Patreon Topic 45: On Runes, Color, and Activation

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From Emily comes this topic:

“I’m curious why you associate runes as being activated in red. Is there historical precedent? Also, have you found any use for using runes in other colors?”

I want to first point out the Hávamál stanza 143:

143.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

translated by Olive Bray and edited by D. L. Ashliman
http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/havamal.html#runes

The way that I understand ‘paint’, ‘tint’, ‘stain’, or ‘colour’ as it is referred to in other sources, eg this translation by Henry Adam Bellows here, and Carolyne Larrington’s translation reprinted here, stanza 145 in this version, is that it is referring to this act with blood. The reference to ‘offer’, or ‘sacrifice’ bears this out in my mind, as does this passage in my understanding of the Runes as vaettir. This is passage is not referring to Gods, Ancestors, or anything other than the Runes here, so anyone applying the passage directly after this to ‘not offering too much’ to Them is doing themselves and the relationships They carry a disservice.

Is there a historical precedent for Runes being activated by the color red? Not that I have found. Runes were etched into bractiates, wood, and stones, and so far as I have read specific pigments were not associated with them. Serje Spurkland in his excellent book Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions, to whit I remember, does not mention anything like that.

It is really important to remember that my work with the Runes, despite really liking and digging into what academic work I can get my hands on and afford, is much more based in spiritwork with Them. It is modern so far as I know. That does not make it less valid, it just bears putting out there.

So what is ‘activating’ a Rune?

It is empowering a surface, item, person, place, thing etc that a Rune is put/carved/painted onto to carry that vaettir and/or Their megin or might. This can take a number of forms. You might paint a Rune tile with blood and so, both feed the Rune and give the Rune the form on a surface in blood. You may carve or scratch Runes into a piece of wood, and then fill the carved wooden Rune space with ochre or acrylic red paint. You might take some of your spit or sweat and mark the inside of a coat with a Rune. You might sing the name of the Rune or write and perform a galdralag to bring the Rune’s power onto a carved candle. Perhaps instead of carving you trace the image of a Rune over yourself or another, and galdr the Rune. Perhaps you use the carrier of your önd, breath, to sing a Rune over/into something/someone. However you make the physical body or whatever carries the Rune, the Rune is activated when the Runevaettr enters the Rune or puts Their megin into Their representation.

I generally look at red as an activating color because it is the color of blood. That’s the long and short of it. I had the option of filling the Rune tattoos on my arms with red and chose not to because, at least to how I relate to Them, I did not want Them to be ‘on’ and working all the time. Not everyone is going to have this association, and that is fine.

When it comes to working with colors and Runework, I think really the sky is the limit. Given we are completely off the historical map and talking spiritwork here, you could look at how you relate to the main colors you can see. Then, get a color wheel, and start building the associations you have with the Runes. Does this color outline put you more in mind of, say, the Icelandic or Anglo-Saxon Rune poem? Does this color with a black outline speak more to you with the Rune’s ability to heal or harm? Do you like clean lines? How about spelling words or writing sentences with Them? If you make a Sowilo with a rainbow gradient in it, does that speak differently to you from a solid yellow or red?

What about bindrunes? If you combined an icy blue Isa with a deep green Jera what does that say to you? How about contrasting with bindrunes that have obvious opposites in them? What about working with complementary colors that speak ‘healing’ or ‘grounding’ to you?

Generally, I do not work with many colors and the Runes outside of black and red. I’m not a great painter by any stretch, and most of the mediums I work in, namely wood, leather, and woodburning in both of those, I tend to work with outlines or black fill more than painting.

What works with me matters far less than what works with you. After all, I have my own relationship with the Runes, my own color associations, and my own understanding with ‘what works’ when it comes to spiritwork, Runework, and being a Rýnstr. So will you. So, enjoy, experiment, and explore.

Patreon Topic 26: On Regional Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Regional Cultus. Not just in the realm of honoring the local spirits, but also in how the gods are reflected differently in different times and places.”

When I first started writing on this I was approaching this purely from an academic perspective, noting the resources we have available to us are mostly coming after conversion and almost all the earliest sources through Christian writers. The scholars and academics who later gave us interpretation and understanding of these sources, and even the archaelogists, all are operating within a Protestant Christian dominated background.

Generally, our Gods in the academic fields are not being approached as Gods. We have living, dynamic relationships with Them. Even over the course of my life my cultus with Óðinn has gone through changes, so I would hardly expect in a generation other Heathens to carry anything like the same relationship as I. When I began to worship Him, He came to me sometimes as Father, but mostly as Rúnatýr, and Yggr primarily. He was fierce, harsh, and a taskmaster in the early times. He still is at times.

How the Gods are reflected differently in different times and places depends on how the Gods fit into the landscape/environment we live in now, and the relationships we hold with Them. I would have a far harder time relating to Skaði if I lived in a place without snow, and relating to the Gods of the ocean is a lot harder for me here in the Great Lakes than it is when I visited the ocean. I still hold cultus for the Gods of the ocean, but it is a more remote one, less in-my-face than that of the Great Lakes Goddesses.

A big difference in regional cultus I can confidently point to is mine with Jörð, Freya, Freyr, and Gerða. I relate to Jörð through the Earth I stand on, and while Jörð is still Jörð wherever in Miðgarð I go on Her, I relate to Her differently here, especially in my home, vs a hotel room. The difference between worshiping Her on land I have helped cultivate vs a hotel room is quite stark. I have no relationship to the land in a hotel room beyond a place to rest my head. My thanks to Her is much more general, eg She is of the place, and I am grateful for Her being the floor and eventually the ground beneath my feet. Contrast this with the relationship I hold with Her being the good, black Earth I helped to till and plant in that our good harvest has grown from. My cultus with Freya, Freyr, and Gerða is embedded in no small part in that same gardening. It is not that I cannot relate to Them outside of the home, the hearth, or the garden, but that it lacks the specific ways in which our relationships flow as they do there.

The asparagus plant is one group of vaettir in which I relate quite a bit to these Gods locally. As before, I associate Jörð with the garden it grows in. The plant itself clearly associated with Freyr given its virility, fertility, and phallic shape. It is also associated with Gerða in that to harvest it, it must be cut down, and this fits in with my understanding of Freyr as a Sacrificed God whose blood renews the fertility of the Earth. Freya I associate with the pollinators, especially the bees and their sweetness, and the preparation work that must go on so the plants can prosper. It is not just through the garden and all the vaettir within it that I relate to these Gods. I relate to these Gods through the actions I take with the land. Tilling, planting, gardening, weeding, harvesting, all of this is done in relationship with the landvaettir, with Jörð, with Freya, with Freyr, with Gerða, and with the Ancestors, especially those who farmed and/or gardened. All of this with just one kind of plant. How much more so with a garden! How much more so with a biome!

Regional cultus grows from our living relationship with the environment, and if I can find that much connection in and through a single plant then we can certainly make them through the land we live on. It is worth pointing out that Yggdrasil holds the Worlds, and the Worlds are also in relationship with one another. Asgarðr and Jötunheimr are across a river, Ífingr, from each other. Jotunheimen is the name of a range of mountains in Norway. The Worlds are said to be in different direction, eg Niflheim to the North, Muspelheim to the South. We can likewise locate our relationship with the Nine Worlds in such ways, much as our forebears did with regard to directions and the landscape. Perhaps rather than strictly in the East, Jötunheimr is in or has connections to the World in the far more wild forest behind the home. A special rock becomes a hörgr, a stand of trees a vé, and from there perhaps new relationships form with Jötun Gods.

It is really hard predict how regional cultus will develop over time. After all, my family has only lived in Michigan for five generations, including myself and my children. Between major predicaments like climate change and peak oil, the unfolding of the next election and the consequences from that, our unique land here in Michigan, and the unfolding relationships we hold right now, it is anyone’s guess how it will develop. Given the ongoing Work and relationship I have with Óðinn, our strong commitment to direct experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the land we live, and our work on the land, we will have many avenues to understand our Gods and develop relationships through.

Patreon Topic 23: Found Offerings

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would you discuss found offerings to the Gods and wights in the Viking age and before, such as bog offerings?”

It’s important to note that not all found offerings were found in bogs, though that is certainly one place they were found. Other places, as noted by Claude Lecouteux in his book The Traditions of Household Spirits, were beneath the threshold and beneath the home otherwise. These sacrifices would be snakes, cats, roosters, and the like and were likely to be understood as guardians of the home.

Some found offerings, such as bog people who were clearly strangled or had their head bashed in may have been outlaws or even willingly made offering of themselves, while whole ships and their contents may have been offered along coastlines and interred for high-ranking people. It is not known for certain if the bog people were human sacrifices, as this article from The Atlantic covering the subject states, though my inclination is towards that being the case. This paper, At the threshold of the Viking Age by Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide, Niels Bonde, and Terje Thun, explores the ship offerings in a particular case in Kvalsund, Norway. Boat parts and whole boats put into the bog would have been known as bog offerings. The famous Oseberg ship is another example of a ship offering.

Why would this have been done? In the case of the Kvalsund bog offering the authors posit that “Because vessels and water are at the core of the activity at this particular locality, and because there is a high risk of shipwrecking in this area, the vessel offerings may have been related to this danger in order to prevent shipwrecks, and therefore save or bring back lives, which is an element of fertility rituals in the widest sense.” The  Oseberg ship, meanwhile, was a burial site. In the case of coastal offerings we could see non-burial ship offerings as made to Norðr, or perhaps to Rán and Ægir. We can speculate that ship burials on land were likely started with elaborate ceremonies that, when finished, would continue to celebrate the lives of those ‘aboard’. The ship itself was a way of securing good passage to the afterlife.

What does all this mean for the modern Heathen? We have a wide variety of ways to take care of our offerings, and that some of these methods of offerings are as old as time. It also points to some interesting ideas about setting up a household guardian. Now, I am not saying every Heathen should go out and bring home a snake, cat, etc to sacrifice to put under their theshold. However, it is important to think about why these sacrifices were made. These were invitations to the vaettr to take up residence inside the house, to guard and care for it. I am all for reclaiming our traditions of sacrifice, though I do not think folks would sacrifice what we now think of as pet animals like a cat or snake.

So, what can we do instead? We could ask the vaettr of a given animal to inhabit a substitute offering, such as one made of bread that we ritually slaughter and place beneath the threshold. Modern vulture culture provides us another way to bring this idea into modern Heathenry. Most of us work with found remains or those that result from a hunt. We could work with the skeleton or other remains of a willing animal or group of animals, and make offerings to them prior to deposition beneath the threshold. While these methods do not have the potency of a ritual sacrifice, for those who lack the skill or desire to these are important modern ways of engaging in practices alike to the old ways.

What about modern boat offerings? Given the proliferation of trash and waste in our oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds, it is probably not the best idea to mimic our Ancestors in this way. Besides, as noted in the At the threshold paper, “Kvalsund was a bog at the time, not a lake, but the site was turned into a pond due to ritual construction and deposition.” Our offerings literally have the power to radically alter the environment. Taking care as to what and how we offer is important. So, should we carry on ship offerings? No, I would not. Besides, while the boats were made of materials that could decay over time modern boats do not.

Taking into consideration local needs for trees, including the need to retain old growth forest, to keep soil from eroding, and to reduce habitat loss, the use of whole logs to make a ship for the use of an offering, regardless of how impressive or potent it is, cannot be justified. Even seemingly benign rearrangement of stones in rivers to make cairns can have detrimental effects on the local environment, so here too we should be care what, if anything, we leave behind. If we are to leave offerings they should be compostable, or otherwise able to break down wherever we leave the offering without detrimental effect. Consider how much of the Oseberg ship was left intact despite burial and the composition of materials in it.

So does this mean we Heathens should not leave physical offerings? Of course not. It means that we need to be careful in regards to what we offer, where we offer it, and how we offer things. This honors the thing we offer and the Beings we offer it to. This honors and respects the life of the Beings we make offerings of, the Beings we offer it to, the Beings (such as Fire, Water, etc) that we offer through, and the landvaettir from which the offerings came and where those offerings will be laid down.

Patreon Topic 14: Gods and Myths

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From Alec comes this topic idea:

“For the topic idea do you think you could talk about mythologies and how they can still fit into our modern days? For example a lot of Greek myths have a lot of things that people today know aren’t right, but it seems like people are so quick to judge the Gods based on stories that human’s wrote.”

This is a topic that comes around quite a few times, but I think this may be the first time I am going to address it head on.

I have said on this blog, on Around the Grandfather Fire, and in workshops that myths are part of the map and not the territory. Myths tell us things about our Gods. Where They came from, what got Creation started, but what myths are not is the relationship we carry with a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, vaettr, or group of these Beings. This is especially true in religions such as Heathenry where the sources for our myths are filtered through a monotheist lens.

Myths are powerful. They are ways of relating to, understanding, and thinking about how we live with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. To literally interpret myths as so many are wont to do, often through a monotheist/atheist lens, provides so many more hurdles to what is going on, and what a given myth is trying to say. The content of our myths matter, as do their context. Given I am not a Greek polytheist I cannot speak much to those myths, but I encounter this often enough in Norse and Icelandic myths that I do get it.

There is also something to be said for retelling. Each time we tell a story it lives on and is experienced. It is why telling the Norse Creation Story is one of my favorite things to do, especially around a Sacred Fire. When a myth is lifted off the page, comes out of the mouth, when a story is a lived experience that is when it transcends being a mere story. Myths contain cosmological and other truths, even if we have to dig for them a bit. Every time I tell the Creation Story some aspect of it comes forward in a way different than the last time I told it. Its telling becomes a lived experience.

‘Fitting’ these myths into our lives is the wrong approach. Rather, we need to bring these myths into our lives. When we bring them in they need to come into our lives. Our myths have to come off the page, inform our practices, and we need to understand them well in content and context. They need to be well told, and they need to feed our understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, World(s), ourselves, and our place in things.

Other Worlds -Veils, Separations, and Thresholds

A friend of mine posed a series of questions for a metaphysical discussion group we both frequent. I was not able to attend that night, but I thought the questions were good and worth thinking on.

Is there a veil between worlds? How much? If not a veil, are there other separations?

To the first question, “Is there a veil between the worlds?”:

The conception of a veil separating this world from the world of spirits in general is not something I ascribe to any more. I certainly think there are times when our perception of the various Worlds is more open, and sometimes this has to due with worldview or mindset, and other times to do with significant events, such as holy days, anniversaries of deaths, astrological events, and other times where spiritual potential for contact is elevated.

It also depends on which ‘worlds’ you are talking about. I think there could well be worlds out there that could be shielded from contact, worlds we may never visit because our minds can’t grasp the place to be able to, worlds so openly hostile to our presence that our spirit is repelled or put at risk, or worlds that we have to have an express invitation to see in the first place. Not so much a general veil as the question asks.

To the second question: “How much?”

A way to think about this would be in terms of effort. Some spirit worlds are completely intertwined with our own, eg Gods whose forms/names/Beings are more immanent, landvaettir, the Dead, and Ancestors. I have a graveyard a stone’s throw away from my house. I can walk to it when traffic is low. I have good relationships with the Dead of this graveyard as these Dead are close and were willing to forge good relationships with me.

Gods whose forms/names/Being are more transcendent, vaettir more distant physically and spiritually from us, Ancestors further back in our bloodline or separated across an ocean would all be examples of Beings who may be harder to contact. Going with the previous example, visiting some the other Dead I have relationships with means I have to drive to get to other graveyards, and sometimes these visits turn more into day trips. There isn’t a veil here, but there is more effort expended to do the physical journey to visit the world of that graveyard.

To the last question: “If not a veil, are there other separations?”

Some spiritual worlds may take more out of us or present us with more challenges that we need to prepare for when we go to visit them. As with the previous example it requires more preparation and better weather for me to visit a graveyard farther away from me than the one nearest me. I’ve visited my home graveyard in the midst of Winter with most of the graveyard being a snow-covered ice sheet. I would not make this kind of trip for a graveyard even a bit further away unless I needed to.

Applying this idea of effort, preparation, and work to get places is part of it. Spiritual worlds are inhabited and it can be seen as rude to outright invasion to try to get into a world you are not formally invited into. Trying to break into Helheim is a fool’s errand. It’s river, Gjöll, has a bridge, Gjallarbrú, to Helheim’s gate which is guarded by Móðguðr and Garm, Hela’s wolf. Asgard has a mighty wall to block anyone uninvited from coming into its walls and defenders on them. Even if a given spiritual world does not have these kinds of defenses, it makes sense to ask to come in rather than barge in. You are likely to have better reception and the relationship begins on a good note.

Turning this around, this is also why warding is so important. If you do not ward then any old spirit that strolls by can walk into your proverbial front door. In a sense you are protecting your ‘world’ from those Beings you don’t want strolling through. It also helps with discernment because if you have good wards you have a safe place free from the energetic and spiritual intrusions of the world around you where you can relax and live, and invite the Beings you will into a far more well-ordered space than if everything was just open.

On Ritual Praxis -Structure, Roles and Responsibilities

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

Structures in Heathenry -Innangarð and Utgarð

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

Why does this structure matter so much?

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

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

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

Structures in Heathenry -Families, Hearths, and Tribes

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

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

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

Divisions of Innangarð

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structure in Heathenry -Organizational Models

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

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

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

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

Laity

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

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

Leaders

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

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

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

Spiritual Specialists

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

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

Structure in Heathenry -Hosts and Guests

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

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

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

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

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

Structure in Heathenry -Grith and Frith

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

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

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

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

Structure in Heathenry -Gebo, Megin, and Hamingja

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

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

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

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