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Critique of Harner’s Shamanism: Guest Post on Gangleri’s Grove

September 19, 2011 3 comments

I wrote a critique of Harner-style shamanism in response to a blog commenter post on Ms. Krasskova’s Gangleri’s Grove.  It eventually grew into a long post that had to be reposted in several places.

Ms. Krasskova was kind enough to ask me to finish my thoughts, and has it up as a guest post on her blog.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

I am interested in hearing others’ views on this topic.

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All-Father

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Life flows from lips to bark

Heart beats with reddened sap

Limbs creak and groan

Bark softens

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Knots open

Brown cambium turns grey

Rings coil and wind

Lightning leaps and plays

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Husks become hofs

Trunks flush with colors

The trees move

Uprooted limbs sway

They breathe, breathe, breathe

 

Credentials

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Since the trial for James Arthur Ray has ended in his conviction for negligent homicide, something that has really popped up in my mind a lot is the idea of credentials.  They can keep people safe, establish who has proper training in a discipline, art, science, etc., and who does not, and can communicate professionalism in an instant.  When I think of credentials I think of licensing, such as what happens with counseling, or with medical disciplines.  Having an M.D. or some other recognized credentials communicates a certain trust between the community and you, that you have had the training and experience necessary to qualify in the field you’re practicing.  How do we establish such a thing in Paganism or modern shamanism?

Some places, such as Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan ministry, and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies for neo-shamans, are trying to fill this requirement by giving classes, workshops, and a variety of training in disciplines and techniques for their path.  I have many criticisms of core shamanism, as well as misgivings regarding the practice of shamanism without a core cosmogony or cosmology.  That said, I find it laudable that someone is helping to set a standard of expectations, that neo-shamans to be answerable to some standard of expertise and training.  Still, there is something that bothers me about the setting of standards regarding shamanism.  I think it is something I was reminded of in this post by Kenaz Filan, that I worry regarding “the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.”  I’m not about to say that people should not have standards regarding their spiritual workers; quite the opposite, in fact.  The worry I have, is that we reduce the role of a Pagan priest or a modern shaman to a “one-size-fits-all-Truth”.  Community standards, and standards of practice are one thing.  Expecting the same thing out of every priest or shaman is quite another.  That, perhaps, is my main point of contention with core shamanism itself: that it reduces a good deal of practices, techniques, and so on, down into a distilled form of core shamanism that is billed as shamanism without culture, when it merely replaces a mishmash of cultures’ spiritual tools and practices with its own culture.

This is why I worry about, but am not completely opposed, to credentialed spiritual leaders, mentors, and the like.  That said, I have none.  I am not certified by any body, religious or otherwise, to conduct the rituals I do, or to deliver the services I offer.  I have only the blessings of my Gods, spirits, Ancestors, and those who believe in what I do.  I have only the experiences I have had as a shaman, and priest of Odin and Anubis as my spiritual background.  In a very real sense, it is a leap of faith for people who come to me for spiritual help or advice to trust me.  I have no training from an accredited seminary, nor do I have a certificate from the modern neo-shamanic organizations.  Am I still a priest and a shaman?  I emphatically say “Yes”.

I am of the mind that, while you can go through all the varied and well-made training workshops and classes, the Gods and/or spirits are what designate you as a priest and/or shaman.  Without the Gods and/or spirits, while you may have all the earthly credentials in the world, what does that matter if, when the time comes, you are called on to be a Divine mouthpiece and you cannot perform your function?  When someone needs to hear the guidance of their God/dess, and you cannot communicate it, what did the seminary lessons matter?  When a person is being bothered by spirits or Ancestors, if you cannot intervene and/or guide effectively, what good are all the workshops?  Anyone can screw things up as a matter of simply being human, and no spirit-worker, priest, shaman, or oracle I know of does what they do without screwing up.  I certainly have not.  That, however, is not my point here.  What is, is that the Gods and spirits with whom you work, in my view, are the ones that bestow the meaning, the core, of what it is to be a priest or a shaman.  If you don’t have Them behind you in your function, while you may be a great facilitator or organizer, you are not a priest or shaman.

There is also, to me, a large difference between being a priest or shaman of a community, and being a priest or shaman of specific Gods or spirits.  While the two need not be exclusive, they can be very different in their roles.  Having been a priest for a community for a small time, the role required me to fill a lot of shoes, and do a lot of working with others’ Gods, successes, failures, and times of trial, as well as times of joy.  There was a lot of work on communication, answering questions, writing lessons, and training that was done as part of that work.  A lot of my daily work during this time was community-based, from daily work with people on their relationships with Gods, to working on rituals, classes and presentations.  Being a priest of Odin and a shaman apart from a dedicated community, a lot of my work for the larger Pagan community consists of giving messages from Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, intervening when needed in spiritual crises, and being a go-to for people looking to contact Odin and other Northern Tradition Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  A lot of my work is individual-based, and I do a lot of more self-focused work, such as taking more time out for relaxation and meditation, and give more personal attention to the Gods and spirits I work with, whether it is working with my Ancestors, or working on deepening my relationships with my Gods.

Are credentials necessary?  In some cases, yes.  If you want to legally marry people, for instance, you need to have credentials that back up your ability to sign the marriage license.  However, I and a very good friend of mine, performed a wedding for a wonderful couple, and though it is not legally recognized due to the laws in my state, it is a strong marriage blessed by the Gods.  Are credentials beyond those for legal reasons a necessity?  I’m still out on this.  As someone who has dedicated his life to serving my Gods, I would say no.  Yet, at the same time, I see how credentials provide comfort, a sense of security, and communicate professionalism.  After all, I’m getting my degree in counseling for that reason, and when I’ve finished with that, I will go for licensing so I can practice what I’ve learned.

At this point I’m taking a middle road because Pagan priesthood and modern shamanism do not, by and large, have the background that professional counseling does, and beyond the two resources I’ve mentioned above, anything resembling professional training in either field is scant, or is specific to certain pathways, i.e. the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s seminary.  If we want more professionally-trained priests and shamans, whether for the wider Pagan or shamanic communities, or our own little branches in their trees, we will largely have to either a) support what is already there and increase its ability to be used effectively by its adherents, or b) invent these courses and methods of accreditation ourselves.  I find that accreditation can be a powerful, stabilizing force, but it can also be one that can strangle peoples’ ability or willingness to explore, find new ways, be touched by the Gods or spirits, or respond in ways that establishments may find chaotic, destabilizing, or unwelcome.  Here is hoping that as we move forward we can develop courses and accreditation that encourage individual and group responsibility, personal and transcendent experiences of our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, while also providing a solid structure to build our faiths, roles, and communities on.  Here is hoping that if credentialing gets in the way that we have the bravery and wherewithal to help it evolve with our communities’ growing needs, or if it will not, then to discard it.

Call for Submissions: Ancestor Devotional Anthology

June 3, 2011 7 comments

Hello everyone.  Given the interest and fantastic submissions that have started to come in, I am extending the deadline to October 31st, 11:59pm.  I hope that as word spreads there will be even more submissions.  Please, if you or anyone else you know does Ancestor devotions and/or work, or even has just started beginning working with their Ancestors, encourage them to submit their writing, or art to this project.  The details are listed below.  If you have any questions you can post them here or send them to Sarenth@gmail.com.

The Call for Submissions

Asphodel Press

Working Title:  Calls to Our Ancestors

Editor: Sarenth

Description:  An anthology of prayers, poems, devotional pieces, essays, personal experience, and/or artwork in honor of our Ancestors.  This anthology draws from a variety of sources and authors, and may include Ancestors worship in the form of spirits and/or Gods as well, for those whose beliefs encompass this.

What is not desired: fanfic, ego-stroking, self-aggrandizement.  It’s one thing if you believe you’re sired by a God/dess, it’s another to treat other humans as lower than yourself.

Word Length: 800-1500 words minimum for essays.  No specialized fonts, please.  All formats for written pieces should be in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format.  Any devotional pieces, artwork, etc. in visual format needs to be submitted in no less than 300 dpi format, preferably .tiff or .png for lossless quality.

Contributors will not be paid for this contribution. This is a one-time publishing opportunity, so you retain all rights to your piece and can use it as you wish after publication.

Any contributors need to give their legal names and addresses in the email for a release form for their work.  However, we can publish you under a pseudonym or community name if you would like.

The deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011 at 11:59pm.

Emails for interested parties can be sent to Sarenth@gmail.com.

Fast: Day One

May 10, 2011 2 comments

Today is the first day of a Nine Day fast and Vow of Silence.  I did something like this last year with Hanging on Yggdrasil.  This time I’m not hanging on the Tree, but going deep inside, reconnecting with myself, purifying, and bringing myself back together.  I’ll be letting go of things, and developing a deeper connection with my Gods.  Primarily I’ll be working with Odin and Loki, with Odin tending toward work during the day, and Loki at night.  I would have thought it would be otherwise, but a lot of work I’ve done with Odin has been done at night, so I guess this is switch-up will challenge me on some things.

The first thing that really hits me is the hunger.  I’ve been hungry all day, and finally, after taking a nap, the nagging in my stomach left me alone.  Throughout the day I’ve been talking with Odin, going over some of the basics for the following days.  A lot of the work is going to be introspective, while other parts of it, such as writing the Hávamál-like poem we negotiated I would write for being able to start the fast after Mother’s Day, will be about creating or exploring.  A lot of the conversation is sparse, talking about what I need to really dig into these Nine Days.  How I approach relationships, my constant need to be there for people, my boundaries, sexuality, my self-esteem issues and self-denigration are all going to be lain out and one-by-one worked through.

Today, a lot of the work was focused on how I approached relationships.  During the day Odin and talked on and off about why I did things with Nicole that I did, exploring deeper where those feelings of “I need to be here” came from, and why I wasn’t honest with myself from the beginning when we started to see ourselves drift apart.  I found myself going back to my folks and what I learned from them, that when you find someone you love, you stick it through no matter what.  That loyalty is sometimes measured in compromising, sometimes on things you hold dear to yourself.  It’s about giving everything you are to that other person.  While these are, I think, good foundations in this theory, as I explored how those examples impacted me I found myself giving over to (before Nicole) emotionally abusive relationships, manipulative relationships.  With my first relationship I made much of my time with her about her, and was offered very little in return.  This became my norm for a long time.  I thought “Well, this person loves me, and that’s enough”.  Yet I didn’t actually examine my lovers up-close to see if they honestly loved me like I loved them back, or if I was even getting basic things out of the relationship like affection or help on things that I was going through.  I have made a lot of my relationships about the other person, to the near-exclusion of myself.

This trickled into nearly everything I did.  There’s a joke that Nicole and I share.  I usually left food decisions up to the other person; I’m not picky.  I mean really not picky.  So I was usually just defaulted to the other person (I did this with a lot of things) and didn’t make a hell of a lot of decisions.  One day we’re driving in her car and she looks to me, and asks “Hey, what do you want to eat?”  I fumble around; holy shit, what do I want to eat?  I hadn’t expected the question and started darting my head around looking for some kind of food place.  “I dunno,” I answered with a shrug.  “Well, you need to pick someplace.”  “I don’t know what I want.”  This goes on for another five minutes.  Then she asks me, exasperated, “Well, what do you want?”  I answer in deadpan: “Chicken.” She throws her hands up in the air half-yelling half-laughing “There are about five hundred places with chicken!  What kind of chicken?!”  I eventually fumble out Chinese and laughing, she pulls into the nearby Chinese food joint.  Gods, food sound nice right now.

In just thinking about this little incident, it made me think about how much I gave my autonomy over to the other person in relationships.  It isn’t healthy, and isn’t something I will be repeating in future relationships.  Nicole helped me to make a hell of a dent in this, but I still dipped into it, and still gave a lot of decisions I could make myself (like where to eat, what movie to see) and just compromised on the little things that could have made me happy.  It’s no small wonder I was willing to give the rest of my life over when I didn’t even have the spine to say “I’d like to eat here” or “I’d like to see this”.  What kills me is, I did this voluntarily.  There was no knife to my throat, no one ever threatened to leave me.  It was all about keeping the other person happy…while totally forgetting that “Hey, I don’t want to see this movie; I want to see that one.”  Totally forgetting, or ignoring, my own needs, wants, feelings and desires.  You can’t be honest with the other person if you can’t be honest with yourself…and I haven’t been honest with what I have wanted for a long while.

Part of figuring out what I do want is realizing how much that can change, or is in flux.  Something simple: Do I want any more kids?  I have no idea.  I thought at one point I wanted to have a house and kids and family.  The more I think about it, the more I ask if I will have the ability to do that, especially in the economy we’re heading into.  I wonder if that “American Dream” is even my dream to begin with.  These Nine Days may not help me decide that, but they will give me better ground to judge that on.  Yet once upon a time I would have answered off the cuff that I did want kids, I did want the 2.5 square acres and a wife and the house and the car and all the other stuff that goes along with that “Dream”.  It’s what I’ve been raised on.  So I haven’t really questioned that until lately.  What do I want?  I want, ultimately, for myself and my son to be happy and have a blessed, fulfilled life.  I’m not sure what that will look like.  I really have to destroy expectations.  After all, I expected to never have to live with my family again when I hit 25.  Yet here I am.

Something else that has bugged me lately is how my spirituality seems to have fallen off the radar.  I say ‘seems’ because I did a lot of spiritually exhausting, sometimes dangerous work.  I was ‘horsed’ (that is, possessed) a lot by spirits and Gods, I did a lot of journeying and seidr work, and much of my spiritual life revolved around my community.  Now that I am doing none of those things, I have been doing a good deal more meditation and prayer than I was doing…yet I find myself still looking for spiritual fulfillment.  When I ask myself “What am I looking for?” I keep coming back to community.  So I am happy that the Shaman Supper in my area is coming up.  It will be good to reconnect to people, share experiences, maybe even ritual.  I’m also looking into the Unitarian Universalist churches in my area, and connecting to more people on Facebook and through this blog.  I asked “Why do I need community?” and I came up with a couple answers.  The first is that I like to be around people, and share my spiritual path with people.  I didn’t do a terribly long stint as a solitary Pagan.  This is probably the longest I’ve gone without a group or someone else to practice with.  The second is that community tends to inspire me to go further and deeper into my faith.  This stint at going alone is proving to me that I don’t need community to do that, but it sure makes the journey easier and much more pleasant.  The third is that community provides a support network and a safe place where I can bounce ideas off of peoples’ heads.

As I have heard from a few Odinswomen being driven is part of what Odin likes in people, and sometimes will push in people.  My error is that I let that drive push into everything I do; I don’t tend to relax well, and feel guilty oftentimes for doing so.  That “I’m not being productive” is something I have caught myself denigrating myself for, even while enjoying a movie or a video game.  Part of the deflation that has come from more or less being apart from everything I’ve been used to is that it throws me into making me relax, into making me take more time for me.  This has been hard to deal with; if I keep busy I don’t need to stop, and take it easy.  I don’t feel ‘lazy’ or ‘unproductive’.  I’ve had to look at myself and realize that I push myself too hard, that I ask too much out of myself.  This isn’t something that is simple for me; I pride myself on doing a lot, and so much down time makes me feel out of place.  I’ve been keeping busy enough cleaning up the house or doing meditation and prayer…but it always seems like I have a lot of time.  I think a good chunk of this is simply learning to mellow out.  Until recently, I’ve been running around doing stuff non-stop.  It’s weird to have nothing to do like school or especially the work with the community.

So I am having to resettle myself a lot.  My work with Odin was largely getting into my head and rooting around about the stuff I’ve written about already.  Loki’s work with me today was about going into myself and letting go of the influences of my folks on how I approach relationships.  He took me into myself, and together, experienced times where I remembered lessons (and some where I didn’t) of where I learned what I know and practice when it comes to love.  It was like looking at my life on rewind.  I was sitting in a chair before my altar I’d just set up, smoking mugwort in my sacred pipe.  He instructed me that with each inhalation I need to go to a time, and on the exhale, blow it out.  I could feel the vaettir of mugwort come into me, help me dig out the pain or poor lesson, and carry it out.  I cried at one point as I passed through old hurts, and just as quick as I had started, I stopped.  I felt at peace, a kind of powerful peace rise out of me like the smoke.  I became still, and happy in that moment.  I’m not done…but taking out these harmful lessons from my folks helps.  Lessons that come especially from my Dad, like giving over his dreams to make our lives possible to the point where he never finished college, and never pursued his dreams from there.  I won’t go into much detail here; some of these are painful, and others uncomfortable.

The experience so far has been powerful, even if at times I feel like “I am not doing enough”.  Which is dumb.  I’m in the middle of a Vow of Silence, I am fasting, I am praying, meditating, and giving devotion, and going through painful and uncomfortable memories while also finishing up an at least 140-line poem to my God.  I’m also still filling out applications for jobs and will be going to volunteer orientation for a nearby crisis center.  There should be no reason I should be so hard on myself.  As the days move forward I have a feeling a lot of this will be brought into the light and dark, and dealt with in each realm as it needs to be.  I pray the journey forward is healing; I know I need it.

Landvaettir

May 9, 2011 2 comments

I have heard landvaettir referred to be a number of names; some refer to Them as genus loci, others “the wee Folk” (although they sometimes mean Faeries), and a host of other names.  I experience Them as spirits of place, with faces that They have shown me as varied as the places They are found.  I have found that when I journey or spiritually have a dialogue with Them, the landvaettir on campus take the form of the school’s mascot while the landvaettir around my home are more nebulous, appearing as trees with faces or living earth.  When I travel to cities, sometimes the landvaettir sometimes take the form of what might symbolize it, such as a weathered blue-collar worker for Flint, or a bohemian twenty-something for Ann Arbor.  Then again, depending on where I travel in these cities the landvaettir’s ‘face’ may change.

I first came to work with landvaettir when I was first starting as a Pagan, mostly through the book Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tann Schwartzstein.  I was living in Flint at the time, and the landvaettir were loud, active, and stirred up.  The very thought of going out and talking to Them, that They could show me a ‘face’, hadn’t occurred to me till I read the book.  Then, I began speaking with the landvaettir of Flint, really getting to know it.  I didn’t have a car at first, and I was living on campus going to college at Baker.  The spirit showed me a kind of weathered blue-collar worker, which in reflection makes sense since Flint was the birthplace of the sit-down strikes and was home to a lot of production.  The city used to have a place in it called Buick City for Gods’ sakes.  Well, in my end of the bargain with the landvaettir around the campus, I kept up the campus by picking up trash where I found it and give to the homeless that would occasionally hang around campus.  In return It/They helped keep me safe and keep other spirits off of me.  It was with this spirit that I first learned how to bargain and negotiate, and how to scratch a spirit’s back so it would scratch mine in turn.  I also learned why speaking with the spirit of a place was important before you do magic.  I did magic on campus, ignorant that I should even ask the spirits prior to doing so.  When I finally did, it was much more effective, and came to fruition faster and with greater effect.  Through the landvaettir of Flint, I learned of basic reciprocation with spirits, how to actually do offerings other than leaving out food.  This turned out to be good, since I didn’t have a lot of food to spare, and it seemed the spirit(s) liked my offerings of doing stuff like cleaning up and helping out better anyhow.  It had enough litter and stuff floating around.  People used to throw carts from shopping areas into local creeks and leave food and wrappers around all the time.

Landvaettir have helped me a lot over the years, whether it has been to find my way when I was lost in a city (good thing; this happens from time to time), food, or even money when I really needed it for parking.  Being kind to the landvaettir and giving Them your ear can do a lot of good; you might find things you never would have otherwise, and They finally feel listened to, something a lot of people in general simply don’t do.  By paying attention, running some errands for Them, or simply helping to take care of Their space, there is a lot you and the vaettir can gain.  Imagine how happy it would make you to have a random stranger come up to you after a long, rough day, and ask “How can I help?”  The gratitude, at least for me, is immediate, and I want to know how I can help the person in turn when they’ve helped me.

Lately, my home’s landvaettir and I have developed a closer relationship given I’m now living back at home and am working in the garden.  This last Friday I harvested the first asparagus harvest.  I gave prayers to the landvaettir, thanking Them for such a beautiful bounty, and praised Them and Freyr (whom I associate with the vegetable due to its phallic shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac) as I was harvesting, thanking each individual plant’s vaettir and the vaettir of asparagus Itself.   I had given offerings of food at the oak that is a little ways from the garden the night before.  There is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, in these things.  By taking care of the plants, and by being allowed to harvest, by giving offerings and prayers and accepting help from the spirits, the cycles of gifts continues to turn, and relationships grow even closer.  When I eat now, I pray to the landvaettir both here, and wherever my food comes from.  The former, I pray to in thanks for the home, for warmth, the ability to live in this modern world alongside Them, and the latter landvaettir, I thank because it is from Them that this food comes.  It is from both that I am able to type to you, to live a modern life, to go to school and better myself.  Yet I do not forget the people who harvested the food or cooked it; everyone deserves their praise in turn, everyone who allows our lives to be as they are is worthy of remembrance.  As Odin said: “Cattle die, kinsman die/but I know what never dies/He who gets himself a good name”.  How seldom do people praise the lands from where their food comes from; how seldom people recognize that other human beings grew, harvested, and brought the massive amounts of food we have to us.  We lionize combat but do not praise the growing of food.  I can tell you this: in my own experience it is far easier to throw a competent punch than grow your own food.  I also know which one will allow me to live longer, too.

This is not to denigrate those who choose to give their of their lives in military service; that has a place.  Yet I have heard relatively little praise for the myriad of people who bring us the food we eat.  It was only until I started reading Lupa’s blog that I even considered working with Food Totems.  From that I thought “Well, if I can honor the spirits of the animals who have died so I can live, I can do it with the plants, and I can do it with the people too.”  Though I haven’t started talking to anyone or thing analogous to the Chicken Totem from, say, the people who farm, the prayers I give and the prayers I teach my son to give don’t only praise our Gods, but the beings, from spirit, from root to flesh, from flesh to flesh, that make our meals possible.  This, in my view, resacralizes all the landvaettir, not just the ones that exist with us in our homes and properties.  Cutting ourselves off from our part, to thank those who make this life possible and doing what we can to make those spirits and lives better in the long run, cuts off Gebo.  They help to give us the gift of life; shouldn’t our return be more than words?

I say this as a person who is, as of right now, making no income.  Sometimes magic, prayers and my signature are all I have.  Yet all of these are powerful, and should be treated as such.  My signature can be the start or continuation of an avalanche of change, or a whisper of a promise to a future generation.  My magic can be a powerful catalyst, or progenitor of change.  My prayers can give word to the wordless, praise to the unappreciated, recognition and immortality to those who would die in ignominy.  So could any one person.

Working with the landvaettir is part of my work as a shaman and priest; I am able to live by Them, and They are able to have greater impact in this world because I listen to Them and do things with and for Them.  I hope it is something that more people, whether or not you’re a priest, or someone who just likes to garden, will take up.  Having a vibrant relationship with the land makes it come even more alive, makes the Sacred that more immanent because you truly are finding it because you’re looking for it everywhere.  Our Wyrd ties into all things, and vice versa; by feeling those threads and acknowledging them we can allow understanding, healing, or simple recognition for its own sake to come into our lives.  Sometimes we do not need to do anything, except acknowledge something or someone, be thankful for it, and honor the spirit or person for their undertaking.  Sometimes we don’t even need to do that; sometimes the hardest thing we can do is simply get the hell out of the way and let things happen as they need to.  In harvesting to asparagus recently I had instances where the landvaettir asked me not to cut down certain stalks, but to simply let them grow.  To leave them be.  Sometimes I thought I knew better, and harvested a stalk because “well, I think that’s long enough and I probably didn’t hear right” and found out later the stalk wasn’t ready to harvest.  Mercifully it was only a few; the landvaettir sometimes up the ‘volume’ for me to hear when my head is chattering.  Other times, They wait for me to get the clue and take a breath and listen.

Sometimes receiving a message from a landvaettir vastly harder than it is from a God or Ancestor.  The latter two are much more ‘close’ to myself as a human being, whereas I find that landvaettir are sometimes composite spirits or overarching spirits that comes together from the energy around an area, like Flint’s blue-collar person or Ann Arbor’s bohemian.  Other times, the landvaettir are a single sizeable spirit of an area, such as an old oak or swath of grass, and can be rather alien in their imagery or symbols, or hard to understand because They use mental language and metaphor that is far different than what I am used to.  Sometimes, as with the first type, it is that the composite isn’t quite sure what it wants to communicate, or there is a cacophony effect that occurs because there are so many voices.  Sometimes, as with the second type, the message is jumbled because we’re operating on different frequencies where thought and understanding are centered.  Other times, the landvaettir and I just don’t have a deep or strong enough connection to have a decent rapport like my Gods or Ancestors do with me.

There is a lot of feeling out that gets done when I first have contact with landvaettir in meditation or journey work.  At least a third of the time I tend to spend figuring out the symbols or communication methods the landvaettir use, another third to establish rapport, and the last third to actually hear the message.  Of course, this varies with differing vaettir; I find it easier to ‘get’ city landvaettir because They are more used to human concepts, whereas landvaettir of wild can be hard to interpret due to differences in perspective or downright hostile due to other humans’ treatment of an area or its inhabitants.  Sometimes just thinking about Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings helps put this in perspective for me.  You’re communicating with a Being that may be pretty old comparative to you, and/or who may have seen a lot of change, chaotic and sometimes pollutive change, wrought by our species for the last hundred or so years.  Yet you might be talking to a relatively young spirit, one that’s grown up with the town around you, or the street.  One that could be empowered by the attention, or devastated by the blight, or alternatively feeding on it and causing it to grow.  Sometimes you simply don’t encounter landvaettir that want to play nice; sometimes you do, and They’ll not only be willing to talk, but really help you.  By treating these spirits with the same respect as I, an individual would want, I tend to have a better rapport and time in the places where They live and I frequent.

In my view, thinking of yourself as a guest in Their homes helps put things into a healthy perspective.  In the Northern Tradition hospitality is one of the watchwords.  If I act a fool and trash the place (i.e. breaking limbs off trees just because I can and littering) why would They want to know me any more, or work with me, or allow my magic to reach its intended destination?  I sure wouldn’t.  Again, this all come back to Gebo.  The gift of respect is the gift you often receive.  A lot of books tend to treat Nature spirits, and landvaettir as these cute little beings who are just so happy to help you and achieve x, y, or z.  More often than not I find that a lot of spirits around me just want to live in relative peace, as opposed to conflict.  It is in their self-interest to have a good relationship with us, just as it is for us to have the same with Them.  It isn’t that They can’t be cute; some are, and others aren’t.  Not all Nature is pretty, and not all Nature’s critters are pretty.  I happen to deeply hate mosquitoes as a specie, while They seem to absolutely love my blood.  I can barely walk around in summer without having little mosquito bumps creep from my toes (if I don’t wear shoes) all the way up and down my body in clusters of little bite-bumps.  I despise these vaettir.  They may be part of my Wyrd, and I can respect Them for that, but I don’t have to like Them.  Yet it is in my interest to have a good relationship with Them.  After all, if I can cut a deal with Them my bites may not be as bad.  Our Wyrd may be tied together, but I believe there is wiggle room for negotiating the threads between us.

The landvaettir in my life have been great teachers, even the openly hostile ones.  Many have taught me different aspects of my spirituality, from connecting to the Earth, to what happens to the vaettir when humans trash and energetically drag an area down.  Some have brought me to spiritual teachers themselves, whereas others help to provide for my physical needs.  There is always something to be learned in our relationships with others.  There is always some balance that needs to be struck, and when it is, the ripples of that balance can be felt through the threads of orlog (personal Wyrd) through to the universal Wyrd.  Landvaettir are the spirits of the land; They are at once part of and closest to the land we walk on, the food we eat, the clothing we make, the world we change.   They are part of Midgard as much as we are.  If we are to live side-by-side, then treating Them with respect and dignity, being hospitable to Them and expecting the same in return is part of us living together in this world.  Healing where we can, helping where we can, and having the same done in turn generates the gifts all of us can continue to give and receive long into the future.  To me, living incommunion with this world and all its Beings is so much more rich than living apart.  My relationships and work with the landvaettir, though a part of my life, is an important part that stretches into my everyday life.  Hopefully, as time goes on, more will honor our spiritual cohabitants and treat Them with the respect They deserve.  In healing our relationships with the world around us, we can more effectively heal our world.

Negotiating with Your Gods

May 3, 2011 6 comments

Because I live with my folks and Mother’s Day was coming up, my folks asked if I could pray to Odin and ask Him to work with me and pushing back the time for the Nine Day fast.  After I got over my initial shock, I prayed to Odin.  He made two requests:

1) I have space indoors to pray and make offerings and the like.

2) I finish composing a Hávamál-style poem for Him within now and the Nine Days, and make it about as long if not longer than that poem. This is in addition to what I already will be doing with Odin and Loki during these Nine Days.

Negotiating with my Gods, up until a year or so ago, was something I did not even contemplate.  Even then, until lately, I have only sparingly negotiated with my Gods.  It was something previous teachers of mine never broached or actively pushed against.  It was as if the words of the Gods were Divine Mandate and that was it; any negotiating was an insult to Them.  So, when a God or Goddess or even spirit came to call at 3 in the morning, it was “What can I do for you?” not “Can we do this when I’m more awake and able to commit myself to what you want to do?”  Not even allowing myself to negotiate took a lot of autonomy I could have had and gave it over, when perhaps what needed to happen was me standing up for myself.

This has been a lesson long in learning, to value myself enough to say “Hold on, I need time to sleep” or “Can I honor you at a better time?” or “I’m not sure I have the skills to do that.”  It’s one thing to outright refuse a lesson, or a charge.  I’m not about to say I’m going to go back and renegotiate everything I do on a regular basis; what I am doing is embracing a co-creative outlook, one in which the Gods and I actually have dialogue about why things are good to do now, or where or when to do it.  Sometimes I simply won’t get an answer, or an answer I like.  This goes with the territory of being a shaman and priest.  However, the option for negotiation is and in my view, always in some way should be on the table.  Even though it may seem small, having the day to be able to talk and eat with my folks for Mother’s Day is worth having to bang out a poem and do some hard work for my Gods, even if it is harder than if I was just going through it tomorrow.

When I went to ask Odin for a stay in the ordeal, I stood before what is more or less my home altar.  On it is a sacred pipe, a candle, an incense holder, some incense, and herbs.  I packed the pipe, prayed to the Four Dwarves to bless me and blew the mugwort smoke to each of them in an offering.  When I first started combining smoking and praying, I first prayed to the Four Dwarves and then lit the incense.  After a few times of this, I got a tap asking me to share the smoke with all present, including Them.  So, when I smoke in ritual I tend to try to share it with everyone so all are included and honored with it, or restrict it to certain Gods and spirits within the rite who appreciate it.  When I began to pray with Him, at first I was fuzzy.  I took a deep inhale of the pipe, blew it out slowly, and let my eyes relax.  I felt this need for music, so  slapped my iPod onto some meditative music and listened for Him to respond.  I did not need to wait long; He told me what He wanted.  What surprised me about it was how quick and direct He responded.  Negotiating, from what I’ve experienced, is a kind of interaction building that stretches some and while reinforcing other boundaries.  You start to develop a feel for where the person’s limits are, and they need to say nothing.  In negotiating with Odin I used to be afraid He would be terribly angry.  Now, I realize this is something He and other Gods have simply been waiting for me to do, to encounter and confront Them not as equals (after all, They are Gods and we are people for a reason), but as people worthy of respect, each in our own right.

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