The skin and flesh fell away
The little ones took their fill
The soil ate well
The seed burrowed in the heart sprouted
The tree took root
The soul grew up and wide
The branches spread
The leaves budded
The animals gathered to live with it
The family visited their Disir
The bread and the milk laid down
The offerings fed the tree and Her companions
The tree shed its seeds
The animals carried some, the wind others
The Disir’s children grew tall and strong
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Cart carries blessed seed and soil
to whoever’s home it visits
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Bounty bring virility to Vanaheim
shared selflessly with kith and kin
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Hands have graced our gardens
through Your reach, the roots grow deep
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Body rides upon the roads;
Your veiled visage a holy Mystery
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Ways wend to beauty and blessings,
let all live with You in good Gebo
The loamy earth that welcomes the seed
The black soil that bursts with life
The tree who overgrows the bones
The ground who eats the bodies
The inundated ground that bears the rice
The sandy ground that bears the spears
The grove where the deer mate
The fields where their young are born
The ever-breathing forests
The ever-teeming swamps
The ever-eating earth
The ever-giving earth
All these things You are
Hail to you, O Nerthus!
They sank down into the waters
Held down by iron grips
A sacrifice for seeing Your holy Face
They sank down into the bog
Their blood reddening the waters
A sacrifice for keeping the community clean
They were offered to You
O Holy Nerthus
That the ways between us
May be kept well
Hail to the Mothers with us!
Hail to the Mothers who have blazed the path before us!
Hail to the Disir!
Hail to all the Mothers!
I love politics. I find it fascinating on an intellectual level. I also find it entertaining, probably on the same level as some of my friends enjoy the soap opera style of WWE or Lucha Underground. Hell, one of the candidates was even on WWE.
I also recognize that most politics, or what passes for it, is a complete waste of time. Most of the things I have any hope of affecting as a voter are decided at local, regional, and sometimes State level elections. Though, with the way our legislature in Michigan works, should appropriation funding be in a bill that passes there is no way for us voters to hold a referendum. This is how the Republican-led State Congress pushed through a lot of legislation of all kinds lately, and made them stick despite loud protest.
I still vote, especially in local elections and ballots, because that is where a lot of funding comes for things like our police, fire, libraries, and so on. It’s also where our leadership comes from for local boards, among others. It directly affects my family and I.
A phrase I have heard for a long time now is “Think locally and act globally”. It bothers me, because when we get down to brass tacks, my spheres of influence start and end locally. I’m only acting globally if I’m acting with enough people that our collective pull is felt in some way. A lot of the things I hope to make impact on simply don’t register all that large, even with a good number of folks interested in it. My view is that we should be thinking and acting locally, and let things develop from that. It is hardly a new view. However, rather than be in the vein of ‘you need to change yourself before you change the world’ in an abstract way, or even a psychological one, this thinking and acting locally is a tactical one. It is also tends towards the whole person rather than an aspect of them.
I have no hope of changing national policy. I may not even be able to change a region’s view of how things like environmental care, farming, local interdependence, sustainable housing, and the like could be. What I can change is how I do things. What I can change is how I help people in my tribe, Kindred, friends, and allies. What I can change is things on a very local level.
Otto von Bismarck said
“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.
Ideals are good things to have; they give us things to aim for, to work to attain. They help guide our decisions communally and personally. However, practical effects are what is lacking in a lot of politics lacks now, especially those that affect us locally and nationally, such as the ways we need to address environmental damage our ecosystems are taking on, climate change, and Peak Oil. Lining up on either side of an ideological divide may feel good, but ideology won’t keep your family fed or help you endure the Long Descent. If all you have is ideology, after a while all people will see you offer them are platitudes rather than something that will actually help them live differently. If you want to change the world, not only do you need to be that change, but you have to help others be able to see themselves in that change too.
Lately, my family and I have been doing a lot of simple wild yeast mead brewing in mason jars. We had our first batch finally finish, and it tastes great. Not only did this teach us that this is a completely viable way to make really good mead, but for our close friends with whom we are sharing this batch, it provides us a means of sharing the results, tying hamingja and wyrd closer together through Gebo, and perhaps inspiring others to take up brewing as well.
Is it a huge change? No, not on a global scale. Locally, though, it is helping Michigan bees and bee farmers, we’re reusing glass mason jars and ceramic bottles, and we’re learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends. When we grow our own food this spring and summer, will that be huge on a global scale? No. It will, however, save us quite a bit of money in food bills, we’ll be using mason jars and potentially ceramic for some, if not a good number of the food we’ll bring in, and we’ll be learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.
Part of the thinking and acting locally is that I drop the need or, as I would have put it during my ceremonial magic days, the lust of result, to have the large, powerful impact on a nationwide scale. My worship and working with Jörð reflects this idea. I worship Her as a Goddess of the Earth, and I also relate to Her as a Goddess of the Earth where I am (without exclusion to local land/Earth Gods and Goddesses), as I am also tightly bound to my local environment as I am to the Earth. I have developed a relationship with Her in the context of where I am, where I live, and where I grow my food. How could I hope to change Her? So, I take up the space in Her where I live, where She and the landvaettir share with me, and do what I can where I am. Therefore, all of my actions take place on and within Her and alongside Her in a local context. To try to separate my understanding of Jörð from my local understanding renders my relationship with Her far less meaningful, to the point of meaninglessness in most contexts. This thinking and acting locally is often referred to as regional cultus. It is religiously thinking and acting in relation to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the local level.
The idea of thinking and acting locally is not separate in terms of religious cultus, growing food, addressing Climate Change, Peak Oil, or environmental damage. Rather, I take them as a whole, with religious regard running throughout even if addressing environmental damage is not, in and of itself, a religious ritual or act. I hold relationships with the landvaettir, and because of this relationship on a personal religious level and practical level together, I have a deeply invested interest in the environment thriving and the neighborhood we are part of together doing well. If I care for the landvaettir, I care for the wellbeing of Their body/bodies, the physical land, plants, creatures, and other Beings which make Them up, and I care for Them on a spiritual basis as well. It means helping to keep the environment clean and healthy while maintaining good relationships with Them through offerings, prayers, and actually visiting with Them.
Giving general ideas of how to interact with the landvaettir is only so useful. I can go with lists of offering ideas, but inevitably I will come right out and say something along the lines of “You will need to learn what would be good as an offering for your landvaettir.” This is part of the idea behind thinking and acting locally for the environment, Peak Oil, or Climate Change. There’s only so much I could tell you about permaculture techniques or ideas for how to live sustainably that would apply with any accuracy. Most of the permaculture, homestead, and other skills classes I have gone to have been held by and at places local to me. Their lessons are bound into how our land works. I could not tell you useful species of trees to in a Californian environment. I could not tell you what herbs are invasive, native, useful, or good to grow in that soil. It’s simply outside of my research and experience.
This is also why I talk a lot about getting to know our Gods locally. That is, if you are worshiping a Goddess who was associated with wells, maybe get to know Her with your personal well if you use well water, or develop a personal relationship with the local bodies of water where your drinking water comes from. Do research on where your water comes from, see if the Gods of waters have any association with it, or directly manifest in it. See if the waters have their own Gods, or big vaettir. Thinking locally and acting locally means taking steps to relate to this world when and where we are.
Since the body s part of the overarching soul matrix I also look at the bodies of water as the physical component of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Water. Likewise the other elements. How we treat the bodies of these Beings matters, and its impacts hit us in like fashion in our bodies and souls. If I treat the body of the watervaettir well (pardon the pun), then I am nourished in kind by the water. If I treat it poorly, I foul the water, destroy its ability to enliven plants and animals alike, and destroy the ability of my ecosystem to live healthy. If I live upon the Earth well then I am nourished in kind. It is Gebo, and its effects ripple through Wyrd. When we think and act locally we partake much more readily in these ripples, in how Wyrd weaves. In doing our part as best we can with our local threads we can more effectively weave with the larger patterns of Wyrd.
Thank you for the telling of truths
And for keeping us in mirth
For reminding us what is serious
And what will pass us by
For what remains to us in solemnity
And what is worth making fun
For when things are worth fighting for
And when using your head is best
For things done for kicks and grins
And things done for duty
Hail Loki, Scar-Lip and Bright Flame!
Hail Loki, Consort and Lover, Fighter Fierce!
Hail Loki, Hearth-fire Keeper and Thought-Fetterer!
A chorus of spirits hum
In the droning of the vents
Another choir tweets outside the windows
A million unseen wriggle and work beneath the floor
Large wheeled spirits pass each other
Some with caution, others with abandon
All laden with spirits, they cross, they move, and you only hear them truly when they’re no longer synchronized
If we were honest, we would acknowledge that our homes are made of the Dead and spirits
Their foundations laying upon layers of the Dead and spirits of the world
The guts, made of fallen timber and mined earth, and the skin of wood, metal, and thin layers of dinosaur and plant stretched across them
All this takes to see is a turn of the head, an opening of the eyes
A spirit for every grain of sand, for every drop of water, for every bite of food
All deserving honor in their turn
Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions. In some places, those lines are fairly stark. In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways. At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture. We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.
I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family. No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members. I was taught a smattering of German words. There was nothing left by the time I was being raised. I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual. Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.
So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them. As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them. I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error. Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life. She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that. There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit. It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things. While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.
I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact. What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.
I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:
- A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
- A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
- A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
- A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
- A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.
There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.
Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.
Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound. There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions. A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here. One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this. I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.
Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?
Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.
Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.
Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods. It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us. Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow. It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.
I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis. There was no temple structure. I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life. There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to. If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you. If not, it’s a loner’s game.
What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward. Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine. For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.
For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities. Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on. This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis. At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple. While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.
Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture. In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.