Authenticity in Heathen Religions

When we ask the question “Is this authentic?” of a view, practice, idea, or experience when it comes to Heathenry that question is fairly loaded. “Authentic to who?” is a useful retort to move this into a more useful direction. After all, Anglo-Saxons have a different worldview, or are at least pulling their worldview from different historical sources than Norse Heathens. Authentic has a few working definitions which are worth digging into before we can even make a useful statement on whether or not something is ‘authentic’.

From Lexico.com: “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”, “(in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.” Of these I think the first and second definition are most useful to our interests. If something is authentic in Heathenry it is “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine” and/or “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original”. 

There is a trap in accepting these definitions at face value that many Heathens and polytheists in general fall into: that of our sources of lore dictating our religious paths to us without serious consideration from where those sources originate. If we look to most of the surviving written material it comes to us at least through one if not many Christian or Christian-influenced sources. Our sources of lore were never meant as religious instructions manuals, were never intended to make sure that the Heathen Gods’ names let alone worship survived, and are often quite spotty in terms of what information it does tell us reliably. We know very little for certain. So, with the maps so many use to reconstruct and revive Heathenry already admitted as being quite tattered and weather-beaten, how can we be sure our practice are “of undisputed origin and not a copy”?  Well, we know they are not a copy because we exist so far out of time and, at least where American Heathens are concerned, away from the home countries these cultures were rooted that we can be sure that modern Heathenry is a product of its Gods, Ancestors, vaettir (spirits), its time, and its people. In this, modern Heathenry is a genuine group of religious traditions.

Heathenry can also take the desire for things to be “Made or done in the traditional or original way” to an extreme. There is a lot wheel-spinning going around in a lot of circles as to whether a given practice is genuine to ancient Scandinavian Heathenry. Look folks, unless we are fluently speaking the ancient language and engaging in a culture exactly as they did, the likelihood we are going to be doing anything deeply close to what the Ancestors did is pretty slim. This is not to say that we cannot learn and experience a lot from living as close to the way the Ancestors did, nor is this to say folks who skew closer to historical reenactment and clothing, for example, are wrong. I happen to find older clothing like a traditional tunic and linen pants with wraps a great deal more comfortable, breathable, and gentle than modern clothing like jeans. I am a Universalist Tribalist Heathen, meaning that I believe anyone regardless of background can become a Heathen, but that most of my concerns are with those in my own circles of relationships. 

Many traditional offerings, such as offering the first fruits of a harvest or the sacrifice of an animal, in the way they were made by the Heathen ways we are reviving, are inaccessible to the average Heathen. Even for whom a traditional offering is available, the cost to make the offering may be prohibitively expensive or hard enough to find time in between all the life we’re supposed to lead during our waking ours that a different offering needs to be made. This is not an excuse for those who have the means and ability to make such offerings not to make them, but an acknowledgment that most of the population in the US lives in cities on very little money in very little land, and in very cramped conditions that leave us with very little time available to us to live our lives, let alone give the cultus to our Holy Powers that we may want to.  

What I think is most important in modern American Heathenry lies in the full second definition of ‘authentic’: “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” There are some things we can be relatively certain that we can reconstruct faithfully, and much of this has to do with material culture. From there we may infer or gain insight to how things may have worked in this practice or cultus, and then apply them to our own. 

We know that flint and steel, and before them various kinds of friction fires, were the primary tools used for making fire for a good chunk of human history. What does our knowledge of fire tell us of the centrality of fire, firemaking, and the cultus that could have existed around hearth cultus? Is fire made from flint and steel better inherently? I would argue, inherently, no. There is a difference of relationship. Convenience often breeds alienation from relationship with the Beings involved. Easy access to fire has made fire so easy to access that it takes real work to feel that one is in living relationship with Fire. Engaging with Fire through flint and steel one opens up to the Ancestors’ ways in a way our ancient Ancestors would readily recognize. This can also take place with what I sometimes dryly refer to as a Sacred Bic, and in no small part because a Bic lighter is flint and steel made small and convenient with the added benefit of accelerant. Most of our Ancestors would have likely deeply appreciated something we take for granted in the form of a lighter. Taking on the Ancestor’s mindset and truly appreciating the seemingly mundane and yet, revolutionary forms we have worked with the Elements themselves breeds an appreciation for Them and the wonders we have. From this baseline of respect for how the Elements manifest in our lives today we can take this understanding, gained from the Ancestors and our own sense of wonder, and carry it into other relationships no matter how seemingly small.

We can see where this has also completely disrupted what has been the physical arrangement of space for time out of mind. Rather than a central hearthfire which would have heated a room or whole lodgings, we now have ductwork that carries heat. The hearth has been replaced by two separate rooms: the kitchen and the living room. The place that would have been the space for meals, prayers, offerings, and so much living has now been split stripped of much of its sacred significance in the modern American home. Two major factors that need to be confronted in Heathenry exist for most Americans in general: the distance of ourselves from the everyday sacred, and how institutional and cultural forces reinforce the rift we are seeking to heal.

Whether something like a Bic existed in ancient Germanic cultures is rather besides the point. I am not living there. I am living here. The map of history is not the territory I walk with my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. However, that is not to discard the map. Authenticity in Heathenry comes from the tension of taking understanding and inspiration from the past and then applying these things in a sensible way to our lived experiences and the requirements of where we are and how we are to live in modern society. Sometimes the tension here is too great, and we must make choices on what we will do when we our worldview would have us sacrifice a modern convenience or address an imbalance with the overculture. 

Many Heathens, inspired by their devotion to Gods such as Jörð, Freyr, Gerða, Freyja, and so on, make choices in how they conduct themselves and what they purchase to live in an Earth-honoring way. A given Heathen might take the more expensive option of purchasing groceries and support a CSA, or they may plant a garden, help out on a local farm, etc. A Heathen with less time or money may only be able to grow a single plant in their apartment. Each person is a Heathen seeking to live their worldview authentically. Authenticity is not found in making the most expensive offering or living exactly like an ancient Scandinavian. What is authentic is each Heathen is living their worldview and in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and those in their human communities.

These are relatively small and easily navigated issues at this level. Authenticity reaches a new complexity when it comes to spiritual specialists. In part, because American is predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) there is an entire background of expectations a lot of folks are inculcated with in regard to spiritual specialists. Protestants in this country generally do not have priests, per se. They tend to be incredibly independent, and while most if not all engage in formal hierarchies of pastor and flock for the purposes of organization, each person is expected to engage in ongoing exegesis to some degree alongside devotional work like prayer and observation of holidays. There is not, generally speaking, a relationship between a pastor and their church like there is between a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox priest. These latter spiritual specialists meet the requirement of their Order and go through initiation to engage in their Office. Sometimes Protestant pastors go through some kind of initiatory process, eg the laying on of hands to confer the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but it seems some do not even go through this. What is expected of all of these Christian spiritual specialists is for them to engage with the public, provide spiritual counseling, and be available for religious community events.

Spiritual specialists in Heathenry find themselves in an awkward position. Given so many people coming into Heathenry are converts, many still carry the expectation that the priest will fulfill similar roles in their new religion. The map provided by lore and archaeology is that, unlike pastors, RCC and EO priests, Heathen priests generally served a God, Goddess, group of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir first. A priest served in a community role primarily through making prayers, offerings, and/or tending a sacred place or animal(s). Among other services they may have made on behalf of the community was to make sacrifices, and/or divine. 

It is incredibly hard to break modern Heathenry of the biases of the overculture when it comes to priests. The societal expectation is one facet, but the other is that our government and institutions that interact with spiritual specialists treat them all as same. This flattening of roles erases specialized initiations and training that exists for our spiritual specialists. It removes expectations of specialties or individual aptitude towards one kind or group of spiritual specialties by reinforcing the dominant paradigm of “all spiritual specialists must act as clergy” as normal. This is contrary to a healthy understanding, appreciation, and furthering of Heathen spiritual specialties. A seiðkona is not a spákona though a Völva may engage in both seiðr and spá. Likewise, a seiðkona is not necessarily a Völva. A Völva may or may not be a gyðja. A given person may engage in seiðr and spá but may not themselves be a seið worker because they do not have the initiation(s), training, or the community role of a seiðkona, spákona, or Völva. If we are to have authenticity in our Heathen practices, and if they are to be carried forward with both meaning and use, we need to have standards under which that authenticity operates.

Where a lot of Heathen religions find struggle with spiritual specialists is that we no longer have long lines of spiritual specialists to carry on the work, though there are new lines developing now. A lot of spiritual specialists, myself included, wear a number of hats in order to fulfill the requests of our Ginnreginn (Mighty/Holy Powers) and needs of our communities.  Authenticity is something we ourselves can struggle with because of the demands of our work alongside all the other issues that the Heathen communities have. Something simple, with deep implications for how we conduct ourselves, is “How do we engage in authentic spiritual work when the sources are sparse and hostile to the practice?” We ask the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for help, and reach out to those of other spiritual paths. 

My own Ancestor practice has been impacted by African Traditional Religions in how I laid out my first Ancestor altar: a white cloth with a white candle and a glass of water that was changed out every day. My Ancestor altar has changed significantly since then, but the core of it is founded on the idea of simplicity, of starting small and if the Ancestors want, the vé will grow. I took inspiration from how to start the practice but the way I address the Ancestors, the prayers, and the offerings are particular to Heathenry.  Note: I took inspiration from ATRs’ Ancestor altars. I am not practicing an ATR, and I am not claiming to be nor am I taking anything from within those religions. However, I would be remiss not to recognize where that inspiration came from or why I advise others to start like I did. 

In asking our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for guidance on how They want us to define and carry out our roles as spiritual specialists, we place our authenticity in the relationships we engage in with Them. Here we fulfill both definitions of authentic in that our interactions are “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, and that they are “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” We have to accept and embrace that modern seiðr and spá may not be historically accurate, but they are authentic because the aims and the ways we revive them are as authentic to history as we can make them.

We cannot say for certain whether the ancient Germanic peoples read the Runes or read Them as we do now. Acknowledging this and embracing that Rune reading as we do them may be modern means that we are not misrepresenting ourselves and are centered in relationship with our Holy Powers and with our communities in honesty and respect. As with modern seiðr and spá, we are reviving divination within a Heathen context that is true to our understanding, and especially with respect to our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and then the needs of our communities. These are Heathen spiritual practices being revived within a Heathen spiritual framework with the best information that we have to hand. The experiences of what Elders we have, what spiritual specialists we have, and the guidance of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are the foremost guides we have from here.

Taking things out of the realm of spiritual specialists and back into general Heathenry, aesthetic is part of authenticity as well. Aesthetic is, per Lexico.com, “Concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty” and “A set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”. How do we determine what is a Heathen aesthetic? 

It may be easier to decide on what a Heathen aesthetic is not and then explore what it is. This can be something fairly straightforward in that Nike shoes are not Heathen. A Heathen may wear them, but that does not make them Heathen. What then, of the aesthetic put forward in the TV series Vikings, or through neo-folk Heathen or Heathen-adjacent bands such as Wardruna, Gealdyr, and Heilung? What of the metal scene, such as Tyr or Amon Amarth? What of historically reenacted clothing, style, speech, and so on? I would say that a Heathen aesthetic is one that is couched in connecting a given community or person with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, or is engaged with in service to Them. Without digging into a particular Heathen aesthetic as being the Heathen aesthetic, I would rather see that, whatever our standards of what is beautiful, it serves to connect us and deepen our relationships with the Holy Powers.

I can tell you what my aesthetic is: It skews to the historical reenactment, and that of Wardruna, Heilung, and similar styles of historically-inspired Scandinavian and German neofolk. I find a powerful connection stepping into linen and wool clothing as much as into hide and leather. All of these serve to bring forward connection with animals, plants, and our ancient Heathen Ancestors. There is power and beauty in wearing what our Ancestors wore, or wearing something as close as we can get, to appreciate what Their skin may have felt like walking around each day. Having watched more than a few YouTube and documentary videos on how much work it takes to make flax into linen to begin with, to take up a beautifully crafted tunic and put it on, helped me to physically realize why most homes only had a one or two pieces of linen clothes or bedsheets, and any more meant you were quite wealthy. It embodied for me, quite literally, why inheriting linen was so powerful and important. My wife works with wool in spinning, is beginning loom work, and has crocheted longer than I have known her. She has shown me how much work goes into making a crocheted blanket or hat. I know from experience how much work it takes to skin and butcher an animal. Tanning is next on my list of crafts to pursue. Having done my research and looked at how much effort some of these hides are going to be to tan, it is little wonder why wearing animal skins and their trade was so important to the ancient Ancestors.

An appreciation and furthering of beauty can bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. In developing Heathen aesthetics we develop new bridges that can reach out between us and Them, and through this, we can develop distinct identity as we develop aesthetics for our own communities. It may be that modern common dress is simply easier for us to blend in, but let us not forget that modern sensibilities around fashion, beauty, and the body itself are by and large designed for and by a modern WASP or WASP-oriented sensibility. It is also not anti-Heathen to like modern Western dress, but I think that A Handmade Life makes an excellent point on this:

“We are constantly manipulated by design. Industrial production has been a boon in providing many needed things at a lower cost, but unless we are alert we’ll let the machine start teaching us design. For instance, machines can be used to create any form of chair we like, but commercial interests can make more chairs (and more money) if the simplest design for the machines is chosen for production. So we end up surrounded by furniture designed to fit the needs of machines.” (Coperthwaite, 11).

Today, our articles of clothes are distinct not in terms of the overarching design, but in the particular logos or art that graces whatever the t-shirt form is. It is hard to have a cultural identity put forward in terms of clothing when all the basic forms your clothes take is whatever is most convenient for an industrial clothing manufacturer. We live in a time of great abundance, and rather than simply say we should give up our t-shirts and shorts, perhaps another look is due to what we wear, and how it may reinforce our Heathen identity. If we expand Heathen aesthetics from the worn or decorative to the entirety of how our lives are lived in beauty, then we may develop truly rich cultural roots that future generations will benefit from. 

In expanding this idea of Heathen aesthetic, the Heathen appreciation of beauty, into how we form and maintain relationships, this understanding has ripple effects anywhere we may care to inquire. If one of the central pillars of Heathen identity is reciprocity, or as I put it, gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift), or Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and each other, then the aesthetics that develop from this understanding ripple out into every facet of our life. If the central ideals of Heathen religion are Gebo with the Ginnreginn and one another, then the entire notion of how we make things changes. If our standard of beauty shifts from ‘this is useful’ to ‘this is useful and was made in accordance with Gebo’ it shifts our entire mindset and understanding. 

A t-shirt may still be artistically beautiful in what it conveys, but a t-shirt made sustainably with homemade materials takes on a unique and powerful beauty that, to my mind, overshadows that of the factory produced designs made without regard to the environment or sustainability. It becomes more beautiful and more in line with Heathen standards of beauty the more it comports with reciprocity with the Holy Powers. It can be a simple solid-colored shirt spun from linen, or a shirt that was left undyed, made from cloth that was spun in the home. A Heathen aesthetic of belts can be a simple leather belt made from hide tanned at home and riveted using one’s own tools. It could equally be a well-tooled and dyed piece, both becoming deeper should the leather be ethically source from well-cared for animals.

Rather than the looks and feel of the material itself being the primary standard, though important, I would put forward that the primary standard of Heathen aesthetic is the relationships it encourages and develops in the creation and use of the thing. The use of Runes and the naming of things is another aspect of this aesthetic. In naming our weapons, our cars, our computers, really any thing we can think of, they transfer out of the realm of mere mundane thing into the realm of Being. They had Their Being from well before we were given Their name or named Them, each thing potentially being/housing a vaettr, a spirit. Here, in acknowledging it and having a name we can relate to it with, we have an added dimension in our relationship with it. We have been given an avenue we can relate to each other with. The car becomes more than just another car, it becomes a car I relate to and I am in relationship with. I am not merely maintaining a thing by putting fuel into its tank, taking it for repairs, I am caring for a car-spirit, engaging in reciprocity with it by honoring and caring for its lyke, its body. 

In developing an authentic Heathen aesthetic based on reciprocity being the primary trait, we will likely find American Heathen communities digging into very different ways of doing things to meet that than those of, say, Norway or Iceland. This is where local cultus will intersect even greater than it does now. I would not be surprised if State or within-State aesthetics developed as well, given enough time. Michigan’s climate, weather patterns, and needs are not like Georgia’s, and Georgia’s is not Alaska’s. I would be surprised if we found a single Heathen aesthetic in the future just as I would if our local cultus would be the same. We might still be offering sweet fruits to Freya, reflecting current share gnosis that she likes strawberries, but what kinds of deeply sweet fruits we can regionally grow to honor Her may change depending on where we live and the growing seasons. If I honor local vaettir by eating what is only grown in season then my entire world of food changes, and so too do the offerings I make.

An authentic Heathen life is lived within a Heathen worldview and culture that contains our orthodoxies, orthopraxies, religious ideas, values, aesthetics, and experiences. These are all lived and expressed. Rather than an authentic Heathen worldview being a static thing, it, as with all of our relationships with the Holy Powers and one another, they must be lived. Heathen worldviews and cultures are themselves living things. They remain solid and unchanging in many areas, such as the polytheist and animist foundation on which the worldviews rise from. They change first and primarily with our interactions with the Holy Powers through gnosis and divination. Then, they may change with one another, with the crossroads of the sciences and our communities, and between generations of our communities as specific needs and relationships unfold.

Patreon Topic 26: On Regional Cultus

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

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Regional Cultus. Not just in the realm of honoring the local spirits, but also in how the gods are reflected differently in different times and places.”

When I first started writing on this I was approaching this purely from an academic perspective, noting the resources we have available to us are mostly coming after conversion and almost all the earliest sources through Christian writers. The scholars and academics who later gave us interpretation and understanding of these sources, and even the archaelogists, all are operating within a Protestant Christian dominated background.

Generally, our Gods in the academic fields are not being approached as Gods. We have living, dynamic relationships with Them. Even over the course of my life my cultus with Óðinn has gone through changes, so I would hardly expect in a generation other Heathens to carry anything like the same relationship as I. When I began to worship Him, He came to me sometimes as Father, but mostly as Rúnatýr, and Yggr primarily. He was fierce, harsh, and a taskmaster in the early times. He still is at times.

How the Gods are reflected differently in different times and places depends on how the Gods fit into the landscape/environment we live in now, and the relationships we hold with Them. I would have a far harder time relating to Skaði if I lived in a place without snow, and relating to the Gods of the ocean is a lot harder for me here in the Great Lakes than it is when I visited the ocean. I still hold cultus for the Gods of the ocean, but it is a more remote one, less in-my-face than that of the Great Lakes Goddesses.

A big difference in regional cultus I can confidently point to is mine with Jörð, Freya, Freyr, and Gerða. I relate to Jörð through the Earth I stand on, and while Jörð is still Jörð wherever in Miðgarð I go on Her, I relate to Her differently here, especially in my home, vs a hotel room. The difference between worshiping Her on land I have helped cultivate vs a hotel room is quite stark. I have no relationship to the land in a hotel room beyond a place to rest my head. My thanks to Her is much more general, eg She is of the place, and I am grateful for Her being the floor and eventually the ground beneath my feet. Contrast this with the relationship I hold with Her being the good, black Earth I helped to till and plant in that our good harvest has grown from. My cultus with Freya, Freyr, and Gerða is embedded in no small part in that same gardening. It is not that I cannot relate to Them outside of the home, the hearth, or the garden, but that it lacks the specific ways in which our relationships flow as they do there.

The asparagus plant is one group of vaettir in which I relate quite a bit to these Gods locally. As before, I associate Jörð with the garden it grows in. The plant itself clearly associated with Freyr given its virility, fertility, and phallic shape. It is also associated with Gerða in that to harvest it, it must be cut down, and this fits in with my understanding of Freyr as a Sacrificed God whose blood renews the fertility of the Earth. Freya I associate with the pollinators, especially the bees and their sweetness, and the preparation work that must go on so the plants can prosper. It is not just through the garden and all the vaettir within it that I relate to these Gods. I relate to these Gods through the actions I take with the land. Tilling, planting, gardening, weeding, harvesting, all of this is done in relationship with the landvaettir, with Jörð, with Freya, with Freyr, with Gerða, and with the Ancestors, especially those who farmed and/or gardened. All of this with just one kind of plant. How much more so with a garden! How much more so with a biome!

Regional cultus grows from our living relationship with the environment, and if I can find that much connection in and through a single plant then we can certainly make them through the land we live on. It is worth pointing out that Yggdrasil holds the Worlds, and the Worlds are also in relationship with one another. Asgarðr and Jötunheimr are across a river, Ífingr, from each other. Jotunheimen is the name of a range of mountains in Norway. The Worlds are said to be in different direction, eg Niflheim to the North, Muspelheim to the South. We can likewise locate our relationship with the Nine Worlds in such ways, much as our forebears did with regard to directions and the landscape. Perhaps rather than strictly in the East, Jötunheimr is in or has connections to the World in the far more wild forest behind the home. A special rock becomes a hörgr, a stand of trees a vé, and from there perhaps new relationships form with Jötun Gods.

It is really hard predict how regional cultus will develop over time. After all, my family has only lived in Michigan for five generations, including myself and my children. Between major predicaments like climate change and peak oil, the unfolding of the next election and the consequences from that, our unique land here in Michigan, and the unfolding relationships we hold right now, it is anyone’s guess how it will develop. Given the ongoing Work and relationship I have with Óðinn, our strong commitment to direct experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the land we live, and our work on the land, we will have many avenues to understand our Gods and develop relationships through.

Becoming an Ancestor Song

Becoming an Ancestor

My lines are behind me

Becoming an Ancestor

My Disir protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My Väter protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My Ergi protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My þverr protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My lineages protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My kinfylgja protect and guide

Becoming an Ancestor

My fylgja protect and guide

I am becoming, becoming, becoming

An Ancestor

Patreon Topic 8: On Ordeals

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

From my first Ansuz supporter comes this topic:

“Ordeals. I know you’re not an Ordeal Master, but I’d still like to hear your thoughts.”

Ordeals are part of life. The act of being pregnant and bearing a child is an ordeal. Birth itself is an ordeal. The trials and tribulations we go through in order to be human are ordeals of some form or another, though in American society these tend to be more oriented around displaying the grasp of a study subject -or the ability to bullshit paperwork.

The OED says an ordeal is “A very unpleasant and prolonged experience” or “An ancient test of guilt or innocence by subjection of the accused to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof of innocence.”. It comes from the “Old English ordāl, ordēl, of Germanic origin; related to German urteilen ‘give judgement’, from a base meaning ‘share out’. 

When we use ordeal in a more modern sense we’re usually using it in the first sense. In a religious or spiritual context we’re usually using the second in a modified way. Rather than testing innocence or guilt, we are being tested to see if we can rise to an initiation, new station or to undertake some new spiritual technology or work. The capitalizing of Ordeal speaks to this; this is not some mundane test of pain or the experiences of everyday life. This is whether we are ready and/or worthy to engage in a given path, to go to the next level, or to offer something new to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and/or communities.

Ordeals are not innately cruel. They are tests. I think one of the best science fiction descriptions of one is the test of the pain box and the gom jabbar from Dune. It is a test put to Paul Atreides, the main character, by Reverend Mother Gaius Mohiam of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. She explains that they do this “To determine if you’re human…” and later asks Paul once he has passed his Ordeal “Ever sift sand through a screen?…We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans.”

So why do this? “To set you free…Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.” She then goes on to explain that this is done to provide a level of continuity to humanity’s bloodlines and separate the humans from the animals. In a very real sense the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and even our own communities, may require this for similar reasons.

The spiritual technology of Rune reading is available to everyone. However, if you wish to take a relationship with Runatyr and the Runevaettir deeper you will, at some point, likely need to go through an Ordeal: encounter Them in ritual, give a blood offering that ties you to Them, and formally deepen your relationship with Them. I hedge this with ‘likely’ because I am not Runatyr or the Runevaettir, and whether They give someone an Ordeal for a given person to develop this deeper relationship is up to Them.

In another way the use of hamfara, faring forth, is open to anyone, as is utiseta, sitting out. What is not available to everyone is entry into the Nine Worlds. There are tests a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, vaettr, and/or human community may give before you are cleared to do certain kinds of spirit work, these included. In my own case, while I do not incorporate Ordeal into this, before anyone who studies from me goes into any deeper spiritual techniques, they have to have at least a year of devotional work with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Likewise, they also have to have done at least a year spiritual preparation work which includes doing cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and ward work among other things.

There are some spiritual technologies and initiations shut off from us unless we have gone through Ordeal to attain them, or attain access to them. Yet, generally, the point is not the Ordeal itself. The Ordeal is a sift. The goal is to get through, endure, overcome, or pass through it, to be sifted so that you (or the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and/or Elders) can be sure you can handle the spiritual technology or the initiation. It is also to accept that should you fail, that you accept this. Sometimes an Ordeal can only be given once. Other times we can approach it again and again. It depends deeply on the Ordeal and the Work. Some Ordeals are more intense than others, or in different ways. So if you come to an Ordeal, be sure you have done all the preparation you can, make sure you and anyone working with you on it have done all your due diligence in approaching it, and take care in undergoing it. It is not a thing to be rushed into or to grasp for. For those things that require it, it is a necessity to undergo. As I am not an Ordeal Master I do not feel I can comment any further on it.

Patreon Topic 2: When a God Comes

From my first Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

What to do when a god, especially one as terrifying and as pushy as Odin, comes knocking? I think it would be good for future heathens who get called by Him.

Ideally, as a Heathen, you will have your life grounded in gipt-fá-gipt (gift-for-a-gift, aka reciprocity) with the Gods, the Ancestors, and the vaettir. If not, well, now is the time to start!

So this can be pretty delicate or dicey depending on how a God or Goddess comes to you. This is where spiritual specialists, even if you are one, are useful. Getting solid divination done to see if what you have experienced is indeed contact with the God or Goddess you think it is, if what has contacted you in the first place is even a God, what to do and where to go from here all should be asked of a diviner and/or vaettirverkr (spirit worker) you trust. If at all possible the diviner or vaettirverkr should have an ongoing relationship in good stead with the God or Goddess in question, and barring that, be in active good relationships with Gods related to the one in question.

This is not to say you cannot get some good divination and guidance from folks outside of a given religious path, in our case here being Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan. However, the likelihood is that folks within these religions will be able to give you clearer or more informed answers than those outside of it. Wherever you are, starting with folks you know, trust not to bullshit you, and will partner with you to help discern experiences you have is the first step.

From there, if divination finds that the experience you have had is from a God or Goddess then negotiation is going to be of deep help. Most folks are going to be in a decent place to bargain on boundaries and obligations unless you have done something like made some kind of formal oath to the God or Goddess already. If you have made an oath the best thing you can do is keep it. If you have made an oath to a God that you are literally unable to keep, then appealing to the God directly, or to another God within the God or Goddess’ family as well as your Ancestors is probably the way to go. Again, situations like these are delicate/dicey. They are nuanced and best worked out with a skilled diviner and/or vaettirverkr within your direct situation.

Assuming that you have had a genuine experience of a God or Goddess coming to you, have no big oaths or obligations hanging over your head to go this or that way, what do you do now?

Even if your boundary is “I cannot handle an intense relationship right now” doing basic, respectful cultus to the God is what I would do. It respects the God has reached out to you and you, in turn, give the God the space in your life that you can. As time goes on things can change, whether circumstances in your life open up so you can give effective time to the relationship, or following up on a hobby or interest opens a new door into your relationship with the God. Doing research into the God may open you up to different ways of understanding Him. You may find that a God entering your life is to open you up to other relationships with that God’s relatives or loved ones, rather than engaging intensely or only with Them.

Having a God like Óðinn knocking on your door can be damned terrifying. I think about the worst thing to do would be to ignore Him. If He is there, and divination bears that out, then I would honor Him by recognizing Him, revering Him, and doing your best to understand Him. Negotiate and engage with Him in good Gebo. He has taken time out to reach out to you, and in reciprocity, it is good to reach back to Him.

Relationships with Spirits -Part 1

Thanks to The Rusted Barrow for their dedication to writing on the spirits. Reading that post inspired my own.

Alongside The Rusted Barrow I got inspiration for this post from reading the book The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux. It has been an excellent, approachable, and informative read. It digs into the various kinds of household spirits, their places, and practices associated with Them, and then what Their origins may be. It predominantly focuses on European beliefs, including those of France, England, Norway, Angland, and Russia. I highly recommend reading it, as many of the practices will be right at home with hearth cultus for any Heathen or Pagans in general.

Having read both The Rusted Barrow’s post and The Tradition of Household Spirits in the same week, I felt I had to write something on the topic of spiritss and I got to thinking: there have not been many guides on what spirits are out there in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition, nor of how to start a relationship with one, or how to interact with spiritss you are not used to. What started off as a large single post look like it will become another series of posts all on its own.

I call the spirits by the Old Norse plural for the word, vaettir; vaettr is the singular. The vaettir are all around us and within us. There are vaettir in and of the earth, jordvaettir aka earthvaettir, just as there are vaettir in and of the fire, eldrvaettir aka firevaettir. There are vaettir within us, and we ourselves, both our essential or ‘higher’ selves and various of our soul parts, which have their own names, are vaettir. For this post I will not be writing on the Soul Matrix, since that is a subject all on its own. This post series will focus on the vaettir external to humans. I think it is important, though, to reflect that even we humans are full of vaettir, whether we are talking about the spiritual reality of the blood of the Ancestors running in our veins or the individual cells of our body each being in and of itself a vaettr that helps to make us up.

What are Spirits?

Any thing which is ensouled can be said to be a spirit. They are any thing which weaves and is bound up in the web of Urðr or Wyrd. What, then, can be ensouled and woven in Urðr/Wyrd? Potentially everything, from the tiniest of atoms to the largest expanse of space. Whether or not a thing has a larger or smaller sphere of influence depends on the effects it has on others and its ability to act in creation. A given thing being a spirit does not mean it operates or acts in a way we may consider logical or at all with our interests in mind. Planets have their own spirit, for example, but whether or not that spirit can or has the desire speak to me, or vice versa, is another matter.

Mikilvaettir

Over time I’ve worked out different words in Old Norse that get across ideas relevant to the experiences I and others have had with vaettir. One of those words is mikillvaettir.

Mikillvaettir or ‘big/tall/powerful/great spirits’ is similar in my understanding to a head/co-head and/or guardian spirit over a family line, specie of tree, animal, and so on. We can have close relationships with spirits, even the mikill, and so may appeal to them using more close, familiar terms. I call the mikillvaettr of Mugwort Grossmutter Una, German for Grandmother and Old Norse for Joy. Were I being more strict with my language I would be calling Her Amma Una. Mikillvaettir, both as a word and concept, is distinct from the term totem. Totem is a corruption of an Ojibwe word, doodem. As the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary notes, doodem itself means “clan, totem” and that “There is no simple independent word for clan, totem. A personal prefix goes with the dependent noun stem /=doodem-/ clan to make a full word.” Further, /=doodem-/ are related to personal clans in Ojibwe cultures. Mikilvaettir may be related to us, such as the Disir or Väter, our powerful female and male Ancestors, or They may be head of a kind or group of vaettir.

When viewed in this worldview, even the familiar takes on spiritual significance. If we understand that our cells can be ensouled, then so can a disease like the flu. The flu has a discernable way of coming into existence, of spreading, being fought, and triumphing over an infected host or being defeated. Since each iteration of the flu is a spirit, we can extend this knowing to the variouss strainss of the influenza virus and to the flu as a whole. The idea is that, as we might approach a mikilvaettr of a plant (for instance mikillgrasvaettr for ‘big/great grass or pasture spirit’) so we may have better relations with its ‘children’, we may also approach the flu. We could refer to as mikillsóttvaettr or ‘big illness spirit’. Understood this way we may not be able to beat the big illness spirit that, like our own Ancestral lines, governs the development of its own descendants. However, we may propitiate it or negotiate with it to tamp down on its rambunctious children. Barring that we might simply do spiritual work, alongside our physical remedies, to stop the small flu spirit from burning through a person, killing and dispelling the flu spirit so the person gets well. Since our own lich, our body, is a part of the Soul Matrix, in such an animistic view physical remedies for the flu are spiritual as well. The difference is how the remedies are made, where they affect, and what they affect. Some may be more effective than others. So would I take only a magical/spiritual approach to the flu? No. I vaccinate myself, I take care to wash my hands, and do all the other prudent things to ward off the flu just as I do unwanted spiritual influences by regular cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding work. The approaches work together.

A Vaettir-Filled Worldview

When we view what is often understood as ordinary, whether it is the electricity in the walls, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the places we live, where we work, all as being full of spirits, the world changes. Not only are we not alone, but literally everything around us is composed of spirits. Each spirit, in turn, has Ancestors of some kind. The concrete used in the construction of our buildings (jorðvaettir) to the furnaces (eldrvaettir) used to heat them, to the pumped water (vatnvaettir) going into them. Through merely co-existing in the web of Urðr/Wyrd we weave in relationships every moment of every day. Some may be perfunctory, some transactional, and some truly deep. In my experience most of our relationships with spirits are going to be on the same kind of level as we might passing a random person on the sidewalk as we are both heading opposite directions. We are neutral to each other, trying to stay out of one another’s way and just trying to get wherever it is we want to go. Except where one party or the other initiates contact for a deeper relationship most of our connections with spirits are really cursory. A simple example of this is when we come into cultus with the landvaettir and/or husvaettir. After all, we are living on and with Them so it is in our best interests to get along well with the very land we live on and those we share our home with. Sometimes we have to do a lot to even attract Their attention. Because of experiences with humans in Their past some vaettir may need some patience on our part, and for us to put our best foot forward early and often. With some vaettir, we need to know that we are not going to get along and leaving the vaettir alone is the best way for us to have good relations.

With a vaettir-filled worldview Heathenry does not allow for the centrality of humankind. This puts it at odds with many philosophies from the start, such as humanism, which proposes a human-centric worldview. Humanity in Heathenry is just one class of vaettir among many. With the centrality of humanity absent, understanding ourselves in relationships with the Earth (Jorð) around us and potentially any of the Nine Worlds, we then enter a region in which human desires must take a back seat to the needs of other Beings if we are to live well together. We do not denigrate ourselves or ignore the needs and wants we have in a vaettir-filled worldview. Rather, one of the central tenets of Heathenry is to live in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir; a human-centered worldview is utterly at odds with this.

Kinds of Vaettir

The Heathen worldview encompasses a lot of different kind of vaettir. My point here is to give a basic overview of what the vaettir are, and how one might encounter them rather than give an exhaustive look at specific vaettir.

Ancestors

Ancestors are those vaettir who are related to us. The tack I take with who the Ancestors are is very broad. Ancestors and ancestry is complex, a weaving of relationships of blood and bone, spirit, lineage, and adoption. Ancestors can be human and non-human, Gods as well as other kinds of vaettir.

Ancestors, especially the Disir, Väter, and Ergi (more on these later) have our immediate interests at heart. Generally, Ancestors are among the first vaettir to have our back in hard times and to work well with us. Each of us are Ancestors in the making and will someday join Them, so beyond being Their descendants They have a vested interest in us doing well so when we join Them we are best placed to help our own descendants.

Ancestors of blood and bone are those Ancestors we are directly related to through blood relations. These are the people you are looking for if you do geneaology or are looking for via DNA results. Taken at large, all of humanity shares blood Ancestors at some point in the distant past whether we are looking at our common early homo sapien Ancestors, or even further back through to Chromosomal Adam, or further back, Mitochondrial Eve. As a primarily Norse Heathen I look to Ask and Embla as our common human Ancestors in addition to those of our larger human ancestry.

Ancestors of spirit generally refers to Ancestors that are spiritual kin to us whether that is through a group of vaettir bringing us into their fold by adoption, by blood relations where a vaettr had a hand in the creation of a line of people such as Ing to the Ingvaones, through initiation/ceremony into a group who share common spiritual Ancestors, or by direct invitation into a vaettr’s family. These Ancestors may or may not be human.

Ancestors of lineage are our Ancestors related to us through our work, through initiated lines such as mystery cults, or are spiritual specialists like priests or diviners. These Ancestors might be also relate to us through crafts such as weaving, woodworking, painting, sculpting, brewing, etc., as most of these professions were, at varying times, initiated roles such as Master and Apprentice, or had deep spiritual significance in the ‘home cultures’ of Heathens.

Ancestors can be adopted as can we. Fostering is one way Ancestors can adopt us. Another is when we become part of a close-knit spiritual community, such as a Kindred and/or Heathen tribe. In my own Kindred I make offerings to all of our Ancestors, and include at least a few Ancestors of beloved people who are chosen family. A common refrain in various forms that I am seeing across the Internet lately towards QUILTBAG+ folks is “If you are disowned by your blood family for being who you are, I am now your parent.” If someone were truly taking on this role then I think in turn they would be adopted as sure as anyone fostering a child would be.

Disir

Disir are the powerful female Ancestors. Many of the alternative interpretations for what They are that I have found online I understand are among the roles the Disir occupy: They are the guardians of family lines, those who keep the other Ancestors in line, act as the voice of the Ancestors where needed, are instructors, and may act as mediators between Their living relatives and other vaettir.

Väter

Väter are the powerful male Ancestors. While many will use the term Alfar to refer to Them, I do not. I understand Alfar as Their own discreet kind of vaettir. The Väter occupy very similar places to the Disir in my experience of Them.

Ergi

Ergi are the powerful queer Ancestors, and occupy similar places in Ancestors to the Disir and Väter. Like the word queer, ergi used to be an insult which has been reclaimed. In this case, ergi referred to someone being unmanly, namely the recipient in homosexual sex, and was considered an insult deep enough to kill or outlaw over.

Fylgja

Fylgja is a word meaning ‘follower’. Generally it means those spirits that follow a given person. A fylgja is often conflated with the Celtic ‘fetch’ which appears as an omen or a familial vaettr to a person. Its sighting is said to portend the person’s death. I use the term to mean any vaettr which a person works with in a tutelary, guardian, familial, or similar capacity in which the vaettr in question would have reason to actually ‘follow’ or, along with its other meanings, to ‘help’, ‘attend’, or ‘serve’. Rather than describing the kind of relationship one has to a fylgja, it is a term for a vaettr that one is attached to or vice versa.

Kinyflgja

As with fylgja I use this word in its more general capacity. Here, however, it references those vaettir who are tutelary, guardian(s), helping, attending, or serving in reference to one’s Ancestors. These may Ancestors Themselves or vaettir related to our Ancestors, whether they are animals or plants asssociated with Them, or bonds our Ancestors made with vaettir that They have in kind passed on to us.

Vorðr

A word describing a vaettr, among whose meanings are ‘guard’, ‘guardian’, ‘watch’, and ‘warden’. This word is very-much what it says on the tin: it is a spiritual guardian. In spiritual sight it may take the form of an animal. It may also take the form of the hamr of a person, their spiritual body. So far as lore is concerned I have not found a definite answer to where the vorðr comess from. The origins of a vorðr may come from one’s Ancestors, either a spirit of the Ancestors or from the Ancestors, eg a spirit the Ancestors formed some relationship with to watch over Their descendents. Depending on its origin you can reckon a vorðr as fylgja or kinfylgja.

Alfar

The word means ‘elf’ and belies the vast corpus of beliefs that have grown up around this word. I look at the diminutive use of elf in the same way that Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits, namely that it, like dwarf, sprite, and others have been used so much to cram lore about various beings into it that we need to differentiate what we are actually talking about from the mass it has become in Medieval and later folklore. Rather than take the approach that any diminutive, ‘cute’ or similar vaettr is an elf, the Alfar are namely those vaettir who belong to the world Vanaheim. Though there may be cross-currents between Scandinavian and Irish sources for what elves may be, I look at the Tuatha de Denaan as utterly different beings to Alfar. Likewise, I differentiate from many other Heathens in that I understand the Alfar to be Their own distinct spiritual category of vaettir rather than the powerful male Ancestor (whom I call Väter) or from the Dead who occupy burial mounds. So what are Alfar? Vaettir who often take on many (often beautiful) forms who are powerful in magic. In my experiences with Them I have found Them statuesque, powerfully spoken even when ‘quiet’, a commanding presence, and able to make powerful magic and having varying connections with natural places, especially groves and wooded areas.

Dvergar

The word means ‘dwarf’, and like Alfar belies the absolutely immense amount of beliefs that have become attached to that word. As with ‘elf’, Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits how ‘dwarf’ came to mean an absolutely dizzying array of things, some of them interchangeable with ‘elf’. The Dvergar definitely have more to offer from the lore we have, including that They are the best crafters in the Nine Worlds. Their moods tend to be stern and They exact heavy tolls from those who cross Them. My experiences with Andvari is that They are concerned with what is Theirs, and that part of keeping frið (good social order) with Them is maintainin awareness of what is ours.

Jotun

Jotun is a word related to ‘consuming’ and ‘devourer’, while often glossed as ‘giant’ nowadays. Jotun tend to be related to wilderness, natural forces, and animals. They can be monstrous, achingly beautiful, both, and neither. As many forms as nature can take, so can They, and yet more. Some Heathens eschew relationships with Jotun entirely, others only with those aligned with the Aesir, and yet others are willing to work with Jotun from any corner. Where one falls on this depends on the understanding one has of what Jotun are, Their place in the cosmology, and what our relationships with Them as humans can be. For myself, seeing as how many of the primal Holy Powers are Jotun, eg Surtr and Kari, and individual Jotun may be vaettir related to specific weather events, nature, and similar things, having a working relationship with at least some of Them can be good, in keeping with doing right by Holy Powers underpinning our Worlds. We do not have to get along with every vaettr to have a good relationship with some of Them any more than we must worship every Heathen God or Goddesss to be a good Heathen.

The Dead

The Dead are any vaettir which once lived. While the Ancestors are generally looked on as Dead, not all of Them are. Some Ancestors may never have incarnated in Midgard, eg some Ancestors of spirit. The Dead encompass a wide range of vaettir, including the Dead of those mentioned above. Some of the Dead are ambivalent to the living, while others actively seek out the living. The Dead may be bound to a particular place such as a barrow mound or grave, they may wander free, or belong to a realm of a God or Goddess, eg Folkvangr, Valholl, and Helheim. In my understanding, most of our Ancestors’ graves and barrow mounds were both a resting place for parts of the soul matrix, and a point of contact or a possible ‘door’ between whatever afterlife They go to and where we are. Because a portion of the soul is in the lich, the bones, furs, teeth, and claws maintain powerful spiritual connections to the Dead.

Elemental

Elemental vaettir are directly related to the Elements of the Northern Tradition/Heathenry. While not reckoned in this way in the lore or other sources, I find looking at the elements Themselves in this way speaks to the breadth and length at which vaettir are in our lives. It also helps with organizing associations, unsderstanding, and where and how those relationships are made. Jorðvaettir are Earthvaettir, Eldrvaettir are Firevaettir, Vatnvaettir are Watervaettir, Vindrvaettir are Windvaettir, and Issvaettir are Icevaettir. Why look at the Elements Themselves in terms of vaettir? Because not all Eldrvaettir are necessarily Fire-Etins, nor all Issvaettir necessarily Thurs. Having kinship with or association to certain Elements does not make Jotun necesssarily vaettir of those Elements. An Elemental worldview does have its limits, and that is about when it stops being accurate to the Being of a given vaettir.

We can also break down what we mean when speaking about certain Elemental vaettir. Jorðvaettir is more of a broad category when we look at a piece of land, because it belies all the many vaettir contained on and within the land. A single big Earthvaettr may be made up of the trees, animals, insects, and other vaettir in that piece of land, and yet that does not negate that each of those trees, animals, and so on are, Themselves, vaettir. I count my húsvaettir, or housevaettir, among the Earthvaettir. As my relationships with the land and the house that lies upon it differ, so too does my relationship differ between their vaettir. It is also worth pointing out that how and in what form you engage with a given Elemental vaettir may have drastic consequences on how it responds to you. Just starting out working with Eldrvaettir? Probably best to start with candles rather than a bonfire. Regardless of the size or scope of its form give any vaettr its due respect.

Beginning Relationships

While each vaettr may have its own requirements for how it wishes to be reached, perhaps the easiest way to reach out is to make room for the vaettir on our home altars. If you are starting absolutely new to Heathenry or the Northern Tradition, my first recommendation is to build an Ancestor altar before anyone else’s. Not only will this encourage good relationships with your Ancestors, it will also have the benefit of the Ancestors you build good bonds with helping you to make new good and safe bonds with vaettir going forward.

To begin a relationship with a vaettr first you need to actually want to make a relationship with a vaettr. This might seem self-explanatory, but a good mindset is the best thing you can have starting off. Having a gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift) relationship, a relationship based in good Gebo, is not about transaction, but about wanting to establish and maintain right relationship. A gipt fá gipt/Gebo relationship is one that honors both participants, is good and wholesome. If you are looking for a transactional relationship where you put an offering out and get something immediately or near-term for it, that is fine to engage in with a vaettir you want to have a business relationship with. However, that is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is developing a long-term and powerful devotional relationship with vaettir.

Once you are clear that your intention is to develop a good relationship you need to make space for that relationship. Making a physical space for that vaettir on an altar, often called a vé, or sacred space, is a powerful way to invite that vaettr deeper into your life. After all, you are making or setting aside space in a sacred space dedicated to the spiritual relationships you have and you are developing. So if have never made an altar, how do you go about doing it?

The Simplest Altar

A solid surface with a white cloth, a cup for water, and a single white candle with a lighter or book of matches and a holder for spent matches. That is the bare minimum you need for a simple altar. The surface can be a table, a bookshelf, an Altoid tin, or a cigar box. The candle can be as big or small as you need, from a birthday candle clear on up to a big taper. The cup can be made of whatever material is best for your situation, so long as it is clean and holds water. Start small. Altars can always grow if they need to.

A Simple Invitation Rite

Most of my relationships with vaettir have begun in similar fashion. First, I realize and affirm that I want to begin a relationship with a vaettr or group of vaettir. Then, I make space for Them on the altar. Then, after cleansing an object representing the vaettir/vaettir, I make prayer and offerings, then consecrate the item as Their representation and/or vessel.

Before beginning the rite, for a simple cleansing, ask the Eldest Ancestor, Fire, to cleanse you and the space. Something simple like “Hail Eldest Ancestor, please cleanse me and this space.” then pass the candle over yourself and the area clockwise. If you are seeking to connect with the Ancestors the Eldest is the best one to go to first. Leave the candle burning through the ritual if you can, and invite the Ancestor(s) you wish to connect with. Simple is better, especially if you are just taking your first steps. If you are just beginning Ancestor worship I would call on the Disir, Väter, and Ergi first, along with any Ancestors you knew in life, and for the first few months just dedicate Ancestor worship to Them. This establishess your relationship with your powerful and known Ancestors first, which helps to protect you from interloper vaettir pretending to be Ancestors, and helps your own discernment. Once the vaettir have been invited and asked to bless the items dedicated to Them, spend a few moments speaking with Them about the relationship you would like to build with Them, and spend time listening to Them in turn. You may ‘hear’, ‘see’, etc nothing, get no kind of spiritual feedback. That is fine. What is important is that, regardless of your receptivity, you give in kind for the time you took to speak. If you have divination tools handy and want direct feedback through them, now would be the time to bring them out. It would be good to double-check that the rite is appreciated, the offerings will be accepted, and if there is anything else needing attending to.

Offerings can be a simple cup of water, any foods or drinks the Ancestors may have liked or were denied when they were alive, or sacred herbs such as mugwort, chamomile, or tobacco. You don’t have to smoke or burn offerings as incense, especially if you live in a place where burning is prohibited, such as a dorm room. In such a case, LED candles work for the same purpose and making the offerings at the nearest, biggest tree should be fine. If you feel you should burn the offerings, keep the offerings in a container, and burn them in a simple ceremony. Once the offerings are taken care of, thank the vaettir for Their Presence, and snuff the candle. Blowing on the candle means you may accidentally spit on it, and so, snuffing it tends to be more respectful to the Firevaettr and the Eldest Ancestor. I tend to make water offerings on the roots of the biggest, nearest tree after asking the treevaettr for permission.

 

This will be it for the first part of Relationships with Spirits. The next post will dig into how we can begin relationships with spirits, the kinds of relationships we can have with Them, and the ways we keep these relationships healthy.

Where I Stand: Holding Tradition

The fact of the matter is, that almost no one I disagree with will ever come into contact with me.  So why am I raising these issues at all?  Why write about holiness, the sacred, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, etc. for a larger polytheist audience?

I am a Universalist-Tribalist Heathen, which means that I support anyone coming to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir into the Northern Tradition and Heathenry regardless of background, and that, on-the-whole, I’m more concerned with what happens to my little group of people and my little corner of the Northern Tradition and Heathenry.  My hamingja, and much of my personal concerns, are tied up with these people who are family to me.  That doesn’t mean that the wider Northern Tradition, Heathen, and polytheist communities don’t mean anything to me, but they are lower on the list, and most of them are not in my innangarð.

Yet, everything I write about here has come up in some fashion, whether it has been in working with folks who come for work, divination, or questions, interacting with folks at conventions, students, etc.  In some part I’m writing here so that there are polytheists out here saying “This is how I see it, and this is why this makes sense to me.” or “I disagree with this, and this is why.”  I would rather there not be an illusion of conformity or acceptance of an idea when there is not, especially when it is something I have had to talk about time and again with non-Pagans and Pagans alike, i.e. not all Odin-worshipers are racist, not all Pagans believe x, y, or z, there are some concrete beliefs to being a polytheist, and so on.

When I get into more heated discussions with folks in the larger Pagan communities, I do this in no small part because I am a Northern Tradition Pagan and a Heathen, and feel that my views and that of my co-religionists need to be presented.  This feeling is pronounced because I am a priest and shaman.  This means as much as I am a boundary crosser and an ambassador, helping folks to connect with our Gods, their Ancestors, and the vaettir, it is also my duty to present my religions straightforward, and present defense of the religion if needed, being a boundary keeper.

The questions of “Can’t the Gods defend Themselves?  Can’t They make Their displeasure known?” eventually do come up and need to be tackled.

Sure.  Our Gods are not helpless by any stretch, but that puts the full responsibility of keeping our traditions on the Gods, and not, as it should be, on ourselves.  It’s not about the Gods being able to defend this or that concept.  It is about the duty being on us, as worshipers, spiritual specialists, and laypeople, to engage in our religion in a way that is respectful, and keep our religious boundaries, communities, terminology, and connected ideas healthy.

I work with the idea of a teacup frequently as a container of ideas, the tea being the meaning of things and the teacup the word itself as a container of meaning.  The Gods I will liken to the kettle, water, and the leaves/herbs, the source of the tea itself.  They are poured into the teapot of religion to brew and be held, a defined form that gives the ability to transfer this meaning a bit more safe from being burned, yet still keep warmth, which we pour into our cups.  Some folks go right for the kettle and fill their cup right then and there.  You still get tea, but eventually, if you’re going to drink tea without burning yourself, it goes into a cup or you wait for the kettle to cool so you can drink straight from it.

I don’t imagine I will ever agree with the idea, let alone the acceptance of atheist Paganism in the Pagan community, but really, that’s not my call to make.  I’m not the Circle Police or the Pagan Police.  As much as people deride folks like Galina Krasskova, Tess Dawson, Sannion, and myself as part of the Piety Posse, do you folks honestly think I have any pull with folks who do not believe in Gods or theistic Pagans who accept atheist Pagan theological views as just as valid as their own?  I speak out because I feel the need to speak out, but I hold no illusions that my words hold any more sway than what others give them.  I certainly can’t stop you, but I also do not have to accept your views.  I hold the view of a polytheist, one in which the Gods are real, have agency and Being, and are not constructs/archetypes/etc. of human un/consciousness.  There’s nothing in atheism for me to find in common ground, religiously speaking.  We can meet at any number of other points, but I very-much doubt this is a place where we will find common ground, as the very grounding of our views is different in very powerful ways.  Further, any attempt by an atheist to co-opt religious language out of its meanings will not further dialogue with me at all.

I find myself on the opposite side of folks like John Halstead and B.T. Newburg more and more in no small part because the aesthetics of the religious communities I have called home for the last 11 years are being sought out by atheist Pagans, but not the substance.  The language which identifies me as a person within a set of religious communities and/or within a communal identity is being intentionally separated from the primary means by which that identifier is constructed: religious identity with concrete meaning in regards to belief in and worship of Gods.

My views are not simply matters of disagreement, but really, they are matters of course.  The course of logic that constructs my religious identity flows from the creation story of the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, flows from the cosmology, and flows from the Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen worldview, the worldview I live within.  These things are essential to the construction of the identity I have as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen.  When the meaning of words like sacred, holiness, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and so on are affected, the meaning of my identifiers and associated communities are affected.  It’s about more than just me, though: these are part and parcel of how any religious community defines itself.  So not only am I personally invested to see that sacred, holiness, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and other words with religious meaning stay invested with that meaning, and how that plays out in my own life, I am also invested in how these words stay invested with meaning within my religious community, and how these words come to define and structure things within the Northern Tradition and Heathen communities.

Here is where I stand: as a Universalist-Tribalist Heathen, I have primary concern for the those within my innangarð, but that does not mean I ignore the things or people who are utgarð to my personal or more wider communities.  While my hamingja is not tied with those outside of my innangarð, it would be a disservice to the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, and my personal communities within them, to not speak out on the things I have.  It would be a disservice to fellow polytheists, too.  I hold the traditions I am within, as does everyone who is within these traditions.  Each person needs to decide for themselves whether it is incumbent on them to speak up, out, or to hold silence.  For myself, given the roles of shaman and priest that I serve in my communities, as an ambassador, boundary-crosser, and boundary-keeper, I find myself being called to speak more often than I am to be silent.