Archive

Posts Tagged ‘path’

Broken Lines

January 11, 2016 6 comments

Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions.  In some places, those lines are fairly stark.  In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways.  At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture.  We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.

I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family.  No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members.  I was taught a smattering of German words.  There was nothing left by the time I was being raised.  I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual.  Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.

So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them.  As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them.  I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error.  Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life.  She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that.  There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit.  It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things.  While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.

I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact.  What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.

I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:

  • A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
  • A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
  • A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
  • A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
  • A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.

There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.

Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.

Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound.  There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions.  A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here.  One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this.  I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.

Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?

Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.

Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.

Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods.  It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us.  Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow.  It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.

I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis.  There was no temple structure.  I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life.  There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to.  If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you.  If not, it’s a loner’s game.

What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward.  Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine.  For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.

For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities.  Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on.  This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis.  At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple.  While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.

Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture.  In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.

Advertisements

Orthopraxy Requires Orthodoxy

November 9, 2015 8 comments

An idea that I see occurring again and again in Pagan dialogue, and increasingly in polytheist dialogue, is the idea of ‘orthopraxy not orthodoxy’.

Before I go too much further, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, orthopraxy is:

“Rightness of action (as distinct from or in addition to rightness of thought); right-doing, practical righteousness; correct practice.”

While the the Oxford English Dictionary defines orthodoxy as:

Authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice

My main issue is that I see that orthopraxy stems from orthodoxy, not the other way around. Right action stems from right thought.  One requires the other, as right thought without right action is impotent, but right action is unattainable without right thought.  Right action and right thought are philosophical terms, and there are several interpretations from theological and philosophical schools as to their meaning.  I understand right action as being aligned with right thought, that is, correct actions flow from correct thoughts.  In the case of the Gods, respect for the Gods in ritual flows from respect from the Gods in thought.  The reverse is also true.  Making an offering to a God if you disrespect that God while doing so is itself a form of disrespect.

In theological terms, this means that within polytheism, an orthodox position is that the Gods are real and that They are due worship.  Orthopraxy that flows from this position, then, would be to treat the Gods with respect, and to do things that are worshipful, such as pray or make offerings.  In the Northern Tradition/Heathenry I would be required to make prayers and a certain offering, such as mugwort, to a Sacred Fire.  This is personal orthopraxy which flows from the orthodoxy I have just described.

This is not to say that I want to impose my beliefs on the whole of polytheism, but that polytheism as a whole does actually hold orthodox beliefs from which orthopraxy arises even if those beliefs are incredibly loosely defined. In other words, orthodoxy’s details differ polytheist religion to polytheist religion, but two polytheisms in comparison will have orthodoxies which are similar in general, i.e. the Gods are real, the Gods are holy/sacred, the Gods are due offerings, etc.

Without the orthodoxy of the Gods being real, holy, and due offerings, the orthopraxy of offering to Them in or out of ritual makes not a lick of sense. Polytheists who have adopted the ‘orthopraxic not orthodoxic’ line in the extreme give up the understanding that there are things which polytheists need to believe in order to be polytheist. I’m not even getting into religious specifics here. There’s no need; a Kemetic orthodoxic understanding of the Gods would be different, at the least in detail if not in many overarching senses, than my own as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen.

But why am I emphasizing orthodoxy here?  It would seem I am advocating a return to a cage, one I ostensibly flew out of when I left Catholicism.  Such an idea, though, leaves orthodoxy, as well as orthopraxy, and much of religious thought that flows from them, in the realm of monotheism.  I see no reason for this to be, especially when many polytheist religions have quite a lot to say about these things, and exploring these things, rather than being purely divisive, can actually bring our communities together from within.  I do not expect a Kemetic follower to hold, much less entertain my religion’s orthodoxy any more than I would hold theirs, excepting cases where I am interacting with and worshiping Gods from their religion.

This openness to orthodoxy, though, does not mean that I accept others’ orthodoxy wholesale or even in part anymore than they need to accept mine.  Disagreements over orthodoxy and orthopraxy are, to my mind, normal, and best navigated by dialogue both between people and, especially, between people and the Gods.  Heck, my disagreement over orthopraxy or orthodoxy within my religion has little to no input on a Kemetic’s, for instance.  It’s a different story if folks outside of our religions are saying to polytheists that we need to be orthopraxic, not orthodoxic, or vice versa.  It’s one thing if we adopt these stances ourselves, and it’s a whole other when this is put on us.  Granted, I’d rather not see polytheism swing the pendulum hard toward orthopraxy and away from orthodoxy, since I don’t see them as binaries.  Rather, I see them more as complementary sides of the same coin.

Adopting orthodox positions does not mean that we’ll suddenly *poof* turn into fundamentalist Christians today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now.  It does not mean that we’ll suddenly adopt a theocracy from which there is no escape.  It does not mean that pluralism will disappear, either.  Plenty of historical examples exist as testaments to that.  Most polytheist religions have the understanding that there are, in addition to being quite large Gods, cosmologically speaking, many of these Gods may be understood in a local way, that is, through a particular orthodoxy on the local level.  I remember reading an article by Sannion quite a while ago referencing different Dionysian temples with different understandings of Him, different requirements for ritual purity (some very exacting if memory serves) and offerings which were well-received for one but not the other.

A firmer adoption of orthodoxy and orthopraxy does not mean we fall into one-true-wayism.  We are  a whole collection of religions, religious movements and the like between the Pagan, polytheist, and interconnected communities.  I find such a thing, given the diversity of beliefs within the polytheist religions themselves, to be nearly impossible.  Polytheism’s main stance precludes there being only one way of doing things.  I imagine the same of most Pagan groups.

There are places where I do accept a stance that puts more weight toward orthopraxy.  For instance, when I attend a ritual for the first time, I do things in an orthopraxic way, as I probably don’t have the information or the headspace for doing things in an orthodoxic way.  When I went to the Backeion at Many Gods West, I was there worshiping and praising Dionysus, reciting the prayers and making my own when I felt the call to.  What I did not do was fully adopt the Greek, Hellenic, or Thracian mindsets in regards to Him.  How could I?  I had not studied them much, had not been intitiated into the Dionysian Mysteries, and this had been the first ritual in a very long time where I had been in His Presence.  There are just some rituals I will attend where I will be an outsider to the tradition or the religion.  So long as doing so would not breach hospitality or taboo(s) on mine or the host’s parts, it’s really up to the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, the tradition(s), and the celebrants/ritualists whether or not it is taboo for me to attend the rite.

It seems to me much of the issue people take with the words orthodoxy and orthopraxy is in two parts:  the first is an emotional reaction to the words themselves, and the second part is in the feeling that orthodoxy and orthopraxy impose themselves rather than are a natural outgrowth of religious understanding and expression.  Words sacred and holy, those have emotional weight to them, and where sacred or holy may have positive ones, at least for those coming out of monotheist religions, orthodoxy can have some heavy negative weight to it. Even in everyday speech, orthodoxy has acquired heavy baggage of being out of touch, wrong-headed, stubborn in the face of scientific evidence, or someone whose outlook refuses to change.

With many Pagans converting from or descendants of converts from monotheist or atheist homes, it’s no wonder some have taken a heavy stance against orthodoxy.  I hear the refrain “I left (insert church, group, etc.) here to get away from dogma” and “I left (name) so I could follow my own path” often enough that I think these ideas need addressing as well.

Regardless of where one goes, if one is part of a religion there are orthodoxies, or dogmas, that are part of it.  If there are no orthodoxies or dogmas, there is no religion.  If you left a monotheist religion to avoid orthodoxy, you may as well quit religion altogether.  Non-theist religions have orthodoxy and dogma in their own measures; it is one of the defining characteristics of religion.  Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.

Even in following one’s own path, there are often unspoken orthodoxies and orthopraxies that play into how we frame and understand our place in things, and the experiences we go through.  If one starts as a Catholic, and begins exploring outside of Catholicism, as I did, Catholicism is the initial benchmark against which all things are weighed until the benchmark outgrows its usefulness or is actively cast aside.  This helps to shape what experiences we may integrate, discount, or accept outright.  The coloring of our lenses by our worldview(s) shapes how we come to explore a new path.  Even if we, somehow, started from a totally fresh slate and began spiritual exploration, the people we might look to for guidance, physically, online, and/or in a book, and their associated orthodoxies, orthopraxies, etc. would impact our own.

This brings us to a phrase that makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it: “I’m spiritual, but not religious”.

I get the intention of this, generally speaking, but as a phrase it is wrong.  As I wrote earlier, “Religion is the bone upon which the sinew-connections of religious communities are made, and the flesh of spirituality is given form by.”  Spirituality cannot be without religion of some kind, even if one doesn’t have a name for it or doesn’t care to put it into a given identity.  Orthodoxy gives shape to orthopraxy as religion gives shape to spirituality.  Spirituality requires religion.  Orthopraxy requires orthodoxy.

This is not a one-time thing, though.  Orthodoxy and orthopraxy exist in a continuous, reciprocal relationship.  They feed one another, grow together.  Without one the other falls apart.  The orthodoxy of a given polytheist religion feeds the orthopraxy of that religion.  The practices of polytheism reinforces the thought and worldview that go into why we do what we do in the first place.  It goes on, hand in hand between ourselves and the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  If the reciprocity, the Gebo of this is kept well, this reciprocity goes on, hand-in-hand between ourselves, the Holy Powers, and the future generations of animists, polytheists, and Pagans.  By passing this on in a healthy way we ensure our communities and their relationships with the Holy Powers flourish.

Here are sources I consulted in exploring this:

Terms In and Types of Ethical Theory

Ethics: An Online Textbook, Chapter 9: Kantian Theory

The Basics of Philosophy: Ethics

The Basics of Philosophy: Deontology

Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy: Aristotle’s Conception of the Right

The Jaguar and the Owl

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been a co-host on The Jaguar and the Owl for the last year, but it did not occur to me that I had not been providing updates about it to my blog.

Introducing The Jaguar and the Owl:

This is a show and podcast about shamanism in it’s living form. We will explore it’s history, but also what it is like to be a shaman here and now. The challenges you will face, the advice and techniques that I and others use. Join me around the virtual sacred fire as I and other shaman talk about what the Spirits ask us to talk about. Are you the one the message is meant for?

We are on every other Tuesday on Para-x.com’s Live Broadcast at 8pm.  Our next broadcast is tomorrow, 9/29/2014 at 8pm.

Our most recent podcast is here, where we interviewed Galina Krasskova and talked on Ancestors and leadership in the communities we share.

 

 

The link to the Jaguar and the Owl WordPress is here, where you can download and share the archived episodes of the show.

The link to the iTunes podcast archives for the show are here.

Question 14: The Goddesses in the Northern Tradition

July 24, 2014 5 comments

Thank you again, Freki Ingela, for this question:

What are your thoughts of the feminine divine in Germanic polytheism? I notice that very little is known about the household Gods, the Gods that women in their homesteads would have revered, the deity of the hearth, for example. This is a problem for me (I am a woman) and to be really honest although I am proud of my ancestral Gods I have a feeling that we have lost too much knowledge of the non-warrior Gods, the Gods of the women, the family, the hearth fire – so much so that we must look to kin-religions, such as Roman polytheism, to try to bridge the gap where so much knowledge has been lost. What are your thoughts on this?

That our ancestral lines were sundered is one of many great tragedies.  The loss of traditional communities, and much of the lore, rituals, and sacred sites have been a hard blow to recover from.  The power of religious movements such as the Northern Tradition is that we are living ties back to these things as much as we are carrying them forward.  It is worth remembering that at some point someone had to bring in a new rite, story, or commission a sacred site to be built.  Our Ancestors had to do this at one point.  One of our greatest challenges is that there have not been a line or tribe of living people, at least until relatively recently, to carry on what will inform our own traditions, rituals, and sacred sites.  Despite this heavy loss, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can, and should be asked to inform this revival.

When it comes to how to worship, wherever possible I try to keep within the tradition in question.  I think that looking to other religions for inspiration can be a powerful thing, yet, I also recognize that Roman polytheism is a different way than German polytheism.  There are different underlying assumptions in either religion, different cosmologies, and different ways of worshiping the Gods right and well.  While I am not strictly opposed to mixing traditions, I advise care and caution in doing so, as one practice or way of doing things may be fine in one culture but not translate well, if at all, to the other.  It is also worth mentioning that the Romans recorded aspects of Germanic life prior to conversion, i.e. the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar, so it makes sense to go to investigate these Roman sources.

I wish there were more resources available to us.  I wish that more had survived, especially from before the period of conversion.  There is a great gap of knowledge, even in what little we do have and know, between the Goddesses and the male Gods.  I think that, for what we have remaining, there are many Goddesses who Germanic, Scandinavian, etc. polytheists can call upon who may well fill many of the roles you cite here.  I feel that Sif is often overlooked, for instance.  She is mentioned very little in the sources, namely in Skáldskarpamál where Her hair is cut by Loki, and in the Lokasenna where She serves Him mead in Aegir’s hall.  She is a powerful, graceful Lady, one whom my family reveres for Her generosity and patience.

If one is looking for a Goddess of the home, I think of Frigga, Sif, Sigyn, and Frigga’s Handmaiden Syn.  I have read Roman polytheists had Gods for parts of the door and threshold.  Rather than look to the Romans for such a Goddess, I believe Syn would be one to worship and call upon as a Goddess of doors, their locks, and thresholds.  It says in the Gylfaginning (not the most current translation, but it is free) that:

“The eleventh is Syn: she keeps the door in the hall, and locks it before those who should not go in; she is also set at trials as a defence against such suits as she wishes to refute: thence is the expression, that syn[1] is set forward, when a man denies.”

As far as a Goddess of the hearth fire Itself, why not worship and revere Sinmora?  While the etymology of Her Name is still debated, as well as Her identity as Surt’s husband, She and Loki’s Daughter Glut, are the only Goddesses of Fire in the Northern Tradition that I know of.  Some would balk at this, given The are jotun.  I have yet to read where either Goddess means us harm, however, and given I have been praying to Them for some time, I have found both, especially Sinmora, to be a patient guide, and teacher in working with Fire.  If you mean a Goddess of the hearth where the fire is contained, the Goddesses I mentioned in terms of the home may be ones to worship and revere.  Also, for some reason, Snotra keeps coming to mind.  It may have to do with Her Name meaning “wisdom”, as a great deal of wisdom is learned around the home fire.  It may also have to do with the wisdom required in keeping the fire well, including the etiquette and understanding required to treat the firevaettir well.

Part of the challenge in living this path is reconstructing and reviving what we can, and being open to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir filling in quite a bit of what is no longer with us.  It is worth remembering, however, that reconstruction is a methodology rather than a religion.  My path is reconstructionist-derived; I recognize I do not strictly adhere to a reconstructionist model.  Sticking to the source material where possible and exploring where our Gods’ stories come from is a good springboard.  This does not set aside the importance of knowing the stories, doing research, and the like.  When confronted in situations like these, where there is a lack of stories and resources like archaeology, I am going to lean more heavily on my and others’ personal experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

A great, powerful, and often untapped resource seldom considered are one’s Disir.  These are the women who kept things together, who cared for the house, and who kept the traditions alive in Their time.  They may well do so again, if you ask Them.  The Disir keep the lines well, and many of the older ones might be interested in teaching you what They have to offer if you show interest and are respectful.  Whether or not you ask Them to help with connecting to the Gods, or walking the path, I believe it is more than worth it to set some space aside for Them, if you have it to give, and cultivate a good relationship with Them.  I would offer similar advice in regards to the Goddesses since They, far more than I, can give you good direction on these things.

 

Update: I included Glut in the section where I wrote about Goddesses of Fire. I knew I was missing Someone in this section and She just came to me.

Anger and the God Graveyard

November 13, 2013 4 comments

I am still working through the anger.  I’m inviting you, the reader, along with me through that process.

Frequently, when many express anger and offense at our Gods being poorly portrayed, spoken against, disrespected, or blasphemed against, there are many reminders that the Gods can handle the abrogation, and that it is not ours to deal with.  My anger, in this case, came from looking at this display from the AHA group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Before I go into the topic at hand, a few words on why I am angered:

I do not find it clever. They not only got dates of ancient worship wrong, but this was an act of erasure to Pagans, and in some cases especially to, among a great many, African Diasporic religions. This was a ham-fisted and childish ‘look at me!’ display on their part while also being completely needlessly hostile. I look at it with contempt. College is hard enough, and so, I look on displays like this, regardless of faction, fraternity, religion, etc. with equal contempt.  From personal experience of talking with folks, actions like these stop, or at least discourage people from minority religions, as well as atheists and agnsotics who have to deal with fallout from stupid actions like this, from wanting to come out with their own religion/lack thereof, and share.

It also goes completely against the Mission Statement the group is under:

The mission of Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics @ UW-Madison shall be to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW-Madison campus. Through our services and programs AHA seeks to educate students on issues important to the secular community, and encourage the personal development of one’s religious identity.

This neither fosters dialogue, nor does it educate.

I’m not attached to the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  However, I am speaking from similar actions that have taken place in my own college from atheists and Christians. When Christians set up their evangelical displays and pull stunts like this atheists are, understandably to me, upset. It is not only having a view shoved in your face, but done so rudely, and with no thought to the discomfort and erasure done to those who do not believe, see, etc. as you do.

This is my view and experience talking: part of the reason that you are seeing a backlash is that there is such a bias against us at work in academia and college already. If I had a nickle for every time I had to correct a teacher on what Pagans believe, ancient and modern (with sources for the former, and sources along with my own experiences for the latter) I would not have to worry about my student loans. For every time that I explained my religious views, the round mocking I received from both teacher and fellow students, I would not have to worry about furthering my education. Atheism and agnosticism are becoming more the rule in places of higher learning, and I have, on several occasions, endured ridicule from professors in professing my beliefs. It is not just that they do not want to understand what I believe, it is that they are actively hostile and/or mocking to what I believe.

Things like this, tacitly approved by the University of Wisconsin, add to an atmosphere that many already feel is possibly, if not actively hostile to them. No Pagan groups go around denouncing atheism like this. Christian groups that do are often, in my experience, reprimanded. Yet somehow this antagonizing is consistently supposed to be given a pass because they’re atheists; I do not understand that. So this isn’t just one thing or another, it is a litany of bullshit many of us who are in an academic field have to endure.

I am not asking, nor would I ask Pagans to endure stupidity like this, no matter the speaker. I would not ask a Pagan to endure a sermon from an outwardly hostile preacher, nor more than I would a mocking one. Unfortunately, this AHA group is employing more or less those same tactics.

The AHA should be called for task for failing to even do the minimum to stand by their Mission Statement. I don’t care how big or small the group is, or how they justify their actions. What they have done has not generated goodwill, has been inhospitable to their fellow classmates and/or future ones, and creates a hostile environment so they can advertise their group.

As to the notion that the Gods do not need us to defend them:  What I am saying is that our ways should be defended from erasure. From needless mean-spirited acts. From the ignorance of others. From having our ways mocked by people that profess to want to build relationships and tolerance and understanding out of one side of their mouth but mock those Beings we hold most dear, and our ways along with them, out the other side of their mouth.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits Come First

October 4, 2013 8 comments

Note: This is a piece that has sat in my Draft folder for some time, and I figured that it was time to get it out into the world.  Fly free, belated words!

I am going to be speaking on shamanism come the next week at Michigan Paganfest.  The discussion is “Shamanism-History, Beliefs, Lore and More”, where I and my fellow Sacred Fire tenders will be talking on the forms of shamanism we are engaged in.  While it says “Jim will share his knowledge and experiences in an open discussion about the practice and path of Shamanism. You are encouraged to share your own experiences and knowledge, as well as, ask questions and seek greater understanding and insights to assist you in your own journey” Jim was kind enough to invite myself and Joy Wedmedyk to share in the discussion.

I like these kinds of workshops.  I enjoy genuine back-and-forth dialogue and digging into the meat of a topic, even if for a little while.  In thinking on this discussion, I look to my own traditions.  I won’t go overlong into what I’ll hash out in the coming week, but more into what it is pushing me to think about.  What is shamanism?  What is the history of shamanism within the context of my own path?  What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  What lore is there to support or bring clarity to shamanism?  What is essential to being a shaman?

At the title above says, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They have to.  They gave us life, give us blessings each and every day, and walk alongside us.  There is nothing in this world untouched by Their hands.  It is essential to shamanism that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They are our allies, our friends, our loved ones, our Fathers and Mothers, our eldest Ancestors.  They are what makes us a shaman: Their call, the insistent call that cannot be ignored, is what makes a shaman a shaman.  No course, no workshop, nothing we go through or engage in can make us a shaman without that call from our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Shamanism is an engagement, not a practice.  It is a calling in my tradition to sacrifice all else that I would have done and put the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits first, and to aid the communities I am in with engagement with Them.  It is setting aside personal ambitions to fulfill purpose that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits lay upon me.  It is to give over all that I am to further Their Work.  Even being a father has a place within my path as a shaman, and it is subordinate to that Work.  It serves the Work, as does everything in my life.  Even writing here serves It.

What is essential is that a shaman serves.  A shaman serves the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and in so doing, does serve their community.  They may serve their community in other ways, aside from keeping right relationship in their own lives, by performing required rituals, healings, divination, and so on.  They may do work, such as Sacred Fire tending, or teaching.  They may just sit down and listen to someone’s struggle.  They may do this after they die, which is probably what will happen to me when I pass over.  The point is that a shaman serves and that service extends to every area of existence.

What lore is there to support bring to clarity to shamanism?  Well, as few pieces of lore survive in our tradition there’s not much, as a good chunk of the lore we do have is more concerned with the Gods and Their families and conflicts, or mythological portrayals of kings and conquests.  What does survive suggests that there were spiritual specialists such as spákona and spámadr, female and male prophets, for instance.  However, as the lore that we have is fragmented, written down by Christians and absent of anything older than Iron Age, much of the lore contains terribly little in regards to a shaman’s practice.  Even the words that might frame the way that shaman does is absent of our language, and in any case much of my practice and that of my elders is spirit taught.  Lore is more of a map to cosmology, how the Gods have interacted with us and one another.  It is a springboard into engagement with the Holy Powers, as all of the lore that survives contains little to no religious instruction.  The lore serves, then, a secondary role to direct engagement.

What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  We are hard polytheists.  The beliefs are that of people who engage with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as beings unto Themselves.  They are Their own Being, Whole in and of Themselves.  They do not require us to worship Them to continue Their existence, nor do They need us to exist.  They are.  The Ancestors are the foundation of us all, from our blood Ancestors stretching back to the Elements Themselves.  The spirits are all around us, within us, even.  We consume spirits to survive; the lich, the physical body, is holy, and part of the soul, and so, when we eat an animal or plant, we are consuming a piece of Their soul.  Eventually when I die, my lich will be burnt or buried and become part of the world in a different way.  The Earth, Midgard, itself, is a Goddess.  There is nothing on, in, or beyond this planet untouched by the Gods.  There is nothing in my body or mind or soul that is not touched by the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits.  So, as it ends so it begins, and the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.

Question 9: My Path to Shamanism

April 17, 2013 11 comments

I have received another question, this one from Valiel Elantári:

I wonder if you would be open to publicly explain your path : how do you define “shaman” ? how did “it” “happen” to you ? How did you realise you were one, when did you decided to use the word?

I define shaman as an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Given that the Northern Tradition has no appropriate word, the word shaman is the best I have that quickly, and as accurately as possible, sums up what I do.  Shamanism is not a religion; it is something that is done and lived.  It is not picked up for a weekend, it is a calling that one is bound to for the course of one’s life.  I did not come to using the word lightly, and fought against using it for a long while.

I worked with Anubis for about three years before I came to Odin.  During this time I was involved in doing quite a bit of ceremonial magic, and was very happy with the neat, detailed rituals I practiced.  My Work was going well, when one day Anubis came to me when I was worshiping at His altar.  He told me it was time for me to work with Odin, and to pick up the threads of the rest of my Work.  Anubis did not give me very many directions, only that I would be following Odin primarily now, and that while I would still have Work by Him, our relationship was now firmly on the backburner, especially compared to the demands He knew Odin would make of me and my time.

Odin gave a simple introduction and told me it was time I followed Him, to do the Work of becoming His priest.  He told me that I had taken long enough and had Work to catch up on.  So I began to research what I could of Odin.  I read digital copies of the Eddas when and where I could, and looked at what resources I had about me.  It was not long after that initial contact, and a month or so of research, that He told me I was to be a shaman.

I balked at the idea.  I couldn’t be a shaman.  Yet, whenever I went to pray or to give offerings, there He was, at some point demanding that I start getting serious about following the path.  I had only started officially worshiping Him but a month before; how could He call me to shamanism so soon?  Yet, He did.  I could not ignore it.

Eventually I was worn down by Odin, but I asked and pleaded for a word other than shaman.  I knew it was not from my culture, but borrowed from the Evenks and had found its way into common use.  Still, it was the one word I had that described what Odin was setting before me, what I was to become.  At His insistence, and after much worry, doubt, and second-guessing, I finally bowed to His wish.  I now use it to describe my path, my Work, and myself.  Shortly after accepting this path I began to find Raven Kaldera’s books that had started coming out on Northern Tradition shamanism.  Things began to click very well for me alongside Odin’s lessons with what I found in the pages of Raven’s books.

In the beginning Odin’s instruction for me was a lot about learning to work with the landvaettir and beginning to work with my Ancestors.  A lot of it was low-key, small rituals, much of it rolling off my tongue before a small altar in my dorm room.  It was establishing a small, but regular practice of prayer and offerings.  Since then my practice has expanded, but it grew from the roots of working with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

%d bloggers like this: