Archive

Posts Tagged ‘respect’

Piety and Being Poor

December 24, 2013 8 comments

I have always been working poor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

What Constitutes Pagan Fundamentalism?

May 27, 2013 8 comments

I have written about the value of words and meaning here and I think that the recent posts by P. Sufenas Lupus and Sannion hit the nail on the head.

Why am I so invested in the pop culture debate currently raging in Paganism?

Well, some of it has to do with the fact that I think conflating worship of fictional characters with my Gods is downright blasphemous.  I’ll admit that straight out.  You don’t have to agree with my position; it is what it is.

Rather than keep the conversation talking past each other, or spinning our wheels, let’s get to the point of this post.  Anomalous Thracian talks here that words are losing their meaning because they’re being stripped of them.  To quote Anomalous Thracian:

I want to address the bigger issue here, which is the overall misuse of words, the lack of “common ground” in conversations, and the entanglement of a thousand different topics as one “meta-topic” which is what fuels 100% of all fights and arguments in Paganism because these practices attack the very core of linguistic communion and expression: MEANING. A fundamental part of all communication must be an attempt to convey, achieve and establish greater collectivemeaning, otherwise it is purely about getting oneself off while looking longingly in the mirror that you’ve turned the internet into, striking all kinds of super-hero poses as you hammer out the dribble you call theology, debate, or “religion”. Religion itself, outside of the discussion of religion – which, by the way, is a real thing: religion outside of talking about religion does exist, if you shut up long enough to practice it! – is a thing that must orbit around the pursuit and exploration of meaning, which is a thing completely undone and undermined by using language and words that actually attack meaning. Directly.

Seriously, people. “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…”

I could not agree more, and it is why I push for concrete definitions and understanding where and when possible.  I am not trying to dilute the numinous experience or cage a wild bird, so much as asking that we delineate the bird we’re watching from the sky it flies in from the tree upon which it lands.  There are relationships, and each thing has an underlying connection to one another, but the bird, the sky, and the tree are definitively separate things.  Words need to mean things or words like ‘God’, ‘Ancestors’, or ‘spirit’ lose all meaning.  To quote V for Vendetta:

Words offer the means to meaning…

The Gods exist without our leave, understanding, worship, or influence.  I do not know a polytheist for whom this is an untrue statement.    It is a concrete article of believing in the Gods, in interacting with Them, and worshiping Them.  This basic understanding is part of the foundation of polytheist understanding.  It places the Gods, Ancestors, the spirits, and us humans in cosmology, in the Web of Life, and gives us meaning for our place in the Worlds and in relationship with all things.  Without this notion of where we sit the cosmology essentially falls apart and all of the understanding of the Gods disappears in confusion.  Think about it.  If I was to claim I am a co-creator with my Gods, i.e. Odin, why would Ask or Embla need His breath to come to life?  Why would my Ancestors matter at all?  The very meaning of the Gods falls apart if for us in denying Their cosmological and mythic place, and Their fundamental relationships to us.  The Gods will keep on being, will keep on doing what They will, even if we deny the meaning of the word ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ and my Ancestors will still be my Ancestors even if I use another term wholly for Them.

In destroying meaning, in reducing words to whatever we want to be rather than what we are, we dilute the understanding we gain from words, and in so doing, reduce our ability to communicate effectively within our human communities and with our Gods.  How?  Try speaking another language.  In German there are very rigid sentence structures, and some words in German can go on for a damned long time because of the convention of sentence and word formation.  American English has seemingly dispensed with rigidity and in so doing words are harder to pin down, and accordingly, communication is more difficult.  German is, for all its complexities (from my perspective as a non-native German speaker) more accurate in its speech and use of words than our American English.  Factor this in with ‘words mean what I want them to’ kind of attitude, coupled with an open-source use of foreign words, sometimes without proper translation of the culture/subject matter, and you have a hodgepodge language that is hard to parse from the get-go and gets harder with actual use.  Dig into theological concepts with this unwieldy shovel and the hole you dig may well be far wider and deeper (or haphazardly dug) than your original intent.

So when someone uses the word ‘fundamentalist’ to describe Pagans such as myself, polytheists who believe in the literal existence of the Gods, you have pretty visceral reactions from people.  The word fundamentalism has a historical meaning according to Merriam-Webster: ‘a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching’ and a fundamentalist is a follower of these beliefs.  With the plasticity of words the meaning has moved from this to any belief structure that is ‘a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles’ (ibid).  In both cases applying the word to Pagans such as myself this word, fundamentalist, loses meaning.

When someone says “I worship Batman” and the response is “I do not believe that” even in rough terms, or an angry tone (or just outright venomous rage) that does not mean they are fundamentalist.  It means that you do not like their tone or reacting negatively to their anger, both of which are understandable, but taking in the words of another in that direction, even if accurate, is not fundamentalism.  Even when someone says “I worship Batman” and the response is “That is blasphemy in my religion, tradition, etc.” that is still not fundamentalism, but a statement of belief.  Having baseline standards for a religious community is not fundamentalist.  Those standards include standards of belief, praxis, relationship, roles for clergy/specialists, etc.  Those standard differentiate a polytheist Pagan from a monotheist Catholic Christian.  Heck, those baseline standards delineate one polytheist community from another, and Christian denominations from one another.

If I am a Wiccan, I believe v and x.  If I am a Northern Tradition Pagan I believe y and z.  If I am a Catholic Christian I believe j and k.  These baseline beliefs can be added onto with other letters, but take out v and x for a Wiccan and the religion is no longer Wicca.  Can a Wiccan be a polytheist and not a duotheist?  Sure, so long as the religious belief system is accommodating to that with and left intact.  Can a person be an atheist and a follower of the Northern Tradition?  Absolutely not because the y is taken out.  Again, this is not fundamentalist.  Without y, a person cannot be a Northern Tradition.  The may be that you must be a polytheist in order to be a follower of the Northern Tradition.  If you are an atheist you simply do not fit the criteria.

The ongoing debate between Pagan communities are part of figuring out where our boundaries lie.  It is part and parcel of figuring out theology.  It is part and parcel of figuring out who and what we are.  We do not have to agree, and I count that as a blessing.  I’m not interested in converting Wiccans, nor am I interested in converting Pagans who worship Pop Culture icons.  Both are a waste of my time, an insult to them, and a waste of their time as well.  What I am interested in is where my religious boundaries lie, where we are similar in thought, and where we definitely disagree on, and why.  Our answers probably won’t be comfortable with one another; we are talking about our personal relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and the stories that have unfolded in our coming to these Beings and understanding.  In some cases there is no translating between our varying beliefs because we either don’t have the existent structure, it does not translate due to theological differences, or we have not developed enough in one way or another to speak to another’s beliefs and experiences on a given topic.

I do not see this parsing as snobbery, but an unfolding of religious communities.  That unfolding can be a damned raw experience.  I know that some people will balk at my belief that the Gods are literally real, and they hold the idea that the Gods as archetypes makes the most sense.  Yet no one has called a Council of Nicea to figure out just what is acceptable in Paganism as a whole, and that plurality is a good thing.  I do not need to agree that atheists belong in Paganism if someone accepts them freely.  That is your right as a follower, priest, etc. of that religious tradition.  It is my right to say such a thing dilute the meaning of the word Pagan, and you in kind can disagree.

Saying something as a statement of belief does not mean snobbery or fundamentalism, but just that: a statement of belief.  When I say something definitive, but for all the power, or lack there is in my ability to say something I will exercise that right to say it.  You can disagree with me; that is your right.  Just as it is the right of a tradition to determine beliefs, ritual behavior, praxis, and a whole host of other things that their religion considers sacred, impious, acceptable, and unacceptable.  That is far afield from fundamentalism.

A Useful Teacup

August 22, 2012 17 comments

Boundaries are useful.  They mark out what is, what is not; what belongs, what does not belong.  Boundaries are, by their nature, discriminatory.  We do not want to live alongside bugs, animals, and other parts of our natural world, so we make houses.  If we lack the means or if we want to, we live in nature.

Utgarð, Innangarð.  There can be places between these boundaries, but sometimes there is a simple in/out binary that exists.  I would say there are few of these, but they exist.

I wish Pagans were more respectful of boundaries.  Take this to mean personal boundaries, such as being able to reject hugs, not get glitter-bombed at a convention, or getting ‘healed’ by a well-meaning but ignorant co-religionist.  Take this to mean between our  religions; I am not a follower of the Hellenic Gods therefore, I am not part of Hellenismos, as beautiful as this community may be.  They, likewise, are not Northern Tradition, Heathen, etc.  I respect this boundary by calling myself what I feel I am closest aligned with, and what my actual practice is aligned with.  Take this to mean ‘this is what makes a Pagan a Pagan’ and ‘this is what makes a non-Pagan a non-Pagan’.

An anonymous guest on The Wild Hunt asked of a poster there:

Yeah, how is all this labeling/limiting of Paganism (and others, too really) helping to create openness and understanding anyhow rather than just creating prejudices and misconceptions people got to work over?

This unwillingness to set boundaries is an issue in Paganism that needs to be resolved.  How useful is a teacup in a million pieces?  If the word Pagan, or Paganism has as much utility, how useful is it as a word?  Wiccan, or Northern Tradition are far more useful, (though I admit I get where Elizabeth Vongvisith is coming from in her irritation with the latter term) because they are functional.  They are words that have operational definitions within the Pagan religions’ umbrella.  Paganism, as a word and definition is so nebulous as to be almost completely unwieldy.  It is why I say Northern Tradition Pagan, or Heathen rather than just “I am a Pagan” most times.  They are intact teacups.  They hold the water of thought so that I can offer it to others.

The attitude of the poster assumes that openness is actually desirable, to whit Dver’s response was:

Who said the goal is always to create openness? At the expense of everything else? I’ve seen, for instance, many polytheist groups embrace openness and lose all their focus, intent and usefulness as they quickly filled with people of so many varying approaches that nothing could be agreed upon or accomplished. The “point” of paganism IMO is not to be concerned with making everyone feel welcome and included (which, as always, puts the emphasis on people and their feelings), the point is to worship the gods (emphasis on the divine). If being open doesn’t serve that, then it’s not going to be a primary goal, at least for some. Unsurprisingly, it is often the ones insisting on understanding who least understand this point of view.

Openness has usefulness, but so does limitation.  The negativity towards limiting the term Paganism, thus, increasing its actual functionality, is like saying “Well, I like my teacup in a million pieces.”  So how do we go about putting this teacup back together?

We start by limiting the definition of Paganism.  Perhaps to those who believe in Gods, Goddesses, spirits, etc.  Perhaps not.  Is Atheistic Paganism, for instance, a useful term?  If by Atheistic Paganism we mean ‘non-theistic’, that is, a person who believes in spiritual beings or in a form of deism or pantheism, perhaps that is functionally useful.  If we use the modern use of atheism, that is, a person without a belief in God(s) (usually included in this is a disbelief of the spiritual world), then I question how useful the term is.  Atheistic Paganism, as a straightforward term, muddies waters already fairly murky.  As a collection of religions we cannot agree yet on what the words Pagan and Paganism mean.  How much harder will it be to suss out Atheistic Pagans?  What of Humanist Pagans?

Brendan Myers, Ph.D., made this statement on Humanist Pagans as part of his guest blog post on The Wild Hunt:

Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore.  From what I have seen so far, Humanist Pagans tend to be uninterested in ritual, or energy work, or developing psychic powers…

But they love folklore and mythology, they love going to pagan festivals, and they subscribe to pagan moral values like the Wiccan Rede, and the Heroic Virtues. They’re perfectly happy to shout “Hail Thor!” with an upraised drinking horn. They don’t care whether the gods exist or do not exist: for as they see it, the existence of the gods is not what matters. Rather, what matters is the pursuit of a good and worthwhile life, and the flourishing of our social and environmental relations. They are a kind of pagan that perhaps has not been seen since classical Greece and Rome, and their place in the modern pagan movement may still be marginal and unclear, but they are a kind of pagan nonetheless.

My problem to begin with, is that he does not define what Humanistic Paganism even is in this passage.  Looking at the links provided at the end of his article, Humanist Paganism is as problematic a term as simply Pagan is.  It is nebulous as a term, and there is very little agreement on what it actually means (from what I have read) between various Humanist Pagans.  This quote from Humanistic Paganism especially irks me:

Humanism and Paganism are complementary.  While Humanism is well-adapted to address the latest intellectual and social issues, it lacks the kind of deep symbolic texture conducive to psychological fulfillment.  Paganism is positioned to fill that void, providing a field of symbolic imagery in which the modern individual can feel rooted and nourished.  Meanwhile, Paganism by itself is prone to superstition and factiousness.  Humanism, which embraces a vision of knowledge rooted in the five senses and verified through the scientific method, offers empirical inquiry as a means to sift the wheat from the chaff, as well as to mediate the varieties of Paganism without eradicating their differences.  Together, Humanism and Paganism keep in check and mutually nourish each other.  Humanism keeps Paganism true to the empirical world around us, while Paganism enriches Humanism with deep symbolic imagery.

What I read in this, is that Humanist Paganism seeks to appropriate the symbols, Gods, etc. of Paganism while lacking in belief in them, not living in Gebo with those Gods, symbols, power, etc.  All humans are susceptible to superstition and factiousness.  Humanism brings nothing to Paganism it did not already have.  I also do not see how Humanism nourishes Paganism in this relationship, so much as feeds off of it.    What wheat does Humanism hope to bring from the chaff of Paganism?  How can it keep the differences between traditions?  How does Humanism actually keep Paganism true to the empirical world around us, when even scientists, who are supposed to keep true to the empirical method, and follow the scientific method, with peer-reviewed and published papers may lead us astray or be intentionally dishonest?

Myers makes the point in his post that:

For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just.

Actually, rather than using Humanist Paganism as a tool, I would think that Pagans can and should be able to show themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and enlightened people, should they choose to do so, with or without Humanism or Humanist leanings.  The Fourfold Path of Humanist Paganism is already greatly expounded on in Pagan traditions.  As with Atheist Paganism, as a term, does Humanist Paganism add anything meaningful to the already admittedly murky definition of Paganism?

This is where boundaries are deeply needed.  If the term Pagan is a shattered teacup, then what good does adding more shards to it do?  How are we ever to come to an understanding of a term if we are forever breaking the teacup so everyone can have their sliver?  What tea does it hold?

Am I saying that Humanist Pagans are not real Pagans?  I am not sure that is my call to make.  I am one person in the communities that make up this great umbrella.  But real in what sense?  If we go with the definition “A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions” then I suppose Humanism works under that definition.

Then, however, there is the definition of humanism: “An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”

No.  This does not work for me.  I do not believe that humans are the do-all, end-all.  I do not believe we should or do come before the Gods, spirits, or Ancestors.  We are anthropocentric enough in America, and the devastation that has done to our environment alone gives me pause if not active disdain in supporting anything that encourages it.

I would far rather that Pagans come together to decide what Pagan means to them, than to have more users of the word take its meaning completely away from anything to do with our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  I would even prefer that the term remain nebulous to include polytheists, pantheists, duotheists, and henotheists, than to completely lose any attachment to the Gods at all in the name of inclusion.  I would prefer to repair the teacup, or find a new one so that it is useful once more.

Loki Project Day 30

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I feel the heat, hear the crackle of the fire; there You are, looking back to me as I gaze into You

The logs sputter as they lose their water, Your gentle caresses inflaming them with their hidden fire

Were I to reach in for long, you would do the same to me, not out of malice, but of Your nature

To unlock the potential within us; how can we blame You if the process hurts?  Shouldn’t have stuck your hand in the fire

Just by Your Presence I am warmed, the fire expands under Your breath, the dead trees catching

Your sacred önd blows, and the heat presses against my face; I think perhaps this is why we cannot get too close to Gods

If we do not wish to be consumed in Your Presence, Your Being, that alights our hearts, minds, and souls, our tree-selves like kindling

Yet I do wish to be closer to the Gods, to you, Loki, to Odin, so I ask if I am mad; no, I decide, it is not mad to desire to be near the ones you love

So I sit as close as I can, distanced respectfully, close as I can, so I can see You, hear You, away from the distractions of life and little concerns

Present in this moment, sitting with You, my Ancestors close by, Fire itself at the heart, and listening to Your Voice crackle on the wood

Landvaettir

May 9, 2011 2 comments

I have heard landvaettir referred to be a number of names; some refer to Them as genus loci, others “the wee Folk” (although they sometimes mean Faeries), and a host of other names.  I experience Them as spirits of place, with faces that They have shown me as varied as the places They are found.  I have found that when I journey or spiritually have a dialogue with Them, the landvaettir on campus take the form of the school’s mascot while the landvaettir around my home are more nebulous, appearing as trees with faces or living earth.  When I travel to cities, sometimes the landvaettir sometimes take the form of what might symbolize it, such as a weathered blue-collar worker for Flint, or a bohemian twenty-something for Ann Arbor.  Then again, depending on where I travel in these cities the landvaettir’s ‘face’ may change.

I first came to work with landvaettir when I was first starting as a Pagan, mostly through the book Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tann Schwartzstein.  I was living in Flint at the time, and the landvaettir were loud, active, and stirred up.  The very thought of going out and talking to Them, that They could show me a ‘face’, hadn’t occurred to me till I read the book.  Then, I began speaking with the landvaettir of Flint, really getting to know it.  I didn’t have a car at first, and I was living on campus going to college at Baker.  The spirit showed me a kind of weathered blue-collar worker, which in reflection makes sense since Flint was the birthplace of the sit-down strikes and was home to a lot of production.  The city used to have a place in it called Buick City for Gods’ sakes.  Well, in my end of the bargain with the landvaettir around the campus, I kept up the campus by picking up trash where I found it and give to the homeless that would occasionally hang around campus.  In return It/They helped keep me safe and keep other spirits off of me.  It was with this spirit that I first learned how to bargain and negotiate, and how to scratch a spirit’s back so it would scratch mine in turn.  I also learned why speaking with the spirit of a place was important before you do magic.  I did magic on campus, ignorant that I should even ask the spirits prior to doing so.  When I finally did, it was much more effective, and came to fruition faster and with greater effect.  Through the landvaettir of Flint, I learned of basic reciprocation with spirits, how to actually do offerings other than leaving out food.  This turned out to be good, since I didn’t have a lot of food to spare, and it seemed the spirit(s) liked my offerings of doing stuff like cleaning up and helping out better anyhow.  It had enough litter and stuff floating around.  People used to throw carts from shopping areas into local creeks and leave food and wrappers around all the time.

Landvaettir have helped me a lot over the years, whether it has been to find my way when I was lost in a city (good thing; this happens from time to time), food, or even money when I really needed it for parking.  Being kind to the landvaettir and giving Them your ear can do a lot of good; you might find things you never would have otherwise, and They finally feel listened to, something a lot of people in general simply don’t do.  By paying attention, running some errands for Them, or simply helping to take care of Their space, there is a lot you and the vaettir can gain.  Imagine how happy it would make you to have a random stranger come up to you after a long, rough day, and ask “How can I help?”  The gratitude, at least for me, is immediate, and I want to know how I can help the person in turn when they’ve helped me.

Lately, my home’s landvaettir and I have developed a closer relationship given I’m now living back at home and am working in the garden.  This last Friday I harvested the first asparagus harvest.  I gave prayers to the landvaettir, thanking Them for such a beautiful bounty, and praised Them and Freyr (whom I associate with the vegetable due to its phallic shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac) as I was harvesting, thanking each individual plant’s vaettir and the vaettir of asparagus Itself.   I had given offerings of food at the oak that is a little ways from the garden the night before.  There is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, in these things.  By taking care of the plants, and by being allowed to harvest, by giving offerings and prayers and accepting help from the spirits, the cycles of gifts continues to turn, and relationships grow even closer.  When I eat now, I pray to the landvaettir both here, and wherever my food comes from.  The former, I pray to in thanks for the home, for warmth, the ability to live in this modern world alongside Them, and the latter landvaettir, I thank because it is from Them that this food comes.  It is from both that I am able to type to you, to live a modern life, to go to school and better myself.  Yet I do not forget the people who harvested the food or cooked it; everyone deserves their praise in turn, everyone who allows our lives to be as they are is worthy of remembrance.  As Odin said: “Cattle die, kinsman die/but I know what never dies/He who gets himself a good name”.  How seldom do people praise the lands from where their food comes from; how seldom people recognize that other human beings grew, harvested, and brought the massive amounts of food we have to us.  We lionize combat but do not praise the growing of food.  I can tell you this: in my own experience it is far easier to throw a competent punch than grow your own food.  I also know which one will allow me to live longer, too.

This is not to denigrate those who choose to give their of their lives in military service; that has a place.  Yet I have heard relatively little praise for the myriad of people who bring us the food we eat.  It was only until I started reading Lupa’s blog that I even considered working with Food Totems.  From that I thought “Well, if I can honor the spirits of the animals who have died so I can live, I can do it with the plants, and I can do it with the people too.”  Though I haven’t started talking to anyone or thing analogous to the Chicken Totem from, say, the people who farm, the prayers I give and the prayers I teach my son to give don’t only praise our Gods, but the beings, from spirit, from root to flesh, from flesh to flesh, that make our meals possible.  This, in my view, resacralizes all the landvaettir, not just the ones that exist with us in our homes and properties.  Cutting ourselves off from our part, to thank those who make this life possible and doing what we can to make those spirits and lives better in the long run, cuts off Gebo.  They help to give us the gift of life; shouldn’t our return be more than words?

I say this as a person who is, as of right now, making no income.  Sometimes magic, prayers and my signature are all I have.  Yet all of these are powerful, and should be treated as such.  My signature can be the start or continuation of an avalanche of change, or a whisper of a promise to a future generation.  My magic can be a powerful catalyst, or progenitor of change.  My prayers can give word to the wordless, praise to the unappreciated, recognition and immortality to those who would die in ignominy.  So could any one person.

Working with the landvaettir is part of my work as a shaman and priest; I am able to live by Them, and They are able to have greater impact in this world because I listen to Them and do things with and for Them.  I hope it is something that more people, whether or not you’re a priest, or someone who just likes to garden, will take up.  Having a vibrant relationship with the land makes it come even more alive, makes the Sacred that more immanent because you truly are finding it because you’re looking for it everywhere.  Our Wyrd ties into all things, and vice versa; by feeling those threads and acknowledging them we can allow understanding, healing, or simple recognition for its own sake to come into our lives.  Sometimes we do not need to do anything, except acknowledge something or someone, be thankful for it, and honor the spirit or person for their undertaking.  Sometimes we don’t even need to do that; sometimes the hardest thing we can do is simply get the hell out of the way and let things happen as they need to.  In harvesting to asparagus recently I had instances where the landvaettir asked me not to cut down certain stalks, but to simply let them grow.  To leave them be.  Sometimes I thought I knew better, and harvested a stalk because “well, I think that’s long enough and I probably didn’t hear right” and found out later the stalk wasn’t ready to harvest.  Mercifully it was only a few; the landvaettir sometimes up the ‘volume’ for me to hear when my head is chattering.  Other times, They wait for me to get the clue and take a breath and listen.

Sometimes receiving a message from a landvaettir vastly harder than it is from a God or Ancestor.  The latter two are much more ‘close’ to myself as a human being, whereas I find that landvaettir are sometimes composite spirits or overarching spirits that comes together from the energy around an area, like Flint’s blue-collar person or Ann Arbor’s bohemian.  Other times, the landvaettir are a single sizeable spirit of an area, such as an old oak or swath of grass, and can be rather alien in their imagery or symbols, or hard to understand because They use mental language and metaphor that is far different than what I am used to.  Sometimes, as with the first type, it is that the composite isn’t quite sure what it wants to communicate, or there is a cacophony effect that occurs because there are so many voices.  Sometimes, as with the second type, the message is jumbled because we’re operating on different frequencies where thought and understanding are centered.  Other times, the landvaettir and I just don’t have a deep or strong enough connection to have a decent rapport like my Gods or Ancestors do with me.

There is a lot of feeling out that gets done when I first have contact with landvaettir in meditation or journey work.  At least a third of the time I tend to spend figuring out the symbols or communication methods the landvaettir use, another third to establish rapport, and the last third to actually hear the message.  Of course, this varies with differing vaettir; I find it easier to ‘get’ city landvaettir because They are more used to human concepts, whereas landvaettir of wild can be hard to interpret due to differences in perspective or downright hostile due to other humans’ treatment of an area or its inhabitants.  Sometimes just thinking about Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings helps put this in perspective for me.  You’re communicating with a Being that may be pretty old comparative to you, and/or who may have seen a lot of change, chaotic and sometimes pollutive change, wrought by our species for the last hundred or so years.  Yet you might be talking to a relatively young spirit, one that’s grown up with the town around you, or the street.  One that could be empowered by the attention, or devastated by the blight, or alternatively feeding on it and causing it to grow.  Sometimes you simply don’t encounter landvaettir that want to play nice; sometimes you do, and They’ll not only be willing to talk, but really help you.  By treating these spirits with the same respect as I, an individual would want, I tend to have a better rapport and time in the places where They live and I frequent.

In my view, thinking of yourself as a guest in Their homes helps put things into a healthy perspective.  In the Northern Tradition hospitality is one of the watchwords.  If I act a fool and trash the place (i.e. breaking limbs off trees just because I can and littering) why would They want to know me any more, or work with me, or allow my magic to reach its intended destination?  I sure wouldn’t.  Again, this all come back to Gebo.  The gift of respect is the gift you often receive.  A lot of books tend to treat Nature spirits, and landvaettir as these cute little beings who are just so happy to help you and achieve x, y, or z.  More often than not I find that a lot of spirits around me just want to live in relative peace, as opposed to conflict.  It is in their self-interest to have a good relationship with us, just as it is for us to have the same with Them.  It isn’t that They can’t be cute; some are, and others aren’t.  Not all Nature is pretty, and not all Nature’s critters are pretty.  I happen to deeply hate mosquitoes as a specie, while They seem to absolutely love my blood.  I can barely walk around in summer without having little mosquito bumps creep from my toes (if I don’t wear shoes) all the way up and down my body in clusters of little bite-bumps.  I despise these vaettir.  They may be part of my Wyrd, and I can respect Them for that, but I don’t have to like Them.  Yet it is in my interest to have a good relationship with Them.  After all, if I can cut a deal with Them my bites may not be as bad.  Our Wyrd may be tied together, but I believe there is wiggle room for negotiating the threads between us.

The landvaettir in my life have been great teachers, even the openly hostile ones.  Many have taught me different aspects of my spirituality, from connecting to the Earth, to what happens to the vaettir when humans trash and energetically drag an area down.  Some have brought me to spiritual teachers themselves, whereas others help to provide for my physical needs.  There is always something to be learned in our relationships with others.  There is always some balance that needs to be struck, and when it is, the ripples of that balance can be felt through the threads of orlog (personal Wyrd) through to the universal Wyrd.  Landvaettir are the spirits of the land; They are at once part of and closest to the land we walk on, the food we eat, the clothing we make, the world we change.   They are part of Midgard as much as we are.  If we are to live side-by-side, then treating Them with respect and dignity, being hospitable to Them and expecting the same in return is part of us living together in this world.  Healing where we can, helping where we can, and having the same done in turn generates the gifts all of us can continue to give and receive long into the future.  To me, living incommunion with this world and all its Beings is so much more rich than living apart.  My relationships and work with the landvaettir, though a part of my life, is an important part that stretches into my everyday life.  Hopefully, as time goes on, more will honor our spiritual cohabitants and treat Them with the respect They deserve.  In healing our relationships with the world around us, we can more effectively heal our world.

%d bloggers like this: