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Reflection on Polytheism, Tribalism, and Politics

November 4, 2019 16 comments

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 -Hearth Cultus

October 21, 2018 1 comment

In the Beginning to Worship post I asserted that polytheisms the world over are first based in the home. This is referred to as engaging in hearth cultus and are often contrasted with state or communal cultus. The word cultus itself relates to “care, labor, cultivation, culture; worship, reverence”. The root of this word in Proto-Indo European, *kwel-, relates to “revolve, move around; sojourn, dwell”. The hearth cultus and temple cultus, then, are places where culture and religion come around to live and be cultivated, and are among the centers where worship and reverence take place.

Because a hearth cultus forms the heart of polytheist religions, it must have the backing of a solid worldview as to what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are, and what and how these Holy Powers are offered to, the hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, and how the hearth relates to the cosmology of the religion. Sacred space within the home is established through the acts of cleansing a hearth and setting up a vé, a sacred place for the Holy Powers, whether it is on a physical hearth such as a mantle, the only dresser in a dorm room, or in the heart of a home on an altar. Hearth cultus is engaged in the hearth in both formal and informal worship, and in engaging in divination to determine offerings, questions related to development of personal and hearth cultus, and communication between the Holy Powers and the hearth. All come together in the establishment, carrying out of, and passing on of a hearth cultus.

The center of the home has switched a bit for modern America. In the interim since actual hearths and their fires were the center of the home, literally, metaphorically, and spiritually, the role of the hearth has been split in most modern American homes between the living room and the kitchen/dining room. The living room tends to be where we enjoy one another’s company, socialize, engage in festivities like Yule gift-giving or New Year’s celebrations, and play. The kitchen/dining room is where we prepare our daily meals and eat, talk about our day, and spend a good deal of time together as a family. When the table is cleared sometimes we use this space to do homework, pay bills, play boardgames, or engage in feasting festivals like Thanksgiving or one of our harvest holidays, i.e. the Haustblot. It is unlikely any two hearths look alike for cultural/religious reasons or for the physical layout and needs of a given hearth. Still, most share commonalities of function for the hearth and its members.

The Microcosm and the Macrocosm

A given hearth’s sacred space is both its own space and a reflection of how a hearth relates to its cosmology. This is why a firm understanding of worldview and sacred stories is needed for any polytheist’s development, let alone any cultus. How we relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits of our cosmologies are important questions because it forms the core of who we are and why we do what we do. The worldview of the hearth is how the hearth is formed to begin with, how the members conduct themselves within the hearth, and how the vé of a hearth are made and maintained.

In setting up a hearth some questions need to be answered. Many of these questions were asked back in the post On Ritual Praxis -Beginning to Worship and serve as guides going forward.

The first question of any hearth is: What is a hearth’s place cosmologically, both in terms of representation of the larger cosmos and in terms of on-the-ground worship, reverence, and life for those who gather around it? How do members of a hearth relate to Fire Itself? How do the members of a hearth relate to Gods of the hearth? All of these are powerful questions, as each is intimately related to the kind of place the hearth itself occupies in the heart of a given home.

What Holy Powers are worshiped, revered, and called to in a hearth and how its cultus is shaped depends on how these questions are answered:

What are the Holy Powers and how do we relate to Them? Are there certain directions that are sacred to a given Holy Power, and if so, what are they? What Holy Powers belong in or to the hearth vé? How does the religion relate to Fire and Holy Powers of Fire? Are there established ways to light Sacred Fires within the religion? Are there Holy Powers that should not occupy the same spaces or be close to one another? Should some Holy Powers occupy certain places in a hearth not on the vé at the heart of a hearth, but in some other place such as above the stove, near the front door, near a source of running water, etc.? Are there specific ways each family member relates to the hearth and its keeping?

How the hearth and any vé besides the hearth itself are made and maintained depends on these:

What are the vé or equivalent sacred spaces in the religion? Are there traditional methods in existing sources as to how they are erected, or will new traditions around constructing one need to be made? Does the making of a vé differ whether it is an altar, shrine, hearthfire, and/or mantle? What are the right ways to treat the places where vé are kept? What offerings are good for making in vé? If a vé is at the heart of a hearth, such as above a fireplace or stove, or in the living room or kitchen, does it hold a special place for the family and in the culture/religion of the hearth? If so, what role does a given hearth member take on in relation to the vé?

These are how my own hearth answers these questions.

What a Hearth Is

The hearth is the heart of a family, or writ larger, a Kindred, tribe, or other similarly organized community group. It is where cleansing and purification begins, whether through Fire Itself or through the lives of sacred herbs such as Großmutter Una. It is where sacrifice takes place such as through the offering of Grandmother Mugwort or other burnt offerings, offerings of food which are consumed by the hearth fire or made outside, or where sacrifices and/or tools to make sacrifices are made sacred for their work.

The hearth is placed in an enclosure of Earth, whether it is outside in my family’s sacred grove firepit or in my Kindred main meeting home in a fireplace. The lighting of the Fire brings to mind the sparks that melted Nifelheim, and so, made our lives possible by allowing Ymir and Auðhumla to move about. The lighting of the Fire is also one made in honor of our Ancestors. Once kindled, the hearthfire is the boundless energy of Fire given bounds by Ice, in this case the entropy that occurs as heat and light is given off in the burning of fuel, and contained by Earth in which the Fire is housed and whose fuel Fire burns. Water results from the Ice melted and pushes to the surface of the burning log/Tree, and wisps of smoke from the log and any offered herbs continue the sacred burning of Fire Itself and Air from the smoke of the log and/or herbs. Each Fire is related to Muspelheim and each log to every tree, so we engage in the cycle of Fire that burns the Earth from which we come so that heat and light can warm us and shine on us, take in our offerings, and take up our prayers to the Holy Powers, including Fire Itself and each individual Firevaettr that comes to rest in our hearth.

So, each hearth made and each hearthfire lit is a living recreation of the Creation Story. Each hearthfire lit is itself connected with the First Fire and is a vaettr, a spirit, unto Itself. Each log burned is itself an offering of the Earth and we give offerings to Fire, Earth, and every other element involved in its lighting. In the midst of all this, a hearthfire is also a signal of cleansed, holy space to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and an invitation for all of us to come closer.

Personal and Sacred

Hearth cults are diverse, whether due to personal relationships a hearth has with its Holy Powers, the land one lives on, or any number of personal factors. A hearth cultus for a lone college student living on campus will look utterly different from that of a family on several acres of land. This diversity should be embraced.

Having been on both sides of this, restrictions can abound for college students that don’t exist for folks in a home. A prohibition against candles will mean that, instead of turning to a lighter or matches, one will probably turn to LED candles to represent the glow of a hearthfire. There is nothing inherently wrong in this; after all, electricity is a form of Fire. Some folks live in homes where size restrictions means that at most LED or tea lights will be the only sources of fire beyond, perhaps, the stove. Whatever the location of a hearth’s vé, the place will need to be undisturbed by animals and respected by those who will be in its presence. If the vé needs to be temporary, only pulled out when actual ritual is going on, then its holding place should be one held in sacred regard.

What matters for a vé is not the size of it, but that it is a place of good and sacred contact between a Heathen and their Gods. Even if the container for one’s hearthfire is a small tin, containing only an image of the Holy Power(s), a tea light, some matches and a small bowl for offerings, this will be enough so long as the Holy Powers are pleased and the cultus can be carried out with reverence. When I first became a Pagan I had a vial with five salt crystals to represent the Five Elements in my rituals. My altars grew from these small beginnings into the altars over time seen here, here and here. My mobile vé for conventions tends to be my collection of prayer cards, an offering vessel, and maybe a few representations of the Holy Powers otherwise. What matters it that you have the means to cleanse the vé, make some kind of offering, and have a container for the vé itself. This is where the map of lore meets the territory of being for Heathens. We bring forward as much as we can, learn as much as we can, and it is here, in hearth cultus, where we put all of this into lived relationship with our Holy Powers.

Making a Hearth

Cosmology, including what directions are sacred and why, what Beings related to the hearth, Fire, etc., need to be known in order for a hearth to become established. A hearth is the culmination of the macro and the micro of a cosmology, the welcoming in of Holy Powers, and establishment of sacred space. Without understanding why it is important to establish a hearth, what establishing a hearth itself means, or the importance of cosmology, myth, and how we relate to the Holy Powers, especially Fire Itself in the creation of a hearth, there is no structure for establishing a hearth nor how to do it. Without these bones there is no point to a hearth, no sacred direction to place it or space one may make it. Without the foundation there is no point to making a hearth. Without meaning behind it, then, there is no hearth.

A hearth is the central sacred space of a home.  For many of us, having a physical hearth is an impossibility.  So how do we bring in the hearth for hearth cultus without a fireplace?  Candles are one way, whether they are burnable or LED.

Are there traditional methods we can see in how to erect a hearth? We can look at how the ancient cultures Heathens erected their homes, and what information remains to us from how their own hearths were established. Most of the information useful to this goal will not be blatantly stated. Given that most of what is available to us in lore is relevant to rulers, not the average ancient Norse, Anglo-Saxon, etc, and given the sources are mostly for skalds and poets to read aloud or for instruction, much of the establishment of modern hearth culture will need to be derived from what we can find for the hints at mindset and worldview in the sources, and from there our own intuition and interactions with the Holy Powers.  A simple example is the centrality of the hearth from lore and archaeology. What remains to us is acknowledgement that the path of the Sun was sacred, and so East is a good candidate for a vé to face or be placed in.

As with a great many things, where lore and archaeology tell us little or hint at things, modern Heathens will need to make our best guesses, do divination, and be willing to correct ourselves when new information rises.  Likewise, the practical needs of any given space will need to be taken into account as well.  Even though the East is a good candidate for a vé to face in, my family’s Gods’ altar stands in the North before the only window in the room.  This table has the best space so our Gods’ representations and offerings are not crowding one another and best fits in front of the window.

Since we do not own the home we are living in and our altars are all upstairs, our vé hold primary places for us in the family, namely our bedrooms.  Were we to be living on our own I imagine the different vé we worship at would be spread over the home.  The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we hold the closest cultus to might be in a central vé, such as above a literal hearth on a mantle, or on an altar in the center of the living room.  The making of a vé does differ, as a literal hearth at the center of our home would invite variations of ritual that our current set up does not.  If our vé were on a mantle we might not have an altar cloth, or if we did it might be made of very different materials such as pelts/fur and/or heavier cloths.  Our current Gods’ vé is adorned with different colored cotton cloths marking the different seasons.  Sometimes we change our Ancestor vé cloth colors as well to mark the seasons.  We have small heat-resistant stands for when we burn candles, incense, reykr, or offerings.  Given we are in bedrooms and the smoke alarms are very touchy we do not tend to light candles or burn much in the way of offerings or reykr.   This would this change with having a hearthfire, and so would the care of the ashes.  Living on our own, we might collect the ashes of the hearthfire to use in crafting sacred things, such as soaps for cleansing or in leatherwork for fur removal.

Our hearth cultus centers around the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we are closest to.  For each of us that differs with our individual relationships, but for both our family and our Kindred it is Oðin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, Gerða, Loki, Angrboða, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Mimir, and Hela for the Heathen/Northern Tradition Gods.  Other Gods of our family hearth are Brighid, Bres, Lykeios, Lupa, Bast, and Anubis.  For our Ancestors we give cultus not only to our blood Ancestors, but also to the Ancestors of our lineages, such as the spiritworkers who came before me, and to those who have inspired me over the years such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Among the vaettir we hold cultus for are the landvaettir and housevaettir.  Each of us also tends our own personal vé to different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We engage in our hearth cultus daily, including night prayers and offerings at the hearth, and at the dinner table with meal prayers.  We also occasionally share in ritual celebration of different holy days around our hearth, or with the Kindred around its hearth.

An Example of Daily Hearth Cultus

My family’s daily hearth cultus tends to be quite simple. Most of our hearth rites are some variation on this:

  1. Begin by cleansing.
    1. Most nights we do this by deep breathing three times, expelling the dross of the day out of ourselves and away from the vé, and breathing in good, clean air so we concentrate on the prayers and offerings we are going to make. If we have had a particularly hard day, if we are in a time of powerful transition (such as after a funeral or during a holy tide), if a ritual calls for it, or if it just seems time to, I make a Sacred Fire with Großmutter Una, making reykr over all of us, and the vé. We may pass a lit candle in a similar fashion to working with Grandmother Mugwort, or work with both Fire and Großmutter Una together, passing them over the vé once or three times in a clockwise fashion around the altar. The number 3 is one we recognize as holy, and clockwise works with the turning of Sunna’s journey and the seasons She helps to bring.
    2. Cleansing by Reykr
      1. Make a prayer thanking the Fire, a simple one such as “Hail Eldest Ancestor!” or, a more elaborate one like “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Firevaettir! Hail Eldest Ancestor! Ves ðu heil!”
      2. Lay down the herb to be burned, in this case Mugwort. Make a prayer of thanks, simple like “Hail Großmutter Una!” or “Thank You for Your gift, Großmutter Una, that cleanses us and brings our prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir!”
      3. Light the match, lighter, or strike the flint and steel. Waft the smoke around once, or three time around yourself, any attendants, and the altar and its contents. If there are items you would like the Holy Powers to bless, waft Them through the smoke before doing this so the item comes into the vé cleansed.
  2. Make prayers.
    1. Most of our prayers are fairly short and to the point. We have a Night Prayer we follow, which is a rote prayer my wife and I developed for our many Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It serves two purposes, the first being is a unifying prayer of thanks for all the gifts our Holy Powers give us throughout our lives, and it also helps our children to come to know the Gods through at least one attribute that They gift to us, and to be thankful for it. We take this time to give any other prayers, whether thanks to Thor for protecting us in the latest thunderstorm, or to Frigg for peace in our home.
    2. Prayers at the Vé
      1. Following the format of our Night Prayers, you could use the simple formula of “Thank You <Holy Power> for <Blessing/Gift/Function>! Hail <Holy Power!>”, for example “Thank You Freyr and Gerða for the World around us!” Another form of prayer would be to gather at least three heiti for a Holy Power you are close to, have fondness for, or are trying to get to know, and pray in a format like this: “Hail Oðinn, the Inspirer! Hail Alföðr, the All-Father! Hail Rúnatýr, God of the Runes! I seek to know You better!”
  3. Make offerings.
    1. It is not enough for us to only pray. We exist in a flowing relationship with our Holy Powers, receiving and giving good Gebo, gipt fa gipt, or gift for a gift. Given we have several altars we dedicate one day to each group of Holy Powers, the first to our Gods, the next to our Ancestors, and the third to our vaettir. Each God has some kind of vessel in front of Them. Our mainstay offering is water. We also make special offerings, such as whiskey, mead, coffee, or food. If we make a special offering that could spoil before our next round of offerings, we respectfully dispose of it in the sink if it is liquid, giving a prayer to the God it is for and a thanks for Their blessings. If the offering is food or herbs we do not burn at the altar, we place it outside in our sacred grove’s Yggdrasil representation, or wait until a Sacred Fire to burn it. We count food offerings among our special ones because we live on the second floor of a shared home and respectfully disposing of the food offerings as described above once the Holy Powers are done with them is harder to do, especially since most of our offerings are made and disposed of at night.
    2. Making Offerings
      1. As our usual offerings are water, herbs, and on occasion stick incense, I will use these as examples.
    3. For Water Offerings
      1. Since our worldview is polytheist steeped in animism, we recognize the Elements Themselves as part of our Ancestry. In recognizing this we thank the Elements Themselves and the vaettir Who we are offering to the Holy Powers. We might offer a prayer like “Hail Water, Elder Ancestor! Hail Watervaettr! We thank You for the gift of Your body, that we offer to the Holy Powers!” Good offerings to give in turn to Water and the watervaettir would be care for our sources of water, prayers of thanks and recognition of all that these Holy Powers bless. Honoring Water and the watervaettir are other sources of good Gebo in our daily conduct with water, including conserving and care for water sources we rely on and/or come across.
    4. For Burnt Herb and Incense Offerings
      1. Follow the structure above in the Cleansing by Reykr section 1, and in 2, change the language to reflect an offering is being given. Something like “Hail Grandmother Una! Thank You for the gift of Your body in offering to our Holy Powers!” or “Hail Mugwort! Hail to You for being our offering! Holy Powers, we offer this Gebo to You!” or “Hail Holy Powers, we make this offering of Mugwort in gipt fa gipt with You!” When addressing the Holy Powers directly, simply saying “Hail <Holy Power>!” or “This offering is for You, <Holy Power>!” or “I make this offering for You, <Holy Power>!” can be enough.
  4. Divination and Follow Up Work
    1. If divination has been called for, whether due to some accident like dropping an offering or knocking over an idol, divination having been requested earlier, or just a prompting from intuition, we usually do it here after prayers and offerings. Some folks regularly practice divination as part of their daily work in heart cultus. I generally do not, since much of our daily cultus takes place at night not long before I have to go to work and I haven’t gotten the message or intuition to incorporate this. Your needs as a hearth and your ability for/access to divination will be the best guide here.

Maintaining Hearth Cultus

The first step to maintaining a hearth cultus once it has been established is to care for the vé physically and spiritually. Cleaning the space regularly, including the disposal of offerings and changing out cloths, and keeping the icons of the Holy Powers clean promotes mindfulness and reverence for the place it holds in a hearth. The next step is to make prayers, offerings, and to do whatever other daily work needs doing at the hearth regularly.

If the vé is in a fireplace then the cleaning of it serves a practical function in keeping the chimney clear of debris and in good working order. This idea is equally true whether the vé is a fireplace, a mantle, a desk, or even a mini altar-tin.  Since the practical is part of the spiritual work, understanding the hearth and the process of cleaning the hearth from a cosmological standpoint makes the work take on deeper meaning. In setting up the vé you are asking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to help you make an ordered Sacred Space.

The fireplace is no longer just a fireplace; it becomes the hearth, the spiritual heart of the home. The mantle, the desk, the tin is no longer just a mantle, desk, or tin.  In cleaning the vé, the hearth being the micro to the cosmos’ macro, you are helping to bring cleansing and order to this cosmos. It is the where you develop contact with the Holy Powers, worshiping Them and making offerings. As your hearth cultus goes on it may grow or shrink, (or in the case of tins maybe you will make/collect more) and so may the qualities it comes to represent and the meaning the place holds in your home and religious life. No matter your source of Fire for the vé, whatever you put into the Fire or set with It needs to be safely burnt.  Treating the Fire with utmost care is paramount. Every Fire is connected in our understanding, whether the smallest match, the electricity in an LED, or the largest star, and as the hearthfire itself represents Fire Itself, the care each Firevaettr is given should reflect on that relationship.

Whether it is five minutes a day, a half an hour or longer, many times a day, or as we do, cycling prayers and offerings different days of the week, the point here is to maintain a regular practice of devotional work and care for the hearth. Integrating the hearth into one’s life and keep it at the heart may be a struggle for many folks who have never grown up with this. Regular engagement with the hearth physically and spiritually will help this become part of one’s life. Keeping it front and center in one’s home centers the Holy Powers around which the hearth is based, and right along with it, the cosmology and its worldview.

The hearth is one’s cosmos in miniature even if one doesn’t have all the representations of the Holy Powers yet. As I wrote earlier, there was a time when all I had was five salt crystals no bigger than my pinky nail. Now, my family has statues for some Gods and representations for others. Some folks may find they cannot get or afford statues of the Gods. We have statues of Odin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, and Thor by Paul Borda of Dryad Designs that we bought from different Pagan/Pagan-friendly stores. For Gerða we have a corn dolly with a rake in Her hand we found at a thrift store. Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn’s representations are a slat of red fox skin for Loki, a badger claw for Sigyn, and wolf fur for Angrboda, each representation gifted to us. Sometimes the Holy Powers are looking for different ways for us to come into Their representations because the representation has something to say or it exposes us to worshiping Them in a new way. Sometimes a representation is what we happen to have at the time; during Many Gods West I had to leave a lot of representations and spiritual tools at home and ended up printing off pictures of the Gods for the event altar and my own.  At the end of the day, use what works to connect your hearth with the Gods.

If one’s hearth cultus is mainly in the kitchen your relationship with the cultus may change, and the Holy Powers one worships there, calls to first, or maintains the boundaries during prayer, offerings, and ritual. One might start a ritual in the fireplace by first calling on the Gods of Fire and then Gods of the Hearth, Hearthkeeping, and/or the Home. A ritual in a hearth’s vé located in the kitchen may do it the other way around, first calling on Gods of the Home and then Fire Gods, as the set up and priorities for the hearth may differ from a fireplace’s hearth.  One’s way of offering might change from Fire being the primary element into which offerings are made to Water.  One’s focus of the hearth cultus might be on the Wells rather than Fire, since the main tools one practically uses in this space shifts from containing and maintaining Fire centrally to containing and maintaining Water.  It does not mean that Fire’s importance is lost, only that the focus of the hearth cultus shifts.

For our family, our relationships with the Gods of family, social order come ahead of Fire given we generally do not work with Fire as much in our daily rites.  We involve Fire when we light candles, turn on the light for night prayers, or sit down to a meal, but the centrality that would be there were our vé on a hearthfire or on a mantle is not present.  Something that was suggested to me by my dear friend and Brother, Jim, is that since the namesake of our Kindred comes from Mimir and the Well of Wisdom, and that so many of our offerings and work involve water and water-based offerings, that while Fire Itself is still recognized as the First Ancestor, that Water, the Well, and honoring Mimir takes priority.  Our family is still working this out with our Holy Powers.

Understanding the role of Fire as central to the hearth does not change, nor does it shift the cosmological importance of Fire.  Without Fire we do not see, our altars are not illuminated, our food goes uncooked, our reykr cannot smoke.  What does change is how we relate to these Holy Powers and how these relationships unfold in our vé.  The cosmogenic unfolding from Fire and Ice meeting still is a powerful source of understanding, one that informs how the Waters that are more central to our familial hearth come about.  The Gods of our home will still be central to our hearth cultus even if Mimir and the Well of Wisdom are honored ahead of Them.  The fixed points of cosmogeny and cosmology do not change, only our points of relating to Them and the place they hold in our rites with the Holy Powers.

Differentiating Hearth Cultus Rites from Other Rites

What differentiates hearth cultus rites from many other polytheist and Pagan rituals is the general lack of altered states of consciousness and its focus on devotional worship and reverence. There is no ulterior goal or motive in daily hearth cultus. You’re worshiping and revering the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of your hearth. That is its goal and its focus.

When I was doing the #30DaysofMagick challenges I set the times I did my work with the Runes apart from my hearth cultus work. Not only did this keep my focus on the rites at hand, it also kept my family’s focus since we do hearth ritual as a family and I am the only one among us that does Runework. In keeping the rites separate I kept the kind of ritual focus needed for good hearth cultus in its place, and Rune work in its own. I do have a daily devotional rite I do with Runatyr and the Runevaettir, but again, that is separate from my hearth cultus because that is personal cultus and work I hold with Runatyr and the Runevaettir. Because neither my wife nor our children have initiated into doing Runework that buffer also protects them from collecting obligation or entanglement with Them beyond my family’s already existing ties.

I differentiate hearth cultus from other rites in the use of altered states since, broadly speaking, the focus of the rites which use altered states are generally to another end beyond devotion, worship, offering, and prayer. Altered states like deep trance work tend to operate as uncontrolled liminal spaces even if they are guided. Unlike a hearth rite, in which there are very clear steps, a focus, and end steps in a methodical way, once one enters into even an altered state, let alone contact with a Holy Power in an altered state, the directions one can go with it are many. There may be spiritual work one needs to do, initiation work to prepare for, or, the raw and intense experience of just being in a Holy Power’s Presence among the possibilities.

Gathering Around the Hearth

Hearth cultus can be engaged in by anyone regardless of aptitude for altered states, magical work, initiation, or experience. Its focus, steps, goals, and means to achieve them are clear and accessible to everyone. Many other rites require some kind of ongoing study and/or engagement with Holy Powers and spiritual forces, such as one’s hamr or önd. Some rites will require initiation and others will require exclusive focus on a goal other than worship or reverence.

The heart of polytheism is in hearth cultus. Through hearth cultus we come to worship, pray to, offer to, and know our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping hearth cultus accessible to everyone keeps our religions, traditions, and communities alive, vibrant, and engaged. Through hearth cultus anyone can begin, continue, and deepen relationships with the Holy Powers. We bring our traditions from the maps of lore, linguistics, and archaeology into the lived experience of worship, reverence, and engagement. Our worldview is lived through hearth cultus. Through it, our relationships with the Holy Powers is strengthened and enlivened individually and communally. With hearth cultus our religions are not mere abstractions, a collection of holidays or ideas. Through hearth cultus we pass on these ways of life to each generation. With hearth cultus being at the heart of our cultures and our religions, they are part of our lives, immanent for each of us and connective between us. Here, in each of our hearths, our ways of life are made and lived in good relationships with the Holy Powers and ourselves.

Dialogue with Pop Culture Pagans

May 19, 2013 6 comments

I am trying to have respectful dialogue on something I have intense feelings rooted in my religion, beliefs, and understanding of my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I understand that for those who engage in Pop Culture Paganism their feelings are probably similar if not the same towards their own Gods. I am trying to open up dialogue about something that I nearly destroyed all bridges with my family over and have dedicated my life to.

Part of my reluctance to engage is recognizing from talking with people near me, as one put it, that “You are too engrossed in your worldview to see another’s”. And you know what? That is a valid point, and one I raise to Christians when they deny the whole existence of my Gods.

I also ask ‘does my engagement actually engender frith?’ I am unsure if my writing did anything beyond preach to a choir and alienate others. I felt a compulsion to write it, out of frustration and anger at what I found to be something that I felt was insulting to my Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and I. I have issues with definitions of Paganism already, and this was one more thing that I feel that takes away from that understanding.

My point in my articles is not that Pop Culture Paganism is evil, but I admit in several places where I have weighed in that I cannot understand it. It does not make sense to me.  I don’t mind that people use statuary as stand ins for Loki, or they derive benefit from using iconography and such from another medium. I recognize that my approval probably means nothing to people engaged in religious devotion to Gods I don’t worship. I happen to use Dryad Designs’ depictions of my Gods (Odin and Freya thus far, and I’m on the lookout for Frigga) because they click with me. If Loki-as-Joker works for you, I’m fine with that. What I do not understand is the worship /of/ Joker. Or Batman.

In the article I wrote I expressed that I could not conceive of worshiping Batman or developing a devotional relationship with him, and then go on to compare and contrast it to heiti. I ask the question: “Which Batman?” among others.  Which comic do I take as an understanding of Batman? How do I verify this is indeed Batman the spirit, as opposed to a spirit wearing Batman’s face? I assume that similar methods if not the same methods I would use to check if the spirit that answered my call to Odin is Odin Himself or someone wearing His guise. However, I don’t know because it is not something I have done.

I have had revelatory experiences in my car listening to the radio. Does that mean that the artist whose song I have listened to is a prophet of this or that God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit? No, my Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits used a medium to communicate with me.

In the post I recently wrote I cited my Great-Grandfather’s journey here from Holland to America at the open of WWI when the fear was that there would be an invasion. He came to a country where he had some relatives, but he could not speak the language well. He made his life here success by success and mistake by mistake. I do not understand the process that puts his life story, one of my heroes, alongside Batman’s. I attended my Great-Grandfather’s funeral and heard his life story several times over the course of my life. I saw his ship records; he has a concrete place in this world, in my Ancestors’ House, and in my life for the little amount of time I knew him in life. He sang to me songs in broken Dutch and English, and gave me a harmonica to remember him by. Batman does not and has not done these things for me. How could he?

I use Batman here because I really like this character, especially from the 90s animated series voiced by Kevin Conroy, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and the Arkham Batman games. Have I been inspired by Batman? Sure. He was a part of my early childhood and helped form it with his stories, just as Spider-Man did. I spent a good deal of time watching both with my Dad and it helped to form dialogue between us on religion, revenge, the use of power, the poor, mental health and mental health care, the difference between reality and fiction, and so many other things. I suppose where I come to the difference, beyond ‘my Great-Grandfather lived’, is that Batman never came to me in a vision, or when I thought “Man, I could really use Batman right now.” The Gods did. When I was a Catholic, Yahweh, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary, as well as St. Francis de Assisi did.

A worthy point Sannion brought up is if indeed these are spirits unto themselves, then what if they would actively deny our worship, or worse, be insulted by it? I.e. Batman, I am fairly sure given my experience of Batman through the comics, movies, games, etc. would balk at being worshiped and would not answer. Perhaps that is me just lore-thumping with a comic book instead of an Edda. How does one enter into such a religious cultus and culture and keep a sense of discernment and sense of sanctity for Gods I consider to be more real than comic book ones that are worshiped?

So the challenge could be one where I would say “Okay, I don’t believe on whit of this, but I’m willing to entertain the notion, so here we go: I’ll buy a Batman action figure or print a picture and put it aside from my Gods and give it worship as I might my Gods. It won’t go on my God altar, but I’m willing to entertain this notion.” 
Then I think about it, and what that worship means to me, to my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and I cannot do it. I can’t go that far, and I admit that. At the risk of insulting you, and your own religious path, I don’t look at it as a negative, because I see such a thing as debasing my religion, of saying to my Gods “you are like this fictitious being to me”. It insults me, and from my perspective, and my religious training and beliefs it insults my Gods to do so.

I’m all for people worshiping whatever Gods they want to, and at the end of the day, I recognize that my voice means relatively little in the course of whether or not someone will call me wrong for worshiping Loki the way I do when they take their inspiration of worship from Marvel. They still may feel the need to say it, even if I don’t respond to it, or they may strike a dialogue with me and explain why they find the Marvel Loki more spiritually fulfilling than the Loki I know.

I think that part of the importance of my engaging with Pagans who engage Pop Culture as a source for their Gods, is to say that “I do not believe this, but I am willing at least to hear it. I won’t shout you down, but I will probably not accept it.” People may well come to me tomorrow asking for help, or I may be called upon to engage with them by my Gods, and rather than close myself off wholly to them, I think that the middling ground of “I respect your right to have your religious experiences, but I do not look at them as I will my own. If you can handle that we can continue.” If their response is “If my Gods are not welcome/respected as I respect Them I cannot treat with you” I can respect that in the larger sense; I have the exact same response to places where Loki is forbidden. I cannot go there, and cannot ask you to either. 

If your devotion to your religion and/or your Gods is that deep, let me give a heartfelt hurrah for you. I can at least nod and say “I respect your right to worship who and what you wish. I don’t understand it, I may not accept it as valid for my religion, practices, beliefs, etc. but that, ultimately, is between you and the Gods.” Hell, if your religious devotion is deep you’re doing better than a lot of so-called religious people, Pagan and not. Where I would have harsh words is if, as I have seen insisted on Tumblr, that Marvel’s Loki is the real one, and any of us who go “Wait, our understanding of Loki is based in the myths and legends and our experiences of Him through that lens” are told we are wrong. My Gods are not revealed to me in fiction.  While my understanding may, in some cases be informed by fiction, i.e. I still ‘see’ Thor with blond hair rather than red as is depicted in the myths, I do not believe They should not be placed in the same category as fiction or fictitious beings.  I cannot treat Batman, or any other superhero with the same religious reverence as my Gods, my Ancestors, or the spirits with whom I work.

Stumbling for Words

October 24, 2012 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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