On the Need for Deeper Conversations

An issue I have seen come to the fore a few times around now as a polytheist, animist, Pagan, and Heathen, is the idea of 100, 200, and 300-level discourse. I touched on this with my post on being a teacher in the Heathen communities, but not as in depth as I will go into here. I have had an issue with these various communities for quite a while: so much of the material out there is 100-level material, and what material does make it to 200 or 300+ often does not get discussed or receives much in the way of support. What is worse, is that because folks are constantly reinventing the wheel, proverbially or mythologically take your pick, we never really progress far beyond 100 or 200-level in our writing or experiences.

The posts I have been writing on spiritual politics have been fairly cathartic for me because it is digging into deeper stuff than 100 or 200-level. To be frank, I find the spiritual politics discussions to be 300-level or better for the most part. While there is nothing wrong with most folks stopping after 100 or 200-level, we as collective communities need to be more engaged in deeper discussions if we hope to develop them further. For the most part this takes us away from the well-worn path of the written and archaeological sources.

Why?

Because our useful information stops. At some point there is not any more information to reconstruct from unless we are willing to look at other sources. In the case for Heathens this is tends toward looking to folklore, and Lacouteaux is one of our best English-translated resources for this. Once you hit a certain period though, the folklore either stops being relevant or the descriptions of concepts or Beings, like particular vaettir like the dvergar and álfar, tend to blend together. The information just stops being relevant to Heathenry after a certain point. This takes a lot of Heathens out of their comfort zone because from here on out everything is based in personal and communal experience, knowledge, and experimentation.

This unwillingness within large parts of the community to work beyond the bounds of the source material of the home culture(s) our Heathen worldview is based in cuts us off from considering and then exploring both the heights and depths that are possible within Heathenry. If all we ever consider is what is essentially 100 and 200 material at most then we cannot develop much as communities. We also cannot develop expertise in various fields within them, or even individually. If we limit ourselves to what has been found in the written sources we are mostly limiting ourselves to what the elites wanted written down and what has been filtered through Christian lenses in both the sources we have and most of their interpretation. Even if we include what we have through archaeological investigation we have precious little to go on outside of certain better-represented time periods and classes of people. Common people are woefully underrepresented in both written and archaeological sources. It is hard to overstate how much physical material is completely lost to time.

This overreliance on written and archaeological academia to act as an arbiter for our religious communities keeps us from the full range of Heathen religious expressions, understandings, and experiences because we have limited our options of what is possible. In so doing we cut off our ability to innovate, to develop new ways of living with our Ginnreginn, and to bring our experiences into the accepted customs and expression. In short, we cut off our ability to form living cultures. To be clear, reconstructionism is a methodology that relies on good data from academia to both keep the process honest and be useful to the projects we have. However, written and archaeological sources are the maps and not the territory of our lived religions. We cannot be bound not to see a mountain or valley because the map is out of date.

This gating off conversations to mostly 100-level subjects serves another purpose: it keeps a captive audience for books and other forms of media creation in its easiest-to-market niche. 100-level books tend to generate the most revenue in part because they are the only ones available to the everyday person, seeing both the widest distribution and marketing. The religion sections for most bookstores are vanishingly small, and most tend to be full of Christian books with a smattering of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish books. I have to look elsewhere for anything related to our religions, often in the New Age or similar sections, and these tend to be mostly 100-level books on witchcraft like Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.

This trend also exists in other forms of media, including my own. I spent 19 YouTube videos exploring The Basics of Heathenry. While it did take a bit of time and work to script, record, and edit, it is information I already knew, have taught in other contexts like workshops, and required no deep vulnerability on my part to impart to others. I am fortunate in that I am not bound to this, either for purposes of income or interest, and that both 3 Pagans on Tap and Around Grandfather Fire have a lot of leeway to dig deeper and reach higher. With the initial Basics of Heathenry project finished, I can explore other topics relevant to Heathens. This takes more work, not in terms of gathering information, but willingness to be vulnerable and talk about my experiences, views, and how the shape my Heathen exoteric and esoteric practice has been changed by these.

This is an aspect of the deeper conversations seldom talked about: getting deeper into conversation and moving beyond the 101 requires a vulnerability that laying down the basic theology, praxis, and structures of Heathenry does not require. Even some 200-level conversations on subjects like the basics of how to do magic can be so dependent on one’s home culture, focus, and individual expression that it opens us up to scrutiny in ways merely talking about what magic is in Heathenry does not. For example, how one does útiseta might be a 200 or 300-level conversation. Depending on what comes out of the experiences you have with it, though, you might be having 400+-level conversations. In other words, the folks you hope to talk with about the subject at hand are going to need to have significant knowledge and experience with the topic, not merely a basic theoretical understanding, to have dialogue with you.

What information you get and what one does with the information can hit depths most folks are uncomfortable talking with. Perhaps the vaettir have touched on sensitive areas like trauma, or just subjects we are unfamliar with. Perhaps the vaettir are contravening written or archaeological evidence or including information simply not found in them. Even setting aside the esoteric side of things, developing theology, praxis, and structures beyond the basics requires us to be open to scrutiny, our methods to be open to examination, and our conclusions to be disagreed with unless we are determined to share nothing with one another.

Let me say this as clearly as possible: cultural appropriation should be condemned. Note, that I am not saying cultural appreciation or exchange should be condemned; appropriation should be. With this in mind I think it is worth us looking at what it is folks are looking for when they are reaching for pathways that are not open to them. In other words, are they reaching for something they ought not to because their own path(s) are lacking something essential they see within that culture, cultural practice, spiritual technology, etc? To be sure, some folks are reaching because they want what cannot be theirs out of a sense of entitlement. I find for those who are not, especially with white polytheists, Pagans, witches, and others in our communities who do this reaching, is that the majority of them are looking for authenticity and connection. While the desire for authenticity and connection are good things to pursue, this desire needs to be turned towards the pathways that are open to us.

If our conversations only stay in the 100, 200, or 300-level range then not only do our conversations never deepen, our experiments, experiences, and development as communities stay here as well. If we do not face our lack of resources and the new territory before us with bravery, then we condemn many of us to hunger for authenticity and connections that cannot be made without them. Rather than making a kind of Heathenry which only grasps at, or for, the spiritual technology, perspectives, information, and living wisdom of other paths, we Heathens need to dig deeper, carve surer, and explore even further with our Ginnreginn into our own forms of spiritwork, magic, folklore, and relationships with the Ginnreginn. We need to be brave enough to develop our spiritual technologies, perspectives, information, and lived wisdom with our Ginnreginn. Let us do the work to improve the soil of Heathenry for everyone as we settle our roots, communally and individually, even deeper into our Heathen religions, practices, and spiritwork.

It is easy to say “We need to talk more about x or y” or “we need to dig in deeper into a topic at such-and-such a level”. How, though, do we do that?  For starters we need to be really clear on what we mean by 100, 200, 300, and above. Are we talking for exoteric only? What about esoteric topics? Do we put exoteric and esoteric topics together, or try our best to keep them separate? I cannot answer this for everyone, I can only make my thoughts on the subject known, and hope to further dialogue. It might be that thinking of things in this way is completely backwards, or just the wrong way to go as a model. However, we do need to begin to have some dialogue about it and this is using models of experience and expertise that we have. Wherever we can, we should develop our own ways of understanding and reckoning our ideas, experiences, and expertise as animists, as polytheists, and as Heathens.

I am going to propose a structure so that we can get to deeper conversations. It is not the do-all end-all, but my hope is that it can be a good place to start. Exoteric is defined as “suitable for or communicated to the general public. not belonging, limited, or pertaining to the inner or select circle, as of disciples or intimates. popularsimplecommonplace. pertaining to the outside; exteriorexternal.” Exoteric practices, then, are those that are obvious, that anyone in a given religion can do. For Heathens these are things like hearth cultus, prayer, making offerings, and doing basic divination, such as a simple yes/no to see if an offering or sacrifice was accepted. Whatever these practices are requires no special knowledge, training, expertise, or study to do right or well.

Esoteric is defined as “understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite:poetry full of esoteric allusions. belonging to the select few. private; secret; confidential. (of a philosophical doctrine or the like) intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group:the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras.” Where exoteric practices are those that anyone can do, esoteric practiced are generally only regularly practiced by a handful of individuals. For Heathens, among these folks would, among many possible practices, be those who engage in Runework, seiðr, spá, and/or those who work to cultivate direct encounters with the Ginnreginn.

Now, if this last part seems like it is a mainstay of modern Pagan religions, including Heathenry, it is. A lot of modern Pagan religions in America can trace their start to the influence of Wicca. It was not and is not unusual for a lot of American animists, polytheists, Heathens, and Pagans in general to get their start in various Wiccan or Wiccan-derived religions. At some point folks in this circumstance may bring in additional religious identities or transition out of the Wiccan/Wicca-derived religion. Since Heathenry is not doctrinally exclusivist most folks bring their practices and experiences that worked from previous religions with them into it.

There are plenty of other reasons for why folks in modern Heathenry have or are incorporating esoteric practices. Some folks come into Heathenry through direct experience of the Ginnreginn and develop an exoteric practice in response to that. Other folks in modern times are actively moving away from religions which are primarily exoteric or have few accessible/desirable esoteric practies. Whatever the reason, a significant amount of folks in modern American Heathenry have religious practices that are a blend of exoteric and esoteric.

For purposes of our conversation, and to deepen it, I will put forward that most esoteric discussion is going to be 300-level for the most part. Why?

100-level subjects are the rudiments and baselines of Heathen practice. This is how to start and engage in the absolute basics of the religion. Among 100-level subjects would be about Who the Ginnreginn are, the particular Heathen cosmology one is part of and how we fit into it, how to begin and maintain a hearth cult, how to pray, how to offer, and how to maintain right relationship with the Ginnreginn.

200-level subjects build on the rudiments and baseline. This includes many of the ‘why’ for why we do a thing at the 100-level. Some folks may find it odd that I put the most of the ‘why’ behind the 200-level and not 100. The reason for that is the practice of Heathenry is something that can be understood in its basic forms by most anyone who engages in it. My young kid does not understand all the ins and outs of the religion. At the 100-level understanding the why we do a thing is simpler or is less pressing than understanding the what or how of doing something. When we make prayers at the stalli, she knows the expectation is to look at the Ginnreginn when we do so, and to bow when we are finished. It will be some time before she has the capacity to understand all the “whys” for why we do what we do.

Examples of 200-level subjects would be: connecting with Gods in ritual through the use of particular heiti, beginning reconstruction and revival work in general, and the use of basic liturgical language in ritual. I consider developing or working with liturgical language beyond some basic phrases or words, such as those used to greet Ginnreginn, to be higher than 200. It requires specialized knowledge and experience to do well. Other examples of 200-level practices would be applying genealogical resources to Ancestor cultus, engaging in more specialized cultus than the hearth like an athletic cultus or a cultus based in a field of study,  and producing religious artwork, prayers, and rituals. Using 200-level courses in college as our basis here, 200s are often the applications of the basic subjects you learned about into specialized ways that deepen your knowledge, understanding, and expertise of the subject.

300-level subjects are about building expertise from the previous levels, generally towards an object of study. In college level courses these tend to go towards Bachelor and Master degrees, and the focus is a lot narrower than the previous courses. In my experience, specific forms of psychology were covered as part of getting through my BS in Psychology program. The higher the number the more specialized and nuanced the topic, eg the lower 300s were broader like Abnormal Psychology and the higher 300s were courses like Statistics in Psychology. 400-level courses were mostly relegated to Master degrees, 600 to PhD, and 700 to postdoc courses.

Examples of 300-level subjects would be the study of seiðr, spá, Runework, and in my view, any form of spiritwork I could think of. There is a need for foundation in and grounding in the basics and study of 100 and 200-level work in order to effectively understand what we are doing, why, how it works, and what the effects of a given action can entail. That grounding in the basics of Heathenry are necessary to troubleshoot and to determine when a given form of spiritwork would be effective, or if it would be called for at all. The grounding in 100 and 200-level work is necessary for discernment for ourselves, and especially if we hope to do any of this work for others. This grounding is also necessary for developing theonyms, toponyms, and related new infromation that we can bring to bear for our communities that may not require direct experience of the Ginnreginn, yet nonetheless it requires a firm foundation of knowledge to do well.

Suffice it to say, these metaphors for where we are, and where we hope to go, have limits. There is no certification process for a spiritworker beyond the Ginnreginn and maybe a teacher and/or a given community. If folks find the metaphor clunky to the point of being unwieldy, or even find the metaphor offensive, feel free to toss it and suggest another.

In no small part, why I feel so strongly on the need for deeper conversation is that they’re happening anyhow, and developing the means for understanding where we are, where we are going, and how we wish to develop ourselves individually and communally are well within our hands. Another reason is that these more esoteric questions and subjects of study, experience, and interaction with the Ginnreginn heavily impact our communities. There is direct good and harm that comes from entertaining these ideas, let alone engaging in the study and experience of the ideas here. Far better for us to take an active interest in developing the conversations for our own sakes than to find ourselves in situations where we have to make judgment calls we are not prepared for. By moving these conversations along we can better situate our communities for the future they will be coming into. My hope is that, looking back, we will see our efforts as turning points that brought needed dialogue and work to our communities that inform and empower both exoteric and esoteric expression within and between our communities far into the future.

A Heathen Prepping -Prepping for Convergent Crises

We are at a crossroads of convergent crises. At time time of this writing the United States is facing the following: supply chain disruption resulting in delays of goods and then services, health care staffing shortages, shortages in necessary medical goods supplies, ongoing massive infections of COVID-19, and rising inflation. Then there is the civil unrest we have still largely not dealt with since January 6th of 2021. Alone, with the effects of climate change already being felt throughout the food industry, this would be disruptive. With these hitting all at once it is high time anyone holding out on prepping began to take the situation as it stands and make plans to take care of themselves and their loved ones.

This does not mean panic buy. It does not mean pick up as much toilet paper, rice, beans, or the like as you can. What it does mean, is, that if you have delayed until now to do necessary prep for two weeks in a SHTF scenario, then start there. Besides, long-term you cannot survive on just rice and beans though, if you try that, you’ll be happy you bought all that toilet paper.

We have seen gas prices rise on average about $1.14 in the last year, per the EIA. Check the year on year price comparison by the BLS of average goods. The price on average has increased in a steady upward climb the last twenty years. A loaf of bread went from $1.50 to $1.52 October 2020 to October 2021. This means that gas went up about 52% and bread 2% in the last year. Between October 2001 and October 2021 prices on these two goods have gone up, from $1.36 to $3.39 or a 149.26% rise for gas and from $1.01 to $1.53 or a 51.49% rise for bread. All this is to say these are long-term trends, not just pandemic-time increases.

With the crunch of supply disruptions bringing together the basics of your home’s prep into a 2 week, then 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and a year as you can should be a top priority. At the least, getting this prep together gives you the means to take care of yourself and your loved ones for a SHTF scenario. If one does not hit for awhile, it means that you can stave off inflation. If supply chains fail or things fall apart worse than what they are, you won’t be caught off guard.

Our current round of convergent crises are predicaments that have been ignored until the weight of them cannot be borne by the system in place. All of these issues were ignored or underfunded through several presidential terms. Since 2001 we have spent literally trillions of dollar on war. Resources were simply not allocated to address them. Assigning fault may be useful to some, but not in deciding what to do now that these threats are here in action.

As a Heathen I understand my life woven with that of others through Urðr, whose Anglo-Saxon cognate is Wyrd. I prioritize those webs of Urðr, first with the Ginnreginn (Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir), then my immediate family, then Kindred, then tribe, and then my wider communities. These priorities matter in predicaments like these, as they dictate who my first concerns and obligations belong to. Those closest to me in obligations and concerns are those who I help first in a SHTF scenario.

So for whom am I prepping? For everyone in my circles of concern. It is my responsibility in every relationship I hold, from the Ginnreginn to the wider community, to do all I can to take care of as many people as I can within my capacity to do so. By do so I am freeing resources for others in my Kindred, tribe, or wider community who need to use their resources in support of their own. If all I can take care of is my family and I, then that is who I take care of so resources are available for the Kindred, tribe, or wider communities.

The beautiful thing about prepping, especially starting out and getting a 2 week then 3 month prep as you can, is that prepping is cumulative. The more you do it the better you can weather SHTF scenarios. If you have a 20 lb bag of rice for your two week prep that same bag counts for the 3 month prep, too. So, even if you’re eating your prep as you go, which ideally you should at least in some degree so you’re not suddenly switching diets when SHTF, you are still stocking up in the long term.

Bought a bag of apples and are unsure if you are going to eat them all in time before they rot? No problem. If you have an oven or dehydrator, you can make apple crisps. Put those bad boys in the fridge, mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, or a jar. Congratulations, you have made another stride in prep! Have veggie scraps like carrot tops and peels? These make good compost. That compost can then be used as soil or fertilizer if you let it break down. Old medicine bottles are excellent for holding emergency supplies you can stash in a BOB, the car, or as part of an EDC. Thinking on and working with what you have, where and when you are as part of prep can help stretch or add to what you have for resources.

A lot of convergent crises where I am are going to look like multiple SHTF scenarios that I talked about here coming together at once. In Winter of 2022 I am most concerned about the weather, then supply chain issues, then COVID-19 and the knock-on effects at hospitals, and then the ongoing infrastructure issues. Once we get through Winter and that ceases to be as big an issue, most of my immediate SHTF scenarios stay the same, with the exception of civil unrest being a bigger factor as temperatures climb. On their own each of these could merit my full attention. Together, even doing as much prep as I can, it can be overwhelming, especially at first.

The thing about SHTF scenarios, particularly convergent crises, is the preps are not meant to fix them. Generally, SHTF scenarios are predicaments that you navigate. My power going out cannot be fixed even by getting a Generac generator for the house -it mitigates the loss of electricity. Stocking up on food will not fix the supply chain issues or rising costs. Food prep will help my family and loved ones get through until the supply chain is restored and/or we can bring our own supplies to bear. These ongoing issues need to be fixed systemically since they are systemic issues.

So, what kinds of prep can you do with regard to multiple SHTF scenarios? Beyond continuing with the preps you are on, be sure to build redundancy as you can. Something City Prepping says a lot is “2 is 1, and 1 is none.” Having backups sure does not hurt. If you grab one of something while you’re out on a shopping trip grab a second one. I recently went to the store and picked up some dry milk. At first I was just going to grab one pack, and, remembering the rule, grabbed another. In a long-term SHTF and/or grid-down situation having extras is a great thing. If you find you do not need the extras, having them means you can offer it to others to help, and you have items to trade with.

By and large the basics of prepping for the most likely convergent crises will overlap one another. The big one for our area is power loss. It threatens both our refrigerated and frozen supplies, and makes it harder for us to get through everyday weather. Most modern American homes are fairly poorly constructed and insulated. These glorified boxes require working HVAC units to chug through all kinds of weather. I find it far easier to get through the cold in Michigan than I do the heat, but not everyone will, so even in prepping members of your home you may need different strategies to keep everyone safe.

Convergent crises can challenge our preps. Right now our corner of Michigan’s most likely long-term convergent crises are a long-term power or grid-down situation coupled with our ongoing supply chain issues. In such a case, relying on a refrigerator, freezer, and the electric stove we have will be pretty useless. While we could do our best to convert the refrigerator and freezer into primitive ice boxes, it would be a far better use of time and resources to orient our preps for these crises to food able to be stored long-term without the need for cooling. Canning while we have electricity and a steady supply of jars and lids is one approach which can provide immense amounts of food which will keep for years. Smoking, curing, dehydrating, and fermenting can be done throughout the year without electricity. Thinking creatively about how we face our convergent crises now can save us pain, time, effort, and resources in the long run.

Convergent crises will be a time that test folks. Crises usually do. Part of the power in doing these preps as a Heathen is that each act of prep is an opportunity for building up good relationships with our Ginnreginn and each other. Engaging in prep provides opportunities for devotional work, magic, and co-creating Urðr with the Ginnreginn and the folks in our communities. A lot of us go about creating some kind of stalli (altar in the house), and vé (sacred outdoor space) where we live. The spiritual work does not, and, especially since we are talking about preps, should not stay there alone. Looking at the written and archaeological sources of our Heathen religions it is clear to me that the spiritual perspective of ancient Heathens was part of everyday lived reality, not hived off from the rest of life as it so often is in our overculture. Much of the spells and spiritual practices that have passed down to us now were concerned with survival, the good of the community, and preserving, protecting, or empowering the community and the folks within them in some way.

A lot of ways to bring spiritual work into prep are simple and often overlooked. An example: when you are canning thank the vaettir of the plants and animals, the jörðvaettir that forms the jar, lid, and bands, the vatnvaettir of the water, and the eldrvaettir that boils the water. You can mark the bottoms or put post-it notes on jars or other items you intend to trade with the Fehu and Gebo Runes. You can put healing bindrunes on the inside of your First Aid kit, and ask for Eir and Menglóð’s blessing on it, giving Them good offerings afterwards.

Learn about the various forms of magic and spiritual practices that ancient Heathens would have used and think about why they used it, and how these things apply to us today. An awful lot of thought, time, energy, and power went into protection, not just personal protection but that of the homestead and animals. Why? Survival was dependent on the stores of food and animals making it through Sumar (Summer). For those animals not destined for slaughter, they were often instrumental in making it through Vetr (Winter). A good chunk of surviving medieval manuscripts combine what the overculture today think of as separate disciplines: medicine and magic. Even into the modern age these things were not separate disciplines.

Enchanting our medicines to be more effective, warding our gardens against encroachment as we put up fencing, and laying down protections on our homes is the ancient ways working in a new time. Parterning with the landvaettiir so the plants grow well, asking Þórr to bless the garden with rain, and asking Freyr and Gerðr to bring fertility to the plants and animals is our Heathen worldview alive. Doing these things intertwines our religion and our lives in visceral ways. It is powerful.

Even if we do not face a particular set of convergent crises there is no wasted time or energy with these preps we bring to bear. Remember, preps are cumulative. They can be equally as useful for ourselves as others, especially those who may not have prepared or prepared as well as we have. We build up our megin (might/power) and hamingja (luck/power/group luck) in doing this work. Partnering with our Ginnreginn to face these crises, to prep and do what is in our power to do, we grow stronger. By encouraging our mutual aid networks and caring for those in our Kindreds, tribes, and communities now, we face the future stronger together.