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.
Again, I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this. This prayer is for Polydeukion, and it was first said before His bust in the Kelsey Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the start of the Festival of the Trophimoi and Treiskouroi at PSVL’s request.
Hero of Herodes, Herodes’ Son,
Youthful One, Watcher of the Baths,
Overseer of Games
Whose eyes shine in blessings,
Whose body is strength and vigor
Whose hands and speech do honor unto the Gods’
Oh Roman Knight!
Let us never forget the Wisdom of Youth.
Let us remember the brightness of intellect is kindled and tended well in the soul, the heart, and the mind of every youth.
I want to thank P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for asking me to write this and the prayer that is forthcoming for Polydeukion. While I do not actively worship either of these Holy Powers as of yet, it has given me a new window into how we can cross between our religious communities, come to understand one another’s Gods, Heroes, Ancestors, and spirits, and give good honor to Them and one another. This, this is an aspect of interfaith/intrafaith work that any polytheist can come to. Thank you Sannion, for helping to inspire this exchange! I invite any of my readers who wish to do this as well, especially if you wish to share devotional cycles with one another, even if we are coming at this from completely different pantheons, to step through the door and share your devotion with me and I with you. If you do, please, let me know taboos, offerings, and so on that is important to living in good Gebo with your God(s), Heroes, Ancestors, and/or spirits so I do not give offense in offering.
Most-loved of Hadrian,
Whose lips sealed love in an Emperor,
Whose arms took up his care,
Whose feet walked in holiness,
Whose life is exulted in stone and verse,
Whose body sank into Sacred Waters,
Whose soul was lifted in holiness
O Antinous, hear my prayer,
Who is and lives in the House of Osiris
Whose body is clad in green and life
Whose eyes see the Dead,
Whose lips speak love and comfort to the Dead,
Whose arms soothe the Dead,
Whose feet are planted deep in the womb of the World,
May the Dead who loved, who lost, who suffered
May the Dead who were denied their love and joy and lust,
May all find comfort before You in Your Home,
O holy Antinous!
In thinking on the last post and the centers Nicholas Haney brought up in God-centric?, is that one of the centers that tends to get left by the wayside in the larger polytheist and Pagan blogs is family, and in specific how we raise our kids in our religions. It is something that has been on mind for a while. There’s a host of questions I will tackle here that I hope will generate deeper dialogue in the Pagan and polytheist blogs and communities. I believe these are really important questions, tied not just to the center of family, but to the health and well-being of all the centers. Without children, all we have are new converts to sustain the traditions and religions. In my view, that is a lot of people coming to understand a whole new way of being, whereas kids raised polytheist do not have that learning curve, or the need to decolonize, or remove as much of the dominant culture’s mindset.
Before I get to the questions, however, I think it is important to tackle some of the reasons that I have heard, in person and online, for why people do not raise their children in our religious traditions. Chief among them is some variation of “I don’t want to force my kid to follow my religion” or “I don’t want to indoctrinate my child.” I will be honest, these reasons make me want to pull out my hair. The definition of indoctrination is:
to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs
Raising our children in our religion(s) is simply not indoctrination. Teaching them about our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, is not indoctrination. Unless you are actively denying your child the ability to question concepts and people in the religion, not allowing them to explore the religion, or are actively denying your child’s ability to consider other points of view, you are not indoctrinating your child. You are, rather, raising your child in the religion. There is a gulf of difference between teaching a child “This is what the sagas say about Thor and these are my experiences with Him,” or “This is how we worship together as a family,” and “This is the only way to worship Thor” or “Only our way is the true way to worship Thor.” Now, that is not to say that a given family will not have traditions, taboos specific to them, or certain ways they worship, but to entirely cut a child off from alternative views, and stunts the religious growth of a child. My taboos are just that: mine. We do not have taboos on offerings as a family. What we do have are basic expectations of respect in religious space, how offerings that have been expended are disposed of, regular times for prayer, and guidelines and rules on handling altars, statues of our Gods, and various tools that may be on the altars. For instance, on our Gods’ altar our son can dispose of the liquid (usually water, but sometimes beer or mead) offerings we make to Them. He does not touch the offerings to Gods he does not have an active relationship with. Sylverleaf makes regular offerings to Frigga on this altar that our son is not to touch, as that is between her and Frigga. He is not allowed to touch the swords or the hammer on the altar without permission and an adult present.
How do we bring children into our religions? Is it from birth? If not from birth, when do they begin to learn, and what can they learn at what age? How do we help our children understand religious phenomena? If one has a very active religious life, how does one relate to a child that simply does not? Vice versa?
The answers I have to these questions are lived by our son. We brought our son into our religion by doing a baby blessing as soon as he was born, asking the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits to watch over him. He was there as we prayed at our altar when we first brought him home, and has been raised with us praying and making offerings ever since. Had we waited we would probably have started teaching him about our religion around age 3-5. He has been raised with the prayers we make before he goes to school and before he goes to bed, and at each and every meal. He is living polytheism. He has been raised with a Dad who takes time out to explain religious concepts on his level, and who is not shy about being very blunt that “the Runes ask for blood in Gebo, and this is something you are not ready for yet, if you ever do pick Them up.” He knows that if and when he does, it will be his choice and he will be able to make it on his own.
I firmly believe in raising children in our religions. Without our children learning our religion, and co-religionists teaching their religion, there is no way for the religions to continue. Teaching kids only a little bit about the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and not making daily prayers, devotion, etc. is giving a little soil to the seed and expecting a tree to grow to its full height. Not teaching one’s children at all about the Gods is denying soil to a tree entirely. Without a firm grounding in religion, the soil is loose and is blown away in the wind, or swept aside in the rain. If we desire good religious communities that will last beyond us, we need to raise the children in our communities. Indeed, we must do far better by them than has been done by us.
So how do I relate to our son when I have a very active religious life? Some of the explanations we work with him on are helped along because we have taught our son how to interpret the Holy Powers’ messages, whether he has a reading done, asks Them to work with him through his intuition, or look for omens. A good chunk of this work has been to encourage him to trust his intuition, to admit when his signal clarity is not where it needs to be, and to ask for help when he needs it. He is encouraged to admit when he does not know. We regularly talk on our religion, on the religious work I do, how it feels, and how it affects me. I bring my son along when I do certain religious work, such as tending the graveyards I have been called to do, teaching him how to respectfully make offerings at the gate, to ask permission from the Dead before tending Their graves, and why we leave offerings of tobacco, or why I blow smoke on graves when I smoke a pipe as we clean.
The biggest link between all the religious work I do, and explaining it to our son, and in some cases involving our son, is the concept of Gebo: gift-for-a-gift. Reciprocity. That word opens up the larger world of animism and polytheism because it places us not at the center, but in relationships with all things, all Beings. It is why we leave or make offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, landvaettir, housevaettir, and so on. It is that recognition and/or fulfillment of reciprocity. It is sometimes asking for help, which may be a form of reciprocity in and of itself. Bringing our son to rituals, performing them with him, helping him develop as a polytheist, in and of itself is a form of reciprocity with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, as it ensures that the religion, and the Gebo engendered between the Holy Powers and ourselves, and our communities does not die with us. It allows us to pass on the maegen and hamingja of these relationships between our communities, and the generations that follow on with, and after us.
Helping our children develop their own understanding of the Gods, their intuition, and communication with Them is, to us, part and parcel of raising a child in a polytheist home. It is the hope that when they raise their own family they will have a well-developed understanding of how to understand the Gods even if they never engage in ecstatic spiritual techniques or do trance work. Sylverleaf, for instance, does not do much in the way of ecstatic work at all. It is simply not a part of her religious life. A simple divination technique she uses when she asks Frigga questions is to hold two of Her sacred keys in her hands, and the hand which is heavier is the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. If there are more complex questions she may ask me to read the Runes. If she needs to get answers from her Ancestors, she may work with an oracle deck dedicated to Them. Having two very different parents in this regard gives our son more models of polytheist life to understand, recognize, and live himself. Raising our children as polytheists, then, is more than simply teaching and explaining. It is modeling good Gebo, and the ways we do things by actively living in relationship with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. We are living examples to our children.
What age should we bring our children into animism or polytheism? It is my belief that it is never too early nor too late to begin a lived animist/polytheist life. Regardless of our age or the age of our children, sharing our religion is an important bond that we share between our communities, our families, and our generations. It is the lattice-work that makes a strong bridge between the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.
In speaking with Sylverleaf on this, she has said it has been far harder for her to keep with regular prayers and offerings in contrast to me because she was raised in a largely non-religious household. Lacking a background in any religion made it that much harder for her when she did find the Gods and became a Pagan, as she had no models to follow except those in books, and no community to speak of for quite a long time. Living a religion does have a learning curve, and she hit this hard because until we met she did not have regular time for prayer, any rote prayers to draw upon, or regular times for making offerings. In talking this over coffee and pancakes, it hit me that she was denied a lot of things that I took for granted in my religious studies as a child. For one, pondering the nature of God was probably something very hard to tackle in a home that either did not think much on God or thought the subject of God was a non-starter where conversation was concerned. I was able to talk with priests who were more than happy to answer whatever questions I threw at them, digging into the meat of theology with me and explaining as best they could their understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and where we fit into the Catholic cosmology. That grounding is absent when religion is not lived. The hunger of curiosity cannot be sated when the entire subject of religion is off the table. It also cannot be sated when the religious community one belongs to has a piss-poor grounding in its own theology, as she discovered her youth ministers had, during the short time she attended a church. This is why our children need not only parents grounded in good relationships with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, but communities, and their leaders, priests, spiritual specialists, etc. need this too. We cannot support the centers of our communities without them all doing the necessary work of living the religion.
The hoarfrost bites. The rain is frosty, pelting my hat, my trenchcoat. I take out the little sacred pipe, and kiss it nine times all over its sacred body. I load it with tobacco after offering to the Directions, to the Spiritkeepers, to the hidden Sun, the Earth beneath my feet, to the Sky above me that has opened up, to one of the Creators, to the Disir and Väter, to the Ancestors, and to the Gods and Goddesses. The tobacco has been in my pouch so long it has become dried powder, and it packs deep. The last of the tobacco goes into the sacred pipe. I make my prayers to the Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim, to the spirit of Fire Itself, and light it.
It takes to the offering, and I make short, quick puffs to encourage the Fire to spread. I offer the smoke to all those I have just offered tobacco to. I walk over to a small boulder that serves as the main vé for our unknown Ancestors who extend Their hands to us. I blow smoke upon the stone, and thank Them. As I walk by the oak tree my father planted when we first started living on the property, something about it in the frost strikes me, and I ask if I can take its picture. Of course, I have forgotten my phone inside, but that is fine. It assents, and I offer it smoke in thanks.
I walk on into the sacred grove. The ground is sodden. The lengths of birch I bought from a man half a year ago are in disarray. It occurs to me, starting to right them again for perhaps the third time since I bought them, that this is how they wish to be for now. I leave the rest go, and head over to Odin’s godpole. He is here, as surely as He is at our altar to the Gods. He is here. He is waiting. Odin had called me to come out, and give offerings after I had given offerings to Hela and Niðogg. These had been our compost; used coffee, rotten food, broken eggshells, all dead things come to give new life in time.
I kneel before His godpole, and I hail Him. I take three drags, always three when I offer to a God, Ancestor, or vaettr, and blow it over the wood. Then, partly feeling compelled and partly feeling it a good thing to do, I take three drags and place the pipe into His carved mouth, and He smokes. I do it again, and I can feel Him breathe it in, the smoke rising. One last time, and the smoke rises lazily from the pipe, and I am sure He is here, and with me. Here, in the midst of my hands tightening under the cold and frost-rain, I feel my God, World-wise and powerful, and here. I smoke with Him for a few moments. We speak, being with one another in the moment, but it is less like speaking, and more deep than words. Communion, perhaps, is a better descriptor.
There are words; we greet each other, and He is at once in the cold, and cold Himself, and yet warm too. He is pleased, and it is time for me to go. I kneel on the ground, offering smoke, and thank the landvaettir for allowing me to come, for allowing this space to be. I take off my hat to Them and to Odin, and leave the sacred grove walking backwards. I bow once I have reached the boundary. Then I turn to the house, and offer it smoke.
I sit on the deck for a few moments, and smoke, and the Ancestors are near. Many have endured this kind of thing without all the benefits I have, most especially a grand house that sits at my back. They tell me They want me to smoke with Them, but as I reach for the sacred pipe, many insist I go inside. Some of Them do so for my sake; my hands are aching with cold. The Others want to enjoy the warmth of the home and do not want to smoke with me in the freezing rain. So I go inside.
Each tree received offerings of smoke, and each has given Its permission to be photographed.