The Importance of Being Visible

My arms are covered in Runes and I wear three necklaces, a valknut, a Mjolnir, and a stylized wolf when I am out of the house. What this has done has allowed me to connect with folks wherever I go. They ask questions, they want to know “What do these mean?” Even in the case of folks mistaking my Runes, which are the Elder Futhark, for ancient Hebrew, it is still someone saying “I see this and I want to know more.”

My necklaces and my tattoos are public invitations to have a conversation. I display them for my own reasons, namely as a form of devotion and mindfulness of my relationships with the Ginnreginn. However, I would not have a reason to display them publicly if that were the only reason. I could just as easily carry my valknut, Mjölnir, and wolf necklaces in my spiritwork bag and cover up my tattoos. I wear necklaces, rings, and tattoos to display to others. So that, in some way, what I am is seen. I could just as easily have had the Runes tattooed on my back, my upper arms, or somewhere else easily hidden by clothing. Instead, They asked, and I accepted, that They be tattooed on my lower arms.

Recently, fellow Heathens including Maleck, Snow and Gunny, both of whom are wonderful folks, have talked about aesthetic and how it relates to Heathenry, Heathens, and our place in communities. I can tell you from personal experience that aesthetic can also key into being accessible to others in our communities, both in terms of fellow Heathens and those outside our religious communities. Especially being so outward facing in our aesthetics like this, it allows us to be able to be good and approachable sources of information for those who, otherwise, may not learn about Heathenry or Heathens.

It is also why I tend to stay away from the Vikings TV show aesthetic when it comes to my regular online content. No issue with those who do it as part of their own regular content. However, the aesthetics of the show, and cosplay in general, clash with the Heathenry I want to portray, which is historically-informed and modern. What this does not mean is that I lack for ritual aesthetics, historical Nordic outfits, and only wear t-shirt and shorts to ritual. It just means that everyday wear tends to be my most common worn items because most of my rituals do not require specific ritual wear. My most frequent rituals are hearth cultus, so my ‘ritual wear’ tends to be whatever I have on at home. If I have been working out, doing yard work, or am dirty, I clean up, switch the clothes out, and then do hearth cultus.

Our aesthetics, both what we wear for everyday wear and for ritual, can say a lot about us to ourselves, to the communities we live in, and to our relationship with the Ginnreginn. Perhaps over time as we develop from just religious communities into full-blown cultures we may develop varying ways of dress. However, for the moment, most polytheists blend in to the overculture they are living in.

When we step outside of that blending that is a statement. It can be one for ourselves, our communities, and/or our Ginnreginn, but if we wear something, whether it is our hair, tattoos, or clothes that takes us out of the everyday, it is a statement. It is a powerful act, and a powerful responsibility not only for myself, it is equally so for my family, community, and the Ginnreginn. Even more so than wearing my Valknut or Mjölnir openly, my tattoos have opened a lot of conversational doors that likely would have stayed shut. They are vaettir, power, and magic, embodied in me, a living relationship. They are an invitation to others to conversation, understanding, and wisdom carved into my flesh.

What others will get from conversation prompted by the Runevaettir differs. For a lot of folks I am the first and only open polytheist they have ever met. For some folks this prompts a flood of questions, ranging from “What does that word mean?” to “How can you worship so many?” to “What are the Gods? The Ancestors? The spirits?” For others there is a few moments of contemplation, and then appreciation that lights up their face. For some, fear and apprehension strike their body like lightning, and something about the notion of living ancient Gods, Ancestors who listen and speak with them, and spirits all around absolutely terrifies them. For some, just sharing what these living Beings are opens whole Worlds to them. Others will shrink back.

My body becomes a gateway of conversation. My words become a conduit. My demeanor shares connection. Making the choice to take on the tattoos I have, the Valknut and the Runes, I am not my own, alone; I am also my Gods’, my Ancestors’, my vaettir’s. I am, in a very real sense, a vé walking in the world. That is the importance of being visible.

Patreon Topic 44: On Wolf Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“What does Wolf Cultus look like to you?”

The short answer is that Wolf Cultus looks a lot like my other cultus does. I have places set aside on our family hearth Gods’ vé for the Wolf Gods, spaces on the Ancestors’ vé for the Wolf Ancestors, and spaces on the animalvaettir vé for Wolf and wolves. They each receive offerings, usually water, and occasionally food and/or alcohol like our other Ginnreginn.

I wear a large necklace of Úlfr, the Old Norse word for Wolf and a Míkilvaettr (Big/Mighty spirit) alongside my Valknut for Óðinn and my Mjölnir for Þórr. I carry representations of wolves and úlfheðinn on me otherwise, both as reminders of our relationship and as connection points with Them. I make regular prayers to Them, both in our home during our regular prayers and outside the home.

The way I engage with Wolf Cultus every day looks, acts, is lived, and is in relationship with the Wolf Ginnreginn in ways that are carried a lot like my others are. There are things that I do because of these relationships in addition to cultus. For instance, I donate and write on behalf of causes that specifically have to do with issues around wolves, such as the bullshit wolf hunts that have been called for in the Michigan legislature. A good number of the Gods that are part of my various cultus all tend to have wolf connections -Óðinn, Angrboða, Skaði, Ullr, Hela, Fenris, Lykeios, Lupa, Anpu, and Wepwawet. Small wonder that my hearth cultus does not change much then since so many are connected with or are wolves in some way Themselves!

Does Wolf Cultus involve howling? Sometimes. My son doesn’t like to, but my daughter sure does. So, when she and I do prayers specifically to the Wolf Ginnreginn on our own, we howl. A lot of the other more noticeably wolf-oriented things do not actually occur in the hearth cultus. A lot of that occurs for me in spiritual connection work, but most of that is not during regular cultus of prayers and offerings. Sometimes it occurs on its own. It might be hamfara (faring forth in hamr), or it might be some spiritual work with a group of vaettir, such as in Maleck’s own Pack Magic which you can read about here. So far as I practice Wolf Cultus it is distinct from spiritwork or magic since the point of cultus is to worship rather than to engage in spiritwork or magic.

Private Wolf Cultus rituals, though, look a bit different. I own and work with the vaettr of a wolf that was prepared by Lupa, a wonderful Pagan artist. You can find her work here, here, and here. This wolf and I have bonded on a fairly deep level over the years, and he reflects at least some my inward soul outwardly. He is in a place of honor most days underneath our Gods’ vé, and when I put him on the connection with my wolf self, the Wolf Gods, the Wolf Ancestors, and wolfvaettir is powerful, and fairly instant. Whether I am wearing him or not, when I engage in Wolf Cultus on my own we are engaged in it together. When I do not do Wolf Cultus with him present, sometimes I am engaging with one of the wolf items I carry on my person. It is sometimes hard to write about, not only because of how personal it is.

Sometimes it is hard to write about because of how visceral the connections are, how your senses light up with the power and impact of one of the Wolf Gods making Their Presence known in ways that hit you in every bit of your Soul Matrix. Sometimes it is hard to write about because you have Wolf Ancestors that you connect with, and there is such a feeling of elation, joy, pack that is hard to put into words that do it justice. Other times it is hard to write about because you really are just reaching for words to describe raw feelings, or experiences that are close to the chest and you keep private. Even here my cultus starts out the same: prayers, offerings, and a few moments to connect. Breathing slow, steady breaths at first, perhaps quickening or lengthening if getting into trance is called for. Whether the trance comes on, the Presences are felt, or if there is work to do, being thankful for the connection with Them. Then the prayers of thanks, and prepping to get on with the remainder of the day.

Patreon Topic 42: On Godspousery

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Godspousery.”

Of the topics I could talk about this is one of the most fraught in Heathenry. There are fierce opponents to the notion of Godspousery. There are those who are fierce proponents of it. I am neither. Godspousery is a real spiritual phenomena and relationship, and whether or not it is modern in origin is beside the point. Far too often in Heathenry whether something ‘has pedigree’ in the lore dictates its acceptance in our communities. I would far rather we accept that our relationships come through a myriad of ways, and that, though rare, Godspousery is one them.

Godspousery is what it sounds like: a God takes a human consort. This has plenty of precedence throughout human cultures, and the one most people look to when they think of this as an example is that of Catholic nuns who take an oath to be a Bride of Christ. In my understanding of Godspousery this is one example of many, but probably the most accessible so folks can gain an understanding of the phenomenon. For another Heathen’s exploration, Erin Lale wrote an excellent piece posted here in Eternal Haunted Summer that is both accessible and a non-judgmental exploration of it.

What are we to make of this as modern Heathens? Godspousery is a real spiritual phenomena. Like a lot of spiritual phenomena and initiation, it should only be entered into after a lot of thought, prayer, personal exploration, divination, and conversation. That conversation should not only be with the God in question, it should be with the communities that person has ties with. Why?

An oath to a God or Goddess of marriage is perhaps one of the most serious that could be made with the most dire of consequences for a person and their community should that oath be broken or harm made to the relationship. Ties of hamingja, communal luck/power and the ties that bind a community, and the expression of megin, personal luck/power are bound up in the oaths we take and keep. It is not to be made lightly. Dependent on the community a Godspouse may or may not take up a unique role within that community. In such a case there are responsibilities and demands as a change in relationship also turns into a change in their job within their community.

Being a Godspouse takes a lot of forms, and rather than exhaustively go over every iteration, suffice it to say, they are relationships that develop over time. Unlike a Catholic nun, a Godspouse in Heathenry may have changes in how their relationship expresses itself. The relationship in its youth may be like a new fire, blazing and passionate, and over time this transforms into a bed of embers, warm and comfortable. The relationship may be quite regimented and become less so over time, or vice versa. It may remain the same throughout a person’s life. For whatever reason a God has chosen a human to be Their consort, and at least a portion of that person’s life is given over to that God.

Why might a God take a spouse? Because They are fascinated, attracted to, and/or find a useful quality in/of a person’s Being. To bring a person into deeper mysteries, magic, and/or power. To solidify an alignment with humanity in a given community. To bring together disaprate groups of Gods a given community worships together. To bring a teaching or technique to a person/community. They may have simply accepted the proposal from a worshiper out of love, and the acceptance is an honoring of that proposal. It could be all of these things, none of them, or more. I am not the Gods, and it is up to anyone called to such a thing to figure this out.

While Heathens should not be uncritical of Godspouses, we should do more to support them. By this I do not mean we put them on pedastals, allow poor treatment from or to them, or to treat them as wholly separate members of our communities. If anything, this status requires they be under more scrutiny for their actions, as their actions can have wide ripples in the communities they are part of. I would have the wider Heathen communities give space for Godspouses because an accepting and warm community can help folks weed out genuine experience from sock puppets and assumptions, and help the person as well as the community develop good discernment. More community support would also cut down on the number of cultish behaviors we see when folks pop up claiming power and relationship with Gods. These steps could easily be taken with anyone engaging with the Heathen communities in a spiritual specialist role, not just Godspouses.

When legitimate spiritual experiences and expressions are denigrated, called fake or unreal, it pushes those experiences down in the community, but it does not eliminate them. It pushes them underground, and at least this makes them go quiet. At most, this can cause the communities to splinter or break apart entirely. Without oversight or support it has allowed for some truly toxic behaviors from folks posing as Godspouses. Now, if for whatever reason you/your community absolutely refuses to engage with or accept a given spiritual phenomena and it keeps coming up, one of two things are happening: a) you are right and all these folks are merely engaging in some delusion or deception even if they are reporting their genuine experiences, or b) you are wrong and these folks are reporting genuine experiences that are true.

Given that so much of modern Pagan religions, Heathenry included, is built on so much of b) that it is part of most of our formal theologies, this puts folks denying the reality of Godspousery on some fairly shaky ground. Heathen religions are revivals or renewals, with reconstruction being a methodology and not a religion unto itself; it is a tool of our religions. There is a lot of our own gnosis, understanding, and beliefs we have to put into practice in order for Heathen religions to make any kind of sense, let alone have cohesion, create communities, develop cultures, and pass them on to others. Gnosis is the glue that makes Heathen religions work. It is no less a valid and understandable a religious phenomena than that of seiðkona, spiritworkers, or goðar.

If folks commit to ‘only what is sourced in the lore’ as our standard for acceptable practice in Heathenry we are going to have precious little available to us. Healthy, vital, and vibrant Heathen communities requires us to be open to new, or, at least, new-to-us experiences and understanding. It requires lived relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Some folks will be called one way, and others another. It does not make us any inherently better or worse than one another, it just makes our pathways in Heathenry different. It is with this understanding that I believe Heathens should embrace Godspousery as a real and a vetted phenomena within our communities. It is far better for all of us to provide welcome, supportive environments for religious growth, discernment, understanding, and expression.

A Cleansing Prayer to Apollo

I originally wrote this August 31st, 2017. It seemed about time for it to be published.

Hail Apollo!
Lord of Cleansing!
Purifier of Purifiers!

O Lord Whose hands hold plague and purification,
Whose forms are all arrayed in Beauty,
You have brought a beautiful cleansing!

You have blessed the leaves of bay;
They are holy!
They are holy!
They are holy!

You have blessed the lustral waters;
They are cleansed!
They are cleansed!
They are cleansed!

You have blessed the khernips;
I am pure!
I am pure!
I am pure!

Thank You, Who has cleansed me:
Acestor! Iatromantis! Lykeios!
Hail Apollo!

Patreon Topic 37: On Hulda

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Could you talk about Hulda?”

Only in the sense that I could point you to resources I have found. Hulda is not a Goddess I have experience with. For this, I have to rely on resources such as Die Urglaawisch Sippschaft vum Lewesbaam here, GermanicMythology.com here, and The Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic by Claude Lecouteux.

A lot of my exposure to Her has been with regards to Her connections to Yule, and what some see as Her cognates, being Frau Holle and Perchta. These Goddesses are seen in some sources as leading The Wild Hunt, with Perchta leading unbaptized babies in Her train. All of these Goddesses are related to domestic crafts, especially spinning, and the keeping of the home. Where Hulda means ‘hidden’ and She may be seen as seen as being connected to the ‘hidden ones’, the Huldra, Frau Holle and Perchta are more associated with the Dead.

Beyond that I really cannot talk too much given I do not know Her well. Beyond the sources I have given above I would look into the Urglaawe Heathen reconstructionist religion, especially Robert L. Schreiwer, the Urglaawe Facebook Group, Die Urglaawich Sippschaft vum Distelfink and the Urglaawe Customs Guild which all were thanked in the bottom of the first article. These folks have living traditions and religious paths which honor these Goddesses and understand Her in a far more immediate way than I.

Patreon Topic 36: Connecting with Mímir

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From Streakingfate comes this topic:

“I’m not sure if you’ve written about connecting with / your experiences of Mimir much or not, but something around him might be interesting.”

Most of my experiences with Mímir are generally quiet. I have worshiped Him for a little less than the time I have Óðinn, so around 13 years. That being said, He has always been there.

I have visited His Well in hamr, but not to sacrifice anything, just to visit. He is Himself a well of wisdom, and just His Presence is a kind of low rumble of power. He exudes this patience, not serenity, but a kind of calm collectedness, of knowing. His spiritual voice to me registers very low, not low in terms of volume, but register.

There have been times where I have made specific offerings to Him. Some time back when I skinned a deer and went to macerate her head, I was asked by Mímir and Óðinn for her eyes. I had to take them out whole in offering to Them. Otherwise, my offerings tend to be the same as for my other Gods: water, coffee, whiskey, beer, mead, and other drinks besides, sacred herbs, and occasionally food.

I have had times where I ‘loaned’ Him my eyes for a set period of time, but these were few and far between. One time was in response to where I felt like He wanted my eye for wisdom. This deal of Him ‘borrowing’ my eyes was a kind of compromise to where He was with me for a period of around 8 hours. The sensation was something like having someone stand beside you, but take that sensation and put it behind your eyes. It was odd, but not uncomfortable.

Much of my worship with Him follows along the lines of our other hearth Gods. We pray to Him regularly during our meal prayers and night prayers. We make a lot of the same offerings to Him as our other hearth Gods. When Mímisbrunnr Kindred meets, He is generally the first among the Gods we honor and offer to. If we had a motto, it is from Him: No wisdom is gained without sacrifice. His is a consistent reminder that not only is there a price for wisdom, it must be paid.

Patreon Poem/Song/Prayer 36 -For the Nornir

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This was requested by Streakingfate for the Nornir.

Urðr, Verðandi, Skuld

Three sisters Who weave

Three sisters Who carve

Three sisters Who craft

Happened, That-Which-Was, Fate

Happening, That-Which-Is, Present

Will Happen, That-Which-Will-Be, Shall Be

Past, Present, Future

Threads weave with threads, carved tiles clack on each other

From Your Hands all things weave and fall

We are not caught in Your Webs

We are the strands

We are not stuck in the wood

We are the carving and the carved

We are not powerless to fate

We are its execution

O Nornir

Help me to weave and be woven well

Help me to carve and be carved well

Help me to live full and well in Urðr’s ways

Patreon Topic 33: On Laypeople vs Spiritual Specialists

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic: “Laypersons vs spiritual specialists and the levels between. What do they look like in Heathenry? Where do the lines fall?”

Spiritual specialists are folks who have been trained to fulfill needs within a given community. These can be clergy, practitioners of magic, healers, diviners, and so much more. They come from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. It is probably more useful to say what each kind of person does and then talk about what they look like in Heathenry, and where the lines fall between a layperson with an interest in a given spiritual specialty vs a spiritual specialist.

The biggest line between a layperson and a spiritual specialist is that the former can have an interest, say, in seiðr without responsibility to or developing skill and competence for other people in that interest. While a layperson may have training in seiðr, they are not offering services professionally and/or for/on behalf of a community. A spiritual specialist in seiðr will have trained in the work of doing seiðr, possess skill in it, have competency and expertise in its use, and may offer seiðr services. It is not a title alone that makes the difference here. There are community expectations of a spiritual specialist that do not generally exist for a layperson. The spiritual specialist bears a responsibility with and to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likewise a responsibility with and to the community/communities that they serve.

This is not to say that a layperson lacks skill or competence in the subject. A layperson may have skill and competence surpassing that of a spiritual specialist, but they bear no responsibility to or with the communities they are part of in the capacity of that spiritual specialist.

Another comparison might be that of a ritual leader vs that of a goði/gyðja for a Kindred or other group. Any Heathen can be a ritual leader whether you are solitary in your hearth cultus, or do regular cultus with your family or group. A goði/gyðja has formal responsibilities for and to the community they serve. They are responsible in their conduct to their community, for the particular ritual responsibilities they have within their role (these can vary by group so I’m being intentionally general here), and they are responsible to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir they conduct ritual with. Some goði/gyðja act as representatives to the Ginnreginn on behalf of their community in group cultus, and so, their skill and competency in the way they do ritual, including the making of prayers and offerings, as well as their general conduct, can have a significant impact on the rest of the group in the way that a layperson will not have.

Saying anything too general in regards to what laypeople vs spiritual specialists look like would be trying to speak for far too many communities at once. To be blunt, I do not know what an Anglo-Saxon Heathen spiritual specialist would look like vs that of a layperson because that is not my community. I know what I generally look for in spiritual specialsits, though: competence and expertise in the field at hand, an admission of what they do/do not know, training and experiences that are useful in the field at hand, and a community or series of communities that they serve in that capacity, even if that community is that of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I also will look for folks who will vouch for the spiritual specialist, especially if I am looking for a spiritual service such as magical work or divination.

In terms of ‘levels’ between laypeople and spiritual specialists this gets down to who I trust, what kind of work they do, who vouches for them, my experience with them, the experiences they have, and other qualitative evaluations. I might trust a layperson I know well with my life to do divination over a spiritual specialist next door that I do not know. I might only ever do my own magical working and never trust another person to do it for me, regardless of how well I know a seið worker.

I would imagine a lot of folks operate on this level. After all, in my case I am the goði for Mímisbrunnr Kindred. I am not everyone’s goði. I am a rýnstr (someone skilled in the Runes) or a rýni-maðr (Rune-man). While my services may not be for everyone, I offer my Rune services to the general public. I am responsible to those who hire me, eg for divination, to do my job well and to not bullshit them. This is the same responsibility I hold as a vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), whether that is to my Kindred or to those who come to me for this service, though how that responsibility shakes out may differ because of the relationships I hold.

Since every Heathen holds responsibility to hold cultus with their Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likely does so in their own way, spiritual specialists probably do not look all that different from laypeople. Since anyone can approach with and work with various forms of spirit work, magic, and the like, whether that is seiðr, spá, galdr, Runework, etc., differentiating laypeople from spiritworkers from the outside looking in can be a challenge. Looking at the relationships folks hold within a community, to W/whom they hold obligations and duty, what work they do and for W/whom they do things are probably the biggest divides between a layperson and a spiritual specialist in Heathenry.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 33 -For Lupa

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Lupa.

O Great Wolf

Whose generosity is without bounds

Whose instruction is firm

Whose bearing is mighty

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

O Great Wolf

Whose nose discerns and directs

Whose ears hear prayers and pack

Whose teeth bring down the prey

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

O Great Wolf

Whose pack ranges wide

Whose people are without count

Whose ways are wise

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

Authenticity in Heathen Religions

When we ask the question “Is this authentic?” of a view, practice, idea, or experience when it comes to Heathenry that question is fairly loaded. “Authentic to who?” is a useful retort to move this into a more useful direction. After all, Anglo-Saxons have a different worldview, or are at least pulling their worldview from different historical sources than Norse Heathens. Authentic has a few working definitions which are worth digging into before we can even make a useful statement on whether or not something is ‘authentic’.

From Lexico.com: “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”, “(in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.” Of these I think the first and second definition are most useful to our interests. If something is authentic in Heathenry it is “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine” and/or “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original”. 

There is a trap in accepting these definitions at face value that many Heathens and polytheists in general fall into: that of our sources of lore dictating our religious paths to us without serious consideration from where those sources originate. If we look to most of the surviving written material it comes to us at least through one if not many Christian or Christian-influenced sources. Our sources of lore were never meant as religious instructions manuals, were never intended to make sure that the Heathen Gods’ names let alone worship survived, and are often quite spotty in terms of what information it does tell us reliably. We know very little for certain. So, with the maps so many use to reconstruct and revive Heathenry already admitted as being quite tattered and weather-beaten, how can we be sure our practice are “of undisputed origin and not a copy”?  Well, we know they are not a copy because we exist so far out of time and, at least where American Heathens are concerned, away from the home countries these cultures were rooted that we can be sure that modern Heathenry is a product of its Gods, Ancestors, vaettir (spirits), its time, and its people. In this, modern Heathenry is a genuine group of religious traditions.

Heathenry can also take the desire for things to be “Made or done in the traditional or original way” to an extreme. There is a lot wheel-spinning going around in a lot of circles as to whether a given practice is genuine to ancient Scandinavian Heathenry. Look folks, unless we are fluently speaking the ancient language and engaging in a culture exactly as they did, the likelihood we are going to be doing anything deeply close to what the Ancestors did is pretty slim. This is not to say that we cannot learn and experience a lot from living as close to the way the Ancestors did, nor is this to say folks who skew closer to historical reenactment and clothing, for example, are wrong. I happen to find older clothing like a traditional tunic and linen pants with wraps a great deal more comfortable, breathable, and gentle than modern clothing like jeans. I am a Universalist Tribalist Heathen, meaning that I believe anyone regardless of background can become a Heathen, but that most of my concerns are with those in my own circles of relationships. 

Many traditional offerings, such as offering the first fruits of a harvest or the sacrifice of an animal, in the way they were made by the Heathen ways we are reviving, are inaccessible to the average Heathen. Even for whom a traditional offering is available, the cost to make the offering may be prohibitively expensive or hard enough to find time in between all the life we’re supposed to lead during our waking ours that a different offering needs to be made. This is not an excuse for those who have the means and ability to make such offerings not to make them, but an acknowledgment that most of the population in the US lives in cities on very little money in very little land, and in very cramped conditions that leave us with very little time available to us to live our lives, let alone give the cultus to our Holy Powers that we may want to.  

What I think is most important in modern American Heathenry lies in the full second definition of ‘authentic’: “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” There are some things we can be relatively certain that we can reconstruct faithfully, and much of this has to do with material culture. From there we may infer or gain insight to how things may have worked in this practice or cultus, and then apply them to our own. 

We know that flint and steel, and before them various kinds of friction fires, were the primary tools used for making fire for a good chunk of human history. What does our knowledge of fire tell us of the centrality of fire, firemaking, and the cultus that could have existed around hearth cultus? Is fire made from flint and steel better inherently? I would argue, inherently, no. There is a difference of relationship. Convenience often breeds alienation from relationship with the Beings involved. Easy access to fire has made fire so easy to access that it takes real work to feel that one is in living relationship with Fire. Engaging with Fire through flint and steel one opens up to the Ancestors’ ways in a way our ancient Ancestors would readily recognize. This can also take place with what I sometimes dryly refer to as a Sacred Bic, and in no small part because a Bic lighter is flint and steel made small and convenient with the added benefit of accelerant. Most of our Ancestors would have likely deeply appreciated something we take for granted in the form of a lighter. Taking on the Ancestor’s mindset and truly appreciating the seemingly mundane and yet, revolutionary forms we have worked with the Elements themselves breeds an appreciation for Them and the wonders we have. From this baseline of respect for how the Elements manifest in our lives today we can take this understanding, gained from the Ancestors and our own sense of wonder, and carry it into other relationships no matter how seemingly small.

We can see where this has also completely disrupted what has been the physical arrangement of space for time out of mind. Rather than a central hearthfire which would have heated a room or whole lodgings, we now have ductwork that carries heat. The hearth has been replaced by two separate rooms: the kitchen and the living room. The place that would have been the space for meals, prayers, offerings, and so much living has now been split stripped of much of its sacred significance in the modern American home. Two major factors that need to be confronted in Heathenry exist for most Americans in general: the distance of ourselves from the everyday sacred, and how institutional and cultural forces reinforce the rift we are seeking to heal.

Whether something like a Bic existed in ancient Germanic cultures is rather besides the point. I am not living there. I am living here. The map of history is not the territory I walk with my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. However, that is not to discard the map. Authenticity in Heathenry comes from the tension of taking understanding and inspiration from the past and then applying these things in a sensible way to our lived experiences and the requirements of where we are and how we are to live in modern society. Sometimes the tension here is too great, and we must make choices on what we will do when we our worldview would have us sacrifice a modern convenience or address an imbalance with the overculture. 

Many Heathens, inspired by their devotion to Gods such as Jörð, Freyr, Gerða, Freyja, and so on, make choices in how they conduct themselves and what they purchase to live in an Earth-honoring way. A given Heathen might take the more expensive option of purchasing groceries and support a CSA, or they may plant a garden, help out on a local farm, etc. A Heathen with less time or money may only be able to grow a single plant in their apartment. Each person is a Heathen seeking to live their worldview authentically. Authenticity is not found in making the most expensive offering or living exactly like an ancient Scandinavian. What is authentic is each Heathen is living their worldview and in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and those in their human communities.

These are relatively small and easily navigated issues at this level. Authenticity reaches a new complexity when it comes to spiritual specialists. In part, because American is predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) there is an entire background of expectations a lot of folks are inculcated with in regard to spiritual specialists. Protestants in this country generally do not have priests, per se. They tend to be incredibly independent, and while most if not all engage in formal hierarchies of pastor and flock for the purposes of organization, each person is expected to engage in ongoing exegesis to some degree alongside devotional work like prayer and observation of holidays. There is not, generally speaking, a relationship between a pastor and their church like there is between a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox priest. These latter spiritual specialists meet the requirement of their Order and go through initiation to engage in their Office. Sometimes Protestant pastors go through some kind of initiatory process, eg the laying on of hands to confer the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but it seems some do not even go through this. What is expected of all of these Christian spiritual specialists is for them to engage with the public, provide spiritual counseling, and be available for religious community events.

Spiritual specialists in Heathenry find themselves in an awkward position. Given so many people coming into Heathenry are converts, many still carry the expectation that the priest will fulfill similar roles in their new religion. The map provided by lore and archaeology is that, unlike pastors, RCC and EO priests, Heathen priests generally served a God, Goddess, group of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir first. A priest served in a community role primarily through making prayers, offerings, and/or tending a sacred place or animal(s). Among other services they may have made on behalf of the community was to make sacrifices, and/or divine. 

It is incredibly hard to break modern Heathenry of the biases of the overculture when it comes to priests. The societal expectation is one facet, but the other is that our government and institutions that interact with spiritual specialists treat them all as same. This flattening of roles erases specialized initiations and training that exists for our spiritual specialists. It removes expectations of specialties or individual aptitude towards one kind or group of spiritual specialties by reinforcing the dominant paradigm of “all spiritual specialists must act as clergy” as normal. This is contrary to a healthy understanding, appreciation, and furthering of Heathen spiritual specialties. A seiðkona is not a spákona though a Völva may engage in both seiðr and spá. Likewise, a seiðkona is not necessarily a Völva. A Völva may or may not be a gyðja. A given person may engage in seiðr and spá but may not themselves be a seið worker because they do not have the initiation(s), training, or the community role of a seiðkona, spákona, or Völva. If we are to have authenticity in our Heathen practices, and if they are to be carried forward with both meaning and use, we need to have standards under which that authenticity operates.

Where a lot of Heathen religions find struggle with spiritual specialists is that we no longer have long lines of spiritual specialists to carry on the work, though there are new lines developing now. A lot of spiritual specialists, myself included, wear a number of hats in order to fulfill the requests of our Ginnreginn (Mighty/Holy Powers) and needs of our communities.  Authenticity is something we ourselves can struggle with because of the demands of our work alongside all the other issues that the Heathen communities have. Something simple, with deep implications for how we conduct ourselves, is “How do we engage in authentic spiritual work when the sources are sparse and hostile to the practice?” We ask the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for help, and reach out to those of other spiritual paths. 

My own Ancestor practice has been impacted by African Traditional Religions in how I laid out my first Ancestor altar: a white cloth with a white candle and a glass of water that was changed out every day. My Ancestor altar has changed significantly since then, but the core of it is founded on the idea of simplicity, of starting small and if the Ancestors want, the vé will grow. I took inspiration from how to start the practice but the way I address the Ancestors, the prayers, and the offerings are particular to Heathenry.  Note: I took inspiration from ATRs’ Ancestor altars. I am not practicing an ATR, and I am not claiming to be nor am I taking anything from within those religions. However, I would be remiss not to recognize where that inspiration came from or why I advise others to start like I did. 

In asking our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for guidance on how They want us to define and carry out our roles as spiritual specialists, we place our authenticity in the relationships we engage in with Them. Here we fulfill both definitions of authentic in that our interactions are “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, and that they are “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” We have to accept and embrace that modern seiðr and spá may not be historically accurate, but they are authentic because the aims and the ways we revive them are as authentic to history as we can make them.

We cannot say for certain whether the ancient Germanic peoples read the Runes or read Them as we do now. Acknowledging this and embracing that Rune reading as we do them may be modern means that we are not misrepresenting ourselves and are centered in relationship with our Holy Powers and with our communities in honesty and respect. As with modern seiðr and spá, we are reviving divination within a Heathen context that is true to our understanding, and especially with respect to our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and then the needs of our communities. These are Heathen spiritual practices being revived within a Heathen spiritual framework with the best information that we have to hand. The experiences of what Elders we have, what spiritual specialists we have, and the guidance of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are the foremost guides we have from here.

Taking things out of the realm of spiritual specialists and back into general Heathenry, aesthetic is part of authenticity as well. Aesthetic is, per Lexico.com, “Concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty” and “A set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”. How do we determine what is a Heathen aesthetic? 

It may be easier to decide on what a Heathen aesthetic is not and then explore what it is. This can be something fairly straightforward in that Nike shoes are not Heathen. A Heathen may wear them, but that does not make them Heathen. What then, of the aesthetic put forward in the TV series Vikings, or through neo-folk Heathen or Heathen-adjacent bands such as Wardruna, Gealdyr, and Heilung? What of the metal scene, such as Tyr or Amon Amarth? What of historically reenacted clothing, style, speech, and so on? I would say that a Heathen aesthetic is one that is couched in connecting a given community or person with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, or is engaged with in service to Them. Without digging into a particular Heathen aesthetic as being the Heathen aesthetic, I would rather see that, whatever our standards of what is beautiful, it serves to connect us and deepen our relationships with the Holy Powers.

I can tell you what my aesthetic is: It skews to the historical reenactment, and that of Wardruna, Heilung, and similar styles of historically-inspired Scandinavian and German neofolk. I find a powerful connection stepping into linen and wool clothing as much as into hide and leather. All of these serve to bring forward connection with animals, plants, and our ancient Heathen Ancestors. There is power and beauty in wearing what our Ancestors wore, or wearing something as close as we can get, to appreciate what Their skin may have felt like walking around each day. Having watched more than a few YouTube and documentary videos on how much work it takes to make flax into linen to begin with, to take up a beautifully crafted tunic and put it on, helped me to physically realize why most homes only had a one or two pieces of linen clothes or bedsheets, and any more meant you were quite wealthy. It embodied for me, quite literally, why inheriting linen was so powerful and important. My wife works with wool in spinning, is beginning loom work, and has crocheted longer than I have known her. She has shown me how much work goes into making a crocheted blanket or hat. I know from experience how much work it takes to skin and butcher an animal. Tanning is next on my list of crafts to pursue. Having done my research and looked at how much effort some of these hides are going to be to tan, it is little wonder why wearing animal skins and their trade was so important to the ancient Ancestors.

An appreciation and furthering of beauty can bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. In developing Heathen aesthetics we develop new bridges that can reach out between us and Them, and through this, we can develop distinct identity as we develop aesthetics for our own communities. It may be that modern common dress is simply easier for us to blend in, but let us not forget that modern sensibilities around fashion, beauty, and the body itself are by and large designed for and by a modern WASP or WASP-oriented sensibility. It is also not anti-Heathen to like modern Western dress, but I think that A Handmade Life makes an excellent point on this:

“We are constantly manipulated by design. Industrial production has been a boon in providing many needed things at a lower cost, but unless we are alert we’ll let the machine start teaching us design. For instance, machines can be used to create any form of chair we like, but commercial interests can make more chairs (and more money) if the simplest design for the machines is chosen for production. So we end up surrounded by furniture designed to fit the needs of machines.” (Coperthwaite, 11).

Today, our articles of clothes are distinct not in terms of the overarching design, but in the particular logos or art that graces whatever the t-shirt form is. It is hard to have a cultural identity put forward in terms of clothing when all the basic forms your clothes take is whatever is most convenient for an industrial clothing manufacturer. We live in a time of great abundance, and rather than simply say we should give up our t-shirts and shorts, perhaps another look is due to what we wear, and how it may reinforce our Heathen identity. If we expand Heathen aesthetics from the worn or decorative to the entirety of how our lives are lived in beauty, then we may develop truly rich cultural roots that future generations will benefit from. 

In expanding this idea of Heathen aesthetic, the Heathen appreciation of beauty, into how we form and maintain relationships, this understanding has ripple effects anywhere we may care to inquire. If one of the central pillars of Heathen identity is reciprocity, or as I put it, gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift), or Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and each other, then the aesthetics that develop from this understanding ripple out into every facet of our life. If the central ideals of Heathen religion are Gebo with the Ginnreginn and one another, then the entire notion of how we make things changes. If our standard of beauty shifts from ‘this is useful’ to ‘this is useful and was made in accordance with Gebo’ it shifts our entire mindset and understanding. 

A t-shirt may still be artistically beautiful in what it conveys, but a t-shirt made sustainably with homemade materials takes on a unique and powerful beauty that, to my mind, overshadows that of the factory produced designs made without regard to the environment or sustainability. It becomes more beautiful and more in line with Heathen standards of beauty the more it comports with reciprocity with the Holy Powers. It can be a simple solid-colored shirt spun from linen, or a shirt that was left undyed, made from cloth that was spun in the home. A Heathen aesthetic of belts can be a simple leather belt made from hide tanned at home and riveted using one’s own tools. It could equally be a well-tooled and dyed piece, both becoming deeper should the leather be ethically source from well-cared for animals.

Rather than the looks and feel of the material itself being the primary standard, though important, I would put forward that the primary standard of Heathen aesthetic is the relationships it encourages and develops in the creation and use of the thing. The use of Runes and the naming of things is another aspect of this aesthetic. In naming our weapons, our cars, our computers, really any thing we can think of, they transfer out of the realm of mere mundane thing into the realm of Being. They had Their Being from well before we were given Their name or named Them, each thing potentially being/housing a vaettr, a spirit. Here, in acknowledging it and having a name we can relate to it with, we have an added dimension in our relationship with it. We have been given an avenue we can relate to each other with. The car becomes more than just another car, it becomes a car I relate to and I am in relationship with. I am not merely maintaining a thing by putting fuel into its tank, taking it for repairs, I am caring for a car-spirit, engaging in reciprocity with it by honoring and caring for its lyke, its body. 

In developing an authentic Heathen aesthetic based on reciprocity being the primary trait, we will likely find American Heathen communities digging into very different ways of doing things to meet that than those of, say, Norway or Iceland. This is where local cultus will intersect even greater than it does now. I would not be surprised if State or within-State aesthetics developed as well, given enough time. Michigan’s climate, weather patterns, and needs are not like Georgia’s, and Georgia’s is not Alaska’s. I would be surprised if we found a single Heathen aesthetic in the future just as I would if our local cultus would be the same. We might still be offering sweet fruits to Freya, reflecting current share gnosis that she likes strawberries, but what kinds of deeply sweet fruits we can regionally grow to honor Her may change depending on where we live and the growing seasons. If I honor local vaettir by eating what is only grown in season then my entire world of food changes, and so too do the offerings I make.

An authentic Heathen life is lived within a Heathen worldview and culture that contains our orthodoxies, orthopraxies, religious ideas, values, aesthetics, and experiences. These are all lived and expressed. Rather than an authentic Heathen worldview being a static thing, it, as with all of our relationships with the Holy Powers and one another, they must be lived. Heathen worldviews and cultures are themselves living things. They remain solid and unchanging in many areas, such as the polytheist and animist foundation on which the worldviews rise from. They change first and primarily with our interactions with the Holy Powers through gnosis and divination. Then, they may change with one another, with the crossroads of the sciences and our communities, and between generations of our communities as specific needs and relationships unfold.