Cutting Ties Pt. 1

There are two parts to this. The first will be a copy of the email I have sent to Galina Krasskova and Sannion so that everyone knows what I have said and there is no mistaking my stance on things.

The second will be my reflections on things. I have no time right now for when this will be written. This was hard on its own.

None of the conclusions I have reached or the actions I have taken or will be taking in the future were arrived at with haste. If anything, this has been a long time coming where I have ignored my internal compass for too long, and I have hit my limit.

“Dear Galina and Sannion,

Over the past few weeks I’ve had time to think and analyze. Both of you have taught me over the long time we have known each other that our choices are just that. That above all, you have said Sannion, that Dionysos values consent and choice. Both of you have taught me that we are not merely in the hands of our Gods, we are co-creating with Them. Not on Their level, but not without agency, will, and choice.

You chose to put on the Sonnenrad, Sannion, and you have continued to defend this decision. Out of my love and belief in you, I have defended you both in your words and your actions. You are people who I have trusted with some of my deepest, most painful moments. I trusted you both to guide my evolution as a spirit worker. You are people who I have respected as Elders and colleagues for that great work you have both done for the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and the respective communities you have worked within.

I can no longer be your student, your colleague, your ally, or your friend. You have picked up a symbol designed and wielded by the SS who committed countless atrocities and crimes against humanity. You have defended it in private and in public, and I can no longer support defending your words or actions.

I do not condone and will not condone the wearing of, tattooing of, or display of the Sonnenrad or the swastika. The latter, as you have told me several times, Galina, will not be rehabilitated in either of our lifetimes. Yet, you are defending your husband and coreligionist wearing the symbol of Nazis, something you continuously emphasized you want removed from the Heathen communities. Sannion, you have said you are not a Nazi, yet you are wearing, displaying, and defending the symbol of the SS. This is indefensible.

I have been incredibly patient and careful on my end, especially when you, Galina, have not. Your direct attacks on myself and others over political disagreements are reprehensible. I have stood by while you have broken grið with members of the Heathen communities over these things. You have attacked myself and others over our spiritual outlooks outside of politics. Part of my spiritual outlook is I brook no passage for Neo-Nazis, White supremacists, or their symbols.

You both have continued to speak falsely about antifa. I have let this go unaddressed for too long. Antifa is not a formal organization unto itself. Each city or town may have its own antifa organization, but there is no ‘national organization’ unlike the well-documented Proud Boys, 3%ers, or other White supremacist organizations that pose real and continuing threats. These protesters were armed with M16s, AK-47s, and flak jackets on the steps of my State capitol. Again, I find this behavior indefensible, especially in an Elder.

You have both made statements that have besmirched the Black Lives Matter movement as a terror organization. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Lives Matter. All of these movements are for the sovereignty and rights they are due under the law, things that never should have had to be marched for at all. The pursuit of equality and justice are qualities I require in my Elders, and I find you lacking in both.

You have both expressed your fervent hope that your work would live on after you both were dead. Galina, you have stated that you would rather see everything burn down around you than ‘be infected’ by whatever enemies you perceive in your midst. Now, that torch will never have to be lit. By either one of you. You are watching as the very foundations you have built are burning in the fires of your egos and by your poor decisions. I can no longer support or carry on your work in any of your lineages.

I separate myself from Urðabrunnr Kindred.

I separate myself from the Starry Bull and the Starry Bear.

I separate myself as a student and as a colleague from you.

I separate myself from the friendship I have had with you.

I separate my love from you.

Know that I will always grieve you.

Ves þu heil,

Sarenth Odinsson”

Patreon Topic 1: Deathwalking Part 2

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 here on my Patreon.

This post continues from the groundwork laid in Part 1 here.

Caring for the Soul Matrix

Some parts of the soul matrix may take care of themselves upon death, especially those tied into the lyke, the body itself, such as the litr (health/vivacity), and önd (sacred breath/sacred energy). Others need coaxing, direction, and help moving on. Now, because the whole soul matrix does not immediately dissolve on the person’s death, each soul part will need respect due to it, and depending on the person, each part of the soul matrix may need to be cared for. For instance, the lyke deserves respect as it is still a part of the person’s soul, so unceremoniously chucking the Dead’s body in a hole disrespects the person’s physical soul part and the rest of the soul matrix as well. Remembering a person well honors a person’s various soul parts, including their munr (memory).

Deathwalking, then, is a process involving the whole of a Being, and to keep this as organized as possible I will be going through the Soul Matrix with ways to do deathwalking with each part of it. Before trying to deathwalk any part of a person’s soul matrix, especially that of a spirit worker or magic worker, do your divination and talk with their community members, especially if they have apprentices, students, and/or living Elders for how best to proceed. It may be they need to do work post-mortem and rather than helping you are interfering.

This is a basic overview of the soul matrix that I work with and my general suggestions on deathwalking with it. I will not be writing much on the particulars of how to do a deathwalk ritual here as I covered that in detail in the last post.

The Lyke

This is the physical body.
Giving the lyke good care after death, eg ritual washing and grooming, dressing and so on, and then a good burial, cremation, or other form of caring for the Dead’s body post-mortem is part of deathwalking. It is among the first steps for both the Dead and those the Dead leave behind in fully reckoning with a death. Hopefully deathwalking steps take place much earlier, eg making final arrangements with a living will, power of attorney, funeral home, and so on. However, most of us find ourselves having to make decisions rather quickly and decisively about how our Dead are to be cared for, so be sure to talk with those you can now and develop plans/outlines for cases where you will be the next of kin or called on to help with final arrangements.

Even here, how a person dies has immediate impact on how their body may be cared for in a ritual context. If their body is damaged beyond repair or if they died of a communicable disease then certain options for viewing or funerals may be entirely closed to you. If a Heathen person died in combat then addressing Odin, Freyja, and the valkyries is sensible when making prayers for the Dead. If a person drowned or died at sea, then prayers should be made for the Dead to Ægir and Rán. If the person died and willed their body to be used for science or medical needs, then prayers and offerings to Eir, Mengloth, and our other Gods associated with healing, medicine, and so on would be excellent. If a person died of illness then prayers to Hela are appropriate; likewise, anytime one worships or works with the Dead and/or Ancestors one should make prayers and offerings to Her.

The Hamr

The hamr is the spiritual double of a person. It could be analogized to the astral body in general occultism.

I find deathwalking with the hamr is usually simple in terms of spirit work. If someone was particularly hamramr, that is, shape-strong, a shapeshifter, they may have one or many forms which were special to them. Giving the hamr good care after death is making prayers and offerings to the shapes their hamr may have taken. I find the hamr tends to hang around at least for awhile after death. As most people’s hamr is just a human shape, then making offerings of food, water, and other things they enjoyed in life are good ways of honoring them and inviting their hamr to move on from their body. If a given person was hamramr then making appropriate offerings to the shape their hamr took may be quite powerful and healing for them. These offerings could be in the form of food, water, and other traditional offerings, and they could also take the form of service offerings. For instance, if a person who died was strongly connected with a raptor then making a donation to a rehabilitation service for them, or for some kind of group that protects them, would be a good offering. Likewise, making prayers and offerings to any Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir that are tied to the Beings whose hamr they had is a good way of caring for the hamr in death.

The Litr

The litr is health and vivacity.

I find that the litr is one part of the soul matrix often extinguished on death. I have yet to encounter an instance where one’s litr outlived the person’s body. Were I to help deathwalk this part of a person’s soul matrix I would likely engage in the activity that brought them the most joy, or that they most dearly wished to do before they died. Deathwalking this soul matrix part is, as I know it, accomplished by those who are with the person as they are dying. Letting go of the litr is, generally, what the body does on death. To cause as little trauma to it and any other soul parts during the dying process, the dying person should be allowed and helped to do what causes them joy, to engage their vivacity one last time. When death comes, encouraging the litr, alongside the ond, and the lyke itself to let go will help the other parts of the soul matrix let go and move on. Simply giving permission, letting the person know that they will be alright, and that their loved ones will be alright, may be all they need. If they are having a hard time accepting death they may need to be walked with spiritually on the Helvegen, the Way to Hel, until they are where they need to be or until a God,Goddess, Ancestor, or powerful spirit comes to collect them. Working with the litr, together with the other soul parts in the rituals mentioned in Part 1 should be a big help here.

The Vili

The will, or the Will, the part of the person’s soul matrix that brings power to action.

I find that the Vili is another part of the soul matrix that goes with them in death. Deathwalking here is especially potent in a similar way to the litr: by helping them come to grips with the understanding that they are dying, they will not put their will to surviving at all costs. Deathwalking engages the vili in embracing death in a way that is accepting of the process before the dying person. Fighting with a person’s vili should be avoided for the same reason that you avoid fighting with their litr: you do not want to needlessly traumatize them or their loved ones. Working with the person on accepting they are dying, and helping them through that process is likely the best way forward for most. Now, if the person was a powerful spirit or magic worker, then they may require more prayers and offerings before they go to help disengage from the lyke and other earthbound soul matrix parts. If the person was a particularly powerful spirit or magic worker then the Vili being especially strong and even present after death would make sense because of the time and development of this in the course of their life. It may even work with other soul parts in a similar way, guiding the hamr to act in certain ways on death. Again, do divination and talk with their community members to see if any work on your part is needed.

The Moðr

The mood and emotional content of the soul matrix.

While you could look at the Moðr as exclusively belonging to the physical body, I also see it tied up with soul parts not tied to the body, namely the Vili, Oðr, Vé, and Goði/Gyðja. If someone dies in a particularly harsh or isolating way, their unresolved anger, grief, and/or other emotions may be enough to keep their spirit in a place. Many hauntings may simply be spots of unresolved Moðr from someone whose soul parts are cycling through the same trauma over and over again. I find that offering a way for that emotion to release can solve the issue. It could be offering the spirit prayers or an offering, and at times it can be just listening to them express themselves. Deathwalking this soul part is letting the dying or Dead person express themselves as fully as they need. It is helping them be as emotionally fulfilled as they can be so they can face the next step of their afterlife.

The Önd

The breath, spiritually akin to chi, ki, or pneuma.

This soul part goes with the person when they die. It is the circulation of spiritual energy, and in my view has ties to all the soul parts while we live. It is part of how we engage with our other soul parts. For instance, someone who works with their önd on a regular basis can engage their óðr in a deeper way because it is done with intent, and the development of skill in doing so.

The Huge

Thought. The way we think, the paradigms of understanding we have, and the worldview we hold.

This soul part goes with the body, generally speaking, unless enough parts of the soul matrix hold together after death. Deathwalking this part of the soul before death is working with the dying person in a sacred way, engaging with the Moðr, and helping the person understand as best they can that they are dying. For a person who has died but has kept their Huge active, this could be as simple as speaking with the Dead at their funeral, inviting Them to join the Ancestors.

A common trope I have heard as both a priest and funeral assistant, one which I get quite angry with, is that funerals are only for the living. No. They are liminal spaces where those who are Dead are mourned, remembered, honored, and invited to join the Ancestors. They are where the living can receive closure, come together in community during loss, and engage with the Dead and one another to grieve and do the right things so the Dead are let go. What does this have to do with Huge?

Sometimes a spirit will stick around if it feels that it needs to stay for the good of a loved one. Final rites, including blesssing the dying, and funerals, allows for the spirit to understand that it no longer needs to stay. That it has, in fact, transitioned from one state of Being to another. This is part of why I advocate for folks to give their prayers orally rather than only in one’s head or heart. Sometimes the act of hearing, the effect of working with one’s önd to communicate a message to a Being who can no longer call on önd as we do, can impart the understanding that a person is Dead. Likewise, the making of prayers, the giving of offerings, lighting of candles, and reykr (burning sacred herbs to cleanse/consecrate/bless) for the Dead. Not only are these made on Their behalf, it is also for us as a bridge to communicate and/or work with Them. Working with the spirits of Mugwort, for instance, we ask the Mugwort to bring Her cleansing and Her ability to communicate to bear so we can bring cleansing to an area, place, or Being. Deathwalking with the spirit’s soul matrix in ceremony not only cleanses and brings the lyke to a state that the Dead person may pass on, it can help bring each soul part to grips with its reality and aid in the disollution of the soul parts that need to go, and the passing on of the soul matrix that remains.

The Munr

The Memory. This is the living memories of the person, and, in my view, those memories that live on after we die.

The Henry Adam Bellows translation of the Hávamál, Stanzas 77-78 illustrate this well:

77. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
But a noble name | will never die,
If good renown one gets.

78. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now | that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

Deathwalking with a person’s Munr is listening to their stories before they die, if you can. After death, it is passing on the stories that best capture their life, the stories that enable them to live long after the Earth has reclaimed them. To a certain degree our Munr are interconnected. We do not determine history on our own, and likewise, our memories cannot be made in isolation. Remembering the Dead, then, is also tied to community. Deathwalking can occur with a person’s Munr at their funeral and a post-funeral feast, and it can occur in the private sharing of amusing anecdotes, songs, and stories of a person’s life.

The Goði/Gyðja

The Highest Self.

In my understanding this is one of the soul parts that will certainly stay around long after a person is dead. The Chieftain that guided the person, that they may or may not have been striving to be, may not respond to the dead person’s name after death because it is moved on from that. Deathwalking the Goði/Gyðja is done by doing well by the soul matrix as a whole. It is engaging the dying person well, if you have the ability to, and when a person is dead, to do the vigil, rites, prayers, and offerings well by them.

The Fylgja/Fylgjur

The Follower, or Followers.

The Fylgja holds an interesting place in Heathenry. On the one hand most folks equate it to the fetch, and yet, it appears in a number of different ways. As I understand it fylgja, or fylgjur, are part of the soul matrix because, much like our hamingja is built in community so our spiritual Elders, allies, friends, and acquaintances are made in community. Since I understand it in this fashion I can only touch on how I might work with the Fylgja-as-fetch: namely, by making prayers, offerings, and thanks for its work. While I follow a similar line of thought with regards to fylgjur-as-spirits-in-community the relationship held between the Dead and the Fylgja/Fylgjur is different. This is where obligation comes in, and understanding the person needing the deathwalking as clearly as possible. Where there are questions this is where being a good diviner and having good diviners as backup or to reference if you are too close to the Dead is a good idea.

My view is that deathwalking is done with the Fylgja/Fylgjur rather than to the Fylgja/Fylgjur. These are spirits with independent existence from any one person’s soul matrix. When I am dying part of my deathwalk will be to be sure that the vaettir with whom I am aligned, have worshiped and worked with ove the years are done well by. This means prayers, offerings, and speaking with Them as I can, or having another do it in my stead. This may also mean carrying over certain relationships with my family, Kindred, apprentices, students, and so on. For instance, my Runes will go to my apprentice that I brought into Runework. He can then pray to Them, work with Them, honor Them, and build different ties in this form that continue our relationship. When a person is dying or has died, a simple form of deathwalking with the Fylgja/Fylgjur would be to ask Them to be present at the vigil, the funeral, and so on. To help inform the passing on of the Dead’s Munr. To help honor well the Lyke and other soul parts of the person, and to be involved.

The Kinfylgja/Kinfylgjur

My view of the Kinyfylgja/Kinfylgjur is along similar lines to the Fylgja/Fylgjur. Treating these spirits well, inviting Them to the deathwalking, the vigil, funeral, and so on is important not only because of the ties of friendship, initiation, and/or community. Kinfylgja/Kinfylgjur are what the word says on the tin: They are spirits, Followers, that are Kin. Relatives. This may refer to Ancestors, to animals or plants especially tied to a person’s family, or to initiated lineage. Treating Them with respect and bringing Them into a person’s deathwalk is not only respectful, They may be actively angry with a person or the family if excluded.

The Megin

Personal might/power.

Often tied to honor, this idea of Megin is the power one has and the ability to put one’s power to use. Each person holds Megin, but how they are able to express it, use it, and work with it differs person to person. It can refer to your ability to do something, guided by the Vili. It can refer to the pull you have socially. Power expressess itself in a number of ways, some overt, eg the ability to move weight, and others subtle, eg the ability to move people to emotion. It can also refer to spiritual power employed in magic. A person’s Megin may not go away when a person dies. The effects a given person has or can exert on a community post-mortem can be quite a testament to the ongoing effects, or ongoing work, their Megin is engaged in.

Given the ways Megin can find expression there are only so many ways I can write on deathwalking and Megin. A person might invest quite a lot of Megin in a given craft or items, such as Runes, ritual tools, and items that have deep connections with certain Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. They might also invest a lot of Megin in the running and operations of a community, though this will intersect with Hamingja as well. Deathwalking Megin, then, is how we work with a person’s might or power and the things it is invested in, in a healthy way. In the case of a community, it is continuing the community’s operation in a good, healthy way, or, if it is not going to outlive this person, to dissolve it with grace. In the case of their things, it is making sure anything they want to be passed on is done so in a sacred manner. For those that are not meant to be passed on, they may wish to take them to the grave or pyre. Burial with one’s prized possessions is an ancient practice, so knowing the person, especially having a list from them in their will or other documents is something I recommend everyone put some thought into. Not only will it help your transition, but having a will and other documents in order to wrap up your estate and disposition will make putting your affairs, including your soul matrix, into as easy an order as possible for everyone you leave behind. You can put in writing how you want any items attached to your soul matrix taken care of, including who they go and how, and make the job of anyone doing your execution of your will and/or any deathwalking that much easier.

The Hamingja

Group luck/power.

Where Megin was power built on one’s own, Hamginja is built in community. It is what we inherit from our forebears, and affects the shape of our Urðr. It is built within the relationships we build well, harmed by the relationships we neglect, and can grow quite strong if we do the work necessary for it to. Each oath kept, each work done that helps the community adds to one’s own and others’ interwoven hamingja.

Deathwalking this part of the soul matrix is honoring the ties they hold and clearing debts a person may have to those in their community. It is atoning as best they can for wrongs done, and acknowledging the things they need to do before they die. It is also, crucially, celebrating the things their life has allowed Hamingja to do and what they have done with their Hamingja. Deathwalking a person’s Hamingja is calling on their community to carry the Dead’s Hamingja well, since this soul part will live on long after death. If a person is dying I would include a part where the person intentionally acknowledges their Hamingja as taking place in and residing not only in themselves, but the loved ones and communities they were part of in life. If they were initiated, in addition to calling on their Kinfylgja, reminding them that live on in the lineage they are part of. Post-mortem deathwalking rites should remind the community and reinforce their mutual responsibility in carrying the Dead’s contribution to their hamingja forward.

The Vé

The sacred place, or, in terms of the soul matrix, a person’s sense of, sensitivity to, and aptitude in working with the sacred.

This part is deathwalked in the rites performed, the sacred objects treated well, and the person’s involvement in the rites. Whether you are doing a deathwalking with someone who is dying or someone who is Dead, the way to involve the spirit is to give them sections where they themselves can take part. Giving a section of a funeral or memorial rite where the Dead is given space to speak can be powerful not only for the attendees, it can be equally so for the Dead.

Crucially for deathwalkers, if a person’s sacred places were violated while they were dying or after they die, deathwalking them can also mean righting wrongs here. Disposing of sacred items in a good and sacred way can avoid a lot of heartache and gives closure to the Dead. Encouraging families who suddenly now have to handle a lot of sacred materials can be a challenge, particularly if the family has no connection or interest in the religion of the Dead. Depending on how acrimonious the relationship was, a deathwalker may need to do some corrective work, or at the least hear the grievances of the Dead whose Vé has been violated.

Good ways of taking care of a person’s Vé would involve taking good care of any shrines or holy places they tended, and taking care of the items that were part of their cultus. As in the section on Megin, this may be figuring out what goes where, or how. It can also be who takes care of what items, or in the case where there are traditions around a dead person’s spiritual items being disassembled or passed on, to do everything one can to honor that. Community connections will be critical here, particularly if a deathwalker has been called in from the outside to provide support. If you do not have the ability to handle the sacred items, either because of your own taboos or those of the religion, then your job is to find the people who can and be sure things proceed well.

The Oðr

Frenzy. The ability of a person to enter into altered states of consciousness, and sacred states.

Deathwalking the Oðr of a dying person could be helping them achieve their altered state as they are dying after anything they have needed to say has been said. Uniting their soul matrix through song or guided meditation, engaging in ritual, calling on their Holy Powers, and so on can help them transition from life to death much cleaner than they might otherwise. It can also give the soul parts places to go (eg Hugr concentrating on the next step), things to do (eg Oðr engaging them fully in the process of dying), and ways to pass on the soul parts that need to be passed on, (eg parts of the Lyke if they are donating, passsing on Hamingja and/or Megin to their community members, and expresssing gifts of Oðr such as a final poem, song, or workings).

Your average person may not need much in the way of direct deathwalking help, since this soul part is not worked with by most people and generally leaves on death. If the person was a poet, worked a lot with altered states, and/or was a spiritual specialist, then directly deathwalking this soul part in ritual may be needed. Again, depending on the particular taboos a person could be under, someone who is in their community, an Elder, co-religionist, or student may need to be present if not running things to be sure things are done correctly.

Deathwalking this portion of a person after death can be quite dangerous -I put the word frenzy as the first thing because it may well be the thing you encounter with a person whose Oðr is still around after their death. If they were particularly potent in working with the soul part you may need to do some serious spiritual work, especially if there is no one available to do the work from within their religious group. This can include contacting and securing the help of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir the person was tied to in life and is after death. This can also include disassembling, destroying, or reducing harm from objects or tools tied to their Oðr in life, and workings they did while alive that now need to stop. It may also be simply giving space in ritual for their frenzy to be expressed, to be heard, and/or for that gift to be passed on. As with most parts of deathwalking this is going to need to take a willingness on the part of the deathwalker to be careful, to do their due diligence in speaking with the dying or dead person’s community, and doing follow up to be sure the right rituals and actions are done.

The Örlög

One’s personal thread in the tapestry of Creation.

Deathwalking this soul part is tied up in the same rites of remembrance and care mentioned in this and the previous post. Honoring a person’s life and death is part of deathwalking the Örlög. Deathwork can take the form of helping the dying person to die well. Deathwalking this soul part for the Dead to be being sure the Dead is well-remembered and the rituals around their death and final disposition of their soul matrix, and anything they may have left behind or wanted to pass on, is done well.

The Urðr

The tapestry of Creation.

As with Örlög, this soul part is tied up in the rites of remembrance and care. Whereas Örlög is one’s personal thread in the tapestry, Urðr is the place where that thread is and the way this thread fits into the overall tapestry. Each person affects the tapestry differently over the course of their lives, and acknowledging their place in things, as with Örlög. Unlike Örlög, which is about each person’s thread, Urðr is the way each thread interweaves with each other. So, while deathwalking this soul part can be done in similar ways to the Örlög, emphasizing the person’s impact on and relationships within a given community during any vigil, ritual, or memorial is important. Understanding ourselves as being bound up in this great tapestry is a comfort to many. It may help a deathwalker to acknowledge a person’s place in Urðr, and that their time to find their place in that tapestry is at an end for this life.

I have covered deathwalking about as exhaustively as I can without specific questions or scenarios to explore, so if you want me to dig into this further sign up my Patreon for the Uruz, Thurisaz, or above level here on my Patreon.

Affluence, Tribe, and Choice

I was watching the end of a BookTV C-SPAN2 interview with Sebastian Junger for his book On Tribe and Homecoming.  I had been happening to be clicking through the channels looking for something to help bring me down so I could get to sleep.  However, when I clicked on the station and listened to what he said, it was like lightning in my brain:

“Affluence is a wonderful thing but the more affluent we get, the less we need to help each other.  It’s just how it works.  So the trick is, can we have it both ways?  Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?  I grew up in a suburb.  The physical layout of the suburb made it hard for communities –that community to coalesce.  It was a sprawling town where you really needed a car to get anywhere significant.  Short of banning the car, how do we return to living close-knit communities of 50 or 60 people?  It’s not happening.”

I disagree with Sebastian Junger’s statements here quite deeply, particularly his last sentence, but the whole of it bears dissecting from a polytheist, particularly a tribalist, perspective.

To start with, he asserts affluence is a wonderful thing.  The OxfordDictionaries.com defines affluence as “The state of having a great deal of money; wealth”.  I view it as a wonderful thing in being a useful thing, insofar as being able to secure one’s tribe, family, and/or self against privation, starvation, etc., and increase their ability to prosper, and empower future generations to do likewise.

Junger asks a pretty powerful question, but one that he fails, utterly, to answer himself:
“So the trick is, can we have it both ways?  Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?”

The simple answer to Junger’s question about having it both ways is yes.  How affluence in the U.S. manifests in a toxic fashion is an impediment to this, though.  He starts to get at why this is with his point on how the suburb is designed, how it makes it hard for connections, but falls short of following through on it.  The issue, to my take on this, is not the affluence or lack thereof, but how it is used, and the lens of extreme individualism in this country that makes communities very hard to form, and even harder to maintain.

The suburb is not designed in any way to be based on a system of reciprocity.  It has no connections to living systems within itself, i.e. there is no growing of food or capability to produce things of wealth otherwise.  Note when I use the word ‘wealth‘ here, I mean it in the sense of “An abundance of valuable possessions” rather than referring to money. Money is a means of carrying the value of things which produce or are, themselves, sources of wealth.  In America, we took ourselves off of the precious metals that, themselves, were recognized as wealth as a means of backing the value of our money, and took ourselves to a purely arbitrary fiat money system.  Our money system itself has the same problem as our suburbs: its connection to living systems and sources of wealth has been largely severed.

A suburb cannot mine for useful materials, nor can it grow an abundance of food to feed itself.  It has no means of trading en mass, or really of doing anything other than providing living quarters.  A homeowner may, assuming the home authority or ordinances allow, a few sources of food, but a tomato plant here or there does not an interconnected food system make.  The suburbs are wholly reliant on other sources for caring for those who live in them.  These people who live in the suburbs are often living very fractured lives from one another; the family next door could be starving, but because of the extreme individualist narratives the house right next to them would never know unless that family let them in to the situation at all.  Suburbs, and structures that operate like them, do not concern themselves with one another, only, at most, the atomized family unit.

The problem is not the affluence these places retain, in and of themselves, but the way the affluence is used to maintain the separation between people and the things they need.  It reinforces separation on a personal and communal basis.  As Junger notes, communities cannot coalesce because of how suburbs are designed.

I said Junger was asking a powerful question when he asked “Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?” because the answer very-well could be yes.  It would take concentrated effort and a reevaluation of how we live, and for what things we use our affluence.  Rather than simply taking affluence out of peoples’ hands and redesigning how society functions, which I have yet to see an example of where the system did not fail, I am suggesting something else.  Note, I am not saying socialist forms of government cannot work under this idea, since the Nordic Model is a good example of a society choosing the use their collective affluence in a pro-social fashion via taxes.  There’s plenty of opportunity for affluence while providing for the needs of one’s people.  I see this as going hand-in-hand.  However, I am approaching this as a tribalist.  As I have noted before, I have little hope of the U.S. ever adopting such an approach to our affluence until things start getting a lot worse for folks, or enough folks start working to change the over-culture of extreme individualism.

So let’s break this down to a tribal level.  How do we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain communal connections?

For one, we need to be pretty clear on how we define affluence as a community.
Is the tribe’s conception of affluence money-based or resource based?  It is my view that a resources based understanding of affluence does not play into the divisive nature that characterizes suburbs and the extreme individualism that can divide a tribe.  If we understand wealth as based in resources rather than money, how does this affect how we organize ourselves, and how can we maintain our relationship(s) with the larger society in which we live?  It is one thing to organize a society based on valuing resources as the form of wealth rather than money, but in the end, money is how things like taxes and debts get paid.  To what degree will a given tribe need to modulate their assumptions and desires to engage with resources-as-affluence on things in order to get along as a tribe, and with the larger society that they are within?

If we look at resources as affluence, then the growing and hunting of food, crafting, and forms of industry helps form the means by how a tribe supports itself and makes bonds between its members.  If money is the source of affluence, then the attainment of money is the means by which the tribe supports itself and makes bonds between members.  A mixed approach allows for the needs of the tribe to meet the demands the larger community may put on it while allowing for pleasures that a purely agricultural-based community may be unable to enjoy.  The ideal without considering the practicality of the tribal approach can fail if these things are not considered.  While I may prefer a resource-based approach to affluence, I live in America, and property taxes and forms of payment will not be accepted in the form of animal meat, vegetables, or crafted items.

What are the pleasures we most wish to secure as a community?

As with affluence, we need to be very clear on what we mean by the word ‘pleasures’, and how we wish to pursue them.  To this, I look to the second definition of pleasure: “An event or activity from which one derives enjoyment”.  How we measure and work with the concept of affluence directly determines what and how we turn over excess affluence for the events and activities that help to give us enjoyment in the first place.  If we define pleasures by the first definition, ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’, this can leave communities flitting from emotionally-fulfilling thing to thing.  That is, by pursuing the feeling of enjoyment rather than the events or activities from which we may derive enjoyment, our use of affluence beyond the basic needs will deeply affect to what end our affluence is used, and how it helps the community form cohesive relationships, and bonds of trust, friendship, love, and alliance.

How?

If we take the idea of affluence-as-money as the organizing principle of affluence, we can already see what happens: people flit from whatever media or other money-driven entertainment they can afford that gives enjoyable stimuli.  A given community is not invested in Netflix the way that content creators are, even if members of a community really enjoy a series.  Certainly, a given community is not invested in Netflix in the way that a community is with a community theater, such as the Purple Rose in Chelsea, MI.  Whereas Netflix eats away at time between members of a community, with some folks intentionally isolating themselves for multiple seasons at a time without Netflix providing a residual benefit to the community the watchers are part of, the same is not true of community theater.  While community theater may not feature A-list actors or scripts, it does feature home-grown talent, the kinds of productions that the local communities want to see, a direct stimulation to a community’s businesses, and something for the community to call ‘theirs’.  In other words, a community that values the events and activities that lead to pleasure also give rise to a whole host of benefits beyond enjoyment of the event or activity.

This is not to denigrate Netflix; such a thing would be pretty hypocritical of me, considering how much I enjoy Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and other Netflix shows.  Rather, our value of what pleasure is directly impacts my physical community in the definition of pleasures being ‘An event or activity from which one derives enjoyment’ rather than ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’.  I live in a time and place where it is far more cost-effective, easier, and less risky to my family to invest my affluence, such as it is, in a community theater.

This is also not to say that I think things like plays and musicals in community theaters are the only viable means of making events and activities from which a community may derive pleasure.  Though I am not a sports fan, there is a powerful draw to sport that a lot of Americans feel.  Rather than see us continue with the current model with NHL, NBA, and other similar sports formats which are often money-driven enterprises that take a lot out of the communities where they build their stadiums while offering paltry gains in return, I would rather we engage more directly in sport and other events that occur within our direct community and between communities actually physically adjacent to one another.  Why?  For the same reason I appreciate community theater as the vehicle for the creation of events and activities that enjoyment is derived from: the communities involved directly benefit rather than the affluence being given to an external source.  That is, the playwrights, actors, and so on that are within the community directly benefit from the affluence that is spent on the play, costumes, the theater tickets, and all the outgrowth of affluence that spreads into the community from that, such as through the local restaurants, artisans, and craftspeople.  By creating an environment where the amateur and those in training can thrive, professionals are made.

For the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, this concept of feeding both the individual and the community, figuratively and literally, come from these concepts: Gebo, hamingja, and maegen.  In Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, there is an exchange that strengthens, grows, tightens the ties of hamingja, the luck and bonds of a community.  By Gebo being fulfilled through the fulfillment of obligation and doing well by one another, and through the increase of hamingja, does one’s personal luck, power, and ability to use that power, maegen, grow in turn.  This can then be used for the benefit of tribe, and the cycle of Gebo continues to feed the good growth of hamingja and maegen.

What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?
A benefit is ‘An advantage or profit gained from something’.  An advantage is ‘A condition or circumstance that puts one in a favourable or superior position’.  A profit is ‘A financial gain, especially the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent in buying, operating, or producing something’ and is also defined as advantage and benefit. Putting this in terms of the tribe, the benefits we wish to secure a as a community are those actions and things which bring advantage to it.

The powerful thing about building up tribe is that you are not just planning for the success of your family or your generation.  You are helping to lay the foundation of success for everyone coming after you.  Everything you put your hands helps to lift burdens off of the next family, the next generation in the tribe.  Learning how to do more things in your own home, from small repair projects or through on up to making your own furniture, gives the next generation the benefit of that experience, and the end result of that product once you have made something of quality.  Heck, some families have the last names they do because their family was renowned for a trade, i.e. Coopers, Smiths, Tailors, etc.  Education and practical experience are benefits for families provided that they are resources that are used, and that are passed on.

The question of “What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?” is pretty powerful.  It asks us what things of advantage and profit do we want to actively work to bring into our community?  What skills will we need to make this happen?  What education, training, experiences, and resources will we need to make this happen?  To some degree our own experiences, skills, and abilities will inform this.  To another, this requires no small amount of discipline on a personal level, as well as a community willing and able to think in the long term.  Moreover, it takes a community willing to stick to a long-term plan if the goal is fairly ambitious.

Physical infrastructure, for instance, is fairly ambitious, and requires some good planning if we hope to pass that on.  The tribe or community would need to be able to handle physical upkeep, any financial costs including taxes (if applicable), and if a building has a special use, such as a power hub, network hub, greenhouse, and/or temple, you will need folks able to work with the special training to do the work associated with it.  Building a solid home in and of itself requires no small amounts of skills to do, even more so if a tribe/community wishes to keep things like power and the Internet as open to it as possible.  If your community can’t do the work needed to maintain it, then experts will need to be brought in from outside the community.

At some point it behooves the community to ask, then, what is a want and what truly is a need?  Will this thing, activity, etc. be a long term boon to the community, or will it take from valuable resources that the community needs to survive and thrive?  Not every benefit for a community will be need to have a physical gain to it.

Some of the greatest pieces of art have, if taken purely from a utilitarian perspective, little to offer.  One cannot eat the Gundestrup Cauldron, but it must have carried deep, powerful import for those who made it and received it.  One cannot eat art, but it suffuses our lives so deeply that it is the very means by which ideas are communicated, including this post here.  Think of the countless carved stones, such as the Einang Runestone or Eggjum Runestone.  Think of the countless carvings, amulets, burial mounds, and all the countless ways in which the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were represented, understood, and known through.  The benefits of art is that it communicates powerfully, resonantly, and can help us touch the Holy Powers, connect to deep aspects of culture, and communicate these things well beyond the generations we may know in this life.

The question of “What are the benefits we most wish to secure as a community?” thinking applies equally to individual families as to the communities they are part of.   What are the abilities we have gravitated to?  What skills do we possess?  What have I learned, and what am I willing and able to learn?  What are we actually able to do, or not do?  What skills, abilities, and things would we encourage others in our families and communities to help us make, or provide to us?

As with the community, this question asks us to take the long view.  I have a great many things I can do with my hands; what if, some day, I lose the use of my hands?  Can I pass the skill on to someone else?  Can I trade or encourage another to gain this skill or do that thing that I can no longer do?  What skills and abilities are essential to me?  What skills or abilities does my community rely on from me that need to be passed on?  What skills, abilities, and things that I and my family can provide are essential to my community?  These questions do not ask for self-effacement or self-abasement, but an honest appraisal of where one is, where one may be, and how one plans to work with things in the future.  It need not be a purely utilitarian view, either.  If I can no longer do work with my hands, such as leatherworking or woodworking, there are plenty of other ways I can help my community.  There are countless ways to be a member in my community and give good Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the tribe.

Sebastian Junger rather misses the point in asking if it is possible for us to have things both ways.  The planet’s answer, whether Peak Oil, climate change, or the deep income inequalities that must exist in order for the modern American way of life to exist in the first place (helping to drive the first two predicaments the more consumption is demanded for the latter) is no.  Further, modern American capitalism poses the notion of ‘we have all the toys or we have nothing’ as a way to make the shackles on our lives more willing to be borne.  This is thralldom by other means.  However, there is a healthy difference between thralldom as the ancient Heathen cultures knew it, and the wage slavery we experience today.

Note before I begin this section that I am not, for a moment, suggesting we should go back to thralldom.  I am using it to illustrate a point.  Thralldom as an institution was widely practiced by ancient Scandinavian and German peoples.  It was slavery.  I do not see it as something to be idealized, nor repeated.  I find the ways in which it differs from the yolks the middle class, working poor, and the destitute take on today via modern capitalism are useful points of comparison.

People were bought and sold like other commodities.  Some thralls and their families never knew freedom; sometimes thralldom, slavery, was inter-generational.  However, some thralls could and did buy their freedom.  Thralls could be freed, and some were.  If they chose, they could become full members of the tribe they had been sold into, or go elsewhere.  They could then marry, own land, and pass it on to their heirs.  The life of a thrall could end well, and one could make a name for themselves, and excel.

Modern capitalism gives no such comfort.  American incomes relative to cost of living have been stagnant or going down since the 1970’s.  We are required more than ever to work longer hours for less pay.  We have essential freedoms denied to thralls: freedom of travel, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to choose our representatives.  Talking about it this way, it seems there are freedoms everywhere.  What American culture is exceptionally bad at talking about is how tampered these freedoms are by whether or not you can afford to exercise them.

I used to be an employee with a home healthcare company.  We work with clients with a variety of needs.  Some require 24 hour care.  If someone does not show up to work, gets sick, etc., and I’m the only one around, I’m stuck at work.  Now, let’s say I have an election coming up and I know I want to vote.  If I am stuck at work because someone gets sick and I’m the only relief, I have a choice: potentially lose my job, face a permanent mark on my record for negligence, potential court action against myself and/or the company, or, exercise my right to vote.  This is not an uncommon scenario.

Thralls had a clear goal they could achieve: make enough money that they could then use to buy their freedom.  In the case of most Americans, we don’t even get this good of a deal.  Chris Martenson, who produced the excellent Crash Course series, calls debt a claim on future human labor. When the average American hits age 5 they’re placed into kindergarten, and for the next 12 years or so they are absolutely primed with the message that going to college will enable them to have a life, make a future for themselves.  What we are not told this entire time we’re working on reams of homework, projects, and whatever else our teachers want to throw at us, while living life in all its challenges, is that in order to make this dream of ‘making it’ come true, is that most of us will have to go into enough debt that we could probably have paid for at least half of the cost of a house, if not bought one outright.  I have worked at McDonald’s next to folks with supposedly market-ready STEM-field Master’s degrees.  The treatment teams I worked with at the home healthcare job had professionals whose loans were large enough that even if they devoted their entire yearly income to it they might only be able to pay a quarter or half of what they owed.  If they were lucky, weren’t part-time, and had some years in.

Keep in mind, these degrees are mere shots at getting a job.  One which may help pay some bills, but probably not enough to stock away for savings or a retirement.  The minimum wage jobs have not covered the cost of living in a very long time, let alone helped the working poor to provide for their families.  Americans as a whole are worse off now than the 1970’s.  We are required to work longer hours for less pay just to keep roofs over our heads, food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and all the costs of those roofs, that food, those clothes?  They’re only getting more costly for us.

If debt is a claim on human labor, how many years of my labor are required to work to pay my debt off?  A thrall had a set amount they had to earn in order to buy their freedom.  Debt increases by a set amount of interest every year.  If I can only afford to pay some of the interest because the degree I earned through years of hard work still, years on, has not netted me a job commensurate to handle the cost of living, let alone the increasing load of debt, what hope do I have of ever getting out of debt?

What good does the freedom of travel do me if the means by which I access travel are closed to me because I cannot afford it?  What good does the freedom of speech do me if I can be fired from a job with little recourse if I demand respect from asshole customers or bosses?  What good does the freedom to vote do me if I must choose between keeping my means of income or voting?

If the means by which my future labor is claimed on is allowed to increase every year and my means of earning release from this claim are reduced each year, will I ever be able to be released from my debt?  Keep in mind that most private student loans are not discharged upon death.

From ABC News:

According to the U.S. Department of Education, if the borrower of a federal student loan dies, the loan is automatically canceled and the debt is discharged by the government. Unfortunately, private student loans do not offer the same liability protections.

In the case of federal loans my choices are to pay off the loan or die.  At least if I die the federal government will not come after my estate.  However, in the case of private loans, if I can’t pay back my debt and I die, my estate, if I can leave any, and my spouse is liable for the cost.  Oh, and family might be too if she can’t pay.  This is not something tangible like a car or a home.  This cost was on what amounts to a bet: “This might be a path to a career; good luck!”  Americans are being told from a young age this is ‘an investment in your future’ and that ‘this is the road to being able to live well’.  If the means by which my future labor is claimed increases each year while my ability to pay the cost of living and the claim on that labor decreases, the only shelter I may have from that debt is my death.

The average college student graduates with $40,000 of debt, and many of us go back and have to borrow more when that first foray into college doesn’t land us a job, or live with what job we can find.  With less people able to retire because they simply cannot afford to, the jobs many young people would be entering into cannot open up since there is less and less room to move.  I cannot tell you how many ‘entry level jobs’ I have seen that require 1-4 years of experience in the field you would be entering into.

A thrall had a better shot at taking off their chains than most Americans do at getting out of debt.

Those that choose to keep the chain of debt off their neck are probably struggling.  Over half of America is officially under the poverty line.  If we cannot afford the cost of living how can we afford anything else?  What good are freedoms if what keeps us from exercising them is privation?

Tribes offer another way.  The reliance on one another, and the ability to take care of one’s own.  The work done together that weaves strong ties to weather hardship, whereas a person alone could be doomed to privation the rest of their days, and to empower future generations.  Bonds forged between people, and from these bonds into a powerful community each person contributes to, and is supported by.

“Can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain — somehow regain the communal connections?”

Yes.  For it to work, though, this must be a choice that all within the community make, and that all within it adhere to.  We can come together and be more together than alone.  We can come together and work with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another to build strong communities.  We can come together and face the challenges that would eat each of us alone together, and come out stronger for it.  We can empower one another to learn, to do what is within us to do, and to build up something greater than ourselves that we can pass on to future generations: tribes whose cultures are grounded in the Holy Powers, in respect and work for the good of the community, and for the good of each of its members.  Tribes whose cultures are grounded in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.  We can maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society andwe can regain communal connections.  Moreover, we can, and I believe should, do more, and do better for our Holy Powers, ourselves, and future generations.

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!

Oaths, Maegen, and Hamingja

“Keeping your word is one of the most important things you can do.  Once you break your word it is hard to get that trust back.  Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.”  -My Dad

There should be little more needing to be said for oaths and oathmaking.  I make exceedingly few oaths nowadays.  This is not because I am untrustworthy or I avoid commitment, but because oaths carry maegen of their own, and along with that binding power, my and the other parties’ maegen.  This maegen will affect those communities I and they are attached to through hamingja.

Before we go much further, let us define some terms.

Maegen

Maegen is analogous to one’s personal luck or power.  Where önd is the breath and analogous to chi or one’s personal energies, maegen is the strength by which those energies are felt, how they are wielded, and so on.  We all start with önd, and some work with their önd quite well in context of building it, such as by learning breath control, inner control, meditation, and similar arts.  Maegen is worked with and built by keeping your word, by exercising your Will in ways that build you up.

Hamingja

Hamingja translates, roughly, to group luck or power.  This is built in much the same way as maegen, but it also ties into the group’s recognition of you keeping your oaths, showing up when needed (i.e. if you say you are going to be there you will be there), and being a good member of your communities.  Maegen and hamingja are part of the soul, as much as the liche (body), mynd (mind), and vili (Will).

The Weight of an Oath

When you make an oath or a promise you are literally putting a piece of your soul at stake.  You are saying to the other party “I trust you so much I am willing to wager a part of my soul for this oath.”  When you keep your oath your maegen increases, as may your standing in the community, thus increasing hamingja.  The same may be true in reverse: keeping well with your community may help to increase your maegen, i.e. showing up when you say you will, doing right by the community, etc.  After all, if you are keeping your oaths you are exercising the muscles of maegen, and potentially hamingja if the oaths and promises made were before or to a group.

This is why in the Northern Tradition oathbreaking is regarded as the lowest thing you can do, right down there with being a traitor.  Think of most any mythology where a person breaks their oath to the Gods, or to their kin; there is backlash.  Sometimes there is no ‘good’ choice and it is a tossup of breaking of one oath or another, such as the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t story of Cú Cuhulain who was given the unenviable choice of breaking one or the other of his geas.   It may be you have to keep to established taboos, such as not eating this animal, wearing that piece of clothing, or not speaking certain words.  Keeping to the oaths, the taboos, the expectations is more important than I can say in words.  I have lost friends, and hurt those I love both emotionally and spiritually by not doing so.  I was removed from a group for this.  Take my example as a lesson, and don’t repeat it.  The consequences reverberate through your life and Wyrd.

Oaths in America

Modern American culture no longer respects oaths, if indeed, it ever really did.  Our elected officials make empty promises to their constituents, and once elected, to the Constitution.  Veterans give their lives to a People that sees fit to lead them to lives of plastic bags, cardboard boxes and underpasses when they have given their all.  Companies who pledged money to their employees thirty years ago bilk their workers’ retirement accounts in schemes and scams, leaving people to struggle to keep their homes, let alone food on their table, in their old age.  Marriage vows are no longer held, with some celebrities not even waiting twenty-four hours before divorce.  With oaths and promises, taboos and peoples’ word given such short shrift it is little wonder that we are in the straights we are in.

With as many broken oaths, half-truths and full-on thirty year lies, how much work would the U.S. government have to do to get an inkling of trust back?  Look at all the broken Treaties the United States government signed with Native American Nations.  No really, look at them.  It’s a litter of literally hundreds of broken promises, terrible deals, backstabbing, and genocide.  In the Declaration of Independence it was declared “all people were created equal” then, when the Constitution was ratified, it cast blacks a 3/5 of a person, less than human.  Our nation was part of the creation and ratification of the Geneva Convention, and now We flaunt it shamelessly.  Companies poison our bodies, minds, land, sea, and sky are raking in record profits while bottom-rung workers are forced to take up public assistance.  Any thought to the well-being of the People, and associated promises and oaths to take care of the environment, the poor, or anything other than a bottom-line profit motive are met with scorn.  America’s maegen wanes as we shore up our falling power with an ailing, ill-served military, and Its hamingja dies in our constant ‘might makes right’ pursuit of our ‘national interests’.  Meanwhile we have people all over our country unable to care for themselves, half of our nation exists in or under the poverty level, and the nation’s infrastructure crumbles.  Oaths are as important for the soul as they are for the foundation of any society, and when oaths erode, so does the soul.  No less the soul of a nation.

The Marriage Oath

Getting down to the more personal level, let us talk about marriage oaths.  The most common we are used to hearing is “Til Death do you part”.  Think about that.  You are investing a part of your soul, and what ought to be a significant part of your life in a relationship until one or the other of you dies.  There is no ‘out’ in most of these marriage oaths, no ‘if this person turns out to be a total jackass or doesn’t take care of the kids or is abusive I can leave him’.  At least from the Catholic side, you have to get your marriage annulled before you can marry again, but, from the Catholic point of view, this is not breaking an oath.  It is saying the marriage oath was never valid to begin with, and so the oath cannot be binding.

The marriage oath is particularly powerful as oaths go.  You are combining all your bloodlines into one home, welcoming the Ancestors and their descendants of those bloodlines into your life.  You are putting your maegen into your partner(‘s/s’)  hands, and  through your public oath, whether to a court, a few witnesses, your families and friends, or all and sundry at a Renaissance Fair, you are tying together your hamingja to that person, their family, and to the communities you make the marriage oath before.  You are swearing an oath before the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, and the landvaettir.  You’ll be making a home with your partner(s), and you’ll be making it on the landvaettir’s home.  Right relationship with all the Beings involved in making your lives, and in helping you live is crucial.  Keeping the oaths is just one part of this, but a deeply important one.

There are many parts of the marriage oath you can change; heck, you can write your own.  There may be some oaths the Gods, Ancestors and/or spirits want you to change or adapt.  We do not, in most cases, have a singular body of liturgy that has passed down generation after generation, and our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, especially landvaettir, may have different expectations when we come together to marry than what we have in mind.  So while there is a lack in foundation there, there is also a lack in the ossification of the Holy, of written word and spoken oath.

I do not expect much, if any of my living extended family to show up when I get married, yet my partner(s) and I we will be recognized as married when we visit family.  Yet oaths will be made, and the threads of those oaths will tie together our Wyrd to one another, to our communities, and our families.  The ties of maegen, hamingja, and the rest of our soul(s) will still be there, recognized before the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and the communities who see fit to be there.

Maegen, Hamingja, and the Pagan Communities

I have spent a good time talking about oaths, so now I am going to switch gears here a bit.

We build maegen and lose it, break it down and send it up, over the course of our lives.  We can use it to exert control over ourselves and others, we can let it shine like a beacon or we can hood the lamp and keep it to ourselves.  We can work with maegen to make ourselves a better person, or fight its pull and make our lives infinitely harder.  Each person’s maegen is different, and is built differently.  My workout regimen may not work for you.  You might need to build up your arms where I may need to build up my legs.  Your Gods may ask you to contribute to your maegen in a thousand ways  I will never have to touch, whether it is the oaths you keep, the taboos you are not to break, or the path you are meant to walk.  We may even walk side by side, but your maegen is just that: yours.

Hamingja is affected by us, but it is also, in parts, distinctly out of our control.  If it belongs to anyone, it belongs with us and those we share our lives with.  We help to build it up in building up our maegen, but it may also help to build maegen in its turn.  It is, in part, our reputation in the communities we exist in.  It is the relationships we have to those communities, and they to us.  It is the building of partnerships and the burning of bridges. It is the life you touch for good that encourages a person to excel.  It is the person you harmed and helped continue a downward spiral.  It is who you are, and how you are known.  It is your reputation, your name(s), your good word.  It is what you have done for your community and what you have failed to do.  It is trusting the community to have your back as much as it is doing for the community.  It cannot be made alone, though each person has their own part in building it.  Hamingja is like a good barn raising: best made together with those you trust not to drop it as it is raised.

Our maegen and hamingja are the chains we forge with each duty done, each oath kept, each taboo observed, each deed that helps ourselves and others, and it is broken, sometimes link by link and sometimes all at once, when we fail in these.  Yet there is hope because it can be reforged.  So if you do screw up, and Gods knows I have, it is not the end of the world even if, in the moment, it feels like it.  Rebuilding the maegen and/or hamingja from this state is started by making the right choice: to rebuild it.  It may be hard and long, and that chain may never be the same, but it is as worthy Work as any we may engage in.  Good maegen and good hamingja promote frith, good peace and social order.

The Pagan communities have an opportunity to continue to reforge the broken chains that had lain at the Gods’ feet for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  The only way that I know of for these chains to stay forged is for us to remain in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and one another.  This is not a one-shot solution.  This will take time and effort.  It will take patience, starting with ourselves, and branching out from there.  There is no end to this work, really, and no silver bullet, no scrap of lore that will unlock the secrets of this Work.  It is a link forged with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities one person at a time with each and every Being, human and otherwise, that they encounter.  The metal of the links are shaped by our word and deeds, by how we treat one another, and the devotion we show to our Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, our communities, and to our own journey with all of Them.  So let us all dedicate or rededicate ourselves to making these links, to making them lasting long after we are gone so that when the link is tested it will stand strong as it once did, as it can, and I believe will, again.

 

Failing Your Community

You know when you screw up big.  You screw up so monumentally huge that you barely see it coming.  You’re stuck in your own consensus-trance, convinced you’re doing fine and doing right be people.  Reality slaps you in the face like a sledgehammer.  I’m writing this because the community I belong to hold me to standards.  I’m writing this because I hold myself, and any Pagan leader to standards.  I failed that community through hubris, stepping on people, and making them feel small.  I failed that community by letting my insecurity and emotion rule, rather than stick to what I should have been doing: serving others.  I failed as a shaman, as a Pagan, as a friend, and even as a lover.  This community, rather than saying “Don’t ever come back” is being generous, and willing enough to give me a second chance.  Part of my deal with them, in seeing me through this transformation process from where I am, to where I am better, is to chronicle it.

It may seem odd that they would want to chronicle it, or that I would be willing to write about it.  As I’ve said here many times, I’ve hoped this blog would help people.  Perhaps by writing about what I’ve done, how I’ve hurt people, and how I hope to correct it, I can help other people avoid the mistakes, negligence, and poor choices I’ve made.  Perhaps by writing about what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and what I’ll do, I can help myself heal and make myself a better person.  It may not make everything better; the kinds of hurt I’ve given to people through my action don’t just spontaneously heal.

I’ll be blunt: I’ve damaged my hamingja, my group luck or spiritual force, if not outright destroyed it.  I did trance-possession work on a regular basis with my group.  That eventually became tainted with my ego, and people have seen more of me than the Gods especially lately in that work.  I did trance-possession work for my lover on a regular basis and she feels betrayed by this.  I can hardly blame her; I was supposed to step out of the way, facilitate a true and honest connection to deity.  I’ve failed.  I’ve hurt people, made them suspicious of my motives, and may have damaged peoples’ perspectives of the practice.  To the spirit-workers, shamans, and others out there who have struggled to make a good name for this incredible spiritual work, I apologize, and know that the apology is not enough.  I hope through my work to fix at least some of the damage I’ve done.  I say the same to those whose materials and training I’ve used in my work.  I have also made people feel inferior, hurt peoples feelings needlessly, and demonstrated a lack of caring toward people who, given I am in a leadership position, should be serving and taking care of before my inferiority issues or wants.  Over the next six or so months I’ll be doing a lot of introspection, healing, personal work, and whatever other work I need to do to fix this so it won’t happen again.

I don’t really look to my Gods to forgive me.  Odin, and most of my Gods and spirit allies don’t really deal in forgiveness.  Most of my Gods deal in doing, in action.  Redeeming myself is more important than forgiveness, which, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary points out means “to give up resentment of or claim to requital” and “forgive a debt”.   So these posts will be more geared toward these ideas, thoughts, and actions.  I’ll reach out for commentary from the community around me, as well as the Gods and spirits, to help me do better and be more.

I cannot go onto public forums and cry out about how we need to hold leaders to a higher standard without holding myself, or being held, to a higher standard myself.  As time goes on, I hope to rise to that standard again.  Perhaps in the meantime I will be an example of what not to do.  I hope in the meantime I’ll be an example of healing, not just of myself, but especially of a community with a single leader with his head in the wrong place.