Patreon Topic 50: On Völur Past and Present

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From Emily comes this topic:

“What was a volva and what being a volva would encompass today.”

The word völva means ‘staff-bearer’ per Neil Price in The Viking Way. This is a spiritual specialist who engages in seiðr and/or spá. Seiðr and spá are a galaxy of practices, among them being what we would readily recognize today as spiritwork, divination, prophecying, and various kinds of magic including curse work, protection, empowerment, and enchantment. What is most striking to me is that the staff referred to is both itself an instrument of power for directing spirits and energies, and a symbol of office. The wand or staff has a number of forms, including that of an iron distaff, a plain staff of iron or wood that is about as high as a walking cane, and a large staff that is made of iron or of wood, the latter carved and embellished. Price has an excellent overview of these in The Viking Way.

Völur (plural of völva) occupy an interesting area in Late Iron Age religion. As near as I can tell, between reading translations of the sagas and books on the subject, including the excellent The Viking Way by Neil Price and Nordic Religions in the Viking Age by Thomas DuBois, they were both admired and treated with fear. It is key to note that we have little to nothing from before this period, what is coloqially called The Viking Age, and almost all of it is filtered through Christian lenses from the period. So what were they? They were seers, witches, people you went to for spiritual work and spiritual advice. They were people who were to be respected. They were people to be feared. If you were a völva you walked a road between that of the people you served and the spirits.

In the Eiriks saga rauða, the Saga of Erik the Red, the völva is an itinerant spiritual specialist that speaks with and/or works with the spirits. At least with the example provided in this saga through Þorbiörg, she did not act alone. She required “a chorus of women and at least one assistant familiar with a magic song or incantation called varðlokkur” (DuBois 124). The use of a varðlokkur, a spirit calling song, is required as part of her seiðr ritual. I have seen this song referred to as an enticement song, a spirit calling song, and a warding song. Singing, chanting, incantations, and the like form or are part of at least a few of the varieties of seiðr as well as galdr.

Both books provide comparison and contrast between the accounts of seiðr, seiðkona, völur, and Sámi naidevuohtta (shamanism) and Finnish shamanism and rituals. Are völur shamans? In the sense that they provide many of the same ritual and societal functions, yes. However, a noaide is not a völva or seiðkona, and vice verse.

It is fairly clear that there was a lot of contact and sharing between the ancient Nordic, Sámi, and Finnish peoples. Each engaged in kinds of spirit contact. In some cases this involved singing, chanting, and/or trance induction through heavy or rapid breathing and/or ‘yawning’. Both DuBois and Price note that the seiðkonur, noaide, and Finnish shamans had mixed reputations for being both potentially helpful and harmful. They were called on to protect, to heal, to harm. In some cases the Sámi and Finno-Ugric peoples were pointed to as being sources of learning seiðr (DuBois 129). Far from being the only connection points, DuBois (71-73) and Price point out the vibrant trade in goods, as well as grave goods, similarities in treatment of and honoring of the dead, ancestor veneration, and so on that are expressed differently within these cultures yet still share touchstones with one another.

To be clear: the words shaman and shamanism are what amounts to academic loanwords in these books for similar spiritual specialists and phenomena. Where we can, I find it better to use words appropriate to the culture we are talking about. I encourage Heathens to use words appropriate to our religions/cultures, such as völva, seiðkona, and the like. When we do not have the words I encourage Heathens to work with newer terms like spiritworker and neologisms like vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker) formed from Old Norse or whatever language is appropriate to the culture background you are engaging with.

Some of the major differences between historical völur and modern völur is that 1) it seems a lot of them traveled a great deal between villages and towns in order to do their spiritual work, and 2) there were people who were expected to be able to perform the varðlokkur, so there was a groundswell of people within the community who had to be familiar with the rites. Eiriks saga rauða provides a very clear overview of a völva, and features of it and other seiðworkers can be found in the archaeological record. DuBois notes that though the practice is nebulous in what it is and how it is performed, it has a fairly consistent picture across time and stories (128).

“Within this array of pagan rituals, seiðr appears to respond primarily to situations of crisis and is undertaken by a religious specialist (usually a woman) at the request of a client and within the context of a communal gathering. The ritual appeals to some sort of spirit helpers, either for divinatory information or help in controlling the minds and wills of others. Typical is the detailed account included in the thirteenth-century Eiríks saga rauða, in which an itinerant seiðr practitioner named Þorbiörg is invited to a Greenland farmstead to help the community discover whether its current run of ill luck will continue.”

Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, DuBois 123

The lack of experience with seiðr, both in terms of familiarity with the subject itself in Heathenry more broadly, and with specific practices within it, means that völur and other seiðworkers have to do a lot of work to revive this practice. The saga accounts, grave goods, what surviving folks practices we may look to, and conjecture from academics only do us so much. A lot of modern völva work is going to have to just be done. In a way, this lack of concrete bounds for modern völur and other seiðworkers means that we are free to cocreate new ways of being these things in modern contexts alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. While there has been a lot lost with these traditions, it means that our roles and rites can move with the requirements of our Ginnreginn and communities.

This is where especially The Viking Way is a treasure trove, both in how it lays out the information and in the sheer breadth of information it has available in it. The kinds of magic Price writes about alone is helpful because it helps expand our lexicon for kinds of magic and magical practice such as gandr, fjǫlkyngi, and ljóð, which could be combined with seiðr or performed separately, a kind of seiðr such as kveldriða (cold-rider, Price 77). Since a given völva could well perform any or all of these things, or just stick to one specialty, eg gandr or spá in general, becoming more familiar and working with these terms also means we develop a more specifically Heathen way of working with the sources as inspiration and information. Because a given völva is not limited to one practice it is perhaps better to think on how we use these terms to describe the job of being a völva just as the various -riða terms such as kveldriða describe seiðworkers engaging in magical work on others.

What is a modern völva in Heathenry? A völva is a Heathen spiritual specialist, a seer who works with the spirits to gather and share information, and to enact change. Where a seiðworker may do a variety of things, including spá, a völva’s primary job for whatever community or communities she is part of is to speak and work with the spirits, gather information from Them and/or with Them, and enact change with Them. The way I understand modern völur is that their job is to work for/on behalf of their communities with the vaettir. Since we no longer have any living memory of varðlokkur I think that it is a good thing for anyone wanting to do this work to find or ask for inspiration from the vaettir to gain such a song. Maybe it has words, maybe it is a melody; whatever it ends up being, it is a song that works to bring the vaettir to the völva so the work can begin, and be maintained.

Being a völva is, like every other spiritual specialty, a job. It is taking on Work. Maybe you come to it through being grabbed up by a Goddess, eg Freyja. Maybe you went to Her and asked Her to bring you into the work because you feel called to the Work itself. Whatever your inroad, initially you train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and develop yourself and your relationships so you can effectively do the spiritual work of the job. Then, you do the work of being a völva while continuing to train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and developing yourself and your relationships so you can keep being more effective as you go on. Ideally, you would have a spiritual mentor, as well as at least 1-3 people you can go to for divination so you can keep yourself on an even keel. To this end I highly recommend Jim Two Snake’s Spiritual Accounting PDF.

Since becoming a völva is beyond this post, how would we contrast a modern Heathen völva with a person being a seiðworker? I look at völur as a communal role whereas seiðr is fairly accessible to anyone willing to put the work in. You might work with seiðr to make a taufr, an enchanted physical object (Price 36), in crochet or knitting, eg crafting a blanket for warmth and protection. You might do seiðr to work with vaettir to just gather information for your own purposes, such as through a gandr ritual using a gǫndull, a wand or staff for gandr, and/or a ‘yawn’ or the use of breath such as song, chant, or croaking (Price 184) in where you push the vaettir to give you information. You might work with a spá ritual in a light trance where you commune with the vaettir to that end. All of these are accessible modes of operation to both the völva and the average seiðworker. Now, perhaps a given seiðworker is not comfortable working with völva as a term because it is definitely feminine-gendered, and this is where we need to develop more terms or work with neologisms. In my own case I am fine with the terms vaettirvirkr and seiðmaðr (a seiðr-man) for the moment, as I do spiritswork as a spiritual specialist, with seiðr as part of that work.

The difference between a völva and a seiðworker is that, for our purposes here, völur are spiritual specialists whose job it is to work with/on behalf of a community where a given seiðworker may be working on their own. We develop these meanings, work, and community together. What really makes the difference between a völur and seiðworker in the end is whether the word clicks for you, describes what you do, and if you are serving a community what words that community calls you. Being a völva today is not much different in that regard than what it was centuries ago: you serve a community, connecting them with the spirits to speak with them, gather information and to work with Them to change things.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 48: For Jarnsaxa

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

This was requested by Vixen for Jarnsaxa.


The iron sax gleams free from the sheathe

Drawn thirsty

Its cut is wide, its bite deep

The mighty arm falls with the bright fang

Drinking greedily

Felling the doughty foe

Great is the battle-Goddess

Steel-spined

Victory claimed in strength

Patreon Topic 49: On Jarnsaxa and Angrboða

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From Vixen comes this topic:

“Maybe you could talk about what you know about Jarnsaxa, or maybe even Angrboða. I know they’re two Jötunn’s I don’t hear may people talk about. I’m assuming it’s because they’re Jötunn but I think they’re important and I’m trying to learn more about them.”

Part of the reason we do not know much is because They are Jötnar, and another is because They are Goddesses. Much of what is known of Jarnsaxa comes from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Hyndluljóð, Skáldskaparmál, and Harbarðsljóð. Much of what we know of Angrboða is from the Hyndluljóð, Gylfaginning, and the Völuspá. These are relatively scant passages; there is just not much to go off of here.

With regard to Jarnsaxa, I do not know much about Her. I have not held cultus to Her, though I am not opposed to it. I just have had no reason to engage in it with Her so far. She and Þórr have a son, Magni, and I believe also Móði, though I have found no reference for His Mother. Her name is supposed to translate to ‘Iron-dagger’, ‘armed with an iron sword’ (Orchard and Lindow respectively; thanks Wikipedia!) or ‘the one who holds the iron-knife’ from jarn meaning iron and saxa meaning a single-edged blade or knife . Unfortunately, no one I know holds cultus for Her, so I could not refer to others on Her modern day cultus either.

Angrboða, whose name means ‘the one who brings grief’, ‘she-who-offers-sorrow’ and ‘harm-bidder’ (Simek, Lindow, and Orchard respectively, thanks Wikipedia) has a fairly active modern cultus. Among the heiti I call Her is Chieftain of the Ironwood, Úlfmóðir or Wolfmother, Mother of Monsters (which may translate into Old Norse as Foraðmóðir), and Fostramóðir. I have held cultus for Her for quite a while, not too long after becoming a Heathen. She is powerful, formidable, and can be quite ruthless. In a way I look at Her and Óðinn as being very similar, though She wears Her wolf/monster face far more prominently than Óðinn.

How have I experienced Her?

Angrboða is very much a take-no-shit Goddess. She wants you as you are, and if you want to improve, expects you to work on it. She does not waste Her time, so if She is reaching out to you then She has good reason even if they are Hers to know. While She has understanding of weakness and frustration, I find Her patience like that of a mother wolf: She will abide a lot until you overstep and then She will bark or nip so you remember your place.

I find Her to be more animalistic and primal than a lot of Gods. When I have seen Her when I have hamfara (faring forth in my hamr), She sometimes appears to me as a woman in a simple tunic, trousers, and sometimes with a couple fur pieces wielding a spear. Other times She is a huge wolf, and others a great half-wolf half-woman. Her voice is commanding, deep with power and wisdom, rough. She smells of forest, and various animals, trees, and good earth.

I have held cultus for Her for most of my time as a Heathen, and this is in part by introduction through Loki. I came to know Loki through His blood-brother. For a long time I held cultus with Her the same as my other Gods: offerings, prayers, and devotional time at the Gods’ vé. In night prayers with my family, we thank Her for protection. In knowing and getting to understand Her I came into a better appreciation of the wolves that She has given birth to, and I began cultus with Fenrir a few years back. I also grew to appreciate Hati and Sköll better in this, and while I do not yet have a devotional relationship with Them yet, I can appreciate the work They do that keeps Sunna and Máni on Their ways.

A few years ago I found myself working for Her and coming to understand Her as Fostramóðir as a result of an agreement between Her and Óðinn. Some of the work is to visit Her in Járnviðar, the Ironwood, Her home in Jötunheim. Sometimes this is to just go there and experience it, and other times to run or hunt with the Jötnar there that call it home. The work She has for me is ongoing, and I have yet to fully uncover all the things She wishes me to do. She has done a lot of work with me on my inner nature in the meantime, exploring different facets of being a spiritworker, an úlfheðinn, and bringing lessons there into how I live my life and do my spiritwork.

I find folks who recoil at Her but not at Óðinn a bit odd. Their temperaments, particularly around the accrual and use of power and knowledge a lot alike. They share an association with wolves, bears, shapechanging, and in my experience, also with faring forth in these forms and spiritwork associated with these things. It makes little sense to me that folks would seek to have a good relationship with Hel, or Hela, our Goddess of the Dead, and villainize Her Mother.

While the sources tell us little about Her that is no barrier to developing good cultus with Her. If anything, it pushed me to get to know Her in ways She wanted rather than having the relationship first mediated or sieved through the written word.

Through worshiping and coming to understand Her, She has helped bring me into a new appreciation for the various Jötnar that are intertwined with other Gods and through Them, our lives. She has blessed my family, Kindred, tribe, and I. She protects, She empowers, and She emboldens. She pushes us to see our monstrous selves, to embrace Them fully and without shame. My devotion to Angrboða has provided no small amount of challenge and growth in my life. She has pushed me to embrace myself fully, and in doing that, to better and more fully embrace others. Through devotion and work for Her, She has pushed me to improve myself and the spiritwork I do as a Heathen. Hail Angrboða!

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 47: For Thor

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

This was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Thor.


So many know Your booming hammer

That rings out across the skies

The lightning rush that lights the night

The fury that burns within Your eyes

So few speak of Your soft voice

That sings down the gentle rain

Blotting out the heaving heat

Blessing all the growing grain

So I sing of Your gentle touch

The calloused hands that rock to rest

The children of Your mighty Mother

Bringing ease to all You bless

Thank You Þórr for gentle rains

The soft drums that drone upon the roof

In the low rumble of Your voice

In thrumming song we find You too

Patreon Topic 48: On Difference and Variety Among Spiritual Specialists

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

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Difference and variety among spiritual specialists. Not everyone is, can, or should be an expert in every area. Generalists exist certainly, but even generalists have weak and strong areas. Could you perhaps talk about various kinds of spiritual specialty, figuring out where you stand, etc?”

There is an amazing variety of spiritual specialists out there, and depending on your religion, communities, and culture(s), there are a lot of ways to figure out and occupy various nieches. I am going to contrast with some varities of ways people first find themselves becoming a spiritual specialist and ways that a given path might bring a person to that job, and then I will tackle ways we can look at how we can figure out where we stand.

Note: This categorizing does not speak to the credentials, ability, etc a given person may hold. A person formally recognized as a priest by a Heathen group may have poor skills in priestcraft just as a person who is entirely spirit-taught and initiated by the Ginnreginn they serve may excel. A person brought into a spiritual specialist role by contract may be uninterested in pursuing the work once a contract is up whereas someone who has come into the work through experimentation may increase their abilities throughout the course of their life. An additional complexity to all this is that a person may be introduced to spiritual specialist work in a combination of these ways. I may have missed a way of introduction here that is specific to a path. For this post we are talking very generally and out of my experience as a Heathen and prior to that as a Kemetic polytheist. If folks want me to dig into specifics I am willing to do that, but it will need to wait a month as this took me several days to write.

Introductions to Spiritual Specialist Work

Religion-Initiated Training/Initiation

This is a person who has been formally trained and/or initiated as a spiritual specialist by another human or human group. Even within a broad category such as priest, this can take on a lot of different meanings depending on what is meant by a give spiritual specialist area or discipline. For instance, seiðr.

What a seiðworker’s function in modern Heathenry is matters a great deal on the dynamics of a given Heathen group, the training they receive, and any initiation work they may undergo. Some folks begin calling themselves a seiðworker/seiðkona/seiðmaðr/seiðmann/etc immediately on interest in the vocation whereas others only do so after extensive training, recognition from a group and/or formal initiation by a group. Generally, a person within a group only calls themselves a spiritual specialist once they have gone through the training and initiations, if there are any, as laid down by a given group.

What differentiates this path greatly from one brought to a person by the Ginnreginn is that the person’s training and initiation(s) are first engaged/invited to by the person or their group. Any training and initiation are decided on by/with heavy input from Elders or otherwise qualified members of that group. This is not to say the Ginnreginn are not at the center of these spiritual specialists’ lives or have no say, just that the decision to bring a person into the work/teachings is mitigated by humans and not the Ginnreginn alone.

Holy Powers-Initiated Training/Instruction/Initiation

This is where the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, the Ginnreginn or Mighty/Holy Powers, bring a person into training, instruction, and/or initiation. It is direct experience of these Beings that starts a person on the path to being a spiritual specialist, that informs their training, and/or serves to initiate them into the work rather than being mitigated by human beings, such as by initiating into a line of seiðworkers in a specific tribe. This would be things like Óðinn coming out of the relative blue in a vision and bringing you along the path you need to walk with Him to learn the Runes or Freyja grabbing you up in a freeform journey meditation to learn seiðr. It should be noted that you do not inherently have less freedom or ability to say no to such things. You still maintain your sovereignty, and any agreements you are asked to enter into should be carefully considered.

Experimentation

Fucking around and finding out is how some folks get brought into being a Pagan, let alone being a spiritual specialist. Maybe you saw a cool idea for a ritual in a book and tried it out to see if you could replicate the results. Perhaps you decided to stop into the local group’s dedicatory ritual to the An Morrighan and you didn’t step back when prompted. Whatever the case is, you tried something out and not only did it work, it now helps to inform your path -assuming it has not outright become it.

Contract

A formal agreement reached between at least two entities to achieve an end. In this case there is a formal agreement between the person being brought into spiritual specialist work and those introducing/training/initiating them in it. This could be a contract with a working group, a mentor, and/or the Ginnreginn that have contracted with them to that end. Perhaps there are certain things you need to do prior to restrictions in the agreement to be lifted, eg a training period of a year and a day or better has to be completed before you can call yourself the spiritual specialist’s term, eg seiðmaðr/seiðkona/etc. Perhaps you have a limited time of expectancy for performing the role of a spiritual specialist. One way that I have read this can occur in the ordinary existence of a group is that some Wiccan covens rotate the role of high priestess.

What Next?

All of these ways are merely what will get you in the proverbial door. Perhaps an experiment brought you to a realization that a given God was calling you to service. You wanted to honor that calling and found a group to help you in this. The group itself does not do training itself, and they are a group of peers that provides a support network. So what results is folks engaging in a lot of spiritual contact mutually support each other through their own journeys. Around Grandfather Fire’s Discord server works a lot like this for those inclined to spirit work and callings.

What is next really depends on what specific spiritual specialty you are being called to. In a general case there needs to be a grounding in the lore and religious community surrounding the spiritual work, and ongoing spiritual discipline that supports the accomplishment of the spiritual specialist work. So, for a modern Rýnstr (Runester aka Runeworker), this would first be grounded in the ongoing basic exoteric work of being a Heathen. This would include regular cleansing before ritual, making good prayers and offerings, and living life in a well-balanced way the same as any other Heathen. From there the training of a Rýnstr would include a study grounded in both the literature and archaeological resources on the Runes, and ongoing spiritual connecting and working with the Runes Themselves.

Sometimes figuring out what your strong suits are is to just try things out. Within my experience of Heathen spiritwork you will not know if you are good at something until you experiment with it. Even so, sometimes you have to try more than a few techniques before you find one you click with, and then take the ones that work for you and really work with them awhile before you can truly call yourself skilled at them. Alongside all of that if you are serving within a religion/religious tradition you have to undergo training in order to be considered competent within a religious tradition, and continue to provide service within that tradition. It is not enough for me to have done a good Rune reading once, as though a capstone is enough to continue to use the title of vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), goði, Rýnstr, seiðmaðr, and so on. There is no resting on laurels to being a competent spiritual specialist. With all of that being said, let us dig into some general descriptions for polytheist spiritual specialists.

Kinds of Spiritual Specialists

Spiritworker

Someone who does work for the spirits.

Their work can range from communicating to divining, engaging in spirit travel to do work in one the Worlds, to maintaining a public shrine space so contact can be made between the spirits and people. Often a spiritworker serves as the connection point between spirits and people within their community. A spiritworker often serves as a kind of cross between the roles on this list, especially when other kinds of spiritual specialists are not available.

Priest

Someone who serves a God or group of Gods in the maintenance of Their cultus.

This notion of a priest is markedly different from what monotheists understand a priest to be, as a priest in modern Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc serve congregations and not only in the cultus of their God. By contrast, a polytheist priest’s main role is in the cultus they give to their God(s) first, and then, if this is part of their duties, to those who seek to connect with the God in the shrine/sacred space. Some priests may simply serve a God with no outward community involvement whatsoever, maintaining personal shrines, including daily prayers and offerings for the God.

Clergy

Someone who serves a polytheist community as a spiritual guide.

Clergy are often what folks think of when they think of ‘priestly’ duties, however, I find this is a completely separate set of skills. A skilled priest may be excellent at giving prayers and offerings to a God while being lousy at providing spiritual guidance or spiritual counseling. This is a clergyperson’s main focus. They seek to bridge the gaps between the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and their worshipers and help maintain good relationships. Where a priest serves a cultus role a clergy serves a communal one.

Diviner

Someone who serves a community by doing divination.

This person may perform only one kind of divination service, or may be pushed to learn a variety of divination styles. They serve a vital function in helping community members discern messages, taboos, initiation rituals, and various life events as they are called on. Where a spiritworker serves as a connection point, a priest serves the cultus of a God, Ancestor, or spirits, and a clergyperson serves a community in spiritual guidance, a diviner’s service is helping to establish and maintain communication. Divination is, in my experience at the time of this writing, one of the most common skills across polytheist communities for both specialists and non-specialists. I do not expect this trend to go away. Now that polytheist communities are getting sufficiently large and specialties are have been emerging, diviners are emerging as their own specialty.

Sacrificer

Someone who performs sacrifice to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

This person is trained in and performs sacrifice according to best practice and what is required of their particular religion. While most will see the word sacrifice and think blood sacrifice, and while this can certainly part of this specialty, it is not the only form this can take. A sacrificer may be someone who tends a garden full of herbs, flowers, and other plants whose main reason for being grown is that they will be made into offerings. A sacrificer takes the risk of a poor sacrifice on themselves and performs this service on behalf of a person, community, etc. They may do this to help ease an angry spirit, help heal a group of Ancestors, or to please a God at a seasonal rite. Because sacrifice is still looked down upon by the overculture and a good understanding of what sacrifice is and with regard to blood sacrifice, how to do it safely and well is not understood by most polytheists, it is one of the most taboo and misunderstood specialties here.

Operant (Witch/Sorcerer/Magician/etc.)

Someone who engages with magic and the spiritual fabric of reality.

Given the pervasiveness with which witches dominate the Pagan communities it might seem to be odd that this is noted as a spiritual specialty within polytheism. A common denominator I find with operants, whether the word is witch, sorcerer, magician, is that this person engages with magic in some way and the underlying nature of reality through it. This is, historically and increasingly in modern polytheism, not something commonly done. Most polytheists engage in exoteric practice and either do very little in the way of magic, or focus on specific practices such as protection.

In Heathenry there are a large number of things to call operants, among them seiðworkers. Some folks would call Rýnstrar (Runeworkers) operants, and others would call them spiritworkers. I tend towards the latter, but they still fit the bill here. While not every operant does their specialty for trade, some do, and this is a practice well-founded in history. Some operants work with spirits in various ways whereas others work on their own, though I find this latter operant fairly rare in polytheist circles.

Monastic

Someone whose primary vocation in life is oriented around and dedicated to a disciplined devotional service to a God, Ancestor, spirit, or group of these.

Monastics may come from any walk of life. Their discipline may be oriented around extreme aesceticism, simple-living as a hermit, or living alongside others in whatever community they find themselves in for whom their monasticism is the focus of their life. They may have taken specific vows with a fellowship, such as The Maetreum of Cybele or the Gnostic Celtic Church’s Hermitage of the Heart, among other groups, or are independent. Whatever else, their day begins and ends with devotion to the Being(s) they have dedicated their time, life, and/or work to.

Storyteller

Someone who tells the stories of the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities.

Storytellers are those who keep and tell stories, particularly sacred and important stories. Storytellers do more than merely memorize stories, though this certainly is part of it. They also relate the stories they hold, whether through written prose or poetry, through oration, song, dance, gesture, play, or crafts. Storytelling is literally an embodied story whether that comes through a tapestry, song, recitation, or a three-act play. Some storytellers may be given new myths, new legends, new stories to share, whereas some storytellers’ duty is only to pass on what they were given.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

Have these descriptions spoken to you? Stirred something within you? If so, explore that. What feelings does it bring up? What images or sounds? What stereotypes do you have about the specialist type you are exploring? What do you want to do? How? Once you have explored these things, it is time to think about some of the general, baelines requirements of being a spiritual specialist.

Requirements

Rootedness

In order to be a spiritual specialist you first have to be spiritual. This notion that you can just take on a role like seiðworker without any groundwork having been done, no prior spiritual experience or outlook, is not only irresponsible, it is flat dangerous to anyone you might serve in that capacity. In order to be a polytheist spiritual specialist you need to have a clear, grounded rootedness in a polytheist religion. This includes a belief in the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as real Beings unto Themselves, and a lived relationship with Them. The roots of rootedness are in reciprocity, respect, and ritual.

Ideally you will have several years in the religion prior to being called or pursuing to some kind of role. However, my own experience with the Gods is that sometimes they take you up for work fairly quick. Rootedness, however much time you have in the religion, serves to ground you, to make sure you know what you are doing, that you know why you are doing it, and what it means. Rootedness also gives you community, in whatever capacity you are able to be part of one, and hopefully a community of Elders, peers, and others who you can call on when you need help, advice, or comradery.

Learning and Work

This is an ongoing process. Learning is not just studying books or oriented around academic learning. It may include that, but if all you are doing is looking at academic texts you are likely not doing the work of your spiritual specialty. Study should inform what you are doing, and it should feed into the work that you learn through. The other side is doing the work of being a spiritual specialist. You have to learn the requirements of the spiritual specialist role you are looking at, to know if you can effectively fulfill that role, and if you decide to take it on, to do the requisite learning so you fulfill it well. Any of the spiritual specialies listed above will require you to do ongoing work. This study and work should unfold hand-in-hand so that you learn what you are good at and reinforce that, and show where you need to improve and to work on that.

Discernment

One of the key skills needed to do any spiritual specialist work effectively. Working off of the previous requirements, discernment needs rootedness to be able to discern chaff from wheat, and learning so the discernment one has is informed instead of prejudicial, ignorant, or incorrectly applied. Discernment is informed by both study and by experience, both your own and that of others. This is part of why Elders and peers are so valuable -you do not need all the answers nor the experiences.

There are much more specific requirements as we dig into polytheist religions, specific paths of learning and work within them, and the direction a given spiritual specialist may take. This is beyond the very general scope of this post.

I expect that as time goes on the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits will call folks to different ways and needs within the communities will cause change to how spiritual specialists work within a given religion or religious tradition. As time goes on perhaps each will have their own dedicated spiritual specialists so that a Heathen looking to see if their plan to engage with a Heathen sacrificer is okayed through divination with a Heathen diviner. Perhaps not, and we will have a similar pattern to what we do today, with spiritual specialists fulfilling a lot of roles at once within their own particular communities and between them as well. It is quite possible we will have a blend of these depending on location, the polytheist religion in question, the spiritual specialist type, and trends within the overculture and our specific ones.

Discussion and/or Divination

Figuring out where you stand include both discussion and divination. Depending on how you started this journey it might include more of one or the other as the deciding factor for entering into the work of becoming a spiritual specialist.

As I wrote above, you always retain your sovereignty, and so, your ability to say no to entering into the work. You also retain your sovereignty and ability to say no to the work once you are involved in it. Once begun you may have consequences for walking away from it depending on any oaths you take, where you are in a community with that choice, and the relationships you have made in that journey.

Questions

Whether in discussion with an Elder, mentor, or peer, or sitting down to divination, I find these questions to be some of the most useful to figuring out where you stand.

Baselines

What are the boundaries of this work? What am I willing to do? What am I not willing to do?

Is this a spiritual specialty, topic, and/or skill I need to know? If so, how much knowledge and experience do I need to have to fulfill my obligations as a spiritual specialist with this specialty, topic, and/or skill?

Am I suited to this spiritual specialty by temperament, training, and/or calling?

Am I willing to commit to this work fully? What obligations, taboos, training, initiation, and other requirements will this spiritual specialty require of me?

Does this spiritual specialist work dovetail with my current spiritual work, discipline, etc, or will I need to modify my spiritual work in order to do this? How?

If I take this work up what down time, if any, do I have? How does my relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits change through it? How does my relationship with my communities change through it?

What discipline(s) will I need to maintain in order to train and become this spiritual specialist?

Skill Level

Do I currently possess the skills, training, and/or abilities required to carry out this spiritual specialty? If so, where do I need to improve? If not, what do I need to work on?

With regard to a given skill within a spiritual specialty: What is the skill? What does it do? What is its function within the spiritual specialty?

Do I have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to learn this spiritual specialty well? Do those teaching me have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to teach me well?

Training

What are the requirements of training in this spiritual specialty?

What are the necessities to train to become this or that spiritual specialist?

What are subjects that are not core to this spiritual specialist but still useful to it?

What are subjects to avoid until the initial training/initiation period is over?

How do I train? Is there academic work needing to be done? Experiential? Both?

Who do I train with? Is the training self-directed or is there a regimen or outline to follow?

Is there an expectation of hours of service, experience, etc before I am qualified to move into a new phase of training, work, etc

Initiation

Is initiation necessary for this spiritual specialty?

If I am to undertake an initiation what are the boundaries to it so that it is as safe as possible?

Is an initiation needed to perform certain duties within this spiritual specialty?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc before initiation?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc after initiation?

Everyday Life

A key aspect of figuring out where you are as a polytheist is orienting your everyday life around your spiritual outlook. This is particularly true if you are going to be a spiritual specialist. An example of this would be a monastic schedule during which periods of contemplation, prayer, and devotion are scheduled alongside any other activities the monastic has. They are far from the only people who could benefit from such a thing, and even so, not all polytheist monastics have such a schedule if they have a formal one at all.

Whatever you do, there should be time in the day for at least 5-15 minutes of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, prayer, offerings, and connection with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. Keep in mind I am not saying this time even needs to be all at once. My family and I make prayers throughout the day -when we first see Sunna, each meal, when we see Máni (if He can be seen) and before sleep. We make offerings as often as we are able. The strictness or laxity of your schedule will depend on your needs, the requirements of your religion, and, if you are a spiritual specialist, the requirements that brings.

Beyond spiritual self-care and cultus, there is also a need to orient as much of your life to be in concert with your worldview as possible. In my own life this has meant that I have foods that are taboo, so I have to work to avoid them. It also means that I avoid certain actions, spend my money on companies and causes that align with my interests as a polytheist and animist, and literally schedule my life around my religious obligations. Not only do I set aside hours of my life for things like divination, my family respects this time because it is service to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and to those who come to me for that service.

Going Forward

There are as many ways to be a spiritual specialist as there are people, and despite the length of this post, I am only touching on the outline of the subject. A polytheist understanding of things like priests, monastics, spiritworkers, and so on is fundamentally different from that of monotheists. The requirements of different polytheist religions’ spiritual specialists will differ from one another as well. A Heathen priest will differ from those of a Kemetic priest, and even within a given polytheist religion individual requirements of spiritual specialists will differ from one another. A priest of Anpu will likely not have the same role as a priest of Aset even if many of the requirements to be a priest, the taboos held, the conduct during ceremony, the offerings made, and so on, are the same.

Whatever brings you to the work of being a spiritual specialist, whatever way you engage in it, whatever work you need to do is just that: yours. No one else can do it, no one else can do your work for you. So, if yours is to be a spiritual specialist, ves Þu heil to you, and may your luck be strong.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 46: For Cleaning with the Húsvaettir

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

This was requested by Alexis for cleaning with her húsvaettir (house spirits).

It’s time to clean

It’s time to clean

Húsvaettir I call

Come help me wash

Come help me sweep

Come help me keep our hall!

The work gets done

The work gets done

With effort and with song

The grime is gone

The dust is gone

The cleaning carries on!

We cleanse the home

We cleanse the home

Together húsvaettir

We cleanse above

We cleanse below

This home we all hold dear!

(When all is done)

The cleaning’s done

The cleaning’s done

Thank you húsvaettir

Time to rest

Time to relax

Within our home most dear!

Patreon Topic 44: On Wolf Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“What does Wolf Cultus look like to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 45: For Allmother Frigga

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

This was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Allmother Frigga.


Holy One

Who loves Her People

Who loves Her Children

Born from Her or Another

Hail to You!

Secret Weaver

Who knows Urðr’s tapestry

Who ties the warp with care

Who draw the weft with precision

Who wields the sword with skill

Hail to You!

Allmother

Whose regal bearing inspires

Whose countenance stills

Whose words are matchless

Whose power is undeniable

Hail to You!

Hail to You!

Hail to You, Almóðir!

Patreon Topic 43: On Hel

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

From Alexis comes this topic:

“I would really appreciate reading what you have to say about Hel, if you have cultus with her. I don’t see a lot of heathens talk about her.”

Hela is a Goddess I have worshiped for quite a while. I began to worship Her some time after I began to worship Loki, so it has been about thirteen years or so.

Most of my early exposure to Her worship when I became a Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan was through Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova and their books. Few Heathens have talked about Her worship in most forms of media I have engaged with, though thankfully that is changing. Recently I saw Wolf the Red’s Youtube video on Her. If you browse the tags here on my blog you will run into no small amount of content for Her.

Given I worshiped Anpu prior to Hela, a lot of my experiences with Him prepared me for those with Her. In particular was the development of my Ancestor cultus, though that definitely grew in size and complexity when I became a Heathen. Unlike my experience with Anpu I did not become Her priest nor do I do much in the way of spiritual work with Her. While Anpu assigned me work and we still have ongoing spiritual work that I do about once a week to do with the Dead, most of my interactions with Hela are purely devotional in nature.

She is part of my family’s hearth cultus, as well as that of my Kindred so all of us make prayers and offerings to Her. Our most common offerings to Her are the same as our other Norse Gods: water, alcohol, herbs, and food. They are disposed of in the same way, which is usually under a tree, or into the sink respectfully poured out if they are liquid offerings and going outside is not an option.

She can be incredibly compassionate while also being incredibly strict, and of the two I have found that She tends to offer the Dead Her compassionate side whereas the strict side tends to be towards the living. Given Hers is the realm where most of our Ancestors end up I do not understand the aversion to Her worship. It seems to me that if Ancestors are important so too should the worship of the Goddess whose realm most of Them will be occupying.

I have had interactions with Her through other means beyond our home hearth cultus. The most frequent, even in the dead of Winter, is taking the compost to Her and Níðhöggr’s shrine. I wrote about that awhile back here in 2014. We have still kept up the traditions of making prayers and the offering of compost each time the bucket gets full.

She has featured in my adult life at every loss of a loved one. Our cats Aoshi and Kuro, my Grandpa, my Great Aunt. In times of grief I have turned to Her. She has never turned me away, as surely as She has never turned away our Dead.

She is a Goddess that receives. She receives grief, our loved ones, and in turn She gives Them a place to be, and contact with us. She is a powerful Goddess that, in Her cold compassionate ways, smooths the paths so we can heal not only within ourselves but across generations. She provides the place and time to our Dead and Ancestors necessary for Them to heal, to restore, to get ready for whatever may be next, and when They are ready to commune with us and share in our lives. Hail Hela, may You ever be hailed!

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 42: For Angrboða

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

This was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Angrboða.


The air is crisp in Jötunheim’s air

The mountains behind the forest ahead

Silver trees mark the boundaries

Ancient, arching to greet Sunna

The first thing heard is the quiet

The still

Then You are there

Great and seething with Power

Your grey-flecked fur ripples in the evening sun

Your jaws slather with invitation

I am so small beside you

Yet, we speak

You wield the great spear, knife well-adjusted on Your hip

A wolf’s grin as I am weighed under Your gaze

A movement, a bark, and Járnviðr comes alive

Teeming with Your clan

Your Wolf children

Your Snake children

Your Troll children

Your Jötun children

Countless, chaotic

Mother of Monsters

Mother of Many

Chieftain of the Ironwood

Hail to You

Thank You for the invitation