The Importance of Being Visible

My arms are covered in Runes and I wear three necklaces, a valknut, a Mjolnir, and a stylized wolf when I am out of the house. What this has done has allowed me to connect with folks wherever I go. They ask questions, they want to know “What do these mean?” Even in the case of folks mistaking my Runes, which are the Elder Futhark, for ancient Hebrew, it is still someone saying “I see this and I want to know more.”

My necklaces and my tattoos are public invitations to have a conversation. I display them for my own reasons, namely as a form of devotion and mindfulness of my relationships with the Ginnreginn. However, I would not have a reason to display them publicly if that were the only reason. I could just as easily carry my valknut, Mjölnir, and wolf necklaces in my spiritwork bag and cover up my tattoos. I wear necklaces, rings, and tattoos to display to others. So that, in some way, what I am is seen. I could just as easily have had the Runes tattooed on my back, my upper arms, or somewhere else easily hidden by clothing. Instead, They asked, and I accepted, that They be tattooed on my lower arms.

Recently, fellow Heathens including Maleck, Snow and Gunny, both of whom are wonderful folks, have talked about aesthetic and how it relates to Heathenry, Heathens, and our place in communities. I can tell you from personal experience that aesthetic can also key into being accessible to others in our communities, both in terms of fellow Heathens and those outside our religious communities. Especially being so outward facing in our aesthetics like this, it allows us to be able to be good and approachable sources of information for those who, otherwise, may not learn about Heathenry or Heathens.

It is also why I tend to stay away from the Vikings TV show aesthetic when it comes to my regular online content. No issue with those who do it as part of their own regular content. However, the aesthetics of the show, and cosplay in general, clash with the Heathenry I want to portray, which is historically-informed and modern. What this does not mean is that I lack for ritual aesthetics, historical Nordic outfits, and only wear t-shirt and shorts to ritual. It just means that everyday wear tends to be my most common worn items because most of my rituals do not require specific ritual wear. My most frequent rituals are hearth cultus, so my ‘ritual wear’ tends to be whatever I have on at home. If I have been working out, doing yard work, or am dirty, I clean up, switch the clothes out, and then do hearth cultus.

Our aesthetics, both what we wear for everyday wear and for ritual, can say a lot about us to ourselves, to the communities we live in, and to our relationship with the Ginnreginn. Perhaps over time as we develop from just religious communities into full-blown cultures we may develop varying ways of dress. However, for the moment, most polytheists blend in to the overculture they are living in.

When we step outside of that blending that is a statement. It can be one for ourselves, our communities, and/or our Ginnreginn, but if we wear something, whether it is our hair, tattoos, or clothes that takes us out of the everyday, it is a statement. It is a powerful act, and a powerful responsibility not only for myself, it is equally so for my family, community, and the Ginnreginn. Even more so than wearing my Valknut or Mjölnir openly, my tattoos have opened a lot of conversational doors that likely would have stayed shut. They are vaettir, power, and magic, embodied in me, a living relationship. They are an invitation to others to conversation, understanding, and wisdom carved into my flesh.

What others will get from conversation prompted by the Runevaettir differs. For a lot of folks I am the first and only open polytheist they have ever met. For some folks this prompts a flood of questions, ranging from “What does that word mean?” to “How can you worship so many?” to “What are the Gods? The Ancestors? The spirits?” For others there is a few moments of contemplation, and then appreciation that lights up their face. For some, fear and apprehension strike their body like lightning, and something about the notion of living ancient Gods, Ancestors who listen and speak with them, and spirits all around absolutely terrifies them. For some, just sharing what these living Beings are opens whole Worlds to them. Others will shrink back.

My body becomes a gateway of conversation. My words become a conduit. My demeanor shares connection. Making the choice to take on the tattoos I have, the Valknut and the Runes, I am not my own, alone; I am also my Gods’, my Ancestors’, my vaettir’s. I am, in a very real sense, a vé walking in the world. That is the importance of being visible.

I pray

I cannot be in Nepal, today, helping to find the trapped, the dying, or the Dead, so I offer prayers.

I cannot be in Maryland, today, marching in solidarity, tending the wounded, or listening to others’ anger, so I offer prayers.

I cannot be in so many places where injustice reigns, where anger boils, where lamentation fills the air.

So I offer prayers.

I pray for the living, who have seen tragedy heaped upon tragedy.  I pray that justice is done whether they take it or it is given.

I pray for the cities, whose spirits are full of pain at the weight of their misery.  I pray for the necessary changes that will bring justice to them, and comfort to the city spirits.

I pray for the Dead, taken in violence, whose impact shakes their communities.  I pray that They are remembered, and that They are honored.

May the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir be with them all.  Ves heil.

Redefining Words and Claiming Space

After reading the polytheism section of this post, and more recently here, that John Halstead has written over and over again, I have to throw my hands up. Granted, I disagreed with him vehemently on a great many points before he worked on this post and wrote an addendum to it, but I still deeply disagree with him over what I view as one of the most egregious forms of twisting words.

When someone speaks up and misuses words they need to be checked. It is wrong to take words out of their historic, and current context, and to twist them so that the words mean what you believe. Polytheism does not equate or equal panentheism or pantheism, which is more or less what I see John Halstead trying to say with his supposed paradox that “The Gods are many…but one.”

Nowhere in his first piece does he quote polytheists, now living or dead. He notes in his addendum there are folks in the polytheist, reconstructionist, and other camps that directly disagree with him on this point, communities that use this word, and yet goes ahead and writes what he wishes as polytheism is supposed to relate to his Neo-Paganism. I absolutely do not recognize what he quotes as polytheism as such; I do not ‘use’ my Gods, nor are They psychological constructs.

Mr. Halstead quotes from Waldron in The Sign of the Witch “From a neo-Pagan perspective polytheism is not the belief in a world of separate and distinct Gods but is rather an acceptance of the principle that reality and the divine is multiple, fragmented and diverse.” Okay, this may be a neo-Pagan perspective, but I do not find it polytheist at all. So far as I have seen, read, and understood to be true, polytheists treat and believe our Gods as complete in and of Themselves; They are not a fragment of some whole. Nor are They facets of a jewel. To use the metaphor, each God and Goddess is a jewel unto Themselves, and a great many facets or a single facet of Them may be seen, known, and worshiped by a person.

The question of “What the hell is Mr. Halstead getting at? What does John Halstead understand about Neo-Paganism, let alone anything regarding Paganism?” are some questions that have come to mind a few times as I have read his works, but never so much as here. How in the Nine Worlds is his idea of polytheism supposed to actually square with anything resembling polytheism such as it is lived by its adherents? How is it supposed to square with historical polytheism? All I see in his examples are panentheism, and monism. These are not polytheist. The quotes he has given are not polytheist. “The radical plurality of the self”? I have no idea what his point is here. Polytheist religion recognizes a plural Self, i.e. the Soul Matrix of the Northern Tradition. Polytheism has plurality built into it.

If Mr. Halstead’s point is solely psychological, i.e. ‘psychological polytheism’ then I believe has has missed his mark by not being more clear about what he is trying to define, and using improper words to try to define it. Religion helps shape a person and society’s psychology, its understanding of states of good or ill health, in the mental, physical, and spiritual realms. However, religion is not psychology itself. Nor should psychology, in my view, seek or be sought to supplant religion. If I have misunderstood his intent, I apologize. If I have misunderstood or misconstrued his meaning, I hope to have better definitions and descriptions written by him in the future without twisting words which I use as primary personal descriptors, such as polytheism. Were Mr. Halstead writing solely from his own view with at least something recognizable behind the words he wishes to redefine, and not using a word that people already use as a primary identifier, myself included, perhaps I would have less of an issue.

“According to the theologian, William Hamilton, the gods of Neo-Pagan polytheism are not to be believed in, but are “to be used to give shape to an increasingly complex and variegated experience of life.” (quoted by Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon). “

So his idea of polytheism is that They are to be used, to be a tool to help us shape, and therefore also understand the world around us. Yet we are not to believe in Them, even as They are supposed to be used to shape and understand the experiences of life? When I make a woodcarving I do not stop believing in the tools nor their effect on the wood any more than I stop believing or believe that the wood came to me as-is or was grown in the shape I bought it in. That wood had a life before it was cut and shaped. That wood was part of a tree, and that tree had roots in the ground, and that ground had an existence of its own well before I ever set foot upon the ground or happened upon that cut of wood from that tree. So too the tools and their components, which came from other places, and had to be fashioned into the shape they are now.

The Gods, then, are cast only into the form of the tool, rather than the ground. In the form of the woodcarving rather than the tree from which the wood came. I fully believe the Gods can be the ground, the tree, the tool, the toolmaker, the carver, the carved, and so on. In other words the Gods can be in and/or be each part of the process (the process itself may have God(s) and Goddesses over and/or involved in this, too), to say They are merely to be used as a tool denies Their actual involvement and reduces Them to an object to be manipulated. It takes away what is essential to a polytheist perspective of the Gods: personhood. Not that They are human or human-like, necessarily, but it denies Their Being and Self, as independent of us. It denies one of the basic understandings that polytheism, in any form I have practiced or been exposed to, teaches: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves.

I do not use my Gods; I use a computer. I may ask a God or Goddess to lend Their power to a spell, or to intercede on my or someone else’s behalf, but intercessory prayer does not equal use. I do not use my Gods in ritual; rather, I pray to Them and ask for Their Presence. This point is perhaps the largest point of contention I have when anyone uses the word ‘use’ in regards to the Gods, or to Ancestors or spirits.

If I say “I use Bob on First Street when I have car trouble”, it does not diminish Bob’s personhood nor does it treat him as an end. I acknowledge his role in my life and that he is a person I trust. Saying “I use Brighid when I need healing” does not acknowledge the personhood of the Gods and instead makes the God’s identity and relationship one has with Them about their use.

It matters little if it is a Wiccan talking about ‘using’ Gods in ritual, or an atheist Pagan about ‘using’ Gods to understand the world, or themselves. If one is using this language, then they are talking about ‘using’ Beings, which I believe have agency, self-awareness, understanding, and sentience. They are talking about Beings I consider to be worthy of worship. They are talking about ‘using’ Beings from traditions which I believe to be holy and good. When the language of ‘use’ (as in using tools like an athame or wand, screwdriver or saw) is used in regards to the Gods it is disrespecting both the Gods and the traditions that hold Them as dear, holy, and worthy of worship.

One cannot utterly separate the Gods from the traditions or cultures which give/gave worship to Them. Understanding and knowledge of the Gods are informed by the traditions, cultures. The Gods inform the religions, cultures, and traditions in turn whether by mystic experience and/or simply by being the basis of the religion. This does not mean that you need to be a member of my particular Northern Tradition religion to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods, or to do it right. What it does mean is that one must acknowledge that to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods one needs to understand the culture and traditions out of which the Gods of this/these traditions come. It means that one must come to the religion with its background culture(s), tradition(s), etc. rather than trying to make it, and an understanding of and relationship with the Gods, come to you.

Taking the Gods out of these contexts renders the understanding of Them incomplete. When Ms. Krasskova or I, or another author say ‘take on an indigenous mindset’ part of this means is that one must meet the Gods on Their own terms rather than our preconceived notions, ideas, and beliefs of how our relationship should be. “Odin is the God of Wisdom” is an easy phrase to make, and while it may be true, is not the whole of all He is, and may or may not reflect my relationship with Him at all. I and other polytheists who worship Odin can come to independent understandings and relationships and so on with Him while believing Him as a God independent of our existence, and agree on basic clear concepts, on to deep details of theology. This does not necessarily make established tradition(s), culture(s), and so on, the do-all end-all of any relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestor, spirit, etc. (although it may) but it will inform, shape, define, and further develop one’s understanding of these Beings, and the ways in which one relates to, worships, etc. Them. The traditions are the bones on which the meat of the relationship are built.

“It is the reality experienced by men and women when Truth with a capital ‘T’ cannot be articulated according to a single grammar, a single logic or a single symbol system.” (David Miller, The New Polytheism).

If you cannot articulate truth, or even try to articulate Truth, then your logic and symbol system have failed. We can debate the nature of reality according to different belief systems, and the extent that different polytheist traditions agree or disagree with one another on these things. Yet, without a single grammar, logic, or symbol system, our understanding of the Gods falls apart. Without coming to understand our Gods on Their terms, as best as we can, we are leaving our understanding of Them woefully inadequate.

Without a single grammar, logic, and symbol system, understanding the Northern Tradition, and most polytheism, falls apart. You cannot understand the Northern Tradition through the Kemetic, nor Roman polytheism. To say otherwise is saying that one can understand and speak German fluently after having done so with Greek. Are there some universal truths? If there are, (and to avoid speaking for all polytheists I will say if), they are broad, such as: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves; respect is given for the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits; hospitality to people, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits; offerings are given in respect to the wishes, traditions, customs, etc. to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. The appearance of respect, for instance, will differ between traditions, customs of certain groups within a given tradition, the Gods worshiped by a group, the relationship between the people and their Gods, Ancestors and spirits as a whole and individually, and many, many other factors I could not hope to account for. Yet, on a baseline, there are similar beliefs, even if the shape and effects of those beliefs differ tradition to tradition, group to group, and person to person.

Polytheism is not just a term or a description; it is an identifier that an entire religious community uses to understand itself. It is an identifier people use as means to express who and what they are to others. It has an accepted meaning, Trying to dilute the meaning of this word is an attempt to dilute the meaning and understanding with which this word is used as an identifier. To try to redefine polytheism as something it is not is an insult at the least, and if enough people start using it in the way Mr. Halstead would care to, actively will produce problems in communication.

In the second post linked above, Mr. Halstead seeks to “’re-god’ the archetypes”. I take great pains to say that this is not polytheism. It is fine that he seeks to do it, but it is not polytheism. I believe that he, seeking to put the numinous back into archetypes, rather than Gods into archetypes, is a fine goal for him to do. However, it is not polytheism as I understand it, practice it, believe in, or acknowledge. It is perfectly fine that he believes, understands, practices, acknowledges, etc. in a religious context different than I. What is not fine, and what I will not stand for, is his appropriation of the word polytheism, polytheist, etc. to suit his own ends. What he describes and espouses is nothing I recognize as such.

He rightly points out that his beliefs are a choice. So too, is identifying as a polytheist, and embracing the beliefs therein. As he points out in the post, these are his beliefs. I am not attacking his beliefs, or him, please let me make that perfectly clear.

The spectrum of religious belief does exist on a spectrum, but rather than a singular spectrum, I believe it extends from many, of which extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism is just one. Religious beliefs are also a series of continuum on which belief and disbelief are polar opposites. These are tools which can help us understand where we lie in relating to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, ourselves, the world around us, etc. You can be a polytheist that disbelieves their own experiences in the extreme just as you can be a be an atheist Pagan and fully believe that your experiences of the Gods, such as They are, are real. The scale is only as useful as how accurate and accepted it is.
Mr. Halstead writes “The spectrum of belief regarding the nature of divinity ranges from extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism. I fall more toward one end of the spectrum. Others fall more toward the other end. But we are on the same spectrum. For example, whatever they believe about the ultimate nature of divinity, I would wager most people can acknowledge that the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical, in that divinity can at least seem to be both “in” us and “outside” of us, both a part of us and also other than us. ”

Well, yes, when we are placed on that spectrum of course polytheists are in a very different spectrum from him. In a great many places our various religious positions do not line up. We may be able to agree that ‘the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical’. In my case, the idea that the Gods can be cosmically as well as personally present is one place where I could say the experience of a God, such as Odin, is powerful and mind-boggling.

Recognizing that I may have attributes within me, or parts of me that resonate with Odin does not mean that Odin is in me. It means that these parts, attributes, etc. resonate with Him. Odin is Odin, Odin is within Himself. When He gave breath to Ask and Embla it was a gift, one which did not cease to be His breath or a gift, but much like my parents’ DNA, that gift of life and existence is part of me. I am, in the end, external to Him. For me, this in particular is not a paradox. It makes sense, since He is not I, and I am not Him. My parents gave me life, and their DNA is bound up in me, but I am not them, nor they I, and while there are parts of me that resonate with them and parts of my persona that match up very well with them, I am not them, and vice versa. Finding the nature of the Gods in ourselves is not a paradox. I can look to a great many things, fictional and non-fictional, in a variety of media, and ‘find myself’ or aspects of myself, things that resonate with me. So too may I see the Gods in the world around me even while recognizing that my personal experience of ‘if I see three pairs of crows it may mean Odin is present’ may either be inaccurate (i.e. it is just 3 pairs of crows, congrats) or simply a personal experience for/with me alone.

Devotional polytheists have contributions to the larger Pagan communities that we may make. Whether we can make these contributions depends largely on whether or not we are given space to speak in it from our own beliefs, experiences, and traditions. Our contributions will depend on whether or not our words and identifiers are respected. I do own the word polytheist the same way that I own the words cis-gender male. The same way that I own the word pansexual. These are identifiers. I do not make these on my own, since meaning is not made in a bubble. These words are accepted by the communities that employ them, and in larger society as meaning certain things. They are, in general, respected for what they are, even if not fully agreed upon. If Neo-Pagans like Mr. Halstead are going to try to include us, respect for us starts with respect for our identifying words, our beliefs, traditions, and experiences. We do not have to agree, that is not at issue here. At issue is basic respect.

Mr. Halstead says that using the words ‘polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ in psychologized and naturalized senses has precedent. Yet, even he admits there is better precedent for how I use it: “there’s better precedent for using the word to mean a belief in gods as literal, independent, sentient beings”. So while he writes that he sympathizes, he will continue to misuse one of the primary words by which I identify myself. There are two definitions for sympathy, and I am not sure which one rankles me more in this context: “feelings of pity for someone else’s misfortune”, or “understanding between people; common feeling” (OED). What this tells me is that either he is unmotivated by his sympathy to change his behavior, or in the face of it, he is ignoring something that wrongs others so he can use words as he sees fit.

If someone is misusing a label or term, they are misusing a label or term. His belief that “that saying Margot Adler — or Doreen Valiente — is not a polytheist is a little like saying Paul was not a Christian.” No, actually, it is stating a truth. From what writings I have seen, and with my experience of having been on a small panel with Ms. Adler, neither one of these women are polytheists such as I use, understand, or acknowledge the term. The quotes given are monist, panentheistic and/or pantheistic. None of the quotes acknowledge the Gods as Beings Unto Themselves, nor even that They are differentiated from one another. Beliefs like “all the Gods are one God” and the like are not polytheist. There is no belief in many Gods to be had here. It is not polytheist. It does not make any of the contributions these women have made to Paganism and Neo-Paganism less, it simply means they are not polytheist. These women are Pagan (or Neo-Pagan if you will) but they are not polytheist. So no, this is nothing like saying Paul was not a Christian. It is saying Paul was not a Lutheran.

Whether or not trying to erase or silence polytheist voices was Mr. Halstead’s intent, it is no longer an issue for me; it is what he and like-minded people are actively engaged in doing that concerns me. If you wish to identify as a Neo-Pagan and the larger Pagan communities accepts this I will not stand against them; that is their decision. If the larger Pagan and Neo-Pagan communities accept atheist and humanist Pagans as Pagans and/or Neo-Pagans, that is their business and their right.  ‘Polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ are not just ‘something I found’ or just words that ‘capture’ what I believe. ‘Polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ are words that identify who and what I am. It is an identifier of the communities and people I find common cause with. It is a religious identification. These words should be used with respect to and for the people, communities, and religions they represent.

In sharing his beliefs Mr. Halstead does not silence my beliefs or erase my community. His attempted co-opting of my words, most especially my primary identifiers, does. His insistence in using these identifiers as he has done and continues to, does attempt erasure and silence. Setting up his standards as norms for my community are further attempts at erasure and silence. His use of the words we primarily identify ourselves with in the larger Pagan community on an inter and intrafaith website decreases our ability to effectively define ourselves. Twisting the words ‘polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ to mean something they do not dilutes their usefulness as words, silences our effective use of those words, and erases our identity along with it.

Update: My thanks to James Stovall for being a sounding board, and for the example with Bob in the middle of this piece. He helped me think on the term ‘use’, and how it can be used in a sentence without the loss of personhood, and with respect to the person.

Sigyn Project: Day 17

The time is late

Though the sun rises

and I sit here thinking

Of all the ways

I do not know You


I wonder what Your childhood was like

How the Aesir brought You in

How They called You kin

How You lived life

A young Goddess among the Gods


I wonder how You were

When You were a young Aesir

How You met Loki

How He made You smile

And came to You in love


I wonder how You are

So much of You I do not know

So much left unsaid

Yet here I discover

Again, there is more to hear

Wandering in a New Direction

I’ve known that Odin would want me to wander at some point.  He’s told me that since He started working with me.  I’ve asked Him, myself, other Gods, spirit allies, and friends, physical and not, what roads this could go down.  Now I finally have the first piece of that puzzle.  It was a relatively simple click to get it into place, but it took me hearing it and seeing it for it to fall into place.

I believe in living as sustainably as one can, from recycling and reusing as much as possible, to living as much on the land as possible.  Yet, I have no job, and no training on how to do a lot of the things necessary for it.  Sure, I’m learning to grow vegetables and herbs (I finally have my own space for herbs!) and I am willing to learn how to raise chickens, goats, and the like.  I’d be willing to learn every aspect of life that my folks grew up with on their farm.  Yet I didn’t even know how to start; I kept thinking “what about the price of having a home?  The utility costs?  The costs of getting everything around?”  Then, some friends of mine from my local shaman gathering told me about training they are taking this fall with the Earthship project.  I asked about it, and as they spoke, I could almost feel that puzzle click into place.  Holy shit.  It made sense.

Don’t get me wrong, at first I was skeptical as hell.  I thought How can you live so completely off-grid?  What about water, food?  Turns out the way the place is laid out you actually can grow food year-round in-house.  Water is collected from melting snow and rainwater, and electricity is made by wind and solar means.  There’s a lot more, but the website goes into more detail and gives it more justice than I can.  To put it simply, my fears were laid to rest.  These people built shelters that are designed to be earthquake resistant for the people of the Andaman Islands, and they built homes for Mexican families in the wake of Hurricane Rita.  The walls were built out of ordinary materials that we Americans have in plenty: old tires, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and cement, with plaster for the outward finish.  It seemed unreliable when I first heard about it, yet they stand tall and strong against even monsoon weather, as experienced in the Andaman Islands.

I wasn’t just skeptical for practical reasons, but spiritual too.  After all, it was kind of convenient that the answer fell in my lap.  That said, I don’t much believe in ‘coincidence’ anymore; more often than not, when I do pay attention to them, positive outcomes ensue.  I tend to kick myself later when I don’t pay attention.  I did a few readings to confirm that I wasn’t just listening to sock-puppets in my head, while the next was for the next as-important question: why?  The two Runes that I remember best from that reading (it was about a week ago) were Naudhiz the Rune of Need, and Othila  the Rune of Ancestral Land.  Naturally, there are other interpretations for these two Runes, but again, these two may as well have hit me in the face.  Of course, I could have just read it as NO from their Futhark-to-English rough letter translation.  I didn’t read it like that because neither were merkstave, and there wasn’t anything from the previous Runes to doubt the message screaming from them to me.  Still, I had another person who I hadn’t had any of this explained to her to read my cards just to check.  This time the message did club me over the head, and several times.  I needed to do this.  I needed to go for training, and it was part of my next step in my life in all its forms.  Okay, message received, stop the clubbing.

I asked Him why this would be part of my Wandering.  He told me that I needed the skills before I hoped to set out on my own, that having all the spiritual tools were good, but I “needed to learn to live in Midgard”, and that is what has largely been missing from the past couple of years.  I’ve lived, by and large, on others’ resources, time, and good will.  If I am to live in the future as a person, father, shaman, priest, and Pagan, I needed to change my relationship to the world.  If I believe in sustainability as more than a pretty word, as a lifestyle and as part of my spirituality, then I need to live it.  By learning these techniques I hope to live sustainably.  By learning all I can, I hope to live closer, and in better relations with the landvaettir, the Vanir, the Jotun, and the Aesir, and other Gods who have called to me.  It’s my hope that by Wandering here, I am able to leave a land worth inheriting to my children, with a right relationship with the landvaettir, Gods, and people, who call it home with me.  This may not be the end of my Wander, but it certainly is the first of many steps.


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.