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Patreon Topic 4: Commercialization, Commodification, and Gentrification of Magic and Spirituality

March 20, 2020 5 comments

If you want to submit a topic for me to explore on my blog, sign up at the Uruz level or above on my Patreon.

From my first Ansuz level Patron comes this topic:

“You might’ve written on this before, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the commercialization, commodification, and especially on the gentrification of spirituality. Magic is the tool of the oppressed, what happens when that tool is turned into yet another weapon used against the poor, as I see all around me now?”

I would say that magic is not only the tool of the oppressed. It is accessible to anyone of any class. Look at ceremonial magic vs kitchen witchery, for instance. How hard is it to pick up and make the traditional materials for those workings? Brass, copper, silver, gold? Those cost a lot of money, resources, and/or training. Meanwhile kitchen witchery may need time, and training, but if the point is to do kitchen witchcraft (in my understanding) with items out of your pantry those are going to be accessible at whatever your income level is right then.

This means that certain kinds of magic, (or at least in their traditional forms) are, by dint of cost of time, materials, training, accessibility, etc, cut off from folks beneath a certain income level. For what it is worth I did ceremonial magic when I was unemployed in college. I used a lot of paper substitutes, printouts, sooo much salt, cheap incense, and the like, becauses there is no way in hell I could afford things like a magic ring or magic tools made out of copper, silver, or gold.

On the commercialization of magic: If the definition we are working with is, as the OED puts it “The process of managing or running something principally for financial gain” then I think that there can be quite a bit lost when we are talking about only working with magic to that end. That loss can be healthy connection between communities. That loss can be between a person and the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. That loss can be a healthy connection with money and/or the moneyvaettir itself. If the lust of result of financial gain or the desire itself for financial gain overcomes the reason for laying down a piece of magic, depending on the magic being deployed, it can be hugely detrimental to any working one does.

There is nothing inherently wrong with working or using magic to financially or otherwise benefit your community or yourself. I have a far healthier relationship with money and the moneyvaettir, and carry a good relationship with Andvari thanks in no small part to my Elder. I had no idea when Galina introduced me to Andvari what a powerful, dynamic impact it would have on the course of my life to come into better relationship with the Dvergar, let alone the moneyvaettir and through all of this, a better future for my family. I have made plenty of magical and spiritual items for money, among them bindrune mandalas burnt into leather, woodburnt Runes, and woodburnt bindrunes. I have done plenty of money workings for my family, Kindred, tribemates, and I. My family and I keep a healthy devotional relationship with Andvari and the moneyvaettir that extends into our daily night prayers and offerings that we make.

Commercialization is a problem with magic from a few different perspectives. From my perspective as an animist and polytheist when things are seen from a primarily commercial point of view it is far easier to depersonalize those we share the Worlds with. Rather than see a Being like a tree or its branches as part of a Being, commercialization encourages us to relate to Beings and things only in terms of “this branch can make me x amount as a wand, y amount as a bunch of Runes, z amount as Rune charms”. When money is the goal of holding a workshop on magic rather than teaching the magic then the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir may be deeply disrespected in the process. This disrespect, not addressed and continuing to ripple out into the communities touched by it and engaging in it, can sour relationships between them and the Holy Powers.

From my perspective as a (mostly) former ceremonial magician the commercialization can harm magical operations themselves. Just having the lust of result of “I need money, this needs to work” can be interrupting to good flow of magic because rather than focus on the work at hand your focus is on the need you feel to get more money. Commercialization can also harm our relationships with spirits we might work with otherwise in a ceremonial magic setting.

If, for instance, you have partnered with/summoned/compelled a spirit of Jupiter to the end of enriching yourself but do not exercise good judgment, either in the choice of the spirit you contact or the details of how the money comes to you, you can land yourself fairly deep in debt to the spirit(s). This can go to the point where you are having to do some serious work to pay back what you owe to a spirit or spirits before you can get anything done for yourself. This takes away from your magic working for you and instead, you give both your sovereignty and your ability to do work over to someone else until you pay back your debt.

Commodification and commercialization often go hand-in-hand. Commodification is “The action or process of treating something as a mere commodity.”. A commodity is “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee” or more simply “A useful or valuable thing.” Commercialization then further objectifies the thing at hand by treating that useful or valuable thing as a means of “managing or running something principally for financial gain”.

Commercialization/commodification can also hit the wider community by cutting entire sections of it out, either by a company or group of people producing cheap things like charms, Runes, and the like without any attachment to the actual processes to make them empowered/useful. Commercialization of magical items, for instance, can use processes to make those items that at least do nothing to help our relationship, and at worst produce ongoing harm to our relationships maintained with/through those items. A given company or group of people only wanting to make money can mass produce Rune sets and bindrunes without thought to the materials, and without offerings to the materials on which the Runes and bindrunes are made. They may make things more cheap and so, easier to access monetarily. They may also make connecting with a given God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr harder by providing a barrier by not having set up the item to be receptive, or worse, if its construction is thoughtless to the relationship, to be an impediment to the relationship

For a contrasting example: if I make a Rune set from a branch my Runes come from pieces of deadfall, generally from trees where I am living and/or from trees I have good relationships with, that I have let season. I make offerings to the tree the branch comes from, and make offerings to the Runevaettir, both before the carving/burning of the Runes into the wood, and as part of my ongoing relationship with Them. I have a living relationship with Them, and the point of offering a Rune set to someone for sale is to establish a good relationship between that person and the Runes.

As I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with earning money for doing magic or making magical and/or spiritual items. I have spilled a good deal of my own blood, dedicated an immense amount of time and work in my relationship with the Runes. This deserves reciprocity on its own. By being paid or exchanging gift for a gift, requiring Gebo for my sacrifices, I also ask for exchange as an honoring of my Elder in Gebo before me, and in honor to Odin as Gebo for His. This is part of continuing right relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, my Elder, and my own relationships.

I understand and know magic as an animist and polytheist as being interwoven in relationship with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, including our human communities. When magic and the ways we work with magic are themselves commodified and commercialized what this means is the very ways by which we may establish relationships, use power, and cause spiritual effects through those relationships and use of power, are used as sources of income. Often those income streams go out of our communities and into someone else’s pocket.

Commodifying and commercializing spiritual practices, magic, the creation of magical and spiritual items takes from the communities they come from without giving back to them or their Holy Powers. It is a lack of Gebo, of reciprocity. I have no issues at all with buying prepared magical or spiritual items. I have bought prepared Florida Water as a backup cleanser and found it very effective. Likewise, I have bought plenty of sacred dried herbs I have not grown myself. I feel very strongly that I need to mark a big clear line between engaging in trade and transactions that are respectful and based in reciprocity as opposed to commodification and commercialization. Trade and transactions can be done in a way that respects all parties involved whereas commodification and commercialization depersonalize and disrespect the culture(s), the Being(s) that is part of or is the product being sold, and disrupts right relationship.

Diviners, magic workers, spirit workers, and the like should be compensated for their work. That is precisely what I am asking of everyone who contributes through my Patreon and who asks for services through the Shamanic Services section of this blog.

There is a stark contrast between a Rune set made by a person who holds good relationship with Them and a Rune set put together by a person without a relationship with the Runes only because it will sell well. There is a stark contrast between someone who requires a set amount to read the Runes as opposed to someone who is looking only to make money off of people looking for answers. There is a stark contrast between the rootworker or other spiritual specialist charging for a service and someone who is just taking clients for a ride.

Look at the dynamics of the relationships here: The commodification and commercialization of a spiritual practice, item, etc requires none. Commodification and commercialization of spiritual paths, items, work, and so on is nothing less than the appropriation of these things to make someone money. Gebo does not exist here between a commodifier/commercializer and the spiritual paths, traditions, and so on they take from to make money. It is even more heinous when a person within a community goes the way of commercialization and commodification. They are participating, willingly, in the strip-mining of their own religious community/ties and disrespecting their Holy Powers only to make money.

Gentrification goes hand-in-hand with commercialization and commodification. It is “The process of renovating and improving housing or a district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” In America the default ‘middle-class taste’ is generally what is comfortable for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). If the point is to sell a thing to make the most amount of money you appeal to those with the most money.

There is an additional wrinkle, at least for US citizens: In America the idea of the middle class and being part of it is so tied into ‘normality’ and ‘goodness’ that it is claimed by folks beneath the poverty line and so far above it that the very idea of a middle class is less an economic idea and more of a mutable ‘everyman’ that has served to flatten rather than serve as a useful highlight of economic/political class differences. So, appealing to ‘middle class’ in America through commercialization, commodification, and gentrification of religions, spiritual practices, initiations, spiritual and magical items, and so on, requires almost all the rough edges be scraped smooth and most of the teeth removed. Oh, there needs to be enough roughness for it to be edgy or off-center just enough so it is marketable, but not so much so that the person engaging in the religion, the spiritual practice, working with the item, etc is uncomfortable or challenged.

A gentrified spirituality is a wolf on display whose teeth have been ripped out. Robbed of its ability to feed itself, robbed of its ability to defend itself, robbed of being fed anything other than what mush it is given, producing only money or prestige for its displayer and shit otherwise. It exists to make the observer feel good about the wolf being on display, but the wolf makes no material impact in the world as it should. It is there at the whim of the displayer, and put away when it is embarassing or too much for the displayer or their onlookers.

This is not to say that a given religion, spiritual practice, or act of magic must absolutely be red in tooth and claw in all its aspects. Some of the most remarked upon forms that magic took in Heathen lore was with spinning, working with fabric, blacksmithing, things our modern society often look at as only crafts but that the home cultures understood to be sources of and ways to work with power. Some pretty famous pieces of magic involve food and drink. The seemingly innocuous or ordinary can hold great power.

When you understand things from a polytheist and animist perspective, from the Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan perspective, the potential for magic is in everywhere and everything. That’s a pretty powerful antidote to the consumerist mindset that is encouraged by commercialization, commodification, and gentrification. When the whole world is alive with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and we understand that we truly own very little of the Worlds we walk in, it is also a humbling experience. Commercialization, commodification, and gentrification require people to absolutely ignore the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in order for a thing to be done purely for profit. It requires a sundering of relationship, a one-sided using of a religion, religious community, spiritual techniques and/or tools in order for the profit motive to be the first priority. It is an inversion of priorities for a polytheist and animist: the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the relationships in which we are all interwoven.

Patreon Poem/Prayer 2 -For Cernunnos

February 16, 2020 Comments off

If you want to submit a request for a poem or prayer to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested from my first Ansuz patron for Cernunnos.

Hoofbeats
Pawbeats
The clack of spear
The stretch of sinew
The loosing
The biting takes
Drags down the prey
There You are

Predator and prey
The undergrowth spattered
The worms well-fed
The horned and the hungry
There You are

The serene lake
The grove of apples
The oldest forests
There You are

The pounding heart
The feral instinct
The steeled nerve
There You are

Patreon Topic: Deathwalking Part 1

January 17, 2020 Comments off

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 here on my Patreon.

What is deathwalking? When my patron introduced the topic I was directed to Kelly Harrel, and found this article on her site.

Deathwalking, from my perspective, is making sure that a being leaving (or that has left) form has closure on the life that came before leaving, that the being is escorted to the threshold of What Comes Next, is at peace with going beyond that threshold into the next destiny, and leaving the being in the place to do just that on its own terms.

Deathwalking, in short, is spiritual hospice.

First, I want to acknowledge that there is the possibility of a variety of afterlives in Norse Heathenry. When thinking about dying and the Old Norse worldview most folks default to Valhalla/Valhöll. However, there is also Helheim, where most of our Dead live. There is also Rán and Ægir’s hall for the Dead who die at sea, Fólkvangr with Freyja who chooses the first half of the slain warriors, and the burial mound which we may or may not understand as being connected with/to Helheim. When we are talking about deathwalking how we die in the Heathen worldview does matter because it can depend on who you end up with. The way of dying has an impact on how we engage in a deathwalking.

Second, I want to acknowledge that there is a soul matrix within Heathenry, and it is seen as having as few as four parts or as many as seventeen depending on which soul matrix you work with. I work with the seventeen part soul matrix model. This matters insofar as deathwalking is concerned because some parts of the soul matrix go away upon death of the lich (physical body) and others are shared between people, such as with the hamingja. If deathwalking is needed for certain soul parts you may need to do certain rites and/or to be a spiritual specialist to do this.

As we dig into deathwalking we need to dig into death and dying itself. These require questions that are often hard or uncomfortable, but are questions which we each need to think critically about. What is a good death? At what point do you cease treatment for an illness or injury? What is your treshold of tolerance for pain? What are you unwilling to go through? Do you have family members and/or loved ones who will carry out your wishes in the face of you dying? Do you have spiritual specialists or volunteers to help you through the dying and death process, eg priest, shaman, vaettirverkr, death midwife, etc.?

If we are going to approach the idea of deathwalking as spiritual hospice then we need to take a look at how we wish to approach the end of life both ideally and practically. If this is hard for you to think on your own then I suggest looking for a local Death Cafe and reaching out to the Polytheist Death Guild and other Pagans, especially locals, to talk with on the subject. It is important to know that getting help when someone is approaching death or dies is a good thing. If you are close to the dying/Dead you will likely need it.

While going into all the factors you will want to consider for your own death is beyond the scope of this post, some things to think on for care after you are dead are: Are there vé (sacred space), ceremonial objects, etc that you want passed on or need special disposing/cleaning/cleansing/offering of? If so, who can you trust to do those things? Are there donations that you want your clothing, goods, unclaimed ceremonial objects, etc to go to? What kinds of ceremonies do you want for your soul matrix? What kind of disposition would you like for your body after you die? Do you want a vé set up at your final place of rest? Do you want specific things placed with you in the grave/urn/mound/tree roots/etc.? Do you want pieces of your body given to certain causes, eg organ donation? Do you want your bones (such as knucklebones for divination), skin (eg tattoo skin pieces as memento mori) or other body parts to be given to loved ones, Kindredmates, etc.? Again, if you need help to research and answer these questions I recommend the Polytheist Death Guild, Death Cafes, talking to your local funeral homes, and talking with fellow Heathens, polytheists, and Pagans you trust.

With this in mind we can explore deathwalking from a Heathen perspective.

Dying and Deathwalking in Heathenry

On Dying

Death is the end of one life cycle and the beginning of another. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, Heathenry acknowledges several afterlives. Death is not ‘the end’; it is a transition. Where you spend that afterlife with what soul parts, or at least some time in that next life before transitioning in corporeal life, is dependant on how you die.

Dying, then, is not a punishment. It is a consequence of having lived. The concept of ‘an early death’ is an odd one in which everyone’s örlog in the tapestry of urðr is woven according to the length and strength of its own thread. We may have had the the potential for more life if we had woven our örlog different, but death comes when it comes; it is not early or late.

Likewise, when you die where you end up is not a punishment. I say this even for oathbreakers and traitors. Their destination is the Náströnd, to be chewed by Niðögg in the lowest realm of Helheim. They are too polluted by their choices to go anywhere else. This differentiation of punishment vs consequence is actually fairly important. A punishment is “The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence.” and consequence is “A result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant.” Nowhere that I have read in the lore are the Dead punished. Rather, where the Dead end up is a result of the choices that They have made and where They have died.

On Deathwalking

Deathwalking in Heathenry is a multilayered process. Among these layers are the Holy Powers the person worshiped and worked with that the deathwalker will need to make prayers, offerings, and perhaps petition for help, as well as care for the soul matrix of the person who is going through the deathwalk. Since most of us are going to be walking the Hel-road, the road that leads to Helheim, and since most of our Ancestors are there, having a good working relationship with Hela now is something I firmly suggest.

Ideally the person helping the dying or the Dead is a vaettirverkr (spirits worker), but since we are so few and spread out one may not be readily available. For anyone taking on this work a daily regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and actively warding one’s home is a necessity. By grounding I mean letting go of excess spiritual energy, taking in that which you need, and otherwise being solid in the energy you yourself have. By centering I mean to center yourself, your soul matrix, in the goal you have at hand for the day and/or before doing spiritual work. by shielding I mean doing personal warding work, usually done with magic, the Runevaettir, and other vaettir with whom you are aligned, so that your soul matrix is kept safe. Warding your home is much the same, save you are working with your húsvaettir as well as the other components of personal warding work. The reason for all of this work on the daily is so you are clean to do the work, including offerings, rites, and so on that may be needed as you go through the deathwalk with the dying or Dead.

Knowing your limits is a big part of doing this work effectively, and both the deathwalker and the dying/Dead need a support system. For the dying this means that the deathwalker needs to have people they can talk with, reach out to, divine with/for them, and all the other support that one may need. Likewise, a support network for the dying person will help them to process their grief and other emotions, wrap up affairs, and ideally to do any other needed work before the person dies. For the Dead part of that support system is, generally, the Dead’s Ancestors, and the Gods and vaettir they worshiped and worked with before death, which is why offering cultus to those Beings is part of a deathwalker’s job.

I refer here back to Harrell’s post:

Deathwalkers don’t just see the dead. They feel their grief, their pain (physical, emotional, psychological), they somatically experience their deaths. This is the point that training in counseling technique and having various modalities of healing under your belt make a huge difference between someone who intuitively is aware of the dead, and someone who walks effectively and healthily among them–and back. No matter how much affinity you have with the dead, I’ve never met anyone who just knew how to deal with the emotional and psychological baggage it stirs, or how to deal with resistant dead. Again I say, find a mentor.

Deathwalking, wherever we are beginning from, whether pre-mort or post-mortem, starts with making prayers and offerings to the person’s Gods, as well as their Ancestors and vaettir. The reinforcement of right relationship with the Holy Powers the person holds dear can give comfort to the dying and smooth the transition from life to death for the Dead. It also starts off the person doing the deathwalking and any rites associated with it the best foot forward, especially if, before this, the deathwalker has never had occasion to worship and/or work with this person’s Holy Powers.

If the person one is doing deathwalking for is still alive, then focusing on the person is of the utmost importance. It is hard to overemphasize what a liminal point the person is approaching. Deaths have the power to bring families and communities together or see them shattered. Approached and engaged in well they can be deeply binding to the person and the people they are leaving, producing a good and beautiful death that instructs those they leave behind how to live well. A person who dies poorly, or whose passing is not respected or treated with care, may make wounds on the Dead and they in turn on the living.

These are the situations deathwalkers who are asked for help post-mortem may have to grapple with. Having a firm grasp on what you are there to do is necesssary. A deathwalker is there to tend to the Dead and Their needs, and whom you serve in such a capacity are the God(s) of the Dead, the Dead person, and perhaps through these connections you may serve the Dead’s family/kindred/tribe/community. First and foremost are the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead person. Being clear about this with any next-of-kin and holding this line starts things off on the right foot because this is what their support networks are there for. Likewise, this is what your own support networks are there for. If a family member is unsure about what to do with a given item, such as a Rune set the Dead left behind without instruction, this is where you as the deathwalker can tap into your own support network and ask for divination rather than shouldering everything yourself. You will have more than enough work to do with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead. If you can, delegating will save you a lot of energy better oriented towards deathwalking. Having community contacts that the family, kindred, etc can contact regularly through this process of grief and celebration can be of deep help because it takes having to do that heavy lifting off of your shoulders and puts it with someone who can devote their capacity to that.

So how to do this spiritual work? I will give here some examples for someone who might be or has been called to do deathwalking. Keep in mind during all this, as part of your own spiritual support you should keep up on your regular cultus as much as you can to keep your connection with your Holy Powers strong, and for your own wellbeing. There are several books on the subject of spiritual safety and wellbeing; the one I recommend here being Spiritual Protection: A Safety Manual for Energy Workers, Healers, and Psychics by Sophie Reicher.

Examples to Draw From

A Preparation Rite Sample for a Deathwalker:

This is an example of a cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding ritual.

Begin in as quiet a space as you can. Ideally, this is done in front of your vé, but I do this regularly in the shower before heading off to work as well. If you find a given spiritual technique I have listed here does not work for you try to change the sensory work before switching up the technique. It may be that, for instance, a tree meditation does not work for you visually but may work if you incorporate feeling roots connect to you, bark coming over your skin, and so on. To this end I will list two senses for each technique. Feel free to add music, scents from incense or burnt herbs, and so on as you feel called to. The music I work with most often for preparation rites are Wardruna, Heilung, Danheim, Forndom, and Paleowolf.

Preparatory Prayer

I begin each session with a simple prayer to the Holy Powers I worship and who help me in the preparation rite. Since I work with Runes in each part of this I include Runatyr and the Runevaettir specifically.

“Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Hail to my Gods and Goddessses! Hail to my Disir! Hail to my Väter! Hail to my Ergi! Hail to my Ancestors all! Hail to my fylgja! Hail to my kinfylgja! Hail to my vörðr! Hail to the vaettir with whom I am aligned! Hail to my landvaettir!” At the end I add the specific names of the places where I have good relationships with the landvaettir, eg my home, work, and so on.

Cleansing with Breath

Take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs as much as you can, and exhaling. Repeat this up to six or nine times, each breath filling your lungs and exhaling until they are empty, or nearly so. The point is not to hit a trance state, but to feel refreshed. You are taking in önd, letting it circulate, and expelling pollution, negative feelings, any dross from the day, and so on. You can combine this with some ice on the tongue and feeling the cleansing cold on your tongue as you breathe, asking Ice Itself to help you cleanse. If you are sensitive to cold, you could work with a sacred burning herb or incense, calling on the Being to help you.

I tend to start this by working with the Rune Ansuz here. I call on Ansuz first, galdr Ansuz, and then do the breathing technique. Do not forget to make offerings to the Runevaettir at least each week if you do this work with Them.

Cleansing with Fire

Have a candle dedicated to this work; I find seven day candles are really good, as are small chime ones if I need to be on-the-go. If you are staying in a hotel room that does not allow burnables then using a LED candle will work fine, since electricity is a form of Fire.

If this is the first time lighting the candle, ask Fire to consecrate the candle in addition to the usual Fire Prayer I make, which is:

“Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor!”

After this take the candle clockwise and circle it above your head three times clockwise, and then, if it is safe to (which is also why I like using seven-day candles), do the same around your waist, and placing the candle on the floor, rotate both feet one after the other sunwise around the candle. I then make a prayer of thanks as above, using “Thank you!” instead of “Hail!”

If you have had or anticipate an especially rough or draining day combining these two cleansing techniques together is a powerful way to cleanse. Likewise to combining these with a shower or bath.

Grounding with Jörð

This is a powerful connective practice with the Earthmother, and may itself be a ritual on its own.

Begin with a prayer to the Earthmother:

“Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing me to ground into You, Goddess beneath my feet, and all around me! Hail Jörð!”

Taking your hands and putting them to the ground/Earth, or as close as you can comfortably reach, breath in deep, and on the exhale give a long intonation of the word Miðgarðr. Do this two more times. As you do each intonation, feel the Earthmother take your excess energy, or if you are needing it, giving you the energy you need, and coming into balance within yourself, and with Miðgarðr Itself. A good audio cue for me if I need music during this is something with a lot of deep bass but no vocals. Scent-wise I tend to like those that remind me of a forest, so if you are doing this during a shower or bath having herbs, scents and/or soaps that are oriented towards each stage is a good idea. Once this grounding is complete thank Jörð and continue with the preparation rite.

Grounding as a Tree

By the nature of grounding, let alone existing, we are doing this on/within Jörð, so I make the same prayer as above.

With this grounding work you are tapping into Her, Miðgarðr Itself, and also reaching back to our Ancestors Askr and Embla, whose original forms was that of trees. I would make prayers to Them, and any trees you might work with for this grounding. If visualizing this works better, do this. If feeling the process works better, engage with this way of grounding. Remember to breathe deep and comfortably throughout this work.

Begin by starting with your feet on up through your waist. Your feet, your legs, and your pelvis become roots reaching deep into the ground. Your waist and through to your chest become the trunk of your tree body. Your head, your arms become branches, leaves or needles grow at their ends. Each breath bringing nutrients up into you, nourish you, and your give off breath and nutrients yourself. Then, when you feel a sense of fullness, or visualize yourself in balance with the Earth, the leaves and branches become your head and arms, the trunk becomes your chest and waist, the roots comes up into your feet, legs, and pelvis. The bark becomes skin, the leaves hair and skin. You are fully human in body and hamr. You are grounded.

Centering in the Self

Centering is the act of focusing the will and attention on a given goal. What I mean when I write centering in the self is that our focus is on internal balance, wellbeing, wholeness. To be ready to do the next thing, whatever that is. I generally do deep breathing while doing internal checks to see if I feel energetically off, needing adjustment, and run through my checklist of things I need to do, such as “Did I take my medication?” and “Did I get enough to eat/drink/sleep?” Without a directed focus I work with centering as taking internal inventory on if my needs are met, and from there, to focus on shielding and going about the rest of my day. If visualizing does not work well, deep breaths and verbally talking each point to oneself, and responding yes or no in an even tone can give a good assessment of where one is. This can also give one a good sense if one needs to go back and do more or different forms of cleansing or grounding, or if one is ready for the rest of the preparation rite.

Centering for Work

Working with deep breathing and using visualization and/or verbalizing on next steps, go over the work you will be engaging in. Go over it in general or as much detail as you need. This is a good place to pray for guidance if you have not done so and will need it. Especially for a deathwalking, this is the place where you will want to think about the first steps you will take when going into or setting up the sacred space for the deathwalk. However, do not let yourself be overwhelmed. This is not a spot for anxiety to take over, nor is it one for daydreaming. This is a place where you concretely lay down the first steps you will take once the preparation rite is over and you are ready to do work.

If I have not already done after grounding so I will usually engage working with Gebo here, thanking It and then galdring It, so that I have Gebo firmly in mind with all my work from here on out.

Making Shields

I do not generally make shields as part of my regular preparation rites unless there is a specific need. I felt that I would be remiss if I did not at least go over it though. Shields are a generic term in the Pagan and occult communities for spiritual protection. It can be as complex as a series of integrated visualized shields with a number of qualities (eg this one connected to the Earth, that one to Fire, both connected to with permission) together with charms, amulets, and the like, or as simple as visualizing a shield from Star Trek or Star Wars extending around you. They are highly malleable to the needs of the person. I find integrating as many sensations into a given shield as I can produces the best effects, so if you can integrate all five senses into a shield I would do so.

I do not recommend you ‘anchor’ a shield in yoursself. That is, do not have a shield draw its power from yourself if you can avoid it. If something is trying to get through to you, whether an angry spirit or emotionally charged backlash from a dying person or their family, it can be even more draining to you than just the blow by itself. Working with the landvaettir of your home, your Ancestors, and/or the vaettir of various stones, herbs, charms, and so on helps mitigate your personal energy’s involvement and the mitigates the drain on your energy stores. In part this is why charms, amulets, and other stores of protective magic are so useful. You’re not being tapped to initially empower the object, or to keep it empowered.

To make a shield we will start with a concept and build from there. So, for a general shield, imagine the shape of an egg or sphere, extending down into the Earth as well as above the body, and away from it by at least 2-3 feet. Visualize what it looks like and provide auditory cues by imagining for when it is simply ‘up’ or when it is ‘struck’ or dealing with interference. Perhaps integrating a smell of ozone or burning wire. A bitter taste. The sensation of crawling skin or feeling of ‘no’ when someone/something is trying to get through them. When this is done ‘set’ the shield by tracing its outline around yourself with your hands so no one sensation is fully in charge of the shield. It also keeps it out of the realm of only being something in the head; more of the soul matrix is involved this way.

Cleansing Shields

Once shields are up they will, at the least, accrue background gunk if they aren’t being actively hit by spiritual debris. Cleansing them regularly is as necessary as cleansing ourselves. Like our skin of our lyke, shields are the protection for our hamr (spiritual double/astral body) and the soul matrix in general from external attack/distraction/accidents/mistakes. You can use similar methods as cleanse shields as you cleanse yourself. I often do, and working with Fire as I describe above will likely cleanse everything on you. Sometimes, though, you have to consciously take a shield down to get it fully cleansed. This is doing this work in a warded and/or sacred space is so important: if you need to take down your shields to do the work you have the ability to do so.

Other ways of cleansing shields would be to work with salt and water. Ask Earth and Water Itself, and/or Jörð, Rán and Ægir to bless the salt and water respectively. The salt, being from the Earth, grounds out the energy of the shield and the waters cleanse it. Ground and cleanse the shield you want to work on by flicking the mixture away from yourself.

At this point I may work with the Rune Kenaz given Its affiliation with torches, illumination, and boundaries.

Reinforcing Shields

Once shields are put together and can be shown to stand up to pressure, sometimes you will find they need reinforcing. This is where good relationships with various vaettir really helps. Your Ancestors have a vested interest in seeing you live, and working with Them may help the use of heavier or more involved shielding work. However, doing deathwalking is rather powerful and potentially rough work, so heavier/more involved shields may be necessary depending on the situation you are walking into. So what does reinforcing shields look like? Sometimes, going with the example of the basic Star Trek/Star Wars shield, you work to put more power into it. This might mean asking another vaettir for help in reinforcing the shield, or putting up another shield to complement the one(s) you already have. The point is not to walk around armored to the teeth at all times (unless for some reason you need that) but to have adequate shielding to help mitigate the situations you are going to find yourself in.

A Preparation Rite for the Dying

Respect the wishes of a dying person. If they wish to be alone and face death alone, let them. Likewise, if they want the room full of people and for the deathwalk work to be done after they pass, accept this, and do it. Your job is to help them have a good death however they wish to face it. Sometimes just letting someone know that you are there and that together with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you will help them get where they need to go may be comfort enough for them to accept death. This rite is written with the understanding that the person dying has asked for help preparing to die.

The outline of the rite is similar to the daily preparation you should be engaging in as above. The big difference is that this will likely be the last time the person does this alive, and you may need to do all the physical ritual actions for them: cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding. This is preparation for their deathwalk. Be sure to have all the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that they worship and work with in this rite well before you walk into their room. I have written this rite a bit more vague because time may be of the essence, and far better to have a general outline than an exacting ritual so you can modify according to the needs of the dying and the requirements of their Holy Powers, religion, community, etc.

If at any point the person starts to die stop what you are doing and help them through this passage. This is why you walk in as prepared as you can be. Know the tools you have brought. Know your role. Does this person have a current DNR (Do Not Rescuscitate form) or other such vital documents stating they want to die in the case of a medical emergency or are they trying to hold out for a certain person or people to be there? Is there family you should be calling for them that they want present? Prayers for them as they die? Offerings made as they die or after they die? Is there a vigil to be held, and if so, who will hold it, are they prepared to do it, and if no one is available and a vigil is a requirement of their religion are you ready, willing, and able to hold that vigil? If not you, do you have someone available to you and okayed by the dying/their loved ones for a vigil if one is required? All things to think about well ahead of time, having as much available for the service of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and person dying and their family/loved ones.

This is also where a working knowledge of the person’s Holy Powers is quite useful and powerful. If a person was a lifelong devotee to Odin and the person dying wishes to meet with Him in Valhöll then marking the person over the heart with a blade could be a poignant request to Him. At this point you could ask Him, the Valkyries, and the person’s Ancestors in Valhöll to look to them and if Odin wishes the person to join Him, to claim them. Putting a weapon in their hand so they carry it with them into death is also a powerful thing to do for such a devotee. If a person had a lifelong devotion to Frey, a shaft of wheat, an antler, or a boar representation would be a good thing for them to hold, and carry with them through the death rite.

Make any cleansing or prayers you need to in the space before beginning with the dying person. Ideally you would have had time well before now to do your own preparations. If time is short, do the work as well as you can alongside the dying. Sometimes we do not get ideal situations. Cleansing prior to beginning the Preparatory Rite, even if you use the same kind of language, prepares the space for the Holy Powers and clears way if the person does begin to die, making the place holy and ready for any kind of work needed. If there is music that they find comforting or would like a playlist to play during each part, put it on.

Cleansing the Space

Asperge the area with water and salt, or cleanse the area with fire or smoke, making the appropriate prayers with each Being you work with in this initial cleansing. If a vé needs to be set up it would be good to set it up now.

Prepatory Prayer

Face the vé with the dying:

“Hail to the Gods of <N>! Hail to the Goddesses of <N>! Hail to the Ancestors! Hail to the vaettir that called <N> friend! Hail to the landvaettir of <N’s> home! We ask you to be here with us, and help us in this rite to prepare <N> for <pronoun> death.”

Cleansing

Make appropriate prayers to the Beings who will help cleanse the dying, for instance saying: “Hail <Being>! Thank you for cleansing us, for preparing us for the work ahead with our Holy Powers!” If the person cannot catch enough breath to do the breathing work here, breathe for them and allow them to be as comfortable as possible. If you work with breath to do cleansing, and they are comfortable with it, passing your cleansed breath over them may be a powerful and connective way of cleansing them. Depending on if they are on oxygen you may not be allowed an open flame; a LED candle will work fine for this, and aromatherapy oils, or a tisane or even tea will work in place of incense.

Grounding

Depending on the person they may not be in a state to ground using your usual methods. In this case having a bowl of dirt, salt, crystals, or the like on hand for the person to put their hands into/onto is a good idea. If these are not available or feasible to have, or if they want the connection, work with them in grounding with yourself using one of the above methods, or working alongside them with the bowl of Earth-oriented items.

Begin with: “Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing uss to ground into You, Goddess beneath our feet, and all around us! Hail Jörð!” Place your hands into the bowl, encouraging them to ground, or hand-in-hand, help the person ground.

Centering

Breathe deeply three times, encouraging them to do so as well if they are able, and say:

“We are here to prepare ourselves for the last walk: the deathwalk. We face the road before us together, celebrating life as we approach/cross the threshold of death.”

Shielding

The shielding portion may best be represented for the dying with objects that they can take with them into death, even if they are small representations of the items, such as tokens of a shield, sword, spear, antler, or are Runes, charms, amulets, and talismans.

“We ward ourselves and this space, knowing we are protected and safe as we walk this road together.”

Thanks and Offering

Any Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir called upon for this rite or those to come are thanked for Their Presence and offered to here. Thanking each God, Goddess, Ancestor, and the vaettir you know by name is a good thing to do, as is something to the effect of “Hail to the Holy Powers, named and unnamed, who are with us!” and make an offering of water, sacred herbs such as mugwort, or alcohol.

A Note on Prayers, Offerings, and Rites

Prayers used in this rite, and really any one you are doing, can be as complex and involving ritual actions as is required. The prayers here are supposed to be springboards rather than hard and fast rules. Having a copy of Cesiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer, Galina Krasskova’s Modern Guide to Heathenry, Starhawk’s The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, or any of the many devotional books to the Gods that Krasskova, Bibliotecha Alexandrina, Asphodel Press, and others have put out is very useful to have on-hand. If you have trouble coming up with spontaneous prayers or need sources of inspiration for your own, these are good sources to have.

As with prayers, offerings can be quite simple or elaborate as the particular Holy Powers and traditions call for. If all that is available or allowed withing a facility is water, salt, coffee, and the like, then that is far better than nothing. If other offerings are called for post-mortem in such a situation then negotiations with the Holy Powers on the part of the deathwalker may be needed. This can be as simple as a request made in prayer to the Holy Powers, or someone off-site making prayers on behalf of the deathwalker and the dying. To give exhaustive examples would require one, if not several books, and still leave room for more to be said.

The rites many of these aforementioned books describe are good guides for developing rituals that will be useful to deathwalking and a variety of other practices. Again, adapting the rites, but not necesssarily the requirements of those rites, is the responsibility of the deathwalker so that the dying person has a good death and starts off their journey into next World(s) right. Above all else the focus of the deathwalker needs to be in service to the Holy Powers of the dying person and the dying person themselves.

A sample rite for deathwalking the dying:

Engage in the Prepatory Rite

Welcome the God(s) of Dying, Death, and the Dead

If a given person was multitradition it may be on the deathwalker to invite and make offerings to many Gods of Dying, Death, and the Dead. Given this is a Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan post and most folks are not going to die in combat I have made prayers to Hela.

“Hail Hela, Goddess of the Dead! You, Who welcome the Dead into Your ever-abundant Hall! You, Who offer food, drink, and bed to all who enter Your Hall! Hail Lady of Gracious Hospitality! Thank You for opening the way once again between us and the Ancestors. May the gate be open that the guest may be received! May the gate be open that the Ancestors may receive their own! May these offerings be good Gebo for the gifts You have given us! Hail Hela! Ves ðu heil!”

Welcome the Ancestors

It is good to know as many of the dying’s Ancestors as posssible. Knowing the major names of their family lines will help, especially because personally inviting family to tend to their dying relative can be a healing and powerful experience for the Ancestors involved as well as the dying person themselves. Doing this work also shows reciprocity to the family who has helped the person throughout their life, respect for their loved one, and a continuance of the cycle of respect through the initiation of death. Having one’s own Ancestors helping, with one’s powerful Ancestors acting as intermediary and/or helping the work, can lighten the load on a deathwalker and aid the dying in transition so the deathwalker’s focus is on the dying person and the ritual they are engaged in.

“Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ergi (or Þver)! Hail to the lines of <N>! Hail <name of line>! Hail to all the Ancestors of <N>, named and unnamed! We ask you to be here, to bear witness and help <N> to join you, O Ancestors. Help them to walk with Death gently, welcome them warmly, and bring comfort to their family, Kindred/Hearth and/or tribe, and the people who loved them. May they walk the Hel-road well and may you meet them at the gate with open arms. Ves ðu heil!”

Welcome the Vaettir

As with Gods and Ancestors it is good to know as many of the vaettir a person works with as possible for similar reasons as knowing the dying person’s Ancestors. This is a good time to offer thanks and worship to the dying’s vaettir, including their fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr. Fylgja, (one of the many meanings being ‘follower’), as I use the term, is any vaettr the person had a relationship with whether this is tutelage, initiation, guardianship, or friendship. A kinfyglja then is a vaettr related to them in this way via their Ancestors, whether an Ancestor vaettr Itself or a representative of/to Them such as an animal, messenger, and so on. A vörðr (pl varðir) is the guardian vaettr of a person and would have been following the person throughout their life. This is also the time to offer and pray to the vaettir of the place the dying is in. If they are dying in a facility such as a hospital or hospice, then asking the vaettir of the facility to help the staff be helpful, caring, comforting, and professional is good practice.

There are a number of important factors to think of here regarding the landvaettir whether the person is dying at home or not. Among them there is an old practice of speaking with the húsvaettir or and landvaettir, as in the old tradition of ‘telling the bees‘, which is talking with the bees when an event occurs with the family that shares the land with them. A similar process of worship and offerings to the landvaettir of the dying person should be undertaken by the next of kin of the family. This responsibility may fall to the deathwalker if the family is not part of the traditions of the dying or if there is no one beyond the deathwalker to fulfill them. The vaettir the dying person is leaving behind may Themselves be grieving at their passing, and so, the deathwalker may find themselves in the position of soothing entire groups of vaettir. Inviting the dying’s vaettir to witness their death and passsing on may be as healing and comforting for the dying as it is the vaettir they are leaving behind.

“Hail vaettir! Hail to the fylgja and kinfylgja of <N>! Hail to the vörðr/varðir of <N>! Hail vaettir of <N>, named and unnamed! Be with <N>. Help them to walk with Death gently. Help them to cross the threshold to meet their Ancestors. Help guide, guard, and walk with them once more among those who love them. Help them that they may they walk the Hel-road well, and meet you at the road with open arms. May love and fríð bloom between you. Ves ðu heil!”

Blessing and Preparing the Dying

This part will depend on what options are available to you. If fire is not an option then you can opt for water or ice, as available and appropriate. For this blessing and preparing of the dying person it will look a lot like a cleansing. The prayers, howoever, and the work you do with the different elemental powers will be different. The prayers for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir should directly address Them and ask Them for help in the person to die well and with as little pain as possible. These are only example prayers, and they should be changed to reflect a person’s relationship to the Elemental Ancestors, Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

For the Elemental Ancestors

Fire

“Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Bless this person and shine on the road before them. Let all blocks burn away so the road is clear. Let the light of the Ancestors burn bright in the halls before Them, and may They be welcomed warmly to Their fire. Hail Fire! Ves ðu heil!”

Ice

“Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Hail Jökull! Hail Snær! Hail Ýmir! Hail Kári! Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Bless this person and smooth the road before them. Let the road shine bright and roll well beneath them on their way to the Ancestors. Hail Ice! Ves ðu heil!”

For the Gods -A General Prayer

“Hail <G>! Bless <N> and help them to die. Clear away every obstacle and bless their journey that they may travel on Death’s road well, and to take their place in honor and fríð. Ves ðu heil!”

For the Gods -For a Fulltrui

“Hail <G>, Fulltrui of <N> in whose heart You dwell! Be with <N> as they prepare to take the Last Road in this life. Help take the embers of their life and tenderly keep their flame as they journey into Death. Help soothe their hurts and comfort them. Help them cross into the land of their Ancestors, and from there, to journey safely wherever they are to go. Bless and be with them, O <G>! Ves ðu heil!”

Readying the Dying

These words may be spoken over a person when it is clear they are ready to die, or in conscious preparation for the process. Give time so that anything that the person needs to say is heard clearly by those present.

“Hail <N>! The Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and your Kindred/Tribe/people are here. If anything lies between you and fríð, let it be removed. If anything needs to be said, let it be said. If anything needs to be passed on, let it be here.” Allow for whatever needs to be said to be said, whatever needs to be done let it be done.

“The Holy Powers and your Kindred/tribe/people are here for you. You are ready for the next journey.” Songs, poems, and prayers that are holy, ask for a good journey, that are comforting to the dying, are thanks to the Holy Powers, or blesssings for the dying are appropriate here. Have a selection of these songs, poems, and prayers available for folks who get emotional, tongue-tied, or need help to get their words out. Helvegen by Wardruna is a song that seems particlarly appropriate here.

Care for the Dead

Once the person has died, care for their lyke, their physical body, should begin as soon as it can be done. At the least the body should be cleaned with clean cloths and water. The people on hand, as with each stage of this work, should be ready to swap out if they are too tired to continue, the deathwalker included. Caring for the Dead’s body is a powerful physical devotion and can be quite intimate, so even if a deathwalker is ready to do the work of cleaning the Dead, they should step aside in favor of a parent, lover, or child. I would say the only time a spiritual specialist should insist on doing anything described here is if a dedicated Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan is not among those able to care for the dying or Dead according to their tradition(s). Far more important that the desires of the Holy Powers and the dying/Dead are taken care of than to allow an overzealous or uncaring relative, friend, or bystander, to disturb these important rites.

When I first started to write on this patron’s topic I was initially going to just write an 8oo or so word post, and it has gotten far more detailed than I intended. So, I will at least be splitting this up into a two post topic. Again, 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 here on my Patreon.

In Part 2 we will look at how to care for the Soul Matrix in dying and deathwalking.

My Patreon is Live

December 3, 2019 2 comments

For awhile now I debated launching a Patreon for folks who enjoyed my writing and wanted to help support my work.

After soliciting feedback from friends and loved ones I finally have gone live with my Patreon. Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback and encouragement to do this.

The link is here for my Patreon.

This is a breakdown of the layers of support, and the tiers folks can sign up for:

Fehu: $3/month
The basic supporter level.
Fehu, meaning cattle and so, mobile wealth, allows for me to do my work. You will have access to my content here on the Patreon, including Patreon-only blog posts and responses to questions and feedback. If we hit the $500 a month goal then I will produce videos that every Patreon subscriber will have access to.

Uruz: $6/month
Uruz means auroch and relates to wild power and strength. Contributors at this level help add to my strength to better focus on the work at hand. You will have access to my content here on the Patreon and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. The blog where I write about polytheism, Northern Tradition shamanism, Heathenry, and animism is at Sarenth.wordpress.com.

Thurisaz: $9/month
Thurisaz, relating to the words thurse (giant), and thorn.
Patrons at this tier have the ability to get into the thorns with me: to ask a question in my monthly Q&A, and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. As with the other tiers you will have access to my content here on the Patreon.

Ansuz: $36/month, 3 spots
Ansuz, relates to the God Odin, breath, and communication.
Contributors at this level get more access to communication with me. As with the other tiers you will have access to my content here on the Patreon, the ability to ask a question in my monthly Q&A, and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. Ansuz’s unique tier benefit is now you can commission a sacred poem or song for a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit.

Raiðo: $45/month, 3 spots
Raiðo relates to the ride and the long journey.
Those who give monthly on this tier are looking at taking their own long journey with me. Not only will Patrons have all the other benefits of the previous tiers, they also will be able to retain one three-Rune reading per month. My normal rate for readings are $75 each, so if you are looking to work on your own long road journey become a Patron at this tier.

Kenaz: $81/month, 3 spots
Kenaz relates to torches and the light they bring to the path before us, as well as to pain, ulcers and mortality.
Patrons at this tier have access to the previous tiers. Patreons at this tier can brighten the path before them and get help to work with the challenges before them with a personal Rune reading or an in-depth exploration of a topic relevant to my blog and Patreon.

Gebo: $99/month, 3 spots
Gebo means ‘gift’, and so, the Rune of gipt fa gipt, gift for as gift: reciprocity.
Patrons at this tier have access to the previous tiers.
In the spirit of reciprocity Patrons at the Gebo tier will have the ability to set up a Skype call with me for an hour long session once a month to explore a topic relevant to my blogs or spiritual work.

When I reach $500 a month I will start to produce monthly video content that each tier will have access to.

Thinking on Chris Hedges, Revolution, and Climate Change

March 3, 2019 9 comments

I was watching a lecture by Chris Hedges entitled Corporate Totalitarianism: The End Game. In it, Hedges engages with the subject with both frankness and humor, both of which I appreciate. Hedges has, for a long time, spoken quite well on the problem facing us. What he, and most any social or political critic has been awfully short on, is how to address the predicaments we are in.

He rightly points out that the prison systems rely on slave labor to operate and that, were prisoners retaining even a minimum wage salary, it and the industries this work supports would collapse. He rightly points out that our democracy doesn’t function, which by this point is almost “No shit?” passe. He could have cut a huge chunk of his lecture out by just saying “There is no top-down approach coming because the top is going to watch the bottom burn and drown.” It is the same damned song regardless of political party that has been pursued for the entire length of time that I have been alive. This is a point I am grateful that Hedges hammers on throughout his lecture and in the Q&A. The politicians are not coming to save us.

Something a lot of folks watching this lecture are probably going to miss is a very key point I felt was buried in the lecture among all the socio-political commentary. It is something I hammer on a lot in my writing and that folks from the Post-Carbor Institute, JMG, and others have been hitting on the head for some time. Namely, that the oil and natural gas markets are operating on what amounts to gambling to keep money in the system and keep production somewhat commensurate with needed supply. Except the field outputs are down. The Bakkan Oil Shale is being run by large companies with lots of land that they lease to small, risk-taking companies whose primary income is venture capital. The main way most of the large fossil fuel companies here stay afloat has nothing to do with well productivity, but land leasing. When that glut runs out the ability to generate income will also dry up, not because the gas will all be gone, but because the cost to extract and produce it in useable forms will eclipse the revenue from selling it.

In other words, the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) is going to go down and bring a good chunk of the energy market with it. The whole system is facing this all at once alongside climate change. We would be lucky, and I use that term loosely, if the whole damned facade of the energy industry fell away before that 12 year mark for 1.5F increase in global temperature hits, because the damned near complete demand destruction we saw in 2008 when oil hit almost $150 a barrel of crude was one of the most effective acts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we made in this country. It was hell for any of us who were low-income, as I was fired in 2007 not long before the financial chickens of the crash came home to roost. When a gallon of gas hit $4 and was threatening to hit $5 the ripple effect was enormous. So trust me when I say such a thing will not be a picnic nor even desireable for the average person, but it may be something that could save us from our own consumption of fossil fuels.

Hedges’ point in the lecture about going to Scranton, PA where the city is insolvent is happening in every State and damned near every city I can think of in my own State. Hell, the DIA in Detroit almost sold off its collection to pay debts. His point that capitalism eats itself and its own until collapse is what we are in the middle of right now. The economic system is simply unsustainable. I appreciate he hooks this into his point in the lecture where he talks about the money system, especially in regards to how personal and student debt cannot keep churning out new debtors if the means to pay off interest and principle are subject to these interruptions. As he says, 1/3 of the employed people of America make less than $12 an hour and have no health insurance provided by employers. Keep in mind that Obamacare takes another chunk out of that, either directly through one of the health care plans, or with the year end penalty for not choosing a provider. There is a growing swathe of Americans who bought into the lie that a college education would help us become solid middle-class members. Instead, it has indebted us, some of us through our whole lives. Those, like myself, who went into public service with the promise that if we gave 10 years of our lives that our debt would be forgiven are now coming out the other side, having served that obligation, and our debt forgiveness being rejected. With the costs of living tracking to increase with energy costs there’s not going to be a way to pay off the debt, let alone stave it off much longer.

If we are to make any progress anywhere it is in getting that point across. It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative, liberal, leftist, rightist, any of it. The economic system is unsustainable. The energy infrastructure that allows for the modern American way of life is unsustainable. If you don’t get that then there is no conversation to be had. Without energy being available, on which money depends so it can work, the whole house of cards collapses. If folks disagree with basic reality, that we cannot expect infinite growth on a finite planet, then there is no more conversation to be had. The person can be on the same exact part of the political spectrum that I am on and if they deny the basic nature of where we are then speaking with them is completely without merit.

If, as I feel, Hedges is speaking well and pointing out fundamental problems in regards to our political and economic systems why do I feel such a disconnect from him? For the same reason I imagine most folks do. Though he has covered war and conflict as a journalist and lived alongside folks in those horrible situations I get the distinct feeling that his life, given he was educated at Harvard and has taught in prestigious universities, is a world apart from my own.

Hedges is right in saying that we were conned by Bill Clinton and his pushing through NAFTA, stating it would make us countless of middle-class jobs. I can look out into the neighborhoods where the auto industry was king and clearly see this lie on display, as can anyone who has seen similar scenes in coal and natural gas country. He is right to talk about the collapse of societies and bring his experience of what that looks like into this lecture. He got to watch Yugoslavia’s disintegration up close from the sounds of it. He’s right that we could well be facing the same damn thing here for the same kinds of reasons.

Hedges speaks of democracy as though we could possibly save it at this stage in America. His proposal to save America from totalitarianism is “sustained mass acts of political disobedience”. To me this is completely and hopelessly naive. He uses Standing Rock as an example, and I think it is a poor one in the way he uses it. Standing Rock was a powerful example of civil, sustained disobedience because, at its core, there was and continues to be a series of communities, the Standing Rock Reservation peoples, with real spiritual and physical stakes in the care of Standing Rock and in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. So long as there is abstraction there is inaction, and for far too many people Standing Rock is and remains abstract. Mni Wiconi for too many people is a slogan, something to put on their Facebook wall and to think about every now and again. If Mni Wiconi is merely words then its impact and its meaning is truly missing. The peoples of Standing Rock, and those who joined them long-term in their work, had real skin in the game and something to lose: sacred lands and sacred water their people were tied to in sacred right relationship.

I was at Occupy Wall Street protests near me not long after OWS started to come together across the nation. I attended rallies and I found them complete and utter wastes of time. Hedges states we need to not be restrained by the tyranny of the practical. I got to see what that looked like with OWS rallies local to me. The decision making process, if ever it could be called such a thing, was long, drawn out, tedious, needlessly time consuming and without any sense of order, duty, or use to the communities in which they were arranged. They actively repelled anyone older than maybe folks in their mid-30s. Even for those in their age group, many OWS folks pushed us out because we could see nothing was going to get done. There was no interest in folks with years of experience in organizing, non-profit work, none of it. The OWS in my area died about as quickly as it appeared.

Not a few moments after this statement regarding the tyranny of the practical Hedges calls for revolution, for ‘the overthrow of the corporate state’. Without practicalities addressed this will never happen, not for all the faith one has. Countless Marxists and Communists since Marx wrote Das Capital have been eagerly awaiting the Worker’s Revolution. So many millenarian, apocalyptic, and radical sects who have had faith in and waited for the coming of saviors and the awakening of ‘the people’ have been waiting for the exact same thing. Whether secular or religious, both groups who have had abiding faith in their salvific movements have ignored that revolutions that seek to succeed must pay attention to the practicalities of things so that not only is the revolution succesful, but that any of its gain can stick.

For anyone that has studied the abdication of the Tzar and the rise of the Bolsheviks, to call that anything like a nonviolent movement is foolish at best and obfuscating history at worst. It also ignores that deep, ravaging pain that the Bolsheviks and later Communist regimes would exact on those people they would be in charge of or conquer. These are not revolutions to look at as examples. Rather, I would see such be avoided.

The Founding Fathers understood that the practical and idealistic had to walk hand-in-hand. They understood the notion very well, organizing on levels that I think anyone thinking of such revolutions would do well to pay attention to. They did not merely speak pretty words. Their necks were, on signing the Declaration of Independence, very-much on the line. Hedges’ assertion that we can have a revolution with non-violence, especially in this country where corporate interests are entrenched with violence, where the State stands as it had with the Pinkerton agency in coal’s heyday times with TransCanada and Enbridge Energy today, and come through to victory, is foolish at best and at worst dangerous for his would-be revolutionaries.

The corporate people who hosed down the Standing Rock protesters in sub-zero temperature were committing violence. That pipeline is still getting its building permits worked on. The company, TransCanada, has not stopped to see that its aims are realized. Non-violent protest stalled the progress of the pipeline, but has it stopped it? No. For all the attention the pipeline garnered, all the protest, needed as it was, for all the symbol it was and how good a victory it felt when it was temporarily stopped, folks need to get that it, and countless B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s like it are not done. They are not stopped -yet. These B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s still need killing. Thankfully, the Standing Rock people of the Dakotas, the Anishinaabek Line 5 Protesters here in Michigan, and so many others are standing up again and again with folks in and across their communities. Not everyone standing up, proverbially here, will be doing so before a pipeline; not everyone can. There are plenty for folks to do who are unable to be a physical presence, and the best place where people can go to and learn how best they can contribute is to talk to those who live on the land and waters being threatened.

Another source of disconnect I feel with Hedges is that he is still living a very comfortable upper middle class life. Unlike many peak oil folks there is nothing I can point to that comes through in the lectures I have seen or interviews he has given that give me an impression of him like those I have seen of Richard Heinburg, James Kunstler, or JMG who live their values through living as sustainably as possible on the land each lives. He is not showing the future, showing where he has put up solar panels, started community gardens, or grown his own food. For all that he speaks well, he has not shown, even in general, how he seeks to enable future generations to live well in a post-petroleum climate change future. It is one thing to approach a crowd with a good speech. It is another to approach a crowd with a vision of the future where a good life is possible, even if it is not the life we have been sold by countless companies and TV shows. We need more than speeches. We need living leaders whose lives show us how we may live better on and with the planet and one another.

Now is time to do everything we can to live well with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Now is the time to organize our communities; the politicians will not save us, and the States are not going to make the coming crises easier to face. Now is the time to learn the skills we can, to pass on what we know, to do everything in our power so the next generation can face what is coming with every possible advantage on their side. We must do the work before us however we can do it. It is not enough to merely write and speak on what we need to do. Each of us concerned with our Holy Powers, our communities, and the Earth we live on will, wherever possible whenever possible, be living examples.

On Ritual Praxis -Structure, Roles and Responsibilities

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Up until now the majority of the On Ritual Praxis posts have been applicable to both the individual and to groups. Having started at the individual level and worked our way outward, it is time to dig into the larger spheres Heathens are within. I will start with how my Kindred and I understand the structures Heathens operate within, the structures of Heathenry, and then on to the roles and responsibilities people within them may take up. As with other posts in regards to On Ritual Praxis, these are meant to be guides rather than exhaustive, and reflective of how my Kindred and I work. Folks may have different kind of relationship based on structure, worldview, or specific home culture from which their Heathen religion springs.

Structures in Heathenry -Innangarð and Utgarð

The most basic structure in Heathenry for my Kindred and I is the innangarð and utgarð. The innangarð, meaning within the yard/enclosure, start with our Gods, Ancestors and vaettir, us as individuals, our families (chosen and blood), and our Kindred. This innangarð extends out to our allies and friends. Those who are not innangarð are utgarð, outide the yard/enclosure.

Why does this structure matter so much?

It is how we prioritize our lives. It is where we understand ourselves as fitting within, and to whom we owe obligation. It is how we understand how our ørlög and Urðr unfolds, and to whom both are tied most tightly. This does not mean that those in the utgarð are beyond consideration, that only our innangarð matters, or that we are given license to ignore the responsibilities we share with the larger communities in which we live. It means that those within our innangarð have highest priority, and it is where the bulk of our energy, attention, and work belongs.

If the basic understanding is that one’s first priorities are to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, then good relationships with Them are one’s first obligation. Likewise one develops a hierarchy of relationships and obligation to one’s self, family, friends, and allies. An understanding of the structure of one’s life begins with understanding one’s cosmology. That understanding then extends into every relationship one has, whether it is with those in the innangarð or those outside it. It extends to every piece of food we eat, even to the media we consume. A cosmology exists everywhere in every moment or it exists nowhere. We do not put our cosmology on pause, we live within it.

The innangarð and utgarð are extensions of our polytheist understanding. Those Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we worship and hold relationships with are within our innangarð. Those we do not are utgarð. This does not mean that Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir that are utgarð are always bad for us or wrong to worship, merely that they are not within our primary scope of obligation. The Holy Powers in our innangarð are those we worship and have relationships with. They are who we turn to when things are rough and who we celebrate festivals and victories with. Likewise, the people in our innangarð are those we turn to when things are rough and help in turn, and celebrate our victories with.

Structures in Heathenry -Families, Hearths, and Tribes

Heathenry as an identifier is useful only insofar as it signals to ourselves and others that our worldview, religion, and culture is based in lived religion whose backgrounds are based in reconstructing/reviving ancient polytheist religions of Northern Europe which included Scandinavia, Germany, and Anglo-Saxon peoples among others. So we may say we are Scandinavian Heathen group, or an Anglo-Saxon Heathen tribe, or a Germanic Heathen hearth. Even so, this breakdown can miss the differences a given Anglo-Saxon Heathen tribe may have from one based in Texas vs Tennessee. We may share cosmological principles, and our conception of and relationships with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir may be similar, but there will always be variations between how we relate to and understand each principle, God, Ancestor, and vaettr based in each person, family, hearth, or tribe’s relationships with these principles and Beings. Innangarð, utgarð, ørlög, and Urðr (or culture-specific names holding similar meaning) as understood through one’s Heathen worldview are the primary means for understanding and establishing webs of relationships. With this in mind, I primarily understand and refer to Heathenry as communities of tribal religions.

Some Heathen groups have not and may never make it to being a tribal group simply because they are a single person, family, or hearth that does not ‘click’ with any other ones. A Heathen whose organizing stays at the individual level has no more or less inherent value than one that is a tribe. It means the way one does ritual will change, who one is tied to in obligation changes, and the complexity of one’s relationships changes. The point of identifying structure is not to make tribe something to aim at nor solitary worship in Heathenry as something to avoid. The purpose of going through these terms, especially in how I am using words here, is to develop words with clear meaning for our communities.

Simply put, a family is a group of people related to each other by blood, marriage, or association. A hearth is the home/place in which a family or many families are gathered with a common religious outlook and practice. Tribes are associations of families and/or hearths linked by shared culture and religion. Mimisbrunnr Kindred, for instance, is a tribe made up of many hearths, each with its own family.

Divisions of Innangarð

I like to think of innangarð and utgarð as a series of circles. The first circle of the innangarð is the hearth, the second the bú (farmstead), the third the Kindred/tribe or other groups, the fourth is the Thing, and fifth are the wider associations we hold.

The hearth, as mentioned before, is in the home. These are the people closest to you, often those sharing your physical space every day. This is the level at which folks provide daily mutual support, raise their families, and live together.

I chose to use the word bú, or farmstead, to describe the second circle to connect the importance of those who are within it. As with a farmstead, those in the second circle together work together in close contact, trust each other, and mutually support one another and complete projects together that benefit each other and their communities. Why not name it something like family or the Kindred? Not everyone who is Kindred may have that kind of relationship with one another, either due to the nature of one’s relationships with a Kindred, time, or space limitations.

The third circle is the Kindred/tribe. These are members of our particular religious and culture communities, such as Mimirsbrunnr Kindred. Some folks at the Kindred level might blend back and forth between the different circles of innangarð, providing support for one another and caring for members within their Kindred/tribe as they can. A person within a hearth circle vs a Kindred circle is that they may provide less material and work support than others at the hearth or bú circle. Kindred ties are often likened to family ones, and this is also part of my experience. The emotional ties are certainly there, but the kinds of things that are expected of me at the hearth level, which includes the meeting of financial obligations and physical needs are less expected at the Kindred level. While I am fully happy to help Kindred members with meeting these needs the expectation is not there that I do that on a regular basis as it is with my hearth.

The Thing is another circle in which I took inspiration from history. A Thing was called to engage in trade, settle disputes, and make plans to work on projects. To my understanding the Thing circle is locally based, including my Kindred in relation to other co-religionists, allies to my hearth, Kindred, and tribe. The Thing circle are those our hearths, Kindreds, tribes, etc. are co-equal with who may come together for cross-community projects, conversation, conventions, or settling of disputes.

The fifth circle, associations, are the communities we have connection to but little in the ways of formal oaths or direct ties into our hearths, Kindreds, tribes, and other closer communities. The association circle we could look at as communities in which we may have mutual interests or some connection with, such as Pagan Pride groups, pan-Pagan groups and gatherings, perhaps the local brewing guild a member might be a part of, etc. These are people we have connections with and may even be important members of, but the connections we maintain with these communities stops at anything insular to our lives. The PPD communities aren’t going to be coming over to my home to help vacuum my house or make sure there’s food in the pantry; that’s a hearth through to Kindred circle thing. We might come together to celebrate Pride day or circle around to remember our Dead, but the community is not involved in one’s everyday life so much as one belongs to the community. A local brewing guild might be a source of great inspiration and camaraderie in the journey of a brewer, but aside from maybe hosting a gathering they will not be involved much in one’s day-to-day life.

Structure in Heathenry -Organizational Models

Since Heathen religions are tribal each group may organize itself differently and for different reasons. In my Kindred’s case our organization structure is hierarchical. I am a goði, filling a role as leader both as a chieftain and priest of the Kindred. As a goði I represent the Kindred as an organization to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the communities in which we live and interact. The others are, at the moment, lay members and do not hold leadership or ritual role positions though any of us might make offerings or prayers. The point of a Heathen goði insofar as we are concerned is as a leader, diviner, priest organizing and conducting rites, a representative for the group before the Holy Powers and communities, and a helpmeet to the Kindred’s members in keeping good relationships with one another and the Holy Powers.

We organize hierarchically in Mimisbrunnr Kindred for a few reasons. The Kindred started as a Rune study group with me leading it, and grew from there into a Northern Tradition/Heathen study group. From there, we grew into a working group, and from that group we grew into Mimisbrunnr Kindred. Our worldview as Heathens is hierarchical, whether we look to our Gods, our ancient Heathen Ancestors, or many of our vaettir as examples of how to organize ourselves. We work with a hierarchy model because through it we are organizing ourselves in a manner similar to our Gods, Ancestors, and many of our vaettir. We work in a hierarchy because it works for us, and we have not been told by our Holy Powers to adopt another model. Our roles in the Kindred are clearly delineated, and the work each of us has to do is supported by each of us doing our work.

Other groups may organize along different lines. I have read on groups which operate in egalitarian ways, and others that organize along strict king/subject relationships. Others organize as loose groups of people who come together to share in the occasional rite together. Each group will need to find which model works for it and the purpose it is gathering for.

Structure in Heathenry -General Roles: Laity, Leaders, and Spiritual Specialists

Laity

Laity are non-specialists in religious communities and tend to comprise the core of most religions’ members. There may be leaders in the laity, such as a head of a hearth or heading up a charity or some essential function in a family, Kindred, or Tribe. What differs laity from spiritual specialists is that lay members’ lives share the common elements of Heathen worldview and religious communities.

Just because a given Heathen is a layperson that does not mean they cannot do spiritual work or that they have any more or less value to a given Heathen community. Any Heathen, given practice and dedication to the work, can learn to divine. What differs a layperson who divines from a diviner, who is a spiritual specialist in a given community, is that the diviner does their work for the community as a respected authority or guide, and the layperson who divines may be talented but does not hold a wider communal role in doing divination.

Leaders

To lead is to “organize and direct”, to “show (someone or something) a destination by way to a destination by going in front of or beside them”, “set (a process) in motion”, to be “initiative in an action; an example for others to follow”.

A leader is someone who shows the way forward by walking it. It is someone that takes responsibility not only for one’s own actions but for anyone that follows them. A leader organize, directs, and sets those around them in motion. Leaders in Heathenry tend to be some kind of spiritual specialist whether or not they hold a formal title in a group. However, this is not a strict requirement. One can hold a leadership position in a group and still refer to spiritual specialists for things like divination or spiritual work needing to be done.

There is at least one leader for the hearth. This is someone who, whether by choice of the hearth or by default, represents that hearth before the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. They model right relationships if there are others in the hearth, tend to be the ones who makes the prayers and offerings first, and does divination to see if offerings are accepted. My wife and I share these duties in our hearth.

Spiritual Specialists

A spiritual specialist is a person who has developed skill, expertise, and works in some kind of religious role within a Heathen community. Some examples of this include goði/gyðja, priests, spiritworkers, diviners, spáworkers, seiðworkers, Runeworkers, and sacrificers, among a great many. Spiritual specialists may do one job, eg diviner or sacrificer, and otherwise hold a role in a given Heathen group like laity.

Spiritual specialists are not, by default, leaders, though many are. For example, a diviner may be consulted by a group, but the diviner may have absolutely no role in how the results of divination are acted on by the group or how a leader reacts and plans once divination has been done. Depending on the size of a hearth, Kindred, tribe, etc there may be no specialized roles like these, or one or two people may be called on to fill multiple roles.

Structure in Heathenry -Hosts and Guests

The structure around hosts and guests in Heathenry has a long history on which the home cultures have a lot to say. The Hávamál, for instance, has a great deal to say on the roles of hosts and guests. Structure of this sort extends to the holders of a hearth and visitors to the hearth itself in or out of ritual. This structure also is present in Kindred members hosting a ritual or gathering to non-members. Whether or not a visitor has religious business with a host makes little difference. As these are lived worldviews, structures like these do not end or start at our doorstep; these are lived wherever we go.

A host’s responsibilities include making sure a given guest is comfortable, free from hunger and thirst, and understands their role in the hearth, Kindred space, ritual, etc. This includes what taboos they need to observe such as “do not touch the altar or ritual items without permission” or a requirement like “make an offering to the hearth’s Holy Powers on entering”. For purposes of a ritual, a host may need to provide instruction for a newcomer to Heathenry, or to provide offerings for a given ritual so the guest can make them. The host needs to be aware as they can of everyone’s taboos, requirements, and so on, so both ritual and non-ritual situations can proceed in peace and order.

A guest’s responsibility includes being careful, humble, and not demanding too much from their host while making every effort to be firm in their own needs and requirements prior to visiting. Observing the rules of a hearth, Kindred meeting, and/or ritual is a must, as is following directions for ritual, and abiding by the host and other guests’ taboos and requirements where able. If conflict can arise it is the guest’s responsibility to inform the host. While a host needs to know everyone’s taboos, requirements, etc they do not live with a guest’s taboos or requirements, and may need reminding.

While this may all seem self-explanatory, the back and forth reciprocity of what I have written here is anything but. Many people may consider asking a person what their taboos or requirements are invasive, while others may be too shy or shrinking to state the needs their Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, or personal circumstances have placed on them. Still others may simply not know how to ask or say, so having that onus on both host and guest is one that can prevent sources of problems. This same onus in regards to ritual also helps to prevent issues arising from a given host or guest’s taboos, needs, or requirements in ritual space. Far better to be notified ahead of time needing to apologize in a ritual for a slight, even if it was not meant.

Such a taboo or requirement may be quite simple. While I drink I have Kindredmates that do not. Part of the onus on me as a leader in a Kindred ritual, such as a celebratory feast, would be to ask what they can drink as a substitute, such as juice or root beer, and provide it, or to encourage them to find an alternative they are comfortable with. The Kindredmate has to be honest with me, asserting their need to have an alcohol-free choice just as I need to sensitive to that need. Likewise, being a diabetic, I may ask that there be diabetic friendly options for me in the celebration feast. The role of host and guest is reciprocal, each having a piece in determining the comfort and well-being of the other.

Structure in Heathenry -Grith and Frith

The word grith is related to sanctuary and security, while frith is related to peace and good social order. Both are to be held sacred by guest and host. A host provides an environment that is safe and secure for the guest, providing a place for grith and frith to be, while the guest does not bring things or do things that would harm grith or frith. Again, reciprocity is the rule of Heathenry.

Which Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are being worshiped are part of how one designs a ritual and influences what good conduct for it would be. Part of keeping grith, especially in ritual, is to be sure that everyone gathered observes the rules of the ritual and the sacred space. If a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr to whom the ritual is dedicated has a taboo to observe then the host needs to be sure everyone is keeping to it. Something as simple as everyone turning off their cell phones prior to a rite is keeping grith.

Keeping frith in ritual is everyone being involved in the ritual and carrying it out well, and avoiding what would interrupt the rite, or cause problems during it. This is part of why roles can be important. If there is a need to do divination then having a designated diviner who divines and interprets the divination will allow the ritual to proceed with good order and clear ways forward. Having a ritual leader allows for the leader to correct missteps or to help with folks unused to ritual, or one of its forms without folks stepping on one another’s toes or undoing the ordered space of the ritual.

Being mindful of the vé, what to or what not to place on it, and at what time, is part of grith and frith. Each hearth’s relationship with the Holy Powers, layout of their vé, what is and is not acceptable as offerings, on and on, has the potential to be different from any other hearth’s. Open and honest communication about every aspect of a ritual, and if there is to be some kind of celebration, what everyone’s taboos, allergies, etc are is a must. Nothing will spoil a ritual like having to firmly stop someone from making an offering that is taboo, or a post-ritual feast like having to rush someone to the hospital because someone did not list the ingredients in a dish!

Structure in Heathenry -Gebo, Megin, and Hamingja

The focus of Heathen ritual praxis has its feet firmly planted in the idea of gipt fa gipt, gift for a gift. In other words, reciprocity. I often refer to it on this blog as simply Gebo or living in good Gebo. The reason we do ritual is to establish, strengthen, and appreciate our relationships with the Holy Powers. Doing this allows for the good flow of megin and hamingja between the Holy Powers and us, and between those we engage with in ritual.

Megin translates to “might”, “power”, “strength”, “ability”. Hamingja translates to “luck”, “group luck”, group power”, “group spirit”, or it has to do with the guardian of one’s family line or power, often seen in a female fylgja. Where megin is more straightforward, because of the issues Lars Lönnroth states about how hamingja has come down to us, different people relate to the concept in different ways. Some view or experience it as a straightforward force, and others as a spirit. Regardless, megin and hamingja are built well in good Gebo.

Why might we care about having healthy, well cared for megin and hamingja? These are pieces of our soul. Megin is the ability to affect the world around us, to do things. Hamingja is the unfolding of our ørlög and Urðr with others, whether through the spheres of influence we can affect or how others affect us. Megin and hamingja are how we get things done, how are actions are felt through the things we do.

Gebo, megin, hamingja, and all they touch are integrated. By doing right by our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another, we allow for the good flow of Gebo, and the building of good megin and hamingja. By building good megin and hamingja we build our webs of relationships well in ørlög and Urðr. Whether we are alone or in a hearth, Kindred, tribe, or a larger community, in doing this we allow for the foundation of good relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another. These good foundations are what Heathenry is built from.

Reflecting on Two Articles on a Post-Christian Future

January 2, 2019 5 comments

Manny Tejeda-Moreno wrote an article, “Editorial: Douthat’s post-Christian future, a response” for The Wild Hunt, responding to a New York Times op-ed “The Return of Paganism”, an article written by Ross Douthat.  Rather than dig through both articles, I found things within Tejeda-Moreno’s article I felt were worth responding to. Tejeda-Moreno’s response to Douthat highlights things that I felt were worth exploring, as I have seen Pagan and polytheist communities struggle through the fourteen years I have on-and-off called myself a Pagan and have been a polytheist.

It is pretty clear Ross Douthat is not a part of any modern Pagan religion, and he has been an op-ed writer for several years. I am not shocked Tejeda-Moreno is dissatisfied with the article. Over the course of his life Douthat has been a Pentecostal and a Catholic and was educated at Harvard. He is not only writing from outside our communities essentially about us, as Tejeda-Moreno clearly points out, he is doing so poorly informed.

His lamentations that there may be more witches than members of the United Church of Christ should be evidence enough that he is mourning or at least ill at ease in the post-Christian future he sees on the horizon. I find this notion at odds, though, with those exercising levers of power and in the majority. The most prominent and numerous members in US society are some flavor of monotheist, predominantly Christian. Those who are not Christians in positions of power, such as political or academic settings, are often agnostic or atheist. All tend to default to some variation of ‘hierarchy of religion’ in which one’s personal flavor (Christian, atheist, or agnostic) is the summit of the hierarchy. Pagan and polytheist religions are often derided for their belief in ‘demons/delusions’, ‘outmoded ideas’, ‘dead gods’, and the like, treated more as curiosities than anything worthy of regard either in academia or in interfaith settings.

I echo Tejeda-Moreno’s disappointment with Douthat’s assertion that Paganism is “some civic cult with supernatural experimentation driven by secret societies of literati weaving post-Christian intellectualism into society.” Modern Pagan religions are neither that organized nor that well-developed. Even if we were, intellectualism or rationalism is not the main philosophy of a good number of Pagans or polytheists.  We certainly do not have the numbers for civic cultus, nor the structures which would make it relevant so far as I can see.

In the first place, modern Pagan religions do not even internally agree on what Paganism itself is. The term is so nebulous as to be unwieldy, effectively ending in some vague sense of ‘not Christian’. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are polytheist, believing in and worshiping many Gods. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are atheist, believing that there are no Gods and worship nothing. Saying anything accurate when even basic and essential matters of theology are disagreed upon internal to specific religions within Paganism is almost impossible. For instance: Are Wiccans theist? If so, which Wiccans, if any, are theist and which, if any, are atheist?

Then there comes issues of who gets to decide who gets to be called Wiccan in the first place. Gatekeeping, who gets to do it, and who has the right to gatekeep specific Pagan religions are a series of ongoing issues in many Pagan and polytheist religions. Without these basic methods of organization decided, it matters little whether one says “Wiccans are theist” or “Wiccans are atheist” because the ground upon which the matter would rest shifts dependent on the practitioner and not the identifier itself.  The reason I go over words and their meanings so often in my posts is because of this ongoing problem.  There is a consistent need to reinforce what words mean because the language in Pagan communities is inconsistently applied and used.  I can get more to the core of what I am by using the word polytheist rather than Pagan because, where Pagan is a very mushy word, polytheist says what it is right on the tin.

I have a bone to pick with Tejeda-Moreno, and that is the same bone I have with everyone and anyone who uses the term ‘organized religion’ without including our own religions.  The term organized religion means what it says, “A structured system of faith or worship” though most associate it with monotheist religions.  Every single religion is organized or it is not a religion.  Were Tejeda-Moreno to have written something like “Christian religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” or “Monotheist religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” there would be less issue from me.  It’s still an over-generalization of centuries of history, but it would be more accurate than to just hand Christianity and other monotheist religions the phrase organized religion.

Further, setting up Paganism and organized religions as being against one another is nonsensical.  The “continued toleration of sexual abuse and misogyny exposes all the other moral failings” regardless of which religion it is in question, and Paganism is no more immune to this than Catholicism is.  Indeed, it is also true that “Individuals working to experience their authentic selves are deluged by moral pronouncements serving only to layer guilt and self-hatred” is equally applicable to the Pagan and polytheist communities.  Arguably, it is something that most faith communities engage in rather than the work of their religions’ callings.

The failure here is that Douthat fails to recognize that people should be free to believe in a religion that offers them meaning without ridicule.

I do not think that he fails to understand this so much as it is in his Catholic view that there are true and good religions and those that are not.  It’s also his mistake in assuming that we Pagans and polytheists only conceive as Gods belonging to Creation, and not able to be both immanent and transcendent, or one or the other.  His agreements with Steven Smith’s assessment of things rests on shaky ground as Smith commits pantheists and atheists to his view without even so much as bringing in contemporary Pagan or polytheist authors to his article while mischaracterizing those same religious movements.  In it, he ignores the lived religions of Pagans and polytheists and misses what immanent as well as transcendent Gods, Ancestors, and spirits do to the weltanschauung of the religions and people who believe in Them and worship Them.

Tejeda-Moreno continues:

He avoids a basic reality, as well: individuals are not turning away from organized religion. They are turning toward something that has meaning for them. It may be praxis, or it may be dogma; whatever the reason, they are invoking the fundamental human rights of thought, belief, and religion. Complaining about them as sinful distortions, or implying a divine force is preparing to act in retribution, is using fear in service of patriarchal oppression.

Again, I think Douthat isn’t avoiding a basic reality, but couching in terms familiar to himself and his religion.  Douthat’s point is made here in that regard, and it is a good one:

These descriptions are debatable, but suppose Smith is right. Is the combination of intellectual pantheism and a this-world-focused civil religion enough to declare the rebirth of paganism as a faith unto itself, rather than just a cultural tendency within a still-Christian order?

It seems to me that the answer is not quite, because this new religion would lack a clear cultic aspect, a set of popular devotions, a practice of ritual and prayer of the kind that the paganism of antiquity offered in abundance. And that absence points to the essential weakness of a purely intellectualized pantheism: It invites its adherents to commune with a universe that offers suffering and misery in abundance, which means that it has a strong appeal to the privileged but a much weaker appeal to people who need not only sense of wonder from their spiritual lives but also, well, help.

Douthat goes on to say:

However, there are forms of modern paganism that do promise this help, that do offer ritual and observance, augury and prayer, that do promise that in some form gods or spirits really might exist and might offer succor or help if appropriately invoked. I have in mind the countless New Age practices that promise health and well-being and good fortune, the psychics and mediums who promise communication with the spirit world, and also the world of explicit neo-paganism, Wiccan and otherwise.

He’s not wrong in his assessment here.  One of the major appeals in Pagan and polytheist religions is that we have living relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that in some way invite us to share in co-creating with Them.  We are invited to appreciate the beauty of our Holy Powers, the Worlds we inhabit, and so much more. Our Holy Powers occupy many places simultaneously that we can appreciate on multiple levels, including that of devotion, aesthetic, beauty, joy, and more.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers at our altars and in our statues.  We build relationships with Them in places They hold in high regard.  We build relationships with Them in sacred places in nature or our cities.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers when we bear jewelry or tattoos of Their forms, symbols or Names.  We build relationships with Them when we lay down offerings at a tree, look out to the Sun’s or Moon’s rise, feel Them in the breeze.  We build relationships with Them in the grip of writing a poem, knitting a blanket, or making a piece of art.

Douthat goes on with ill-conceived generalized histrionics that are wrong, namely in regards to ancient Roman elites.  Polytheism, not pantheism was the norm.  He is also forming his argument on shaky foundations for what it would take to form a living pagan religion under his view:

To get a fully revived paganism in contemporary America, that’s what would have to happen again — the philosophers of pantheism and civil religion would need to build a religious bridge to the New Agers and neo-pagans, and together they would need to create a more fully realized cult of the immanent divine, an actual way to worship, not just to appreciate, the pantheistic order they discern.

His point here is wrong.  Pagans and polytheists do not need pantheists or outside civil religionists.  We have our own philosophers, and for those who wish to engage in civil religions there are ample examples to follow.  We need not partner with pantheists or civil religionists to create a fully realized cult of the immanent divine because we possess all the tools, ability, and functions to do so within our own religions.  We already have everything Douthat is pointing out here.

Likewise, Tejeda-Moreno is wrong.

Whether we are discussing Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan, individuals are not turning away from organized faiths; they are turning toward something more meaningful to them. Pagans are re-wilding their faith interactions to the immanent and the spiritual, and few things are more dangerous to what is “organized” than what is “wild”.

Individuals are turning away from monotheist religions, not organized ones.  They are turning towards something more meaningful to them, that is true, but it is not something that is not organized, only organized in a different fashion.  We are re-wilding our religions insofar as our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanently intertwined with the development of our religions.  What most who are coming into “Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan” are coming into is one where the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanent and transcendent, not bound by us, our morality, our politics, or our views.  The Gods are the Gods, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The Ancestors are the Ancestors, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The spirits are the spirits, Their own, and we do not control Them.

It is not us who are re-wilding our religions.  If our religions are wild it is because the Holy Powers are not in our control.  We talk with our Holy Powers, we seek Their guidance, and whether through divination, omens, inspiration, or other means They make Their desires and wills known.  This does not mean we have no bearing on our religion.  We do, because it is in relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that our religions are woven.  We can disagree with our Holy Powers, negotiate, ask, work with Them to different ends.  We can also agree with our Holy Powers, obey, negotiate, ask, do the work we are given.  We can have times where it is hard to know what They want, times where our lives are fallow, times where we are sure of what They want, and times where our lives are so full we are fit to burst.  These are lived relationships.

Ultimately, Mr. Douthat argues that the promises of Paganism are vacant. The rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect: “I don’t know how many of the witches who publicly hexed Brett Kavanaugh really expected it to work,” he writes. The same sentiment could be shared for those followers of the Christian god who prayed for hurricanes to turn away from the United States toward Mexico.

I think that this is fair on both sides.  So long as we are not living solid in our relationships with the Holy Powers, then I agree that “all the rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect”.  Without prayers bound in meaning, in relationship with our Holy Powers, they are merely words.  Perhaps the only effect they can carry is offense or disinterest. Without rituals made in relationship with our Holy Powers with clarity, discipline, and skill, it is so much empty action.  Without magic rooted in our worldviews crafted with discipline, and skill, again, it is empty action.

Rather than seeing, as Tejeda-Moreno does, that Douthat feels entitled to an explanation from Pagans and polytheists, I see that Douthat has fear of what we may bring to the table:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

I agree with Tejeda-Moreno that Douthat “avoids the obvious remedy to his dilemma” which, for monotheists is that they are not “living up to their origins, whether those be the promise of salvation, submission, or, even more simply, love.”  I also think it is more complex than Tejeda-Moreno’s conclusion.  The problem with monotheist religions and philosophies derived from them is they seek to eliminate all others.  Those who espouse arguments like the ‘evolution of religion’ or the ‘Kingdom of God’ wants its particular religion (or lack thereof) to get to the top so it can install its hegemony over all the others beneath it.  Paganism is not the boogeyman here, but neither is hypocrisy.

What is sitting in the background of monotheist religions is that when any attains power it then seeks to crush or convert any other religion.  Calls to the faithful to evangelize, to destroy the Pagans, to convert the masses of the world are still being made.  As Douthat says:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

What Douthat is afraid of is that we are going to be living in a post-Christian world and takes explicit comfort that a successor is not fully-formed to it yet.  After all, look at what the Christians did to the non-believers.  Why wouldn’t a Christian, having an understanding of the kinds of destruction such things brought, not be afraid of such things being brought down on them?  What Douthat and monotheists like him are afraid of is not just irrelevance, but that non-monotheist religions will make inroads, take up different power in different ways, and offer better futures than the one they’ve had the last two thousand or so years to build.  Their hegemony is slipping bit by bit, year by year.  They fear the loss of power.  They are afraid the futures we face without the hegemony of their religions and philosophies on our necks.  They are afraid of our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

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