Cutting Ties Pt. 2

There are two parts to this. The first is a copy of the email I sent to Galina Krasskova and Sannion so that everyone knows what I have said and there is no mistaking my stance on things.

The second, this post, is my reflections on things.

I am going to ask everyone who is going to comment to fully read these posts first. Know that I do not delete posts unless they are spam. I also make frequent backups of this blog. None of the conclusions I have reached or the actions I have taken or will be taking in the future were arrived at with haste. If anything, this has been a long time coming where I have ignored my internal compass for too long, and I have hit my limit. Now, on to Part 2.

It has been a year since I reached this decision, and I have not regretted my decision to cut ties whatsoever. It does not feel like a year, though. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Looking back, if I regret anything, it is that it took me this long to make the choice to cut ties. In the last few years I knew them, both besmirched anyone even a bit to the left of them, which is fairly far right. For awhile I thought perhaps they were both centrist. In my early friendship with her, Galina and I held a lot of similar views in regards to universal healthcare, the right of a woman to choose, civil rights for LGBTQIA+ folks, civil rights for BIPOC, and on many other issues. Towards the end of our relationship I had a sinking feeling when they both made fun of or criticized pronouns, particularly the use of they and the use of differing pronouns such as that of Spivak, or neo-pronouns. Likewise to their denigration of the Left in general, Black Lives Matter, and social justice in general.

There were a great many red flags that I ignored for a long while. Their insistence that the Gods were either above political machinations, something I have only ever heard when folks want you to ignore the political implications of their positions, or the over-focus on miasma were warning signs. Something Galina said towards the beginning of our relationship, and that I still hold quite true, is that polytheism itself is revolutionary. It is. To then insist, especially as loudly as she and Sannion did, that the Gods are “above” politics, is to completely ignore the history of how enmeshed the Gods have been in them, and quite firmly are. If someone insists that the Gods are above politics, do not just question it. Demand they explain themselves. While a given God or Goddess is not likely a Republican or Democrat, a socialist or a capitalist Themselves, polytheism, and the Gods from whom these religions are devoted to and rise from, have definite leanings, if not views.

The over-focus on miasma is something that I should have understood as a red flag. It is one thing to wish to be clean, but to insist on it, in all areas? It becomes Puritanical. Taken to the extreme it becomes the fascist idea of rooting out all that is unclean and purging it. This is different from being sure to cleanse oneself before ritual, before divination, before hearth cultus, and so on. The focus on miasma and cleansing it that marked their writing before I cut them out of my life had, at that point, reached something of a fever pitch. Ironic, considering that Sannion picked up and wore one of the most contaminated symbols he could possibly have, and that Galina then defended this decision.

There were a lot of red flags otherwise. Red flags that I set aside, and ignored my own internal compass on. I gave passes when I should not have. To be sure, I argued with Galina and Sannion in private, especially with regards to how they spoke about Black Lives Matter, their hatred towards Islam, antifa, and other subjects. I could have and should have been much more public in my pushback. I thought, given we were colleagues and friends, and I was initiated under both of them, that maybe I had more pull with them than what I did. Had I pushed back earlier the letter I wrote would have been different, and written much earlier. I cannot undo the choices I made that led me ignoring my internal struggle with their rhetoric and harm, nor the choices that led me to separating from them in the way I did.

I cannot tell you what has happened to either of them in the interim beyond a few scant details, and I have no big desire to hear, read, or delve into gossip about them nor to be updated on them. I have avoided their media presences, blocked every method of contact, and have not written or spoke about them much until this post. I needed the time to grieve as they are both dead to me, whatever their physical status is.

This amount of separation has given me time to think on Galina’s role in my life as a Heathen. She came into my life not too long after I became a Heathen. At the time there was a fierce divide in the Heathens and Heathen communities I encountered between folks who were more experiential and those who weighed everything by “The Lore”. It was a fierce one too, one I found fairly inhospitable as a good chunk of the latter were composed of ‘blood and soil’ types, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Galina’s books at the time, and Raven Kaldera’s too, opened up my Heathen exploration to experiences with the Gods in dynamic and powerful ways that still affect me to this day.

When I cut Galina and Sannion out of my life I questioned everything. I asked questions like “Is everything I experienced complete and total bullshit? Do I actually have skill with the Runes? Am I really an Odinsson? Am I a spiritworker? Am I a good Heathen?”

Again and again I parsed those questions and those like them, sometimes at intrusive times. They would pop up when I was trying to sleep or relax. When I was in the shower, about to pray, before divination sessions. I could put them aside for awhile, and they would still be there. Eventually, I came to my understanding in conversation with dear friends and in self-reflection.

Galina was my Elder, mentor, and for most of the relationship after the first four years or so, a colleague to me. We knew each other since about 2007. However, she was not the container of my relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. She was a bridge in them, but she did not contain them. She did not make me a spiritworker any more than she made me a child of Odin. Being a child of Odin was a revelation I came to well before I met her, and being a spiritworker is something I have always felt called to in some fashion or another. Whether it was through her, another teacher, or just my interactions with the Ginnreginn I was likely going to be doing something like what I am now whatever else I did. It is clear from my experiences with and feedback from others that I am a good Heathen, a skilled spiritworker, and skilled in working with the Runes. Looking over my experiences, and the effects they have had on others, most of what I experienced as Galina’s apprentice, student, and colleague was genuine. I have enough people in my life who live genuine, good lives who were willing to call me on my bullshit if I were anything else.

The Runes as vaettir, as spirits? It made sense to me, and given the experiences I had of Them before I ran into her work, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I have no doubt the Runes are vaettir, powerful ones at that. When you cut someone this meaningful to your spiritual journey out of your life, though, you question everything.

Though far less involved than Galina, my experiences and studies with Sannion occupy a similar place. The experiences and initiation I had with the Toys of Dionysos were genuine. The experiences I had with Dionysos were genuine.

Looking back, I think the biggest tragedy between the both of them, and those who have similar stories to them, is the incredible amount of good they could have done. Through their actions they have tainted their work, probably irrevocably. Their work helped provide firm foundations from which others grew. It could have informed many generations of polytheists.

Equally important as the time I have taken to grieve and reflect in the last year is the time I have taken to heal and empower myself. I have kept a regimen of regular cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding. I partnered with Water in a lot of this work, under guidance from a dear friend and spiritworker. I have done ongoing spiritual work for myself and for others in the community. I have kept up my devotions to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, my Ginnreginn. My ties with my Ginnreginn and communities continues to deepen. The cutting of ties with these two has not dampened my desire to do this Work; if anything, it is invigorated in the face of it. It is clear we need more people public-facing willing to talk about, and especially, to do the Work.

To that end, I will continue to offer my services as a spiritworker, which can be found on my Spiritwork Services page, and through my Patreon. I will keep up my fulfilling work with Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm. I will continue to write here on my blog, which you can support through my Patreon. I will continue to make and hold workshops. I will continue to make videos on Heathenry and other topics on YouTube, and engage with folks on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

I am also working on revamping my first book, my anthology Calling to Our Ancestors. I will be removing everything Galina gave to me for the book. In addition to reformatting it, I will be putting in new work so that the book serves two purposes: as a guide on how to do Ancestor veneration, worship, and work, and as a devotional. It is slow going. After all, it took about 4 years to put this book together the first time, and I have many more irons in the fire now than I did then.

I apologize to my loved ones, my family, my friends, and my community for holding my tongue when I should have spoken out. I apologize to the Heathen, Pagan, and polytheist communities for actively promoting Galina and Sannion’s work over the years. I apologize for defending and going to bat for people I should have recognized as actively harmful and toxic.

I am not who I was. I made my mistakes, and I own them. I will keep on doing the Work that is mine to do. My Work is not here to make amends. My Work is here for the Ginnreginn, and if amends are part of that, then that is what it is here for. All I can hope is that my Work shows my worth and my quality.

The Importance of Being Visible

My arms are covered in Runes and I wear three necklaces, a valknut, a Mjolnir, and a stylized wolf when I am out of the house. What this has done has allowed me to connect with folks wherever I go. They ask questions, they want to know “What do these mean?” Even in the case of folks mistaking my Runes, which are the Elder Futhark, for ancient Hebrew, it is still someone saying “I see this and I want to know more.”

My necklaces and my tattoos are public invitations to have a conversation. I display them for my own reasons, namely as a form of devotion and mindfulness of my relationships with the Ginnreginn. However, I would not have a reason to display them publicly if that were the only reason. I could just as easily carry my valknut, Mjölnir, and wolf necklaces in my spiritwork bag and cover up my tattoos. I wear necklaces, rings, and tattoos to display to others. So that, in some way, what I am is seen. I could just as easily have had the Runes tattooed on my back, my upper arms, or somewhere else easily hidden by clothing. Instead, They asked, and I accepted, that They be tattooed on my lower arms.

Recently, fellow Heathens including Maleck, Snow and Gunny, both of whom are wonderful folks, have talked about aesthetic and how it relates to Heathenry, Heathens, and our place in communities. I can tell you from personal experience that aesthetic can also key into being accessible to others in our communities, both in terms of fellow Heathens and those outside our religious communities. Especially being so outward facing in our aesthetics like this, it allows us to be able to be good and approachable sources of information for those who, otherwise, may not learn about Heathenry or Heathens.

It is also why I tend to stay away from the Vikings TV show aesthetic when it comes to my regular online content. No issue with those who do it as part of their own regular content. However, the aesthetics of the show, and cosplay in general, clash with the Heathenry I want to portray, which is historically-informed and modern. What this does not mean is that I lack for ritual aesthetics, historical Nordic outfits, and only wear t-shirt and shorts to ritual. It just means that everyday wear tends to be my most common worn items because most of my rituals do not require specific ritual wear. My most frequent rituals are hearth cultus, so my ‘ritual wear’ tends to be whatever I have on at home. If I have been working out, doing yard work, or am dirty, I clean up, switch the clothes out, and then do hearth cultus.

Our aesthetics, both what we wear for everyday wear and for ritual, can say a lot about us to ourselves, to the communities we live in, and to our relationship with the Ginnreginn. Perhaps over time as we develop from just religious communities into full-blown cultures we may develop varying ways of dress. However, for the moment, most polytheists blend in to the overculture they are living in.

When we step outside of that blending that is a statement. It can be one for ourselves, our communities, and/or our Ginnreginn, but if we wear something, whether it is our hair, tattoos, or clothes that takes us out of the everyday, it is a statement. It is a powerful act, and a powerful responsibility not only for myself, it is equally so for my family, community, and the Ginnreginn. Even more so than wearing my Valknut or Mjölnir openly, my tattoos have opened a lot of conversational doors that likely would have stayed shut. They are vaettir, power, and magic, embodied in me, a living relationship. They are an invitation to others to conversation, understanding, and wisdom carved into my flesh.

What others will get from conversation prompted by the Runevaettir differs. For a lot of folks I am the first and only open polytheist they have ever met. For some folks this prompts a flood of questions, ranging from “What does that word mean?” to “How can you worship so many?” to “What are the Gods? The Ancestors? The spirits?” For others there is a few moments of contemplation, and then appreciation that lights up their face. For some, fear and apprehension strike their body like lightning, and something about the notion of living ancient Gods, Ancestors who listen and speak with them, and spirits all around absolutely terrifies them. For some, just sharing what these living Beings are opens whole Worlds to them. Others will shrink back.

My body becomes a gateway of conversation. My words become a conduit. My demeanor shares connection. Making the choice to take on the tattoos I have, the Valknut and the Runes, I am not my own, alone; I am also my Gods’, my Ancestors’, my vaettir’s. I am, in a very real sense, a vé walking in the world. That is the importance of being visible.

You Cannot Eat Theory

I just read an amazing quote that sums up my feelings on so much: “You cannot eat theory.”

This goes for leftists, polytheists, environmentalists, for damned near anything. You cannot FUCKING eat theory. If your response to someone struggling is to say ‘read theory x’ or ‘read this book/book list’ you are lost.

A popular saying in polytheist circles, especially Heathen ones, is that ‘we are people of the library’. What this has increasingly come to mean to me is ‘I am going to make information as intentionally hard as possible to find and integrate into others’ lives.’ Folks who trot this line out often miss the point of what a library is: it is an open access point for information and education for all age levels, all experience levels, and all people. If we truly are a people of the library then where are the accessible resources for Heathens?

The predominant attitude in polytheist circles still tends to be that you should have your head buried in a mound of books at any given point in time as opposed to living the religion. Mercifully, community expectations in Heathenry and other polytheist religions are changing. It is a slow change, though. I have watched no small amount of people throw their hands up in frustration as so many resources are out of reach, whether by price point or education. I have invested no small amount of money myself in books, both written by academics and fellow polytheists. I am deeply grateful for open, free-at-access projects such as TheLongship.net for existing -and we deeply need more.

Reading theory is not going to impart or teach polytheist religion. Nor will it teach a living leftist philosophy, a living animist/polytheist worldview, or a living relationship with Jörð. It can intellectually bolster a person, but without the lived component those books and those theories are empty air and a waste of time. You cannot teach mutual aid merely by talking about it. You have to do it. You cannot teach polytheism merely by talking about it. You have to do it.

You cannot feed a person in body, mind, or soul merely with theory.

What this does not mean is that theory is useless. Armchair theories, inapplicable and without access? Those are. Pieces of cloth are not joined without the sewing, knitting, crocheting, nalbinding. There are many ways of joining cloth and what they all share in common is that each requires you to apply the theory of their craft. You do not need to understand all the ins and outs, all the history, or all the whys even, though these are fine and good things to know. What you need to know is if this stitch or bind will work for the cloth at hand, and then to do it.

I can go on at length about the beauty of regenerative agriculture or the wonderful things that can be done with permaculture -or I can show it to you in action. I can literally eat the results of the work I have done with my fellows at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm. So many people who talk a good game about solidarity and community cannot eat or share their results because there is nothing to eat and nothing to share. The food I have put into my mouth at potlucks was because of the hard work started and sustained by the Cavanaugh family. This was work that they allow me, and others they invite to Crossing Hedgerows, to do. Living reciprocity.

If our polytheist communities are going to live, let alone thrive, we have to take the steps necessary so that they are nourishing communities to be in. This means we do need to have standards of behavior, work, and study -especially for spiritual specialists and leaders- and that we also need our resources to be accessible for a range of education and experience levels. For this to happen there needs to be a serious reckoning with reciprocity in polytheist communities for this be done.

It should not be an expectation that community leaders, administrators, writers, spiritual specialists, supporters, and others who are integral to getting polytheist communities started and continuing to function should give away their labor without reciprocity. “You should write a book on it!” is a refrain I have seen more than a few times in regards to my own work and that of others. So, will the community support me so I can do that? Will the community give me and other writers, presenters, etc the resources so it is worth writing the books they want in the first place?

There is no doubt that there are efforts where resources being free at the point of access is needed. The community needs to support that necessary work being done. Whether it is a larger community pillar like a library, community garden, or smaller, such as one’s personal Kindred or other group, without community support each will fail and shut its doors. Likewise, if the needed resources to help folks learn and grow are exclusively kept behind paywalls then that harms the community in kind. Our communities, then, need to be places where our theories, values, ideas, and work are living, vibrant, and engaged with. They need to be lived spaces where reciprocity is not something we talk about, it must be something we do.

We cannot eat theory. What we can do is eat the results of that theory put into practice. What we sorely need in both leftist and polytheist communities are folks who are living examples of good Gebo with one another, who do the necessary work so that theories can be developed and put into action. The beauty of this course of action is that it is immediately accessible to everyone. Whether you are looking locally or online, see what you can do right now for the folks in your community. See in turn what your community can do for you. Talk with those in your community, and make concerted effort to making the bonds of reciprocity in your community better for everyone in them.

Patreon Topic 53: Using Tools in Magic and Spiritwork

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“Can you talk about the use of tools in Magic and spirit work? Pros, cons, appropriate vs inappropriate use?”

Tools can be damned useful -until they get in the way or become an impediment. A hex head screwdriver is only really useful for taking care of hex screws and the like. A claw hammer’s primary purpose is to hit and remove nails from wood pieces. If I try to use a screwdriver to drill a nail it can get the job done, with a great deal more effort, but it likely will not do the job as neatly or as well. A tool becomes a pro so long as it is an asset to the work or working at hand, and a con when it is not. If the only tool I have ever used is a screwdriver then I will need practice to get good at driving nails, but this is a far better use of my time than to get good at driving nails with a screwdriver.

Appropriate tools in magic are those that are useful to the task at hand, do not detract from the working, enhance the working itself by their presence/use, and deliver the best results with appropriate experience and training. Inappropriate tools in magic are those that are not useful to the task at hand, detract from the working, disempower or impede the working itself by their presence/us, and block the best results through overcomplication or by requiring such a high degree of training/work needed to use it that it becomes impractical to work with/use. An appropriate tool for divination could be something like a deck of tarot cards. It could also be used as an appropriate tool for magic.

Let us say you wish to enhance your physical strength, and are doing spellwork to help with this. Now, the first step should be to decide on what exercises or work is appropriate to building your strength. When you select exercises appropriate to your level of skill, understanding, and time, then I would include spiritual work. A simple way to do this with tarot is to combine the imagery in a particular deck with the purpose of a working. In a traditional tarot deck you would work with Strength to this end. If you were to incorporate spiritwork, you might put the card on an altar made specifically for the working as the centerpiece focus, and every time you go to work out you make an offering of water, ask a God or spirit to bless your pre-workout drink, and then go do your exercises. Just working with the tarot alone, perhaps you carry Strength or a copy of the card in your wallet and sing or chant the name three times. Just like reps in a workout routine the chanting builds up your spiritual strength and resolve to do the physical work over time.

It is worth pointing out not every tool need be physical. You can get the effect of ‘reps’ I wrote above regarding Strength by just imagining the card, or even going so far as to incorporate a telesterion working with it. However, I find physical tools tend to have a grounding presence in this world. Not every tool is a tool for grounding excess energies, mind you, but every physical tool grounds the work and working in this world by the act of working with it. It actually pushes us to incorporate more of our souls this way, by not leaving out the lyke, the body, of our souls from spiritual workings. That is a huge pro. It takes it out of ‘upper head’ or thought experimentation. By making gestures with a tool, even a hand, I should be talking actions that carry meaning and add to the work.

An excellent place to talk about the usefulness of tools in magic and spiritwork is the use of staves in seiðr. If I am working with a staff in a seiðr context then the staff occupies a place of invitation, coercion, and/or calling to spirits, as well as directing energies during these and any other magic work that can occur during the seiðr session. Ornamentation, such as metal rings, animal representations, and Runes carved into or attached to the staff can add to its versatility.

The vaettir are not only ‘out there’; with the invitation or compulsion of the staff, They are very much here, perhaps even entering the staff and/or the seiðmaðr. Is the staff strictly speaking necessary for good seiðr work? No, but it helps.

Whether or not a tool is necessary in magic or spiritwork depends on the kind being done. If you are doing sympathetic magic you cannot do it at all without at least one piece of representation for the thing being worked on. Tools are, potentially, both containers and directors of magic and spirits. Staves, distaffs, string, carving tools, weapons, and so much more can not only be a medium for magic, they can be repositories of it. The tools can, themselves, be enlivened by a vaettr or be full of vaettir. Tools can have personal bonds with their owners. Tools can be ongoing conduits of connection between a God, Ancestors, vaettr, and the owner.

Even stripping out every single physical tool from a magical practice and wholly relying on techniques like visualization, song, telesterion/memory palace, and/or astral work, we still use tools. The telesterion/memory palace is a great big damn tool if you think about it. Its original function was to be an imagined mnemonic device, and it has immense spiritual applications. In visualization we still have to use the imagination to link concepts, ideas, and abstraction into more concrete steps and actions. A lot of times visualization uses objects, areas, concepts and the like, that are grounded in our experiences, such as the tree meditation in Trance-portation by Diana Paxson. Our popular culture through Star Trek and Star Wars provides us with examples of what shielding may look like. Likewise, our auditory landscape is shaped by what we put into our minds through our media, and this is true whether the medium are binaural beats, a drumbeat, or something from Heilung.

I think it is pretty hard for us as humans to completely dispose of the idea of tools. They are such a part of our imaginal and personal landscapes that there are very few places I could see where tools themselves would be inappropriate, just inappropriate to a given situation. Perhaps with Pack Magic there is less overt need for physical tools, yet many of the techniques that bring us into better trance states or the like are made easier using tools such as cellphones and headphones.

The biggest con to a tool is it being necessary to the work you want to do, magical or spiritual, and/or not being able to get it or use it effectively. The pro, though, is our tools can make every aspect of the work we have to do easier, more effective, and more thorough. The less work my hugr or hamr has to do, the more I can concentrate on doing the work rather than setting up for it.

Patreon Topic 52: Maintaining Boundaries in Spiritwork

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“Can you talk about maintaining boundaries in Spiritwork? For example: there’s debate I’ve seen online about passing messages you might get for people without them consenting to receive messages, and any issues you might have with randomly being pinged.”

Maintaining boundaries in spiritwork is absolutely necessary. A good part of keeping good boundaries is good spiritual hygiene and enforcing what boundaries you absolutely want to be kept up. Both require discipline. You have to be disciplined in doing cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding on a regular basis, and seeing that you fulfill your obligations, taboos, and so on. You have to be disciplined in saying “This far, no further” regardless of what God, Ancestors, or vaettr (spirit) is doing the asking or demanding. You have to be disciplined in determining what is or is not yours to pass on, and this goes for messages, any teachings or wisdom you may have on a subject, or really anything you could consider in spiritwork. This is why spiritual hygiene is so important. Your discernment suffers when you are not at your best, and while we cannot be at our best all the time, regular spiritual hygiene work keeps us clean, clear, and uncluttered for when we do have work to do.

Generally speaking I do not pass messages without permission. I generally do not do spiritwork without express permission, and that includes energy work, prayer, and other practices most folks look at as ‘benign’. ‘Help’, unasked for and unwanted, is no help at all. Worse, I am could be violating someone’s right to refuse help. The other side of this is much more practical: I have limited time and energy to get things done in a given day. If I kept throwing out energy to every single ‘energy work’, ‘prayer request’, and so on, it would be no different than donating every cent I have to everyone and every cause that I could think of to support. If I do that, there is nothing left for my Ginnreginn, my family, my communities, or my own needs. There is also no reciprocity here.

When it comes to keeping boundaries around messages, a few that I have are:

Unless I have been specifically asked, if a vaettr is asking to pass a message along I first ask the recipient. If the recipient says no, then that is the end of it. This holds true even in rituals where the point is that spiritual messages are being given. Before I read or do other spiritwork for a client we talk about expectations, boundaries, and the like that they can expect before, during, and after the work.

I am not an open terminal. Not every vaettr gets access to me. Unless I know the vaettr in question or have been specifically asked by a client to communicate with a certain vaettr, I do not take messages.

If the person needs to get a message I recognize I may not be the best route and communicate the to the vaettr in question. If I feel I am in the wrong headspace, especially with what should be a carefully worded/given message, I will negotiate for another time, or, if this is not possible, for the vaettr to find another way of getting the message to the recipient.

Regarding randomly being pinged: I treat it like a lot of folks who try to hit me up on social media without an introduction. I do not see why there is much in the way of debate around this: the vaettir, outside of Óðinn, do not own my time. If I have been handshaked into a conversation, whether by a person or by a God I have active, ongoing cultus with, that is a different story. The ‘pings’ then, aren’t random, they’re attempts at communication. Generally I do not take random pings. Any vaettr could be giving that, and I have no desire to borrow trouble from one that wants to use it as a backdoor. If a vaettr is not willing to go through proper channels that is a red flag.

I do not think anyone should feel under obligation to answer their spiritual door, let alone let any vaettr that knocks in. You should not feel that obligation from the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, or your community. If you choose to open the door to communication to any who call, that is your business. I do not recommend it, but in the end your boundaries to set and keep are just that.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 50: For the Runevaettir

If want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon.

This request was made by Maleck for the Runevaettir.


Sounds

Letters

Concepts

Meaning

Magic

Spirits

From the Ginnungagap You screamed, sang, called

From the Ginnungagap You resounded, crowed, howled

From the Ginnungagap You whispered, breathed, spoke

By sacrifice, You were brought into the Worlds

By sacrifice, You allied with the Gallows God

By sacrifice, You ally with us

Each a sound, resonating with power

Each a sound, shuddering with strength

Each a sound, surging with connection

Each a letter, teaching the tongue

Each a letter, building up knowledge

Each a letter, carrying wisdom

Each a concept, bearing cultures’ weight

Each a concept, keeping memories

Each a concept, transmitting understanding

Each a meaning, guarding mysteries

Each a meaning, teaching the initiated

Each a meaning, deepening the depths

Each one magic, giving Ginnungagap form

Each one magic, bringing might to action

Each one magic, flowing into being

Each a spirit, knowing Urðr’s ways

Each a spirit, giving gift for gift

Each a spirit, touching our own

Runevaettir, I hear You

Runevaettir, I see You

Runevaettir, I understand You

Runevaettir, I know You

Runevaettir, I cast You

Runevaettir, I hail You

Patreon Topic 51: On The Ethical Use of Magic

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“The ethical use of magic.”

The problem with saying “the” at all, especially in the use of such a thing as versatile and nebulous as magic, is that almost any ethical system can be used to justify the use, or the lack of use, of magic. Is your personal philosophy utilitarian? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to “Will the use of magic do the most good or do the least amount of harm to myself and others?” Likewise, “Should I use magic?” can also be answered by “Will the lack of my use of magic do the most good or the least amount of harm to myself and others?”

Is your personal philosophy based on the common good? Then some of the questions to ask may be “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause undue harm to others/society?” and “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause the effect that I am seeking and help others/society?”

Is  your personal philosophy virtue ethics? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to whether or not it is in line with the particular virtues of your virtue ethics to do so.

There is no singular answer to whether the use of magic is ethical, good, or not, because there is no singular ethic that governs magic as a whole. Being a polytheist, I believe that different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can and do subscribe to different ethical approaches. Likewise, different polytheist religions, and then adherents within them, can have different ethics systems, and different systems of understanding and deciding what an ethical use of magic is. Rather than give an exhaustive overview of different ethic systems and their approach to magic, I would rather look at what magic is and does, and from there talk about my own approach.

This took me the better part of a month to write, and I want to say how much I appreciate my úlfkyn, Maleck, here. You are a right bastard and a child-of-a-bitch.

What is Magic?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as:

1 The power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

“Magic: Definition by Lexcico.” Magic: Definition of MAGIC by Oxford, Oxford, 2021, www.lexico.com/definition/magic

The short version of Aleister Crowley’s definition is:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

Crowley, A. (2017, January 22). Chapter I: What is Magick? Magick Without Tears – The Libri of Aleister Crowley – Hermetic Library. https://hermetic.com/crowley/magick-without-tears/mwt_01.

My own could best be summarized as “Changing the weaving or carving of Urðr to an end.” Even simpler “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.” works. Whether through the application of sympathetic magic, eg the smashing or cutting of a fascimile of a deer with an arrow in order to succesfully hunt the deer, the use of seiðr to bring vaettir to me so we can work on a project, or through galdr with Runes to protect a person, place, or thing, magic seeks to change how things were, are, or will be. I understand magic as natural, accessible to a wide variety of Beings besides ourselves.

Routes to Magic

Magic itself, as I understand it, is not the singular province of any one class, group, culture, tradition, political party, religion, etc. There may be forms of magic, routes to it, that are closed to outsiders, and those boundaries should be respected for many reasons. There may be understandings of magic that do not transend the bounds of a given culture, eg my own definition of magic is specific to Heathenry and may not translate well to others even though it is not closed. Even within open routes of magic there still may be particular routes inside that are closed to folks unless you are brought into or initiate into a mystery, tradition, or teachings with a group of people, culture, or certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

The closed routes to magic are often closed for the safety and security of the route itself, and the safety and security of practitioners. This is true both in terms of these closed routes often being in traditions and cultures that were marginalized, persecuted, and/or the victims of genocide, and in terms of the effects the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or the effects of the magic itself can have on the practitioner.

Routes to magic are often linked to specific religions and worldviews. Heathen conceptions of what magic is, looks like, how it is done, and the effects that are expected from certain forms of magic conform to what we read about, experience, and practice within our communities. Seiðr, spá, and Runework are all contained within a Heathen worldview and only make coherent sense within it.

Even forms of magic that are said to be ‘without tradition’ often conform to a worldview, eg Chaos Magic itself as it has come about could be said to be only possible within a post-modernist worldview, as most any other form of magic previous has been linked to a cultural worldview. Unmoored as it is from a single worldview as such, and relying more on the questions around “What does this do? Does it work? Can I replicate this result?”, Chaos Magic is one of the most accessible and easily misunderstood ways of working with magic and in/between/across magical systems.

Magic is Power

Let us be clear: when we ask questions around the use of magic we are asking questions around the use of power. Magic is power. The power to get things done. The power to use, and then, enforce your Will. When we take this understanding and apply it to cultures and traditions to whom a person does not belong, has no standing to partake in, and is an outsider, what a person who is insisting on access or using these closed routes ultimately wants to do is steal power from other cultures, traditions, people, and their Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. There are plenty of accessible routes to power by other means, and where you have a far less likelihood of pissing off entire groups of Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities by trying to take from what you have no right to. This is not even an ethical argument on my part, but a practical one -if what you want is access to power with lower risk to yourself there are plenty of routes in order to study, practice, and effectively use magic that involve far less risk.

Magic is power, and one of the most readily accessible forms in the modern day are sigils and iconography. This is most readily apparent within the advertising industry. Disney, Nike, and McDonald’s feature such powerful figures here that not only are their symbols ubiquitious, they are immediately understood across cultures and can trigger responses in their targets on sight. Especially so since Disney has effectively swallowed entire sections of culture, namely fairy tales and mythologies, as part of its animated features. Jingles and similar pieces of music serve this function as well on an auditory level. This is why I say access to magic is open to any class. Doing magic, gaining and retaining power through it, is accessible to anyone, and few things are quite as powerful as maintaining a stranglehold on the imagination.

Mere sigils and icons are not enough, though. Anyone can design a sigil, draw an icon, or make a logo. Part of what makes these corporate giants so powerful is that they tap into, interact with, and use as fuel the minds that they touch, whether through the imagination or impulses. People will stay up late into the night waiting for the next Disney/Marvel episode to drop, or stay up and shuck out hundreds of dollars on a rare line of shoes from Nike. It is magic that works out handsomely for the companies that know how to work well with it.

Contrasting Religious and Spiritually-Based Magic with Corporate Magic

We have folks of all kinds practicing magic handed down to them, being initiated into traditions and cultures’ magical traditions, or magic being rediscovered, revived, or made new from personal experiences and/or experimentation. Are they somehow less powerful than the magic of Disney? In a sense, yes. However, this is rather like comparing apples to oranges unless you zero in on exactly what it is that Disney’s magic, or any other company, is aiming for.

Disney has a cultural cache and wields power in our society that religious-based magic, for instance, modern Rune magic, does not. However, Disney is not trying to do what Rune magic does, and, generally speaking, Rune magic is not trying to do what Disney does. What Disney does very well is to make good on entertainment and real estate investments, all of which is empowered by the Disney logo, and the collective weight of ‘Disney magic’ they have harvested very carefully over the years through multiple generations. They do this in order to make money, exercise power, and shape law and the markets they are involved with through these means. It is little wonder that Steam Boat Willy’s Mickey Mouse still has not entered public domain with the amount of power they wield.

Religion and spirituality-based magic have different roots they are growing and operating from. Rune magic itself in the Heathen worldview is working with the forces of the cosmos to achieve results through a variety of ways. Some folks are working with the Runes to talk with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through divination. Some folks are working with the Runes for their own ends, such as healing, protection, or personal empowerment. These methods are effective for these things in part because the effects the particular operant is aiming for involve a lot fewer spheres of influence they need to control for, and Runeworkers are people whereas Disney as a whole is a gigantic corporation. Disney has a hell of a lot of ability to flex power because of this, and yet, because of it structure and how it operates within society, in some ways it has a limited scope within which it can compared to the average operant. Granted, an operant has to take care of their daily needs and find time between working, eating, and sleeping to devote time to honing their skills and then doing magic. However, an operant’s magic can be quite detailed and beautiful. Whether intricate, or simple, an operant’s magic it can be effectivein addressing a range of needs and wants, human and otherwise.

Disney and other corporations’ magic, by contrast, is fairly crude, easy to replicate, and is maintained by staff across tens of divisions involving tens of thousands of people. Corporate magic is employed to build up the bottom line at the cost of all else. Unlike most magic, corporate magic’s aim is incredibly shallow. A story by Disney might bring up a lot of feelings, and it may even cause you to question yourself or bring new light to your life. Frozen 2 was a good story, and one that happens to align with many of my values. In the end Disney is selling a product whether it is to you or investors. The magic is used to get you to buy the Disney+ subscription, or the ticket to Disneyland and increase their share price, not to bring you that experience. I say this as someone who has Disney+, enjoys a lot of their movies and associated products. However, I am very clear and understanding that while I do enjoy the stories, movies, etc they produce, each of these is, in the end, a product. The experience is incidental. If they could sell you a product without that experience that costs millions to produce and still make the same amount of money they would do it. Disney and its magic does not exist to make you feel, do, or experience anything -it is a route to making money, and in order to do so they have to provide at least adequate if not good experiences for the fields they are in.

This is among many areas where Heathen magic is very different from corporate magic. Heathen magic is rooted in the understanding that we are all, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, together in Urðr, and that we are co-creating the weaving/carving of that creation as it was/is/will be woven/carved. Engaging in the use of magic, then, is taking an active hand in the weaving/carving whether by our own hand alone or in concert with others’.

In Heathenry magical power, and its gathering, its maintenance, and its use, is seen through a variety of lenses. For certain forms of magic, such as Runework or gandir, gathering power is gaining a number of good, working relationships with vaettir. It is maintained by keeping these relationships well. It can be used to gather information, to harm another, to defend oneself, or most anything else the vaettir will align with the operant on. For others, such as hamfara, gathering power is getting to know and work with your hamr until you can be confident to get to and from where you want to go. Maintaining it can be dedicated time each day to engaging with your hamr. You can use it for the same things as in the example with gandir, and in some cases it may be more effective for you since you are traveling in spirit form to do it. Still, other forms of magic can see gathering power as bringing together different herbs, stones, furs/skins, and a needle together to make a pouch for protection. Maintaining the magical power may be to occasionally changing out, replacing, or adding herbs, stones, or animal pieces.

Commonalities in Heathen Worldviews on Magic

An ethical core to Heathenry would imply there is an ethical framework that fits all of Heathenry. While individual Heathens and even groups may have their own preference, there is no single one that fits. What is common to all Heathens is a worship of and respect for many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. This animist and polytheist worldview underpins everything within Heathenry, from our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, to how we treat each other, to how we live. Accordingly, this affects how we use our magic as well.

Some Heathens leave magic entirely alone, some do a little bit here or there, some leave entire branches of magic to experts, some study it as a curiosity, and others use or work with it. What is common to all of us is a respect for it as a practice, a way of interacting with, working with, impacting, and manipulating Urðr/Wyrd.

What are commonalities in how Heathens employ magic?

We use magic for many of the same reasons humans have used magic for time out of mind. We use magic to protect ourselves, whether from harmful spirits, other humans, disaster, or sickness. We use magic to give ourselves a leg up on our competition, whether enhancing our abilities or reducing/harming another’s. We use magic to help ourselves, our neighbors, our communities to keep healthy and to heal in physical, mental, and spiritual ways. We use magic to find, take, maintain, build, and use power in a variety of forms. We use magic to build, destroy, transfer, or use luck. We use magic to find, discover, uncover, reveal, or be shown information.

Because so many of us are reconstructing, recovering, rediscovering, experiencing, and developing ways of interacting with and using magic, there are going to be far more differences on how we experience, understanding, and use it than we will have commonalities between us. It is hard to have common practice when the religious movement got started in America back in the late 60s.

Almost every Heathen I know that works with or uses magic is doing so alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, so even if we find common threads between us a lot of the particular are likely to look different. An example: Cat Heath’s excellent Elves, Witches, and Gods, and my own understanding and experience of seiðr are close enough that everything she writes about translates well to my own experiences. Morgan Daimler called the book essential, and I agree. There are few sources for learning it as well written or well-sourced like this. and were I to have to learn seiðr all over again her book would be among those I would first want to reference and work through. However, I do not connect well at all with fiber arts and cannot spin well, so a good chunk of her book does not ‘click’ with me. My experience of Freyja teaching me seiðr in the ways I experienced are not inherently better or more valid than Heath’s. What and how Freyja taught me just ‘clicked’ better for me, my needs, and where I was when She taught me In the years since I was first taught the work those teachings have continued to serve well.

Developing Heathen Ethical Frameworks of Magic

Rather than presenting ‘the’ Heathen ethical framework of magic I think it is far more interesting to ask questions about what ethical frameworks may look like and push folks to develop their own. I know what my ethical framework looks like, and I have given some insights into it here. What I cannot tell you is what your own looks like. Perhaps you are an Anglo-Saxon Heathen and the kinds of magic you work with are different, or the entities that you can trust to partner in that work are wholly different. Perhaps you are also a primarily Norse/Icelandic Heathen in your culture background and take different cues than I do from the sacred stories we have. Perhaps your experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits have given you different insights than my own.

I would far rather ask questions and maybe be a whetstone to sharpen your own ethical senses on, even if you vehemently disagree with me. A simple question: is cursing ethical?

What does it do? How well does it do it? Are there more effective means of achieving the result? Are there less effective means of achieving the result? This line of questioning may give rise to the idea that I am a consequentialist, and when it comes down to it that is accurate. I care less about the virtues involved with the use of magic than I do about whether or not it works to the end I employ it. Perhaps your own view of the role and use of magic is different. I do not consider this to be inherently better or worse than my own, it is just a different perspective. So, how do we develop these?

Taking Ethical Cues from Cosmology and Myth

What does a given Heathen cosmology and its myths have to say about magic and the use of magic? Is magic wild, dangerous, and/or unpredictable? Is it only the province of wild Gods, dangerous spirits, and/or can anyone learn it?

What do the stories have to say about how magic functions? Is there a cause and effect to it? Is magic a living Being unto Itself, or is it part of everything? Is it both, or neither? What does this imply about the use of magic and the forms it takes? What does it mean to take up and to use magic in these stories?

Are there examples of humans employing magic, and if so, how are these framed? Who is doing the framing, eg is this a Christian perspective? What can we derive from the sources that are definitely informed by Christian bias?

Do concepts around magic have intersection with certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits? If so, what does it say that these Beings teach, initiate folks into, and/or govern the forms that magic can take? Are there ethical frameworks built into magic as it exists within the cosmology and myths?

Taking Ethical Cues from Direct Interaction with Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits

What does magic mean to your relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? How does this impact your view of what magic does, how it interacts with the Worlds? Do the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits share the same ethical guides or do They each have Their own?

Does it change your relationship with the Ginnreginn when you hit a certain level of proficiency in magic or with a certain kind? What about your relationships with others in your community through that relationship and its growth/change in learning and experiencing magic?

Do certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits impart some of their viewpoint when teaching magic, and if so, in order to learn a kind of it, will you have to align your ethics or can you still learn it and keep your view on things? Are you willing to set aside your ethical framework to learn, to take on, and to use magic? If you are unwilling, what forms of magic might you bar yourself from learning or using? What changes are you willing to take on in order to learn, experience, or develop your work with magic? What are your priorities and how might they change?

Taking Ethical Cues from Heathen Virtues

What is a virtue? What are Heathen virtues? Are they altogether different from other polytheist virtues? Are they altogether different from non-religious virtue ethics systems? What is most important to a Heathen? Does magic comport with the virtues as you have explored them? Is magic itself or its use virtuous?

Is there flexibility within Heathen virtues, or are these to be solid, unmoving positions from which one’s life is lived? Must there be strict means of using magic or its use becomes without virtue? Is there flexibility in using magic that retains the integrity of virtue?

Are certain forms of magic more or less virtuous? If so, what makes them so? If not, why? Is it ethical to use magic, broadly speaking? If it is, are there occasions where using magic may be out of alignment with Heathen virtues? Would it be unethical from a virtuous perspective to not use magic in the furtherance of a virtue? What would the ideal virtuous operant look like in Heathenry? Would would its opposite be?

Comparing and Contrasting

I could go on at length asking questions of different ethical frameworks and how they may or may not apply to Heathenry for some time and still only get so far. So, I am going to explore my own approach to magic. While I definitely have my own perspective on things, rather than swing you to my point of view, my hope is that exploring my approach to magic may provide you more material to think on how you approach it yourself. We can learn a lot from what does/does not click for us.

My Approach to Magic

I have spent a lot of time building up the background of the conversation to be able to get to the point where I talk about how I work with and understand magic. To refresh my point on what magic is: “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.”

If that is the whole of magic, then is everything just a matter of technique? Hardly. Anyone can learn to read the Runes; not everyone is going to have a good relationship with Them. Likewise anyone can learn the theory of how to do seiðr, and not everyone is going to be good at gandr or kveldriða. Magic has a lot of factors into whether or not a particular working will go well. The relationships you carry, the health and power at work in your soul matrix, the megin and hamingja you are able to bring to a working, and the vili you can bring to bear to see the working done all play factors. Magic requires practice to get good at and to keep being good at. If you want to specialize in an area that will take time, effort, and work. Even for folks who take to an area of specialty quickly, I find that no matter what natural knack you might have it does not replace consistency of work.

How I Work With Magic

I use more than a few forms of magic. Some of the magic I do is ongoing work, whereas some forms are as-needed. I have a lot of taufr (physical charms) that I have built, both on my own and with help from others. Some taufr I have received as gifts. Some taufr protect, some connect me with certain Beings, some keep certain Beings away, and other taufr enhance what I already have. When it comes to taufr if I feel I need a boost on something or I need a bit more protection, I make one or ask a friend to.

My approach to taufr is a lot of how I approach magic in general. “What does it do? How well does it do it?” are two phrases that I always ask with regards to the approach and use of magic. I use what I need when I need it, and if I foresee a need, then I learn how to do it, or ask someone to work with me on it. That someone could be a God, Ancestor, vaettir, and/or a peer.

If what I need is immediate relief of an issue, say a vaettr has decided it wants to pester me, I will not wait to make a taufr. To start I may talk with the vaettr, unless the pestering is a direct threat to myself or others. In that case I will work with the taufr I already have, employ seiðr, employ galdr, or whatever is necessary, and work with my vörðr to make it stop. If what I am doing magic for is a long-term goal, say getting the resources so a project gets off the ground and succeeds, I do all the physical, mental, and spiritual work necessary so it can, and then look at where best to apply my magic. If you want a good example of what this can look like, look at my 30 Days of Magic Challenge series of posts where I made and worked with the Fehu bindrune.

An Example: Making a Taufr for Protection

What is the taufr for? If it is for protection, I think about what looks and feel protective. I might work with a wood known for its use in the creation of sword hilts, spear shafts, or shields. I may carve or woodburn a sword, spear, shield, and/or protection Runes into the wood. A perfectly good taufr for protection all on its own would be a Mjölnir.

I start with the premise of the magic I am doing, and then build up correspondences. Why use a wood known for its use in weapons? Because if I want to communicate protection, both to myself and others, I do not want to use a punky wood which is brittle and easy to break. The taufr being made of brittle, easy-to-break material would communicate the same thing physically and spiritually to myself and others. If I cannot even look at the wood for the taufr and think “this is strong” or “this is powerful” then there is little point to it. This will make carving it harder if I go that route, but having worked with oak, while it is harder to work it than say basswood, it is very satisfying when it is done.

Would I use a wood such as birch instead of oak or ash for protection? It can work. I tend to associate birch with long term healing rather than straightforward protection like I do the two other woods. However, birch is a hardwood that was used in knife handles and stools.

Now that I know what I am making the taufr for, what wood I want to use and what symbols I will carve into it, we can get to the making of the taufr. How do I ethically make a taufr?

As best as I can I try to source my woodcraft materials from vaettir who have given me permission to work with them. I first try to work with deadfall, and barring that, from living sources of wood I have good connections with. Last would be wood I have no connection with and/or buy. It is not that this wood is ‘less’ in terms of usefulness to the working, but that a piece of wood I buy to make into a taufr was never able to negotiate with me on offerings, the amount of wood that would be taken to make it, or anything else. The personhood and the willingness of the vaettir was never taken into account when it was harvested. Since I am operating out of a polytheist and animist mindset this considering of the vaettir’s wishes is important. They are Beings unto Themselves, and need to be considered such.

Let us say that a given oak tree has denied me the use of their deadfall or living body for this work, but a birch tree has given me permission to use theirs. In this case the ethical choice is to work only with the birch tree’s deadfall that I have permission to work with, make offerings to the birch, and to leave the oak tree, both their deadfall and their living body, entirely alone. If I cannot find a hardwood in my area willing to work with me, or if my circumstances are that working with already-cut and shaped wood is a better option, I will take time out to talk with them when I go to buy them and make offerings for the vaettir.

Another ethical question is one of proportion. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr one that responds to aggression with proportional? Given I firmly believe in the right to defend myself from a threat to myself or others, my ethical stance is that whatever aggression is sent my way I am within my bounds to respond to it proportionally. It would be unethical to make a taufr that sought to kill someone who, metaphorically or literally, stepped on my toes.

Another ethical question I need to answer is one of accuracy. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr going to be an accurate response to aggression/attack? This is less of a concern to me if the magic in the taufr is the equivalent of a shield or generalized protection because the magic is just meant to defend. If you are hitting this piece of protection then you are trying to hurt me and will be stopped. If the magic put into the taufr is a piece of aggressive protection, say I use a spear, a sword, and a shield for the carving and call on on Tiewaz the Rune twice, this taufr needs to be accurate when it responds to a threat. Perhaps I enchant it so the ‘attack’ portion of the taufr activates when I am under active attack, only attacks what is actively attacking me, and ‘sheathes’ when that is no longer the case. When it comes to enchantments this is a far better option than, say, carving a bunch of swords into it and turning the taufr into the spiritual equivalent of a sword tornado at any perceived threat.

The thing to keep in mind when making a taufr, or working with any magic, is that it should not be the only line of defense, attack, mitigation of energies or spirits, or the only thing watching your back. If I walk into a burning building my vörðr is not going to stop me from doing it, though they might give me warnings or directly ask me not to. I have and keep good relationships with many Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and members of my communities who have a vested interest in me being whole, alive, and able to do the work I have. I do not impugn on those relationships by recklessly or needlessly putting myself in danger, and I do not ignore those relationships when it comes to asking for help to keep myself and others safe. You do not have to just make one taufr or do one kind of magic and that is it. There is nothing stopping folks from enchanting a bunch of taufr to take care of a variety of situations. If your creativity, intuition, and drive lead you to do this, that is fine. There is a lot you can do with that, and there many forms of magic you can apply to work on the same problem.

Magic is not a substitute for good planning, awareness, or doing necessary spiritwork. Especially with regards to Heathen magic you will need them. If you are just beginning your journey into working with magic you should have a good working relationships with at least a God or two, your Ancestors, and at least your landvaettir. Get to know your vörðr if you can. Magic takes work to get results, to get right, to be accurate, and to be proportional to what you want it to do. Sometimes, despite all the careful planning and work, it fails, and being able to troubleshoot why is a skill in and of itself.

Considering Kinds of Magic

Is there an ethical consideration to be had when looking at the kinds of magic I employ? Absolutely. Taufr are physical objects. The thing about making or receiving taufr is that, when I die, whatever of them are left are going to need to be buried/burnt with me, rehomed, or destroyed. Consider the protection taufr above. I have a spear, a sword, a shield, and two Tiewaz Runes carved into it. Is the poor bastard who has to take care of this protection taufr going to have to fight whatever vaettir I have contracted with to be in it or to put Their energies into it as well as whatever work went into the magic I have put into it? Will they have to placate the vaettir, say with offerings or sacrifice? What kind of work am I leaving behind for others to do?

Other kinds of remains can result from the use of magic. If I use sympathetic magic to increase my luck when I hunt deer, eg taking an arrow and destroying a clay representation of a deer, what is my ethical obligation to the deer vaettir? How about the clay that the deer is represented through? Since I have built a link with these objects I need to treat both the ceramic shards, the deer, and the arrow itself, with respect. To be respectful I could bury the shards, or put them in a place of honor, depending on what the deer vaettir want.

Let us set taufr and sympathetic magic aside for a while and look into some of the varieties of seiðr. A good reason for why seiðr was often translated as ‘witchcraft’, was both respected and feared, and still should be today, is because a good chunk of seiðr is straight-up nasty to those who are its targets. Consider the stafsprota, a staff used by a spákona which, according to Price, were used for striking an enemy on the face, used to rob an enemy of their memory and instill minor confusion, and may have been used in divination. A munnriða, a mouth-rider, is a seiðworker whose affected the mouth and its contents. A trollriða, a rider of witchcraft or a troll-rider, could be a seiðworker who performed witchcraft and/or could be working with trolls, or a large variety of rougher vaettir. Consider that the -riða suffix was a form seiðr could take and that it could have sexual connotations. This brings munnriða or trollriða into a whole different light in terms of what the magic is supposed to do to its target or how it gets done.

Seiðr was renowned for being used to affect the mind, will, strength, and power. All of these examples do just that. Are the use of these unethical on their face? No. Not to me.

What I think can make the use of a kind of magic unethical is if its use causes harm for its own sake or if if its use is not proportional to a potential or actual threat or harm. While seiðr, whether in the actual performance of the magic or its affect, may not be conventionally acceptable, it is nonetheless powerful and useful. If a person is spreading harmful gossip or libel then to my mind engaging in munnriða against them can be an ethical use of that form of magic. If a person has threatened or sought to harm family, tribe, community, or one’s own person they open themselves up to action, if not retribution. If magic is power then the use of power should be justified.

Magic and Ethics are Works in Progress

People have been writing on these topics for millenia. We are nowhere near settled on them. Part of the reason for it is that we change. Ethical systems change. They get challenged, and some stay while others fade. They are embedded in our religions, cultures, and politics. That is part of why I find them so fascinating and good to talk and write on. They are part of our lives, are bound up in them as surely as magic is in my understanding and living of Heathenry.

We have been debating and working out our methods of magic and what ethics are and how we apply them to one another throughout all of that time. I think that polytheism’s polycentricity, to borrow the phrase from Dr. Butler, means that we will never find one consensus on anything, much less magic. We are in a beautiful and dynamic period where we are all digging deeper into our paths, the way we do things, and why. I think that as we develop our various religious and magical communities it is good to weigh our ethics, and to being open to change when it is warranted, and standing our ground when that is as well.

Both magic and our ethics are works in progress. They are lived experiences, for all that we can intellectually debate the merits of this action, that spell, this curse, or that working. Given magic are routes to, forms of, and expressions of power we would be remiss not to think on it, but it cannot merely be a thing we think about. In the end what differentiates ethics from head games, idle theorizing, or mental masturbation is that sooner or later those things are lived. They have real, lasting effects on others and ourselves. So let us consider how we will bring in, give form, and use magic in all its forms. Let us consider how we will use power in whatever way it is expressed. Let us talk about them, debate them, consider them, yes, and then? Let us work with our magic and live our ethics well.

Patreon Topic 50: On Völur Past and Present

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From Emily comes this topic:

“What was a volva and what being a volva would encompass today.”

The word völva means ‘staff-bearer’ per Neil Price in The Viking Way. This is a spiritual specialist who engages in seiðr and/or spá. Seiðr and spá are a galaxy of practices, among them being what we would readily recognize today as spiritwork, divination, prophecying, and various kinds of magic including curse work, protection, empowerment, and enchantment. What is most striking to me is that the staff referred to is both itself an instrument of power for directing spirits and energies, and a symbol of office. The wand or staff has a number of forms, including that of an iron distaff, a plain staff of iron or wood that is about as high as a walking cane, and a large staff that is made of iron or of wood, the latter carved and embellished. Price has an excellent overview of these in The Viking Way.

Völur (plural of völva) occupy an interesting area in Late Iron Age religion. As near as I can tell, between reading translations of the sagas and books on the subject, including the excellent The Viking Way by Neil Price and Nordic Religions in the Viking Age by Thomas DuBois, they were both admired and treated with fear. It is key to note that we have little to nothing from before this period, what is coloqially called The Viking Age, and almost all of it is filtered through Christian lenses from the period. So what were they? They were seers, witches, people you went to for spiritual work and spiritual advice. They were people who were to be respected. They were people to be feared. If you were a völva you walked a road between that of the people you served and the spirits.

In the Eiriks saga rauða, the Saga of Erik the Red, the völva is an itinerant spiritual specialist that speaks with and/or works with the spirits. At least with the example provided in this saga through Þorbiörg, she did not act alone. She required “a chorus of women and at least one assistant familiar with a magic song or incantation called varðlokkur” (DuBois 124). The use of a varðlokkur, a spirit calling song, is required as part of her seiðr ritual. I have seen this song referred to as an enticement song, a spirit calling song, and a warding song. Singing, chanting, incantations, and the like form or are part of at least a few of the varieties of seiðr as well as galdr.

Both books provide comparison and contrast between the accounts of seiðr, seiðkona, völur, and Sámi naidevuohtta (shamanism) and Finnish shamanism and rituals. Are völur shamans? In the sense that they provide many of the same ritual and societal functions, yes. However, a noaide is not a völva or seiðkona, and vice verse.

It is fairly clear that there was a lot of contact and sharing between the ancient Nordic, Sámi, and Finnish peoples. Each engaged in kinds of spirit contact. In some cases this involved singing, chanting, and/or trance induction through heavy or rapid breathing and/or ‘yawning’. Both DuBois and Price note that the seiðkonur, noaide, and Finnish shamans had mixed reputations for being both potentially helpful and harmful. They were called on to protect, to heal, to harm. In some cases the Sámi and Finno-Ugric peoples were pointed to as being sources of learning seiðr (DuBois 129). Far from being the only connection points, DuBois (71-73) and Price point out the vibrant trade in goods, as well as grave goods, similarities in treatment of and honoring of the dead, ancestor veneration, and so on that are expressed differently within these cultures yet still share touchstones with one another.

To be clear: the words shaman and shamanism are what amounts to academic loanwords in these books for similar spiritual specialists and phenomena. Where we can, I find it better to use words appropriate to the culture we are talking about. I encourage Heathens to use words appropriate to our religions/cultures, such as völva, seiðkona, and the like. When we do not have the words I encourage Heathens to work with newer terms like spiritworker and neologisms like vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker) formed from Old Norse or whatever language is appropriate to the culture background you are engaging with.

Some of the major differences between historical völur and modern völur is that 1) it seems a lot of them traveled a great deal between villages and towns in order to do their spiritual work, and 2) there were people who were expected to be able to perform the varðlokkur, so there was a groundswell of people within the community who had to be familiar with the rites. Eiriks saga rauða provides a very clear overview of a völva, and features of it and other seiðworkers can be found in the archaeological record. DuBois notes that though the practice is nebulous in what it is and how it is performed, it has a fairly consistent picture across time and stories (128).

“Within this array of pagan rituals, seiðr appears to respond primarily to situations of crisis and is undertaken by a religious specialist (usually a woman) at the request of a client and within the context of a communal gathering. The ritual appeals to some sort of spirit helpers, either for divinatory information or help in controlling the minds and wills of others. Typical is the detailed account included in the thirteenth-century Eiríks saga rauða, in which an itinerant seiðr practitioner named Þorbiörg is invited to a Greenland farmstead to help the community discover whether its current run of ill luck will continue.”

Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, DuBois 123

The lack of experience with seiðr, both in terms of familiarity with the subject itself in Heathenry more broadly, and with specific practices within it, means that völur and other seiðworkers have to do a lot of work to revive this practice. The saga accounts, grave goods, what surviving folks practices we may look to, and conjecture from academics only do us so much. A lot of modern völva work is going to have to just be done. In a way, this lack of concrete bounds for modern völur and other seiðworkers means that we are free to cocreate new ways of being these things in modern contexts alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. While there has been a lot lost with these traditions, it means that our roles and rites can move with the requirements of our Ginnreginn and communities.

This is where especially The Viking Way is a treasure trove, both in how it lays out the information and in the sheer breadth of information it has available in it. The kinds of magic Price writes about alone is helpful because it helps expand our lexicon for kinds of magic and magical practice such as gandr, fjǫlkyngi, and ljóð, which could be combined with seiðr or performed separately, a kind of seiðr such as kveldriða (cold-rider, Price 77). Since a given völva could well perform any or all of these things, or just stick to one specialty, eg gandr or spá in general, becoming more familiar and working with these terms also means we develop a more specifically Heathen way of working with the sources as inspiration and information. Because a given völva is not limited to one practice it is perhaps better to think on how we use these terms to describe the job of being a völva just as the various -riða terms such as kveldriða describe seiðworkers engaging in magical work on others.

What is a modern völva in Heathenry? A völva is a Heathen spiritual specialist, a seer who works with the spirits to gather and share information, and to enact change. Where a seiðworker may do a variety of things, including spá, a völva’s primary job for whatever community or communities she is part of is to speak and work with the spirits, gather information from Them and/or with Them, and enact change with Them. The way I understand modern völur is that their job is to work for/on behalf of their communities with the vaettir. Since we no longer have any living memory of varðlokkur I think that it is a good thing for anyone wanting to do this work to find or ask for inspiration from the vaettir to gain such a song. Maybe it has words, maybe it is a melody; whatever it ends up being, it is a song that works to bring the vaettir to the völva so the work can begin, and be maintained.

Being a völva is, like every other spiritual specialty, a job. It is taking on Work. Maybe you come to it through being grabbed up by a Goddess, eg Freyja. Maybe you went to Her and asked Her to bring you into the work because you feel called to the Work itself. Whatever your inroad, initially you train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and develop yourself and your relationships so you can effectively do the spiritual work of the job. Then, you do the work of being a völva while continuing to train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and developing yourself and your relationships so you can keep being more effective as you go on. Ideally, you would have a spiritual mentor, as well as at least 1-3 people you can go to for divination so you can keep yourself on an even keel. To this end I highly recommend Jim Two Snake’s Spiritual Accounting PDF.

Since becoming a völva is beyond this post, how would we contrast a modern Heathen völva with a person being a seiðworker? I look at völur as a communal role whereas seiðr is fairly accessible to anyone willing to put the work in. You might work with seiðr to make a taufr, an enchanted physical object (Price 36), in crochet or knitting, eg crafting a blanket for warmth and protection. You might do seiðr to work with vaettir to just gather information for your own purposes, such as through a gandr ritual using a gǫndull, a wand or staff for gandr, and/or a ‘yawn’ or the use of breath such as song, chant, or croaking (Price 184) in where you push the vaettir to give you information. You might work with a spá ritual in a light trance where you commune with the vaettir to that end. All of these are accessible modes of operation to both the völva and the average seiðworker. Now, perhaps a given seiðworker is not comfortable working with völva as a term because it is definitely feminine-gendered, and this is where we need to develop more terms or work with neologisms. In my own case I am fine with the terms vaettirvirkr and seiðmaðr (a seiðr-man) for the moment, as I do spiritswork as a spiritual specialist, with seiðr as part of that work.

The difference between a völva and a seiðworker is that, for our purposes here, völur are spiritual specialists whose job it is to work with/on behalf of a community where a given seiðworker may be working on their own. We develop these meanings, work, and community together. What really makes the difference between a völur and seiðworker in the end is whether the word clicks for you, describes what you do, and if you are serving a community what words that community calls you. Being a völva today is not much different in that regard than what it was centuries ago: you serve a community, connecting them with the spirits to speak with them, gather information and to work with Them to change things.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 48: For Jarnsaxa

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This was requested by Vixen for Jarnsaxa.


The iron sax gleams free from the sheathe

Drawn thirsty

Its cut is wide, its bite deep

The mighty arm falls with the bright fang

Drinking greedily

Felling the doughty foe

Great is the battle-Goddess

Steel-spined

Victory claimed in strength

Patreon Topic 49: On Jarnsaxa and Angrboða

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From Vixen comes this topic:

“Maybe you could talk about what you know about Jarnsaxa, or maybe even Angrboða. I know they’re two Jötunn’s I don’t hear may people talk about. I’m assuming it’s because they’re Jötunn but I think they’re important and I’m trying to learn more about them.”

Part of the reason we do not know much is because They are Jötnar, and another is because They are Goddesses. Much of what is known of Jarnsaxa comes from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Hyndluljóð, Skáldskaparmál, and Harbarðsljóð. Much of what we know of Angrboða is from the Hyndluljóð, Gylfaginning, and the Völuspá. These are relatively scant passages; there is just not much to go off of here.

With regard to Jarnsaxa, I do not know much about Her. I have not held cultus to Her, though I am not opposed to it. I just have had no reason to engage in it with Her so far. She and Þórr have a son, Magni, and I believe also Móði, though I have found no reference for His Mother. Her name is supposed to translate to ‘Iron-dagger’, ‘armed with an iron sword’ (Orchard and Lindow respectively; thanks Wikipedia!) or ‘the one who holds the iron-knife’ from jarn meaning iron and saxa meaning a single-edged blade or knife . Unfortunately, no one I know holds cultus for Her, so I could not refer to others on Her modern day cultus either.

Angrboða, whose name means ‘the one who brings grief’, ‘she-who-offers-sorrow’ and ‘harm-bidder’ (Simek, Lindow, and Orchard respectively, thanks Wikipedia) has a fairly active modern cultus. Among the heiti I call Her is Chieftain of the Ironwood, Úlfmóðir or Wolfmother, Mother of Monsters (which may translate into Old Norse as Foraðmóðir), and Fostramóðir. I have held cultus for Her for quite a while, not too long after becoming a Heathen. She is powerful, formidable, and can be quite ruthless. In a way I look at Her and Óðinn as being very similar, though She wears Her wolf/monster face far more prominently than Óðinn.

How have I experienced Her?

Angrboða is very much a take-no-shit Goddess. She wants you as you are, and if you want to improve, expects you to work on it. She does not waste Her time, so if She is reaching out to you then She has good reason even if they are Hers to know. While She has understanding of weakness and frustration, I find Her patience like that of a mother wolf: She will abide a lot until you overstep and then She will bark or nip so you remember your place.

I find Her to be more animalistic and primal than a lot of Gods. When I have seen Her when I have hamfara (faring forth in my hamr), She sometimes appears to me as a woman in a simple tunic, trousers, and sometimes with a couple fur pieces wielding a spear. Other times She is a huge wolf, and others a great half-wolf half-woman. Her voice is commanding, deep with power and wisdom, rough. She smells of forest, and various animals, trees, and good earth.

I have held cultus for Her for most of my time as a Heathen, and this is in part by introduction through Loki. I came to know Loki through His blood-brother. For a long time I held cultus with Her the same as my other Gods: offerings, prayers, and devotional time at the Gods’ vé. In night prayers with my family, we thank Her for protection. In knowing and getting to understand Her I came into a better appreciation of the wolves that She has given birth to, and I began cultus with Fenrir a few years back. I also grew to appreciate Hati and Sköll better in this, and while I do not yet have a devotional relationship with Them yet, I can appreciate the work They do that keeps Sunna and Máni on Their ways.

A few years ago I found myself working for Her and coming to understand Her as Fostramóðir as a result of an agreement between Her and Óðinn. Some of the work is to visit Her in Járnviðar, the Ironwood, Her home in Jötunheim. Sometimes this is to just go there and experience it, and other times to run or hunt with the Jötnar there that call it home. The work She has for me is ongoing, and I have yet to fully uncover all the things She wishes me to do. She has done a lot of work with me on my inner nature in the meantime, exploring different facets of being a spiritworker, an úlfheðinn, and bringing lessons there into how I live my life and do my spiritwork.

I find folks who recoil at Her but not at Óðinn a bit odd. Their temperaments, particularly around the accrual and use of power and knowledge a lot alike. They share an association with wolves, bears, shapechanging, and in my experience, also with faring forth in these forms and spiritwork associated with these things. It makes little sense to me that folks would seek to have a good relationship with Hel, or Hela, our Goddess of the Dead, and villainize Her Mother.

While the sources tell us little about Her that is no barrier to developing good cultus with Her. If anything, it pushed me to get to know Her in ways She wanted rather than having the relationship first mediated or sieved through the written word.

Through worshiping and coming to understand Her, She has helped bring me into a new appreciation for the various Jötnar that are intertwined with other Gods and through Them, our lives. She has blessed my family, Kindred, tribe, and I. She protects, She empowers, and She emboldens. She pushes us to see our monstrous selves, to embrace Them fully and without shame. My devotion to Angrboða has provided no small amount of challenge and growth in my life. She has pushed me to embrace myself fully, and in doing that, to better and more fully embrace others. Through devotion and work for Her, She has pushed me to improve myself and the spiritwork I do as a Heathen. Hail Angrboða!