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Holiness and Sacredness are Rooted Words: A Reply to John Halstead’s I Hold These Things to be Sacred

October 30, 2015 21 comments

For clarity and to keep things as orderly as I can, I will be responding line by line to John Halstead’s post on Patheos, I Hold These Things To Be Sacred: A Reply to Sarenth Odinsson.

Sarenth Odinsson says that, because I don’t believe in gods, nothing is sacred or holy to me. 

I intentionally avoided using names in my piece, Holiness is Rootedness, because I wasn’t talking specifically about one atheist Pagan or another. My entire point is in the first paragraph.

In order to have a sense of what is holy, one must have ideas and concepts related to holiness. In order for these ideas and concepts to be related to holiness, it must have roots in a religion, a theological framework, in which holiness as a concept is able to take root. If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness just as there is no profanity or things lacking in that consecration.

If you have no theological framework then there is no theology to explain what is or is not holy. If you have no theological framework to discern what holiness is, its qualities and characteristics, then you have no concept of holiness to draw upon. Atheism’s main characteristics are that there are no Gods, and most of the atheist lines in regards to religious thought and phenomena directly state that there is no such thing as a God, Goddess, Supreme Being, etc. Most, though certainly not all forms of atheism, reject religious cosmology. I find it odd that pointing this out is cause to offend someone who identifies as an atheist, though my article was certainly not aimed solely at Mr. Halstead.

You can say all you like that you believe that things are sacred or holy, but those words carry absolutely no theological or philosophical weight when you say them because you don’t actually believe in the Beings nor the cosmologies that imbue them with that weight to begin with.

So, you know that feeling theists get when atheists tell them their gods are imaginary? I think I’m feeling something similar. Something like, “How dare you!”

Here’s what Odinsson says:

If one’s religious framework has no Gods, there is nothing to consecrate. If there is no God or Goddess, no Holy Power to consecrate, then there is no holiness …”

An atheist framework is one in which there is no God or Goddess, and thus, no sacred. One may hold things reverently, that is, with deep respect, but without a religious framework that very concept that one may hold anything as holy has no basis. An atheist claiming to hold something as holy is a person claiming something to which one has no right …”

I was pointing out what I had thought was patently obvious. I find it odd that Halstead is having such an emotional response when he has flat-out stated he does not believe in Gods. It would follow that there is no existent concept of holiness, as there is no theology in which holiness may take any kind of root. Keep in mind when I write Holy Power or Holy Powers, I include the Ancestors and vaettir, or spirits, in this. I don’t think that animists lack a conception of the holy, as in order to be an animist there is some sort of cosmology present, and accordingly, a way to establish things like what is sacred/not sacred.

Atheism cannot be invested in this understanding as it has no basis for holiness and the sacred, as atheism denies both on their face by its very outlook. Atheism denies that Gods exist, and in so doing, denies the cosmology They are rooted within. The notion of holiness within an atheist context, therefore, cannot exist.”

Now, I’ve never really gotten along with Odinsson. (I think he was the same person who once threatened to punch me if he saw me at Pantheacon.) But I don’t think it should be only atheist Pagans or non-theistic Pagans who are upset by what he is saying here. Odinsson is saying if you don’t believe in the gods, then nothing is sacred or holy to you. Implied in this is the statement there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the gods.

Nothing sacred in the world but the gods?!

Wow! I would have a hard time imaging a less “pagan” statement than that.

I am not the person who threatened to punch Halstead if I saw him at Pantheacon. I’ve never been to Pantheacon, and given the extreme amount of travel I would have to do and time off I would have to take right before ConVocation here in Michigan, I have no interest in doing so.

Note here that Halstead actually does not refute my points here, or anywhere in this post. He quotes me, but misses the point entirely. There is no implication that there is nothing sacred or holy in the world except the Gods. It is not surprising to me that he misses this point, as Halstead has no conception of holiness himself, and I imagine is probably not familiar with Northern Tradition or Heathen cosmologies. To be quick, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are holy. The Gods and Elements Themselves are among our Ancestors. Many of the Gods directly made vaettir, i.e. Odin and His Brothers formed the Dvergar from maggots burrowing into the flesh of Ymir. Many Gods are part of the vaettir of this and other Worlds, and vice versa. For instance, landvaettir may be seen as being part of Jörð’s Body/Being, Jörð being one of several Earth Goddesses within Heathenry.  Some vaettir have ascended into being or have become seen as being Gods unto Themselves, and some Gods have descended into being or have been seen as being vaettir unto Themselves. There are methods within the Northern Tradition by which an area may be made to be sacred, or that sacredness may be inborn to a place, such as a grove, or a prepared ritual area, altar, and so on.

There is something deeply disturbing, I think, about a paganism which cannot find the holy or the sacred in the earth or in another person.

Certainly, but that is not my position here, nor was it. I view Jörð, the Earth Goddess, as a holy Being. Do I view all the Earth as sacred? No, as I do not find CAFOs sacred, nor do I find the floating garbage that chokes the oceans sacred. Those, I find profane. Wrong. Unholy.

Are all people sacred? No. All people are bound together in Wyrd, but that merely makes you part of reality, not an inherently sacred person. It doesn’t mean people are valueless either, but sacredness actually means something in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. Namely, that a thing, Being, place, etc. is dedicated to, belongs to, is consecrated by, or is devoted to the Holy Powers. This is why an altar is a sacred thing, a grove where rituals are performed, or a single tree representing Yggdrasil itself is regarded as sacred. These things are devoted and dedicated to the Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors and/or vaettir) of the Northern Tradition and/or Heathenry. They are sacred.

As for myself, I hold these things to be sacred and holy: all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships.

They are not just things that I hold “reverently” or with “deep respect”; they are holy and sacred.

He says he regards these things as sacred, but without any of these things being involved with, dedicated to, devoted to, or consecrated to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, what are these words worth? Without the necessary relationship inherent in a cosmology, in which one relates to all life, the earth, nature, our selves, our bodies, our relationships, and so on, saying something is sacred or holy are empty words. Claiming one holds something sacred or holy without any requisite theology to back these words up is intellectually sloppy or dishonest.

Holiness is rootedness,” says Odinsson. My religion is rooted. It is rooted in these things: Life, Matter, Relationship.

How can Halstead claim his religion is rooted when the soil of the Holy Powers is denied?

Indeed, how can Halstead claim to be religious whatsoever when he denies any of the requisite things for which religion itself functions: namely, to provide a framework for and means by which people may establish relationships with, interact with, revere, understand, and worship the Holy Powers? All these things Halstead claims his religion is rooted in has no meaning without an actual theology in which the sacred matters, and so long as the sacred is, in actuality, absent from his worldview and thus, any religion he would lay claim to, all these words are empty.

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Coffee with the Ancestors and Gods

October 3, 2015 1 comment

Something I have not done in a very long time is sat down to coffee with my Ancestors and Gods.  I did it tonight/this morning, after taking care of the offerings and laying out fresh ones otherwise, all water, except for the stick of incense I left at the altars for the Ancestors, for the Dead and for the Gods.

I had two stools that belonged to people who are family to me, gifted to me before they took off for California.  One stool holds a Native American head carved into an arm-sized log that I give offerings to as representative of some of the Native Ancestors in the ways I have been brought into.  A while back I had used the other stool as part of an Ancestor elevation working, but it has sat in a corner since.  Tonight, I brought up some coffee my wife had brewed earlier in the day.  At first, I was going to sit on the floor at the Ancestor altar.  I couldn’t see many of Them from down there, and besides, They wanted to see me too.  So I dusted off the old stool, and sat at the Ancestor altar, lighting the candles in Ask and Embla’s tree candle-holders.

At first it was just…quiet, meditative even, serving Them coffee then myself.  I usually drink my coffee with non-dairy sweetener like Coffee Mate or something like that, but it didn’t seem right in this context.  So, I sat and drank my black coffee, and talked with the Ancestors about the week I’d been having, thanking Them for Their support, that kind of thing.  Mostly it was quiet, just being in one another’s Presence.  When it was over, and I thanked Them for coffee with me, I blew out the candles, and later lit some incense.  I walked away from Their altar with a sense of peace and being cared for.

My experience with the Gods was similar, but even more silence, being quite brief with my end of talking, mostly thanking Them for Their Presence and blessings on my family, and helping me through the last week.  It was mostly quiet, and considering the Work I’ve been doing for Them of late, I was okay with that.  I left Their altar, after lighting incense for Them, with a sense of peace, but it…was deep.  More than a sense of peace, really.  A sense of rightness, even with all the challenges I and my family are facing right now.

I got the message to clean my cups out after each time with the Ancestors then Gods, and returned the cup to the altar, my cup’s holder facing me, and Theirs to Them.   It looks like both sets of Holy Powers want this to be a more regular thing, so here’s a cup to a new tradition I’ll be keeping.  Thanks for the inspiration from a while back, Jim.  It proved a powerful, simple connection, one that I really needed.

Planting Seeds

March 4, 2015 24 comments

In thinking on the last post and the centers Nicholas Haney brought up in God-centric?, is that one of the centers that tends to get left by the wayside in the larger polytheist and Pagan blogs is family, and in specific how we raise our kids in our religions.  It is something that has been on mind for a while.  There’s a host of questions I will tackle here that I hope will generate deeper dialogue in the Pagan and polytheist blogs and communities.  I believe these are really important questions, tied not just to the center of family, but to the health and well-being of all the centers.  Without children, all we have are new converts to sustain the traditions and religions.  In my view, that is a lot of people coming to understand a whole new way of being, whereas kids raised polytheist do not have that learning curve, or the need to decolonize, or remove as much of the dominant culture’s mindset.

Before I get to the questions, however, I think it is important to tackle some of the reasons that I have heard, in person and online, for why people do not raise their children in our religious traditions.  Chief among them is some variation of “I don’t want to force my kid to follow my religion” or “I don’t want to indoctrinate my child.”  I will be honest, these reasons make me want to pull out my hair.  The definition of indoctrination is:

to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs

Raising our children in our religion(s) is simply not indoctrination.  Teaching them about our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, is not indoctrination.  Unless you are actively denying your child the ability to question concepts and people in the religion, not allowing them to explore the religion, or are actively denying your child’s ability to consider other points of view, you are not indoctrinating your child.  You are, rather, raising your child in the religion.  There is a gulf of difference between teaching a child “This is what the sagas say about Thor and these are my experiences with Him,” or “This is how we worship together as a family,” and “This is the only way to worship Thor” or “Only our way is the true way to worship Thor.”  Now, that is not to say that a given family will not have traditions, taboos specific to them, or certain ways they worship, but to entirely cut a child off from alternative views, and stunts the religious growth of a child.  My taboos are just that: mine.  We do not have taboos on offerings as a family.  What we do have are basic expectations of respect in religious space, how offerings that have been expended are disposed of, regular times for prayer, and guidelines and rules on handling altars, statues of our Gods, and various tools that may be on the altars.  For instance, on our Gods’ altar our son can dispose of the liquid (usually water, but sometimes beer or mead) offerings we make to Them.  He does not touch the offerings to Gods he does not have an active relationship with. Sylverleaf makes regular offerings to Frigga on this altar that our son is not to touch, as that is between her and Frigga.  He is not allowed to touch the swords or the hammer  on the altar without permission and an adult present.

How do we bring children into our religions?  Is it from birth?  If not from birth, when do they begin to learn, and what can they learn at what age?  How do we help our children understand religious phenomena?  If one has a very active religious life, how does one relate to a child that simply does not?  Vice versa?

The answers I have to these questions are lived by our son.  We brought our son into our religion by doing a baby blessing as soon as he was born, asking the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits to watch over him.  He was there as we prayed at our altar when we first brought him home, and has been raised with us praying and making offerings ever since.  Had we waited we would probably have started teaching him about our religion around age 3-5.  He has been raised with the prayers we make before he goes to school and before he goes to bed, and at each and every meal.  He is living polytheism.  He has been raised with a Dad who takes time out to explain religious concepts on his level, and who is not shy about being very blunt that “the Runes ask for blood in Gebo, and this is something you are not ready for yet, if you ever do pick Them up.”  He knows that if and when he does, it will be his choice and he will be able to make it on his own.

I firmly believe in raising children in our religions.  Without our children learning our religion, and co-religionists teaching their religion, there is no way for the religions to continue.  Teaching kids only a little bit about the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and not making daily prayers, devotion, etc. is giving a little soil to the seed and expecting a tree to grow to its full height.  Not teaching one’s children at all about the Gods is denying soil to a tree entirely.  Without a firm grounding in religion, the soil is loose and is blown away in the wind, or swept aside in the rain.  If we desire good religious communities that will last beyond us, we need to raise the children in our communities.  Indeed, we must do far better by them than has been done by us.

So how do I relate to our son when I have a very active religious life?  Some of the explanations we work with him on are helped along because we have taught our son how to interpret the Holy Powers’ messages, whether he has a reading done, asks Them to work with him through his intuition, or look for omens.  A good chunk of this work has been to encourage him to trust his intuition, to admit when his signal clarity is not where it needs to be, and to ask for help when he needs it.  He is encouraged to admit when he does not know.  We regularly talk on our religion, on the religious work I do, how it feels, and how it affects me.  I bring my son along when I do certain religious work, such as tending the graveyards I have been called to do, teaching him how to respectfully make offerings at the gate, to ask permission from the Dead before tending Their graves, and why we leave offerings of tobacco, or why I blow smoke on graves when I smoke a pipe as we clean.

The biggest link between all the religious work I do, and explaining it to our son, and in some cases involving our son, is the concept of Gebo: gift-for-a-gift.  Reciprocity.  That word opens up the larger world of animism and polytheism because it places us not at the center, but in relationships with all things, all Beings.  It is why we leave or make offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, landvaettir, housevaettir, and so on.  It is that recognition and/or fulfillment of reciprocity.  It is sometimes asking for help, which may be a form of reciprocity in and of itself.  Bringing our son to rituals, performing them with him, helping him develop as a polytheist, in and of itself is a form of reciprocity with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, as it ensures that the religion, and the Gebo engendered between the Holy Powers and ourselves, and our communities does not die with us.  It allows us to pass on the maegen and hamingja of these relationships between our communities, and the generations that follow on with, and after us.

Helping our children develop their own understanding of the Gods, their intuition, and communication with Them is, to us, part and parcel of raising a child in a polytheist home.  It is the hope that when they raise their own family they will have a well-developed understanding of how to understand the Gods even if they never engage in ecstatic spiritual techniques or do trance work.  Sylverleaf, for instance, does not do much in the way of ecstatic work at all.  It is simply not a part of her religious life.  A simple divination technique she uses when she asks Frigga questions is to hold two of Her sacred keys in her hands, and the hand which is heavier is the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  If there are more complex questions she may ask me to read the Runes.  If she needs to get answers from her Ancestors, she may work with an oracle deck dedicated to Them.  Having two very different parents in this regard gives our son more models of polytheist life to understand, recognize, and live himself.  Raising our children as polytheists, then, is more than simply teaching and explaining.  It is modeling good Gebo, and the ways we do things by actively living in relationship with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We are living examples to our children.

What age should we bring our children into animism or polytheism?  It is my belief that it is never too early nor too late to begin a lived animist/polytheist life.  Regardless of our age or the age of our children, sharing our religion is an important bond that we share between our communities, our families, and our generations.  It is the lattice-work that makes a strong bridge between the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.

In speaking with Sylverleaf on this, she has said it has been far harder for her to keep with regular prayers and offerings in contrast to me because she was raised in a largely non-religious household.  Lacking a background in any religion made it that much harder for her when she did find the Gods and became a Pagan, as she had no models to follow except those in books, and no community to speak of for quite a long time.  Living a religion does have a learning curve, and she hit this hard because until we met she did not have regular time for prayer, any rote prayers to draw upon, or regular times for making offerings.  In talking this over coffee and pancakes, it hit me that she was denied a lot of things that I took for granted in my religious studies as a child.  For one, pondering the nature of God was probably something very hard to tackle in a home that either did not think much on God or thought the subject of God was a non-starter where conversation was concerned.  I was able to talk with priests who were more than happy to answer whatever questions I threw at them, digging into the meat of theology with me and explaining as best they could their understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and where we fit into the Catholic cosmology.  That grounding is absent when religion is not lived.  The hunger of curiosity cannot be sated when the entire subject of religion is off the table.  It also cannot be sated when the religious community one belongs to has a piss-poor grounding in its own theology, as she discovered her youth ministers had, during the short time she attended a church.  This is why our children need not only parents grounded in good relationships with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, but communities, and their leaders, priests, spiritual specialists, etc. need this too.  We cannot support the centers of our communities without them all doing the necessary work of living the religion.

Communion

January 14, 2015 2 comments

The hoarfrost bites.  The rain is frosty, pelting my hat, my trenchcoat.  I take out the little sacred pipe, and kiss it nine times all over its sacred body.  I load it with tobacco after offering to the Directions, to the Spiritkeepers, to the hidden Sun, the Earth beneath my feet, to the Sky above me that has opened up, to one of the Creators, to the Disir and Väter, to the Ancestors, and to the Gods and Goddesses.  The tobacco has been in my pouch so long it has become dried powder, and it packs deep.  The last of the tobacco goes into the sacred pipe.  I make my prayers to the Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim, to the spirit of Fire Itself, and light it.

It takes to the offering, and I make short, quick puffs to encourage the Fire to spread.  I offer the smoke to all those I have just offered tobacco to.  I walk over to a small boulder that serves as the main vé for our unknown Ancestors who extend Their hands to us.  I blow smoke upon the stone, and thank Them. As I walk by the oak tree my father planted when we first started living on the property, something about it in the frost strikes me, and I ask if I can take its picture.  Of course, I have forgotten my phone inside, but that is fine.  It assents, and I offer it smoke in thanks.

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I walk on into the sacred grove.  The ground is sodden.  The lengths of birch I bought from a man half a year ago are in disarray.  It occurs to me, starting to right them again for perhaps the third time since I bought them, that this is how they wish to be for now.  I leave the rest go, and head over to Odin’s godpole.  He is here, as surely as He is at our altar to the Gods.  He is here.  He is waiting.  Odin had called me to come out, and give offerings after I had given offerings to Hela and Niðogg.  These had been our compost; used coffee, rotten food, broken eggshells, all dead things come to give new life in time.

I kneel before His godpole, and I hail Him.  I take three drags, always three when I offer to a God, Ancestor, or vaettr, and blow it over the wood.  Then, partly feeling compelled and partly feeling it a good thing to do, I take three drags and place the pipe into His carved mouth, and He smokes.  I do it again, and I can feel Him breathe it in, the smoke rising.  One last time, and the smoke rises lazily from the pipe, and I am sure He is here, and with me.  Here, in the midst of my hands tightening under the cold and frost-rain, I feel my God, World-wise and powerful, and here. I smoke with Him for a few moments.  We speak, being with one another in the moment, but it is less like speaking, and more deep than words.  Communion, perhaps, is a better descriptor.

There are words; we greet each other, and He is at once in the cold, and cold Himself, and yet warm too.  He is pleased, and it is time for me to go.  I kneel on the ground, offering smoke, and thank the landvaettir for allowing me to come, for allowing this space to be.  I take off my hat to Them and to Odin, and leave the sacred grove walking backwards. I bow once I have reached the boundary. Then I turn to the house, and offer it smoke.

I sit on the deck for a few moments, and smoke, and the Ancestors are near.  Many have endured this kind of thing without all the benefits I have, most especially a grand house that sits at my back.  They tell me They want me to smoke with Them, but as I reach for the sacred pipe, many insist I go inside.  Some of Them do so for my sake; my hands are aching with cold.  The Others want to enjoy the warmth of the home and do not want to smoke with me in the freezing rain.  So I go inside.

Each tree received offerings of smoke, and each has given Its permission to be photographed.

Quiet, and Hopping Back On

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have been pretty quite the last few weeks. I make offerings now and again, and things, overall are quiet. I know from experience that some of these long-ish pauses between activity are here for me to get myself together, and/or to let me enjoy myself after a hard time. Sometimes the Holy Powers just don’t have anything for me to do. Sometimes I ask for down-time and They are kind enough to give it to me.

What does this down-time look like for me? I keep up mealtime prayers and evening prayers with my family. Even tonight, with our son dog-tired from his day, we prayed Sigdrifa’s Prayer in bed, whereas we usually go to the altars and shrines for Whom the prayers are being said. We keep the water offerings fresh as we can, and occasionally, if I feel the call and feel I can do it in a sacred manner, I do smoke offerings and prayers with my personal sacred pipe. When I am able to come home from work soon enough, or wake up in time on my days off, I do morning prayers with my family. Otherwise, I generally tend to stay away from divination, magical workings, even making written poems and/or prayers. I don’t tend to find myself in a good headspace to do sacred work of any kind heavier than offerings and prayers.

Getting back on the ‘heavy work’ bike is like coming back to exercise after a hiatus. If it has been a long time, it is easier to get winded if I haven’t done anything like walking or running around. If I’ve kept up at least with the bare minimum it is easier to come back to where I need to be, even if things need a bit of shuffling around. I find that cleaning the upstairs where we live can help put me into that ‘work’ mindset. When I do housework, if I am being mindful about it, it is an offering to Frigga and Frau Holle at the least, and may also be an offering to the Gods, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, housevaettir, and other vaettir who share our home.

Cleaning helps me reset. It puts me in the mind of “okay, we’re starting fresh”, especially because when we do big cleanings we often completely dismantle, was the altar cloths, and then clean all the altars and shrines. Cleaning is spiritual for me in part because it is mostly physical. I have to concentrate on it for a while, put myself into it to do it well, and gain a deep sense of satisfaction when it is done. Grandmother Una, Mugwort, cleanses the insides. The vacuum sucks up the debris, the cloths and water clean the surfaces.

We will usually start off with a cleansing of ourselves so we do the work in a clean head and spiritual space. When we are coming out of a hard period, or I have done a hard working, like the last time we did an Ancestor elevation, we cleanse ourselves and the space with either Thunderwater or Florida Water. The Thunderwater is only brought out for big cleansings, since the Florida Water will usually do the trick. Thunderwater, (which we sometimes call Lightningwater), is rainwater we collect during thunderstorms that we ask Thor to bless. If I/we feel Odin in the storm, we ask Him to bless it as well. We’ve only had to refill it once, given how often we use it. When we do not use it, it sits in the Water section of our Ancestor shrine. Using this or Florida Water, along with fresh, white towels, together with the very act of cleaning brings me into a solid headspace. Not only am I doing something good and holy, but I am doing it from a clean space myself.

The next part of getting used to riding again might be something like making special prayers for our Gods, or it may be doing several days of special offerings. It may be going outside and tending the outdoor shrine, which, during the fallow periods, tends to get neglected. So while I am out there I will clean that up, and the sacred fire pit (thankfully mobile and easy to clean), and make sure the area is relatively clear of debris. Given it is in a little grove in a wood, clean is relative to the season. This first winter with the sacred fire pit should be interesting.

I have found a pretty important part of this ‘getting used to riding’ is learning and/or remembering how to pace myself. I get back on and go too quick without Odin demanding it, or otherwise needing to, and I can burn out quick. I have found long-term devotional relationships have ebbs and flows to them. What is important to remember is that while we can help it be an ebb or a flow, sometimes our Gods or an Ancestor, or vaettir will push us into one of these to slow us down and take our time, or speed us up and get ourselves further along. I don’t think that people have to be ‘on’, godphone or otherwise, ever, to be a good Pagan or polytheist. It is entirely possible to not hear the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at all and be an incredible, devoted, pious worshiper. Likewise, I don’t think that those of us who do have gifts of any sort should feel like these have to be ‘on’ all the time to be a good servant, friend, child, helpmeet, godatheow, etc., of the Gods. Sometimes our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir might require a furious pace out of us, which tests our biking ability to its limits, and then at another time, to walk with the bike rather than ride it.

Question 12: Appealing to the Gods

July 17, 2014 5 comments

Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:

Are the Gods great Gods whom anyone on Earth may appeal to, or are they ancestral tribal spirits who confine themselves to looking over the descendants of northern Europe, or are they both? Or are they neither in your opinion? If so, how do understand their nature.

The Gods of the Northern Tradition are Gods I believe anyone can appeal to.  I do not hold folkish views regarding the Gods.  The peoples who worshiped these Gods (and how, what particular understanding of these Gods were prevalent and practices were done in this regard differed region to region) ranged all over the world.  They brought back people from these expeditions, merchant voyages, conquests, and raids.  They sometimes settled in the new lands, usually as colonizers.  To my understanding there is no barrier to anyone worshiping the Gods of the Northern Tradition so far as ancestry goes.  While I do believe that some of the Gods may have brought Their power into tribes of people, such as recounted in the RÍgsÞula (The Lay of Rig), as well as many of the hero stories, I do not think this is what determines if someone is holier or better than another.  I also do not believe that having bloodlines connected to people who may have worshiped the Gods of the Northern Tradition automatically makes you better suited for the Northern Tradition, especially given how many Europeans worshiped Greek and Roman Gods in many of the same places the Northern European Gods were worshiped.  Prayers for the Gods made with a good heart in the right place are good regardless of who makes them.

To understand the nature of the Gods, I usually recommend people read up as much as they can on the Gods, and then, while they are doing so, set up a shrine to the Gods and to their Disir (powerful female Dead), Väter* (powerful male Dead), and their Ancestors in general.  I’ve lived in a dorm room, so I have had to make do with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir all sharing altar space together.  When the shrine is set up, make an offering of water, if nothing else, every day.  Take at least five to fifteen minutes a day to do this, not just setting down the water, but praying at that shrine.  If you have prayers of your own, say them.  If you need inspiration, or want to use prayers from others, feel free to use prayers from my blog using the search bar, from NorthernPaganism.org’s wide variety of online shrines, Michaela’s Odin’s Gift website, Galina Krasskova’s prayers, or any others you find.   If you don’t have space or if you are in a hostile place you can leave a digital candle to one of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at one the NorthernPaganism.org’s shrine pages, like this one to Odin.

This is the recommended reading list I have for the Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group, with explanation of why we use them:

  1. Neolithic Shamanism by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova
    1. Neolithic Shamanism is an experience of the Northern Tradition spirits, and only works with a handful of Gods, such as Sunna and Mani. The focus of the book is toward establishing right relationship with the Elemental Powers, the landvaettir, one’s Ancestors, and so one from the ground up.
  2. The Prose Edda by Carolyne Larrington
    1. This version of the Prose Eddas is very straightforward.  Having read both Bellows and Hollander, I agree with Galina that Hollander cuts things out with poetic license so the ‘flow’ goes according to what he wants.
  3. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera
    1. Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner gives a good overview of the Northern Tradition, and has a good deal of practices such as prayers, how to use prayer beads, and what offerings are good or contraindicated for the Gods of the Northern Tradition. This book helped me deepen my religious practice.
  4. Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher
    1. Spiritual Protection is one of the best books on psychic/spiritual protection I have seen or read.  In a book market where protection is often given short shrift, this book goes to the absolute basics and is great to revisit whether you’ve been doing it for a little while, a long while, or not at all. As a word of caution I advise no one to seek to ground to any world but this one, Midgard, as even I haven’t gone and received permission yet to ground to another.
  5. Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
    1. Exploring the Northern Tradition gives a good overview of the demographics of Heathenry, some ideas of varying practice and culture, and is a good guide to the differences between traditions that you may find in them.
  6. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson
    1. This book gives an overview of the myths, Gods, and Goddesses. I would probably pair it with the Prose Eddas, but I also like people to dive right into the source material and make discoveries on their own, but if that style of study works better for you I don’t see a reason not to do it, particularly if the Eddas are a bit hard to work through.

Another book I would seriously recommend is Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson. It details some typical practices from both groups and personal practice.

 

*This is not a traditional name for the powerful male Dead.  It is German for “Fathers”.  I use it in preference of Álfar, since álfar means ‘elves’.

Outdoor Practices and Shrines: The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg

April 29, 2014 6 comments

With the Spring finally here in Michigan, I thought I would take some time to go over some of the practices I keep outside.

I maintain an active shrine to Hela and Niðogg. It is rotten, and full of life-giving soil.  Snakes have lived in it, and it gives much-needed nutrients back to the soils when we incorporate it in the gardens we keep. It is a compost pile. When I take the compost to it I make a simple prayer: “Hail to the Gods of Death and Rot. Hail Hela and Niðogg.” This one of many devotional acts one could offer to these powerful, and sometimes maligned and misunderstood Goddesses.

Given so many of us are going to Hela’s realm, whether ourselves or others, I would think cultivating a good relationship with Her would be a good thing to do. She is a holy Goddess who houses our Dead, who gives the Ancestors comfort and rest. It is rude to denigrate the Hostess of our Dead. So I praise Her, and thank Her for housing my Dead, for letting Them speak with me, for helping me to hear Them.  In building closer ties to death and Hela, we better appreciate and revere life.  Through Her we connect with our past and our Ancestors.  For that alone She should be given deep respect and praise.  

Niðogg’s presence in the world, eating the poison given to the Tree, gnawing at the dead roots of Yggdrasil and traitors and oathbreakers is one which is needed. It is not pretty. It is often thankless. She is the eater of our most rotten Dead. The liars, the oathbreakers, the traitors. She eats the poison and the rot from the Tree, and helps the Tree to grow even as She does eat at the healthy roots.  In appreciating the poison Niðogg takes on, it should inspire actions to prevent the poisons that ravage our planet, our nations, our homes, and our communities.

Yet, like a great many small or simple devotional acts that build on themselves, the results are wonderful, perhaps profound, when built well and with frequency. The effects on the garden, when we do these things, are good. Our Gods do not exist only in some ‘out there’ sense. If we are living in good relationship with Them, that will have some kind of effect in this world. It does not need to be dramatic; Hela and Niðogg do not come burrowing out of Jörð to declare to me the compost is good and sacred. It is sacred because the respect for Jörð, the landvaettir, Hela, and Niðogg is present whether I am alone, or my son or his mother helps offer the compost. It is sacred because I have maintained the shrine to these Goddesses, and the landvaettir have allowed the space to let us work with Hela, Niðogg, and Them so we may eat. We are the landvaettir’s guests and friends. We have invited the Gods to come to this place. In doing this, our family has chosen to be a bit closer to death and rot, and to build respect and good relationships with both.  Doing this we invite the Goddesses to share in Their blessings with my family and I.

The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg in the backyard.

The Shrine to Hela and Niðogg in the backyard.

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