Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Cart carries blessed seed and soil
to whoever’s home it visits
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Bounty bring virility to Vanaheim
shared selflessly with kith and kin
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Hands have graced our gardens
through Your reach, the roots grow deep
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Body rides upon the roads;
Your veiled visage a holy Mystery
Hail Holy Vanir of Fertile Fields
Whose Ways wend to beauty and blessings,
let all live with You in good Gebo
The loamy earth that welcomes the seed
The black soil that bursts with life
The tree who overgrows the bones
The ground who eats the bodies
The inundated ground that bears the rice
The sandy ground that bears the spears
The grove where the deer mate
The fields where their young are born
The ever-breathing forests
The ever-teeming swamps
The ever-eating earth
The ever-giving earth
All these things You are
Hail to you, O Nerthus!
They sank down into the waters
Held down by iron grips
A sacrifice for seeing Your holy Face
They sank down into the bog
Their blood reddening the waters
A sacrifice for keeping the community clean
They were offered to You
O Holy Nerthus
That the ways between us
May be kept well
Inspired by Galina Krasskova’s Agon dedicated to Gefjon, I wrote these two poems.
A Hailing Prayer to Gefjon
Hail to Gefjon, Far-seeing Goddess!
Hail to Gefjon, Who knows Her own Worth!
Hail to Gefjon, Who shapes liche and hame!
Hail to Gefjon, Who drives hard Her Oxen!
Hail to Gefjon, Who plowed and claimed Zealand!
Hail to Gefjon, Who claims Her own pleasure!
Hail to Gefjon, whose halls house the virgins!
Hail to Gefjon, Ásynja!
Hail to Gefjon, Mother of Jotnar!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Consort is Skjöldr!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Plow is Mighty!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Courses are Swift!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Lands are Fertile!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Ways are Wise!
Land-finding Prayer to Gefjon
We seek, we seek land of our own
Growing green and good
We ask Gefjon to lend us your aid
So we may settle soon!
We ask for land for orchards
We ask for land for grain
We ask for land for goat, hive, and lamb
Whose harvests shall be great!
We seek, we seek a place to build
A hof to call our own
Where we can raise a horn to You
Within our hallowed home!
The road rushes past
My cigar glows in my hand
The rainvaettir come down, a billion upon billion rattling dancers
The road, the car, all full of the sound of Their feet
The road rushes past and I see it
The first lightning bolt of the season here
Arc through the sky, behind the clouds
A silhouetted dancer
Whose drumming partner pounds and the sky shakes
Tendrils of smoke out the window and up to you all
The Thunderbird People
The Jotuns of storms
The Spirit of Storms
I call to you and say your names as Midgard fills with stomps with billions of feet
As the skies split with the fury of dancers and beating of wings
As the wind shakes and the clouds let loose the crowds
As the drumming thunderers crash and clash
The Worlds are alive and here
The Worlds are alive and there
and I am thankful to bear witness
Something I have not done in a very long time is sat down to coffee with my Ancestors and Gods. I did it tonight/this morning, after taking care of the offerings and laying out fresh ones otherwise, all water, except for the stick of incense I left at the altars for the Ancestors, for the Dead and for the Gods.
I had two stools that belonged to people who are family to me, gifted to me before they took off for California. One stool holds a Native American head carved into an arm-sized log that I give offerings to as representative of some of the Native Ancestors in the ways I have been brought into. A while back I had used the other stool as part of an Ancestor elevation working, but it has sat in a corner since. Tonight, I brought up some coffee my wife had brewed earlier in the day. At first, I was going to sit on the floor at the Ancestor altar. I couldn’t see many of Them from down there, and besides, They wanted to see me too. So I dusted off the old stool, and sat at the Ancestor altar, lighting the candles in Ask and Embla’s tree candle-holders.
At first it was just…quiet, meditative even, serving Them coffee then myself. I usually drink my coffee with non-dairy sweetener like Coffee Mate or something like that, but it didn’t seem right in this context. So, I sat and drank my black coffee, and talked with the Ancestors about the week I’d been having, thanking Them for Their support, that kind of thing. Mostly it was quiet, just being in one another’s Presence. When it was over, and I thanked Them for coffee with me, I blew out the candles, and later lit some incense. I walked away from Their altar with a sense of peace and being cared for.
My experience with the Gods was similar, but even more silence, being quite brief with my end of talking, mostly thanking Them for Their Presence and blessings on my family, and helping me through the last week. It was mostly quiet, and considering the Work I’ve been doing for Them of late, I was okay with that. I left Their altar, after lighting incense for Them, with a sense of peace, but it…was deep. More than a sense of peace, really. A sense of rightness, even with all the challenges I and my family are facing right now.
I got the message to clean my cups out after each time with the Ancestors then Gods, and returned the cup to the altar, my cup’s holder facing me, and Theirs to Them. It looks like both sets of Holy Powers want this to be a more regular thing, so here’s a cup to a new tradition I’ll be keeping. Thanks for the inspiration from a while back, Jim. It proved a powerful, simple connection, one that I really needed.
I have used the two terms Warrior Dead and Military Dead on and off, both here on this blog, and elsewhere. I felt that I needed to give some explanation, as the way I use these terms are not automatically interchangeable. Not everyone, Ancestor workers, spirit workers, or otherwise will agree with me, and that is fine. There are many I count as Warrior Dead that are not Military Dead at all. Not all the Military Dead are Warrior Dead. This does not mean that all our Military Dead who I do not count as Warrior Dead are somehow less.
For me, what makes the Warrior Dead and Military Dead different is this: a Warrior Dead has stood up in defense of their people and/or their ways, whether that sacrifice or stand is made on behalf of their tribe, religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc. They may have done so in spite of overwhelming odds, to safeguard a piece of their people or heritage. They may have given their life in service of their people, or their ways. Among the Warrior Dead I honor are the 4,500 Saxons who gave up their lives rather than convert to Christianity, and those who kept the sacred ways alive. Countless people not part of an army have risen to defend their people from oppression, genocide, invasion, hate, and privation.
Not all Military Dead are called to make such sacrifices. One of my grandfathers, when he passes, will have been in the military, and so I will honor him as part of the Military Dead. Yet, he will not have seen combat. He signed up, and so, would have been willing to place himself in harm’s way. I do not believe the only Military Dead worth honoring are those who have seen combat. As with my grandfather, one of my grandmothers has served in the Army in a noncombat role, she, as a secretary. Anyone willing to put their life in harm’s way for another deserves honor. Anyone willing to give up some of, if not all, of the best years of their life so another person does not have to, deserves honor. Whether one is a mail carrier, a secretary, a drill sergeant, a combat officer, or a medic, support staff or direct combatants, all deserve honor. All who are part of the Military Dead deserve our honor and our thanks.
I honor the Warrior and Military Dead together on a single shrine. Because of space constraints this is on a filing cabinet. On this shrine is Wepwawet, who I associate with the Warrior Dead. He is on the rightmost front part of the shrine. Standing before Him is a small ceramic cup (I think it was used for crème brule) which holds the whiskey I have in offering for all on the shrine. Beside it is a small mound of mugwort, and sometimes tobacco. In the center of the shrine is a ceramic container which contains the dirt from several veterans’ graves, which They granted to me with Their permission after I left offerings for Them and cleaned the dirt from Their plaques. It is something I try to do about once a month. To Their left is a pin I received at The Warrior Remembrance Ritual at ConVocation 2012, given to me by the ritual leader. I wear it sometimes when I serve the Military Dead; otherwise it stays on Their shrine. To the left of this is a US Armed Forces pin and a mirror from WWII. I was told the mirror had seen combat when I picked these up from an antique shop. Behind this is a muslin-wrapped figure whom I have given a lot of work to: Ramses II. Given he was a renowned warrior and his tomb had been disturbed, I have taken time doing spells and giving offerings for him. He has a small glass star at his head. The very front of the shrine has scraps of paper with the names of people I am giving offerings to, and prayers for.
Some of these Dead have responded in kind, and asked for me not only to pray for Them, but those They left behind. After all, this is a two-way street. We do not just look after the Dead. As the Lithuanian proverb goes, “The Dead are the protection of the living.” In honoring our Warrior and Military Dead, we offer Them a way into our lives, to walk with us again, and to share in our lives as much as our offerings. Our Gebo to Their sacrifices is to remember Them, to honor Them, and to keep Their memories.
So, I wrote this awhile back and completely blanked on posting it. Part 1 is here.
If there are outward ways of acknowledging the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that are commonly accepted, it then follows that an absence of these can be an indicator of one’s devotion to Them. In the case of a lack of offerings, a lack of hospitality may be seen. If certain prayers, rituals, ritual actions, dietary observances, etc., are expected by one’s culture, Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, then to go without those would also be lacking in hospitality, possibly breaking ritual taboos, and/or hurting the spiritual power of the person, and/or their group(s). Such an act may (and I imagine probably will) hurt one’s relationship with a God or Goddess, Ancestor(s), and/or spirits.
Even with the less human of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits I work with, starting here with baselines of “I do not know you, but I hope this offering is acceptable” at least showed I was making an effort to come to understand Them, even if They had me offer or do something (or in some cases nothing but open my ears) later on. I do what I can to meet the Beings who interact with me on Their own terms; it is respectful and Gebo in my regard to do so. In my experience, in turn, if They wish to have a relationship with me, They try as best as They can to use words, images, sounds, smells, concepts etc. as I can use and/or understand. It is entirely possible with some Beings that They may have a learning curve in kind to us as much as we to Them. Not all Gods are omniscient. Indeed, most of the Gods I have worshiped or interacted with are not omniscient. Sometimes They may well need you to talk to Them or interact with Them in some fashion for Them to know what is going on.
In the end we are navigating relationships, and to seek perfection here is counterproductive. If apologies or amends need to be made along the way, if these Gods, Ancestors, and spirits mean so much to us, we should be willing to meet Them if They are reasonable, and negotiate if not. We should also be willing to be flexible in our understanding of what is reasonable in kind; what may seem a hardship to us may have been expected on a regular basis by Them. If we can develop good relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, then surely we can develop ways to deepen these relationships while giving Gebo and remembering to allow Gebo to come to us in kind. Screwing up happens. Being a responsible person means owning up to one’s mistakes, and where possible, rectifying them.
I would say that a lot, if not all of these things apply to the Gods as guidelines even when the Gods, some Ancestors, and spirits are less human-focused, human-centric, or just plain not like humans at all. Respect, good offerings, hospitality, all of these are baseline in any relationship even if the attitudes and mores regarding what these things are change. I find this especially true if you are going into a place that is definitely a God, Ancestor, or spirit’s place, such as a sacred grove, a graveyard, a mountain, or the like. Hospitality is even more important when you are in another’s home or place.
The only way that I have found to get better at understanding what one should do in a relationship is to ask questions, and then to do it where one can, and bargain or accept one’s limitations and work at them, where one cannot. Even as a godatheow I generally still have the option of asking my Father for options, of negotiating in respect when I believe I am being asked too much. It is up to me to ask for these options, however, and I certainly don’t expect other people to be offered the same paths, options, or consequences (good or ill) as I am. However, for the work of good relationship building and engagement with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you do not need to be a spiritual specialist; you merely need to be open and dedicated to doing the work necessary to forge and keep these good relationships.
In the Northern Tradition the communities we are part of, allied to, and so on, share and build hamingja, group luck or power. If everyone is living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestor, spirits, and one another, we are doing well. If not, our hamingja suffers, and so will each person in turn for it. This puts taking responsibility to a different level, in that you are not only responsible to yourself, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, but to those around you. Even a solitary practitioner might have hamingja, since all but the most reclusive of hermits belong to a community of some kind.
This does not mean that ethical consideration for fellow humans stops at the question ‘who is in my in-crowd’, but those people do, generally speaking, carry more weight in one’s life. Practically as well as in many other ways, our families carry a great deal of weight even if we physically leave where our families live. The human communities we engage in, whether via friendship, association, fellowship, etc. all leave marks on our lives great and small. When someone in our personal communities asks for help we are more apt to give it, and vice versa. They are given more ethical consideration, in the end, because their impact and presence in our lives is much more immediate.
In much the same way, the Gods I have active engagement with are the Gods Whom I most care for in regards to my ethics. Do I care about treating the Gods I come across in a ritual well? Of course, and this links back to the earlier points about hospitality. That hospitality is informed by the Gods, Ancestors, and spirit I worship and engage with on a daily basis. For daily considerations and many, if not most of my life choices the Gods I am closest to and worship are the Gods Whose relationships matter most to me, my family, and my communities. So, Their impact and Presence in my life has more pull on it. The same with Ancestors and spirits.
I care about the Earth as a whole. The landvaettir of any place I visit or pass through deserve respect, if not veneration and worship. However, relating to the whole world is damned near impossible for me. I have never been to a desert, for instance. I can relate to it in a kind of detached way, see it as valuable, and believe they should be protected, that the deserts have landvaettir as well, but it is quite another thing to know the desert(s) and Their spirits. I can imagine or be shown how beautiful the deserts can be…from a camera, but to go there and experience it is wholly different. My ethical engagement, then, is limited with the desert and associated spirits as compared to my local landvaettir.
Polytheist ethics and ethical consideration extends to the communities we are part of, to the living, to the Dead, the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, communities, and the ecosystems in which one lives, among many other places. These ethics also extend into the larger world, in places I may never visit. I use less oil when and where I can because I acknowledge the Earth as a living Being. As much as I can, I try to make my negative impact upon this world, through teaching, purchasing, and any way I can find, to be reduced. No decision is made in isolation or without impact upon another. Even if one is entirely reclusive, there are still the landvaettir and one’s local ecosystem to consider in one’s choices. The local landvaettir may include the Dead who live in the soil the landvaettir are made of, the natives of the land we live on now. It may be that the two are totally separate Beings and need separate consideration. I can think of no place where we humans are not sitting, standing, and living on the bones of those who came before us. In this recognition respect and actions that back up that respect go hand in hand.
These ethical considerations need not be jarringly huge, either. I pray to the landvaettir and make offerings before I set up my tent at Michigan Paganfest, where I have helped tend the Sacred Fire the last three years. I pay this respect to the landvaettir because it is not my land.
Then again, an ethical consideration may be jarringly huge in its impact, in the mindset that follows from it, and in the way one lives their life. Even though our modern notions of property ownership may say otherwise, if I own land, even so it will not be my land. It cannot be; the land is Its Own. I may be allowed to live on it, my family, and generations after may be allowed to live on it, but the land is Its Own, and we humans may be part of It, or part of the landvaettir some day but we are not It Itself. I may partner with the land, treat it well, till it, harvest from it, raise animals on it, bury my dead in it, and feel close to It, but I am not the land. This does not mean I do not belong to the land, but that the land does not belong to me. It was here before I was, and will be long after I am dead. I can no more outright own It than I can own Jörð.
When we light the Sacred Fire there are prayers and offerings made to Fire Itself, to the Gods of Fire, to the spirits of Fire, to the wood, to the landvaettir, Ancestors, and other spirits. The Gods, Ancestors, and spirits all deserve our respect, especially the Fire Itself since the Sacred Fire is the heart of the festival for three days it is on. We keep it day and night; to do otherwise is to extinguish the heart of the festival, and to insult the Fire, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits we have asked to be with us in Its heat and light, to sit with us by it and to speak with us when They will. To extinguish It on purpose before it is time is to break our word that we will do all we can to keep It lit throughout the weekend. To throw litter in It is to treat the Sacred Fire as a garbage disposal, which is inhospitable to the communities the Fire represents, and inhospitable to the Fire Itself. To speak disrespectfully of the Fire is an insult to It and the community whose Fire It keeps as we keep It. To treat the heart of the festival, the spirit of Fire Itself, the particular Fire spirit that is the Fire with disrespect, is insulting to the Fire Itself, to each person connected to the Fire, to those who form the community that the Fire is the heart of, and to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and so on that have been called by and to the Sacred Fire. As with people, Fire too can be worked with when insulted, and amends can be made, but it is far easier and more respectful to not have to rectify insults and problems in the first place.
I will continue these thoughts on Ethics and Animism in Polytheism in Part 3.
I have been avoiding this blog. Of late, I have been wracked by difficulties, namely financial pressures and depression and anger, cycling states, resulting from it. I am a diabetic who, on a pretty small budget to begin with, has had to shuck out $243 per vial of insulin to get the stuff I need to live. This eats about half a paycheck, and this happens at least once a month. I do not like to write in this headspace, not for this blog, at the least. A good chunk of my early poetry as a teenager was written in stages of anger and depression, similar in cycles to what I am going through right now. I do not like to be vulnerable like this. I don’t. This is the stuff I keep pretty tight to the chest. This is the stuff that I tend to keep even from close friends because of some misguided notion that I am keeping my problems off of people.
I will admit, right now my problems seem pretty insurmountable with anything other than the passage of time. I have made my prayers, and I will keep making them. I will smoke my personal sacred pipe, and keep on smoking when I am in the headspace where I can do so in respect and appreciation of the sacred act. I I have made offerings with my family and will continue to make them. Still, I feel gnawing anxiety, sometimes panic when I think about the $20,000 hospital bill waiting to breathe down my neck that my hospital has gracefully kept at bay for the time being. Then there’s the collection letter, the first one I have ever received, that arrived in the mail because the physicians go through someone else other than the main hospital billing department. Turns out the help the hospital offered did not include the physicians and I found myself on the other end of a phone begging to pay half the bill in two months time. Here’s hoping it won’t squelch my credit score.
I write this not as some kind of pity-party, but because when I came back to this blog a few years ago after a hiatus, I wanted to present a more full image of myself, my religious life, and my journey as a shaman, priest, polytheist, father, and lover. My life is rather difficult right now. I want to be pretty damned clear: sometimes the religious aspect of my life is a great balm and comfort for these trying times, and sometimes it is a struggle to even work up the desire to do a meal prayer. Anger and depression coupled with anxieties about finance do that. It eats, gnaws at you. When your doctor tells you everything is going to be okay, and hugs you and you want to cry, this person you see maybe once a month, you know things are rough. Our son and his mother help quite a bit, both with keeping my spirits up, and keeping the prayers and offerings. I cannot do this alone. This is a tribal religion. If this were all on me I am unsure I could do it, even without that aspect of it there, given the challenges before us. The beautiful thing about being in a tribal religion though, is that you don’t need to do it all. You can be weak, and that is okay. In letting yourself be weak you can allow others to be strong. For you, if no one else.
I mentioned sometime back that the shrines/altars I care for alone are the shrine for the Dead, the shrine for the Warrior Dead, and Rùnatýr and the Runevaettir’s altar. All the other ones Sylverleaf and our son take care of together with me. This does not mean I should not or do not take care of the other altars and shrines, but when I am this low sometimes it is all I can do to ask for help with the altars and shrines. Again, taking strength from them and them helping me has kept me pretty motivated and keeping on keeping on with the offerings and prayers. Occasionally I will take some time and talk, especially with the Ancestors, Odin included, and talk about my situation, how I am feeling, and ask for Their help.
It’s funny, in writing a post so in-the-moment how things can move forward. I started writing this 8-27-2014, and then,I got the call the next day: I finally qualified for Medicaid. My financial problems are far from over, but an important step in making sure we aren’t hurting for money all the time has finally, finally, been reached. I have been trying to get this leg of the journey done since January. It took months and months, and my first case manager did not get back with me or the hospital at all. The hospital got so pissed at this person and the lack of communication from DHS that they said ‘fuck it’ to my bills in February. I was denied twice before this ruling, despite being told over and over I qualified. While it is still up in the air whether Medicaid will help me with the April’s $20,000 bill, going forward I won’t have to panic if I need to head into the hospital. I will be able to afford my life-preserving meds now. I will be able to see the doctor, and get the physical I need so that I can qualify for a better job, if not get into a career. I will be making offerings and prayers of thanks to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
This does not mean that the Gods somehow favor me over other people, even if my prayers have been answered. Piety does not equal prosperity.
I am poor. If it weren’t for my folks there is no way my family or I would be in anything like a stable living situation. I’m saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and were we completely on our own we would be struggling to pay rent, let alone put food on the table. I am the subject of ridicule when people write derisive works of people living with their parents till they’re in their late 20s and 30s. This, despite going to college while working, and taking on an inordinate amount of debt with nothing to show for it. At the moment the only options are to a) scramble around trying to save enough to survive on and hope some breakthrough comes our way, or b) head back to college to be saddled with yet more debt in the hopes of making a career. I am working on the latter, going for my MA in Counseling.
Many of the people that I look to as friends, colleagues, and elders have been or are poor. There should be no shame in being poor, but there is; a deep amount of it. I have no delusions of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire; my family has been blue collar and/or union jobs for quite a while. Everyone except my generation, and some of the last one, has worked the land since they were young. Both sides of my family raised chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, and herbs. This is the kind of life I am looking to go back to. I see no viable future in the rat race, no good coming of indulging in the idea that those who have the most toys at death win. I want to leave something lasting; odal land to my people, whether it is Sylverleaf, our son, or our community.
When I think of getting our own home, our own land, I think of the Hávamál, line 36 and 37 in the Olive Bray translation edited by D.L. Ashliman:
One’s own house is best, though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats and a bark-thatched hut
’tis better than craving a boon.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
each man is master at home;
with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
his meat at every meal.
Piety does not equal prosperity, yet this also does not mean that the Gods will not bless our lives, or that it is hubris to recognize those blessings. Rather, it is hubris to ignore the blessings They give, leave it unmarked, without thanks. I have held on to some very good mead for awhile now, given as a gift to me, and it may be time to offer and share it.
I’m not shouting from the rooftops going “Woohoo! We’re great!” because we’re not. Getting Medicaid and being able to care for my chronic health conditions are small steps in a series of steps to living on our own, raising our family, and bringing together the life we wish to have. There are still financial challenges ahead, mercifully one of them not being the medication I need to live or doctor visits to help keep me healthy. We are moving forward together and celebrating this victory. We will keep pushing forward to the next one, reaching for our goals. We are getting there.
For anyone who has offered prayers, kind words, an open ear and mind, or wisdom in all of this, thank you. Thank you for helping us get through one more leg of our journey. Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and individuals who all have supported us in these hard times. Thank you for continuing to support us, and help us wherever you can. Thank you.