Prayers for Gefjon

Inspired by Galina Krasskova’s Agon dedicated to Gefjon, I wrote these two poems.

 

A Hailing Prayer to Gefjon

Hail to Gefjon, Far-seeing Goddess!

Hail to Gefjon, Who knows Her own Worth!

Hail to Gefjon, Who shapes liche and hame!

Hail to Gefjon, Who drives hard Her Oxen!

Hail to Gefjon, Who plowed and claimed Zealand!

Hail to Gefjon, Who claims Her own pleasure!

Hail to Gefjon, whose halls house the virgins!

Hail to Gefjon, Ásynja!

Hail to Gefjon, Mother of Jotnar!

Hail to Gefjon, Whose Consort is Skjöldr!

Hail to Gefjon, Whose Plow is Mighty!

Hail to Gefjon, Whose Courses are Swift!

Hail to Gefjon, Whose Lands are Fertile!

Hail to Gefjon, Whose Ways are Wise!

 

Land-finding Prayer to Gefjon

We seek, we seek land of our own

Growing green and good

We ask Gefjon to lend us your aid

So we may settle soon!

 

We ask for land for orchards

We ask for land for grain

We ask for land for goat, hive, and lamb

Whose harvests shall be great!

 

We seek, we seek a place to build

A hof to call our own

Where we can raise a horn to You

Within our hallowed home!

Holiness and Sacredness are Rooted Words: A Reply to John Halstead’s I Hold These Things to be Sacred

For clarity and to keep things as orderly as I can, I will be responding line by line to John Halstead’s post on Patheos, I Hold These Things To Be Sacred: A Reply to Sarenth Odinsson.

Sarenth Odinsson says that, because I don’t believe in gods, nothing is sacred or holy to me. 

I intentionally avoided using names in my piece, Holiness is Rootedness, because I wasn’t talking specifically about one atheist Pagan or another. My entire point is in the first paragraph.

In order to have a sense of what is holy, one must have ideas and concepts related to holiness. In order for these ideas and concepts to be related to holiness, it must have roots in a religion, a theological framework, in which holiness as a concept is able to take root. If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness just as there is no profanity or things lacking in that consecration.

If you have no theological framework then there is no theology to explain what is or is not holy. If you have no theological framework to discern what holiness is, its qualities and characteristics, then you have no concept of holiness to draw upon. Atheism’s main characteristics are that there are no Gods, and most of the atheist lines in regards to religious thought and phenomena directly state that there is no such thing as a God, Goddess, Supreme Being, etc. Most, though certainly not all forms of atheism, reject religious cosmology. I find it odd that pointing this out is cause to offend someone who identifies as an atheist, though my article was certainly not aimed solely at Mr. Halstead.

You can say all you like that you believe that things are sacred or holy, but those words carry absolutely no theological or philosophical weight when you say them because you don’t actually believe in the Beings nor the cosmologies that imbue them with that weight to begin with.

So, you know that feeling theists get when atheists tell them their gods are imaginary? I think I’m feeling something similar. Something like, “How dare you!”

Here’s what Odinsson says:

If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness …”

An atheist framework is one in which there is no God or Goddess, and thus, no sacred. One may hold things reverently, that is, with deep respect, but without a religious framework that very concept that one may hold anything as holy has no basis. An atheist claiming to hold something as holy is a person claiming something to which one has no right …”

I was pointing out what I had thought was patently obvious. I find it odd that Halstead is having such an emotional response when he has flat-out stated he does not believe in Gods. It would follow that there is no existent concept of holiness, as there is no theology in which holiness may take any kind of root. Keep in mind when I write Holy Power or Holy Powers, I include the Ancestors and vaettir, or spirits, in this. I don’t think that animists lack a conception of the holy, as in order to be an animist there is some sort of cosmology present, and accordingly, a way to establish things like what is sacred/not sacred.

Atheism cannot be invested in this understanding as it has no basis for holiness and the sacred, as atheism denies both on their face by its very outlook. Atheism denies that Gods exist, and in so doing, denies the cosmology They are rooted within. The notion of holiness within an atheist context, therefore, cannot exist.”

Now, I’ve never really gotten along with Odinsson. (I think he was the same person who once threatened to punch me if he saw me at Pantheacon.) But I don’t think it should be only atheist Pagans or non-theistic Pagans who are upset by what he is saying here. Odinsson is saying if you don’t believe in the gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to you. Implied in this is the statement there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the gods.

Nothing sacred in the world but the gods?!

Wow! I would have a hard time imaging a less “pagan” statement than that.

I am not the person who threatened to punch Halstead if I saw him at Pantheacon. I’ve never been to Pantheacon, and given the extreme amount of travel I would have to do and time off I would have to take right before ConVocation here in Michigan, I have no interest in doing so.

Note here that Halstead actually does not refute my points here, or anywhere in this post. He quotes me, but misses the point entirely. There is no implication that there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the Gods. It is not surprising to me that he misses this point, as Halstead has no conception of holiness himself, and I imagine is probably not familiar with Northern Tradition or Heathen cosmologies. To be quick, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are holy. The Gods and Elements Themselves are among our Ancestors. Many of the Gods directly made vaettir, i.e. Odin and His Brothers formed the Dvergar from maggots burrowing into the flesh of Ymir. Many Gods are part of the vaettir of this and other Worlds, and vice versa. For instance, landvaettir may be seen as being part of Jörð’s Body/Being, Jörð being one of several Earth Goddesses within Heathenry.  Some vaettir have ascended into being or have become seen as being Gods unto Themselves, and some Gods have descended into being or have been seen as being vaettir unto Themselves. There are methods within the Northern Tradition by which an area may be made to be sacred, or that sacredness may be inborn to a place, such as a grove, or a prepared ritual area, altar, and so on.

There is something deeply disturbing, I think, about a paganism which cannot find the holy or the sacred in the earth or in another person.

Certainly, but that is not my position here, nor was it. I view Jörð, the Earth Goddess, as a holy Being. Do I view all the Earth as sacred? No, as I do not find CAFOs sacred, nor do I find the floating garbage that chokes the oceans sacred. Those, I find profane. Wrong. Unholy.

Are all people sacred? No. All people are bound together in Wyrd, but that merely makes you part of reality, not an inherently sacred person. It doesn’t mean people are valueless either, but sacredness actually means something in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. Namely, that a thing, Being, place, etc. is dedicated to, belongs to, is consecrated by, or is devoted to the Holy Powers. This is why an altar is a sacred thing, a grove where rituals are performed, or a single tree representing Yggdrasil itself is regarded as sacred. These things are devoted and dedicated to the Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors and/or vaettir) of the Northern Tradition and/or Heathenry. They are sacred.

As for myself, I hold these things to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships.

They are not just things that I hold “reverently” or with “deep respect”; they are holy and sacred.

He says he regards these things as sacred, but without any of these things being involved with, dedicated to, devoted to, or consecrated to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, what are these words worth? Without the necessary relationship inherent in a cosmology, in which one relates to all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships, and so on, saying something is sacred or holy are empty words. Claiming one holds something sacred or holy without any requisite theology to back these words up is intellectually sloppy or dishonest.

Holiness is rootedness,” says Odinsson. My religion is rooted. It is rooted in these things: Life, Matter, Relationship.

How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?

Indeed, how can Halstead claim to be religious whatsoever when he denies any of the requisite things for which religion itself functions: namely, to provide a framework for and means by which people may establish relationships with, interact with, revere, understand, and worship the Holy Powers? All these things Halstead claims his religion is rooted in has no meaning without an actual theology in which the sacred matters, and so long as the sacred is, in actuality, absent from his worldview and thus, any religion he would lay claim to, all these words are empty.

Coffee with the Ancestors and Gods

Something I have not done in a very long time is sat down to coffee with my Ancestors and Gods.  I did it tonight/this morning, after taking care of the offerings and laying out fresh ones otherwise, all water, except for the stick of incense I left at the altars for the Ancestors, for the Dead and for the Gods.

I had two stools that belonged to people who are family to me, gifted to me before they took off for California.  One stool holds a Native American head carved into an arm-sized log that I give offerings to as representative of some of the Native Ancestors in the ways I have been brought into.  A while back I had used the other stool as part of an Ancestor elevation working, but it has sat in a corner since.  Tonight, I brought up some coffee my wife had brewed earlier in the day.  At first, I was going to sit on the floor at the Ancestor altar.  I couldn’t see many of Them from down there, and besides, They wanted to see me too.  So I dusted off the old stool, and sat at the Ancestor altar, lighting the candles in Ask and Embla’s tree candle-holders.

At first it was just…quiet, meditative even, serving Them coffee then myself.  I usually drink my coffee with non-dairy sweetener like Coffee Mate or something like that, but it didn’t seem right in this context.  So, I sat and drank my black coffee, and talked with the Ancestors about the week I’d been having, thanking Them for Their support, that kind of thing.  Mostly it was quiet, just being in one another’s Presence.  When it was over, and I thanked Them for coffee with me, I blew out the candles, and later lit some incense.  I walked away from Their altar with a sense of peace and being cared for.

My experience with the Gods was similar, but even more silence, being quite brief with my end of talking, mostly thanking Them for Their Presence and blessings on my family, and helping me through the last week.  It was mostly quiet, and considering the Work I’ve been doing for Them of late, I was okay with that.  I left Their altar, after lighting incense for Them, with a sense of peace, but it…was deep.  More than a sense of peace, really.  A sense of rightness, even with all the challenges I and my family are facing right now.

I got the message to clean my cups out after each time with the Ancestors then Gods, and returned the cup to the altar, my cup’s holder facing me, and Theirs to Them.   It looks like both sets of Holy Powers want this to be a more regular thing, so here’s a cup to a new tradition I’ll be keeping.  Thanks for the inspiration from a while back, Jim.  It proved a powerful, simple connection, one that I really needed.

Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest

Another question from Valiel Elantári:

What difference do you make between “shaman” and “priest” ?

I had defined a shaman in Question 9 as ‘an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.’  A priest may be that as well.  Where I see a marked difference is the kind of relationship a priest has vs. what a shaman has in their community.  A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods.  When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion.  A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity.  A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.

Some of the Work of a priest I do see as dovetailing with the Work of a shaman.  There can be very direct parallels between the two jobs’ requirements.  Both, for instance, need people to be spiritually clean, firm in their religious foundations, knowledgeable in their cosmology and in particular the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits they work with and/or worship.  Depending on the needs of the community, the two jobs may place requirements on the shoulders of a priest and a shaman that are similar, if not the same, such as blessing a newly birthed baby, weddings, fields before or after planting, etc.  The requirements of a priest may be wildly divergent priest to priest, tradition to tradition, the same with shamans, so saying anything across the board means somewhere I am getting something wrong.  The palette has too many colors for me to accurately paint with a select few.

In my own work as a priest and a shaman, my work as Odin’s priest is different from being a shaman in that He may ask me to deliver messages on His behalf as a priest whereas in my role as a shaman I may be asked to do a ritual action instead.  In a way, it seems to me I am engaged more in action serving Him as a shaman than I am as a priest, in which I tend to act more in the role of a passive message-passer.  Then again, as I am both, sometimes the two blend together in terms of my service to Him.  So the only thing I can say for certain here, is that I serve Him as He asks or demands of me.

In my Work as a priest of Anubis this is a bit markedly different from my service as Odin’s priest.  For one, Anubis demands very little of my time nowadays, but I can feel Him starting to really come back to the fore now that I have a new altar to the Dead, rather than, say, just the Military Dead or my Ancestors.  For another, Anubis’ requirement have been to offer Him offerings on occasion, but nothing like the dedication of Ancient Egyptian temple priests.  I have a small statue of Him that I feed offerings to, put water before, and occasionally bathe in similar fashion to how temple priests might have done.  However, that is more or less the extent of my historically-based practice.  Much of my work with Anubis is pure UPG, and when He calls upon me to help a Lost Dead or to deliver a message on a spirit’s behalf on His behalf, I do, and my services are rendered, and I go on my way.  My service to Anubis is more haphazard and as He needs me then I imagine other priests might serve, i.e. those who have permanent temple space.  Some of my Work with Him dovetails well with the Work I do for Odin, for instance, the consistent cleaning, grounding, and centering rituals.  Keeping myself clean, as well as keeping the altars clean, are part and parcel of my Work with Him.  So too, making sure the altar to the Dead is kept well, that offerings are laid out.  I must also be sure that the Dead are not insulted or treated ill in rituals, another place where my Work as a shaman dovetails with my priest Work.

In this way, priests, as with shamans, are intercessors in that those who come to us will learn that there are certain rites to be observed, and taboos to be avoided.  One taboo I have as a shaman is that whenever I do for another I must in some way, shape, or form, have Gebo from the other party.  Another, in my role as Anubis’ priest, is that I must not let the Dead be insulted or poorly treated.  It is on me to establish what requirements and taboos there are to working with these spirits, especially the person in question is coming to me for help or training.  That is part of the Work of any intercessor: you are, in some way, shape, or form, establishing and reestablishing the proper boundaries of and engaging in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  For those who know them, you are reinforcing the boundaries of and encouraging engagement in right relationship.

I think this hits on another aspect of the difference between being a shaman and being a priest.  As a shaman I am often required to traverse boundaries, whether my own personal ones, or in journey work, or in transgressing some unspoken cultural boundary, i.e. Ancestor worship.  A shaman is often a boundary crosser, may be an ambassador of some kind to other communities including other Worlds, and puts hirself at risk so they, their community, and the relationships they hold can flourish.  A priest is often one who reinforces the boundaries, who stays within the boundaries and teaches from that place of power on how to live well, to live in right relationship, and establish communities in the teachings from their God(s) or Goddess(es).

To put it another way: a shaman often must journey to the útgarð for their Work whereas a priest’s main place and Work is done in the innangarð.

 

Sigyn Project: Day 23

Thank You, Gentle Lady

You have shown me that holding the bowl

That being the one Who listens

Is Victory when pain is contained

or cast out

 

Thank You Holy Goddess

You have shown me how hard it is

to hold with quaking hands

Yet to hold still

because it is the right thing

 

Thank You Blessed Sigyn

You have shown me through others

the depth of love You have

for Your children, for us,

and all who come to You

 

Thank You Sigyn

For humbling me

For gifting me with Your Presence

though I am not Your child

and for showing me new ways

of love and frith

 

Hail Sigyn!

Hail, Hail, Hail!

Hanging

I made this song listening to Skrillex and Innerpartysystem.  For some reason Odin’s Hanging on the Tree kept coming to mind, so I wrote this.

 

Fervent fever

Blood burning

Ligament lashing

Muscle mashes

Teeth tremble

Skin slackens

Eye erupts

Brains bombarded

Heart hammers

Feet fetter

Hand hacks

Tongue tastes

Blood blackens

Panting panic

Noose knotting

Spear shaking

Breath billows

Body breaking

Eye extinguished

Tree triumphant

Dark descending

Death demarking

Hanging hallowing

Gap gushing

Runes rushing

Power pressing

Enlightenment erupting

Life leering

Vying vicious

Hands hit

Bark bites

Feeling fulminous

Eye easing

Blood beating

Rope ruptured

Runes rapturous

Ground greeting

Spear sentinel

Blood beckons

Grip grasping

Feet finding

Legs locking

Body bending

Knees kneeling

Eye earnest

Lungs leaven

Form freed

Spine straightening

Feet follow

Legs lengthen

Stride seeking

Hands heaving

Reigns reaching

Mouth moving

Runes responding

Words whispered

Designs drawn

Movements made

Blessings born

Curses created

Sacrifice sanctified

Holiness haggard

Death deterred

Road rejoined

 

Critique of Harner’s Shamanism: Guest Post on Gangleri’s Grove

I wrote a critique of Harner-style shamanism in response to a blog commenter post on Ms. Krasskova’s Gangleri’s Grove.  It eventually grew into a long post that had to be reposted in several places.

Ms. Krasskova was kind enough to ask me to finish my thoughts, and has it up as a guest post on her blog.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

I am interested in hearing others’ views on this topic.

All-Father

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Life flows from lips to bark

Heart beats with reddened sap

Limbs creak and groan

Bark softens

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Knots open

Brown cambium turns grey

Rings coil and wind

Lightning leaps and plays

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Husks become hofs

Trunks flush with colors

The trees move

Uprooted limbs sway

They breathe, breathe, breathe

 

Credentials

Since the trial for James Arthur Ray has ended in his conviction for negligent homicide, something that has really popped up in my mind a lot is the idea of credentials.  They can keep people safe, establish who has proper training in a discipline, art, science, etc., and who does not, and can communicate professionalism in an instant.  When I think of credentials I think of licensing, such as what happens with counseling, or with medical disciplines.  Having an M.D. or some other recognized credentials communicates a certain trust between the community and you, that you have had the training and experience necessary to qualify in the field you’re practicing.  How do we establish such a thing in Paganism or modern shamanism?

Some places, such as Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan ministry, and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies for neo-shamans, are trying to fill this requirement by giving classes, workshops, and a variety of training in disciplines and techniques for their path.  I have many criticisms of core shamanism, as well as misgivings regarding the practice of shamanism without a core cosmogony or cosmology.  That said, I find it laudable that someone is helping to set a standard of expectations, that neo-shamans to be answerable to some standard of expertise and training.  Still, there is something that bothers me about the setting of standards regarding shamanism.  I think it is something I was reminded of in this post by Kenaz Filan, that I worry regarding “the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.”  I’m not about to say that people should not have standards regarding their spiritual workers; quite the opposite, in fact.  The worry I have, is that we reduce the role of a Pagan priest or a modern shaman to a “one-size-fits-all-Truth”.  Community standards, and standards of practice are one thing.  Expecting the same thing out of every priest or shaman is quite another.  That, perhaps, is my main point of contention with core shamanism itself: that it reduces a good deal of practices, techniques, and so on, down into a distilled form of core shamanism that is billed as shamanism without culture, when it merely replaces a mishmash of cultures’ spiritual tools and practices with its own culture.

This is why I worry about, but am not completely opposed, to credentialed spiritual leaders, mentors, and the like.  That said, I have none.  I am not certified by any body, religious or otherwise, to conduct the rituals I do, or to deliver the services I offer.  I have only the blessings of my Gods, spirits, Ancestors, and those who believe in what I do.  I have only the experiences I have had as a shaman, and priest of Odin and Anubis as my spiritual background.  In a very real sense, it is a leap of faith for people who come to me for spiritual help or advice to trust me.  I have no training from an accredited seminary, nor do I have a certificate from the modern neo-shamanic organizations.  Am I still a priest and a shaman?  I emphatically say “Yes”.

I am of the mind that, while you can go through all the varied and well-made training workshops and classes, the Gods and/or spirits are what designate you as a priest and/or shaman.  Without the Gods and/or spirits, while you may have all the earthly credentials in the world, what does that matter if, when the time comes, you are called on to be a Divine mouthpiece and you cannot perform your function?  When someone needs to hear the guidance of their God/dess, and you cannot communicate it, what did the seminary lessons matter?  When a person is being bothered by spirits or Ancestors, if you cannot intervene and/or guide effectively, what good are all the workshops?  Anyone can screw things up as a matter of simply being human, and no spirit-worker, priest, shaman, or oracle I know of does what they do without screwing up.  I certainly have not.  That, however, is not my point here.  What is, is that the Gods and spirits with whom you work, in my view, are the ones that bestow the meaning, the core, of what it is to be a priest or a shaman.  If you don’t have Them behind you in your function, while you may be a great facilitator or organizer, you are not a priest or shaman.

There is also, to me, a large difference between being a priest or shaman of a community, and being a priest or shaman of specific Gods or spirits.  While the two need not be exclusive, they can be very different in their roles.  Having been a priest for a community for a small time, the role required me to fill a lot of shoes, and do a lot of working with others’ Gods, successes, failures, and times of trial, as well as times of joy.  There was a lot of work on communication, answering questions, writing lessons, and training that was done as part of that work.  A lot of my daily work during this time was community-based, from daily work with people on their relationships with Gods, to working on rituals, classes and presentations.  Being a priest of Odin and a shaman apart from a dedicated community, a lot of my work for the larger Pagan community consists of giving messages from Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, intervening when needed in spiritual crises, and being a go-to for people looking to contact Odin and other Northern Tradition Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  A lot of my work is individual-based, and I do a lot of more self-focused work, such as taking more time out for relaxation and meditation, and give more personal attention to the Gods and spirits I work with, whether it is working with my Ancestors, or working on deepening my relationships with my Gods.

Are credentials necessary?  In some cases, yes.  If you want to legally marry people, for instance, you need to have credentials that back up your ability to sign the marriage license.  However, I and a very good friend of mine, performed a wedding for a wonderful couple, and though it is not legally recognized due to the laws in my state, it is a strong marriage blessed by the Gods.  Are credentials beyond those for legal reasons a necessity?  I’m still out on this.  As someone who has dedicated his life to serving my Gods, I would say no.  Yet, at the same time, I see how credentials provide comfort, a sense of security, and communicate professionalism.  After all, I’m getting my degree in counseling for that reason, and when I’ve finished with that, I will go for licensing so I can practice what I’ve learned.

At this point I’m taking a middle road because Pagan priesthood and modern shamanism do not, by and large, have the background that professional counseling does, and beyond the two resources I’ve mentioned above, anything resembling professional training in either field is scant, or is specific to certain pathways, i.e. the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s seminary.  If we want more professionally-trained priests and shamans, whether for the wider Pagan or shamanic communities, or our own little branches in their trees, we will largely have to either a) support what is already there and increase its ability to be used effectively by its adherents, or b) invent these courses and methods of accreditation ourselves.  I find that accreditation can be a powerful, stabilizing force, but it can also be one that can strangle peoples’ ability or willingness to explore, find new ways, be touched by the Gods or spirits, or respond in ways that establishments may find chaotic, destabilizing, or unwelcome.  Here is hoping that as we move forward we can develop courses and accreditation that encourage individual and group responsibility, personal and transcendent experiences of our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, while also providing a solid structure to build our faiths, roles, and communities on.  Here is hoping that if credentialing gets in the way that we have the bravery and wherewithal to help it evolve with our communities’ growing needs, or if it will not, then to discard it.

Personal Work

It’s been awhile since I last posted, and a good chunk of that time has been to work on personal stuff.  Some of that personal stuff has been screwing around, relaxing, and finding a job.  My spiritual life has become a lot more low key, becoming more integrated in ways I didn’t think would be so effortless.  The work with the herb garden, which now has one of my Dad’s tomato plants in it, has drawn me closer to Freyr, Gerda, Angrboda and Eir, and in little ways they are showing me lessons.  The closer I pay attention, but to Them and especially to the plants, the more I learn.  My work with Frigga comes and goes, but She is a quiet, patience presence in my life that I am still feeling out.  A lot of my spirituality has gone away from my altar and now walks with me.  The volunteer work I am doing, the empathy model I have learned, pushes me to listen a lot more than I have.  A lot of time when I did spiritual counseling over the last seven or so years, problems were brought to me that were pretty clear.  Yet, with the empathy model I am learning to be a more effective shaman and priest; I’m relearning not just how to listen, but a new mindset in listening and engaging conversation.  The ‘intensity’ Odin promised me this summer for spiritual has been delivered in spades.  Sure, I’ve done a good deal of spiritual work with and for others, but the intensity doesn’t come from that as much as the down time.

Not having a community to look after took away a lot of the excuses I used to distract myself from thinking about how I feel about things, relate to things, understand things, and where I am emotionally.  When I lost the group, and my relationship with my fiancee, a lot of the barriers that I kept up that stopped me from relating to myself, from being empathetic with myself, broke down.  I was stuck inside my own head with my own thoughts.  For weeks, Odin forbade me from any astral travel, utiseta, seidr, and similar kinds of mind-altering work.  I was stewing in my own juices, at times in guilt and other times in anger, and at other times sheer sadness.  I was feeling real emotions without covering them up, allowing myself to put a veneer of bullshit over them, or tamp them down.  Who was I not going to express them to?  Myself?

This went on for awhile until I hit a breaking point, mercifully, among supportive friends who had a good idea that it was coming.  They both let me do something I had, up until that point, really denied myself full expression: grieve.  I had just sucked in all the mixed feelings I had from the week I left the group  and my fiancee and I broke up, and ran with it.  At that point, it was more about surviving exam week.  Afterward, it was because I didn’t want to deal with the feelings I had stuck inside me.  When I finally let everything out, it was a clearing point for my emotions and my head.  I’ve been able to look back with a clearer head, see where I made mistakes, where others made mistakes, and accept that I screwed up without skewering myself with guilt trips and emotional lashings any more.  I may not remember everything (I don’t have the best memory) but I clearly can see where I screwed up, and have changed how I do things.  I think that of anything, that’s really the important part.  That, and I’m more forgiving with myself than I used to be.

Part of the reason I lashed out at group members was because I held myself to very high standards, standards that I sometimes wasn’t able to meet.  So I’d push myself and push myself until I hit them, and expect everyone else around me to rise up to my standards.  Not only did I tend to have high expectations that were impossible to meet, I also reacted a lot to my fear that I was not good enough, didn’t know enough, wasn’t a good priest or shaman, and I felt I needed to help people because if I wasn’t useful doing something for someone then I wasn’t worth anything.  I put people down to feel better about myself, an insecurity move if ever there was one, and my insecurities about myself ate into everyone around me.  When I had more emotional highs, or when I wasn’t feeling the insecurities, I could be smug, glib, and condescending.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean to; I did it.  That’s really one of the big lessons I took away from all this.  It does not matter what you intend; it is important, but what happens from the impact of your choices, that is what really matters.  If I can say this about spellwork and spirituality then it is applicable to the practical and emotional realms as well.

A lot of my emotional work the last few months out of the group has largely been around my feelings of self-worth, which, from what I have seen, is at the root of a lot of the problems that erupted.  Constantly talking about it with close friends and family has helped a lot.  I get a new perspective each time that I share it, a new way of seeing it, and different ways of expressing my fears, anxieties, and other emotions I’ve largely buried or ignored.  By relying more on the Pagan community, I’ve come to appreciate not just the larger Pagan community, but my place in it being one of value, even if I was totally silent, because I am in it.  Something that Bona Dea’s workshop at Paganfest, Weaving Community, really drove home for me was that once you intertwine the threads of yourself and your community you’re together in the tapestry.  It reflected a deep truth I’d forgotten in and of myself, both in terms of my impact on people, and my value in it.  It also drove home the reason the group asked me to leave: when you weave in the workshop, you need to be mindful of others’ threads, of where they are, and be sure that your own respects theirs and the overall tapestry.  I didn’t respect the group’s tapestry; I talked a good game about Wyrd, but more often than not I wanted people to go this way or that way because I looked at people, saw a lot of raw potential, but didn’t respect where they wanted or in some cases, needed to take that potential.  In short, I didn’t listen to them, their Wyrd, or how I came off or sounded.  I was trying to have people fill up something in me I wasn’t filling up myself, something that other people couldn’t give me in the first place: self-esteem.  Self-respect.  Love.  People can’t fill you with those things.  They might trigger those things in you to show up, but they have to be there first.  I didn’t know how to take praise; it never seemed good enough because I didn’t respect or love myself enough to think I would be worthy of those things.  I didn’t know when enough was enough because I kept setting standards higher for myself, and then for others, thinking “this is what I have to do to earn respect in the community”, but I didn’t have enough respect for myself or others to see the limitations I or they had.

In my goofy way of thinking, I thought that by being silent and leaving people be this long, that I was doing right by them.  By not ‘bugging’ people, rather than speaking to them about what happened, and what has been happening, but just having them read this blog, I was encouraging healing because they didn’t have to ‘deal’ with me.  The other, then, is at least touching base with people from the group.  I told these people they were my family…and in my experience, you don’t just stop talking to family over disagreements or blow ups.  Things may or may not be able to be fixed, but at the end of the day it is my choice to leave things frayed or at least try to put the loom back together.

Since I began to hit these points of understanding, it has been a quick shove back into intensive spiritual work.  A few hours after my grief period I had my first trance possession for the first time in a few months.  I may have screwed up, and refused to do spirit possession for a long time, but at the end of the day I am still a priest and a shaman.  I had a job to do.  I’d talked with various people for a few weeks before this about fixing what I did about spirit possession work, and started to put that into practice.  Namely, telling the person to double-check statements, advice, and other things the spirit said in me with a trusted diviner, and approaching the practice as a sacred act, not like a regular occurrence, but something to be treasured and treated as holy rather than casually.  To me, this, coupled with a healthy respect for boundaries and using the empathy model after the God left me helped me avoid a lot of the problems I made or ran into with my old group.

A lot of my personal work right now is really geared toward learning to be comfortable in down time, to be happy in it.  To not have to push myself to ‘do something’ to feel productive, and through that, useful and worth a damn.  The ‘intensive’ work Odin promised me has been a lot of down time and relaxation.  I haven’t taken a summer off of school in a long time, and it has been a rather nice vacation so far.  Being comfy in my own skin is a test, at times, and to have so much down time, to ‘not be productive’ for so long, has been a challenge.  I’m finally able to actually relax, though, and for me, that’s a pretty big step.  Couple that with finally having self-esteem and confidence that comes from myself, and I’ve come a long way from where I’ve been.  To not have to need other people to prop up my ego is pretty big.  I may not be perfect at it, but I’ve made a lot of strides, and that alone is worth the work.