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Posts Tagged ‘northern tradition’

My Roots Reach Deep

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment

My roots reach deep

Into soil and stone

To the core of Fire in Jorð

 

My roots reach deep

Into history and home

To the hearth of every Ancestor

 

My roots reach deep

Into trial and triumph

To the soul of each spirit worker

 

My roots reach deep

Into weft and warp

To every diviner’s domain

 

My roots reach deep

Into blood and battle

To the heart of each ulfheðin

 

My roots reach deep

Into Ash and Elm

To the First People

 

My roots reach deep

Into Odin’s steed

To roots entwined with Roots

 

My roots reach deep

Into Urðr’s well

To the waters shared in life

 

My roots reach deep

Into Flame and Frost

To the Eldest of our Kin

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Relationships with Spirits -Part 1

July 9, 2019 5 comments

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.

Reflecting on Two Articles on a Post-Christian Future

January 2, 2019 5 comments

Manny Tejeda-Moreno wrote an article, “Editorial: Douthat’s post-Christian future, a response” for The Wild Hunt, responding to a New York Times op-ed “The Return of Paganism”, an article written by Ross Douthat.  Rather than dig through both articles, I found things within Tejeda-Moreno’s article I felt were worth responding to. Tejeda-Moreno’s response to Douthat highlights things that I felt were worth exploring, as I have seen Pagan and polytheist communities struggle through the fourteen years I have on-and-off called myself a Pagan and have been a polytheist.

It is pretty clear Ross Douthat is not a part of any modern Pagan religion, and he has been an op-ed writer for several years. I am not shocked Tejeda-Moreno is dissatisfied with the article. Over the course of his life Douthat has been a Pentecostal and a Catholic and was educated at Harvard. He is not only writing from outside our communities essentially about us, as Tejeda-Moreno clearly points out, he is doing so poorly informed.

His lamentations that there may be more witches than members of the United Church of Christ should be evidence enough that he is mourning or at least ill at ease in the post-Christian future he sees on the horizon. I find this notion at odds, though, with those exercising levers of power and in the majority. The most prominent and numerous members in US society are some flavor of monotheist, predominantly Christian. Those who are not Christians in positions of power, such as political or academic settings, are often agnostic or atheist. All tend to default to some variation of ‘hierarchy of religion’ in which one’s personal flavor (Christian, atheist, or agnostic) is the summit of the hierarchy. Pagan and polytheist religions are often derided for their belief in ‘demons/delusions’, ‘outmoded ideas’, ‘dead gods’, and the like, treated more as curiosities than anything worthy of regard either in academia or in interfaith settings.

I echo Tejeda-Moreno’s disappointment with Douthat’s assertion that Paganism is “some civic cult with supernatural experimentation driven by secret societies of literati weaving post-Christian intellectualism into society.” Modern Pagan religions are neither that organized nor that well-developed. Even if we were, intellectualism or rationalism is not the main philosophy of a good number of Pagans or polytheists.  We certainly do not have the numbers for civic cultus, nor the structures which would make it relevant so far as I can see.

In the first place, modern Pagan religions do not even internally agree on what Paganism itself is. The term is so nebulous as to be unwieldy, effectively ending in some vague sense of ‘not Christian’. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are polytheist, believing in and worshiping many Gods. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are atheist, believing that there are no Gods and worship nothing. Saying anything accurate when even basic and essential matters of theology are disagreed upon internal to specific religions within Paganism is almost impossible. For instance: Are Wiccans theist? If so, which Wiccans, if any, are theist and which, if any, are atheist?

Then there comes issues of who gets to decide who gets to be called Wiccan in the first place. Gatekeeping, who gets to do it, and who has the right to gatekeep specific Pagan religions are a series of ongoing issues in many Pagan and polytheist religions. Without these basic methods of organization decided, it matters little whether one says “Wiccans are theist” or “Wiccans are atheist” because the ground upon which the matter would rest shifts dependent on the practitioner and not the identifier itself.  The reason I go over words and their meanings so often in my posts is because of this ongoing problem.  There is a consistent need to reinforce what words mean because the language in Pagan communities is inconsistently applied and used.  I can get more to the core of what I am by using the word polytheist rather than Pagan because, where Pagan is a very mushy word, polytheist says what it is right on the tin.

I have a bone to pick with Tejeda-Moreno, and that is the same bone I have with everyone and anyone who uses the term ‘organized religion’ without including our own religions.  The term organized religion means what it says, “A structured system of faith or worship” though most associate it with monotheist religions.  Every single religion is organized or it is not a religion.  Were Tejeda-Moreno to have written something like “Christian religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” or “Monotheist religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” there would be less issue from me.  It’s still an over-generalization of centuries of history, but it would be more accurate than to just hand Christianity and other monotheist religions the phrase organized religion.

Further, setting up Paganism and organized religions as being against one another is nonsensical.  The “continued toleration of sexual abuse and misogyny exposes all the other moral failings” regardless of which religion it is in question, and Paganism is no more immune to this than Catholicism is.  Indeed, it is also true that “Individuals working to experience their authentic selves are deluged by moral pronouncements serving only to layer guilt and self-hatred” is equally applicable to the Pagan and polytheist communities.  Arguably, it is something that most faith communities engage in rather than the work of their religions’ callings.

The failure here is that Douthat fails to recognize that people should be free to believe in a religion that offers them meaning without ridicule.

I do not think that he fails to understand this so much as it is in his Catholic view that there are true and good religions and those that are not.  It’s also his mistake in assuming that we Pagans and polytheists only conceive as Gods belonging to Creation, and not able to be both immanent and transcendent, or one or the other.  His agreements with Steven Smith’s assessment of things rests on shaky ground as Smith commits pantheists and atheists to his view without even so much as bringing in contemporary Pagan or polytheist authors to his article while mischaracterizing those same religious movements.  In it, he ignores the lived religions of Pagans and polytheists and misses what immanent as well as transcendent Gods, Ancestors, and spirits do to the weltanschauung of the religions and people who believe in Them and worship Them.

Tejeda-Moreno continues:

He avoids a basic reality, as well: individuals are not turning away from organized religion. They are turning toward something that has meaning for them. It may be praxis, or it may be dogma; whatever the reason, they are invoking the fundamental human rights of thought, belief, and religion. Complaining about them as sinful distortions, or implying a divine force is preparing to act in retribution, is using fear in service of patriarchal oppression.

Again, I think Douthat isn’t avoiding a basic reality, but couching in terms familiar to himself and his religion.  Douthat’s point is made here in that regard, and it is a good one:

These descriptions are debatable, but suppose Smith is right. Is the combination of intellectual pantheism and a this-world-focused civil religion enough to declare the rebirth of paganism as a faith unto itself, rather than just a cultural tendency within a still-Christian order?

It seems to me that the answer is not quite, because this new religion would lack a clear cultic aspect, a set of popular devotions, a practice of ritual and prayer of the kind that the paganism of antiquity offered in abundance. And that absence points to the essential weakness of a purely intellectualized pantheism: It invites its adherents to commune with a universe that offers suffering and misery in abundance, which means that it has a strong appeal to the privileged but a much weaker appeal to people who need not only sense of wonder from their spiritual lives but also, well, help.

Douthat goes on to say:

However, there are forms of modern paganism that do promise this help, that do offer ritual and observance, augury and prayer, that do promise that in some form gods or spirits really might exist and might offer succor or help if appropriately invoked. I have in mind the countless New Age practices that promise health and well-being and good fortune, the psychics and mediums who promise communication with the spirit world, and also the world of explicit neo-paganism, Wiccan and otherwise.

He’s not wrong in his assessment here.  One of the major appeals in Pagan and polytheist religions is that we have living relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that in some way invite us to share in co-creating with Them.  We are invited to appreciate the beauty of our Holy Powers, the Worlds we inhabit, and so much more. Our Holy Powers occupy many places simultaneously that we can appreciate on multiple levels, including that of devotion, aesthetic, beauty, joy, and more.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers at our altars and in our statues.  We build relationships with Them in places They hold in high regard.  We build relationships with Them in sacred places in nature or our cities.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers when we bear jewelry or tattoos of Their forms, symbols or Names.  We build relationships with Them when we lay down offerings at a tree, look out to the Sun’s or Moon’s rise, feel Them in the breeze.  We build relationships with Them in the grip of writing a poem, knitting a blanket, or making a piece of art.

Douthat goes on with ill-conceived generalized histrionics that are wrong, namely in regards to ancient Roman elites.  Polytheism, not pantheism was the norm.  He is also forming his argument on shaky foundations for what it would take to form a living pagan religion under his view:

To get a fully revived paganism in contemporary America, that’s what would have to happen again — the philosophers of pantheism and civil religion would need to build a religious bridge to the New Agers and neo-pagans, and together they would need to create a more fully realized cult of the immanent divine, an actual way to worship, not just to appreciate, the pantheistic order they discern.

His point here is wrong.  Pagans and polytheists do not need pantheists or outside civil religionists.  We have our own philosophers, and for those who wish to engage in civil religions there are ample examples to follow.  We need not partner with pantheists or civil religionists to create a fully realized cult of the immanent divine because we possess all the tools, ability, and functions to do so within our own religions.  We already have everything Douthat is pointing out here.

Likewise, Tejeda-Moreno is wrong.

Whether we are discussing Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan, individuals are not turning away from organized faiths; they are turning toward something more meaningful to them. Pagans are re-wilding their faith interactions to the immanent and the spiritual, and few things are more dangerous to what is “organized” than what is “wild”.

Individuals are turning away from monotheist religions, not organized ones.  They are turning towards something more meaningful to them, that is true, but it is not something that is not organized, only organized in a different fashion.  We are re-wilding our religions insofar as our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanently intertwined with the development of our religions.  What most who are coming into “Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan” are coming into is one where the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanent and transcendent, not bound by us, our morality, our politics, or our views.  The Gods are the Gods, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The Ancestors are the Ancestors, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The spirits are the spirits, Their own, and we do not control Them.

It is not us who are re-wilding our religions.  If our religions are wild it is because the Holy Powers are not in our control.  We talk with our Holy Powers, we seek Their guidance, and whether through divination, omens, inspiration, or other means They make Their desires and wills known.  This does not mean we have no bearing on our religion.  We do, because it is in relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that our religions are woven.  We can disagree with our Holy Powers, negotiate, ask, work with Them to different ends.  We can also agree with our Holy Powers, obey, negotiate, ask, do the work we are given.  We can have times where it is hard to know what They want, times where our lives are fallow, times where we are sure of what They want, and times where our lives are so full we are fit to burst.  These are lived relationships.

Ultimately, Mr. Douthat argues that the promises of Paganism are vacant. The rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect: “I don’t know how many of the witches who publicly hexed Brett Kavanaugh really expected it to work,” he writes. The same sentiment could be shared for those followers of the Christian god who prayed for hurricanes to turn away from the United States toward Mexico.

I think that this is fair on both sides.  So long as we are not living solid in our relationships with the Holy Powers, then I agree that “all the rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect”.  Without prayers bound in meaning, in relationship with our Holy Powers, they are merely words.  Perhaps the only effect they can carry is offense or disinterest. Without rituals made in relationship with our Holy Powers with clarity, discipline, and skill, it is so much empty action.  Without magic rooted in our worldviews crafted with discipline, and skill, again, it is empty action.

Rather than seeing, as Tejeda-Moreno does, that Douthat feels entitled to an explanation from Pagans and polytheists, I see that Douthat has fear of what we may bring to the table:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

I agree with Tejeda-Moreno that Douthat “avoids the obvious remedy to his dilemma” which, for monotheists is that they are not “living up to their origins, whether those be the promise of salvation, submission, or, even more simply, love.”  I also think it is more complex than Tejeda-Moreno’s conclusion.  The problem with monotheist religions and philosophies derived from them is they seek to eliminate all others.  Those who espouse arguments like the ‘evolution of religion’ or the ‘Kingdom of God’ wants its particular religion (or lack thereof) to get to the top so it can install its hegemony over all the others beneath it.  Paganism is not the boogeyman here, but neither is hypocrisy.

What is sitting in the background of monotheist religions is that when any attains power it then seeks to crush or convert any other religion.  Calls to the faithful to evangelize, to destroy the Pagans, to convert the masses of the world are still being made.  As Douthat says:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

What Douthat is afraid of is that we are going to be living in a post-Christian world and takes explicit comfort that a successor is not fully-formed to it yet.  After all, look at what the Christians did to the non-believers.  Why wouldn’t a Christian, having an understanding of the kinds of destruction such things brought, not be afraid of such things being brought down on them?  What Douthat and monotheists like him are afraid of is not just irrelevance, but that non-monotheist religions will make inroads, take up different power in different ways, and offer better futures than the one they’ve had the last two thousand or so years to build.  Their hegemony is slipping bit by bit, year by year.  They fear the loss of power.  They are afraid the futures we face without the hegemony of their religions and philosophies on our necks.  They are afraid of our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

Loki is Not Trump (Neither is Odin)

November 25, 2018 21 comments

Surprising no one, I did not care for Karl E.H. Seigfried’s recent Wild Hunt article on Loki.

From the start of the article he sets up a divide, stating:

For a thousand years, poets and scholars have seen Loki as a troubling figure who brings harm to the community of which he is a part. Today, there are many lovers of Norse mythology and practitioners of Pagan religions who view him as a positive figure, and even one deserving of veneration and worship.

His dividing line here is an appeal to authority and an appeal to tradition. He then goes on later to say:

At times, his most devoted worship seems to shade into a form of mono- or henotheism. I have met practitioners whose devotion to Loki and disdain for the other Norse gods seems quite far removed from a diverse polytheism.

So many strawfolks already set up. It is what makes his next statement seem so disingenuous.

There is no reason to challenge the importance that Loki has for so many people around the world, whether it manifests in pop culture fandom or intense religious devotion.

Except that is exactly what he does. He does the same thing when he quotes Tolkien’s dislike of allegory and then proceeds to dive whole-hog into one of his own in four parts, connecting Trump and Loki. He states that his writing is one of applicability, in line with Tolkien, rather than an allegory.

Trump is not Loki or Odin. The way the Seigfried tries to hook the narratives he has built around Trump into Loki is hamfisted at best, and lazy at worst. He builds up his defenses in pieces prior to the four part attack on Trump and Loki, namely in saying:

I do not believe that we should reconstruct every aspect of ancient worldviews situated in a time and place of normalized slavery, entrenched homophobia, and celebrated violence. I do not believe that it is even possible to reconstruct the detailed internal worldviews of a plurality of peoples who left behind no second-level theological discourse.

then:

That said, I am bothered by approaches to myth that brush aside any elements of ancient sources that readers don’t like or find problematic as “Christian influenced.” Academics and practitioners alike are guilty of this rhetorical turn

and then:

Again, I do not deny the personal meaning that many find in Loki. I simply can’t follow them to a place where the sources of our knowledge are read in ways that sometimes seem parallel to conspiracy theorist readings of today’s news stories.

He states that we cannot reconstruct the worldview of ancient Heathen cultures due to a lack of resources and then casts doubt on readings of the texts in which Loki is looked at in a positive light, connecting these readings of myth to conspiracy theories. Without applying prudence to reading what myths and legends we do have we are doing ourselves and those who follow us a disservice. Understanding as best as we can that Snorri had biases both from his Christian upbringing and the influence of Classical literature available to him and applying them to a reading of his sources means we are engaging in discernment, discernment we would be reasonable to assume whether we are reading a source on ancient Scandinavian/German myths, a translation, or modern retellings that can carry the biases of the original scribes or translators.

Painting Trump as Loki in this way brings Loki down to Trump’s level as a human. Loki is not human. He is part of the Aesir and a Jotun. He is a Being worthy of worship and reverence. Trump, being neither part of my ancestry nor of any cultus I pay homage to, is not. Casting one’s views of Trump in Loki’s mythological light obfuscates the myth, and one could accuse Seigfried of no small amount of cherry-picking in his mythologizing.

Calling the first section “Objectifier of women”, Seigfried did not include in his first of the four parts casting Trump and Loki togther that Thjazi instigates the means by which he extracts the oath from Loki to bring him Idunna. It is little wonder that Loki does not mention it to the Aesir until They come to Him. The last time something went wrong the Aesir threaten to torture or kill Loki unless He fixed the issue at hand, such as the giant working on Asgard’s walls almost winning the wager of the Sun and Moon as well as Freya’s hand in marriage. Loki pushed for the Jotun to be allowed to work with his horse Svaldilfari, so the Gods put the blame on Him and threatened to torture and kill Him if He did not fix the situation. They do the same when They figure out He lured away Idunna and is why They are aging due to Her no longer harvesting the apples that keep Them young. Not only does Loki fix the situation, returning Idunna to the Aesir at great risk to Himself, He helps the Aesir eliminate Thjazi’s threat when the Jotun is burnt at the walls, and gain Skadi as an ally by making Her laugh. In each situation where He is threatened with torture and death He more than makes up for His shortcomings, perceived or not, gaining the Gods great gifts and allies.

Loki is not objectifying Idunna. Both Loki and Idunna are used by Thjazi when he extracts Loki’s oath, and while She is in Thjazi’s hands. She is part of the Aesir, and They need Her service of keeping the fruit that keeps the Gods young. So, Her rescuer brings Her back. It’s a poor myth to start with in comparing Loki to Trump. It seems to me that Seigfried shaved off every edge in Loki’s favor in order for to try to make this myth fit his Trump-shaped hole. Having read through his article more than a few times, it seems he did so with every myth he refers to.

I am obviously biased in the favor of both Odin and Loki, but it is not my point here to pretend like neither God did not do horrible things in the myths we have. Rather, my objections lie in applying Trump to Loki. Trump is Trump, Loki is Loki, and Odin is Odin.

We can take lessons from our myths without mythologizing our politicians. It is an ugly precedent to set. We have enough issues with mythologized history, such as Thanksgiving being taught in schools as though it was a dinner to which Natives and the Pilgrims sat down respectfully across from one another as equals, or that Washington ‘could not tell a lie’. Painting Lincoln as ‘the Great Liberator’ while ignoring that he was the one who ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota who were captured fighting back against the settlers that had broken treaties with them after enduring privation and starvation. That great lie, Manifest Destiny. We have enough obfuscation in the way of reading about history that we do not have need of more of it by conflating our religions’ myths with our modern political realities, especially as poorly as Karl E.H. Seigried does here.

It certainly does not provide more understanding to President Trump’s life, election, and administration to frame political and economic realities in the same realm as myths either by allegory or by applicability of mythological stories. If you want to understand how candidate Trump rose to power and won the election you need to look at, among many things, economics, politics, and history. To my mind it would certainly be more enlightening to understand President Trump’s election into the Oval Office through the lens of history via Spengler, Toynbee, or through similar lenses looking at bigger arcs in history, and how paradigms change through economic, political, and social pressures.

Skepticism and eyes raise when Christians point to a politician and apply the label of Antichrist. I think one of our own doing the same with Trump and crying “Loki!” should receive the same response.

On Níðhöggr

November 19, 2018 6 comments

A while back I was asked to share my understanding of Níðhöggr by a fellow Heathen. Vikings of Bjornstad lists the meaning for Níðhöggr’s name as ‘Malice Striker’. The first section of the compound name, níð, is related to malice, insult, and strife. The second is related to beheading, striking, blows, or chops. Not much survives on this dragon/serpent survives from the lore. Among the places to look for Níðhöggr are in the Prose Edda, both in Gylfaginning and Skaldskarpamal, and in the Poetic Edda Grimnismal and the Voluspa. While the lore refers to Níðhöggr as male, my interactions with Níðhöggr have leant me to understanding the dragon as female.

I relate to Her as a God of Rot and Death, and a God of the Gravemound as well, especially seeing interlinks between the rotting of death and the eating of poison. My family’s compost heap is dedicated to Hela and to Níðhöggr, as we see Níðhögg as eating the poison of Yggdrasil and the making of it into the healthy new earth that is renewed. The gravemound takes in the Dead and the new growth results within it, holding the power of the sacred items deposited within it and the new growth above.

Most of my understanding and beliefs regarding Níðhöggr is from direct experience of seeing Her and interacting with Her. When I was saw Her, She was chewing the corpses of the Dead, taking the poison of Their lives, Their misdeeds. She does the same with the root of Yggdrasil She chews on, not to damage it, but to prevent poison that is collected in Helheim and the Nastrond from killing It.

A powerful insight of dragon symbolism, at least in terms of how I see it in Norse/Germanic/Scandinavian culture/myth is that part of their destructive nature is what they sit on. In Fafnir’s case it is his bed of gold and the greed associated with it. In Níðhöggr’s case She is lying in the midst of traitors, oathbreakers, and is sitting with the rot and poison of Yggdrasil’s root. She chews on the traitors, oathbreakers, and outlaws, as well as the root of Yggdrasil. One of the passages in the Voluspa says She sucks the blood of the slain. I see Her doing similar, chewing and sucking on the poison in the root of Yggdrasil, removing the rot so it stays healthy. It also explains why Her/His hall is the Hall of Serpents dripping poison because that is Níðhöggr’s environment. My fellow Heathen likened it to a poison dart frog, and I think that’s a fair reading of Her too.

It is telling that the only time She emerges in myth is during Ragnarok and She isn’t destroyed, but takes up roost again beneath the ground. I find Her very purifying, as She has been in the midst of all that rot, poison, and uncleanliness, and yet, She has not lost Herself to it. She engages with this Work before and after Ragnarok. She is rejuvenating and dangerous, the Chewer of Corpses and Warder against Poison. As outlaws and traitors were among the worst one could be, and both were put into the utgard of society, I see Her as a boundary-keeper since She gives these dangerous and vile Dead a place to go to be contained, chewed, composted so they do not harm the community or rest of Yggrasil. She is the God that chews the rot beneath the Tree, rejuvenating both the root and the soil in which Yggdrasil’s root rest; necessary and holy.

Developing Polytheist Myths

July 10, 2018 18 comments

I love audiobooks, particularly The Great Courses series. They get my gears turning, and sometimes provide inspiration and fodder for ideas I explore here. In listening to Great Mythologies of the World, Chapter 2, I ran across an excellent statement that got me thinking on the role of myths in modern polytheism:

We tend to think of myths as springing fully formed into specific cultures, and most of us think of the ancient Greek myths, as well, Greek. But the Greeks drew heavily from their predecessors and neighbors just as later cultures, especially the Romans, would draw from them. Because of this it is best to think of mythologies as living entities, always on the move, shapeshifting as they pass from culture to culture.

This last sentence is especially important in the context of modern polytheism. It is not enough that we have good translations of our sources for the religions we are reviving. We need new myths to carry us, and those who come after us, forward. We can build on what is there, and I firmly believe we should. The Greeks certainly did not wrap up writing myths after Homer, Hesiod, or Orpheus wrote. There is no reason for us to, either.

What I am proposing is both incredibly powerful and dangerous. Powerful, because we are making deep ties with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and likely tying these myths right into where we live as every ancient polytheist culture and tribe did. It is also incredibly dangerous because it can lead people and communities straight into territory where power playing, delusions, lies, and aggrandizement can wrench myth-making from its holy roots.

I firmly believe that consciously engaging in and acknowledging the making of myths is part and parcel of the future of polytheist religions. We know from following various Holy Powers and Their stories through history that sometimes They accrue stories through a wide variety of ways. Sometimes it is because They tell a poet to write down their stories. Other times a writer collects Their stories into a book. Other times They gain Their stories through absorbing or syncretizing with other Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits, and/or each Others’ stories. Any time someone says “I had x encounter with y God and this is what happened” they are engaging in living myth-making. We should not shy away from any of these. We need to actively embrace all of these ways of engaging with, and developing our myths with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

How do we embrace it? We engage in direct experience of the Holy Powers. We write down ours and others’ experiences. We embrace new experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that are rooted in our communities, what lore we can trust, and engage the informed discernment available to us in our communities. We meet our Holy Powers where we are, and we go on pilgrimages when we are called. We involve our Holy Powers in our everyday lives, and acknowledge and thank and note when They come through for us, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. To do this, we need to develop better language across the board for doing that. To do this, we need to develop good discernment based in our communities, and not leave that responsibility up to academics unconnected to our communities. We need to be proactive in working to develop standards within our communities for what is accepted and what is rejected to become part of the mythologies.

I use the word gnosis to describe personal experience of the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits. I do not tend to use the term UPG or Unverified Personal Gnosis that frequents reconstructionist circles because the term is often used dismissively or insultingly, and I have never seen its opposite, VPG or Verified Personal Gnosis, used in online conversation. There is plenty of writing on what UPG is and virtually nothing on what is VPG. PCPG, or Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis is a term I sometimes use to get it across to folks that many people, usually in separate communities, had similar experiences with a given Holy Power. A simple example of this is offering strawberries to Freya. It is something a lot of people have offered to Her well before seeing it written down, and it still surprises some folks who do run into their gnosis written down in books today. A year or two ago, either at MI Paganfest or ConVocation, I ran into a person who had no knowledge this was a generally-accepted understanding of Freya, and was shocked that people around her were nodding their heads and saying “Sounds right.”

My dear friend and Brother Jim Stovall uses a phrase that I hope is on the mind and lips of everyone interested in developing the mythology and our relationships with the Holy Powers: spiritual accounting. He laid out the idea of spiritual accounting in an episode of the Jaguar and the Owl. Jim likens spiritual accounting to a three-legged stool, with the first leg being what stories and myths are already present, and what source writings, archaeology, linguistics, mythology, anthropology, and other sciences has to tell us. The second leg is divination. The third leg is experience accounting. He has gone so far as to set up an Excel spreadsheet of experiences he has had with given Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits for how reliable They are, what was asked, and what resulted. His discernment accounts for the understanding that spirits do lie, and we may misinterpret the meaning of a message, or it may be more or less deep than we understand it to be.

If we are to have spiritual accounting for our living mythology, then our first leg needs to first be grounded in what we do know. We need to understand what it is the lore, archaeology, and other academic fields we have available to us have to say, and what the limits of those fields are. We also need a solid foundation in our religion(s) and tradition(s) as they exist. With a basis in what has come before and is now, we can be discerning about what becomes part of the corpus of the myths we carry into the future.

The second leg, divination, requires expertise in the work. It requires the willingness to understand we may not have understood or reified our experiences accurately. A given experience may have just been for us. A given experience may need context we do not have yet, or inspiration for a poet, or another experience to tie it into the mythologies we have before us. Divination requires us to consider that what is most important is that we seek the answer and report what we find without flinching, whether it confirms or denies the entry of experiences into the corpus of myths.

The third leg, experience accounting, is to be honest, truthful, and unflinching in our assessment of our signal clarity with the Holy Powers. It is to be clear in what our understanding was at the time a message was received, how it was understood, and how it was accounted for. It is to engage in active discernment with the Holy Powers we worship, and realize that sometimes information is given to us not because it may be completely truthful, but useful. It is not as if our Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, or vaettir are not given to subterfuge, lying, misleading, or misdirection. These are part of powerful mythologies, such as the Rescue of Idunna or Thor’s battle of riddles and wits with Alsvin. The point of experience accounting is to see where pitfalls in our communications lie, to see where the Holy Powers may not be honest or forthright with us, and to understand that what we experience and/or receive may give us many windows to understand what does become part of the corpus of myths.

When I use a term like corpus of myths, the image of a great weathered book might sping to mind. That belies the understanding that, until relatively recently in time, most understood their myths orally. It is not my intent that only the written word becomes part of a corpus of myths. Some parts of myths and the practices that come from them should never be written down, such as a myth involved in a secret initiation. Some parts may be useful to write down, as with the previous example, so that those who qualify for an initiation have to know the right phrase, deeper meaning of a piece of mythology, and/or have taken in a key lesson from a myth before approaching to be initiated. Some parts of myths should be as accessible as possible, such as Creation Stories, stories of the Gods, Ancestors, heroes, spirits, etc. that give insight into Them, lessons for us, and/or how we are to relate to Them.

Developing myths, even ones that seem to clash with each other or with the previous sources, may be seen in terms of how mythologies have unfolded in living polytheist cultures. There are many Creation Stories out there, and having more than one Creator God or Goddess has never fazed me. I have space for Odin and Ptah among the Creator Gods. I have space for the four Creation Stories of Kemet and the Creation Story detailed in the Völuspá. I also recognize in the same blow that I am dealing with stories delivered through a variety of hands. Rather than seeing many Creation Stories as wrong, or only one right and the rest mistaken, I see each Story expressing its truth, its understanding, its worldview of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

None of the stories as academia has handed them to us have anything to do with the construction of our religions. We have had to do that ourselves. Academics not of our communities are first and foremost concerned with academia and what each story tells us, has to say, and informs us of, what each story may hint at, and where the limits are in relation to their field of study. What differs us significantly here is that we seek to understand cosmogeny and cosmology so we may understand and live well within the worldview given to us by the cosmogeny and cosmology. Through understanding that worldview well we seek to live in right relationship our Holy Powers.

Developing myths is a process of developing theology. Myths provides the basis to understanding what our Gods are, what They do, Their place in the cosmos, our relationships to and with Them, and what offerings may be accepted by Them. Myths tell us who are Ancestors are, who and what we relate to as Ancestors, what our place as mortal Beings are in the cosmos, what offerings the Ancestors may accept, and what our relationships with Them should look like. Myths shows to us who the spirits are, what our relationships with Them are, Their varied places in the cosmos, what our relationships are, and what offerings They may accept. Again, mythology is not just the Creation Stories.

Myths are found as much in small things as great. The small myths may detail what offerings a God likes, and perhaps why. Stories written down, stories passed down, folklore, and personal experiences all may be part of mythology. A myth may be entirely wrapped up with a locale, such as Dionysus Laphystius with Mount Laphystus in Bœotia. Likewise, a part of mythology may relate to a Holy Power in respect to functions the God has dominion over or functions with/in, such as Lenœus, a name of Dionysus relating to His dominion over and function with the wine press.

For those identifying Athena as a Goddess of a war college like West Point or Athena as being a Goddess of libraries, this too is part of developing a God’s mythology. Where we find our Holy Powers and why, building up not only correspondences but understandings as to why a given Holy Power may look at a place as holy or one They have affinity for, places our understanding of our Holy Powers not only in the past, but in the immediate, the now. Looking for our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in our modern landscapes is resacralizing our world, providing points of contact between ourselves and the Holy Powers. It also provides us unique opportunities to connect with Them in was our Ancestors may not have.

Shining Lakes Grove, an ADF grove, shows this work in practice quite clearly in their worship of Ana, the name they were given by the Goddess that is the Huron River in Ann Arbor, MI. Per their work within An Bruane they developed links with the Gods particular to their Grove and within the land they work and worship on. Were I to begin work with Ana, I would likely refer to their work and ask them questions on how to develop a good relationship with Her. After all, they have been doing this work well over twenty years. Likewise, they have developed a unique relationship with the land spirits and the Native American Gods that have called this land home.

In my recent post, Twice-Born, PSVL said:

Excellent work here! I love the series of Goddesses in the middle…that really adds a lot to this myth.

It was never my intention to add anything to the myth. I was inspired by the God to write a poem for Him telling His story. Yet, here I was adding to His myths. Every poem can build up the layers of meaning and understanding around a Holy Power, put new light to the old stories, and bring new stories into being. Writing mythology, whether through prose or poetry, is an act of co-creation with the Holy Powers. Far better for us to enter into this powerful and sacred relationship with care and clarity than to deny the connection this work forges between us and the Holy Powers.

Whether in brief or at length, each story written, each story told, each poem written, each poem spoken, each song sung, each one made for Them all build up our relationships with the Holy Powers. To be sure, not every bit of writing, poetry, or song is meant to build up myths, but all potentially may. We cannot leave our corpus of myths to the past or that is all we will engage with or understand.

Let us teach the myths that are the foundations of our religions and our communities in those conscious and sacred ways. Let us work to develop our myths with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in sacred ways, with care and devotion. Let us work to teach all of our myths consciously and thoughtfully, in sacred ways that honor the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, that bring us, individually and communally, into sacred and good relationships with Them.

On Ritual Praxis -Divination

July 1, 2018 1 comment

Before digging into hearth cultus it occured to me that writing on divination first would be ideal. Given how often I referenced its use in previous posts and how much it is coming up in the hearth cultus section as I write it, divination needs some exploration. This post will dig into what divination is, divination’s place in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition, some simple methods of how to perform it, and how to put divination into practice.

Divination is a form of active engagement, of ongoing conversations and development of relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It is how we come to know the will of the Holy Powers in a given matter, how we affirm whether an offering is acceptable or not, and how we should proceed at times in our lives. In this, we are not altogether different from the ancient cultures we relate to.

The way that modern divination is done spans a gamut of arts and techniques, among them sortilege, omens, dreams, trance states, meditation, and the use of books, poems, and songs. Again, as with ancient polytheist cultures, we are not so different here. Ancient polytheist cultures engaged in all of these things and more, including some divination methods our modern societies would find illegal.

What information we have indicates that, according to Tacitus, ancient German cultures had many ways of divining, including using twigs and/or strips of wood marked with signs, cups and dice, and divination by omens such as how a sacred horse raced. Ancient Icelandic cultures would have used what was called a blotspann or sacrifice chip among their forms of divination. Scholars are uncertain as to whether this indicates that either ancient German or Icelandic cultures used Runes in divination. For at least the ancient Icelandics there was also spá, a form of ritual prophesy. It is unknown if Tacitus’ sources point to spá being performed by women in ancient German society, though in both cultures women were renowned for their arts of prophecy and magic. Dr. Jackson Crawford gives an excellent, brief overview of this here.

Ancient cultures valued divination for the same reason we do, and performed them for the same reasons. Whether or not our modern divination methods match theirs, what I believe to be more important is that it works. In this, I set aside whether or not reading the Runes is historically attested. What matters for my Kindred and I is that it works. Likewise, tarot may have started as a card game but the use of games for divination is historically attested to, namely in terms of cups and dice as mentioned above. Again, in the end, we use what works.

The Place of Divination

A member of the Kindred asked a powerful question: if we have the Nornir who weave Wyrd, then what is the point of acting? If all things have their stories written in the web of Wyrd then isn’t doing one thing vs another pointless? My response was that we are weaving Wyrd along with all the other threads in the warp and weft of Wyrd together, including with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Divination directed towards the future gives us a look at how the threads are coming together, and gives us information that we might act in anticipation of, or in reaction to those threads. Divination directed to our Holy Powers invites conversation with Them, giving Them a way for us to hear Their response. Divination directed to ourselves gives us insight into how our Wyrd may be weaving, its direction, or how we can act to better the way we weave.

Rather than in a singular place, divination sits at many crossroads. In crafting a rite, divination can provide guidance on how it is to be done. Before a ritual, divination may guide us in the selection of offerings for a Holy Power. During a ritual, divination may instruct those gathered as to the acceptance of an offering. After a ritual, divination may guide those gathered to the next steps to deepen a relationship with the Holy Powers. On and on, divination provides ongoing conversation and interaction with the Holy Powers.

It is important to note we humans are not the only ones who do divination. It is noteworthy that in the lore our Gods also divine. In taking up divination a Rune reader is not only following Odin in His journey in taking up the Runes, but also in His work as a diviner. Likewise, we are also taking up following our human Ancestors who divined. Divination’s function, cosmologically, keys us into the active weavings of Wyrd. It indicates where we may move the threads in our power to affect change, and it may show us some of the effect that change can make.

Divination does not replace our need to know what is ours to know. Lore and archaeology are maps, not territories, but they can give us indications on what roads to take. It would be foolish to take a road trip without checking the maps, developing familiarity with the route, and planning for stops and needs along the way. Before one does a rite to a Holy Power, getting to know that Holy Power is paramount. Before one asks a question before a life event, possessing as much information as one can is paramount. When asking a question in divination phrasing the question carefully, and really getting to the heart of what you want and/or need to know is paramount.

The place of divination is to help us live our religions well. It helps us to know the will of the Holy Powers. When we are stuck, it can help us find a way forward, or what to do.

Divination engages us in active communication with our Holy Powers. Its place is to help us develop, keep, and further our orthodoxy and orthopraxy, as divination provides some of the places we can hear Them the clearest on these things. It helps us to do our best in weaving Wyrd together with our Holy Powers. Divination helps us to establish and keep right relationship with the Holy Powers. Divination’s place is at the crossroads of our lives, the events within our communities, and our relationships, communally and individually, with the Holy Powers. Divination’s places lies in all the between spaces where we can seek guidance if we just reach out and work with it.

Learning is Doing

There is an Estonian proverb: “The work will teach you how to do it.”

Divination is a form of work whose expertise cannot be taught out of a book. Divination is a profession of study and especially experience. As divination is a profession learned by doing, the best way to begin to do divination is to start small. Far better to start small, say with a Rune or card pulled a week, or starting with small-impact questions from friends before a big question comes.

In regards to Rune divination, knowing the Rune Poems, the Havamal, and what other lore and archaeology we have that tells us about Them is useful to have and know, but this is where scholarship leaves off and the work of religion begins. None of the Rune Poems, the Havamal, or our other sources of lore are religious texts and should not be treated as such. I keep referencing them as guideposts because that is what they are. How we relate to the Runes and divination, however much these are informed by the past, are a largely modern phenomenon and there is no problem in that.

It is controversial in many Heathen circles to suggest that folks read the Runes, to recommend modern Heathens’ books on working with the Runes and doing divination and/or magic with the Runes. As I mentioned above we have only suggestions in our sources that the ancient Germans read Runes for divination, and so anything we have extracted from this and other sources are based on people’s own exploration of the resources and with the Runes Themselves. The books I recommend are Runes: Theory and Practice by Galina Krasskova, and Taking Up the Runes by Diana Paxson. Both are books I have worked through and would recommend for those looking to get into working with the Runes.

No matter which divination system(s) one goes with, it takes time to develop competency and expertise. In time, even with relatively simple binary divination systems, i.e. yes/no, one can get a lot of information depending on how a question or series of questions are phrased. Certain divination systems may be able to be used at any point, whereas others may be restricted to certain settings for their usefulness, i.e. outdoor omens like the flight of birds. Certain divination systems may be tabooed for a diviner to be used only in certain rituals, or a divination tool may be dedicated to a single Holy Power, whereas other diviners may have free and open use for all the tools in their toolkit. What makes the difference is how each person walks their path, what taboos and tools become used during that walk, and if the diviner continues to develop their expertise.

Divination Systems Other than the Runes

Not everyone uses the Runes, and not everyone will find use in working with the Runes in divination. Going into all the ways one could learn to divine within a Heathen worldview would, I imagine, be a book unto itself. Rather than go through such an exhaustive process I am going to list three divination methods a Heathen might adopt that do not involve the Runes.

Dice

In reading Tacitus’ Germania it is noted that the Germans took their games of dice seriously, so much so that they would bet their freedom on the roll of a die. With contests such as horse-racing with sacred horses, and the nearby peoples actively practicing forms of astralogomancy, it is not a long stretch to imagine that dice could have held a similar place in German culture. In any case, simple dice divination can give quite a lot of information with the throw a single die.

Even ascribing simple meaning to the dice, such as odds being “Yes” and evens being “No” can yield a good deal of information if good questions are asked. Another method of dice-throwing may be having an individual meaning given to each number or pips on the die, such as a 6-sided die having the following:

1 = “Yes”

2 = “Unfavorable”

3 = “Neutral/Maybe”

4 = “Reconsider the subject/question”

5 = “Favorable”

6 = “No.”

It may be worth considering adopting a system besides the usual 1d6 and look at different dice, such as the 10-sided die in regards to representing the Nine Worlds. 0 could represent Yggdrasil Itself or Wyrd, with 1-9 representing each of the Nine Worlds. Questions would be asked, with relevant information coming out depending on which World, or if Yggdrasil/Wyrd is drawn, a second roll is made with the attributes of the World the die lands on being especially impactful or auspicious.

Dropping Stones

As with dice a great deal of information can be learned in a short amount of time by using dropping stones to divine. Tacitus’ Germania states that wood chips with “signs” marked on them were thrown onto a white cloth for divination. While this may work, one may also want to throw onto a printed image, such as a map of Yggdrasil or onto a cloth with words sewn, embroidered, or printed on it.

One method I have been taught that works well is a three stone divination which has a Yes stone, a No stone, and an indicator stone. These three stones are dropped onto bare dirt or onto a mat blessed for use in divination. It is simple, straightforward, and effective, and a great deal of information can be gained by being careful with a question, or series of questions.

Seeking an Omen

To seek an omen is to seek a phenomena of “Prophetic significance.” Seeking an omen has a long history with a lot of branching paths that can be taken. Among the long list of historical forms are looking at the flight of birds, astronomical events, disjointed chatter from a crowd forming a word or series of words or, as noted in Germania, the racing of sacred horses and noting the winner.

Of the ways we have explored so far, seeking an omen is the most subjective of them. As this is the case, seeking an omen needs to be specific enough that a sign can be accurately discerned. So, asking for an omen of a flight of birds may be far too broad, particularly if one has lots of birds in the area. If one is looking at the flight of birds then looking for a specific kind of bird associated with the God, Ancestor, or vaettr in question is ideal, and noting which way they are flying. While we could look at birds flying east as a good sign, as that is the direction of the rising sun, the meaning of each direction may depend on where one lives. If one lives near a body of water then a flock of specific birds flying towards or over those waters can carry different signficance than those flying towards. So, to an extent the usefulness of seeking an omen is dependent on how developed the symbol set one is working with, what lore one associates with a given sort of omen seeking, and how one integrates the knowledges one has about the subject of the omen, the object or being the omen is contingent on, and one’s expertise at discerning whether or not an omen has occured. As with the previous divination skills, I recommend starting small and working up to larger questions.

Ways to Divine with the Runes

If you are going to work with the Runes for divination then get to know as much about Them as possible. Do your research; read the Rune Poems, look at what the archaeology and lore in general has to say on Them. Look at what modern Runeworkers and diviners say about working with the Runes, and compare your understanding to theirs. It is important to point out that not every Northern Tradition Pagan or Heathen will work with the Runes, and not every one who does Runework does so to divine. The examples I have laid out here are just some of the ways in which the Runes can convey information or divination can be done with Them.

Drawing a Rune

Perhaps the simplest way to divine is drawing a single Rune out of a bag in response to a question, and exploring the answer with the knowledge and experience one has with that Rune. This method is deceptively simple. After all, the Runes represent and are a sound, a letter, and an extended meaning to the ancient Heathen cultures that They com from. There is a deep well of information that can be gathered out of a single Rune being drawn in response to a question if the person has the knowledge and understanding to get it and use it.

Drawing or dropping a series of Runes

This would be placing one or many Runes into a preset pattern with designated meanings. One method I have used is a simple North/South reading style, with the extreme North being representative of Niflheim and negative/slowing/death, while the South being representative of Muspelheim and positive/quickening/life. This is because the further North you go the colder it is, the colder it is the higher your chance of dying. The southlands of many of the ancient Heathen cultures were places where, even in the harsher climes, it was easier to grow food and raise animals. There are many nuances I found with this divination system, some of which comes from finding Runes associated with the opposite element in the two poles, or thinking on what a given Rune might mean if it is in the North vs the South.

Dropping Sticks

This takes its cue right from Germania. The method may be either an appropriate number of sticks are marked with the Runes and dropped on a white sheet to see which turn up, or unmarked sticks are dropped on a white mat and it is seen if any Runes are seen in their pattern. Either way, the effect is rather random and the answer may be quite direct or hidden, depending on if the Runes are clear or not.

Seeking a Rune Omen

This method of divination engages with the Runes directly. Generally, when I am looking for a Rune omen I will make a small prayer to Runatýr (Odin’s heiti meaning God of the Runes) and the Runevaettir. Then, I do some cleansing work, and keep my eyes peeled for something that forms a Rune. Perhaps it will be a walk in the park and fallen branches form a Rune, or a fallen branch takes on the form of Fehu or Ansuz, both of which have happened to me when I was seeking an omen.

As with seeking an omen in general, this is more intuitive and requires you to know what you are looking for. Something that may be useful for discernment is asking the Runes to show you an omen three times. As with the previous example, the placement of the Rune, what the Rune is ‘made of’, i.e. branches, shadows, flight of animals, etc. may have its own part to play in your interpretation of the message.

For example: if I asked a question like “What is the next step?” and the shape of Uruz is the answer on the ground after I have picked up trash in a park, it may be strength is required in service to the goal or for the next step at hand. If the branch came from an oak tree, perhaps I need to seek out Thor and see if He has requests of me. If a birch tree, perhaps speak with or make offerings to Frigga. The oak may also mean finding strength in deep roots of service with community, or the birch may mean that service to those healing long term. Again, as before, context and one’s knowledge of the Runes, and the mediums the Runes come in, can profoundly affect the interpretation of the omen. Double checking the omen with other forms of divination would not hurt, particuarly if you are unsure.

Engaging in Divination

Since divination is an engaged conversation between the Holy Powers and us, I approach each divination session as I do ritual. This ritual discipline orders your internal headspace, orienting it towards the divination at hand, centering it as an engagement with the Holy Powers, and entering into a sacred headspace. This is the format I will generally follow:

Step 1: Cleanse the space and those present for the session.

Step 2: Make prayers to the Holy Powers inviting Them to engage in conversation.

Step 3: Lay down offerings to the Holy Powers.

Step 4: Do the divination.

Step 5: Make prayers of thanks for the attention of the Holy Powers and make any additional prayers and offerings as needed.

A Sample Rune Divination Ritual

This ritual is designed for a one-on-one divination rite, and should be able to be formatted to whatever the situation calls for, whether it is a group ritual or at the end of a rite to see if an offering was accepted. As with other rituals, I will modify as the Holy Powers and venue require. If I am doing divination in an open space where fires are unresitricted, I will likely work with fire to cleanse. Where fires are restricted I may work with water, song, and/or Runes to cleanse a space.

I begin by making the Fire Prayer before I light a candle: “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail to Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Ves ðu heil Eldest Ancestor!”

I then pass the candle flame over the divination area, saying “Thank you for cleansing this space, Holy One.” I repeat this prayer for myself, the client, and over the divination tool(s) and any sacred items present. Generally I pass the flame three times in a clockwise circle over whatever it is I am cleansing.

I will then make offerings appropriate to the Holy Powers present. In the case of a Rune reading I generally make offerings of whiskey, vodka, and/or clean water. Other offerings I have made include food, coffee, and mugwort.

I then make prayers to the Holy Powers of the divination ritual. If it is a Rune divination session I pray to Runatýr and the Runevaettir:

“Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ancestors all! Hail to the Holy Ones! Hail to the Holy Ones! Hail to the Holy Ones!” I will usually repeat “Hail to the Holy Ones!” as a mantra in 3s, 6s, or 9s, until I am in a semi-trance or full trance headspace.

Then I will address the Holy Powers and ask Them for me to divine well. “Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Help me to know well, to speak clearly and true!”

Even if the client has already made the question known to me I still ask them to repeat it, usually three times. This serves two functions. One, is if the question needs clarification or refinement we can do it before the question is ‘locked in’. Two, is that the querant understands the question they are asking and is accepting responsibility for the answer.

I will then engage in divination itself and as the answers come up and as need arises I may repreat the steps above to reestablish good headspace, the sacred space, the making of new offerings, and the introduction of new questions.

Once the divination session is over then prayers are made the Holy Powers asked to be present. In this case:

“Thank You Runatýr! Thank You Runevaettir! Thank you for providing us [answers/wisdom/insight/etc.]! Hail Ancestors! Hail to the Holy Ones! Thank You for being present, for helping us to find [answers/wisdom/insight/etc.]! Ves ðu heil!”

The Sacred space and all people and items within it are cleansed with the fire of the candle. “Thank you, Eldest Ancestor, for cleansing us within and without. Thank You to the Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Thank You Loki! Thank You Glut! Thank You Logi! Thank You Surt! Thank You Sinmora! Ves ðu heil!”

I will then make prayers to the assembled Holy Powers otherwise, saying “Thank You Runatýr! Thank You Runevaettir! Thank You Disir! Thank you Väter! Thank You Ancestors all! Thank You Holy Ones! Thank You for this time to divine, to know Your messages, to experience Your wisdom. We make these offerings in Gebo!” Then the offerings are usually taken to a holy tree representing Yggdrasil, and laid down there.

Divination is Change in Action

Divination is change in action because divination opens ourselves, and our communities to Wyrd’s weaving. It is direct engagement with weaving Wyrd itself. We can come into better or worse alignment in right relationship with our Holy Powers. Done well, engaging in divination enters us into a better co-creation of Wyrd, of ties of hamingja with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

Divination is engagement with our Holy Powers. Just by engaging in it divination will cause change. Incorporating the results of divination session, whether a ritual unto itself or as part of a ritual, requires us to be open to change and challenge. More to the point, it reqires us to be committed to action in accordance with the message divination gives us. This can be quite challenging, especially with a divination result that upends one’s life. This can also be quite easy, especially if good relationship with the Gods is consistently being sought and maintained. The change could be something minor, but important, such as confirming the wine you intuited the Gods might like is actually deeply appreciated. From that comes change: you trust your intuition and dialogue with the Gods deeper, and can gain a more refined sense of our intuition in this way over time and experience with this small, disciplined work. The change coul be something major, such as undertaking an initiation, sacred journey, or letting go of a dream you had your heart set on seeing through.

Divination is part and parcel of ongoing dialogue with the Holy Powers. It has the power to utterly change how our rituals are structured, how we engages with the Holy Powers, our relationships with one another, and how we live in this world. It has the power to bring insight and wisdom if done well, and if done poorly, a lack of good connection to the Holy Powers and confusion where there should be clarity. Even for seemingly minor things, divination is a holy rite of engagement and needs to be respected for the powerful place it holds not only in our own religions, but for anyone of any religion that seeks it.

As with worship, divination is understood and expressed in doing it well. As with worship, the work of divination is in doing it. As written previously: “Divination is done to establish and/or confirm that rituals, offerings, and so on are done well in accordance with the Holy Powers.” With worship, divination is the foundation of polytheism. It informs how we may live in good reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It is how the foundation of worship may be formed and maintained, in what ways it grows and changes, and what we do to establish and maintain right relationship with the Holy Powers.

With this understanding of worship and divination we can now turn to hearth culture.

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