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Posts Tagged ‘piety’

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.

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Ethics and Animism in Polytheism Part 2

October 9, 2014 3 comments

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.

Difficulties and Victories

September 3, 2014 4 comments

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:

36.
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.

37.
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.

Sharing Ritual, Sharing Community

July 29, 2014 10 comments

I did not go to the Polytheist Leadership Conference because I made a promise to Mani.  Between the promise and His gentle presence indicating ‘stay’ when I asked Him if I should ask to reschedule, I followed His lead.  It tore at me; I really wanted to go, and meet people who I have talked online and on this blog with face-to-face, to share in workshops and ritual.  I was asked by people I consider family to put on a ritual in Mani’s honor.  When I accept such a thing, I treat it as a promise to my Gods that They will be hailed, offered to, and whatever the ritual(s) requires.  My friends are the priests of a Wiccan church, Crossroads Tabernacle Church, and rather than keep up walls between our religions, they graciously asked me to put on a Northern Tradition ritual for this last Full Moon.  I was and am honored by their request.  The ritual for Mani went very well, and I am eager to do more Northern Tradition rituals with them.

In doing these rituals together we are drawing the circle bigger, while also drawing it closer to our hearts.  There is no need to compromise our religions for one another if there is true respect for them.  I have been working with this church for several years.  At first I was just attending, and then, for the last four years, I have served as their youth minister.  Never have I been asked to compromise my beliefs, nor break taboos.  My friends have been greatly accommodating, and quite careful regarding them.  They ask what I can or cannot eat, they are mindful of what taboos I am under if I have told them, and their sensitivity to my tradition and to the work I do has been one of many blessings they have given me over the years.

I am a person with his feet in many traditions.  I am a Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheist.  I am a shaman, priest, and godatheow of Odin.  I am a priest of Anpu.  I am a member of House Sankofa.  I am a member of Urðarbrunnr Kindred.  I am a member of the Thunderbird People.  I am the facilitator of a Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group.  I am a member of Crossroads Tabernacle Church as well as its Youth Minister.  None of these groups contradicts or derides my beliefs.  None of them provides harm to my hamingja.  All of these affiliations, alliances, friendships, and group ties, together, enhance our hamingja and help it to grow.

Rather than building an impenetrable wall, the traditions and ways of the Northern Tradition ground my family, coreligionists, and I in a living religion that gives us a solid foundation to build from.  The definitions and ways by which our tradition are defined bring clarity and understanding not only to ourselves in living this religion, but to others in being able to explain and share it.  Rather than being terribly excluding, the beliefs and practices we keep are inviting while also keeping to that solid ground in respect and reverence for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Unless the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits are being disrespected there is no reason to not share in ritual.

How can we be in ritual together and respect one another’s traditions?

Respect and communication.  After the priests of CTC asked me to put together a ritual, I asked permission from Mani if I could do a ritual on His behalf with the church.  When He let me know His approval, I began writing the ritual.  Well before the ritual the priests received a copy of the ritual outline.  They, in turn, asked me if there was anything I needed for the ritual and what offerings to bring.  They also asked me to help write up the announcement.  It turns out this helped some of the youth, because in addition to food and herb offerings, Mani received two math problems as offerings.  One was part of a sequence, whose name escapes me, and the other was a math problem the young person made up on the fly.  There was also a choice: some of the offerings were going to be buried, and others burned.  Both chose to burn their math offerings during the ritual.  Knowing we were able to burn these on-site rather than off-site was a big plus.

These things are not different from when I enter into a Wiccan ritual.  I did not ask each person “Are you polytheist?” before the Mani ritual any more than the priests ask “Are you Wiccan?” before a Wiccan ritual.  I did not say “If you do not understand/know Mani as I do, you are wrong”.  We were there to celebrate Mani together.  That was made plain from the beginning of the ritual.  From the beginning the expectation and the presence of respect for the God is there, and the understanding of what kind of ritual we are engaging in is there.  It is understood if we are engaging in Wiccan ritual we use a Wiccan format for it, such as a circle casting, a calling to the Elements, and the Gods.  Are there common elements to the rituals we engage in?  Yes, although the way of cleansing and setting up of sacred space, and to Whom we call differ.

We came together as we usually did by taking three deep breaths and asking if there was peace in our circle.  Instead of cleansing the space with a broom and lighting incense, we burned mugwort, cleansing the altar.  I made a point of involving my son in this ritual, because, as I explained to those assembled, ours is a tribal religion in which our children are involved as much as the adults.  I knelt to him so he could cleanse me first with Grandmother Una’s smoke, and then I cleansed him in kind.  I then each person.  Instead of a circle casting and calling in the Elements, we performed the Hammer Rite.  I felt it was a good way to invite those who had never been in a Northern Tradition ritual into the rite in a way that felt familiar.  So, we hailed the four Directions, Asgard, Helheim, and Midgard.

One major difference in this rite as opposed to many of the ones the church comes together in, is that there was no Drawing Down of Mani.  Where the God and Goddess would have been called Down, there were offerings made to Him as we all sang, standing in His presence.  There was time while we sang after the offerings were made for anyone who wanted to step forward to speak with Him or ask Him for a blessing.  When all were finished we came back together, thanked Mani for His presence, thanked the Directions with the ending Hammer Rite, and ended everything with Sigdrifa’s Prayer.

Mani was received and treated with the respect and reverence as He is due.  Some who had come to join in the ritual had never known Mani before, and left wanting to know more.  Some had known of Mani but had never been in His Presence.  The ritual left its mark on all who attended, including me.  He was gentle, and patient, yet playful in His Full Moon face.  He was patient as two youths, whom I am very proud of, placed math problems before Him to be burned as offerings.  I could feel His brightness as we gathered in honor to Him, and His happiness at its end.

We do not have to leave one another at the crossroads of our communities.  Rather, we can gather around them, celebrating with one another.  We can sing, dance, offer, and hold rituals for our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir together, drawing the circle bigger, while respecting one another’s traditions.

Piety and Being Poor

December 24, 2013 8 comments

I have always been working poor.

When I was growing up I lived next to meth labs. Addicts walked around where we lived; I got to watch one around age 7 or 8 go through DTs on the street.  We had drug dealers with child drug mules as neighbors, one that was kiddie corner from where we lived. The police and the administration for where I lived was on the take. The cops used to watch the local would-be gangers beat the living shit out me. They would watch the local kids pile around a car, and get high as kites before getting on the bus.

During this time I was a young Catholic.  We still made time for prayer. We still went to Church. We didn’t leave our religion at the door because the neighborhood was tough; we clung to it because it helped us live.

Some years later, I was starving at one point so my son and my fiancee could eat. Our food stamps had been cut, and I was at the end of my rope trying to float enough money to make rent.  We still gave offerings. If we could not give food, we gave a cup of water. If we could not give that, either due to time or energy, we gave prayers. Always, we gave prayers. Sometimes it has been only water, sometimes it has been food we made for our family, and sometimes it has been something special I bought just for Them. Sometimes it was just a prayer at Their altar in our little apartment, sometimes it was prayers whispered while I worked a deadend job struggling in vain to make ends meet.  In every challenge in my life the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits have been there whether I recognized it or not.  The least I can do is offer my end of Gebo.

I can understand the crippling worry about money, the worry around “How will I afford this food”, “this thing”, “this sudden needed car repair”, “Will I make rent?” etc. When I starved was when our food money got cut. I have been achingly poor.  The only reason I am not there right now is because I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who are here for me regardless of disagreements we have on religion, and a job that helps to pay for the needs we have. I am lucky, damned lucky, and I get that.  My Gods’ altar was a gift, as are most of what are on the shrines and altars I have shown on this blog.  What are not gifts, are almost all bought from thrift stores.  All else was found, and when we had a little money to splurge, sometimes we bought something nice for our Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.  The latest addition to our Watervaettir shrine, three small branches shaped to look like a tie-down for a dock with a little plastic seagull hot glued to it, cost us $0.50 while we were looking for winter clothes.  The offering glass that sits on that altar was $1 at a local garage sale we hit up while on an errand.  An altar, a shrine, or an offering need not break the bank to be a good one.

A slice of bread, a thimble of alcohol, a palm of water, a slice of apple, a small chunk of meat, puffs of smoke, a pinch of tobacco.  These are all good offerings, all given in the tightest of times.  The Gods understand suffering, They understand when we have given what we can.  So why the resistance?

We can give offerings inside our own home, or wherever we happen to be in a given moment. I have poured water onto a city street to thank the spirit of that city for helping me find my way, and alcohol onto my family tree for thanks to the landvaettir for a good home and food in my belly. If you aren’t absolutely starving and actively looking for food, and even then you can at least give a prayer, then you can give an offering.

If you can breathe well, offer breath.  Offer breath whether it is song, dance, words, your poetry or someone else’s, or a hummed tuned if nothing else.  I suffered from asthma as a child and it flares up when I get sick, so I understand very well how precious breath can be!

Offer breath, even a hummed tune if you’re a completely hopeless cause at any of the aforementioned.  If you can you walk, walk and pray, especially is sitting still is hard/impossible for you to do.  There are countless ways of thanking the Gods for what you have.  Can you get down on your hands and knees without hurting yourself?  Then, if you have nothing else besides yourself to offer, prostrate, kneel, or bow.  Make a prayer.  Kiss a tree or a stone, or simply touch it with your hand, and whisper a prayer if you are worried about being seen or discovered.  There are a million and more ways to make an offering, to show your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you care for Them, that They have blessed your life, many of which may be far more precious to Them than a cup of water or slice of bread.

Yet, that bread, that water, is still a precious offering, even more so when you are poor.  At that point a food and water (or other liquid) offering is a personal sacrifice with more weight on oneself than someone who has a good deal of resources.  In times of struggle, I believe, is when we need to make these sacrifices most.  That physical offering is still a precious thing, one which still needs to be given.  There is no substitute for it, any more than there is a substitute for food for you to eat or water to drink.  Say to a person who is a guest in your home who wants water “but I danced for you, is that not enough?” and the answer will be a definite no, even if they may be too gentle with you to say so.  They may still crave the water, especially if it is something to be expected between one another as guest and host.  Now, with the Egyptian Gods this can be a bit different, as the offering formulas for Egyptian Gods (which is the one case I can think of where this applies and even here, the Gods may have Their own preferences) have carvings of food, water, and so on that are allowed to be there in place of offerings.  However, I would think that this is probably a more expensive, roundabout way of fulfilling an offering to the Gods: either you have to have the tools to carve the offering yourself, or have an artisan who will make it for you.

There is no reason that I can fathom that a polytheist would have, regardless of their circumstances, where they had nothing to offer the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.  There is no good reason that I can fathom why a polytheist would willingly deny their share of Gebo, reciprocity, with their Gods.

Devotion is not just important; devotion is VITAL. It is how a living, breathing religion continues. Acts of devotion keep that bridge between us and the Gods alive in our everyday life, whether it is a glass of water and a prayer, prayers made on prayer beads, food made in their honor, a pinch of mugwort or a small glass of mead offered at a tree, or an act of kindness for a human being.  Offerings, in and of themselves, are vital, and have always been vital regardless of which tradition one comes out of.

I put the Gods first because that is where They go in my life. The Gods are first; it is from Them that all good things in my life have come. My everyday (well, night) job is about helping a human being. The reason I can serve this person and meet some of the basics for my family is because the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits gave me life, a good family, a wonderful son, and so many blessings were I to count them all I would be dead and buried long before I finished. So my first attention, my first devotion, is to my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. It must be, in good Gebo for all They have done, and continue to do for me, with me, to me.

Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  May Gebo be kept.

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