Growing food and connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir related to it is an area of life that, as a shaman, I have only recently had the time off to devote to it. In previous years my schedule was so up-and-down or constantly changing that getting out and helping with the garden consistently was damned near impossible. Last year we could not even maintain a garden outside of the yearly asparagus harvest due to our home’s varying schedules. This year I have a far more stable schedule, so now I can give the time to get in the garden and learn from the Holy Powers and my living family. I did not realize it till sitting down and writing it, but that is one hell of a burden lifting off of me. I have enough hours to keep up with bills and enough time off consecutively so I can get things done.
We actually have a good deal of plants in the ground this year. Lots of tomatoes, green beans, and beets. We also planted squash, zucchini, and a few herbs. Provided the birds lay off of them for a bit, we should have a good harvest. In past time where we have planted equivalent amounts of tomatoes, green beans, and similar plants, we’ve had a good-sized stockpile even after giving away some of the harvest to family and friends. It’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to the fall harvest.
There’s more to connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside than just my garden or the local parks, though. As I mentioned in the previous post, Skaði has charged me to learn how to hunt, to skin and dress a kill. I have a wonderful Aunt with a standing offer to teach me to bow hunt after I take a safety course. I am also blessed with a good friend who has offered to teach me the same. With the amounts of time I have off every week I am actually far closer to making this a reality and fulfilling the rest of the obligations I have with Skaði.
The fertility of the landvaettir is a blessing, one that I believe we carry as an obligation to keep in partnership with Them. It feeds us, nourishes us body, mind, and soul as surely as we help nourish the landvaettir by living well with Them. The soil, the plants, and the animals all deserve their due, their respect. Whether we are hunting, fishing, gardening, farming, ranching, or foraging, without the Gebo of honoring the cycles around us and taking care in our work, we do deep harm. We can see the effects of this breakdown in how neonicotinoids are harming honey bees, how fracking is poisoning the water we drink, and how the elimination of predators has deeply upset the balance in regards to deer and similar animal populations.
Paying attention and honoring the cycles of life and seasons brings us into closer alignment with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Given a good number of the surviving holidays we have are directly tied to seasonal and harvest cycles, it also helps to place them into a context that makes a good deal more sense than celebrating because a date rolls around. I think as polytheists, Heathens and otherwise, carry traditions forward even more variations will emerge based on the climates where we live. Truly partnering with the Holy Powers in our lives is working with the cycles we have rather than the cycles we are told by a book we ought to be imitating. Many of us live in places where the seasonal cycles are different from, or simply do not match those that have survived in lore and archaeology. If we are to live in good Gebo with the Holy Powers we will need to adapt to the way things are.
Part of living in better Gebo with the Holy Powers also requires us to look at how we live outdoors. What do our practices like gardening, farming, ranching, and the like have on the soil, the plants, the animals, and the water? How does water flow? Are the lands our homes rest on full of one-species non-native grass? Why? How can we better encourage native species to flourish? How can we encourage the fertility in land, plant, and animals that makes life possible? How do we live in good Gebo with the world around us?
I found myself seeing a lot of these answers in person at the Amma Center Amrita Farms in Ann Arbor and from the MI Folk School. More importantly, Sylverleaf and I were able to get hands-on experience with these answers. We spent a day at the Amma Center with the people working on the farm area, permaculturists who have worked a great deal to help the land distribute water more effectively, and to utilize the space to greater effect for food production without using pesticides or insecticides. We explored the creation of berms and swales, hugelkultures, crater gardening, the use of a keyline plow to make small keyline swales, the creation of compost tea, and small-scale orchard creation.
For those unfamiliar, here are some links for what berms and swales are, and how they are made. This PDF explains berms and swales in pretty simple terms with explanations of when they are and are not good design ideas. This link has a good overview and video on swales. This link shows berms and swales in action on a project for a front yard rain garden. The work Sylverleaf and I did at Amrita Farms’ main area for berms and swales was to help transplant some apple trees out to areas better suited to them. The staff led us on a survey of the berm and swale systems, and how it solved the Farms’ water flow problems.
What I want to stress here is that this is not fighting the landscape or imposing a system the land rejects. Rather, it is helping the land to better work with water runoff to help solve water allocation issues one might have. In many cases the berms serve not only as physical landscapes for the water to run over, but also a gathering point for plants to help combat soil erosion, helping to increase the ability of the land to keep its shape and provide fertility to the soil. The swales give the water places to go without disrupting the landscape, and it helps catch water in the soil in a way that is efficient and works with the land rather than dumping all the water into a low point where it can attract mosquitoes and other insects.
In another section of the Farms, keyline plowing was used. This link has a good overview on the technqiue. It was done in an area where full-blown berms and swales would not have been desirable, and allowed for water to flow into the cut channels in directions that helped maximize water retention, and guided excess water to a pond. Again, what was emphasized was this worked with the flow of the earth, with the keylines acting as guides for the water to flow. While the Farms used laser-guided equipment and had a tractor come out to do the keyline work, we were shown that land surveying can still effectively be done by hand using simple survey techniques, and that (depending on the soil and one’s resources) having animals do the keyline plowing would not be out of the question.
The last, and for me the most fun I had at Amrita Farms, was when we made a hugel. Hugelkultur is a beautiful way to compost wood, and a description of it is here. Since we have a decent amount of deadfall at our home I am looking at making a hugel, though far smaller than the one we made at the Farm. That’s the beauty of methods like these: most can be made to suit far smaller pieces of property than farms, and the projects that required mechanized equipment like the berms and swales, can be done by hand with a shovel or pick.
What I bring home from these workshops, again and again, is that there are far more healthy and wise ways to live in Gebo with Jörð than what capitalism and agribusiness continues to push at and on us. These ways are far more accessible than one might think at first; permaculture can scale with one’s home and land (even if that land is, say, a community garden space), and hugelkulture can use great dead trees, or twigs as needed. These ways, found in permaculture, gardening, various types of natural home-building, and so on, are ways we can live upon Her that helps us as people live more whole lives, and in doing so, bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If we take in these ways and help to foster them in others, we can help our future generations survive and thrive. Taking these steps to restore our connection and relationships with Jörð and the landvaettir takes the vital connections that were sundered in and between our communities, and seeks to tie them together even stronger, I can think of precious few gifts we could give the next generation than a lived, healthy, powerful relationship with the Holy Powers, and lived, healthy, powerful, relationships with our communities, both grounded in trust, respect, and honor.
As I mentioned in Part 1, as I become inspired (or pushed, as the case may be) to write, I will add to this series of posts.
My indoor and outdoor vés and worship spaces get more time from me depending on the time of year, and where I am feeling drawn. Given that now is the planting season, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outdoors. My family maintains a main vé outdoors in a small grove of trees where I have placed Odin’s godpole and where our family makes our Sacred Fires. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Hela and Niðogg’s vé is the compost heap. When we finally spread the soil after a year of adding to it, it was dark black, and had a rich sweet smell to it. Where animals have been buried, all in the main vé, I also feel Hela’s presence.
This entire last week or two I’ve been outside quite a bit with the family in the large garden we’ve been prepping, tilling, then planting. Every time we go out there is a time to pray, every action out there an opportunity to come closer to the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and other vaettir. It doesn’t replace the offerings I make. I make those too. It might be a glass of water on a vé, it might be smoke offered from tobacoo or mugwort in a sacred pipe, those same herbs placed in/upon the Earth, or an offering from me as I do the work such as a song or praise.
Today, as I dug each small hole for the green beans, I prayed to Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, the landvaettir, the Disir, the Väter, and the Ancestors. I sang songs I was taught in Ojibwe, and I sang songs for my Catholic Ancestors, who were coming on strong today, with my Dad as we planted. The days when I dug the Earth I sang songs for Jörð and the landvaettir. Increasingly, making songs for the Holy Powers is becoming a part of my offerings alongside the others. I like it. It’s an offering of breath and creativity, since a lot of the songs I’m making up the verses as I go along.
The Ancestors have been there every time, and fairly thick. I’m not surprised; up until my generation, most of my family on both my parents’ sides have come from farmers. It makes sense that I would feel a lot more of Them during similar activities, and that They are pushing for me to get land, animals, and the like. I felt some different Ancestors around me, though, when my Dad hit a mole with the rototiller Friday. Rather than simply bury it, my Mom actually suggested I skin it.
I asked the mole if it would give me permission to skin it. When she agreed, I set up a space for it in the main vé. I asked Ansuz to help me cleanse, Gebo to help me ground, and did my usual grounding, centering, cleansing, and shielding work. This would be my first time skinning an animal; I wanted to do it right. Given Dad’s done it before, he showed me how to sharpen the knives I might use, and briefly explained the cuts I would need to make. I returned to the vé, and made prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and landvaettir, asking for Their help. At first I was surprised by Skaði’s Presence. Then, I remembered: A long time back when I was first introduced to Skaði by Odin during my ordeal on the Tree and work in the Nine Worlds, She had tasked me with, among other things, learning how to make a kill, skin, and dress it. While I do still need to do this in full, She let me know this was a good first step.
It turns out skin is damned tough. I knew the knives were sharp, but this being my first time out, I wasn’t expecting how tough, especially on a little thing like a mole. I was frustrated. So, I returned and asked Dad if there was something I was doing wrong. He came out, looked at it, and then mentioned to me that he usually started from a cut along the throat in bigger animals. In this case, he felt I should behead the animal. I asked the mole for permission to do so, and when the mole gave it, I did. I took a breath, made some prayers, and focused. I looked at the knives in front of me, and finally went with the smallest: a slim, curved steel knife with a deer antler hilt, a wolf burned into the pommel. Again, I took a breath, made prayers, and focused. I felt an Ancestor help guide me. “This way,” Their hand on mine, showing me. I cut, felt the blade slide through skin, flesh, flesh the crunch of bone, cartilege as I severed the mole’s head. I thanked it for allowing me to do this, to take its body and make something from it. To learn from it. I set the head gently aside, bowed my head to it, and proceed to skin the rest of it. An occasional ‘Good’ or ‘Careful’ from one of the Ancestors. It went a good deal faster than I thought it would, and in about half an hour or so, I had it skinned and fleshed without damage to the fur or the skin. I heard a ‘Good’ from Skaði and heard no more from Her, though Her Presence lingered until the mole was buried. I pinned the skin to a good-sized chunk of wood, stretched it, and placed pickling salt on it. I will be getting some alum as well, and following instructions to make this a pliable, tanned skin.
When its skin was safe in a dark corner of the garage, I returned to the sacred grove with a shovel, and offerings. I asked the landvaettir for permission to dig, and once They gave it, and I ‘felt’I had found the spot, I dug a small hole. I prayed to Hela and Niðogg, asking Them to accept the mole. I placed the body inside, put down some tobacco and mugwort in offering to the mole and covered the hole. I then gave some in offering to the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir. I washed the ceramic tile I had used, and went inside. I made prayers as I physically cleaned the knives and my hands, thanking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their patience, willingness to teach, and the sacrifice of the mole.
It’s interesting in reflecting on it. The life-generating cycle of prepping, tilling, and planting was started just a few days after this animal was killed and skinned. I approach both in a sacred way because both are sacred. I was not inspired to give songs for the mole; I was inspired to give reverent silence and my full care to the process of skinning, of not damaging the gift that she had given me. I was inspired to sing loudly during the prepping, the tilling, and the planting. Different sacred encounters with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir ask us to take different attitudes, actions, and offerings. Perhaps the next time I skin an animal it will ask for a song, or for many songs. Perhaps it will ask that I dance. Perhaps Skaði or Freyr will ask that I dance, or sing, or to be silent. Perhaps the next time I prepare a field, or till a field, or plant, the landvaettir, or the Gods will ask for my silence, a Sacred Fire, a ritual from my family, or perhaps They will ask for the same offerings year after year.
In connecting with my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside, it has made me realize just how much I rely on Them. It made me realize in very grounded terms that I am vitally connected with the Holy Powers in very down-to-Earth ways: that Freyr is in the asparagus as well as His statue, that He helps to give life to the land, and that Gerda is both present on the Gods’ altar and in the garden giving life to the land and growth to the plants. I understand the landvaettir are the asparagus, tomatoes, beans and squash as much as They are the trees of the sacred grove, the grass of the lawn, the animals that dart about them, and the rich earth of the garden itself. In understanding this, I understand the landvaettir are part of the house and the land, and that this land (and a good deal more I may never see, i.e. farms, mines, production areas, etc.) will help to sustain my family and I. In understanding this connection I know that the Ancestors are right here with me, supporting me in the work at hand, and that if I listen They will help guide me in what to do. All of these things reinforce the understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are as vital a part of our communities as its living human members are.
Connecting and understanding my relationship with the Holy Powers is knowing, and especially acknowledging, that I need these connections spiritually as well as physically. In putting my hands in the Earth and asking the Holy Powers to help me grow the food, I asking Them to help me be a shaman that, paraphrasing the words of my dear friend Two Snakes, “can make the beans grow”. I am asking Them not only to help me feed my family and I physically, but feed us spiritually as well, living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and furthering my path as a shaman.
This post is getting a little lengthy and starting to flow away from the topic at the start, so I think I’ll split this up into two posts. If I get the inspiration maybe this will become a series of posts.
What is constant
When words are less than air
Crackling between boards?
What is truth
When ephemera’s hold strangles
and the meaning of things succumb
to such tender embrace?
What are lies
When it is the engine and the oil
by which a nation builds
and knows itself?
What is death
When its visage is buried
under plastic smiles and makeup
pressed to styrofoam and wrapping?
What is knowledge
When it is hidden
by mountains of lies and ignorance
repeated by forked, moneyed tongues?
All is deceit.
Again, I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this. This prayer is for Polydeukion, and it was first said before His bust in the Kelsey Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the start of the Festival of the Trophimoi and Treiskouroi at PSVL’s request.
Hero of Herodes, Herodes’ Son,
Youthful One, Watcher of the Baths,
Overseer of Games
Whose eyes shine in blessings,
Whose body is strength and vigor
Whose hands and speech do honor unto the Gods’
Oh Roman Knight!
Let us never forget the Wisdom of Youth.
Let us remember the brightness of intellect is kindled and tended well in the soul, the heart, and the mind of every youth.
I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this and the prayer that is forthcoming for Polydeukion. While I do not actively worship either of these Holy Powers as of yet, it has given me a new window into how we can cross between our religious communities, come to understand one another’s Gods, Heroes, Ancestors, and spirits, and give good honor to Them and one another. This, this is an aspect of interfaith/intrafaith work that any polytheist can come to. Thank you Sannion, for helping to inspire this exchange! I invite any of my readers who wish to do this as well, especially if you wish to share devotional cycles with one another, even if we are coming at this from completely different pantheons, to step through the door and share your devotion with me and I with you. If you do, please, let me know taboos, offerings, and so on that is important to living in good Gebo with your God(s), Heroes, Ancestors, and/or spirits so I do not give offense in offering.
Most-loved of Hadrian,
Whose lips sealed love in an Emperor,
Whose arms took up his care,
Whose feet walked in holiness,
Whose life is exulted in stone and verse,
Whose body sank into Sacred Waters,
Whose soul was lifted in holiness
O Antinous, hear my prayer,
Who is and lives in the House of Osiris
Whose body is clad in green and life
Whose eyes see the Dead,
Whose lips speak love and comfort to the Dead,
Whose arms soothe the Dead,
Whose feet are planted deep in the womb of the World,
May the Dead who loved, who lost, who suffered
May the Dead who were denied their love and joy and lust,
May all find comfort before You in Your Home,
O holy Antinous!
You are remembered
You are remembered
You are remembered
Thank you, our Military Dead.
Thank you for your courage, your dedication, and your service.
Hail to you.
You are remembered.
As I work with the Warrior Dead, the Military Dead among Them, this month has become something of an education. This year is the 100th Anniversary of World War 1. We do not talk much about World War 1, if at all. If it is mentioned, it is often talked about and pointed to as a cause of World War 2, rather than a massive, world-wide war in and of itself. Otherwise, the poem of In Flander’s Fields 1, and novel All Quiet on the Western Front 2 is given mention, hinting at the devastation and brutality of it. Yet the First World War’s full impact, its actual history, is not often spoken of let alone taught. Oh, there are highlights that might be spoken about, such as Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, or the horrors of trench warfare, or the invention and use of widespread chemical warfare. Yet, World War I does not fit easily into any narrative. Even the very pro-British pro-war documentary from the BBC, The Necessary War 3 admits several times throughout that all the nations that were part of The Great War had faults with how the it came to pass and spiraled so deeply out of control from what could have been a regional conflict into a conflagration that spared no one it touched. It saw the last of the old-style monarchies in Europe fall, and several Empires were consumed in its flames.
It is estimated4 that sixteen million people died during this War. Sixteen million. Of those deaths, about 9.7 million were military and 6.8 million were civilians. As PBS notes, “World War I marked the first use of chemical weapons, the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky, and the century’s first genocide…”5. It also marked a time when artillery, rather than being front-line gun placements, were relegated to behind friendly lines and used as weapons to clear the way for or defend against infantry advancement6.
Some resources I am looking at are PBS’s The Great War, having just watched the BBC’s The Necessary War. I am currently working through the 8-part series from PBS, The Great War and the Shaping of the 21st Century. I have found and have yet to start digging into the 28 part 1964 BBC Documentary Series The Great War. This BBC article addresses some myths about The Great War from the British angle. I am still looking for good, reliable history books on the subject to read.
As I work my way through these documentaries, I will write on my reflections, and when I have enough for an article I will post here. If anyone reading this wants to share the stories of their Military Dead, please do. If you want to explore the series with me, whether as I post or through email, I am starting Episode 1 tonight.
The First World War and the Korean War are two I have seen referenced as ‘forgotten wars’. I believe we owe it to the Warrior and Military Dead, as well as any of our Ancestors who may have been part of these conflicts, to remember them. Remembering them not in snippets, or as “World War 2 was the good war and World War 1 was the stupid one”, but each in their own place and time, seeing them, and those who participated in them. At the very least those who gave their lives, or those whose lives were violently ripped apart during this War, should be remembered. Entire generations, if not branches of families, were lost to this War. The Military Dead deserve, at the very least, a place in our memories.
I am starting this month of prayers and honoring of the Warrior and Military Dead by cutting out my biggest distraction. For me, this means completely cutting myself off from video games. It is the least I can do; soldiers certainly did without a great many creature comforts I have come to enjoy as a matter of modern life. I will be spending my extra time doing other things, such as reading, writing, and doing devotional work for the Warrior and Military Dead. I will also be attending the graves of the local Military Dead and making offerings.
May the Warrior Dead and Military Dead never be forgotten. May They be remembered. May Their sacrifices ever be remembered. May Their lives be marked. May offerings for Them be made. May Their memories live on. Hail the Warrior Dead! Hail to the Military Dead!
1 In Flander’s Fields. (2014). The Great War website. Retrieved 2:48, Nov 03, 2014, from http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm
2 All Quiet on the Western Front. (2014). Amazon book website. Retrieved 2:50, Nov 03, 2014, from http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DAD25O8?btkr=1#
3 The Necessary War. (2014). Youtube.com website. Retrieved 2:45, Nov 03, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg5LWHQYIrY
4 World War I casualties. (2014.) Wikipedia.com website. Retrieved 3:03, Nov 03, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties
5 WWI Casualty and Death Tables. (2014.) PBS.org The Great War website. Retrieved 02:58, Nov 3, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/resources/casdeath_pop.html
6 The Necessary War. (2014). Youtube.com website. Retrieved 2:45, Nov 03, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg5LWHQYIrY