Gods Without Jobs

This excellent video essay by St. Andrewism got me thinking about anti-work. As I thought about it, considering my own position on anti-work, I began to think: what about anti-work as applied to American polytheism and animism?

What is anti-work? I will take a similar tack to St. Andrewism here, defining first work and then anti-work from that. The common definition, such as that supplied by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary is: “to do something that involves physical or mental effort, especially as part of a job”.

Work, in the context of anti-work is, quoting St. Andrewism:

“Forced labor, that is, economic production enforced by the political and economic elites. The carrot and the stick. Workers are usually wage laborers, as the worker must sell themselves mind and body, for the purpose of production. Thus, work has an inherent dynamic of domination, one that we see elaborated in all industrial societies today -even the ones that claim to be socialist. We are employed to work at things called jobs where we must perform tasks that which, no matter how intrinsically interesting they may be, eventually become dull and monotonous when performed for upwards of 40 hours per week, with no say over when you show up or leave, what you do, how long you do it for, how much you do, who you do it with, or for whom it is done. All for the profit of those who control the means of production. “

While we could probably summarize ‘work’ for our purposes as forced labor, I found his exploration of work here useful. There is a difference in this understanding of work vs productivity. Work exists to make the rich richer and to exploit the working class. It funnels our labor and goods and services from our hands, hearts, and minds into the pockets of employers. Productivity can be disentangled and freed from the bonds of capitalism’s work, benefiting our communities and ourselves rather than the employers and rich.

“The world of work is an experience of suffocating beuracracy. Surveillance, rote work, high pace, quarters, time charts, persistent harassment, paternalistic management, exploitation, subordination, and totalitarian control for the sake of it. Your washroom breaks are often timed and regulated. Your clothing and hair strictly managed, which often has an anti-Black component to it. You are spied on and supervised, and you can be expelled at any time. Work is, therefore, the antithesis of freedom. The prison, the school, the factory, the office, and the store, are all stamped with the discipline of modern despots, and all share common techniques of control in common.”

“The clergy of work fail or don’t care to recognize that we do not work, we don’t sell our time and energy to a boss because we want to. We have to because there is no other way to get the money to get the things we need to survive…Our time and work is never really ours. That time is for our bosses who take the things we produce, or the neat objects like pizzas or housing units, services like cashiering or cooking, or qualities like clean floors or healthy patients and sell them for a profit, paying us only a portion of the value we produce, and using the rest to reinvest in capital and enlarge their own wealth. Our own lives are centered around this work. The money we get from this work sustains us just enough to keep coming back to work. Our time spent away from work is spent getting to or from work. Leisure itself is just non-work for the sake of work. It’s the limited time we spend trying to recover from work and distract ourselves from work. Because of work we are constantly under the tyranny of the clock…Our free time is not even ours. It still belongs to our boss in some capacity. So really, the only thing free about it, is our bosses don’t have to pay us for it.”

The labor that is converted into capital lines the pockets of the owner class. This, especially, has been on my mind lately. I began watching clips of the movie adaptation of The Big Short and then bought the audiobook of the book it is based on. If you cannot see what a leech the upper class is on the lower, then you need to at least watch the movie. The ‘clergy of work’, to use St. Andrewism’s phrase, are often those who most profit from the suffering of those beneath them.

I do not mean to say ‘see the movie’ as though most of my readers have not lived through the times depicted. I mean this in the sense that, with everything currently going on, from the invasion of Ukraine to the ongoing pandemic, it is easy to have forgotten those times or for them simply to have vanished behind the current haze of news. It is easier to forget the rank corruption and inherent destructive potential of the financial sector under the barrage of today’s news headlines. None of the economic landscape since the 2007 financial collapse has fundamentally changed in its operations or maintenance. The very financial tools that precipitated that collapse, the CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations), the MBS (Mortgage Backed Securities), subprime mortgages, and all the rest, are not only with us, they serve to undergird the economic system in a similar way to rusted metal in the bones of a bridge. As with 2007, the current economic system is entirely ready to give way to another catastrophic failure. We, the working class, are breaking our bodies, minds, and spirits for a system that will serve up our suffering again and again on a silver platter to the wealthiest people on this planet for their gain.

I turned 18 in 2004. Three years into college, and I watched as entire industries collapsed overnight. I watched as neighborhoods collapsed around me. I took on an immense amount of college debt and could not find work during my time there, or after college for some time. The landscape has not shifted too much in the intervening years, except for cost of living and inflation to rise, at 7% so far this year. Those of us who have thrived during this time are lucky, so far as our relative futures are concerned. It is less common for a person to work a single job. I do not. This writing is part of my work. It is not unusual for folks to have two or three jobs, including a side hustle on top of it.

When folks say they have a hard time keeping a spiritual discipline I am hardly surprised. After all, whatever time we have between shifts is time we have to devote to anything else in our lives. Shop? Cook? Clean? Take care of the kids? Relax? Maybe sleep? All of it has to be done in that window of opportunity between when you get off work and when you go back. Likewise, when folks say they have a hard time feeling the Presence of the Ginnreginn I am hardly surprised. It is hard to develop a relationship with yourself, let alone with the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir when you are ready to collapse at the end of the work day and you still need to make dinner or help the kids with homework. It is hard to do things that take time away from relaxing or recovering when you have busted your ass for someone who will never live in your home, eat your food, fuck you, or care for you after working for them during your most wakeful, productive hours. This is not about making excuses for us not to fulfill our obligations to the Ginnreginn, our communities, or ourselves. However, it is far too easy in this capitalist hyper-individualistic culture which daily makes excuses for the upper class and the systems of control they wield, to beat those of us workers down for ‘not doing enough’ with what little time is left to us. It is far too easy to inspire the working class to beat themselves down for the failures of a system that eats every minute of time not devoted directly to it.

Let us take a realistic look at the hours we have in a day, what they are devoted to (I use this language intentionally) and what hours are left to us to figure out what we live the rest of our lives with. I will use myself as an example. I work full-time, at least 80 hours biweekly. I work five days with two days off each week. I work about six days of overtime at 8 hours each in a biweekly period. So, I will work about 48 hours overtime biweekly. 128/336 hours out of the total of each biweekly. Almost 40% of my life in that period spent working. If we assume (and I sometimes do not) that I get a solid 8 hours of sleep each day, that is another 112 hours devoted to sleep. 240/336 hours, 71% of my life, in every two weeks of my life is accounted for. I could get hit for yet more overtime at work which would be another 32 hours if I got hit all five days. 276/336 hours gone. 82% of my life. This has happened for multiple weeks at a stretch in the past. When I have overtime I work sixteen straight hours, come home, sleep for about 6, 7 hours if I am lucky, and head back into another 16 hour shift. It can sometimes take me awhile to get comfortable enough to sleep. In those 1 to 2 hours between shifts I take time, sacrificing my sleep, to see my kids and partners, maybe eat, and maybe take a shower. I am lucky that I live close to work. Some folks I work with have a half hour to an hour drive.

Almost 3/4 to 4/5 of my life is oriented around work in an average 2 week period. I only have 60-96 hours, the last 17%-29% of my life, to do any living of my own. I devote it to those I love and doing what I love or enjoy wherever I can. I devote it to cooking, doing dishes, taking care of and having time with my kids, and spending time with my partners. I devote it to writing, doing divination, spiritual consultations, podcasting, and producing videos. I devote it to leading on the Board of Directors and volunteering at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, working with the Cavanaughs and our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and the landvaettir Themselves to make a beautiful sacred space even better. I devote it to cleansing, grounding, centering, journeying, divining for myself, working magic, connecting with the Ginnreginn, praying, and making offerings. Let no one tell you that sitting with your Ginnreginn, even in silence, is an unworthy offering. My time is intensely precious to me. I have so little of it to give to anything. If I give you my attention, if I block out time for you in my life for you, that is a truly precious gift to me.

This makes for what may be a minor gripe at first blush: so many video games requiring me to put immense amounts of hours into them in order to get enjoyment from them. If the barrier to entry is time wasting, I am far less likely to play it. If my video games, and by extension other activities, become another chore I am likely not to do it. MMOs have incorporated busy work rather than anything that brings me pleasure, so it is worth less of my time to look at, let alone play. “I have 60-96 hours when I am awake and not at work. Is this worth my time?”

If so much of our lives ceased to be about jobs how would our relationships with our Gods change? Our Ancestors? Our vaettir?

We have good ideas of how that would look, since even for European-descended folks you do not have to look fairly far back in our history. What many of our Ancestors gave up for whiteness, and the capitalism tied into its advantages, were good ties with the landvættir, the húsvaettir, Ancestors, and the ways of living well with Them all. They gave up language, folklore, Ancestral ways of life. They gave up Their stories, Their magic, and Their Gods. A cursory look through either The Tradition of Household Spirits or Demons and Spirits of the Land by Claude Lacouteax amply shows this.

The beauty of living here and now is that we do not have to repeat our Ancestors’ mistakes -or our own. We can embrace our Ginnreginn, our magic, our religions. With them we can forge a new way through. While we still live within this ever-hungering and shambling system of capitalism, it is no small act to learn about and to execute magic. In this capitalist regime, it is no small act to learn about our religions and, especially, to live them!

It is no small thing to spend time with the Ginnreginn, or our communities. It is no small thing to lay down an offering, to sacrifice time, effort, and good things for Them. Lighting a candle, burning incense, or laying down a small cup of water is, in and of itself, powerful, connective, and revolutionary. It is no small thing to dedicate time and/or effort to our communities. Prioritizing our communities in the face of the pressure to atomize and compartmentalize our lives is powerful and revolutionary. It is no small thing to take time for oneself, our peace of mind or joy, whether through solitary or communal acts. Being kind, empowering, and healing with ourselves is powerful and necessary to live well individually and communally.

What would our Gods look like if They were without ‘jobs’? Odin ‘God of War’, or Loki ‘God of Mischief’ like an occupation?

We might see, as many polytheists have been for quite a while, that a single God, let alone a family of Them, are complex, wide-ranging Beings unto Themselves. Absent of a square hole for a round peg, we have to approach our Gods as full Beings, with understanding, motivation, and desires of Their own. We can never fully know another person, whatever we are to them and they to us. How much more so with the Gods. If we approach each as being even more full of Mystery than our fellow human beings we would likely have a healthier approach to both. Absent of ‘jobs’ our Gods are enmeshed in complex relationships with one another -and to us. Is Freyr only a God of fertility? While refering to Him as a God of fertiltiy is accurate in many ways, only relating to Freyr as a ‘God of fertility’ limits Him. Freyr also brings the good rains, and historically was well-tied into kingship. As many heiti as Odin has, I believe He still has more to show us just as surely as any of our Gods do.

What would ‘Gods of prosperity’ look like if we took out our relationships with current financial instruments, banks, and the like?

Putting aside the issues I have already written on with regards to ‘God of’, prosperity takes on a whole different meaning absent capitalism’s profit motive. What does prosperity look like in a permaculture setting? How about an indigenous-led rehabilitation of the land and/or rivers? To my mind, and given the writings of indigenous people such as Robin Wall Kimmerer and Vine Deloria Jr., it is abundance of connections, life, and thriving. Gebo, and the giving of gifts, and the idea of a gifting economy itself, contrasts starkly with that of capitalism. There is ‘enough’ and ‘too much’ in such a system to the point that giving of certain gifts to folks who did not have as much was taboo because the ‘owing’ of one to another would have been too out of balance. If we take off modern capitalist notions of prosperity we see a world in which ‘enough’ is not a tool of privation, but of plenty.

Such a change in mindset does not stop famines from happening. However, it does eliminate famines whose existance is due to artificially inflating the price of wheat or intentionally under-harvesting a crop. By eliminating the profit motive prosperity is not bound only to the abundance of the amount of a crop. This abundance can then extend to relationships that crop has, allowing them to flourish as well. Only since the advent of modern monocropping has the sheer size and scale allowed us to act as we have with regards to farming. Arguably, all we have done is super-size the next Dust Bowl. An abundance mindset would conserve water and soil, rather than merely viewing them as resources to be used in service of profit. If we put down this idea of profit and begin to understand our Gods tied to prosperity, money, and wealth, these relationships can suddenly flourish in countless new ways.

Unmoored by capitalist ideas of work, productivity, leisure, and profit, our relationships can buoy a whole host of powerful new relationships within ourselves and with our Ginnreginn. In a mindset of cycles and relationships it cannot be productive to constantly do work. Rest is part of the natural cycles whether we understand this through the seasons or our own bodies’ rhythms. In thinking on this, Freyr readily comes to my mind. I think of this understanding within and of Freyr. His are the times of culling, whether the animal or the field, and of planting. The times of waiting for the field to grow, for caring for the animals, and of being mindful. Among the ways I approach work with Him in this understanding is doing the work until it is done, not work at any cost. The rains fall, and those rains exist within their own cycles relative to the climate and weather. Rather than being like a boss at Amazon that constantly monitors the bathroom breaks and output of a worker, Freyr is in a right, healthy, and gifting relationship with the rain, to do what it is going to do: to collect, rise, and fall. He helps, working with the rain and all its vaettir. He is not absent the process. Indeed, being a God, in many respects He is the Being and the process through which it works. This also works in relationship with Thor, who, also being a God who embodies many of the same characteristics and relationships, does not eliminate Freyr from them or vice versa. They also exist in relationship with and to us. Rather than turning our Gods into mere processes or archetypes, we come to understand and know Them through the cycles we live, encountering our Gods through systems, living and not, that we ourselves are in.

What would our relationships with moneyvaettir look like without work and the economic systems that exploit our labor?

Understanding money in animism is not some huge leap. Whether we look at it through the coins and paper money that we can hold in our hands or the electronic forms most of our money takes, moneyvaettir are alive and part of our living systems. Indeed, They are the Being and process through which potential work translates into active work in our modern economy. Whether we understand the moneyvaettir in a physical form, coins made from metals and paper money made a pulped then processed fiber respectively, or electronic and made from fire crossing countless metals and silica, They do end up taking up and being part of the physical world as much as the imaginal. Put simply money as a concept is a claim on labor, the physical or electronic tokens being representative of that claim. Without the idea of work, that is, enforced labor, and the economic systems that exploit it, moneyvaettir can be understood through relationship building rather than merely transactions of money being exchanged for a good or service. Money holds value in our system as a fiat currency by being the way that value is held, calculated, and used.

We say in this system that a loaf of bread costs so much, salt that much, and gas this much. That is, these tokens represent how much work you have to do in order to afford this or that thing. They are ways of transacting relationships to the goods and services we need to live in this society. What is belied by this token system is that without a job to assess how much work I need to do in order to afford that item it does not tell me how much work I actually need to do to afford something. A billionaire’s value with a dollar is not my own. I have to put in physical time at a job in order to afford a gallon of gas. Billionaires put in next to no actual physical effort at their jobs. Their bank accounts expand with money merely by existing in certain relationships with financial instruments and institutions. Once you get to a certain point of wealth money is generated in autonomous ways rather than any effort on the part of the individual. The rules of money as commonly understood break down once a person is wealthy because they no longer have to participate in a lived, physical economy like those beneath them. If money were the actual value and time a worker produced then Jeff Bezos would be a pauper in comparison to physical laborers. Money, then, in our modern system, does not measure the work itself, only arbitrary time unmoored from the actual constraints, pain, and processes by which the labor is extracted and distilled.

It is not so much that capitalism only produces false relationships, whether that is with money, labor, or their effects. Rather, it only allows for certain viabilities of relationships. Certain kinds of relationships stop being viable should people wish to live even moderately well or within a communal setting. The zoning laws alone in this country do not allow for the breadth of relationships to our jobs and communities that we could have. The history of the mall in America, especially look at the intent of malls vs the execution of them, is a clear example of this. Staying at home to parent a child or be a homemaker is not viable under the system beneath a certain income level. Hell, educating children in general has become so prohibitively expensive to the educator that many K-12 teachers in this country have completely given up the field. Money did not do this to any of us. Rather, it is the systems that govern money, and accordingly, the systems that moneyvaettir are bound in with work, that does this to us.

Our modern economy alienates us from our labor and each other. It has to, because atomizing us from our relationships is a profitable thing. Restorative justice and wholistic health management in such a system is a non-starter because profit can be extracted at higher rates under a punitive justice system and a fractured medical system. The rise of private adoption services, private prisons, private hospitals, and medical insurance are just a few industries that benefit from this extractive exploitative arrangement. As if that is not bad enough, these private prisons are then able to turn around, literally offerings cents on the dollar, hiring out their prison laborers to companies that also serve to depress the wages of other laborers.

Taking moneyvaettir outside of these systems of control that serve to hurt and oppress both Them and us would allow us to have radically different ways of relating. We can begin this work right now even within the systems we are caught up in.We can partner with Them to truly build up things we value, whether that is the things we produce by our hands, or collectively in our communities. We can give money to indigenous landback movements, to places that exemplify our values such as Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, and to any number of people and services in our community that serve the needs of the community. We can partner with the moneyvaettir to budget in ways that allow us to live in better concert with Them, asking Them and ourselves what ways are best for us to live better in this world together, and then, to invest the money accordingly.

What would our Gods and our relationship with Them, whose sacred places, animals, and plants are currently exploited by industries, look like?

If we could understand that our relationships with moneyvaettir would be drastically changed by this shift then our relationships with our Gods, and the sacred places, animals, and plants would be no less drastically changed. Consider any animal held sacred to one of our Gods, such as the boar and pig to Freyr. Consider that without the economic system we have we could actually treat these animals in a sacred way rather than a resource that, like ourselves, is squeezed for profit. Without our economic systems that encourage profit at all cost there would be no need for the massive CAFOs that poison rivers and lakes, that encourage immense amounts of dumping of poisons on land to produce the feed that is given to the animals on those CAFOs, or the extraction of chemicals and minerals to feed the soils for the land their feed is grown on. It is a simple premise with powerful, long-lasting, radical results. All the knock-on effects from just this one aspect of a highly pollutant industry, and all the suffering that results from it, could be prevented. By removing the profit motive from the equation these things no longer make any sense to continue.

By removing work from our lives we could restructure how we are to live, and what it means to live well. While we may not be able to untangle the many knots capitalism has us wrapped up in right now, we can we can remove work, enforced labor and its effects, from many aspects of our lives, and relationships. Doing so allows us to live more fully in those relationships without the intercession of exploitation. Doing so allows us to develop new ways of relating to ourselves, to one another, and to our Ginnreginn, and maintain the good and healthy ways we have now. Over time, as polytheists and animists, we could bring the values we carry with us into lived relationships where how we labor, spend money, and live our lives have powerful material and spiritual impact on ourselves, our communities, and the relationships we hold with our Ginnreginn. By adopting an anti-work stance and removing the ideas that come with work under a capitalist system, by taking off jobs as we have learned them under this system from ourselves and our Ginnreginn, we can find and reclaim ways of life that better serve us both, and enrich ourselves, our communities, and all the relationships we hold.

A Heathen Prepping -Prepping for Convergent Crises

We are at a crossroads of convergent crises. At time time of this writing the United States is facing the following: supply chain disruption resulting in delays of goods and then services, health care staffing shortages, shortages in necessary medical goods supplies, ongoing massive infections of COVID-19, and rising inflation. Then there is the civil unrest we have still largely not dealt with since January 6th of 2021. Alone, with the effects of climate change already being felt throughout the food industry, this would be disruptive. With these hitting all at once it is high time anyone holding out on prepping began to take the situation as it stands and make plans to take care of themselves and their loved ones.

This does not mean panic buy. It does not mean pick up as much toilet paper, rice, beans, or the like as you can. What it does mean, is, that if you have delayed until now to do necessary prep for two weeks in a SHTF scenario, then start there. Besides, long-term you cannot survive on just rice and beans though, if you try that, you’ll be happy you bought all that toilet paper.

We have seen gas prices rise on average about $1.14 in the last year, per the EIA. Check the year on year price comparison by the BLS of average goods. The price on average has increased in a steady upward climb the last twenty years. A loaf of bread went from $1.50 to $1.52 October 2020 to October 2021. This means that gas went up about 52% and bread 2% in the last year. Between October 2001 and October 2021 prices on these two goods have gone up, from $1.36 to $3.39 or a 149.26% rise for gas and from $1.01 to $1.53 or a 51.49% rise for bread. All this is to say these are long-term trends, not just pandemic-time increases.

With the crunch of supply disruptions bringing together the basics of your home’s prep into a 2 week, then 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and a year as you can should be a top priority. At the least, getting this prep together gives you the means to take care of yourself and your loved ones for a SHTF scenario. If one does not hit for awhile, it means that you can stave off inflation. If supply chains fail or things fall apart worse than what they are, you won’t be caught off guard.

Our current round of convergent crises are predicaments that have been ignored until the weight of them cannot be borne by the system in place. All of these issues were ignored or underfunded through several presidential terms. Since 2001 we have spent literally trillions of dollar on war. Resources were simply not allocated to address them. Assigning fault may be useful to some, but not in deciding what to do now that these threats are here in action.

As a Heathen I understand my life woven with that of others through Urðr, whose Anglo-Saxon cognate is Wyrd. I prioritize those webs of Urðr, first with the Ginnreginn (Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir), then my immediate family, then Kindred, then tribe, and then my wider communities. These priorities matter in predicaments like these, as they dictate who my first concerns and obligations belong to. Those closest to me in obligations and concerns are those who I help first in a SHTF scenario.

So for whom am I prepping? For everyone in my circles of concern. It is my responsibility in every relationship I hold, from the Ginnreginn to the wider community, to do all I can to take care of as many people as I can within my capacity to do so. By do so I am freeing resources for others in my Kindred, tribe, or wider community who need to use their resources in support of their own. If all I can take care of is my family and I, then that is who I take care of so resources are available for the Kindred, tribe, or wider communities.

The beautiful thing about prepping, especially starting out and getting a 2 week then 3 month prep as you can, is that prepping is cumulative. The more you do it the better you can weather SHTF scenarios. If you have a 20 lb bag of rice for your two week prep that same bag counts for the 3 month prep, too. So, even if you’re eating your prep as you go, which ideally you should at least in some degree so you’re not suddenly switching diets when SHTF, you are still stocking up in the long term.

Bought a bag of apples and are unsure if you are going to eat them all in time before they rot? No problem. If you have an oven or dehydrator, you can make apple crisps. Put those bad boys in the fridge, mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, or a jar. Congratulations, you have made another stride in prep! Have veggie scraps like carrot tops and peels? These make good compost. That compost can then be used as soil or fertilizer if you let it break down. Old medicine bottles are excellent for holding emergency supplies you can stash in a BOB, the car, or as part of an EDC. Thinking on and working with what you have, where and when you are as part of prep can help stretch or add to what you have for resources.

A lot of convergent crises where I am are going to look like multiple SHTF scenarios that I talked about here coming together at once. In Winter of 2022 I am most concerned about the weather, then supply chain issues, then COVID-19 and the knock-on effects at hospitals, and then the ongoing infrastructure issues. Once we get through Winter and that ceases to be as big an issue, most of my immediate SHTF scenarios stay the same, with the exception of civil unrest being a bigger factor as temperatures climb. On their own each of these could merit my full attention. Together, even doing as much prep as I can, it can be overwhelming, especially at first.

The thing about SHTF scenarios, particularly convergent crises, is the preps are not meant to fix them. Generally, SHTF scenarios are predicaments that you navigate. My power going out cannot be fixed even by getting a Generac generator for the house -it mitigates the loss of electricity. Stocking up on food will not fix the supply chain issues or rising costs. Food prep will help my family and loved ones get through until the supply chain is restored and/or we can bring our own supplies to bear. These ongoing issues need to be fixed systemically since they are systemic issues.

So, what kinds of prep can you do with regard to multiple SHTF scenarios? Beyond continuing with the preps you are on, be sure to build redundancy as you can. Something City Prepping says a lot is “2 is 1, and 1 is none.” Having backups sure does not hurt. If you grab one of something while you’re out on a shopping trip grab a second one. I recently went to the store and picked up some dry milk. At first I was just going to grab one pack, and, remembering the rule, grabbed another. In a long-term SHTF and/or grid-down situation having extras is a great thing. If you find you do not need the extras, having them means you can offer it to others to help, and you have items to trade with.

By and large the basics of prepping for the most likely convergent crises will overlap one another. The big one for our area is power loss. It threatens both our refrigerated and frozen supplies, and makes it harder for us to get through everyday weather. Most modern American homes are fairly poorly constructed and insulated. These glorified boxes require working HVAC units to chug through all kinds of weather. I find it far easier to get through the cold in Michigan than I do the heat, but not everyone will, so even in prepping members of your home you may need different strategies to keep everyone safe.

Convergent crises can challenge our preps. Right now our corner of Michigan’s most likely long-term convergent crises are a long-term power or grid-down situation coupled with our ongoing supply chain issues. In such a case, relying on a refrigerator, freezer, and the electric stove we have will be pretty useless. While we could do our best to convert the refrigerator and freezer into primitive ice boxes, it would be a far better use of time and resources to orient our preps for these crises to food able to be stored long-term without the need for cooling. Canning while we have electricity and a steady supply of jars and lids is one approach which can provide immense amounts of food which will keep for years. Smoking, curing, dehydrating, and fermenting can be done throughout the year without electricity. Thinking creatively about how we face our convergent crises now can save us pain, time, effort, and resources in the long run.

Convergent crises will be a time that test folks. Crises usually do. Part of the power in doing these preps as a Heathen is that each act of prep is an opportunity for building up good relationships with our Ginnreginn and each other. Engaging in prep provides opportunities for devotional work, magic, and co-creating Urðr with the Ginnreginn and the folks in our communities. A lot of us go about creating some kind of stalli (altar in the house), and vé (sacred outdoor space) where we live. The spiritual work does not, and, especially since we are talking about preps, should not stay there alone. Looking at the written and archaeological sources of our Heathen religions it is clear to me that the spiritual perspective of ancient Heathens was part of everyday lived reality, not hived off from the rest of life as it so often is in our overculture. Much of the spells and spiritual practices that have passed down to us now were concerned with survival, the good of the community, and preserving, protecting, or empowering the community and the folks within them in some way.

A lot of ways to bring spiritual work into prep are simple and often overlooked. An example: when you are canning thank the vaettir of the plants and animals, the jörðvaettir that forms the jar, lid, and bands, the vatnvaettir of the water, and the eldrvaettir that boils the water. You can mark the bottoms or put post-it notes on jars or other items you intend to trade with the Fehu and Gebo Runes. You can put healing bindrunes on the inside of your First Aid kit, and ask for Eir and Menglóð’s blessing on it, giving Them good offerings afterwards.

Learn about the various forms of magic and spiritual practices that ancient Heathens would have used and think about why they used it, and how these things apply to us today. An awful lot of thought, time, energy, and power went into protection, not just personal protection but that of the homestead and animals. Why? Survival was dependent on the stores of food and animals making it through Sumar (Summer). For those animals not destined for slaughter, they were often instrumental in making it through Vetr (Winter). A good chunk of surviving medieval manuscripts combine what the overculture today think of as separate disciplines: medicine and magic. Even into the modern age these things were not separate disciplines.

Enchanting our medicines to be more effective, warding our gardens against encroachment as we put up fencing, and laying down protections on our homes is the ancient ways working in a new time. Parterning with the landvaettiir so the plants grow well, asking Þórr to bless the garden with rain, and asking Freyr and Gerðr to bring fertility to the plants and animals is our Heathen worldview alive. Doing these things intertwines our religion and our lives in visceral ways. It is powerful.

Even if we do not face a particular set of convergent crises there is no wasted time or energy with these preps we bring to bear. Remember, preps are cumulative. They can be equally as useful for ourselves as others, especially those who may not have prepared or prepared as well as we have. We build up our megin (might/power) and hamingja (luck/power/group luck) in doing this work. Partnering with our Ginnreginn to face these crises, to prep and do what is in our power to do, we grow stronger. By encouraging our mutual aid networks and caring for those in our Kindreds, tribes, and communities now, we face the future stronger together.

Rest

What is it to not do spiritwork for months on end? It is service to others, whether to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, and/or those in my communities. The pause I have taken was to rest. As was pointed out to me by several loved ones, I was definitely burning my candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle too.

Since October I have taken time off from spiritwork. That means no public rituals, no divination work, and almost no spirit travel for others. It has also meant I have done as little personal spiritwork as I am able. This does not mean everything is cast aside, though.

I still cleanse, ground, center, and shield everyday at least once a day. I still make prayers every day. I still make time to think and pray. I still do magic as I need to. Clearly, I still write.

I will not pretend like taking this time off has been easy. It has not. I deeply enjoy doing spiritwork. The writing prompts, whether the topic suggestions, Q&As, or prayer requests, all provide a powerful challenge and incentive to write and do spiritwork on their own. Likewise, the videos I have been producing have pushed me to think hard about how to be informative and concise about the Basics of Heathenry.

Something I have remarked to folks through Around Grandfather Fire and its Discord server is that I struggle with the need to be or feel productive. Rather than constantly fight with myself over this, I have reframed the last few months’ break as a form of service. When it comes to brass tacks, that is what it is. I cannot perform well if I am constantly overworking myself. I cannot do the best work that I can for the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, my communities, or myself, if I am constantly exhausted. Reframing rest as service, as furthering the work, helps to put my mind at ease. I recognize how fucked up that is, that the only way that I feel I can relax and put things aside is by framing them in terms of service to the work. I hasten to point out, though, that no God, Ancestor, or vaettr has put this mindset on me. This is definitely the product of the overculture. Sometimes Odin will push, but He has not pushed me as much as I have pushed myself.

Am I going to start back up with spiritwork in February? I am not sure. I will be doing some talking with my partners, friends, and doing some thinking and praying. ConVocation has been postponed until next year. My two weeks of vacation I was going to take for it are locked in. I either take the vacation or simply lose it. I am seriously considering just taking February off to enjoy the two weeks in our new home, and relaxing.

Funny enough, I started to write this post before the latest episode of Around Grandfather Fire. We are just starting our 4th season with Episode 83. I had not yet decided on whether to take February off. By the end of the episode I had decided that I would. It would mean six months off from professional spiritwork.

Why, if I valued my spiritwork so highly and the work I do for others would I take so much time off? I need it. In the time since I began my break I have encountered heavy mandatory overtime at work, worked on buying our home, and finally, came down with COVID-19 before moving in. We are mostly moved now, and despite the many months off from spiritwork, work in various forms has eaten what would have been the empty space there. Had I been doing spiritwork alongside all the work I am doing as a father, partner, and worker, I would probably have collapsed by now.

What helped turn me around on a lot of this was framing things not through an individual narrative, but a collective one. Being a goði, spiritworker, father, partner, and community means I am part of a whole. I am part of a tribe. I do not live for just myself. If anyone in my Kindred or tribe came to me with my workload what would my response be?

“Take some time off and relax for fuck’s sake!”

I have held unreasonably high expectations of myself for a long while. Part of reframing my mindset on rest was not just ‘this is good for me, Sarenth the individual’. What I needed was ‘this is good for my communities’ and ‘this is good for Sarenth, and this good benefits the communities I am in’. Much of my mindset is not about myself, but about what I can do for the Kindred and tribe I am in. If I crash, break down, collapse, or fall apart I can no longer do my best within those communities. It is not only in my interest, but in my communities’ interests that I care for myself, learn to pace myself, and do right by myself. So, for the time being I will do that: I will rest, so that when I return to spiritwork I can do so with my full faculties and do the best job that I am able to.

A Heathen Prepping -On Violence

I had a friend reach out to me recently, concerned I may have been dipping into more exhausting things during my break, rather than spending the last few months relaxing.

That’s just it, Snow. This is me relaxing.

Something they brought up and I dove into was the concept of violence in prepping spaces, especially those on the far-right. Let me be clear: I did not get into prepping to live out a machismo fantasy of gunning down my neighbors, nor of living out The Walking Dead where I live. Rather, I approach prepping through the lens of hospitality and service. Hospitality extends to those who are good guests. People banging down the door, literally or proverbially, in an effort to harm my family, tribe, or communities have forfeited their guest rights. People intimating violence because of my religion, sexuality, ethnicity, leftist political beliefs, etc or the race, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc of those in my circles have forefeited their guest rights.

Peace, Not Pacifism

My prepping is predominantly peaceful. Note, not pacifist. To explain I am going to illustrate my point with three quotes I have found online and the first three lines from the Hávamál, H.A. Bellow’s translation:

The first quote, attributed to Stef Starkgaryen, says: “You can’t truly call yourself “peaceful” unless you are capable of great violence. If you’re not capable of violence, you’re not peaceful, you’re harmless. Important distinction.”

The second quote, attributed as a Chinese proverb is paraphrased as: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”

The third quote, attributed to Sun Tzu in his work The Art of War is: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

Now, to H.A. Bellow’s translation of the Hávamál:

“1. Within the gates | ere a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows | where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within.

2. Hail to the giver! | a guest has come;
Where shall the stranger sit?
Swift shall he be who, | with swords shall try
The proof of his might to make.

3. Fire he needs | who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes | must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.”

Without the skill, ability, and most of all the willingness to commit to violence, peace and hospitality cannot be established or maintained. A given Heathen community cannot commit to being an inclusive place so long as White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens are permitted in it. The very existence of White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens is a direct threat to BIPoC, LGBTQIA+, ethnic, and religious minorities. Truthfully, as we have seen with those who have left the AFA and similar outfits, White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens eventually turn on their own. That’s the way supremacy works: you eat everyone else until all you can do is eat your own.

The very existence of White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens is a direct threat to Heathenry. I do not mean this in some abstract way. I have received death threats for my anti-racist and anti-Folkish stances. Others have been directly physically harmed, harassed, bullied, and doxxed. There is no reasoning with these ideologies nor those who hold to them. They are directly harmful. They seek to legitimize, encourage, and then to engage in genocide. It begins in rhetoric and comes increasingly through to fruition: direct action. They seek to kill the Other, as demanded by their ideology, and seek the destruction of other people and their ways of life. If a given Heathen community is unwilling to make a stand, not with some internet Declaration, but with their feet, and when necessary their hands and weapons, then all their words are air.

The other side is not playacting when it comes to killing those it sees as its enemies. The 3%ers, the Proud Boys, and the AFA, among many others, are not fucking around. For too long Heathens in the middle have pretended there was some middle ground to be had. There is not. You are either on the side of inclusivity or you are in support of white supremacy. There is no negotiation with it.

Bonds and Bounds of Frið and Grið

A simple explanation is that frið and grið are bonds of peace and good social order. Ocean Keltoi has a good video going over the concept here. Frið, as I understand and use the term, is held with family, loved ones, tribe members, and community. In other words, those I consider innangarð, those in my inner yard. Grið is held with strangers as a temporary peace, with those utgarð or in the outer yard. These concepts are then woven into Heathens conceptions of hospitality. While many Heathens may not use the term innangarð or utgarð, I find most of us agree on the larger picture here: hospitality is established through peace and good social order.

Bonds of frið and grið are maintained so we can get things done. We do not always have to like each other. However, we do need to have mutual respect and to give one another honor in such bonds. So how do we establish frið and grið, and what does violence have to do with them?

Frið and grið must be formed in honor and strength. They are a willing acceptance of obligation to one another. In the case of frið, these bonds are made and maintained with those who you are willing to defend with your life and who likewise take on that obligation. Those I understand in this fashion are my personal family, friends, and tribe. I do not extend frið to acquaintances. Insofar as I understand the terms and employ them, they rely on very clearly delineated boundaries of obligation. I aid and defend those I carry bonds of frið with.

In a SHTF scenario this means that those I hold these frið obligations with come first. I do prep to care for those bonds. I work to provide enough supplies, information, and knowledge to get us through the challenges that come our way. I do work to support those I have these bonds with so we can all come through SHTF scenarios safely. Generally, I expect that safety in these situations is ensured through effective prepping, such as making sure we have enough resources on hand to get through a few months. Given the violence we have seen on display from White Supremacists, Folkists, and the far Right, it is not out of the realm of possibility that self-defense is going to be necessary. I was prompted to write this series in part because there is a good contingent of folks in various prepping communities planning to do a good bit of violence to secure resources in a number of SHTF scenarios. Just because something is unpleasant to think on does not mean we should not consider it. This, for me, is a chief concern and obligation with regards to frið. Am I willing to put my life on the line for you? Am I willing to defend you, to kill if necessary? If I answer no or hesitate, then we do not have frið.

This is at the forefront of my mind since I have had a few Folkish and White Supremacist Heathens come across my blog and reblog my last few posts. It seems that none of them have read the content of this blog or they would realize that I am utterly opposed to them. The very act of being a Folkish or White Supremacist Heathens breaks bonds of frið and grið with me. We cannot have peace or good social order if your ideology rests on my death or that of those in my circles. The ideology of White Supremacy and Folkishness prevents grið from being established. For anyone that has ever written the words “No Frith with Fascists”, truly think on what that means. If you truly do believe the words of Hávamál 127, meditate on what it means and the implications of what your actions are:

“127. I rede thee, Loddfafnir! | and hear thou my rede,–
Profit thou hast if thou hearest,
Great thy gain if thou learnest:
If evil thou knowest, | as evil proclaim it,
And make no friendship with foes.”

Thinking on Violence

Rather than offer any one way as the way we should prepare for violence, I think we need to approach violence through the lens of prepping as another tool in our tool chest. How useful is violence in a given scenario? What does violence do, and how well does it do it? What training and tools can best deescalate a situation so violence does not need to be used? What training and techniques can reduce or eliminate the use of violence in a given scenario? What training and tools are most effective at preventing harm if violence must be used? What scenarios require a full commitment to the use of violence?

In most scenarios violence is the least desirable tool. It can cause us to waste time, resources, and life. It causes harm which necessitates healing and possibly recompense, or, in the worst of situations, cleanup, and the possibility of jailtime and/or reprisal. The use of violence can sour even the best of relationships even if we, ourselves, are not its target. Violence is often ugly, brutal, and frightening.

These truths should not prevent us from using it.

Rather, I would hope it would inspire folks to be judicious in its use. To be sure of what scenarios we would be willing and able to engage in violence. To be sure and clear in what obligations we agree to in our frið and grið-making. To be sure and clear in what obligations we hold with guests and hospitality under our roof. Not all violence need be fatal, but all violence has that potential. Violence should, in my view, be a tool of last resort. However, it should not be a tool we throw away, ignore, or denigrate. So, I see an obligation on each of us who would use it to have the proper training to effectively carry out violence in whatever way is best suited to our abilities, training, skills, and the situation at hand. I see an obligation on each of us who would keep bonds of frið, grið, and hospitality to be clear on what they will and will not accept within their bounds and to be ready and willing to enforce them.

You Cannot Eat Theory

I just read an amazing quote that sums up my feelings on so much: “You cannot eat theory.”

This goes for leftists, polytheists, environmentalists, for damned near anything. You cannot FUCKING eat theory. If your response to someone struggling is to say ‘read theory x’ or ‘read this book/book list’ you are lost.

A popular saying in polytheist circles, especially Heathen ones, is that ‘we are people of the library’. What this has increasingly come to mean to me is ‘I am going to make information as intentionally hard as possible to find and integrate into others’ lives.’ Folks who trot this line out often miss the point of what a library is: it is an open access point for information and education for all age levels, all experience levels, and all people. If we truly are a people of the library then where are the accessible resources for Heathens?

The predominant attitude in polytheist circles still tends to be that you should have your head buried in a mound of books at any given point in time as opposed to living the religion. Mercifully, community expectations in Heathenry and other polytheist religions are changing. It is a slow change, though. I have watched no small amount of people throw their hands up in frustration as so many resources are out of reach, whether by price point or education. I have invested no small amount of money myself in books, both written by academics and fellow polytheists. I am deeply grateful for open, free-at-access projects such as TheLongship.net for existing -and we deeply need more.

Reading theory is not going to impart or teach polytheist religion. Nor will it teach a living leftist philosophy, a living animist/polytheist worldview, or a living relationship with Jörð. It can intellectually bolster a person, but without the lived component those books and those theories are empty air and a waste of time. You cannot teach mutual aid merely by talking about it. You have to do it. You cannot teach polytheism merely by talking about it. You have to do it.

You cannot feed a person in body, mind, or soul merely with theory.

What this does not mean is that theory is useless. Armchair theories, inapplicable and without access? Those are. Pieces of cloth are not joined without the sewing, knitting, crocheting, nalbinding. There are many ways of joining cloth and what they all share in common is that each requires you to apply the theory of their craft. You do not need to understand all the ins and outs, all the history, or all the whys even, though these are fine and good things to know. What you need to know is if this stitch or bind will work for the cloth at hand, and then to do it.

I can go on at length about the beauty of regenerative agriculture or the wonderful things that can be done with permaculture -or I can show it to you in action. I can literally eat the results of the work I have done with my fellows at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm. So many people who talk a good game about solidarity and community cannot eat or share their results because there is nothing to eat and nothing to share. The food I have put into my mouth at potlucks was because of the hard work started and sustained by the Cavanaugh family. This was work that they allow me, and others they invite to Crossing Hedgerows, to do. Living reciprocity.

If our polytheist communities are going to live, let alone thrive, we have to take the steps necessary so that they are nourishing communities to be in. This means we do need to have standards of behavior, work, and study -especially for spiritual specialists and leaders- and that we also need our resources to be accessible for a range of education and experience levels. For this to happen there needs to be a serious reckoning with reciprocity in polytheist communities for this be done.

It should not be an expectation that community leaders, administrators, writers, spiritual specialists, supporters, and others who are integral to getting polytheist communities started and continuing to function should give away their labor without reciprocity. “You should write a book on it!” is a refrain I have seen more than a few times in regards to my own work and that of others. So, will the community support me so I can do that? Will the community give me and other writers, presenters, etc the resources so it is worth writing the books they want in the first place?

There is no doubt that there are efforts where resources being free at the point of access is needed. The community needs to support that necessary work being done. Whether it is a larger community pillar like a library, community garden, or smaller, such as one’s personal Kindred or other group, without community support each will fail and shut its doors. Likewise, if the needed resources to help folks learn and grow are exclusively kept behind paywalls then that harms the community in kind. Our communities, then, need to be places where our theories, values, ideas, and work are living, vibrant, and engaged with. They need to be lived spaces where reciprocity is not something we talk about, it must be something we do.

We cannot eat theory. What we can do is eat the results of that theory put into practice. What we sorely need in both leftist and polytheist communities are folks who are living examples of good Gebo with one another, who do the necessary work so that theories can be developed and put into action. The beauty of this course of action is that it is immediately accessible to everyone. Whether you are looking locally or online, see what you can do right now for the folks in your community. See in turn what your community can do for you. Talk with those in your community, and make concerted effort to making the bonds of reciprocity in your community better for everyone in them.

Reflection on Polytheism, Tribalism, and Politics

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.

On Ritual Praxis -Structure, Roles and Responsibilities

Up until now the majority of the On Ritual Praxis posts have been applicable to both the individual and to groups. Having started at the individual level and worked our way outward, it is time to dig into the larger spheres Heathens are within. I will start with how my Kindred and I understand the structures Heathens operate within, the structures of Heathenry, and then on to the roles and responsibilities people within them may take up. As with other posts in regards to On Ritual Praxis, these are meant to be guides rather than exhaustive, and reflective of how my Kindred and I work. Folks may have different kind of relationship based on structure, worldview, or specific home culture from which their Heathen religion springs.

Structures in Heathenry -Innangarð and Utgarð

The most basic structure in Heathenry for my Kindred and I is the innangarð and utgarð. The innangarð, meaning within the yard/enclosure, start with our Gods, Ancestors and vaettir, us as individuals, our families (chosen and blood), and our Kindred. This innangarð extends out to our allies and friends. Those who are not innangarð are utgarð, outide the yard/enclosure.

Why does this structure matter so much?

It is how we prioritize our lives. It is where we understand ourselves as fitting within, and to whom we owe obligation. It is how we understand how our ørlög and Urðr unfolds, and to whom both are tied most tightly. This does not mean that those in the utgarð are beyond consideration, that only our innangarð matters, or that we are given license to ignore the responsibilities we share with the larger communities in which we live. It means that those within our innangarð have highest priority, and it is where the bulk of our energy, attention, and work belongs.

If the basic understanding is that one’s first priorities are to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, then good relationships with Them are one’s first obligation. Likewise one develops a hierarchy of relationships and obligation to one’s self, family, friends, and allies. An understanding of the structure of one’s life begins with understanding one’s cosmology. That understanding then extends into every relationship one has, whether it is with those in the innangarð or those outside it. It extends to every piece of food we eat, even to the media we consume. A cosmology exists everywhere in every moment or it exists nowhere. We do not put our cosmology on pause, we live within it.

The innangarð and utgarð are extensions of our polytheist understanding. Those Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we worship and hold relationships with are within our innangarð. Those we do not are utgarð. This does not mean that Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir that are utgarð are always bad for us or wrong to worship, merely that they are not within our primary scope of obligation. The Holy Powers in our innangarð are those we worship and have relationships with. They are who we turn to when things are rough and who we celebrate festivals and victories with. Likewise, the people in our innangarð are those we turn to when things are rough and help in turn, and celebrate our victories with.

Structures in Heathenry -Families, Hearths, and Tribes

Heathenry as an identifier is useful only insofar as it signals to ourselves and others that our worldview, religion, and culture is based in lived religion whose backgrounds are based in reconstructing/reviving ancient polytheist religions of Northern Europe which included Scandinavia, Germany, and Anglo-Saxon peoples among others. So we may say we are Scandinavian Heathen group, or an Anglo-Saxon Heathen tribe, or a Germanic Heathen hearth. Even so, this breakdown can miss the differences a given Anglo-Saxon Heathen tribe may have from one based in Texas vs Tennessee. We may share cosmological principles, and our conception of and relationships with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir may be similar, but there will always be variations between how we relate to and understand each principle, God, Ancestor, and vaettr based in each person, family, hearth, or tribe’s relationships with these principles and Beings. Innangarð, utgarð, ørlög, and Urðr (or culture-specific names holding similar meaning) as understood through one’s Heathen worldview are the primary means for understanding and establishing webs of relationships. With this in mind, I primarily understand and refer to Heathenry as communities of tribal religions.

Some Heathen groups have not and may never make it to being a tribal group simply because they are a single person, family, or hearth that does not ‘click’ with any other ones. A Heathen whose organizing stays at the individual level has no more or less inherent value than one that is a tribe. It means the way one does ritual will change, who one is tied to in obligation changes, and the complexity of one’s relationships changes. The point of identifying structure is not to make tribe something to aim at nor solitary worship in Heathenry as something to avoid. The purpose of going through these terms, especially in how I am using words here, is to develop words with clear meaning for our communities.

Simply put, a family is a group of people related to each other by blood, marriage, or association. A hearth is the home/place in which a family or many families are gathered with a common religious outlook and practice. Tribes are associations of families and/or hearths linked by shared culture and religion. Mimisbrunnr Kindred, for instance, is a tribe made up of many hearths, each with its own family.

Divisions of Innangarð

I like to think of innangarð and utgarð as a series of circles. The first circle of the innangarð is the hearth, the second the bú (farmstead), the third the Kindred/tribe or other groups, the fourth is the Thing, and fifth are the wider associations we hold.

The hearth, as mentioned before, is in the home. These are the people closest to you, often those sharing your physical space every day. This is the level at which folks provide daily mutual support, raise their families, and live together.

I chose to use the word bú, or farmstead, to describe the second circle to connect the importance of those who are within it. As with a farmstead, those in the second circle together work together in close contact, trust each other, and mutually support one another and complete projects together that benefit each other and their communities. Why not name it something like family or the Kindred? Not everyone who is Kindred may have that kind of relationship with one another, either due to the nature of one’s relationships with a Kindred, time, or space limitations.

The third circle is the Kindred/tribe. These are members of our particular religious and culture communities, such as Mimirsbrunnr Kindred. Some folks at the Kindred level might blend back and forth between the different circles of innangarð, providing support for one another and caring for members within their Kindred/tribe as they can. A person within a hearth circle vs a Kindred circle is that they may provide less material and work support than others at the hearth or bú circle. Kindred ties are often likened to family ones, and this is also part of my experience. The emotional ties are certainly there, but the kinds of things that are expected of me at the hearth level, which includes the meeting of financial obligations and physical needs are less expected at the Kindred level. While I am fully happy to help Kindred members with meeting these needs the expectation is not there that I do that on a regular basis as it is with my hearth.

The Thing is another circle in which I took inspiration from history. A Thing was called to engage in trade, settle disputes, and make plans to work on projects. To my understanding the Thing circle is locally based, including my Kindred in relation to other co-religionists, allies to my hearth, Kindred, and tribe. The Thing circle are those our hearths, Kindreds, tribes, etc. are co-equal with who may come together for cross-community projects, conversation, conventions, or settling of disputes.

The fifth circle, associations, are the communities we have connection to but little in the ways of formal oaths or direct ties into our hearths, Kindreds, tribes, and other closer communities. The association circle we could look at as communities in which we may have mutual interests or some connection with, such as Pagan Pride groups, pan-Pagan groups and gatherings, perhaps the local brewing guild a member might be a part of, etc. These are people we have connections with and may even be important members of, but the connections we maintain with these communities stops at anything insular to our lives. The PPD communities aren’t going to be coming over to my home to help vacuum my house or make sure there’s food in the pantry; that’s a hearth through to Kindred circle thing. We might come together to celebrate Pride day or circle around to remember our Dead, but the community is not involved in one’s everyday life so much as one belongs to the community. A local brewing guild might be a source of great inspiration and camaraderie in the journey of a brewer, but aside from maybe hosting a gathering they will not be involved much in one’s day-to-day life.

Structure in Heathenry -Organizational Models

Since Heathen religions are tribal each group may organize itself differently and for different reasons. In my Kindred’s case our organization structure is hierarchical. I am a goði, filling a role as leader both as a chieftain and priest of the Kindred. As a goði I represent the Kindred as an organization to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the communities in which we live and interact. The others are, at the moment, lay members and do not hold leadership or ritual role positions though any of us might make offerings or prayers. The point of a Heathen goði insofar as we are concerned is as a leader, diviner, priest organizing and conducting rites, a representative for the group before the Holy Powers and communities, and a helpmeet to the Kindred’s members in keeping good relationships with one another and the Holy Powers.

We organize hierarchically in Mimisbrunnr Kindred for a few reasons. The Kindred started as a Rune study group with me leading it, and grew from there into a Northern Tradition/Heathen study group. From there, we grew into a working group, and from that group we grew into Mimisbrunnr Kindred. Our worldview as Heathens is hierarchical, whether we look to our Gods, our ancient Heathen Ancestors, or many of our vaettir as examples of how to organize ourselves. We work with a hierarchy model because through it we are organizing ourselves in a manner similar to our Gods, Ancestors, and many of our vaettir. We work in a hierarchy because it works for us, and we have not been told by our Holy Powers to adopt another model. Our roles in the Kindred are clearly delineated, and the work each of us has to do is supported by each of us doing our work.

Other groups may organize along different lines. I have read on groups which operate in egalitarian ways, and others that organize along strict king/subject relationships. Others organize as loose groups of people who come together to share in the occasional rite together. Each group will need to find which model works for it and the purpose it is gathering for.

Structure in Heathenry -General Roles: Laity, Leaders, and Spiritual Specialists

Laity

Laity are non-specialists in religious communities and tend to comprise the core of most religions’ members. There may be leaders in the laity, such as a head of a hearth or heading up a charity or some essential function in a family, Kindred, or Tribe. What differs laity from spiritual specialists is that lay members’ lives share the common elements of Heathen worldview and religious communities.

Just because a given Heathen is a layperson that does not mean they cannot do spiritual work or that they have any more or less value to a given Heathen community. Any Heathen, given practice and dedication to the work, can learn to divine. What differs a layperson who divines from a diviner, who is a spiritual specialist in a given community, is that the diviner does their work for the community as a respected authority or guide, and the layperson who divines may be talented but does not hold a wider communal role in doing divination.

Leaders

To lead is to “organize and direct”, to “show (someone or something) a destination by way to a destination by going in front of or beside them”, “set (a process) in motion”, to be “initiative in an action; an example for others to follow”.

A leader is someone who shows the way forward by walking it. It is someone that takes responsibility not only for one’s own actions but for anyone that follows them. A leader organize, directs, and sets those around them in motion. Leaders in Heathenry tend to be some kind of spiritual specialist whether or not they hold a formal title in a group. However, this is not a strict requirement. One can hold a leadership position in a group and still refer to spiritual specialists for things like divination or spiritual work needing to be done.

There is at least one leader for the hearth. This is someone who, whether by choice of the hearth or by default, represents that hearth before the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. They model right relationships if there are others in the hearth, tend to be the ones who makes the prayers and offerings first, and does divination to see if offerings are accepted. My wife and I share these duties in our hearth.

Spiritual Specialists

A spiritual specialist is a person who has developed skill, expertise, and works in some kind of religious role within a Heathen community. Some examples of this include goði/gyðja, priests, spiritworkers, diviners, spáworkers, seiðworkers, Runeworkers, and sacrificers, among a great many. Spiritual specialists may do one job, eg diviner or sacrificer, and otherwise hold a role in a given Heathen group like laity.

Spiritual specialists are not, by default, leaders, though many are. For example, a diviner may be consulted by a group, but the diviner may have absolutely no role in how the results of divination are acted on by the group or how a leader reacts and plans once divination has been done. Depending on the size of a hearth, Kindred, tribe, etc there may be no specialized roles like these, or one or two people may be called on to fill multiple roles.

Structure in Heathenry -Hosts and Guests

The structure around hosts and guests in Heathenry has a long history on which the home cultures have a lot to say. The Hávamál, for instance, has a great deal to say on the roles of hosts and guests. Structure of this sort extends to the holders of a hearth and visitors to the hearth itself in or out of ritual. This structure also is present in Kindred members hosting a ritual or gathering to non-members. Whether or not a visitor has religious business with a host makes little difference. As these are lived worldviews, structures like these do not end or start at our doorstep; these are lived wherever we go.

A host’s responsibilities include making sure a given guest is comfortable, free from hunger and thirst, and understands their role in the hearth, Kindred space, ritual, etc. This includes what taboos they need to observe such as “do not touch the altar or ritual items without permission” or a requirement like “make an offering to the hearth’s Holy Powers on entering”. For purposes of a ritual, a host may need to provide instruction for a newcomer to Heathenry, or to provide offerings for a given ritual so the guest can make them. The host needs to be aware as they can of everyone’s taboos, requirements, and so on, so both ritual and non-ritual situations can proceed in peace and order.

A guest’s responsibility includes being careful, humble, and not demanding too much from their host while making every effort to be firm in their own needs and requirements prior to visiting. Observing the rules of a hearth, Kindred meeting, and/or ritual is a must, as is following directions for ritual, and abiding by the host and other guests’ taboos and requirements where able. If conflict can arise it is the guest’s responsibility to inform the host. While a host needs to know everyone’s taboos, requirements, etc they do not live with a guest’s taboos or requirements, and may need reminding.

While this may all seem self-explanatory, the back and forth reciprocity of what I have written here is anything but. Many people may consider asking a person what their taboos or requirements are invasive, while others may be too shy or shrinking to state the needs their Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, or personal circumstances have placed on them. Still others may simply not know how to ask or say, so having that onus on both host and guest is one that can prevent sources of problems. This same onus in regards to ritual also helps to prevent issues arising from a given host or guest’s taboos, needs, or requirements in ritual space. Far better to be notified ahead of time needing to apologize in a ritual for a slight, even if it was not meant.

Such a taboo or requirement may be quite simple. While I drink I have Kindredmates that do not. Part of the onus on me as a leader in a Kindred ritual, such as a celebratory feast, would be to ask what they can drink as a substitute, such as juice or root beer, and provide it, or to encourage them to find an alternative they are comfortable with. The Kindredmate has to be honest with me, asserting their need to have an alcohol-free choice just as I need to sensitive to that need. Likewise, being a diabetic, I may ask that there be diabetic friendly options for me in the celebration feast. The role of host and guest is reciprocal, each having a piece in determining the comfort and well-being of the other.

Structure in Heathenry -Grith and Frith

The word grith is related to sanctuary and security, while frith is related to peace and good social order. Both are to be held sacred by guest and host. A host provides an environment that is safe and secure for the guest, providing a place for grith and frith to be, while the guest does not bring things or do things that would harm grith or frith. Again, reciprocity is the rule of Heathenry.

Which Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are being worshiped are part of how one designs a ritual and influences what good conduct for it would be. Part of keeping grith, especially in ritual, is to be sure that everyone gathered observes the rules of the ritual and the sacred space. If a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr to whom the ritual is dedicated has a taboo to observe then the host needs to be sure everyone is keeping to it. Something as simple as everyone turning off their cell phones prior to a rite is keeping grith.

Keeping frith in ritual is everyone being involved in the ritual and carrying it out well, and avoiding what would interrupt the rite, or cause problems during it. This is part of why roles can be important. If there is a need to do divination then having a designated diviner who divines and interprets the divination will allow the ritual to proceed with good order and clear ways forward. Having a ritual leader allows for the leader to correct missteps or to help with folks unused to ritual, or one of its forms without folks stepping on one another’s toes or undoing the ordered space of the ritual.

Being mindful of the vé, what to or what not to place on it, and at what time, is part of grith and frith. Each hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, layout of their vé, what is and is not acceptable as offerings, on and on, has the potential to be different from any other hearth’s. Open and honest communication about every aspect of a ritual, and if there is to be some kind of celebration, what everyone’s taboos, allergies, etc are is a must. Nothing will spoil a ritual like having to firmly stop someone from making an offering that is taboo, or a post-ritual feast like having to rush someone to the hospital because someone did not list the ingredients in a dish!

Structure in Heathenry -Gebo, Megin, and Hamingja

The focus of Heathen ritual praxis has its feet firmly planted in the idea of gipt fa gipt, gift for a gift. In other words, reciprocity. I often refer to it on this blog as simply Gebo or living in good Gebo. The reason we do ritual is to establish, strengthen, and appreciate our relationships with the Holy Powers. Doing this allows for the good flow of megin and hamingja between the Holy Powers and us, and between those we engage with in ritual.

Megin translates to “might”, “power”, “strength”, “ability”. Hamingja translates to “luck”, “group luck”, group power”, “group spirit”, or it has to do with the guardian of one’s family line or power, often seen in a female fylgja. Where megin is more straightforward, because of the issues Lars Lönnroth states about how hamingja has come down to us, different people relate to the concept in different ways. Some view or experience it as a straightforward force, and others as a spirit. Regardless, megin and hamingja are built well in good Gebo.

Why might we care about having healthy, well cared for megin and hamingja? These are pieces of our soul. Megin is the ability to affect the world around us, to do things. Hamingja is the unfolding of our ørlög and Urðr with others, whether through the spheres of influence we can affect or how others affect us. Megin and hamingja are how we get things done, how are actions are felt through the things we do.

Gebo, megin, hamingja, and all they touch are integrated. By doing right by our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another, we allow for the good flow of Gebo, and the building of good megin and hamingja. By building good megin and hamingja we build our webs of relationships well in ørlög and Urðr. Whether we are alone or in a hearth, Kindred, tribe, or a larger community, in doing this we allow for the foundation of good relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another. These good foundations are what Heathenry is built from.

Thinking on Polytheism and Media

I thought this would be a fun topic to explore as I’m working on finishing up the On Ritual Praxis series of posts.

So much of my thinking on media has been shaped by a key number of factors, including my own perspective as a polytheist, my consumption of and conversations around media with family and close friends throughout much of my life, the books Narrative Medicine and Coyote Medicine by Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, and looking at various video bloggers such as Bob Chipman aka Moviebob or Lindsay Ellis on the role of media in modern life. I use the previous two video bloggers as jumping off points for a lot of thoughts on the very topic of this post because they give nuanced and comprehensive looks at the material they review, and both acknowledge biases they carry up front.

Media is a shared source of culture. It is the music, podcasts, and audio novels we listen to, the news, movies and shows we watch, the books, magazines, and papers we read, and so on. Rather than attach polytheism to an aesthetic, style, genre, etc, polytheist religions and their adherents embrace many Gods, and right along with this embraces many forms of media, and its attendant aesthetics and styles as well. Each kind of media we have the ability to engage with has the capacity to connect us, to enforce or renew our connections, to deepen our relationship with our polytheist religions, Holy Powers, and one another. It’s other edge is that it can do the opposite.

Right now my ears are filled with Flykt’s Forndom as I write on this phone. Much of my playlist is filled with works of similar music, including Wardruna, Heilung, Hagalaz’ Runedance, and Paleowolf. I lean to furs and leathers in my winter dress and t-shirts and shorts in the summer, usually with some kind of geek/nerd or religiously meanginful iconography on the shirts. Folk music and polytheist-oriented podcasts or Great Courses audibooks fill my ears most often. Among the shows I watch are the Marvel Netflix series, anime such as Princess Mononoke and Wolf’s Rain being among my favorites, and documentaries about history, religion, technology, and science. My wife recently turned me onto the English Heritage channel and the BBC series Tudor Monastery Farm on Youtube. I play video games as diverse as The Walking Dead, Civilization, Final Fantasy, and Battlefield. I am a long-time tabletop RPG player, DM, and storyteller.

Despite my various forms of engaging with modern media, as a polytheist I often find myself frustrated. Media’s modern incarnations are so often geared towards the marketing of lowest common denominator material that its overall contribution to the positive development of society has been, and will likely continue to be debated for a long time. Set that aside, and most of the media made is not made for polytheists and much of the media makes that quite clear up front. Modern media is part of culture, and any part of media has a hard time breaking away from the mindset in which it is based. Modern American media, as modern American culture, is so mired in a Protestant Christian mindset, arguably the most toxic elements of Calvinism and Puritanism being its largest holdovers, that it seeps into many space in which there are actual diversities of work taking place.

The last video game I remember playing in which a polytheist religion figured prominently in the plot was in Mass Effect 2, where one of the squad characters worships many Gods as a matter of course and his gods and relationship with them explored in a generally respectful manner. In many of the books that I read polytheism is simply part of the landscape, such as the Jim Butcher Dresden Files books, or American Gods. These two both come with their own caveats. In a funny twist Harry Dresden has interactions with many Gods, but in this he draws a distinction between his interactions with Them and with his friend, Michael Carpenter’s faith as a Catholic, in that Harry does not need to believe in these Gods. They just exist, and his jury is out on Carpenter’s Catholic God. Despite being surrounded by Gods, and in some cases having contractual relationships with different Gods and spirits, Dresden never commits to worshiping any. This is not a problem in and of itself, but Dresden never comments on any but a Native American medicine man/wizard character working with spirits in a relationship rather than transactional way. No one in the Dresden universe has ever to actually have been shown to worship Gods, despite how much They show up and have pull in many of the plotlines he is involved in.

American Gods subordinates the existence of Gods to living through Their worshipers. The central conceit of the story is that Gods are real and live, but their ability to live and affect reality is enabled through the minds of their worshipers, the memories their descendents carry, and through the offerings that the few who believe in Them give. Where Dresden is an agnostic, Shadow is wandering into a world full of Gods, both ancient and modern, blind. As an audience surrogate to start with, he is not bad. Gaiman could have done far, far worse. Shadow struggles with doubt and disbelief in ways familiar to many of us who worship Gods, and his path in the book is similar enough to how I began working with the Old Man that the first time I picked up the book my jaw dropped at some of the parallels.

As a polytheist my view is that both works suffer from positioning the Gods as real, but their worshipers as unreal or utterly absent. As neither Butcher or Gaiman seem to engage the Gods and Their worshipers as being real in their respective works the polytheist view is utterly lost to agnostic points of view embodied in Dresden and Shadow respectively. Are the Gods real in these works of fiction? The simple answer is “Yes”, and the more complicated answer is “Real in what sense?” Butcher’s Dresden universe seems to treat the Gods as real Beings with Their own motivations, some at loggerheads with each other and others in cooperation. His view of the Fae is that They have control and power over/with the forces of nature, and His view of Odin is that the Einherjar are real, and the Wild Hunt actually features in one of his books in a really cool way. The Gods do not lack agency, power, or ability to influence the world in his books. However, Butcher’s development of monotheist characters like Murphy or the Carpenter family without any development at any time of polytheist characers or families shows the operating mindset that Christianity and agnosticism are the default worldviews even with the massive amount of Gods and spirits sprawling through his books.

Gaiman does treat the Gods as real with Their own motivations, views, and conflicts. However, his central premise (Their existence relying on worship) robs Them of being understood in Their own terms. His New Gods, such as Media and Technical Boy, are counted as Gods as well, with sharp divides between Old and New, and the dynamics of these relationships are the lattice on which the plot is built. Yet, his treatment of America is that America is hostile to Gods, that They don’t really have a place here. The one time a Pagan is featured they do not recognize Ostara standing right in front of them, nor recognizes the meaning or impact of Her Day. Granted, when I read this part I grinned like a damn fool since I have heard almost the same thing come out of Pagans’ mouths word-for-word, so Gaiman’s strawperson here clearly isn’t built up out of whole cloth. However, at no point is there a contrast to this person, at no point is a worshiper who keeps good cultus brought forward.

For all that the Gods are treated as real in these stories, we polytheists are non-people in these stories. Despite this glaring flaw I do like American Gods and The Dresden Files quite a bit. It is unfortunate that both works have these flaws, not only because I enjoy these stories, but also that these two are front-runners of urban fantasy fiction. These two have set the tone for many of the urban fantasy series in existence now, with many taking far more liberties with the abilities of their various protagonists’ powers, and more liberties with the reality and abilities of the Gods. Where both Butcher and Gaiman in their works seem to have respect for the Gods even if both are agnostic in regards to Them, more urban fantasy fiction seems to use the Gods rather than have Them as part of the reality of the world their characters are in.

My issue is not with fantasy, urban or otherwise, but with the treatment of Gods as mere characters for plot advancement. It seems many authors do not think through the impact that having many Gods takes on a people, most egregious in fantasy settings. A basic example is a story with a forest God in it. If there is a God of the forest it should make an impact on how the local village would interact with the forest and its denizens, festivals, etc. If polytheism is the default for a fantasy world it should have impact on how characters think, act, fight, fuck, marry, work, worship, raise kids (if they do) and express themselves. Many forms of media, not just genres of writing, could use some healthy polytheist mindsets and attitudes not only in terms of worldbuilding, but focus of plot, worldview of characters, and so on.

This kind of critique carries into any creative media where writing or messaging is a key factor. I do not just want more representation in media of polytheism, I want good representations of polytheisms in media. Whether a work of fiction takes place in our world or another, media does impact how we are perceived and does impact how we ourselves can see ourselves. As the saying goes, “Representation matters.”

Yet, we also need to be careful of taking too much of ourselves from media. Most media is made to sell. That which isn’t are often labors of love, thankfully more being supported through platforms like Patreon, YouCaring, GoFundMe, and similar. To my mind these platforms are powerful ways polytheists can support one another without resorting to dumbing down our ways of thought or the messages we may be asked through our work to bring into the world. Certainly, Bob Chipman and Lindsey Ellis use Patreon as their primary source of income so they can do their work on Youtube. Jim and I’s first podcast, The Jaguar and the Owl, had its costs taken care of by our Patreon supporters.

If we support polytheists in their various ways of making media then our media has more reach and better ability to actually be done and make an impact. An artist will be able to fully commit to their art because they are able to focus on it. An artist only able to do their art part-time because they have bills to pay with a full-time job will have a harder time producing consistent quality work. If we want quality work, whether that is art whether digital or physical, leatherwork, woodwork, yarnwork, video, the written or spoken word, music, workshops, audiobooks, or podcasts, we need to support that work.

A starving artist is one concentrating on trying to get their next meal rather than writing their next book, painting their next painting, or knitting their next project. People suffer more than enough just with the work needed to get to making quality media. This attitude that suffering should accompany media is actively unhealthy and halting a great many people who could be putting themselves to working on something of quality.

It is not just the media we passively consume that we need to be mindful of. We also need to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves. When I play D&D, Shadowrun, or a White Wolf game, I run each setting as a polytheist with polytheist assumptions. As much as D&D has contributed to folks thinking about God purely in terms of functionality, i.e. this is a God of Healing, even D&D has gotten better over the years for expanding on and giving the gods of their worlds mythology for characters and players to dig into. A creator god of the elves in the Faerun setting, Correllion, has an active conflict with Gruumsh, the creator god of orcs. This plays out into gameplay, potentially between player characters (PCs) and certainly between PCs and non-player characters (NPCs). At least since the beginning of 3rd edition, gods in D&D have become more fleshed out. Granted, they are still boiled down in stat blocks, being “God of this” and “Domains for clerics are this” and “alignment is this”. For instance, in alignment Corellion and Gruumsh are chaotic good and chaotic evil respectively.

Being mindful of how we consume our media and how we portray gods through it, even fictional ones, can better portray what a powerful impact a polytheist mindset has on the denizens of a given world and in turn give better representation of a polytheist mindset and its impact to one’s players. What does this matter, though? Isn’t this just something we pass the time with? Sure, as with any media some of it can be mindless consumption, but what we are engaging with we are bringing. It does us good to think on the impact that such consumption and sharing media has on us. Roleplay especially is impactful because we are not passively engaged in someone else’s story. Truth be told, if we are actively reading we are not passively engaged in that, either. Humans roleplay and make stories all the time, so the stories we tell ourselves have impact. Far better we take in and engage with stories in which our voices are heard, understood, respected, and engaged with.

There’s a lot of intersection between polytheists and various media just looking at my own interests that I’ve written about here. Rather than keeping our Gods and our views to ourselves, I would see us expand the people our works touch. To this, I don’t mean boiling down our beliefs to something easily digestible to the lowest common denominator. I mean that whatever our creative interests or engagement with media we make conscious choices so our religions are part of them. Some of our views will be deeply challenging to dominant paradigms just on their own. Being polytheist in and of itself is transgressive because our identity is wrapped up with believing in and worshiping many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

I blog, I podcast, and on occasion I make music and Youtube videos. I recognize that for all the good I may do there I am, by and large, talking with my own people. Some media is just going to do that. There is nothing wrong with that. When it comes to developing and exploring ideas in/of/to our religions many of these conversations are only relevant when in dialogue with our fellow polytheists. Even so, I think polytheists could do with being more forthright in our exploration, engagement, and creation of media so that our religions, norms, communities, and we ourselves have more representation, say, and impact on the societies we live in.

There’s a few reasons for why I would like to see this happen. Practically, the polytheist communities are quite small compared to the American population. Yet, if folks can blow thousands of dollars on various media there is no reason I can see that we cannot or should not tap into that as well for our own purposes. Further, so long as we are not in control of our own messages others will be. Polytheists producing and disemminating our own media is part and parcel of wielding power and influence. We can change perspectives by actively engaging in the public spheres as polytheists. Engaging in this way can deepen dialogue, develop perspectives, and open channels of communication between our wider communities and with one another. Engaging with the wider sphere of our cultures through media of all kinds allows our views to be heard and allows for change to take place, great and small, whose course we help to directly influence.

Revelation and Experience in Building Polytheist Myth

After reviewing responses to Developing Polytheist Myths I felt a whole new post digging into the ideas I fleshed out there would be of use.

The focus of that post was to say that we need to be open to the Holy Powers revealing myths to us in a variety of ways, including as part of the natural landscape, or in experiences persuant to natural features like rivers, waterfalls, etc. I was trying to get that across in the Shining Lake Grove example and in the exploration of the idea of their being a potential Odin-of Michigan. What I am not saying is that we should make new myths for our Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. Rather, we should be open to Their stories unfolding to or within us, whether through direct revelation, and/or in experience in relationship with Them.

Personal devotion, as well as going through the work of developing discernment for both laypeople and spiritual specialist alike is part and parcel of this work. Good devotion is rooted in orthopraxy and orthodoxy, both of which inform and work with each other in lived relationships with the Holy Powers. If, as I have put forward again and again that lore is the map and not the territory, it makes sense that for our own experiences of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir bring more details to that map.

PSVL made a good number of points that I want to expand on:

Edward Butler and I have spoken a few times about another nature of myth and mythic narrative: it can in itself be theophanic, which is to say it can reveal the nature and/or character of a Deity rather than having simply explanatory power. In other words, a given myth doesn’t just say why (e.g.) Zeus is associated with this particular mountain, or how a particular cult practice emerged, or why some aspects of the natural world reflect the Deity, but instead the story itself is a revelation (I know many people in our religious communities are allergic to that term in a spiritual context, but here we are!) of the Deity.

I agree. The stories of encountering our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in a place are revelations. Each time we tell the Creation Story, or one of the stories, the myths, of our Holy Powers, it is enlivened in that the story is lived through the experience of storyteller telling the story, the listener in hearing the story, and in the reaffirmation of cosmogeny/cosmology between the storyteller, listener, and the Holy Powers from Whom the story was received. New myths that result from the revelation of our Holy Powers to us also affirm cosmology, and in these revelations our relationships with Them as part of that cosmology. New myths reaffirm how the Holy Powers may relate to individuals and to our communities as wholes. There is not an ‘overriding’ in my understanding of this, but a deepening of relationships with the Holy Powers. It takes what mythology was left to us and brings it into lived myths that inform our religions, our lives, our worldview.

PSVL went on:

It’s a subtle difference, and one that gets very tricky to discuss, because for some people that can then easily lead to an even more ossified sense of myth, and–perhaps even worse–scripture and even potential literalism and bibliolatry in the way that such has occurred in certain other religions (sometimes in a more benign form…I’d say evangelical fundamentalist biblical literalism is far more pernicious and horrific in its implications than the Sikhs regarding the Shri Guru Adi Granth Sahib as a living entity and continuous guru, or Jewish people burying old Torah scrolls and dancing with them on Simchat Torah, etc.); however, that need not be the case. If we understand that there is a separation between any given myth, or even mytheme, and a text as an instantiation of such, then there’d be less problem…

Whether generally pernicious or generally beneficent, it is important that polytheism not engage in ossifying its myths and mythologies so that experience is only ever allowed in reification of what has come before. Polytheist religions need have a firm foundation while being open to a variety of experiences and understandings, including potential divergence. There is a need to be open to new expriences, including revelations while retaining the grounds of the myths the polytheist religions are built on. This ground of myths includes how the myths unfold, and includes where they unfolded before coming into our hands. It is a call to be firmly grounded in what has come before and is part of our current relationships with the Holy Powers while also being open to these relationships taking on differing forms given where we live and the desires of our Holy Powers possibly having changed since our religious Ancestors worshiped and lived in relationship with Them.

Ossification of myth is dangerous as it limits contact and interaction with the Holy Powers to the past. Note that this is not an attack on traditions. Rather, in order for a tradition to flourish it needs to be lived. In polytheism divination and revelation are two ways in which the Holy Powers engage in active dialogue and relationship with us. To cut out revelation and/or divination and thus, the new myths that can result, denies the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir active hands in our relationship. It relegates our relationship to historicity, history being the sole arbiter of a lived relationship with the Holy Powers rather than being part of the 3-legged stool mentioned in the last post.

This goes along with PSVL’s point in regards to the difference between myth and mythology:

Something else that I’ve never heard discussed in a practical religious context, but which a limited number of academics do acknowledge, is the difference between myth and mythology–the latter is not simply the formalized study or collection of myths, but instead reflects a stage of a culture which indicates that the myth is no longer a living part of the culture which informs everyday understanding. For how many modern polytheists is the reality that we have mythology (as reflected in sources like Snorri, e.g.) rather than living myth? It’s an interesting question, and also an uncomfortable one…

In my experience many polytheists are reflecting on mythology and not engaging with myth. That is, for some polytheists what we have is not part of a lived cosmology but rather something abstract or “out there” being reflected on. If the myths are not informing lived relationships then the myths have already ossified or are ossifying into mythologies. When myths are not lived they become things to be studied and looked at, but no longer informing living, vibrant cosmologies. It leaves the realm of our lived polytheist religions and enters religious studies, history, anthropology, and so on.

Melas the Hellene had this to say:

I think it would first and foremost be necessary to distinguish decisively between divine myths and human/heroic myths. Myths that recount a Deity’s new actions, functions, etc. or directly relate to the nature of a Deity should (in my opinion) be best avoided.

The modern world as it stands is full of troublesome shifts and turns (some are not mistaken to call it also polluted to degree) that myth making about the Gods would only weaken the core and the original myths.

The modern world is full of troublesome shifts, but to see that all the modern world is polluted and somehow the past was not is engaging in some pretty fiercely rose-tinted glasses. Yes, there is much in the way to restoring and revitalizing our religious communities. However, what I think is a solid stumbling block to this is that personal devotion, experiences, and unfolding of relationships are often sidelined either for some nebulous idea of what is approved in the lore that remains to us, or that we lack capacity in some degree so we cannot or should not enter into new territory with our Holy Powers.

Seeing as how myths involve Gods, and sometimes Ancestors and spirits, i.e. The Volsunga Saga and Odin, and Athena with Heracles in His Twelve Labors, I would say that unless we are intentionally editing our myths rather than receiving them, we ought not aim for any kind of thing with our myths. Rather, we should receive our experiences that bring us to potentially new myths, and bring them fully and faithfully to our communities. From there we can work with discernment to determine if these are myths that are now part of our understanding of the Holy Powers. We live in the modern world. We ought to be able to find resonance with at least some of our Holy Powers within it.

Melas goes on:

One exception to this is mythical reconstruction, as for example with the Celtic tradition, where many myths are lacking; this task would be best left to a council of well-informed and well represented preisthood who can serve the Gods in question properly. In general, preserving and worshipping the Gods is what we need, and if there’s a desire to engage further, new hymns and festivals are safer and better than myths. Now, this precaution would not be needed with human/heroic myths, where the brave and renowned deeds of great ancestors among men and women would be remembered. Two important points in my opinion should be mentioned here: 1) these myths should not be the work of a particular individual (otherwise it becomes history) but rather the collective product of a community 2) the myth should be at first oral and unwritten for an extended period of time (perhaps at least a few generations, otherwise it becomes history again) in which case it would organically develop and then, if worthy, both Gods and men will allow it to survive and pass into myth. These two points are meant to protect the elevated status that a myth ought to have, rather than expose them to human ambition. Thus much I have to say for the time being.

While a council of spiritual specialists may be ideal, for a lot of communities that is where that notion will start and end. We have few spiritual specialists, let alone enough in community with one another that would be able to effectively make a council. There’s also questions of certain spiritual specialists having the ability or skillset to effectively serve on such a council. The encouragement of dialogue and discernment is the encouragement to working on these things within our community, as these issues are already being made manifest within our communities whether or not they are ready for them.

Melas’ point in the creation of festivals does not make sense to me. If a God reveals a new myth to me, I would dishonor Him to merely make a new festival or hymn rather than teach the new myth. Making a new festival in reaction to a revelation strikes me more as intentionally modifying myths to suit our needs than it does to communicate what the God has given to me to communicate faithfully. This holds the same to his views on how myths should be incorporated. If my God gives me a myth to share, whatever the medium that God gives me to give to others is the one I use. My desires, views, etc are secondary to faithfully carrying out the Work of sharing the myth.

Many polytheist communities need to incorporate new myths not only because there is a lack of primary/secondary sources, as Melas notes, but also because this is something already in progress in a variety of polytheist communities. We’re not getting out in front of anything. Rather, wrote the previous post and this one because these experiences are already happening to folks and to whole communities. Far better for us to develop discernment and means of incorprating these new myths than to dismiss them out of hand or relegate them to less than the experiences our forebears had.

He goes on later in the comments to say:

a) If there’s “a need to experience the Gods here and now” wouldn’t hymns and festivals (and I’ll music) best fulfil such a desire? The divine myths that I objected to forming recount a God’s actions. Who are we to say what the Gods do in particular communities? That’s a rather human centered approach than a divine centered one.

Ultimately it is a given Holy Power that tells us how to celebrate and understand Them. Otherwise we are doing things for our benefit and our comfort. It is not ours to say what the Gods do in particular communities. Rather, for those of us who are given experiences, it is on us to faithfully communicate them. When those experiences involve the communication of new myths, it is on us to share them as the God(s) would have us do so. To do otherwise is human-centric and not Gods-centric.

I am going to split up b) into sections to better tackle it.

b) To continue the point above, you give an interesting example about Odin in Michigan. I’m sorry to say that Michigan’s local/regional cultus as well as its natural landscape have nothing to do with Odin, but everything to do with the indigenous Gods that were once there, until they were supplanted by colonialism.

Michigan’s local/regional cultus as well as its natural landscape have everything to do with Odin. How we understand Him through our locally-based experiences colors our understanding and the unfolding of His relationships with us in our lives and in our community. If we understand that the Icelandic myths were influenced by the local environment, i.e. the Creation Story with Fire and Ice reflecting the landscapse of Iceland as much as the experience and understanding of the Creation Story itself, then it makes sense that our experiences of the Holy Powers and our relationships with Them are influenced by our environment as well.

There is nothing to back up the assertion Melas makes here that regional cultus has nothing to do with Odin. I am a Heathen and therefore worship Heathen Gods. When I interact with my Ancestors, I do so as a Heathen. When I worship the landvaettir I do as a Heathen. Heathenry is my primary locus. I am a polytheist worshiping many Gods from many places, and while I worship Greek Gods in Their way and Egyptian in Theirs, the way live my life is primarily carried out through being Heathen and through that Heathen worldview.

I am not a Native American of Michigan. I can firmly believe that the Manidou are as real and powerful and so on as my own Gods but I cannot approach any of these Holy Powers through, for instance, an Ojibwe or Potowatami lens. To do otherwise is colonialism. In this case, colonizing the Native peoples’ traditions and ways of relationships with their own Holy Powers. Now if, as I have been shown with some Holy Powers there are good ways of interacting, i.e. offerings, prayers, etc. by those who are Native that is one thing. However, not being Native, not raised in the Native cultures, I cannot approach things as a Native. I must approach them as a Heathen or be lying to myself and all the Holy Powers, including the Manidou and local spirits. Even in approaching the Native spirits, big or small, I come to these as a Heathen. I have to -I cannot come to these vaettir as Native. If I am taught how to interact with Them in a manner best suited to them, again, this is one thing, and where I can it is just good reciprocity to learn. That said, there’s a lot of forgotten Gods, Ancestors, and spirits for whom my approach works and works well.

I wouldn’t implicate Zeus into where I live in America in order to feel better about myself while knowing that doing so is in effect replacing and not acknowledging a God that was native here. Again, we should have a divine centered approach. Where the Gods were born and where they have always lived, that is there divine home and mythical landscape. Bringing my Zeus and your Odin arbitrarily into the local cultus of America literally makes them patrons of colonialism. The same coule be said of all intrusions on indigenous land (tribal or modern) but we all know the case is especially severe with the native Americans.

For Heathens here in Michigan understanding and relating to our Holy Powers, developing myth and understanding of Them must be done through the Heathen worldview in the environment here in Michigan. To do so is not to implicate Odin over a Manidou or spirit, but to understand that Odin is Odin and that Manidou is a Manidou, and that being distinct from one another and being a Heathen first and foremost my cultus goes to Him. If I am lucky enough to be introduced to Manidou and other Native spirits and introduced in how to respectfully engage in relationship with Them then approaching Them in the manner prescribed is important, as it is both respectful and the right thing to do.

Having a divine-centered approach means that understanding some things are not for me as much as it means respecting where I am. Some relationships with some spirits are closed to me, whether due to the Gods I worship, my Ancestors, or the vaettir with whom Iam aligned. It would be colonialist of me to assume I can or should engage with the local land spirits or the Manidou in the same was a Native. To assume that I have a right to that kind of relationship, to the sacred ways of the Native peoples, or that the Native spirits even want that kind of relationship with me is a colonialist attitude.

What kind of myth making will be used to justify Zeus or Odin intervening in non-indigenous land? The forgotten native Gods who have been torn away long for justice and for a return, and they don’t need foreign companionship or replacements to achieve that.

There’s no need to ‘justify’ our Gods being here. They are here. Perhaps we will find They have worked out agreements with the Gods and spirits here. Perhaps we will find out that we’re all together in this land with one another in these places and we need to figure out between ourselves how best to live with one another. Rather than speaking on behalf of Native Gods, forgotten or well remembered, I think it best to remember my place as a human being and not speak on Their behalf or that of my own Gods, but to do my bet to live in good relationship with my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and those of this land.

I do not see my Gods as ‘replacements’. Rather, my Gods are just that: my Gods. I am not Native, was not raised in Native ways, and rather than appropriate Native practices and religions I am doing what I am called to do: to worship my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in my community’s ways. I do not know what Native Gods need or desire until They make this known to me. I would not presume to tell Them or Their Peoples what They need, desire, or call us to do.

c) Concerning the authority of communities to make myths, I’m not very sure if we should use that term where lore is much more applicable. From what is known about ancient Greeks and their myths, myths are very old (150+ years) and the only way for communities to develop them (however the means) is after such a long period.

Whereas I think if authority is not based in the community and that authority of the community is not based in lived relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, sooner or later these cease to be lived relatioships and ossify from myth into mythology. That’s not to say the old myths should be dismissed, ignored, or not part of the ongoing relationship of people and their relationship with myth (read: living theology) and the relationship that flows from this with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. If theology becomes merely academic it becomes part of the realm of religious studies. If myth becomes merely academic it becomes part of the realm of mythology, and all the academic fields connected to this.

I think there may be a point missing in this conversation in regards to the establishment of myths. Namely, in that someone had to have an experience that informed how the myth came to be. Perhaps a poet had an ecstatic experience and was given a new myth to tell from a God or family of Gods. Perhaps an ordeal was undertaken by a village of people and a unique experience of salvation or pain was inflicted on the village by a Holy Power. There is some kind of foundational story in which the Holy Powers impact a person and/or a community, and from there comes the myth.

Melas is talking specifically from his viewpoint of a Greek polytheist, as he has mentioned, what he considers a traditionalist perspective. It could be this is a key point he and I are talking past each other. Compare, for instance, the sources of Heathen lore; we don’t have the volume or the depth of primary sources or secondary ones. Consider also the archaeological finds that have been powerful in filling in a number of areas for Greek polytheists of many stripes that Heathenry yet lacks.

d) I never said that oral mythology is totally resistant to human ambition (your word “intervention” I wouldn’t use). My point was oral mythology was far more resistant because it necessitates collective participation and transmission, unlike writing.

Here Melas is correct and I agree that oral histories tend to be incredibly accurate both to the content of the story and in the integrity of the story/stories due to the various factors in communicating them, not the least including amazing feats of memorization, taboos, and respect for the sacred nature of storytelling.

e) For the reasons in (d), I would repeat the same point about individuals making myths. Orpheus is a mysterious character, but it’s possible we think of him as an individual only because he came as a stranger to a new part of Greece (he was Thracian) leaving behind his native tradition. Nevertheless, it was his followers who wrote about him, and I blame them (if he were indeed the historical character he seems to be) for elevating him to myth so suddenly. But regardless of my traditional opinion, the point remains that he didn’t make myths about himself but they collectively did of him.

I don’t understand why the need to use the word ‘blame’. If His works are correct, in keeping with good relationships with the Holy Powers, and oracles and various omens were in keeping with that (see the earlier points I have made on discernment) what would it matter if they waited five minutes after receiving his teachings or 150 years? To me this an arbitrary number that seems to pride time as an arbiter of relationships with the Holy Powers and the passing on of Their myths, teachings, stories, etc., rather than good relationships with the Holy Powers.

f) The few extant sources on the Germanic myths do not suggest that those ancient myths originally developed also out of a few individual sources. They were rather a collective tradition that had the misfortune (and good fortune) to be transmitted by a few surviving works.

My point in hammering on individuals so much is not that the collective does not matter, but that individuals at some point had to have had experiences of the Holy Powers, and had the wisdom and ability to communicate this to future generations. An entire village could have had experiences with a Holy Power and yet, the way that the story is passed on, that it becomes a living myth, is through the storyteller or storytellers. Moreover, each telling of a myth is in some way, shape, or form, reengaging that myth.

In this understanding each time I tell the Creation Story I am, with the help of the Holy Powers and my own abilities as a storyteller, bringing to life each moment of that myth. Storytelling, aka mythtelling, and relating myth to others is a powerful and sacred act. It is dangerous because, in the case of Creation Stories, you are at once telling the living myth of how the Universe and all things came to be and still operate. It is orienting the understanding of those humans listening and living in the telling our place with the Holy Powers, how we are to act rightly, what our place is in the cosmos.

These myths, these powerful and holy stories are how we come to understand and know our Gods, our Ancestors, and our spirits. To tell a myth poorly, whether to misspeak or to get something totally wrong can throw the people out of good relationship with the Holy Powers. To tell a myth well is to lay a good foundation for generations to come. If we receive myths, then we need to relate them and teach them well, that we lay a good foundation for those generations coming after us.

The #DoMagick Challenge Day 10

Naudhiz

Nauðiz (Wikimedia Commons)

Today I did galdr with Nauðiz.

Today I cleansed with the Eldest Ancestor, Fire.   Today’s galdr was held before my altar to Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir.  When I lit the candle, a white seven day candle, I made the Fire Prayer and thanked the Eldest Ancestor for cleansing me, purifying me for the work ahead.  I then sat the candle on the ground in front of me throughout the galdr.

In the first galdr in the round I was shown flint and steel coming together, sparks showering over collected tinder.  My voice was croaking and throaty.  I was in a snowy forest, and had dried tinder, and then larger pieces in the small circle of stones I had collected.  I had larger pieces waiting beside the fireplace.  The next galdr I was shown a firebow, the bow spinning in the board and a little coal smoking, being set to tinder, and fire coming up to eat the tinder, lapping against small sticks.  The last galdr of the first round I was shown a small hand lighter lighting a cooking fire, a grill from the looks of it.

I passed the candle around myself and thanked Fire for cleansing me, and breathed deeply to prepare for the next round of galdr.  The first galdr of this round my voice was warm.  I saw fire in an ancient style tent, in a longhouse, and in a fireplace.  The second galdr of the second round, I saw food cooking in different places: a campfire, a hearthfire, and a modern grill.  The third galdr of this round I saw various things being preserved in smoke such as meat and vegetables and fish, and then it moved into a good-sized pipe, not too long but certainly not small, being smoked.

Again, I passed the candle around myself and thanked Fire for cleansing me.  I breathed in and prepared for the last round of galdr.  This time my voice was croaking and low, almost hissing.  I could feel that this was the ways to deprive someone of what they needed, and each part of this round I saw different things denied to people.  The fire in the hearth was cold and would not light.  The fire was dead in the campfire and the food could not cook.  The people gathered around a fire and another person was left in the cold, backs turned to him.  Another vision and a door was shut and bolted against someone.  The sparks would not light, the tinder would not catch.  Hunger and cold, and freezing water.  Disease in water.  Then, as I finished the last part of the final galdr, I felt warmth again, and the candle before me seemed to glow a bit brighter.  It was Nauðiz was reassuring me.

I cleansed with the candle as before, thanking it for cleansing me.  I then did my usual prayers to Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir, asking the Eldest Ancestor to help me come back to normal space as I blew out the candle, thanking the Eldest Ancestor.  Next time I will snuff the candle; it is more respectful.

Link to the Daily Ritual for the Challenge.

#DoMagick