A Heathen Prepping -On Violence

I had a friend reach out to me recently, concerned I may have been dipping into more exhausting things during my break, rather than spending the last few months relaxing.

That’s just it, Snow. This is me relaxing.

Something they brought up and I dove into was the concept of violence in prepping spaces, especially those on the far-right. Let me be clear: I did not get into prepping to live out a machismo fantasy of gunning down my neighbors, nor of living out The Walking Dead where I live. Rather, I approach prepping through the lens of hospitality and service. Hospitality extends to those who are good guests. People banging down the door, literally or proverbially, in an effort to harm my family, tribe, or communities have forfeited their guest rights. People intimating violence because of my religion, sexuality, ethnicity, leftist political beliefs, etc or the race, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc of those in my circles have forefeited their guest rights.

Peace, Not Pacifism

My prepping is predominantly peaceful. Note, not pacifist. To explain I am going to illustrate my point with three quotes I have found online and the first three lines from the Hávamál, H.A. Bellow’s translation:

The first quote, attributed to Stef Starkgaryen, says: “You can’t truly call yourself “peaceful” unless you are capable of great violence. If you’re not capable of violence, you’re not peaceful, you’re harmless. Important distinction.”

The second quote, attributed as a Chinese proverb is paraphrased as: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”

The third quote, attributed to Sun Tzu in his work The Art of War is: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

Now, to H.A. Bellow’s translation of the Hávamál:

“1. Within the gates | ere a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows | where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within.

2. Hail to the giver! | a guest has come;
Where shall the stranger sit?
Swift shall he be who, | with swords shall try
The proof of his might to make.

3. Fire he needs | who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes | must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.”

Without the skill, ability, and most of all the willingness to commit to violence, peace and hospitality cannot be established or maintained. A given Heathen community cannot commit to being an inclusive place so long as White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens are permitted in it. The very existence of White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens is a direct threat to BIPoC, LGBTQIA+, ethnic, and religious minorities. Truthfully, as we have seen with those who have left the AFA and similar outfits, White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens eventually turn on their own. That’s the way supremacy works: you eat everyone else until all you can do is eat your own.

The very existence of White Supremacist and Folkish Heathens is a direct threat to Heathenry. I do not mean this in some abstract way. I have received death threats for my anti-racist and anti-Folkish stances. Others have been directly physically harmed, harassed, bullied, and doxxed. There is no reasoning with these ideologies nor those who hold to them. They are directly harmful. They seek to legitimize, encourage, and then to engage in genocide. It begins in rhetoric and comes increasingly through to fruition: direct action. They seek to kill the Other, as demanded by their ideology, and seek the destruction of other people and their ways of life. If a given Heathen community is unwilling to make a stand, not with some internet Declaration, but with their feet, and when necessary their hands and weapons, then all their words are air.

The other side is not playacting when it comes to killing those it sees as its enemies. The 3%ers, the Proud Boys, and the AFA, among many others, are not fucking around. For too long Heathens in the middle have pretended there was some middle ground to be had. There is not. You are either on the side of inclusivity or you are in support of white supremacy. There is no negotiation with it.

Bonds and Bounds of Frið and Grið

A simple explanation is that frið and grið are bonds of peace and good social order. Ocean Keltoi has a good video going over the concept here. Frið, as I understand and use the term, is held with family, loved ones, tribe members, and community. In other words, those I consider innangarð, those in my inner yard. Grið is held with strangers as a temporary peace, with those utgarð or in the outer yard. These concepts are then woven into Heathens conceptions of hospitality. While many Heathens may not use the term innangarð or utgarð, I find most of us agree on the larger picture here: hospitality is established through peace and good social order.

Bonds of frið and grið are maintained so we can get things done. We do not always have to like each other. However, we do need to have mutual respect and to give one another honor in such bonds. So how do we establish frið and grið, and what does violence have to do with them?

Frið and grið must be formed in honor and strength. They are a willing acceptance of obligation to one another. In the case of frið, these bonds are made and maintained with those who you are willing to defend with your life and who likewise take on that obligation. Those I understand in this fashion are my personal family, friends, and tribe. I do not extend frið to acquaintances. Insofar as I understand the terms and employ them, they rely on very clearly delineated boundaries of obligation. I aid and defend those I carry bonds of frið with.

In a SHTF scenario this means that those I hold these frið obligations with come first. I do prep to care for those bonds. I work to provide enough supplies, information, and knowledge to get us through the challenges that come our way. I do work to support those I have these bonds with so we can all come through SHTF scenarios safely. Generally, I expect that safety in these situations is ensured through effective prepping, such as making sure we have enough resources on hand to get through a few months. Given the violence we have seen on display from White Supremacists, Folkists, and the far Right, it is not out of the realm of possibility that self-defense is going to be necessary. I was prompted to write this series in part because there is a good contingent of folks in various prepping communities planning to do a good bit of violence to secure resources in a number of SHTF scenarios. Just because something is unpleasant to think on does not mean we should not consider it. This, for me, is a chief concern and obligation with regards to frið. Am I willing to put my life on the line for you? Am I willing to defend you, to kill if necessary? If I answer no or hesitate, then we do not have frið.

This is at the forefront of my mind since I have had a few Folkish and White Supremacist Heathens come across my blog and reblog my last few posts. It seems that none of them have read the content of this blog or they would realize that I am utterly opposed to them. The very act of being a Folkish or White Supremacist Heathens breaks bonds of frið and grið with me. We cannot have peace or good social order if your ideology rests on my death or that of those in my circles. The ideology of White Supremacy and Folkishness prevents grið from being established. For anyone that has ever written the words “No Frith with Fascists”, truly think on what that means. If you truly do believe the words of Hávamál 127, meditate on what it means and the implications of what your actions are:

“127. I rede thee, Loddfafnir! | and hear thou my rede,–
Profit thou hast if thou hearest,
Great thy gain if thou learnest:
If evil thou knowest, | as evil proclaim it,
And make no friendship with foes.”

Thinking on Violence

Rather than offer any one way as the way we should prepare for violence, I think we need to approach violence through the lens of prepping as another tool in our tool chest. How useful is violence in a given scenario? What does violence do, and how well does it do it? What training and tools can best deescalate a situation so violence does not need to be used? What training and techniques can reduce or eliminate the use of violence in a given scenario? What training and tools are most effective at preventing harm if violence must be used? What scenarios require a full commitment to the use of violence?

In most scenarios violence is the least desirable tool. It can cause us to waste time, resources, and life. It causes harm which necessitates healing and possibly recompense, or, in the worst of situations, cleanup, and the possibility of jailtime and/or reprisal. The use of violence can sour even the best of relationships even if we, ourselves, are not its target. Violence is often ugly, brutal, and frightening.

These truths should not prevent us from using it.

Rather, I would hope it would inspire folks to be judicious in its use. To be sure of what scenarios we would be willing and able to engage in violence. To be sure and clear in what obligations we agree to in our frið and grið-making. To be sure and clear in what obligations we hold with guests and hospitality under our roof. Not all violence need be fatal, but all violence has that potential. Violence should, in my view, be a tool of last resort. However, it should not be a tool we throw away, ignore, or denigrate. So, I see an obligation on each of us who would use it to have the proper training to effectively carry out violence in whatever way is best suited to our abilities, training, skills, and the situation at hand. I see an obligation on each of us who would keep bonds of frið, grið, and hospitality to be clear on what they will and will not accept within their bounds and to be ready and willing to enforce them.

Patreon Topic 14: Gods and Myths

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

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.

The Northern Gods Are Not White

The Gods of Heathenry and Northern Tradition Paganism are not white. They are Gods who were historically worshiped by continental or non-continental Northern Europeans. White, as a descriptor to describe people of a certain skin color, and generally speaking certain ethnic backgrounds, is relatively recent in modern description. It is completely socially constructed, and its use has been, throughout history, to marginalize other people and to place ‘whiteness’ as superior. It has no place in Heathenry or the Northern Tradition.

I absolutely reject the idea, finding it repugnant and blasphemous, to place our Gods in the context of ‘whiteness’. There is no such thing as ancient ‘white history’; there is ancient Germanic history, ancient Icelandic history, and so on. ‘White history’, as such, is a relatively new construction. It, and whiteness in general, was initially put forth by the British to make colonization and the other imperialistic ambitions of the Crown more palatable to its citizens. After all, if those one is subjugating are not white, and therefore, ‘lesser’, what need does one have to fight for them, or what cause has one to identify with the oppressed? In such a system, anything not-white is ‘less’, less cultured, less good, less human.

Calls to being proud of ‘whiteness’ are engaging in racism. It does not matter whether one believes their pride to be racist, it simply is. It is taking pride not in one’s heritage, but in one’s place and privilege in society. To be ‘proud of whiteness’ is dogwhistle language for enjoying privilege and prestige because of one’s skin color to the detriment of other people. Phrases such as ‘Native pride’ and ‘black pride’ cannot carry the connotations that ‘white pride’ does because neither Natives nor blacks have, in America’s history, had the power of law to oppress people of other colors, had the ability to destroy white lives with impunity, take white lands without due process, or kill white people without deep repercussions.

It is a wholly different matter to be proud of one’s heritage. In my case, I take pride in my Dutch great-grandfather for braving the seas and arriving in America, but that is far different than my pride being bound up in the pigmentation of my skin.

Irminfolk bylaws are racist on their face. According to them, a person is supposed to be 7/8 ethnic European or identifies as ‘white’ or ‘Aryan’, both terms which are used in a racialist context rather than an ethnic one. How is one to determine if one is 7/8 European? I asked earlier, and will ask again: “Are my eyes German? Are my legs Dutch? Is my left ring finger French? Are my teeth American?” What of the history of ancient peoples who worshiped the Northern Gods? They were traders, farmers, and fighters. They colonized as well as assimilated into the cultures they traded and fought with. They also assimilated others into their culture. ‘Purity’ standards are racist, and are an insult to Heathenry and the Northern Tradition. They are a modern invention to discriminate and divide, and nothing more.

Interesting, then, that the blood quantum required to be part of Irminfolk is an inversion of most blood quantum rules and laws. Racist government policies often made one-drop blood quantum laws their rule for inclusion in a tribal racial, or ethnic group. Fundamental rights and privileges were denied to people who fell into these categories, whether that was freedom, property, religion, or self-determination. It was only in 1978 that the Native American Religious Freedom Act was passed in the United States, securing the rights of Native American people in the United States to teach practice their ways. Blood quantum laws are racist. The ones that were instituted by the US government against Native American tribes were used as a check on Native American tribes’ ability to accept new members. It was instituted as a measure to control Native American population, and thus, Native American tribes’ sovereignty in general.

Because the Internet is often the first stop on a lot of new Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagans to understanding their Gods, the Ancestors’ place in religion, and the vaettir, I cannot be silent on these things. As I said in my last post, I almost turned aside from Heathenry and the Northern Tradition because of racists among our ranks. To paraphrase Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If I am silent in the face of racism, I have chosen the side of the racist.” I cannot, in my silence, allow racists to turn someone from the Gods, Ancestors, and the vaettir.

Anyone requiring people to pass a blood quantum, or having an ethnic purity standard, or defending such, is a racist, and is supporting racist institutions. It is not my responsibility to be kind or to spare others’ feelings in this matter. Rather, it is my duty to call out racism, racist people and organizations, and stand against such vile things. It is not my duty to love others in this regard; it is my duty to defend my religious community from the stain of racists, and to call them out for what they are, and to state ‘Me and mine do not and will not stand for this’. If that is ostracizing and bullying so be it. Racism has no place in my religion, nor will I give it, its defenders, or its proponents peace so long as they claim it does.

Irminfolk, and countless folkish groups can feel they are not racist. Such feeling does not make them so. If you believe, as Bob Hamlin of Irminfolk does, that being of Northern European ancestry makes you, in his words, ‘more worthy’ to worship the Gods than others, you are racist. You cannot restore honor to a people while engaging in acts that defame and denigrate. You cannot restore honor to a group of religions whose name you stain by your conduct and by your words.

Mike Sagginario’s ad hominem reveals he has little to stand on, morally or rhetorically. Given the interaction from his and others in his group in my space here, I am even more firm in my stance that Irminfolk is racist. I do not care one whit who they consulted. Their words do not lend credence to the racist and racialist policies this, or any religious group puts forward. The policy of ethnic purity, as well as positive affirmation of ‘white’, and ‘Aryan’ identity in the bylaws of the Irminfolk overtly welcomes and provides cover for racists. It is racist on its face in its discrimination. Racism harms Heathenry. My strident insistence in this will not give way.

I care little to what guests and friends are held to insofar as expectations are concerned. The fact that Irminfolk holds these standards for its members and professes to be Heathen is damage enough, and reason enough, for me, HUAR, and others to stand against it. The fact that Irminfolk seeks to put itself out there as a legitimate Heathen resource and group with these policies in its place for its core, voting membership is enough for me to oppose it and any allies it makes. That this group gets along with Native Americans, which there is significant reason to doubt, means nothing to my and others’ opposition to its policies and beliefs. That this group conducted the construction of its bylaws with the aid of a lawyer that somehow approved of and helped them to formulate these policies says more to the lack of ethics of the lawyer and his character than it does the authority or correctness of their assertions. Attempting to explain how I should object to the racist policies of this organization is a derailing tactic, and one I will ignore. This group can welcome discussion on the matter, but my opinion should have been clear from the start, and barring that, what I finished the last post with should have given you a clear enough idea where I stand on things. Any who engage in the welcoming and acceptance of racist rhetoric and racists themselves are my enemy.

What I find, again and again, is a fundamental misunderstanding when I and others make our beliefs and opinions known in this regard. I am not seeking to abrogate anyone’s freedoms in association, religion, or the like in standing against groups like Irminfolk. They are fully free to believe and practice as they will within the laws of the land. In response, I am exercising my freedom of expression. If such seems censoring, the problem of that perception does not lie with me. To call the activism of HUAR, Ryan Smith, and those aligned with them a witch hunt seems foolish to me. Irminfolk put its bylaws on the Internet for all to see; Mr. Smith and HUAR, and now I, have highlighted these racist policies and have publicly denounced this group as racist after reviewing them. If the group wished to remain wholly private, or at least for its policies to not be common knowledge, it would seem prudent to not have published them to the Internet.

If there were indeed death threats made to Irminfolk, its members, or its allies, then I denounce these with all due diligence. There is no need to threaten them or theirs.

The Irminfolk and other folkish, racist groups of its ilk, do engage in practices that help to put others down. Wherever oppression is aided, whether by silence, or open arms, people contribute to the harm of others. To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu directly: “If you are silent in the face of oppression, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” For any who engage in racist and racialist actions, put forward such policies, or accept racist members among their ranks with open arms, you are contributing to the problem of racism and the oppression of people. The actions of Irminfolk, in instituting the policies and bylaws it has, has a chilling effect on the Heathen community, and especially to prospective members to it. As I recounted in my previous post, racist and racialist Heathens are why I nearly did not come into Heathenry to begin with.

None of the points I made in regards to the practices, policies, beliefs, and so on have been taken up by Irminfolk commenters thus far. Rather, they have come into my space berating my guests, and speaking ill of me and mine. You do not come into my space and demand anything of me, especially in so rude a manner as you have. You do not come into my space and demand anything of my allies, especially in so rude a manner as you have. You do not come into my space and demand respect for policies, procedures, people, and groups that are not due respect. You do not come into my space and insult me and mine. You do not come into my space and make veiled threats, litigious or otherwise. You have tried to besmirch I and others’ characters, and you have conducted yourselves without honor. You have broken frith and hospitality. You shall receive no honor in kind for your actions and your words.

Irminfolk is a racist organization. Its membership and their allies are racists. Their apologists are racists. Any who have requirements such as they do to enter into their religion are racists. There is no compromise to be had here, no dialogue to be engaged in. I will not compromise with those who would deny my family before the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. I will not compromise with those who would deny others’ ability to come to know the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. I will not speak with them. I will raise my voice against them for as long as they cleave to racist messages, policies, procedures, and people. Likewise, I will raise my voice against any who would act in support of them. Lacking even basic respect and decorum in my own place, I have no respect for them and theirs. I will not entertain their ideas, nor will I engage in dialogue with them.

“127.
I give you rede, Loddfafnir, heed it well!
You will use it, if you learn it,
it will get you good if you understand it
If you know that someone is evil, say so.
Never give friendship to your enemies.” -The Hávamál

Conventions and Dialogue

ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest are two events I have attended yearly for the 4 or so years. I have been part of my local Pagan communities in some way for ten years now. In that time I have been part of two Wiccan covens and an eclectic Pagan group I helped found. I am an active member of a local Wiccan Church, as their Youth Minister and a member of House Sankofa and Urdabrunnr Kindred, both based in New York. I was adopted into The Thunderbird People, a local Native American group, in June of last year. I lead a Northern Tradition Study Group that has, over the course of time, slowly made its way from a Study Group to a Kindred and is looking at naming itself. I am involved in many local religious communities, as are many of my colleagues, friends, and tribe each in their own places, in these communities. I am tied to the Pagan and polytheist communities even if at times the way things go exasperate me. I do not let go easy. I have a lot of people who I have come to place deep respect, loyalty, and care for in these communities.

I think there are a lot of times where, even from the outside looking in, a lot of what people see is infighting. I want to say that my experiences at these events are quite the contrary. There is respect, warmth, and care, even for completely new people to these paths, or those visiting from other religions. There is acceptance that some people will be coming to deepen connection with their Gods, and others are here for the Masquerade Ball or concerts, and other fun things. I think that this is an important aspect of networking and sharing in space with one another. Some of the best times I have at conventions are after or between workshops, or, especially with this year in mind, breaking bread together.

Being willing to come together in these spaces is important. I do my best to show, not only say, that I value courtesy, hospitality, civil dialogue, and good company. In doing so I affirm that, while our religions and traditions may be different we can still come together and worship, learn from one another, work magic together, develop better dialogue, and enjoy one another’s company. Our differences do not disappear, but are respected in light of each others’ traditions, workshop formats, and rituals. This builds frith (good social order and peace) and hamingja (group luck and power)in one’s community, and between communities.

A large part of where the many Pagan, Wiccan, Heathen, Kemetic, and other associated communities meet and overlap is at conventions like ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest. As I attended this year that Sannion’s assertion that conventions are interfaith dialogues kept coming to mind. I found that very true, especially given my experiences this year.

To start with I had a lovely dinner with Kenn Day and Eli Sheva. I like to get to know people before I work with them, so I asked them out for dinner on Thursday before the Ancestor Worker panel Friday morning. Unfortunately Kenn could not get his schedule switched around so he could be present. Still, it was good to meet over food. Much like the efforts going on now to meet over tea or coffee, I find this way of working with people far superior than written correspondence. There is nothing like being able to look into the eyes, and see the posture of the person who is sharing your company. I had a delightful time talking with both of these fine people about our paths.

Sharing in food is a sacred thing, and was especially powerful since we were speaking across religious lines. Both of these people were warm and sincere in their answers, and answered me with a directness I found in my own family. Even their speaking together reminded me of my own family. That, I think, is the power of a tribe. We are family, in the end. When we speak across lines of tribe there are respects made, one to the other, such as respect for our ways of doing things, one another’s forms of prayer, traditions, and so on.

Does AMHA explain this differ from the Northern Tradition and Heathen life I live? In talking with Eli Sheva and attending her workshop Neo-Tribal Ethics, I would say we are actually quite similar. She found that AMHA’s virtues lined up with the Nine Noble Virtues so well during her own talks with Diana Paxson that she developed her handout of the 12 virtues from it. What I took away from our conversations and the workshop was that our differences are cultural and in the particulars of our religion. We share a great deal across the board, such as the notion that we are our deeds, that each member needs to be a productive member according to their abilities and circumstances, and so on. We define Ancestors differently, but we venerate Them. We worship different Gods and may relate to each different from one another, but all of us approach Them with piety and respect. We acknowledge the world as living, a Goddess Herself, and the beings upon it as having Being or souls of their own. There are so many similarities I could fill a book with it. While our differences are marked and important, there was beauty in how the similarities touched in the same ways and means by which we engaged in our lives. That, I think, was the most striking to me: these are not just religions, but lives within a worldview and relationship with the Worlds, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, that we are living.

The one workshop I did this year at ConVocation was An Ancestor Worker Panel. We got to explore these similarities and cross-culture points together with a responsive audience. I had a great time sitting between the wonderful women who co-hosted the panel: Joy Wedmedyk and Eli Sheva. My nervousness at leading the panel when these two had about 20 years on me in their traditions evaporated quickly. We had honest, respectful dialogue between us that flowed well regardless of the questions before us. Thank you both for co-hosting this panel.

I have to thank the audience members, too. When we opened up to questions, both during our initial talks and later during the Q&A session, there were really good questions that opened up deeper dialogue. I have hit and miss auditory memory, and I am kicking myself for not having my computer or a voice recorder present. We had an engaged audience, one that was full of active listeners and participants. I felt lucky to have had each one present.

We started simple with questions like “What is an Ancestor?” and “What is an Ancestor Worker?” As with my experience at dinner, the conversation flowed well, and except for differences between our religions and culture, with myself in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, Joy in Lucumi Orisha worship, and Eli Sheva in Am Ha Aretz, the three of us seemed to be coming from the same place. We came from a common understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are real and have a living impact and relationship with us, and that each person, regardless of where they stand, can worship the Gods well. That the world is sacred, and many of our sacred places reside in natural settings, such as groves, near rivers and/or at lakes. Another commonality? It seems coffee is one of the damned-near universal offerings. I have yet to come across a tradition that reveres and makes offerings to the Ancestors that turns down coffee even if the person offering is not fond of it. I found the same with tobacco, whether smoked, free-leaved burned, or simply left at the picture, altar, shrine, grave, mound, or another holy place.

One of the key differences we went over in detail was that our understanding of what constitutes an Ancestor are quite different. In the Northern Tradition we include blood Ancestors, the Gods, the Elements, Mitochondrial Eve, the people who are part of our lineages, and our Elders. Northern Tradition folks may venerate or actively worship our Ancestors. We may use a wide array of ways to represent our Ancestors, from statuary to photographs, handmade items to rocks or crystals, depending on the Ancestors. In my own case I have a candle dedicated to Fire Itself, and a bowl I refill now and again with ice to represent Ice Itself.

According to Eli Sheva, AMHA’s Ancestors are restricted to blood Ancestors only, and they do not worship Them, but do venerate Them. Their Elders include not only Elders of AMHA, but those who inspire and are heavy influences upon them, such as artists, philosophers, and good friends. Those whose names are forgotten are said to go back to the Earth Mother, Rachmay. Both known and unknown Ancestors are represented by objects called Teraphim. Teraphim “are placed on altars or shrines as photos, sculptures, rocks, and other objects. Teraphim representing who have gone back to the Earth are sometimes presented as part human, part animal, part plant, or as having abstract mask-like faces.” AMHA’s Warrior Dead are also sometimes call Rephaim. All of these Ancestors and Elders are not worshiped, per se, but revered. There are certain festivals and celebrations, as well as to each participants private observances, for when this reverence takes place. The festivals and celebrations are done in a sacred place, such as in a grove, or at one’s home altar or shrine, with offerings of food and drink being offered to Them.

In Lucumi Ancestors are, as with AMHA, blood Ancestors. Elders in Lucumi include just those of one’s lineage of initiation into Lucumi. However, there is another group of Ancestors: the Egun. As Joy puts it: “The Egun are the ancestral dead back to the beginning of our existence. Those that we do not remember by name. All the knowledge of our lineage.” According to Joy, “the Ancestors are given an alter inside the home. A small table, a white tablecloth, a white candle and a glass of water is a basic set up. Pictures of deceased relatives are usually displayed on the wall. The Egun are usually kept outside. The shrine and place of offering for them consists of a staff. The staff is tapped on the ground when speaking with them. Speaking from the heart to Ancestors and Egun is always encouraged.

At each point of discussion we collectively kept coming back to reminding the audience that most of the activities of the traditions and religions we are part of, such as Ancestor veneration and worship, are not things carried on by a priest, shaman, or other spiritual specialist alone. These are to be done by every member individually and by the people that make up these religions and traditions as a whole. Every member, spiritual specialist or not, is an important member of our people that makes up the group. Every person can and should do the work of prayer, offerings, and other rituals to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as is appropriate to their traditions, relationships with the Holy Powers, and circumstances.

I felt that we could have gone on for another hour and a half, easily, talking about just the Ancestor work we had all engaged in. I was happy we got through all of our basic questions, and answered a good deal of the audience’s too. I feel there should be more dialogue like this in the various communities I am part of. Perhaps I should do another post here, or even put together a podcast where I ask these questions, first of Joy and Eli Sheva, and then of other people so we can explore each others’ traditions and religions. Perhaps, in a year or two, we could put another panel on at ConVocation and bring even more people in, and explore our religions and traditions together.

One of the major privileges of attending ConVocation is that you can attend workshops that go into the history and particulars of the religion that people live. I attended Eli Sheva’s Thursday class: Yahwe and the other Hebrew Gods on Thursday, and learned a bit about who El and Yahwe were, how ancient peoples understood these two Gods, and how Yahwists came to take over El’s iconography. It was a powerful exploration of these two Gods, and just from listening I think she could easily have taught far longer than that, and still had history to go through. I hope that there are more workshops like these offered. Knowing where we come from, how our understanding and relationships with the Gods developed, are all to the good for our communities.

I attended a good number of workshops. Each offered unique insights from their own religion and tradition. There are people whose workshops I found useful, while my own religious views do not agree with theirs. For instance, I found Kerr Cuhulain’s Full-Contact Magick workshop imminently useful in teaching me about direction of energy, posing and techniques for manipulating qi or, in my tradition, önd. I did not agree with his position on the Gods. I do not see that as a requirement for engagement, though. He, in my view, was not discussing religion per se, but spiritual techniques of working with energy every human has within them regardless of religion or lack thereof. The assumption these techniques descend from assumes energies and an understanding of the human self that is, in and of itself a spiritual one, but as taught in the workshop there was no theology attached to the techniques themselves.

This is important to note because I could not teach galdr (magical singing) with the Runes in the same way as he has taught magick. In my tradition galdr is a technique that, for instance when galdring Runes, works with Them as spirits. To try to teach Runic galdring without having an active relationship with the Runes is disrespectful to the Runes, and hazardous because Gebo is a prime element of any relationship in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. In cases where I include galdr in a ritual or a workshop I have already made the offerings that ensure good Gebo; I cannot assume anyone in such a setting will go home and make the offerings on their own.

Because I am the teacher or leader of a ritual it is on me to extend that first step of Gebo on behalf of those I serve, whether they are a new student in a study group or an attendee at a ritual, rather than make the assumption they can or will fill the obligation to the Runevaettir. This is also why it is important for me, in turn, to ask for something upfront or know there is Gebo coming my way. I have an oath to Odin not to take on a reading without some kind of Gebo to me, even if it is not upfront, when I am doing a Rune reading or spiritual work. The flow of Gebo is as such that what flows to me flows to Them, so that when people hand me money, give me an offering, or somehow give reciprocity that in turn goes to Odin and the Runevaettir. When I have taken a shot or food for the Gebo of a reading I am often sharing that shot or that food with Runátýr (Odin) and the Runevaettir. If it is a shot I am usually sharing with both Odin and Loki, remembering what is given to one is given to the other.

Not everyone has these kinds of expectations or relationships, and it is important to not assume people operate the same way I do. So, I ask a lot of questions. Later in the evening I had the pleasure to talk with Mr. Cuhulain about his practice, warriorship, and things that have come from engaging in the world with that worldview. When he brought up learning Maori Haka I asked how he related to it and learned it. For my own piece of mind I needed to know well before I asked much about it how he learned it, from whom, and what their reaction was when asked to learn it. On his website, Mr. Cuhulain has pictures of the Maori who taught him the dance because to teach him that is what they asked in return. He teaches it with permission from them, and in respect to them. So, I was delighted when he offered to teach a Maori Warrior Haka as a workshop Friday evening. He values, as I value, good relationships built on reciprocity. We may not have the same view of the Gods, but the acknowledgment and expression of our relationships with one another, the people we serve, and the communities we are part of, are built on the idea.

When it comes down to it I view a lot of the conflict between our communities as Gebo (gift for a gift, aka reciprocity)not being served. When reciprocity in respect breaks down, people talk past each other, and begin to assume worse and worse characterizations of one another and their positions. When reciprocity in compassion breaks down, people assume the worst of each other, and forgiveness and resolution is hard to come by. When reciprocity breaks down in communication, whether it happens separately or in tandem with the previous two examples, it means that our words are twisted or poorly understood, and the decline of the ability to have any dialogue, let alone productive dialogue, deepens. We live in a time where we are awash in information, and yet, are being taught less and less how to effectively parse it. We live in a time where communication can occur on a massive scale, and yet, we are encouraged not to sit with a concept and digest it, but to chew quickly so we can consume more. If we are to have effective dialogue, community building, or any of the great things we hope to have individually as communities or between communities, we have to slow down and listen, ask questions, be willing to be wrong and admit to it, and to do better by each other. If we forever wait for the other person to somehow spontaneously develop respect no amount of talking will get us anywhere.

If we are to build frith (peace and good social order) and communication it must be done first with our own communities, and then with one another. I cannot approach you in hostility and expect to have effective dialogue and respect. I cannot assume you will not listen and try to talk to you. There must be the expectation of mutual respect, that good dialogue is able to be had, and the willingness to be patient with one another, as hard as that can be. I do not have to agree with what you say any more than you do me, but there needs to be a baseline respect there for one another, or there can be no foundation for effective dialogue. Reciprocity and its attendant respect must take root well before I sit down to dinner, make a pot of coffee, or teach a workshop. Without it we are watering a dead tree.

The reason I attend ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest is that the trees in these communities are healthy. There is room for improvement in these communities as there are in any other. Orchards need tending, so too communities. The roots are strong here. There is a sense of shared responsibility within these communities. What has been emphasized the last few years I have come to these events is that we are all coming together and need to watch out for one another. I am thankful to have heard the last few years, during these times, that the person’s permission and sovereignty must be respected as part of this. Our responsibility at these events for safety and well-being is both individual and communal, and that there is a flow to be respected. To take care with one another, and yet, accept responsibility in ourselves and with one another. We accept mistakes will be made and that problems will arise, but that we can meet the challenges in and between our communities. I view these conventions in the same light that I view many of the Tea Time meetings, the Polytheist Leadership Conference, and various other efforts to bring people together. They are necessary, providing us ways to understand ourselves and one another better. These spaces give us all opportunities to meet and see one another, to hear one another’s voices, and to speak with one another in a safe place. It is my hope this sacred work keeps up, and deepens as the years go on.

My thanks to Eli Sheva and Joy Wedmedyk for co-hosting the panel, and working with me on this post. My thanks to Robert Keefer for helping me with crafting this post and providing much-needed feedback!