was full of anger and despair, because when it happened to me I felt as though I had handed over my whole life to Him, and none of my dreams, hopes, or anything would matter.  It was true.  My dreams, hopes, and aspirations do not matter compared to what He has for me to do.  Handing over my life to Him is the best thing I have done.  I have clarity, I am happy, I have purpose, and I am a better father, priest, shaman, lover, spouse, and person than I have ever been.  While I say my dreams, hopes, etc. do not matter, it is not that they are unimportant per se, but that they are subsumed beneath what He prioritizes in my life.  Some of my priorities dovetail with His quite nicely, and those that do not but are not a hindrance to my Work He has, thus far, let alone.  My life, and everything I am is His.  Even now those words do give a fear to me, a kind of holy terror, knowing that He could call on me to leave everything I have behind and I would do it because He told me to.  It is not normal, but that kind of devotion to a God is not normal in this country.  Here, devotion to a God is going to church on the weekends and mouthing prayers while still doing throughout the week what is abhorrent to that God.  It is not, whatever they may mouth, taking up their cross and following Him.  The whole of this country would change quite a bit if they did.  Our Pagan communities might be very different if we followed our Gods to where They would lead us.

My outlook on spirituality, from what is ‘normal’ to what is ‘right’ has changed drastically.  Normal is a term that is often used to cage or assuage, rather than do the Work before us.  It is not ‘normal’ for a person to do prayers before meals, bedtime, a storm, an interview, or just because we want to connect and/or honor the Holy Powers.  It is not ‘normal’ for a person to dedicate themselves to a God or Goddess so fully that they would follow Them wherever They led.  Yet this is normal for me.  It is not disruptive to my life, but adds to its fullness.  Sure, it was disruptive at first and I had a lot of anxiety over it.  It was not so disruptive that I stopped going to school or seeing my son; if anything, it brought me closer to him, and in doing so, him deeper into my religion, and is a source of hope, comfort, and joy in his life.

What is ‘right’, as I mentioned above, has also changed for me.  ‘Right’ is really what gets the job done, and for my qualifier, with as little pain to myself and others as possible.  Yet it always comes back to the good old standby of “What does it do?  How well does it do it?”  If something is a roadblock to my journey, rather than hitting that roadblock over and over again in some stubborn attempt to just muscle through it, wasting my and Odin’s time, I find alternate routes.

I do not worry, for instance, about if chakras are based in the lore.  They are not, and I know that.  Yet they are a good shorthand for the concept, a kind of lingua franca of the occultist, Pagan, and associated communities.  It is far easier to say “I see a block in your solar plexus chakra originating in your crown chakra” than to go through an exhaustive explanation of “Your vili is in conflict with your godhi” and what that means, how it is manifesting, etc.  That is not to say at times that I should not give the full explanation, but if the idea is to clearly and concisely communicate an idea without the amount of explanation it would take for the meaning to ‘stick’ with the person, well, chakra-talk works.  Sure, nuance might be lost, but that’s the way of having a common language.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes you need to walk a person through precisely what you mean.

What is ‘right’ has also change in terms of morality.  When I first became a Pagan I was a non-denominational Wiccan following Brighid because that is Who my girlfriend, who originally introduced me to this working group, followed.  It has been a powerful relationship, one that I am very grateful for.  Yet ‘right’ at this point was the Threefold Law and rules familiar to most people, so I won’t go into it here.

‘Right’ for me, morally speaking, is more in line with Gebo: gift-for-a-gift.  I’ve heard the old saw ‘eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind’.  This is true, to an extent.  There are legends of families whose blood feuds raged on for centuries because one party or another had murdered and not paid the weregild.  Yet, ‘eye for an eye’ need not always be a negative; sometimes that eye is a necessary sacrifice for wisdom, for knowing, for peace.  Gebo is more than just reaction for reaction.  Gebo is also weighing the circumstances that an action takes, what the potential blowback is on a decision.  Sometime the correct action to take is reactive.  Sometimes it is to sit and ponder until the solution or the right idea comes to you that will resolve a situation for all parties.  Sometimes the decision is simply unfair for one party, and that party will need to deal with the disappointment, anger, etc.  In the end my baseline is reciprocity, and the reciprocity extends to all relationships, including ones with people I do not care for.  Do no harm is not part of that morality, but do the least amount of harm necessary to achieve an end would probably be the closest, philosophically speaking.

‘Right’ has also meant looking at all of my relationships and really going about categorizing and prioritizing.  There are some Gods I pray to for the blessings They have given, Who are no longer at the forefront of my life.  There are some Gods I have active Work with that are more toward the front.  At the front of it all is Odin.  In right relationship with my Gods, I had to put myself and my practice in order to better align with my God’s needs and demands of me, and it has rippled down my relationships with my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  I am better aligned and in tune with my Ancestors than I have ever been, and accordingly, with others’, because Odin has pushed me to do that.  The same with working with the Military Dead, which would not have happened with Odin’s, and along with that, my teacher’s influence.  Right relationship, whether giving the correct offerings, doing the daily prayers, and/or doing for others in the community, among a great deal of other things, is the core of what ‘right’ is now.  There is much more insistence on right relationship now, especially because Odin has my ear more attuned than when I was just His priest.  If I am not aligned with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that I serve, what good am I as a priest, a shaman, or godatheow?  Especially to Odin, as a godatheow?

As for my outlook on spirituality, I feel the word has become deeply diluted.  Nowadays people use it in the context of “I’m spiritual, not religious” which is one of the goofiest fucking phrases I have ever heard.  Some of the definitions for spiritual, according Merriam-Webster, are: “of or relating to sacred matters” “concerned with religious values”.  If your spirituality, that is, your experience of a religion or a religious figure is not anchored to its religious foundation, what, precisely, are you experiencing?

I think that experiencing the Gods is entirely possible removed from its religious foundations.  I have watched a Deist experience not the undifferentiated Whole he had thought was, but a singular God come down and speak to him.  They can rock our foundations no matter denomination, outlook, etc.  Yet he had no bedrock on which to place the experience.  There was no way for him to get his bearings because his religious upbringing did not even have a lexicon for what was taking place.  So spiritual experience removed from religious foundations are often confusing, taking longer time to process, to understand, to apply.  It is far easier to work off a foundation of some kind than to build it up from nothing.  It is also far easier to avoid taboos, missteps, and so on if you work from a more solid foundation.

Spirituality as a word and concept in the modern world is of limited use.  Much the same as the word Pagan, it requires that a person delve into the word to explain its meaning to them, which has its uses too.  It pushes for dialogue, in many cases.  Yet, when used as a shorthand, such as “I am a spiritual person” I say as an animist/polytheist “No shit, so’s the rock.”  It communicates a narrow band of information that becomes less useful the more it become removed from its place with religion.  I once looked at the word as very useful, but over time I have found it to be less so.  Better to speak with concrete words than undifferentiated sand; the former serves better as a foundation than the other.

Some of the main differences between my life as just a priest of Odin and now, as both His priest and godatheow, is that I have more responsibilities, more opportunities to help those He points out to me, and to do more with Him.  I am restricted but I am more free, denied more of my free will, perhaps, but pointed in more directions which will be in line with His Work, and, I have found, helps others.  I have had to do a lot of self-work as part of this Work, because if I am not clear, clean, and understanding of where I am and how I am, my usefulness as a priest, shaman, and godatheow to Him diminishes.  In this I am clearer in mind, spirit, and understanding of Him, and accordingly, the other Gods I serve, because He has pushed me to be this way.  Heck, I am even better in terms of my body, working out, eating better, and so on than I have ever been before in no small part due to His insistence that I care for myself so I can better do His Work!

I am closer to Him than I have ever been, and it has brought a kind of peace to my life I have not otherwise found, a purpose that is far clearer and more defined than I had known, and right relationship with Him, who has given me many, many blessings.  I am better for it as both His priest and godatheow, doing His Work, than I was meandering about without His guidance.  The Work has brought me closer to Him, and the closer I come, the more I find that Him holding the leash on my life, on me, is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Stumbling for Words

There are times where I write poetry to grasp the Gods, the spirits, the Ancestors.  When I reach for words to grasp at the ineffable, that which is, to quote a favorite song of mine, “Beyond the Invisible“.  Sometimes there is a feeling in prayer or meditation where I can feel my Gods in a feeling beyond feeling.  Sometimes when I smoke a cigarette to the Ancestors (the only time I smoke), or especially a cigar, I can hear Them, in a way that words do not have words for.  It is more than just ‘They are here’; there is communication on some level, more often levels, that occurs when They make Themselves this known to me and I am paying attention.

Feelings can rush up; images, smells, tastes, sounds, snippets of songs, or a phrase, a word, a sensation of being touched or hugged or the feeling of embarrassment or joy that fills me head to toe.  Sometimes it is an urge, or a deep-down compulsion to dance.  So many words that fail to capture a moment of being in the Presence of a God or Goddess, the Ancestors, the spirits.

Sometimes there is a great emptiness.  Sometimes the Gods are not here, and I wish They were, more than anything.  Sometimes there is a deep aching for that connection that I am denied.  I recognize that this is so, at times, because what I am craving is not so much the connection itself, but that feeling of reassurance or that feeling of  alleviation of insecurity.  Other times the Gods are doing something; They are Gods, and have Their respective things to do, whether one believes that the Gods control or are related to certain aspects of our lives (i.e. Frigga weaving Wyrd, Freyr helping the wild plants to grow, Gerda helping the plants in gardens to grow, etc.) or do things besides (i.e. Odin wandering the Worlds gaining wisdom).

I find that the Ancestors tend to be with me all the time, in some fashion or another.  There’s a lot of Them, after all!  Once I began engagement with Them, especially through regular engagement at my Ancestor altar and my necklace, I could feel Their Presence in some fashion or another.  A big part of everyday engagement with Them is through a necklace I wear made out of bone fashioned into a human skulls.  I use it in prayer, and as a focus throughout the day, a physical reminder.  This necklace is also a physical manifestation of my Ancestors.  What does Their Presence feel like?  Sometimes a warmth that has nothing to do with the environment, others, a feeling of familial love, a touch on the shoulder, a harmonica (particularly if Great-Grandpa is around), and others times just a knowing that They are there.  Sometimes They are the statue on my altar, the necklace around my neck, a guiding voice.  Sometimes words simply fail to convey.

This is why, at times, when someone asks me “How do I know if a Goddess is near?” or “How will I know if the Ancestors are with me at prayer?” I can only suggest and say so much.  Language reaches its limit, as do my experiences.  I’m not the do-all, end-all of anything.  I am a being, a being with a human’s world, limitations, and experiences, and I am just one person.  I am bound by physical laws in this world, same as any other.  Sometimes I get things right on the nose, and sometimes I get things horribly wrong.  I am beholden to Wyrd; I work, I pay taxes, and one day I will die.  My hope is that somehow my words, my actions, my life, helps someone else to be more than they were, to leave this world better than it has been in my time within it.

Despite the limitations of words I still try to capture what I feel, how I envision the Gods, Ancestors, etc. with words.  The Ancestor Anthology is coming together, and there are so many words not my own, words that may be someone’s key to unlocking a deeper relationship with the Ancestors.  Words that I may never have thought to string together, experiences I have never had, rituals I have never been part of, and so much I have not done.  This is the beauty and power of coming together, of crafting books together, of making music and art and ritual.  We may never fully capture our Gods, Ancestors, or spirits  in songs, paintings, or words in a ritual or text, but we can provide touchstones and open doors with them.