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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.

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A New Series of Posts on Ritual Praxis

February 10, 2018 5 comments

I was inspired by a conversation with two Heathens I speak with to begin writing on ritual praxis. For me, this project will take place along similar lines as Lārhūs Fyrnsida, especially in regards to their Ritual Format page. Before we get into types of ritual praxis, it is my firm belief that explaining why we develop a ritual praxis is more important, so that will be the first post in the series. Then, we can dig into how we develop a ritual praxis.

The reason I decided to write a series of posts on ritual praxis is because I have seen a lack of understanding about what ritual praxis is and why it is important in my local Pagan and polytheist communities, especially from a general Heathen perspective. My aim is to provide context for our home and communal rites, giving people a place to reference or jump off of in developing their own.

A few things to note:

  1. While I do not take a single ancient Heathen perspective my references are primarily Norse and Icelandic with bits of German and Anglo-Saxon. My use of language and the specific words I use reflects this view. I see nothing wrong with being eclectic. I respect that, for a great many people they find more use in sticking to one culture as their worldview. For me and mine, our worldview is primarily based primarily in Norse and Icelandic culture with appreciation for crosscurrents between other ancient Heathen religions as we find them.
  2. This will be a series of posts describing why then how Heathens without a particular cultural focus should and can build a ritual praxis. It will focus first on hearth cultus, religious life and rituals centered in the home. We can move out from there.
  3. This series of posts is meant to spur people to not merely think about their religion and religious activities, duties, and so on, but actively to do them. What this means is that if you are doing rituals and you are doing divination to check on things like “Is this ritual correct for us? Are the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir happy with this?” I fully expect you to act in accordance with your own results.
  4. The power and beauty of tribal Heathenry is that presumably the reader and I are not in the same tribe, and just because we may approach the very same Gods does not mean They will have the same responses to our offerings, rituals, and so on. I fully expect folks may get completely different responses from the Holy Powers, and the needs of a given community may differ such that ritual format, protocols, taboos, offerings, etc. may need to change. In other words, none of what I am writing should be taken to be set in stone. These posts are guidelines, not instructions.
  5. Down the road I may move these posts and future posts down the line into a format similar to the Lārhūs Fyrnsida because of ease of access and solid structure.

On Purification and Cleansing

July 8, 2016 1 comment

I took a week off of social media, and I included my blog here at WordPress for that time.

It was a good time, coming right off the heels of Sacred Firetending at Michigan Paganfest.
It really made me think, though, about a lot of things.  Not the least of which is the time I waste on social media.  Now, a lot of my writing here?  That tends to be time well-spent because I am sussing things out, writing devotional poetry and other works, or otherwise devoting time to my Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.

My time away made me realize just how fucked up social media is, when you get down to brass tacks.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of networking on it that is not only useful, but downright necessary to interact with the folks in my Kindred as well as the larger Pagan community.  However, what I am really coming to grips with is how damned sick, lacking a better term, social media is.  When something takes off, it takes off like a virus.  After all, a post, a picture, a video gaining mass popularity is called ‘going viral’ for a reason.  If it is incorrect information, it spreads the wrong information and it infects all those who take it in as fact.

This is where inoculation or sanitation and treatment come in, or, in terms polytheists would be more familiar with, purification and cleansing.  We purify a space so that it is cleansed of vaettir (spirits), and likewise, any magic or spiritual force that would seek to do us harm or disrupt the ritual, ceremony, etc. we are about to perform.  We purify a space, such as a vé (sacred place; it might have an altar or be a natural thing, such as a boulder or tree, etc.), hörgr (a stone vé, sometimes stacked, or an altar of stone).  We cleanse ourselves and any objects we would seek to bring into this space so we are in a state that is clean for the same reason as purification.  If you are facilitating a ritual, it is likely you have cleansed yourself and any things that you are bringing into the area, then purified the space.

These procedures are recognizable to anyone who works in healthcare: your inoculation makes you resistant to diseases that can harm your patients and yourself, your hand-washing prevents you from spreading disease, and your personal hygiene prevents you from becoming sick.  If you refuse to do these things you are not doing your due diligence to those in your care.  That is not to say that sickness is completely unavoidable.  It is not, just as impurity in sacred space does happen.  It is also not to say that sickness is morally wrong; it is not.  It simply is.  However, it is our obligation, whether healthcare or in religious matters, for us to do our due diligence so that those in our care are as healthy as can be.  A ritual leader who refuses to do purification and cleansing work is analogous to a doctor who refuses to be sanitary.

Of course, there are folks out there who will say I am being dramatic about this.

If we take our religions, and our roles within them seriously, then this kind of preparation to erect or inhabit a sacred space should be normal.  There may be exceptions to this rule, i.e. polytheist religious paths I have not come across that do not carry out purification rites in general or for specific workings because it would be detrimental to the rite, working, etc.  I am not speaking to these.  The polytheist religions I have been in or had contact with carry similar enough ritual protocols for these to be general, such as cleaning yourself physically and spiritually before a ritual, or if you do not have time for a shower, at least doing some kind of cleansing work, whether a simple ritual of washing the hands, sprinkling water on one’s head, passing fire about the place and one’s body, and so on.

If I am to carry out a ritual, it is my Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that I am a living example to those in the ritual.  I need to be clean in body, mind, and spirit.  I need to show good protocol for engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  As much as the ritual actions are my role in the ritual, so too is my living example.  If someone is coming to me for divination I need to be clean and the sacred space it takes place needs to be clean.  My obligation to the shamans, diviners, Rune-workers, Runemeisters, the Runevaettir, and Odin Himself is to do the work and do it well, whether that work is the preparation before the reading, the reading itself, or any work that occurs coming from the reading.  To do this, I need to have good signal, and to have good signal I and the space need to be clean for the reading.  Whatever my role, I owe this Gebo,this obligation of doing the prequisite work well to those who came before me in these roles, to my Elders, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, and so on.  I also owe this Gebo to the Gods, Ancestors and vaettir to do this work well, not just for the work present in the moment, but to provide an ongoing living example of the work in action.  

In order to do well, to be excellent, the foundation must be cared for.  The foundation of good religious work is to do the prerequisite work well.  This includes the education one needs in order to be an informed participant in the religion, and the carrying out of one’s role in the religion that arises from that knowledge.  It is not some out-of-reach perfection I am talking about here either, nor am I talking merely about the role ritual leaders hold in being ritual pure or helping to make purified religious space.  The foundations of religious work are carried by everyone in that religion.  Purification and cleansing are part of those foundations so we enter into sacred space clean and well, so that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are prayed to, offered to, experienced, and understood well.  Purification and cleansing help us to keep these things clean so that what we do and pass on is healthy for our religions, our communities, our tribes, our Kindreds, our families, and ourselves.

A Note on the Anthology on the Hard and Fallow Times

September 22, 2015 1 comment

This has come up a few times, so I will let everyone know here:

You have not missed the deadline. I set the deadline for next year, September 21st, 2016.  You have a year to get submissions in to me.   The sooner the better though!  The less editing I have to cram in all at once the better the process will be!

Please pass along both this post, and the Call for Submissions.

Thank you for your submissions!

-Sarenth Odinsson

A Call for Submissions -An Anthology on the Hard and Fallow Times

September 8, 2015 24 comments

Book Proposal

Type of Book: Anthology

Working Title Proposals: The Rough Road and the Fallow Field: Navigating the Hard Times

Going Through the Fallow Times

An anthology primarily of essays, personal experiences, meditations, theological writing, and other works exploring the fallow times in an animist and/or polytheist’s life, where the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits may be distant, silent, or in times of transition requiring separation. This anthology will also explore how to move through these times, how those who have little to no regular or peak spiritual experiences work through the fallow times, and what practices can sustain an animist and/or polytheist through them.

Word Length: Word Length: 800 words minimum for essays. Long essays welcome and encouraged. Prayers, poetry, rituals, and other explorations of the subject will also be accepted.  Please submit with no specialized fonts, in .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format.

Contributors will not be paid for this contribution. This is a one-time publishing opportunity, so you retain all rights to your piece and can use it as you wish after publication.

Any contributors need to give their legal names and addresses in the email for a release form for their work. Any contributors who wish to use a community name or pen name will need to note it in the release form.

The deadline for submissions is at September 21st, 2016, at 11:59pm, Eastern Standard Time (GMT-4)
Interested parties may email Sarenth@gmail.com.

Sharing Ritual, Sharing Community

July 29, 2014 10 comments

I did not go to the Polytheist Leadership Conference because I made a promise to Mani.  Between the promise and His gentle presence indicating ‘stay’ when I asked Him if I should ask to reschedule, I followed His lead.  It tore at me; I really wanted to go, and meet people who I have talked online and on this blog with face-to-face, to share in workshops and ritual.  I was asked by people I consider family to put on a ritual in Mani’s honor.  When I accept such a thing, I treat it as a promise to my Gods that They will be hailed, offered to, and whatever the ritual(s) requires.  My friends are the priests of a Wiccan church, Crossroads Tabernacle Church, and rather than keep up walls between our religions, they graciously asked me to put on a Northern Tradition ritual for this last Full Moon.  I was and am honored by their request.  The ritual for Mani went very well, and I am eager to do more Northern Tradition rituals with them.

In doing these rituals together we are drawing the circle bigger, while also drawing it closer to our hearts.  There is no need to compromise our religions for one another if there is true respect for them.  I have been working with this church for several years.  At first I was just attending, and then, for the last four years, I have served as their youth minister.  Never have I been asked to compromise my beliefs, nor break taboos.  My friends have been greatly accommodating, and quite careful regarding them.  They ask what I can or cannot eat, they are mindful of what taboos I am under if I have told them, and their sensitivity to my tradition and to the work I do has been one of many blessings they have given me over the years.

I am a person with his feet in many traditions.  I am a Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheist.  I am a shaman, priest, and godatheow of Odin.  I am a priest of Anpu.  I am a member of House Sankofa.  I am a member of Urðarbrunnr Kindred.  I am a member of the Thunderbird People.  I am the facilitator of a Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group.  I am a member of Crossroads Tabernacle Church as well as its Youth Minister.  None of these groups contradicts or derides my beliefs.  None of them provides harm to my hamingja.  All of these affiliations, alliances, friendships, and group ties, together, enhance our hamingja and help it to grow.

Rather than building an impenetrable wall, the traditions and ways of the Northern Tradition ground my family, coreligionists, and I in a living religion that gives us a solid foundation to build from.  The definitions and ways by which our tradition are defined bring clarity and understanding not only to ourselves in living this religion, but to others in being able to explain and share it.  Rather than being terribly excluding, the beliefs and practices we keep are inviting while also keeping to that solid ground in respect and reverence for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Unless the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits are being disrespected there is no reason to not share in ritual.

How can we be in ritual together and respect one another’s traditions?

Respect and communication.  After the priests of CTC asked me to put together a ritual, I asked permission from Mani if I could do a ritual on His behalf with the church.  When He let me know His approval, I began writing the ritual.  Well before the ritual the priests received a copy of the ritual outline.  They, in turn, asked me if there was anything I needed for the ritual and what offerings to bring.  They also asked me to help write up the announcement.  It turns out this helped some of the youth, because in addition to food and herb offerings, Mani received two math problems as offerings.  One was part of a sequence, whose name escapes me, and the other was a math problem the young person made up on the fly.  There was also a choice: some of the offerings were going to be buried, and others burned.  Both chose to burn their math offerings during the ritual.  Knowing we were able to burn these on-site rather than off-site was a big plus.

These things are not different from when I enter into a Wiccan ritual.  I did not ask each person “Are you polytheist?” before the Mani ritual any more than the priests ask “Are you Wiccan?” before a Wiccan ritual.  I did not say “If you do not understand/know Mani as I do, you are wrong”.  We were there to celebrate Mani together.  That was made plain from the beginning of the ritual.  From the beginning the expectation and the presence of respect for the God is there, and the understanding of what kind of ritual we are engaging in is there.  It is understood if we are engaging in Wiccan ritual we use a Wiccan format for it, such as a circle casting, a calling to the Elements, and the Gods.  Are there common elements to the rituals we engage in?  Yes, although the way of cleansing and setting up of sacred space, and to Whom we call differ.

We came together as we usually did by taking three deep breaths and asking if there was peace in our circle.  Instead of cleansing the space with a broom and lighting incense, we burned mugwort, cleansing the altar.  I made a point of involving my son in this ritual, because, as I explained to those assembled, ours is a tribal religion in which our children are involved as much as the adults.  I knelt to him so he could cleanse me first with Grandmother Una’s smoke, and then I cleansed him in kind.  I then each person.  Instead of a circle casting and calling in the Elements, we performed the Hammer Rite.  I felt it was a good way to invite those who had never been in a Northern Tradition ritual into the rite in a way that felt familiar.  So, we hailed the four Directions, Asgard, Helheim, and Midgard.

One major difference in this rite as opposed to many of the ones the church comes together in, is that there was no Drawing Down of Mani.  Where the God and Goddess would have been called Down, there were offerings made to Him as we all sang, standing in His presence.  There was time while we sang after the offerings were made for anyone who wanted to step forward to speak with Him or ask Him for a blessing.  When all were finished we came back together, thanked Mani for His presence, thanked the Directions with the ending Hammer Rite, and ended everything with Sigdrifa’s Prayer.

Mani was received and treated with the respect and reverence as He is due.  Some who had come to join in the ritual had never known Mani before, and left wanting to know more.  Some had known of Mani but had never been in His Presence.  The ritual left its mark on all who attended, including me.  He was gentle, and patient, yet playful in His Full Moon face.  He was patient as two youths, whom I am very proud of, placed math problems before Him to be burned as offerings.  I could feel His brightness as we gathered in honor to Him, and His happiness at its end.

We do not have to leave one another at the crossroads of our communities.  Rather, we can gather around them, celebrating with one another.  We can sing, dance, offer, and hold rituals for our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir together, drawing the circle bigger, while respecting one another’s traditions.

Question 14: The Goddesses in the Northern Tradition

July 24, 2014 5 comments

Thank you again, Freki Ingela, for this question:

What are your thoughts of the feminine divine in Germanic polytheism? I notice that very little is known about the household Gods, the Gods that women in their homesteads would have revered, the deity of the hearth, for example. This is a problem for me (I am a woman) and to be really honest although I am proud of my ancestral Gods I have a feeling that we have lost too much knowledge of the non-warrior Gods, the Gods of the women, the family, the hearth fire – so much so that we must look to kin-religions, such as Roman polytheism, to try to bridge the gap where so much knowledge has been lost. What are your thoughts on this?

That our ancestral lines were sundered is one of many great tragedies.  The loss of traditional communities, and much of the lore, rituals, and sacred sites have been a hard blow to recover from.  The power of religious movements such as the Northern Tradition is that we are living ties back to these things as much as we are carrying them forward.  It is worth remembering that at some point someone had to bring in a new rite, story, or commission a sacred site to be built.  Our Ancestors had to do this at one point.  One of our greatest challenges is that there have not been a line or tribe of living people, at least until relatively recently, to carry on what will inform our own traditions, rituals, and sacred sites.  Despite this heavy loss, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can, and should be asked to inform this revival.

When it comes to how to worship, wherever possible I try to keep within the tradition in question.  I think that looking to other religions for inspiration can be a powerful thing, yet, I also recognize that Roman polytheism is a different way than German polytheism.  There are different underlying assumptions in either religion, different cosmologies, and different ways of worshiping the Gods right and well.  While I am not strictly opposed to mixing traditions, I advise care and caution in doing so, as one practice or way of doing things may be fine in one culture but not translate well, if at all, to the other.  It is also worth mentioning that the Romans recorded aspects of Germanic life prior to conversion, i.e. the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar, so it makes sense to go to investigate these Roman sources.

I wish there were more resources available to us.  I wish that more had survived, especially from before the period of conversion.  There is a great gap of knowledge, even in what little we do have and know, between the Goddesses and the male Gods.  I think that, for what we have remaining, there are many Goddesses who Germanic, Scandinavian, etc. polytheists can call upon who may well fill many of the roles you cite here.  I feel that Sif is often overlooked, for instance.  She is mentioned very little in the sources, namely in Skáldskarpamál where Her hair is cut by Loki, and in the Lokasenna where She serves Him mead in Aegir’s hall.  She is a powerful, graceful Lady, one whom my family reveres for Her generosity and patience.

If one is looking for a Goddess of the home, I think of Frigga, Sif, Sigyn, and Frigga’s Handmaiden Syn.  I have read Roman polytheists had Gods for parts of the door and threshold.  Rather than look to the Romans for such a Goddess, I believe Syn would be one to worship and call upon as a Goddess of doors, their locks, and thresholds.  It says in the Gylfaginning (not the most current translation, but it is free) that:

“The eleventh is Syn: she keeps the door in the hall, and locks it before those who should not go in; she is also set at trials as a defence against such suits as she wishes to refute: thence is the expression, that syn[1] is set forward, when a man denies.”

As far as a Goddess of the hearth fire Itself, why not worship and revere Sinmora?  While the etymology of Her Name is still debated, as well as Her identity as Surt’s husband, She and Loki’s Daughter Glut, are the only Goddesses of Fire in the Northern Tradition that I know of.  Some would balk at this, given The are jotun.  I have yet to read where either Goddess means us harm, however, and given I have been praying to Them for some time, I have found both, especially Sinmora, to be a patient guide, and teacher in working with Fire.  If you mean a Goddess of the hearth where the fire is contained, the Goddesses I mentioned in terms of the home may be ones to worship and revere.  Also, for some reason, Snotra keeps coming to mind.  It may have to do with Her Name meaning “wisdom”, as a great deal of wisdom is learned around the home fire.  It may also have to do with the wisdom required in keeping the fire well, including the etiquette and understanding required to treat the firevaettir well.

Part of the challenge in living this path is reconstructing and reviving what we can, and being open to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir filling in quite a bit of what is no longer with us.  It is worth remembering, however, that reconstruction is a methodology rather than a religion.  My path is reconstructionist-derived; I recognize I do not strictly adhere to a reconstructionist model.  Sticking to the source material where possible and exploring where our Gods’ stories come from is a good springboard.  This does not set aside the importance of knowing the stories, doing research, and the like.  When confronted in situations like these, where there is a lack of stories and resources like archaeology, I am going to lean more heavily on my and others’ personal experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

A great, powerful, and often untapped resource seldom considered are one’s Disir.  These are the women who kept things together, who cared for the house, and who kept the traditions alive in Their time.  They may well do so again, if you ask Them.  The Disir keep the lines well, and many of the older ones might be interested in teaching you what They have to offer if you show interest and are respectful.  Whether or not you ask Them to help with connecting to the Gods, or walking the path, I believe it is more than worth it to set some space aside for Them, if you have it to give, and cultivate a good relationship with Them.  I would offer similar advice in regards to the Goddesses since They, far more than I, can give you good direction on these things.

 

Update: I included Glut in the section where I wrote about Goddesses of Fire. I knew I was missing Someone in this section and She just came to me.

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