I Seek

I seek inside myself

a place that was

carved from earth

scraped from stone

 

I seek behind myself

those that knew

life from death

power from tribe

 

I seek before myself

a place that is

sought from earth

sanctified from sacrifice

 

I seek beyond myself

a tribe that knows

strength from striving

bonds from trust

Question 14: The Goddesses in the Northern Tradition

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.

Storytelling

I sat in the dark with my son after night prayers, and a question came to me.

I asked him: “Do you have any questions about the Gods?”

His answer: “Who is Sif?”

It kind of surprised me; his question was not “What are the Gods?” or “Why is such-and-such this way?”.  He wanted to get to know the Gods we prayed to.

It has been awhile since we had read the stories or talked deeply about the Gods.  So, when he asked the question I did something that came naturally: I told a story.  I told him She is a Goddess, the wife of Thor, and we call to Her, thanking Her for Her generosity in the night prayer.  He asked why She was a Goddess of generosity, and I slipped into the story of how She kept Her composure when Loki burst into the hall, and still offered Him mead, as told in the Lokasenna.  He asked me why she would have been angry at Loki.  I told my son of how Loki had slain the doorman and insulted the Gods in Aegir’s hall, something one was not supposed to do.  He then asked why She would be angry with Loki.  So, I told him of how Sif’s hair had been cut by Loki before this, and still, She offered Loki to calm Himself and join the Gods in Aegir’s Hall.  He smiled, and he understood.  We worship Her, as well as Loki because They are our Gods.  They are not perfect; They are powerful, beautiful, mischievous, and so much more.  I saw my son’s face light up and crack into a grin as he asked what happened when Thor found out Loki had cut His wife’s hair.  He asked me smaller questions as the story went on, and it changed how I told the story.

He asked “Did Thor want to hurt Him?  What did Loki do?”  So I told of how Loki went down to the Dvergar and asked them to make Him a head of golden hair for Sif, hair that lived as Her had, and yet was made of gold.  His eyes lit up, still smiling, and he asked if Loki had been punished by the Aesir for what He did to Sif.  No, son, Loki made amends with Sif, giving Her that golden hair.  Thor may have wanted to, but Loki was not hurt; He had done as He promised, and made amends.

He came to know many Gods better tonight, not just Sif.  Did I tell him the whole story, of how Loki also convinced the sons of Ivaldi to make Skiðblaðnir and Gungnir?  No, it was not important at the moment.  He has heard the full story before, we’ve read it together.  I did emphasize how important the gifts Loki won were, how His mouth was sewn shut because Loki had wagered His head and lost.  That is the power of storytelling: we have to decide what to emphasize, what to put aside when we tell it, so it speaks to our listeners.  It does not make these two holy items, or their gifting to the Gods any less important.  It does not make Loki wagering His head less.  The telling of this part of the story would have lessened the impact of the story between Loki and Sif in this moment, and gotten before the point I wanted to make to my son: Loki made amends.  That when one makes amends one should not be punished further.

Our stories have to live from our lips and hearts to the ears and hearts of others.  If our stories do not live in us, what worth is there in telling them?

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits Come First

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.

The Power of Words

Words of love whispered at dusk

as night come rolling in

A voice in morning stillness sung

Piercing in reddened mist

Runes carved deep in the long tree trunk

Atop a horse head sits

Crossed out foe’s name with ink so fresh

The line is thin and slick

Like knives cutting into flesh

and ropes hung lingering long

The power of words carries on

in story, spell, and song

In words the power is still keenly felt

and fiercely is set free

So beware upon whom you turn your voice

in love or hating, speak

In our words our power holds clear

in friendship, ire, and oath

With it we may weave our Wyrd

and with them fulfill our troth

Yet our words may bring doom

Upon us or enemy

To our wrongs it may bind us fast

or in rightness set us free

So take care when you carve or sing, call or mutter low

Before you proceed all your words and works

And linger long after you go

Sigyn Project: Day 24

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You,

Oh Holy Sigyn

Thank You for Your blessings

For Your Patience

For Your Caring

For Your Will

For Your Love

Hail Sigyn, Lady of the Staying Power!

Hail Sigyn, Tear-Stained and Resolute!

Hail Sigyn, Powerful-Shouldered!

Hail Sigyn, Mother to the Pained

Hail Sigyn, Tear-Catcher!

Hail Sigyn, Patient One!

Hail Sigyn, Indomitable One!

Hail Sigyn, Victory-Bringer!

Hail, Hail, Hail!

Hail Sigyn!

Sigyn Project: Day 21

Lady of the Staying Power

You Who Stays the Incantation

You Who Silences Spoken Curse

You Who Breaks the Incantation-Fetters

You Who Catches the Venom

You Who Stays the Serpent

You Who Stays the Tortured’s Pain

You Who Loves the Mad

You Who Honors the Screaming

You Who Fights for Victory

You Who Hugs the Homeless

You Who Faces Wrath with Open Arms

You Who Stays the Serpent

You Who Soothes the Ravaged

You Who Love’s Eternal

You Who Stands Unbowed

Hail to You!

Hail, Hail, Hail!

Hail Sigyn!

Hail Sigyn!

Hail Sigyn!

Sigyn Project: Day 9

You Who Does Not Forsake

(For who can say You have not tended the Flame?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Constancy!

 

Whose Spirit is Mountain Insurmountable

(For who can say they have conquered the Summit?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Resilience!

 

You Who Does Not Deny

(For who can say You have not seen the Horrors?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Witness!

 

Whose Love is Journey Eternal

(For who can say they have seen the End?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Faithfulness!

 

You Whose Name is Victory

(For who can say You welcome the Surrender?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Perseverance!

 

Lady of the Staying Power,

Goddess Great and Gentle,

Hear my prayer and may I be

worthy of Your Blessing!

 

Odin Project: Day 21

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

giving gift in turn for gift;

For great was the price | Yggr had paid

in winning the Runes from the Gap

 

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

keeping keen in mind and Work,

For great is the price | the Runes will demand

From fools who know Them not

 

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

knowing each in Their own turn,

Wisdom and power | and rede one can find

If well one knows Their kin