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On Ritual Praxis -Hearth Cultus

October 21, 2018 1 comment

In the Beginning to Worship post I asserted that polytheisms the world over are first based in the home. This is referred to as engaging in hearth cultus and are often contrasted with state or communal cultus. The word cultus itself relates to “care, labor, cultivation, culture; worship, reverence”. The root of this word in Proto-Indo European, *kwel-, relates to “revolve, move around; sojourn, dwell”. The hearth cultus and temple cultus, then, are places where culture and religion come around to live and be cultivated, and are among the centers where worship and reverence take place.

Because a hearth cultus forms the heart of polytheist religions, it must have the backing of a solid worldview as to what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are, and what and how these Holy Powers are offered to, the hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, and how the hearth relates to the cosmology of the religion. Sacred space within the home is established through the acts of cleansing a hearth and setting up a vé, a sacred place for the Holy Powers, whether it is on a physical hearth such as a mantle, the only dresser in a dorm room, or in the heart of a home on an altar. Hearth cultus is engaged in the hearth in both formal and informal worship, and in engaging in divination to determine offerings, questions related to development of personal and hearth cultus, and communication between the Holy Powers and the hearth. All come together in the establishment, carrying out of, and passing on of a hearth cultus.

The center of the home has switched a bit for modern America. In the interim since actual hearths and their fires were the center of the home, literally, metaphorically, and spiritually, the role of the hearth has been split in most modern American homes between the living room and the kitchen/dining room. The living room tends to be where we enjoy one another’s company, socialize, engage in festivities like Yule gift-giving or New Year’s celebrations, and play. The kitchen/dining room is where we prepare our daily meals and eat, talk about our day, and spend a good deal of time together as a family. When the table is cleared sometimes we use this space to do homework, pay bills, play boardgames, or engage in feasting festivals like Thanksgiving or one of our harvest holidays, i.e. the Haustblot. It is unlikely any two hearths look alike for cultural/religious reasons or for the physical layout and needs of a given hearth. Still, most share commonalities of function for the hearth and its members.

The Microcosm and the Macrocosm

A given hearth’s sacred space is both its own space and a reflection of how a hearth relates to its cosmology. This is why a firm understanding of worldview and sacred stories is needed for any polytheist’s development, let alone any cultus. How we relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits of our cosmologies are important questions because it forms the core of who we are and why we do what we do. The worldview of the hearth is how the hearth is formed to begin with, how the members conduct themselves within the hearth, and how the vé of a hearth are made and maintained.

In setting up a hearth some questions need to be answered. Many of these questions were asked back in the post On Ritual Praxis -Beginning to Worship and serve as guides going forward.

The first question of any hearth is: What is a hearth’s place cosmologically, both in terms of representation of the larger cosmos and in terms of on-the-ground worship, reverence, and life for those who gather around it? How do members of a hearth relate to Fire Itself? How do the members of a hearth relate to Gods of the hearth? All of these are powerful questions, as each is intimately related to the kind of place the hearth itself occupies in the heart of a given home.

What Holy Powers are worshiped, revered, and called to in a hearth and how its cultus is shaped depends on how these questions are answered:

What are the Holy Powers and how do we relate to Them? Are there certain directions that are sacred to a given Holy Power, and if so, what are they? What Holy Powers belong in or to the hearth vé? How does the religion relate to Fire and Holy Powers of Fire? Are there established ways to light Sacred Fires within the religion? Are there Holy Powers that should not occupy the same spaces or be close to one another? Should some Holy Powers occupy certain places in a hearth not on the vé at the heart of a hearth, but in some other place such as above the stove, near the front door, near a source of running water, etc.? Are there specific ways each family member relates to the hearth and its keeping?

How the hearth and any vé besides the hearth itself are made and maintained depends on these:

What are the vé or equivalent sacred spaces in the religion? Are there traditional methods in existing sources as to how they are erected, or will new traditions around constructing one need to be made? Does the making of a vé differ whether it is an altar, shrine, hearthfire, and/or mantle? What are the right ways to treat the places where vé are kept? What offerings are good for making in vé? If a vé is at the heart of a hearth, such as above a fireplace or stove, or in the living room or kitchen, does it hold a special place for the family and in the culture/religion of the hearth? If so, what role does a given hearth member take on in relation to the vé?

These are how my own hearth answers these questions.

What a Hearth Is

The hearth is the heart of a family, or writ larger, a Kindred, tribe, or other similarly organized community group. It is where cleansing and purification begins, whether through Fire Itself or through the lives of sacred herbs such as Großmutter Una. It is where sacrifice takes place such as through the offering of Grandmother Mugwort or other burnt offerings, offerings of food which are consumed by the hearth fire or made outside, or where sacrifices and/or tools to make sacrifices are made sacred for their work.

The hearth is placed in an enclosure of Earth, whether it is outside in my family’s sacred grove firepit or in my Kindred main meeting home in a fireplace. The lighting of the Fire brings to mind the sparks that melted Nifelheim, and so, made our lives possible by allowing Ymir and Auðhumla to move about. The lighting of the Fire is also one made in honor of our Ancestors. Once kindled, the hearthfire is the boundless energy of Fire given bounds by Ice, in this case the entropy that occurs as heat and light is given off in the burning of fuel, and contained by Earth in which the Fire is housed and whose fuel Fire burns. Water results from the Ice melted and pushes to the surface of the burning log/Tree, and wisps of smoke from the log and any offered herbs continue the sacred burning of Fire Itself and Air from the smoke of the log and/or herbs. Each Fire is related to Muspelheim and each log to every tree, so we engage in the cycle of Fire that burns the Earth from which we come so that heat and light can warm us and shine on us, take in our offerings, and take up our prayers to the Holy Powers, including Fire Itself and each individual Firevaettr that comes to rest in our hearth.

So, each hearth made and each hearthfire lit is a living recreation of the Creation Story. Each hearthfire lit is itself connected with the First Fire and is a vaettr, a spirit, unto Itself. Each log burned is itself an offering of the Earth and we give offerings to Fire, Earth, and every other element involved in its lighting. In the midst of all this, a hearthfire is also a signal of cleansed, holy space to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and an invitation for all of us to come closer.

Personal and Sacred

Hearth cults are diverse, whether due to personal relationships a hearth has with its Holy Powers, the land one lives on, or any number of personal factors. A hearth cultus for a lone college student living on campus will look utterly different from that of a family on several acres of land. This diversity should be embraced.

Having been on both sides of this, restrictions can abound for college students that don’t exist for folks in a home. A prohibition against candles will mean that, instead of turning to a lighter or matches, one will probably turn to LED candles to represent the glow of a hearthfire. There is nothing inherently wrong in this; after all, electricity is a form of Fire. Some folks live in homes where size restrictions means that at most LED or tea lights will be the only sources of fire beyond, perhaps, the stove. Whatever the location of a hearth’s vé, the place will need to be undisturbed by animals and respected by those who will be in its presence. If the vé needs to be temporary, only pulled out when actual ritual is going on, then its holding place should be one held in sacred regard.

What matters for a vé is not the size of it, but that it is a place of good and sacred contact between a Heathen and their Gods. Even if the container for one’s hearthfire is a small tin, containing only an image of the Holy Power(s), a tea light, some matches and a small bowl for offerings, this will be enough so long as the Holy Powers are pleased and the cultus can be carried out with reverence. When I first became a Pagan I had a vial with five salt crystals to represent the Five Elements in my rituals. My altars grew from these small beginnings into the altars over time seen here, here and here. My mobile vé for conventions tends to be my collection of prayer cards, an offering vessel, and maybe a few representations of the Holy Powers otherwise. What matters it that you have the means to cleanse the vé, make some kind of offering, and have a container for the vé itself. This is where the map of lore meets the territory of being for Heathens. We bring forward as much as we can, learn as much as we can, and it is here, in hearth cultus, where we put all of this into lived relationship with our Holy Powers.

Making a Hearth

Cosmology, including what directions are sacred and why, what Beings related to the hearth, Fire, etc., need to be known in order for a hearth to become established. A hearth is the culmination of the macro and the micro of a cosmology, the welcoming in of Holy Powers, and establishment of sacred space. Without understanding why it is important to establish a hearth, what establishing a hearth itself means, or the importance of cosmology, myth, and how we relate to the Holy Powers, especially Fire Itself in the creation of a hearth, there is no structure for establishing a hearth nor how to do it. Without these bones there is no point to a hearth, no sacred direction to place it or space one may make it. Without the foundation there is no point to making a hearth. Without meaning behind it, then, there is no hearth.

A hearth is the central sacred space of a home.  For many of us, having a physical hearth is an impossibility.  So how do we bring in the hearth for hearth cultus without a fireplace?  Candles are one way, whether they are burnable or LED.

Are there traditional methods we can see in how to erect a hearth? We can look at how the ancient cultures Heathens erected their homes, and what information remains to us from how their own hearths were established. Most of the information useful to this goal will not be blatantly stated. Given that most of what is available to us in lore is relevant to rulers, not the average ancient Norse, Anglo-Saxon, etc, and given the sources are mostly for skalds and poets to read aloud or for instruction, much of the establishment of modern hearth culture will need to be derived from what we can find for the hints at mindset and worldview in the sources, and from there our own intuition and interactions with the Holy Powers.  A simple example is the centrality of the hearth from lore and archaeology. What remains to us is acknowledgement that the path of the Sun was sacred, and so East is a good candidate for a vé to face or be placed in.

As with a great many things, where lore and archaeology tell us little or hint at things, modern Heathens will need to make our best guesses, do divination, and be willing to correct ourselves when new information rises.  Likewise, the practical needs of any given space will need to be taken into account as well.  Even though the East is a good candidate for a vé to face in, my family’s Gods’ altar stands in the North before the only window in the room.  This table has the best space so our Gods’ representations and offerings are not crowding one another and best fits in front of the window.

Since we do not own the home we are living in and our altars are all upstairs, our vé hold primary places for us in the family, namely our bedrooms.  Were we to be living on our own I imagine the different vé we worship at would be spread over the home.  The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we hold the closest cultus to might be in a central vé, such as above a literal hearth on a mantle, or on an altar in the center of the living room.  The making of a vé does differ, as a literal hearth at the center of our home would invite variations of ritual that our current set up does not.  If our vé were on a mantle we might not have an altar cloth, or if we did it might be made of very different materials such as pelts/fur and/or heavier cloths.  Our current Gods’ vé is adorned with different colored cotton cloths marking the different seasons.  Sometimes we change our Ancestor vé cloth colors as well to mark the seasons.  We have small heat-resistant stands for when we burn candles, incense, reykr, or offerings.  Given we are in bedrooms and the smoke alarms are very touchy we do not tend to light candles or burn much in the way of offerings or reykr.   This would this change with having a hearthfire, and so would the care of the ashes.  Living on our own, we might collect the ashes of the hearthfire to use in crafting sacred things, such as soaps for cleansing or in leatherwork for fur removal.

Our hearth cultus centers around the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we are closest to.  For each of us that differs with our individual relationships, but for both our family and our Kindred it is Oðin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, Gerða, Loki, Angrboða, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Mimir, and Hela for the Heathen/Northern Tradition Gods.  Other Gods of our family hearth are Brighid, Bres, Lykeios, Lupa, Bast, and Anubis.  For our Ancestors we give cultus not only to our blood Ancestors, but also to the Ancestors of our lineages, such as the spiritworkers who came before me, and to those who have inspired me over the years such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Among the vaettir we hold cultus for are the landvaettir and housevaettir.  Each of us also tends our own personal vé to different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We engage in our hearth cultus daily, including night prayers and offerings at the hearth, and at the dinner table with meal prayers.  We also occasionally share in ritual celebration of different holy days around our hearth, or with the Kindred around its hearth.

An Example of Daily Hearth Cultus

My family’s daily hearth cultus tends to be quite simple. Most of our hearth rites are some variation on this:

  1. Begin by cleansing.
    1. Most nights we do this by deep breathing three times, expelling the dross of the day out of ourselves and away from the vé, and breathing in good, clean air so we concentrate on the prayers and offerings we are going to make. If we have had a particularly hard day, if we are in a time of powerful transition (such as after a funeral or during a holy tide), if a ritual calls for it, or if it just seems time to, I make a Sacred Fire with Großmutter Una, making reykr over all of us, and the vé. We may pass a lit candle in a similar fashion to working with Grandmother Mugwort, or work with both Fire and Großmutter Una together, passing them over the vé once or three times in a clockwise fashion around the altar. The number 3 is one we recognize as holy, and clockwise works with the turning of Sunna’s journey and the seasons She helps to bring.
    2. Cleansing by Reykr
      1. Make a prayer thanking the Fire, a simple one such as “Hail Eldest Ancestor!” or, a more elaborate one like “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Firevaettir! Hail Eldest Ancestor! Ves ðu heil!”
      2. Lay down the herb to be burned, in this case Mugwort. Make a prayer of thanks, simple like “Hail Großmutter Una!” or “Thank You for Your gift, Großmutter Una, that cleanses us and brings our prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir!”
      3. Light the match, lighter, or strike the flint and steel. Waft the smoke around once, or three time around yourself, any attendants, and the altar and its contents. If there are items you would like the Holy Powers to bless, waft Them through the smoke before doing this so the item comes into the vé cleansed.
  2. Make prayers.
    1. Most of our prayers are fairly short and to the point. We have a Night Prayer we follow, which is a rote prayer my wife and I developed for our many Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It serves two purposes, the first being is a unifying prayer of thanks for all the gifts our Holy Powers give us throughout our lives, and it also helps our children to come to know the Gods through at least one attribute that They gift to us, and to be thankful for it. We take this time to give any other prayers, whether thanks to Thor for protecting us in the latest thunderstorm, or to Frigg for peace in our home.
    2. Prayers at the Vé
      1. Following the format of our Night Prayers, you could use the simple formula of “Thank You <Holy Power> for <Blessing/Gift/Function>! Hail <Holy Power!>”, for example “Thank You Freyr and Gerða for the World around us!” Another form of prayer would be to gather at least three heiti for a Holy Power you are close to, have fondness for, or are trying to get to know, and pray in a format like this: “Hail Oðinn, the Inspirer! Hail Alföðr, the All-Father! Hail Rúnatýr, God of the Runes! I seek to know You better!”
  3. Make offerings.
    1. It is not enough for us to only pray. We exist in a flowing relationship with our Holy Powers, receiving and giving good Gebo, gipt fa gipt, or gift for a gift. Given we have several altars we dedicate one day to each group of Holy Powers, the first to our Gods, the next to our Ancestors, and the third to our vaettir. Each God has some kind of vessel in front of Them. Our mainstay offering is water. We also make special offerings, such as whiskey, mead, coffee, or food. If we make a special offering that could spoil before our next round of offerings, we respectfully dispose of it in the sink if it is liquid, giving a prayer to the God it is for and a thanks for Their blessings. If the offering is food or herbs we do not burn at the altar, we place it outside in our sacred grove’s Yggdrasil representation, or wait until a Sacred Fire to burn it. We count food offerings among our special ones because we live on the second floor of a shared home and respectfully disposing of the food offerings as described above once the Holy Powers are done with them is harder to do, especially since most of our offerings are made and disposed of at night.
    2. Making Offerings
      1. As our usual offerings are water, herbs, and on occasion stick incense, I will use these as examples.
    3. For Water Offerings
      1. Since our worldview is polytheist steeped in animism, we recognize the Elements Themselves as part of our Ancestry. In recognizing this we thank the Elements Themselves and the vaettir Who we are offering to the Holy Powers. We might offer a prayer like “Hail Water, Elder Ancestor! Hail Watervaettr! We thank You for the gift of Your body, that we offer to the Holy Powers!” Good offerings to give in turn to Water and the watervaettir would be care for our sources of water, prayers of thanks and recognition of all that these Holy Powers bless. Honoring Water and the watervaettir are other sources of good Gebo in our daily conduct with water, including conserving and care for water sources we rely on and/or come across.
    4. For Burnt Herb and Incense Offerings
      1. Follow the structure above in the Cleansing by Reykr section 1, and in 2, change the language to reflect an offering is being given. Something like “Hail Grandmother Una! Thank You for the gift of Your body in offering to our Holy Powers!” or “Hail Mugwort! Hail to You for being our offering! Holy Powers, we offer this Gebo to You!” or “Hail Holy Powers, we make this offering of Mugwort in gipt fa gipt with You!” When addressing the Holy Powers directly, simply saying “Hail <Holy Power>!” or “This offering is for You, <Holy Power>!” or “I make this offering for You, <Holy Power>!” can be enough.
  4. Divination and Follow Up Work
    1. If divination has been called for, whether due to some accident like dropping an offering or knocking over an idol, divination having been requested earlier, or just a prompting from intuition, we usually do it here after prayers and offerings. Some folks regularly practice divination as part of their daily work in heart cultus. I generally do not, since much of our daily cultus takes place at night not long before I have to go to work and I haven’t gotten the message or intuition to incorporate this. Your needs as a hearth and your ability for/access to divination will be the best guide here.

Maintaining Hearth Cultus

The first step to maintaining a hearth cultus once it has been established is to care for the vé physically and spiritually. Cleaning the space regularly, including the disposal of offerings and changing out cloths, and keeping the icons of the Holy Powers clean promotes mindfulness and reverence for the place it holds in a hearth. The next step is to make prayers, offerings, and to do whatever other daily work needs doing at the hearth regularly.

If the vé is in a fireplace then the cleaning of it serves a practical function in keeping the chimney clear of debris and in good working order. This idea is equally true whether the vé is a fireplace, a mantle, a desk, or even a mini altar-tin.  Since the practical is part of the spiritual work, understanding the hearth and the process of cleaning the hearth from a cosmological standpoint makes the work take on deeper meaning. In setting up the vé you are asking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to help you make an ordered Sacred Space.

The fireplace is no longer just a fireplace; it becomes the hearth, the spiritual heart of the home. The mantle, the desk, the tin is no longer just a mantle, desk, or tin.  In cleaning the vé, the hearth being the micro to the cosmos’ macro, you are helping to bring cleansing and order to this cosmos. It is the where you develop contact with the Holy Powers, worshiping Them and making offerings. As your hearth cultus goes on it may grow or shrink, (or in the case of tins maybe you will make/collect more) and so may the qualities it comes to represent and the meaning the place holds in your home and religious life. No matter your source of Fire for the vé, whatever you put into the Fire or set with It needs to be safely burnt.  Treating the Fire with utmost care is paramount. Every Fire is connected in our understanding, whether the smallest match, the electricity in an LED, or the largest star, and as the hearthfire itself represents Fire Itself, the care each Firevaettr is given should reflect on that relationship.

Whether it is five minutes a day, a half an hour or longer, many times a day, or as we do, cycling prayers and offerings different days of the week, the point here is to maintain a regular practice of devotional work and care for the hearth. Integrating the hearth into one’s life and keep it at the heart may be a struggle for many folks who have never grown up with this. Regular engagement with the hearth physically and spiritually will help this become part of one’s life. Keeping it front and center in one’s home centers the Holy Powers around which the hearth is based, and right along with it, the cosmology and its worldview.

The hearth is one’s cosmos in miniature even if one doesn’t have all the representations of the Holy Powers yet. As I wrote earlier, there was a time when all I had was five salt crystals no bigger than my pinky nail. Now, my family has statues for some Gods and representations for others. Some folks may find they cannot get or afford statues of the Gods. We have statues of Odin, Frigg, Freya, Freyr, and Thor by Paul Borda of Dryad Designs that we bought from different Pagan/Pagan-friendly stores. For Gerða we have a corn dolly with a rake in Her hand we found at a thrift store. Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn’s representations are a slat of red fox skin for Loki, a badger claw for Sigyn, and wolf fur for Angrboda, each representation gifted to us. Sometimes the Holy Powers are looking for different ways for us to come into Their representations because the representation has something to say or it exposes us to worshiping Them in a new way. Sometimes a representation is what we happen to have at the time; during Many Gods West I had to leave a lot of representations and spiritual tools at home and ended up printing off pictures of the Gods for the event altar and my own.  At the end of the day, use what works to connect your hearth with the Gods.

If one’s hearth cultus is mainly in the kitchen your relationship with the cultus may change, and the Holy Powers one worships there, calls to first, or maintains the boundaries during prayer, offerings, and ritual. One might start a ritual in the fireplace by first calling on the Gods of Fire and then Gods of the Hearth, Hearthkeeping, and/or the Home. A ritual in a hearth’s vé located in the kitchen may do it the other way around, first calling on Gods of the Home and then Fire Gods, as the set up and priorities for the hearth may differ from a fireplace’s hearth.  One’s way of offering might change from Fire being the primary element into which offerings are made to Water.  One’s focus of the hearth cultus might be on the Wells rather than Fire, since the main tools one practically uses in this space shifts from containing and maintaining Fire centrally to containing and maintaining Water.  It does not mean that Fire’s importance is lost, only that the focus of the hearth cultus shifts.

For our family, our relationships with the Gods of family, social order come ahead of Fire given we generally do not work with Fire as much in our daily rites.  We involve Fire when we light candles, turn on the light for night prayers, or sit down to a meal, but the centrality that would be there were our vé on a hearthfire or on a mantle is not present.  Something that was suggested to me by my dear friend and Brother, Jim, is that since the namesake of our Kindred comes from Mimir and the Well of Wisdom, and that so many of our offerings and work involve water and water-based offerings, that while Fire Itself is still recognized as the First Ancestor, that Water, the Well, and honoring Mimir takes priority.  Our family is still working this out with our Holy Powers.

Understanding the role of Fire as central to the hearth does not change, nor does it shift the cosmological importance of Fire.  Without Fire we do not see, our altars are not illuminated, our food goes uncooked, our reykr cannot smoke.  What does change is how we relate to these Holy Powers and how these relationships unfold in our vé.  The cosmogenic unfolding from Fire and Ice meeting still is a powerful source of understanding, one that informs how the Waters that are more central to our familial hearth come about.  The Gods of our home will still be central to our hearth cultus even if Mimir and the Well of Wisdom are honored ahead of Them.  The fixed points of cosmogeny and cosmology do not change, only our points of relating to Them and the place they hold in our rites with the Holy Powers.

Differentiating Hearth Cultus Rites from Other Rites

What differentiates hearth cultus rites from many other polytheist and Pagan rituals is the general lack of altered states of consciousness and its focus on devotional worship and reverence. There is no ulterior goal or motive in daily hearth cultus. You’re worshiping and revering the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of your hearth. That is its goal and its focus.

When I was doing the #30DaysofMagick challenges I set the times I did my work with the Runes apart from my hearth cultus work. Not only did this keep my focus on the rites at hand, it also kept my family’s focus since we do hearth ritual as a family and I am the only one among us that does Runework. In keeping the rites separate I kept the kind of ritual focus needed for good hearth cultus in its place, and Rune work in its own. I do have a daily devotional rite I do with Runatyr and the Runevaettir, but again, that is separate from my hearth cultus because that is personal cultus and work I hold with Runatyr and the Runevaettir. Because neither my wife nor our children have initiated into doing Runework that buffer also protects them from collecting obligation or entanglement with Them beyond my family’s already existing ties.

I differentiate hearth cultus from other rites in the use of altered states since, broadly speaking, the focus of the rites which use altered states are generally to another end beyond devotion, worship, offering, and prayer. Altered states like deep trance work tend to operate as uncontrolled liminal spaces even if they are guided. Unlike a hearth rite, in which there are very clear steps, a focus, and end steps in a methodical way, once one enters into even an altered state, let alone contact with a Holy Power in an altered state, the directions one can go with it are many. There may be spiritual work one needs to do, initiation work to prepare for, or, the raw and intense experience of just being in a Holy Power’s Presence among the possibilities.

Gathering Around the Hearth

Hearth cultus can be engaged in by anyone regardless of aptitude for altered states, magical work, initiation, or experience. Its focus, steps, goals, and means to achieve them are clear and accessible to everyone. Many other rites require some kind of ongoing study and/or engagement with Holy Powers and spiritual forces, such as one’s hamr or önd. Some rites will require initiation and others will require exclusive focus on a goal other than worship or reverence.

The heart of polytheism is in hearth cultus. Through hearth cultus we come to worship, pray to, offer to, and know our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping hearth cultus accessible to everyone keeps our religions, traditions, and communities alive, vibrant, and engaged. Through hearth cultus anyone can begin, continue, and deepen relationships with the Holy Powers. We bring our traditions from the maps of lore, linguistics, and archaeology into the lived experience of worship, reverence, and engagement. Our worldview is lived through hearth cultus. Through it, our relationships with the Holy Powers is strengthened and enlivened individually and communally. With hearth cultus our religions are not mere abstractions, a collection of holidays or ideas. Through hearth cultus we pass on these ways of life to each generation. With hearth cultus being at the heart of our cultures and our religions, they are part of our lives, immanent for each of us and connective between us. Here, in each of our hearths, our ways of life are made and lived in good relationships with the Holy Powers and ourselves.

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On Ritual Praxis -What and Why?

March 3, 2018 1 comment

In tackling the subject of ritual praxis I think it is most useful to tackle head-on what ritual and ritual praxis is, why we have ritual praxis, and then, how and why we develop it.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the definition of a ritual is:

1. A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.

and praxis:

1. Practice, as distinguished from theory.
2. Accepted practice or custom.

The purpose of ritual praxis is that it is an established body of beliefs and actions rooted in serving a specific end. In devotional work this is fostering right relationship with the Holy Powers, that is, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. In magic, ritual praxis is established so that enactment of the ritual ends in the aims of the magic being attained. Generally, we will be talking about the former: devotional ritual praxis. If devotional ritual praxis is how we establish and reestablish right relationship with the Holy Powers it makes sense not to have to consistently reinvent the proverbial wheel with each new polytheist.

A refrain I heard a lot when I became a Heathen was that Heathenry is “the religion with homework”. What this ends up meaning is that folks will often throw a book list at people and say “Go read and then when you’re ready to talk I’ll be here.” This approach may be keeping out a lot of folks who could be good community members if the barrier to entry was not there.

Do not mistake me, I actually employ a variation on this approach. However, the diference is that I give people interested in the Northern Tradition, especially those interested in joining Mimirsrbrunnr Kindred a book list with a mix of academic and spiritual work-oriented books rather than merely academic texts. The reason for this is to establish that the person is willing to put in work, is willing to adopt and adapt to a Heathen mindset, and to show that they are willing to put time and effort into the Kindred. In other words, show they are worthy of our time.

This is not where I have seen folks direct the “religion with homework” idea. Often, the would-be Heathen is given an exhaustive scholarly book list with little-to-no instruction on how to be a Heathen. The question is not how useful these resources are to a Heathen, but whether or not their use is to the right end. The ‘right end’ in this case being the teaching of, and eventual integration of a Heathen worldview into a Heathen newcomer’s life. It is worth reflecting on what sources we recommend to those showing interest in Heathenry. It is worth reflecting how useful our sources are to the stark newcomer so that we are not merely flinging books at people or building in an assumption that books are the best and/or only way to learn how to be a good Heathen.

I put far more emphasis in my instructions on working through the reading materials, on the doing aspect of the materials, than I do on the academics. The reason is twofold. First, I need to see that the person is actually willing to join the religion not only in mind but also in heart and conduct. Second, I know that some of the material can be damned challenging if not near-impossible to navigate. I found Culture of the Teutons to be a very useful book, one of the best exploring luck, honor, hamingja, outlawry and the like in ancient Heathen cultures. I do not assign this book in the reading list. I had a hard time working through it, and while useful, many of the concepts within it can be effectively condensed into a talk, lecture, or workshop.

The difference between doing the homework vs consistently engaging in what amounts to amateur debates is part of what I see holds Heathenry back. We have experts within our communities both academic and religious. Rather than have each and every Heathen engage in what amounts to lifetime research projects, I would rather see Heathens and polytheists in general develop materials for children and adults who are becoming polytheists. In ancient times intensive studies would have been for ritual specialists alone. Ritual praxis, meanwhile, was on everyone. Everyone knew their roles, and there was little question as to who did what because traditions, including beliefs and ritual praxis among them, had been passed down the generations. If we are to be lived religions, then this approach is the one to aim for. My long-term hope is that the approach I take to prospective members of the Kindred becomes obsolete primarily through oral teaching and intergenerational transmission of the worldview, Kindred traditions, including the Kindred’s Heathen religion and culture.

Where to Start?

The start of right ritual praxis, aka orthopraxy, is in right belief, aka orthodoxy. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy form the ground from which polytheism grows and matures. The two concepts are not in opposition, but rather, affect and inform one another. Some very basic orthodox beliefs in regards to polytheist orthopraxy are:

  • That the Holy Powers deserve to be worshiped and honored.
  • That ritual is a good way to worship and honor the Holy Powers.
  • That well-done ritual foments right relationship with the Holy Powers.
  • That there are ways of doing ritual correctly and incorrectly.

Basic orthodox beliefs of polytheism includes the baseline of polytheism itself: the belief in and worship of many Gods, and that of animism: that all of Creation is, or potentially is, ensouled. Other beliefs would includes the foundational Sacred Stories of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir as we have them and/or are taught them. The Sacred Stories we pass on help to inform the content of our worldview and from this, our rituals.

Right belief is vitally important. Without it ritual is rendered without meaning. Likewise, right action is important. Without it, right belief is rendered without root in the world.

This does not mean that one’s belief in the Holy Powers must forever be ironclad. One’s belief in the Holy Powers may not be very strong or well defined. What needs to be strong is the belief that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits), the Holy Powers, are real and deserving of good rites. In regards to offerings, the belief that the Holy Powers are real and worthy of offerings is all one truly needs to begin, or begin again, to have a strong connection with the Holy Powers. It is why I recommend making offerings and developing devotional relationships to absolute beginners fresh to polytheism. It is not that the academic background knowledge of the Holy Powers are unimportant, but a matter of prioritizing the development of relationship with the Holy Powers over the development of the person’s collection of books and book-knowledge. Ideally, I would have the two develop hand-in-hand.

Developing Rituals

So if we understand that right ritual praxis is conducted from right belief, then, how do we develop rituals? Baked into polytheism’s cake is the assumption that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are real and that They are active agents in relationship with one another, the world, and with us. How do They respond to us? Through divination such as sortilege and the reading of Runes, and through spontaneous forms of communication, such as omens or direct communion.

If we accept that the ways the Gods can communicate with us are many and active then it stands that some of the ways They may choose for us to develop rites will differ greatly from one another. With that said, what I lay out here are guidelines for the development of ritual.

Step 1: Determine the basic purpose of the ritual.
What is the basic purpose of a given ritual? Is it celebratory, offeratory, or a magical operation? Is it a very formal prayer, or one given to a Holy Power extemporaneously?

Step 2: Determine what the ritual is about.
What are the specific purposes of the ritual? Is it a celebration of a cyclical harvest festival? Is it a weekly offering to one’s household Gods? Is it a magical operation involving the Runes to a certain end, such as healing of a broken limb or protection on a long journey?

Step 3: Determine if there are special considerations for the ritual.
Are there taboos to be adhered to, special needs for spiritual specialists and/or laity, or specific requirements for the ritual to be done well? Are there to be certain offerings made, or a sacrifice to be held?

Step 4: Determine the set up of the ritual’s space, including boundaries, altar(s), and so on.
How is the space to be set up? Are there certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir who need to be present? If so, how? Is the ritual area completely inviolate during the ritual itself, or are people able to come and go as needed? If there are special methods for a person coming into/out of the ritual space, what if any means are there to mark the space and tools/instruments/people to make this so?

Step 5: Determine the order of ritual and the roles of spiritual specialists, celebrants and/or operators.
What kind(s) of purifications are to be done? How are the celebrant(s)/operator(s) to be prepared for the rite? How is the ritual to be blocked, if it involves certain prescribed ritual steps or dramatic enactors? How is the space to be held, i.e. festive, solemn, silence?

Be a Good Host, Be a Good Guest

If a rite is to be more contemplative, such as a meditation space, the ritual space may be more permissive in celebrants coming into and out of space. It may need more seating space, and different kinds of seating arrangements for folks with different mobilities, and potential body restrictions. If the rite is to be festive and wild, then the considerations of places that will be accepting of louder noise, places for celebrants to catch their breath, the provisioning of food and/or water will need to be considered. It may be that some celebrants or operators wish to be part of a rite, and have need of special consideration.

Not all celebrants/operators may be able to handle hours of dancing, but may still wish to participate in a wild, festive rite. Consider this in setting up the ritual that folks with mobility issues may need areas designated for them to be safe such as space for a seat and/or mobility aid, walkways, and so on. Consider that some folks have dietary requirements or restrictions, such as needing to eat at certain times or not eat certain foods, so be sure that everything food and drink wise that you have a list of ingredients for these things on hand so all your participants may be informed and safe. Most of these seem to be common sense, yet simple set up for seating in an especially long rite can be overlooked in the early planning stages and later bring great distraction to an otherwise well-planned ritual.

Clearly laying out the expectations for the spiritual specialist(s), celebrant(s)/operator(s), and/or guests is a must. It may not prevent a disruption in ritual, yet it can help mitigate issues as they come up in a ritual. Letting people know who to turn to if they forget a step, or how to say certain ritual phrases will make the ritualists jobs’ easier and make the rite flow smoother. That said, if people become disruptive or antagonistic to the rite, it is far better to eject a person than it is to try to keep soldiering on. Ignoring a disruptive or rude person may be directly insulting to the Holy Powers, or lessen the usefulness of the working at hand. At the end of the day, for the people involved being a good host to and a good guest is key to ritual going well.

The Small Details of Ritual

If a ritual is a a ceremonial act done in a prescribed order, then it follows that as many great details to figure out, there are small details to consider a ritual ought to go. Should cleansing be done with the right or left hand? Should one enter into ritual space on a certain foot? Should an idol be approached only by an initiated priest? Are there exceptions to these rules, where an idol which is usually only approached by a priest is shown to the laity?

Notice I said these details may be small -not unimportant. Especially as polytheists develop their own traditions of worship with Holy Powers the disposition of small details may become more important to the completion of a good ritual. There may be good reasons related to cosmology for offerings to be laid down a certain way. For instance, in offering to Gods of Muspelheim one may be directed to lay them down in a southerly direction, as in lore it is said that is where Muspelheim may be located. For Gods of the Underworld, or for those spirits who are located beneath the Earth, such as the Dvergar, placing offerings for Them in an elevated place may be insulting, so you place offerings on or in the ground for Them. Rivers may be seen as running throughout the Nine Worlds, and so, disposing of offerings into running water may be seen as near-universal for the disposal of offerings, or only for certain Holy Powers, depending on one’s view and relationships with the Holy Powers. Since all the Nine Worlds hang on or are within Yggdrasil, making offerings at a special tree serving as Yggdrasil’s proxy may be a good place for offering to any of the Holy Powers.

The consideration of the small things may be the entire point of a given ritual or magical operation. If the small things are unattended to, the rite may be spoiled or the operation fouled. Something as seemingly small as not setting down an offering in an exact order, or circumambulating with a censer or blessed water may seem minor to us. If our point is to worship and honor the Holy Powers, then even our small things need to be oriented towards this.

It is worth remembering that in many of our rites we are reenacting cosmological principles in even the small gestures we make. Going sunwise, then, is not just something we do in many of our Heathen rights because it is something we brought in from Wicca. The Sun, through Sunna’s chariot, brings the blessings of warmth, growth, and life through Her cycles. By not following Her rhythm in a ritual, say, to bless a garden, we may be bringing in other cosmological influences that are not in accordance with the rite. In this instance, by passing our hand over the garden against the sun or counterclockwise, we may be asking for Mani and the Moon’s blessing or Nott’s influence in darkness to vegetables that need a great deal of sunlight. The symbolism we employ, whether or not we realize it, is alive with meaning and import to each ritual, even, and sometimes especially in these small gestures.

The Roles of Divination

Divination and other forms of spiritual communication are a good part of how the balance of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is kept in polytheist religions. It provides direct communion and feedback with and from the Holy Powers. The methods of divination available to a diviner are likewise hooked unto orthodoxy and orthopraxy. On a basic level, the orthodoxy of divination, and divine communication in general, is that the Holy Powers are real, and can and do commune with us. The basic orthopraxy, then, is that in the act of divination we are open to change as well as reaffirmation of what has come before, both in terms of our orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Divination serves a number of functions in the creation and execution of ritual. Among the uses for the creation of ritual itself are:

  • The creation of a ritual calendar/cycle.
  • For whom a given rite may be dedicated.
  • The timing of a ritual/series of rites.
  • Determining the proper order of a rite.
  • Determining the sacrifice(s) for a rite.
  • Who should be doing what before, during, and after the rite.

Among the reasons one may wish to divine during a ritual are:

  • That the set up for a ritual is good and acceptable to the Holy Powers, that things are in order for the rite to begin.
  • Checking in when an incident or accident occurs during the rite, such as someone being burnt during the rite to see that it is merely an error/accident and not a response by the Holy Powers to the occurence.
  • That the offering laid down are accepted.
  • That any messages the Holy Powers have for those gathered are received.

Divination itself is beyond the scope of this post. Like ritual craft, divination is a craft unto itself. Like ritual craft, divination requires you to do it to learn how to do it better.

Bringing the Rites Home

Generally speaking, a good chunk of ancient polytheist religion was lived in the home every day. It makes sense that the majority of polytheists today are in a similar boat. While folks may read everything above and think of it in terms of larger group ritual, such as a Kindred or similar group getting together, it matters just as much, if not more so, to the people in their homes. After all, if the majority of polytheist religion is practiced in the home, thinking about why and how we approach ritual has immediate impact on how we relate to our home cultus.

So why do rituals in our home? It’s where we live when we’re not working or running errands. It’s where our roots are set. Our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, then, should be where the roots of our lives are set. Many of us live in places where going outside to do ritual is impractical, lack an outdoor space which would be undisturbed and kept sacred to the Holy Powers, and/or lack a temple space outside the home. By necessity then, the home is where most modern polytheists do ritual.

For my family the rituals we do as a family the most often are prayers to our Gods each day, each meal, and each night. We have rote prayers we have memorized for these, both because when we started to do them it was far easier to teach than how to do extemporaneous prayers. Doing things this way provided a set of common prayers for how to address our Holy Powers, a common well that we draw from in all our home rites. We do weekly offering rites which incorporate prayers, gestures, and the giving of physical offerings, usually water, food, and/or alcohol. We may celebrate the seasons and holy days doing much the same.

The beautiful thing about polytheism is that no one’s home cultus has to look like another’s. The how of how we do ritual in our home’s is individual. While my Kindred and I share similarities in home cultus, it is unique to each of our families. For instance, our altar setups are different. We use resin statues from Paul Borda of Dryad Design for many of our Gods, whereas another family uses statues from Unicorn Studio. Many of our offering vessels are clay, wood, or glass from garage sales and thrift shops. Our representation of Gerda is a corn dolly that came from a thrift shop with a wooden rake in her hand.

We also place different emphasis on different Gods depending on the household. In our home Odin and Frigga are the head Gods we worship and offer to, and then we offer to the others. Thor and Freyr may be the first Gods in other Kindredmates’ homes. Even between members of our family we have different emphasis on different Gods, even though we collectively worship the same Gods. Our son, for instance, has an altar to Thor and the housevaettir in his room that he takes care of on his own, while I emphasize Odin in my own practice and time where we do not worship as a family.

What unites us as a family and a Kindred is a shared worldview where the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are to be honored and worshiped, and shared ritual structures. What each of our Kindredmates does in our own home will have variations from each other depending on some combination of our relationships with the Holy Powers, what we have to carry out our rites with, and what we are able to do.

The Unfolding is Ongoing

As Heathenry and the Northern Tradition Pagan religions are lived through, rather than merely being set down in a book or series of books, orthodoxy and orthopraxy are continuously unfolding. Sometimes certain orthodoxy are held throughout one’s life and continue on through the generations, such as the Holy Powers being real and worthy of worship. Likewise, orthopraxy such as the giving of offerings for the Holy Powers are held right along with them. Some orthodoxy, such as the belief it is wrong to offer certain things may come to fall away with orthopraxy of divination to determine what are good and right offerings.

In the polytheist understanding of orthodoxy and expression of orthopraxy is that we are in living relationships with our Holy Powers. There is reciprocity consistently between ourselves and Them, lived in every thought we give to why and how we do what we do, and in the doing of the thing itself. There is reciprocity in the asking of “what should we do and how?” and following up on those questions. Why we do this is to live in good relationship with our Holy Powers. How do we do this? Eventually, all comes down to our relationships with the Holy Powers and Their impact on and in the lives of our communities, our families, and ourselves. As our relationships unfold with the Holy Powers, so too will our orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and along with these, our worldview and ritual praxis unfold.

We will explore how one can start to worshiping the Holy Powers in the next post.

Small Devotional Work

November 24, 2017 1 comment

Of late, I have had to be okay with doing smaller devotional work.  I like doing my altar work; it’s formed the core of my practice for most of my religious life, Catholic and Pagan/polytheist.  Between a more hectic home life and moving religious work, though, I have had to move out of comfort zones and into different ways of doing devotion on a regular basis.  This happens, and at different times in my life altars and shrines have been more and less central to my religious life.

That’s not to say I have stopped altar work entirely.  I still approach my altars and pray at them.  My family and I still make our nightly prayers at them, and make offerings at least weekly at them.  That, however, is the difference: once a week offerings vs. say, every other day as was the norm until a few months ago.  While other kinds of devotional work do not take the place of making offerings of food and drink, I am shifting more towards other kinds of devotional work.  I’m sure if we had a fireplace or a wood stove more of my offering work would be centering around it.

So what kinds of devotional work am I doing?  If you are reading this blog, well, you are reading some of my devotional work.  Among other projects, I am slowly putting together different books, including a book on the fallow times, a 2nd edition of Calling to Our Ancestors, and a book for Heathen children.  Devotional books for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir may be down the line too.

What about my daily devotional life?  Prayers.  Prayers and regular spiritual ground work.  Foundational stuff to be sure, but necessary.  I have started to get back into working out, finally, and that is an offering to several Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Small offerings like the one I wrote about.  The work I am engaged with now is more and more geared towards bringing devotional work into as much of my life as possible, weaving sacred work into my life wherever I am.  Whether working out or spending time with the family, cleaning, brewing mead, or making poetry, much of my devotional work is shifting more towards the doing end of devotional work while maintaining footing in offering devotional work.

Part of me does fight this.  The familiar feel of kneeling or bowing at my altar, offering drink and occasionally food with prayers is all very familiar.  Sometimes a bit too rote, though.  Sometimes being shook up is part of the experience.  Sometimes finding different routes for devotion is the way forward.  So keep on doing, keep on exploring, and find different ways to connect with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Keep on bringing Them and you together, into good Gebo in more ways.

Thinking Locally and Acting Locally

May 5, 2016 2 comments

I love politics.  I find it fascinating on an intellectual level.  I also find it entertaining, probably on the same level as some of my friends enjoy the soap opera style of WWE or Lucha Underground.  Hell, one of the candidates was even on WWE.

I also recognize that most politics, or what passes for it, is a complete waste of time.  Most of the things I have any hope of affecting as a voter are decided at local, regional, and sometimes State level elections.  Though, with the way our legislature in Michigan works, should appropriation funding be in a bill that passes there is no way for us voters to hold a referendum.  This is how the Republican-led State Congress pushed through a lot of legislation of all kinds lately, and made them stick despite loud protest.

I still vote, especially in local elections and ballots, because that is where a lot of funding comes for things like our police, fire, libraries, and so on.  It’s also where our leadership comes from for local boards, among others.  It directly affects my family and I.

A phrase I have heard for a long time now is “Think locally and act globally”.  It bothers me, because when we get down to brass tacks, my spheres of influence start and end locally.  I’m only acting globally if I’m acting with enough people that our collective pull is felt in some way.  A lot of the things I hope to make impact on simply don’t register all that large, even with a good number of folks interested in it.  My view is that we should be thinking and acting locally, and let things develop from that.  It is hardly a new view.  However, rather than be in the vein of ‘you need to change yourself before you change the world’ in an abstract way, or even a psychological one, this thinking and acting locally is a tactical one.  It is also tends towards the whole person rather than an aspect of them.

I have no hope of changing national policy.  I may not even be able to change a region’s view of how things like environmental care, farming, local interdependence, sustainable housing, and the like could be.  What I can change is how I do things.  What I can change is how I help people in my tribe, Kindred, friends, and allies.  What I can change is things on a very local level.

Otto von Bismarck said

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.

Ideals are good things to have; they give us things to aim for, to work to attain.  They help guide our decisions communally and personally.  However, practical effects are what is lacking in a lot of politics lacks now, especially those that affect us locally and nationally, such as the ways we need to address environmental damage our ecosystems are taking on, climate change, and Peak Oil.  Lining up on either side of an ideological divide may feel good, but ideology won’t keep your family fed or help you endure the Long Descent.  If all you have is ideology, after a while all people will see you offer them are platitudes rather than something that will actually help them live differently.  If you want to change the world, not only do you need to be that change, but you have to help others be able to see themselves in that change too.

Lately, my family and I have been doing a lot of simple  wild yeast mead brewing in mason jars.  We had our first batch finally finish, and it tastes great.  Not only did this teach us that this is a completely viable way to make really good mead, but for our close friends with whom we are sharing this batch, it provides us a means of sharing the results, tying hamingja and wyrd closer together through Gebo, and perhaps inspiring others to take up brewing as well.

Is it a huge change?  No, not on a global scale.  Locally, though, it is helping Michigan bees and bee farmers, we’re reusing glass mason jars and ceramic bottles, and we’re learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.  When we grow our own food this spring and summer, will that be huge on a global scale?  No.  It will, however, save us quite a bit of money in food bills, we’ll be using mason jars and potentially ceramic for some, if not a good number of the food we’ll bring in, and we’ll be learning practical skills, the results of which go well as gifts to our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tribe, family, and friends.

Part of the thinking and acting locally is that I drop the need or, as I would have put it during my ceremonial magic days, the lust of result, to have the large, powerful impact on a nationwide scale.  My worship and working with Jörð reflects this idea.  I worship Her as a Goddess of the Earth, and I also relate to Her as a Goddess of the Earth where I am (without exclusion to local land/Earth Gods and Goddesses), as I am also tightly bound to my local environment as I am to the Earth.  I have developed a relationship with Her in the context of where I am, where I live, and where I grow my food.  How could I hope to change Her?  So, I take up the space in Her where I live, where She and the landvaettir share with me, and do what I can where I am.  Therefore, all of my actions take place on and within Her and alongside Her in a local context.  To try to separate my understanding of Jörð from my local understanding renders my relationship with Her far less meaningful, to the point of meaninglessness in most contexts.  This thinking and acting locally is often referred to as regional cultus.  It is religiously thinking and acting in relation to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the local level.

The idea of thinking and acting locally is not separate in terms of religious cultus, growing food, addressing Climate Change, Peak Oil, or environmental damage.  Rather, I take them as a whole, with religious regard running throughout even if addressing environmental damage is not, in and of itself, a religious ritual or act.  I hold relationships with the landvaettir, and because of this relationship on a personal religious level and practical level together, I have a deeply invested interest in the environment thriving and the neighborhood we are part of together doing well.  If I care for the landvaettir, I care for the wellbeing of Their body/bodies, the physical land, plants, creatures, and other Beings which make Them up, and I care for Them on a spiritual basis as well.  It means helping to keep the environment clean and healthy while maintaining good relationships with Them through offerings, prayers, and actually visiting with Them.

Giving general ideas of how to interact with the landvaettir is only so useful.  I can go with lists of offering ideas, but inevitably I will come right out and say something along the lines of “You will need to learn what would be good as an offering for your landvaettir.”  This is part of the idea behind thinking and acting locally for the environment, Peak Oil, or Climate Change.  There’s only so much I could tell you about permaculture techniques or ideas for how to live sustainably that would apply with any accuracy.  Most of the permaculture, homestead, and other skills classes I have gone to have been held by and at places local to me.  Their lessons are bound into how our land works.  I could not tell you useful species of trees to in a Californian environment.  I could not tell you what herbs are invasive, native, useful, or good to grow in that soil.  It’s simply outside of my research and experience.

This is also why I talk a lot about getting to know our Gods locally.  That is, if you are worshiping a Goddess who was associated with wells, maybe get to know Her with your personal well if you use well water, or develop a personal relationship with the local bodies of water where your drinking water comes from.  Do research on where your water comes from, see if the Gods of waters have any association with it, or directly manifest in it.  See if the waters have their own Gods, or big vaettir.  Thinking locally and acting locally means taking steps to relate to this world when and where we are.

Since the body s part of the overarching soul matrix I also look at the bodies of water as the physical component of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Water.  Likewise the other elements.  How we treat the bodies of these Beings matters, and its impacts hit us in like fashion in our bodies and souls.  If I treat the body of the watervaettir well (pardon the pun), then I am nourished in kind by the water.  If I treat it poorly, I foul the water, destroy its ability to enliven plants and animals alike, and destroy the ability of my ecosystem to live healthy.  If I live upon the Earth well then I am nourished in kind.  It is Gebo, and its effects ripple through Wyrd.  When we think and act locally we partake much more readily in these ripples, in how Wyrd weaves.  In doing our part as best we can with our local threads we can more effectively weave with the larger patterns of Wyrd.

A Response to The Uncomfortable Mirror

April 2, 2016 47 comments

Since the posting of the article Confronting the New Right on Gods & Radicals, there has been quite a lot of writing going on in response to it.  When I first came across it, I was going to weigh in on it.  Then, I caught the flu my son had just gotten over, and in my usual fashion when I get sick, it took me down hard for a few days.  I watched from the sidelines as conversations unfolded, and I could not help but think: good.  We need to talk.  We need to weigh things and figure out where we stand on things.

Rather than seeing these recent developments as portents of doom for the polytheist communities, or for various folks in the Pagan communities, I see these as part of a larger unfolding within these communities.

“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.”

When I read these words that invoke a reckoning, from Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on Patheos, The Uncomfortable Mirror, particularly from someone who identifies as a bard, that not only gives me pause, but I am urged to ask
“What is this bard calling for, and why this word?  What kind of reckoning is he calling for?”

The use of words is a powerful thing.  The word polytheism is a word that contains a worldview within it.  All the religions within the various polytheist communities take their basic understanding of who they are, what they are, and where their religion starts from this word.

The use of words is a powerful thing.  The use of words like devotion, for instance, is one that comes up quite a lot in discussion in Pagan and polytheist circles.  It has in Wildermuth’s piece, but how he uses it bothers me.  He uses both ‘relational’ and ‘devotional’ as words for identification within polytheism.  The reason why this use bothers me is that polytheism is devotional in nature.  Devotional means “Of or used in religious worship”.  Since polytheism is “The belief in or worship of more than one god” this division in language makes little sense, as worship requires devotional work, offerings, etc. in order to be of or used in religious worship. A religious regard for the Gods renders us in a relationship with the Gods.  There is no point to how Rhyd Wildermuth uses ‘devotional’ and ‘relational’, especially in quotes, because without these things as being part of polytheist religion and polytheism itself, you do not have belief or worship because there is no religious regard for the Gods, and thus, no relationship with or to Them, except perhaps as a rhetorical device.  Why one would try to divorce devotion and relationality from the Gods makes no sense to me, especially since this is the very ground of polytheism itself.

The problem with Wildermuth stating that his post, Confronting the New Right, was a resource supplement to Shane Burley’s article Fascism Against Time, is that nowhere in the original draft of the piece does Rhyd identify himself, the purpose of the article, or that it is to be an information page on the New Right.  As someone more predisposed towards Wildermuth’s left views, and having read the article in question, I found myself consistently simply not seeing what he insists is there in the original article in his latest write up on it, The Uncomfortable Mirror, in which he tries to give this clarification.  Had he been clear and upfront in his presentation this incredibly long post would never have been needed.  However, I made no connection between Confronting the New Right and Fascism Against Time.  It was not until I read this latest post by Wildermuth that I realized there was supposed to have been a connection!

Part of the issue, especially not being part of anarchist, Marxist, or far-left circles myself, is that the article itself provides little understanding of what the New Right itself is.  In this, it fails as a resource.  I need to know why the right alone, or conservatism alone, is being singled out for this.  Why is the right alone being taken to task on this, and what alternatives does the left offer?  What is actually wrong with being on the right, politically?

Stating that your piece draws no equivalency while people are actively telling you that they are seeing you draw them in this way is either tone-deaf or actively not listening to the critiques you are getting on this piece.  Repeating your disclaimer from the section in question is not actually helping.  We have eyes.  If folks are not getting it, even if you repeat it three times, the problem may not be with the reader, but with the article.  Even in the most charitable reading I gave it, I still was getting quite a bit of false equivocation between the polytheist groups Wildermuth mentioned, the New Right, and fascist ideology.  Not only is this unhelpful, but repeating yourself when folks are blatantly telling you that you’re not communicating effectively is not accepting criticism, nor responding effectively to it.  If this is what Wildermuth views as an acceptable response to criticism, it reads as doubling down on the rhetoric he has already employed, and pushing the Pagan and polytheist communities to this ‘reckoning’.

Here is one of the keys, though, where The Uncomfortable Mirror really makes me sit back.
Wildermuth freely admits that:
“Do I put my politics first? I don’t actually know what that means. Do I favor political ideology over what the gods say to me? Do I favor political action over spiritual activities? This is not a question I can answer, because in my world, they inform each other and are inextricably linked. My gods help me understand my relations to politics, and my politics helps me understand my relationship with my gods. There is no wall between them for me.”

So…wait.  If a fascist said this exact same line wouldn’t he be criticizing them for hijacking polytheism in favor of the New Right?  Why is Rhyd’s view of this suddenly preferential to a New Right view?  He glosses right over this point and heads into the next one, but this bears some serious looking at.

Just because I may have some sympathies with Wildermuth’s views does not mean he is above reproach here.  I believe polytheism needs to be open to all political viewpoints even if its individual communities are not.  Polytheism and polytheist communities are two different things.  He says that both Beckett and Krasskova admit “the possibility that political views might shape beliefs and practice.”  Meaning, this shapes their beliefs of polytheism and their practice of polytheism.  However, it does not change polytheism for polytheists as a whole.  Polytheism is, and remains, the worship or belief in many Gods whatever the ideology, politics, etc. of the individual polytheist and/or polytheist communities they are involved in.

Being unable to differentiate whether or not you are putting your politics before your Gods, or that your politics are so intertwined with your Gods that they are inseparable is something he takes Galina to task for in the very next paragraph, and calls her out directly for.  The problem with doing so, in my view, is that in the Confronting the New Right piece he blatantly says that “The New Right is difficult to define precisely, which has been one of their greatest strengths. But here are some core ideas that are common in most New Right thinkers”.  He’s going to take someone to task for having ideas that align with people he does not agree with.   He is critiquing a group of people for intertwining their politics with religion, while intertwining his politics with his religion.   That he can actually point to Krasskova’s views and say “Look, these are New Right!” means that she and others are being open about their politics.  It is also true that she is being open and forthright with where her religious views take her, including tribalism, hierarchy, eschewing to tradition, and caring for how these things unfold rather than her personal interests.

“Is there a leftist infiltration of Polytheism? And am I—and the writers of Gods&Radicals—leading it? Or did I, by gathering information about the New Right hold an uncomfortable mirror up to a tradition I am a part of? Have I violated sacred traditions, or merely revealed their political aspects?
While I and the writers of Gods&Radicals are quite open about our political views and how they relate to our practices and beliefs, it might be a good time for others to consider being more open about this, too.”

Rather than there being a leftist infiltration of polytheism, I see that this piece is a political litmus test that is being put on polytheism.  So yes, in this sense, he and the writers of Gods & Radicals are leading this.  He gathered information, poorly laid it out, and called a cracked surface a mirror.  He did not violate sacred traditions, but spent a lot of digital ink on why those he is aligned with are superior to the communities he points out in his piece, that the New Right is a threat to polytheist communities and is, itself infiltrating polytheist groups while not actually effectively talking about why the New Right is the threat he makes them out to be.

A good chunk of the issue I had with Wildermuth’s Confronting the New Right had to do with the poor definitions I found in it.  Not being inside left academia or thought, especially that of anarchism or Marxism, I found there were a lot of assumptions being made and nowhere near enough bread crumbs to find my way to where Wildermuth was making his assertions to begin with on the New Right.

The definition of fascism from OxfordDictionaries.com is: “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”  Authoritarian is defined as “Favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom”.  Nationalistic is defined as: “Having strong patriotic feelings, especially a belief in the superiority of one’s own country over others”.

One of many problems with Wildermuth’s piece is that what he is pointing out here has less to do with these definitions and more to do with the general use of the term, as pointed out in the same source: “(In general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices: this is yet another example of health fascism in action”.  He also does not provide context nor definition for what traditionalism is, nor tribalism, nor does he provide much else in terms of context or definition for the other terms.

The problem is not that Wildermuth is pointing out that the New Right is seeking inroads into Pagan religions, polytheist religions, and the like, but that he provides little-to-no-context within this post for it, nor does he provide any effective means of sussing out the working definitions he has here before diving into what the New Right stands for.  A large part of the dismay and anger has erupted directly from this in both articles, and the section titled ‘What is the New Right’s Influence on Paganism?’ in Confronting the New Right.

If the New Right is difficult to define, how much harder will it be for those who are not in leftist, Marxist, or other political groupings to understand where he is coming from?  Read from the outside looking in, much of what he has written in Confronting the New Right does not read like an effective guide, so much a document meant to damn certain ways of doing things while providing a few sentences to the notion of everyone being free to go their own way.

Wildermuth says in regards to the Red Scare and witch trials that, “In both cases, there was a political agency obscured by the hysteria and scapegoating. The Red Scare significantly reduced the influence of leftist critique in the United States at the same time that it strengthened the power of Capitalists and the State against workers.”

I wonder if he understand that by adopting a lot of these stances and putting political litmus tests like these on polytheism in the manner he has done, he is actually playing in the us vs. them politics of left vs. right, and is slowly eroding support, even from those on the left.  Even if he is actively resisting putting political litmus tests on polytheism, that folks cannot see that, and in fact are seeing the opposite is a problem.

Then I read this:
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.” [Emphasis mine.]

Whoa what?  Apparently to whom?  What kind of reckoning?
I first came across this point in detail when I read The Lettuce Man’s A Thought on the Recent Radical Brouhaha, and it’s gnawed at me since I read it.  It still does.  Were the right to use this rhetoric would there not be worry -with reason?  Why not so with the left?

By what right or direction does Wildermuth make this judgment call to bring polytheists to a reckoning, and who is he to make it?

This statement on dialogue is absolutely chilling, and it’s implications are of deep concern.  This is from someone who identifies as a bard, and bards, like skalds, wield words with spiritual impact and power.  A reckoning is “the action or process of calculating or estimating something” and “the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds”.  The use of his words here most definitely point at the latter definition than the former.  So, in what way would Wildermuth avenge the ‘apparent’ lacks he sees within their communities?  Who or what he is avenging?  If not avenging, how will he, or anyone who takes him up in this regard, judge these communities, and mete out punishment?  How could he not expect resistance to this overstep?

Wildermuth goes on to say: “Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”.

Again, he does not define these things.  He does not give clear, useful definitions of what these mean to New Right ideology.  Rather, he asks the rhetorical question “What is really the difference between the Fascism of Augustus Sol Invictus, or New Right ideology of Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist, and the rest of polytheist belief?” and then launches into the aforementioned quote.  He links these ideas, and those of us who hold some or many of these ideas together, giving no context.  It’s a good rhetorical move, but it does not do anything to bring in trust from those of us sitting giving the side-eye to this whole thing.

For a long time I have identified as left in America because of my belief in and understanding of human rights, my view of the role of government, and how people should be left alone to live their lives with full rights and choice available to them regardless of ethnicity, skin color, creed, gender identity, sexuality, etc.  Increasingly, especially with works like this, I am wondering if there is a place for folks like me.  I am feeling alienated more and more by the political system, and then the activists for folks on both ends of the spectrum.  I am feeling more and more ‘cut loose’, as perhaps the best term for where I am right now, because of the things unfolding as they have been.

The left/right divide is increasingly becoming a point of contention without much of a point for me.  At this juncture, I am caring less and less where you are in the political divide, and caring more about “Are you effective at helping us overcome obstacles in our communities?”  This does not mean I’ll just open my arms up to fascists, racists, or the like, but, at least in American politics, I am only 30 and getting pretty quickly burnt out on this bullshit.  I have a limited amount of time in my life that I am not devoting to a job (now two), raising my family, or helping my tribal religious community, and other religious communities to which I am bound.  If I cannot see a political ideology actively contributing to my family, my tribe, or my larger communities I do not have a lot of time or energy left to engage it.

Going back to the quote, I want to dig into some other issues I had with it:
“Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”

Tribalism is “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.”  A tribe is “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”.  Sacred kingship is an active factor in many polytheist religions, including mine, and many of our Gods are, Themselves, sovereigns in Their own rights.  Traditionalism is “The upholding or maintenance of tradition, especially so as to resist change.”  I’ve already said my piece elsewhere in my writing (such as here and here) on why I find hierarchy useful and good to uphold, and not so with egalitarianism as an organizational tool while still believing in equal rights and protections for people.

Tribalism, sacred kingship, traditionalism, and hierarchy are all, in some way, part of the polytheist religion I am part of.
Why would I let these go at all?

Wildermuth asks this:

“There are some deeply difficult questions that we need to ask. Do the gods want us to return to ‘tribal’ societies, do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists, do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?”

First, these are all separate questions.  I think that for some of us returning to a tribal society is precisely what the Gods want us to do, while this is not what the Gods want for others.  Since I’m not the Gods I’m not going to guess Their minds on this, and I trust Their worshippers have the sense or ability to figure out Their views on this on their own, and make their own choice in response.

Placing this together with “do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists” is not a good rhetorical trick, since returning to a tribal society has nothing to do with warring on Muslims and Atheists and Leftists.  It does not follow that returning to a tribal society means we’ll be making war on Muslims, Atheists, Leftists, or our other neighbors.

For the last question “do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?” the answer, for at least some of us, is yes.

That ‘rest of us’ though, who the priests serve, is pretty key, and pretending that a priest of one religion serves everyone is foolish at best.  Catholics have strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between laity and the priests, and between the priests and those of the ecclesiastical authority.  They enter into these relationships with Catholics and sometimes other Christians.  They do not serve me specifically as a Catholic because I am not one.  They cannot institute that strict hierarchy on me.

I have no desire to institute the hierarchy of my religion on folks unwilling to take part in them.  If you do not want to have a strict hierarchy in your religion then don’t belong to one that has one.  If you do not believe there should be authority-relationships between priests and the communities they serve, well, I’m not sure what kind of priests you want, but good luck to you.  You’ll probably not be served by me, then, because if you’re coming to me as a priest of Odin asking for my help, say, in what to give Him an offering and then completely discount what I have to say, there’s not much incentive for me to keep helping you.

The very last bit Rhyd leaves us with though, bears some looking at:
“And did those gods happen to notice those are the same ideas of the New Right?”

If They did….do They give that big of a damn?  Perhaps it is about what ideas work rather than where they are politically aligned.  Maybe They prefer the New Right vs. the Left, or vice versa, and you need to consider your allegiances here.

“Perhaps some gods do want that, but that leads us to another question:
Do we want that?”

Well, that really depends on how we view things then, doesn’t it?  What matters the most, as polytheists, to us?  Our ideology and politics, or our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir?  At some point, we will have to decide which view is most important: our own, or that of our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.  I would say that if you do not want what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you are dedicated to want, then it is you that needs to adjust your thinking.

Are there people I disagree with religiously and/or politically that I still venerate?  Hell yes.  For instance, the Catholics in my family who hold onto Their religion beyond death and still keep up a relationship with me.  I have no interest in converting, but if saying the Psalms makes Them happy and is taken in the respect it is meant, as an act of offering and service to Them, then I will do so.  It is not about my personal comfort here, because my personal comfort here would probably be to offer Them water, mead, or some other form of food, and praise Them in the religious manner I am most comfortable with.  This gets into host and guest, Gebo and similar kinds of considerations, though.  Do I do what I am most aligned with personally, or what I ought to do as a good host in my religion in relation to my Ancestors?

How we answer these questions determines whether we are acting out of our own interests, or actually engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on Their terms and in respect with Them. It determines how we live our polytheist lives, how we pass on our ways to the next generation, and what place these things take in our lives individually and communally, in our lives and intergenerationally.   The answers to these questions determines the kinds of communities we will build and maintain so that future generations do not have to take on the struggles we did.  It determines what we leave to those that follow after us.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 5

December 31, 2015 4 comments

Having read, watched, and listened to coverage of COP21, I have to say I am utterly disappointed.  Not only were no binding agreements made, what was agreed upon will not effectively address the issues facing the world.  Per the COP21 website:

In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

It failed.  There are aims, but nothing binding.  There is plenty of signed paper, but no promises.  There are plenty of goals, but no ambition to see them through.  Further, it gutted a lot of the binding agreements by placing things like this in the preamble.

KANDI MOSSETT: Right. So, there’s an article. When there’s language in the article, that’s legally binding language. And what they’ve actually done is taking out reference to indigenous peoples’ rights from the article and putting it only into the preamble, which is not legally binding. The same for human rights, the same for food sovereignty. There’s just different things that have happened in the text that—intergenerational equity is also in the preamble, so a lot of the youth are very upset as to what’s happening. And I think it’s kind of a shame that we’ve—actually, at the 21st COP, more than a shame, it’s a crime that we’ve taken a step backwards by taking out the rights of indigenous peoples.

 Not only are there no easy answers, there is no plan for addressing climate change on a global level.  So too, there is no global plan for addressing peak oil.  There are only a few places where peak oil and climate change are being actively addressed on a regional scale.  The same with a State or provincial scale.  The most action I have seen and continue to see addressing peak oil, and climate change is within local communities, whether these are tribes, clans, counties, cities, towns, intentional communities, or individual families.

It is incredibly easy to look at this failure of leadership and the impending impacts of peak oil and climate change, to read JMG’s latest piece summarizing what is facing us, and simply fall into despair. I am going to encourage anyone reading this not to do that.

Go to the Gods.  Go to the Ancestors.  Go to the vaettir.  Ask Them for help to do something to address this.  Go do magic.  Work magic to address this.  Go learn and study.  Put your hands to whatever you are able to do.  Organize where you can.  Do what is within your power to do. Do something with those emotions.  Do not let them sit idle.  Use them as fuel.

Grow what you can where you can.  Preserve knowledge wherever you can.  Distribute knowledge where you can.  Learn a skill or learn a trade if you can.  Every single bit helps.

The idea that we will not be able to get out of the Long Descent without casualties has come up a couple of times in the comments in this series of posts.  In every documentary on Youtube I have watched, the idea population decline will, at some point, come up.  It seems expected that we will somehow be able to keep on preserving our ways of life that allow us in America to use 25% of the world’s resources when we are 5% of the overall population of the Earth.  It seems expected that we can just ‘run things on renewables’ when it comes to Q&As at the end of a good many of these lectures, some desperate variation on the bargaining aspect of the 5 Stages of Grief.  When we haven’t invested shit into our infrastructure, into renewables, or into any other way of life but the ones folks are living right now.

People are going to die because of climate change and peak oil, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it.  Whether because of the hubris and neglect of corporations, the incredibly tight controls or severe lack in industry standards with the government, laziness or panic or inaction on the part of the average citizens, our opportunity to stem the tide of these things passed us by well before Morning in America was the rallying cry of the Reagan administration.  Carter tried to be straightforward and honest with the American people on these matters, and he was a one-term president, mocked and roundly criticized for his stances.  No one has tried this and won since.  We are now faced with a world which will see us in the Long Descent as John Michael Greer calls it, the Bumpy Plateau as Richard Heinberg calls it, or the Collapse, as Chris Martenson and Jared Diamond call it.  The end of cheap, abundant fossil fuel is coming, climate change is occurring, and yet we still can affect change on the local level.

I ran across this idea from Michael Ruppert across several of his lectures:

Let us say that there were people on the Titanic who knew that an iceberg was going to hit it, and the Titanic would sink.  These people know there are not enough lifeboats, but that there is time enough to make some in preparation for the disaster that is coming.  There are three kinds of reactions to these people.  The first are those who say “Oh you’re just a doom-sayer.  I’m going to go back to the bar for a drink.”  The second are those who panic, wide-eyed and run around crying out “What do I do?  What do I do?” but do not address the problem.  Then there are third, who say “Let’s get to work on building some lifeboats” and get started working on it.  As with Ruppert, I suggest we work with other lifeboat builders and not waste our time with the first two groups of people.

This means ceasing to fight with those that think global warming is a fraud.  This means not arguing with those who adamantly do not accept the reality of peak oil.  This means ceasing to waste time on folks who want to talk, but not do.

This means getting proactive wherever you can in your life and community to address peak oil and climate change.  This means doing whatever research, reskilling, growing, learning, accumulating of resources, and making community ties now wherever you are able as you are able.  This means reorienting your life in whatever ways that you can so the Long Descent is easier to deal with.

This means that there are people out there for whom it is not worth your time to try to save.  Not that they are intrinsically better or worse than you.  It means that these people will be an impediment to you doing things to actively work in ways that will better you, your family, and/or your community.  On a practical level, the people not willing to build lifeboats with you are simply not worth your time to try to save.  You can love your family, your friends, your neighbors, and they all can be impediments or allies in the way of where you need to go, and what you need to do, to ensure you, yours, and future generations are able to survive.  These are not easy things to think about, and I appreciate that, but if you have put off thinking about them, now is the time.

What I am not saying is “you should not worry about the non-lifeboat builders” or “you should be totally okay with this”.  I have folks in my family who want to pretend that everything will be fine, or technology will find a way.  You know what?  I don’t stop loving them.  I don’t stop wanting them to end their addiction to oil, to join a community effort, even if it isn’t mine, to address peak oil and climate change.  I don’t stop wanting them to change their mind, but I also realize that, after a certain point, all I am doing is wasting our collective time by trying to get them on board.

Hell, in talking with my grandparents on my mother’s side, both realize just how hard of a time ahead we have.  All I can do at this point is ask as many questions as I can of them for how they got through the hard times in their lives.  To ask them how their parents got through the Depression and how they got through the Oil Shocks.  I pray that I get as many old tools and machines that my grandpa collected from garage, estate, and auction sales, as I can.  It’s my hope to put these still-functioning tools to work again.

I cannot offer hope or comfort, outside of “We have time to prepare” and “Better ways of living with the world are possible, and within our ability to do.”  With the coming Long Descent coming, I find comfort in the words of Arundhati Roy:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

The work of addressing peak oil and climate change is working to hear these messages, and put them in to action.  We have work to do, and each will need to decide in what ways their energy and time are best used.  I pray that your efforts succeed.  I pray they pave the way for others to succeed, for all of us to survive, and thrive.

A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 4

December 21, 2015 9 comments

I had not planned a fourth part to this series, however, I was hit by something as I was sitting and experiencing this beautiful rendition of The Sound of Silence.  I went back to thinking about the series of posts that I have been writing lately on consumerism and peak oil.  I was thinking in how my father and I were sitting in the basement while he was smoking after he teared up while listening to it on Youtube.  He explained to me that he had had a lot of friends buried to that song, and it occurred to me to ask him a few things, among them, what songs he wanted to have at his funeral, and if it would be okay if I kept his skull.  This song and yes were among his answers.

We have such an odd relationship with death and endings in this country.  While there is a cyclical nature to my religion, there is a linear one in my father’s, and the predominant mythological/cultural narratives American society tells itself are, likewise, linear, for instance, the myth of progress.  It is very hard for folks to envision things past a certain point.  It’s not the main reason I connect The Sound of Silence to my work with peak oil, though.  No, what I connect with is one the overarching messages I get from the song.  That our things overtake our sense of self, connection, community, even the place of our Gods.  The lines that stick with me the hardest are these:

And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared, and no one dared
To stir the sound of silence

and this one:

And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made
And the sign flashed its warning in the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence

This song sticks in my craw, especially lately, especially because of the dearth of silence I see in the needed conversations on peak oil and climate change.  That we have become overtaken by our things, that our need to have things have supplanted our need for connection.  That the very means by which we enjoy this very song, or as you, the readers read the words, or I as I type them, is all part of the collective death knell of modern human civilization.  This is so discomforting, that, like conversations on death, it is a taboo, a thing we dare not speak or give word to, lest we sound crazy or we dare to step out of line and suggest that another world is not only possible, but absolutely fucking necessary.  It is taboo, echoing in the well of silence.

The other reason this post kind of spoke up and said “Hey, write me,” is because of a comment from PSVL on Part 3.  While I did address e in the comments, between being prompted by The Sounds of Silence and the comment itself, I felt that e was right.  We do need to talk more about folks who aren’t able-bodied facing a future in which cheap, abundant fossil fuels are no longer available, and as a result, neither will our life-dependent medications.  Some of this will be retread of the comments, and some will be me responding having stewed on things a bit.

I wanted to respond to eir’s first and last points to start with:

While I think this is all good, I’m still utterly unimpressed with–and am downright horrified by–the attitudes of JMG, and certain other anti-capitalists we know of in refusing to address the situation of folks like yourself and myself who rely upon medications produced by corporate capitalism for our very lives, that (at least in my case) I won’t ever be able to wean myself away from, short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days. By JMG, when I brought this up, I was told “Well, everyone has to die sometime”; and by the other, I got outrage that I’d ask that question, was told I’d be taken care of, and then was given no details or anything on how that would actually take place in his self-congratulation over how caring and compassionate he was toward poor non-able-bodied sods like me (in ideal, anyway).

and

The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.

I wish someone would actually address that.

No one from the Peak Oil movement that I know of or consistently refer to takes any kind of pleasure or glory from this being the future.  We can, however, enjoy the processes we go through to prepare for a power-down future, and make the Long Descent as pleasant as we are able in the meantime.  We can connect with community, create art, learn skills, write books, teach, and pass on knowledge.  To my mind, it would be better to glorify this responsible lifestyle than to pretend that the one that is touted by American society as ideal is at all sustainable or has a future.

I more or less stand by my original answer to em in this regard.  There is no answer for us coming from established sources.  Since we cannot control funding, research, dialogue, or the larger-scope top-down issues of addressing peak oil and climate change, or the associated complications of peak oil, climate change, and the therapies, medication, and other things that keep us alive, there are only local-level answers I could hope to give. Unless we do work on trying to find replacements for our medications now, or if we can attain some kind of homestasis in a sustainable manner that allows us to live in a powered-down future, a good number of us are outright screwed.  The truth of the matter is, that I don’t think anyone in the Peak Oil communities, or the anarchists, the permaculturalists, the government, researchers, or anyone else for that matter, has an answer for people who are this dependent on medication, therapies, and so on that are only available to us because of the energy output of fossil fuels, and all the industries it is used to run and make products for.  What methods there may be to address our needs in the face of peak oil and climate change, such as alternative therapies, herbal medicines, and tradition-specific medicinal approaches, may well have to be approached from a trial-and-error perspective rather than a rigorous scientific one if things speed up quicker than I am anticipating.

Addressing this from a different angle: what happens to the home healthcare industry (of which I am a bottom tier worker) when the downward slope of the Long Descent makes itself apparent?  It will disappear.

The result of that is nothing short of horrible.  There are clients, consumers, and patients within this industry that fully rely on people like me to give them care, to feed them, clean them, and so on.  What happens when the means by which we are employed vanish?  Some folks will soldier on, doing what they can until they have nothing left to give.  Most will leave.  This will leave the government and families a couple of options, assuming these folks have any family alive.  They can take them into their homes, set up institutions or like apparatus again, at least for a while, or leave them where they are.  Not an easy thought, and certainly not something I like to write about.  However, there we are.  Unless communities start coming together and addressing climate change and peak oil now, and addressing the issue of access to healthcare, this is the horrible reality we will be facing.

I’m paid about a dollar above what a crew member at McDonald’s is paid.  When I/my community gets land and we’re established, my plan is to leave this industry.  Not because the people I served don’t deserve the services, not because they are lesser than I, but because my tribe, my people come first, and the kind of work that will be required to make such a thing work, much less be successful, is a full-time job.

For those who stay in this industry, with as little investment as there is in health care, things will get even worse if communities do not actively come together to bolster and improve these services.  Many of the local movements I addressed in Part 3 may be able to address needs on a local level if they plan for it. I don’t, however, think they will be able to address all needs.

Please, though, do not think I am giving folks a pass on this.  This does need to be addressed.  Taking care of the folks who cannot care for themselves is a humane thing to do, and it requires our consideration for how best to do so.  It is also not a cruelty to say “These are our limitations due to budget, space, etc. What can we do to solve this problem?  Who can we look to for help?  How can we best serve these members of the community?  If we lack the means to serve these people effectively, what can we do?”  That, I think, is key: these aren’t just clients when this goes from a company and its employees doing a job into a community coming together to work on how best to serve these people.  They’re community members.  They have Gods who care for them, Ancestors who care for them, and live among the vaettir.  I am no less than an able-bodied person for my diabetes.  Likewise, those I serve in my current job capacity are no less a person than I.

I have a vested interest in seeing non-able-bodied and disabled folks taken care of.  I’m a disabled person (diabetes, asthma, ADD), and so is my son and my wife.  People I care deeply for, who are chosen family and friends are non-abled and disabled.  Hell, if my tics (which I’m now taking an anti-seizure medication for) get any worse, I may need a lot of help someday.  It’s in my interest and that of my families’ interests, and going outward from there, in my community’s best interests to have a vibrant, viable, and sustainable community that can care for its own.

The basic questions of infrastructure, and the points I raised in the previous three posts will still be factors that will need to be addressed in some manner.  Without these addressed, the job of those who remain or become caretakers, home healthcare workers, and so on, will be that much harder.  Transportation, medication, and compensation will all need to be looked at on a local level.  The same with the costs of healthcare, short and long-term.

We will have to take a hard look at what we can afford to do with what we have where our communities are.  We will need to do this now and in the future in a world where resources are already hard to find, becoming harder and more environmentally and financially costly to find, refine, and produce. We wouldn’t be seeing companies looking to hydraulic fracturing, deep-water drilling, arctic oceans, or tar sands oil if we had a whole lot of low-hanging fruit left.  The EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) doesn’t make sense without high oil prices, and all of them are incredibly environmentally destructive to boot.  Look at the BP Oil Spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing damage to Alberta, CA with the tar sands strip mining and extraction, and the ongoing damage being done in the Marcellus Shale area of PA.  The only reason any of these more expensive, and thus lower EROEI methods of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and use, have gotten any traction was the incredible explosion of oil prices and dropping supply.

When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties, as soon as the last of the insulin in the fridge runs out. Simple as that, unfortunately. Nothing anyone has ever said on these topics convinces me of any other possibility, because no one has ever floated any other possibility (other than the idiots I heard several years back who said “That’s why we’re raising cattle, so I can go on beef insulin.” Uhh…unless industrial levels of beef slaughter are taking place, not enough insulin will be produced, dummy, to sustain your life, and your little herd of twenty cows will not last you even a year for that) which is remotely viable.

As I said in my comment, I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. I see one of two general outcomes.  The first, is that the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lack of investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy.  The other is that peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs exacerbated by our lack of investment in infrastructure, and lack of preparedness for a powered-down future. I believe a combination of these two scenarios over a period of 20-50 years, maybe longer if more folks get on-board, is most likely, since the economy is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to do anything.

The only way that massive volumes of insulin are able to made is because of the meat and medical industry.  We can only do so much on a local level, especially in a powered-down future where the fossil fuels that helped a lot of folks to live goes away.  There’s only so much folks are going to be able to do, grow, or make.

And that you, I, and all of the polytheists in the U.S. and the world can’t actually do anything to stop or change this situation, no matter how local and active and right-relational we get with other things related to this situation might be, makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation.

I liken this situation to Fimbulvinter and Ragnarök.  This is a situation that may have once been preventable, but it is one that we now face without that ability.  We can look forward, grim or joyful, but It is coming to meet us and we, It, through the weaving of Wyrd.  The big difference between The Long Descent and Ragnarök is that the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir are with us should we be willing to ally, and will help us face this future if we are willing to do what we can where we can.  We’re not just living for our survival.  We will help to leave a world in which Lif and Lifthrasir can survive and thrive in.

So, I make of my anger, and times where hopelessness hits me, an offering to my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. I make of my education on how to live better with and upon Jörð and my other Gods, my Ancestors, and the vaettir, as an offering.  I make of the work I put my hands to as an offering.  I will keep going on, and do what I can to this end for as long as I can.  It is my duty.

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