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A Post for Newcomers to Polytheism

May 8, 2016 4 comments

There’s a great deal of needed dialogue going on in various polytheist, animist, Pagan, and associated communities right now.  I have been part of this, on and off, and while I do deeply feel these things are necessary, I also think that reaching out to the folks coming into this fresh, or those looking at coming back to the polytheist, animist, and Pagan communities are needed as well.  I have not seen a post like this make the go-arounds in a long while, at least on WordPress, so this post is made with these folks in mind.

What is polytheism?

Polytheism is defined by OxfordDictionaries.com as “The belief in or worship of more than one god”.  That is it, in a nutshell.  Most polytheists I know, and those I count among my co-religionists define polytheism in this manner.  This is because polytheism, as a word, describes a worldview and theological understanding, rather than a religion in and of itself.  A polytheist religion would be Northern Tradition Paganism, or any one of a number of Heathen religions.  Polytheists are those, then, that believe in or worship more than one God.

The polytheist religions I know of, especially those I am part of, hold that the world itself, as well as most things, are ensouled in some fashion, and/or are in part imbued with the numinous.  In this, most polytheists are, in some fashion, animists.  Animism is “The attribution of a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena” and/or “The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe“.  Like polytheism, animism is a theological position and worldview.

Polytheism as a word says nothing about the Gods one worships, what kinds of practices are accepted practice within a polytheist community, nor how one is expected to conduct oneself in or out of that community.  All these things are determined by religious communities that are polytheist.

What makes up a polytheist worldview?

Cosmology and relationships.  This may seem fairly simple, but when you take a look at the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, it’s far from it.

In these religions the cosmology, “An account or theory of the origin of the universe“, informs a deep amount of how the religion is structured and the place of the people within it.  The creation story alone is a wealth of information, namely on who created what, and where things came from.  Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar are described as discrete categories of Beings in the creation story, and form different tribes that intermarry on occasion, and war on others.  So too, Alfar (Elves) and Dvergar (Dwarves) are discrete categories of Beings.  The Dead are as well.  Even within our own Ancestors, the categories of Disir and Alfar/Väter (I use Väter, the German word for “Fathers” to differentiate between the Elves and powerful male Ancestors) differentiate the powerful female and male Ancestors from the rest of our Ancestors.  One of the lessons one gains from reading or hearing the creation story is that there are discrete categories of Beings, and They exist in hierarchy to one another and between each other.

In reading or listening to the creation story and others from these religions, it is understood that relationships form between the Aesir, Vanir, Jotnar, Alfar, Dvergar, and ourselves cooperatively as well as hierarchically.  The Aesir and Vanir war before peace and cooperation ensues, and an exchange of hostages occurs.  Likewise, there are tribes of Jotnar who make continuous war on the Aesir, those who do not, and Jotnar who join the Aesir by assertion of rights as with Skaði, or with Vanic Gods by marriage, as with Gerða and Freyr.  There are Jotnar who do not war on the Aesir, but keep to Themselves just as not all the Aesir war with Jotnar.  In other words, there are a great many kinds of relationships that exist between these various Beings.

If we take these stories as examples, there are a great many relationships we can maintain with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits).  Part of how this is done is by understanding our place within the cosmology.

Our understanding of where we are in the Worlds means a great deal to the religions we are part of.  It places us in how we relate to all things.  Jörð, and Nerthus, for instance, place us into direct relationship with the Earth beneath our feet as a/many Goddess(es).

What makes this even more interesting, in my view, is that because I am a polytheist, I accept a great many more Gods of the Earth than just one, including not only female Gods like Jörð, but male Gods such as the Egyptian God Geb, and others of differing/no genders, sexes, etc.  This does not create competition for this role of being a God/Goddess of the Earth, but more that They are in the same wheelhouse.  It need not be an either/or idea.

Rather, I look at it as an “and/and” notion that there are many Gods of the Earth Itself.  Sometimes I understand Jörð as the Earth Itself, and other times She is a local Earth Goddess.  Cosmology places us, and relationships form from this understanding of where we are and how we relate to the Worlds around us.  The particulars of how these relationships are shaped, what ways they develop or fade, and how things shake out otherwise depend on the religion(s) one is part of and how the relationships themselves go.

Polytheism is a foundation upon which the worldviews polytheist religions rest and build from.  Alone, it only asserts that a person holds belief in or worships Gods.  Everything else, from the relationships one forms with what Gods, clear on down to what kind of things are taboo, derive from the polytheist religion one is part of and are communal and individual.  In the end, the leaders one follows, or lacks, entirely depends on whether or not a person joins a community in the first place.  This acceptance or denial of joining a community will, in turn, impact the relationships that one maintains with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits of one’s religion.  This does not make these choices one makes right or wrong.  It makes them choices that carry consequences.  If one rejects belonging to a community it impacts one’s relationships with the Gods just as belonging to one would, though in different ways.  My relationships have definitely changed with the Gods I worshiped before and after I helped establish my local Northern Tradition/Heathen Kindred. Many vaettir I had worked only a little before became quite vocal in my life.  It takes all kinds to make a Kindred.

Polytheism really does take all kinds.  There are polytheists who never will be part of a community, and others for whom their community is intimately bound up in their life.  There are polytheists who have never had a powerful spiritual experience and never will, and others for whom there’s a quality of ‘They never shut up’ to their lives.  There are polytheists who are stay at home parents, and others who have absolutely no aspirations to be parents.  There are those who work in low-wage jobs as well as high.  There are polytheists on every part of the political spectrum.  In the end, the meaningful question in regards to polytheism is, “Do you worship or believe in the Gods?”

First Steps

So now that you have a rough idea of how polytheism works, what about first steps into being a polytheist?  When I began teaching the Northern Tradition Study Group in my area this is how we started out.

  1. Determine the religion you will be focusing on.

    This step is probably the most important.  When we organized the NT Study Group it was because there was enough people who had expressed interest in such a group.  Otherwise, folks were already developing relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of the Northern Tradition and Heathen religions alongside other religious and spiritual interests.  Bringing the group together under a single religious focus in Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheism brought a lot of advantages with it.  Having a single religious focus provides a shared lexicon and a deep amount of focus.  Having a single religious focus helps develop an understanding of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits of the religion one is working with, and develops the relationships within the framework of that religion.  It also helps develop context for exploring and understanding spiritual relationships outside of this religion, giving a solid ground for the newcomer to put their weight down on.

    I would recommend that anyone new to polytheism or animism pick a single religious path to focus on for at least a year.  Even if you find that religion is not the one you end up staying with after that period of time it can provide good contexts and understanding for where you want to go or are meant to go from there.

  2.  Gather resources and do your research.

    This means tapping resources both written and from people, especially if you have folks in your area actively involved in the religion you want to join.  One of the sources I recommend at this stage is Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher.  The idea here is to develop spiritual hygiene and protection techniques so good habits are made early.  It also helps to separate out genuine religious and/or mystic experiences from sock puppets by doing the internal work early in the journey by developing methods of discernment early.  The early research may be a source of deep exploration, or a reference point.  It will depend on one’s personal journey with the Holy Powers, but at the least it gives everyone, especially if you’re doing this with a group, some mutual starting points to look at and refer back to.

    This is the step in the formation of the group where I provided a list of books for folks to look at, with explanations for why.  It is also the step where I recommend people talk to others in the community, even those who religious exploration will be solitary, because if you get a question you do not have the answer to you will be able to talk with others on it.  This may also be a good time to figure out some good diviners in your communities to talk with when the need arises.

  3. Determine your initial focus.

    I put it this way because for some people the ‘in’ to polytheism is through the Gods, others the Ancestors, and others the vaettir.  Determining Who you will be focusing on and developing your initial relationships with will help determine how your religious focus fleshes out in the following sections, what resources you will find of use, and in what ways you can best develop your religious work.  Things may not stay this way, but it will help provide some of that foundation I mentioned in part 1 above.

  4. Do regular religious work and ritual.

    When we started I recommended folks take 5-10 minutes a day of dedicated time and go from there.  Some folks’ lives are incredibly busy and setting aside even this amount of time can be hard, whereas for others setting aside this regular time is a source of orientation in their lives.  This is the heart and soul of any religious tradition.  Regular devotional work, even if it is a few moments of prayers with an offering of water, is powerful work, and builds on itself over time.

    I personally recommend anyone interested in polytheism and/or animism develop a spiritual practice with their Ancestors.  If the last generation or two has problems for you, I would recommend connecting with Ancestors further back, and talking to an Ancestor worker and/or diviner as you need guidance.

  5. Refine your resources, practices, focus, and so on as needed.

    I am not the same person I was when I became a Pagan in 2004.  In that time my religious focus has changed quite heavily, as has my roles in my communities.  Each person’s refinement might be different.  When I first began researching the Egyptian Gods I started out researching the culture and the Gods in general.  As my relationship with Anpu grew, I did a lot more research specifically into cities, festivals, and cultus around Him.  While I was doing this, I was developing my relationship with Anpu, doing regular offerings and rituals on a regular basis.  As things went on, I would do divination, or in some ways get direct messages such as through direct contact, omens, and other forms of communication between us.  I would then update my religious practices and views as these came up and were accepted.  This helped sustain me in the religion for the three years I was strictly a Kemetic polytheist.  I went through a similar process with Odin when I became a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, and it has sustained me, and those I have taught, ever since.

Relationship and Reciprocity

At the end of the day polytheism and animism are both based in relationships, and these relationships are based in reciprocity.  What we do in reciprocity changes on our circumstances and the needs and desires of those we share in our relationships with.  These relationships do come with baseline right belief, or orthodoxy. As far as polytheism itself goes that means you believe in or worship the Gods, whereas individual ptolytheist religions have their own orthodoxies that develop off from this understanding.  The understanding of right action of polytheism itself, the orthopraxy, requires baseline respect for Them and the reciprocity that sustains that relationship.  As with orthodoxy, polytheist religions will have their orthopraxy, and these will be dependent on so many contexts I could easily make hosts of posts about them.

The way in which a single person’s life could change for these relationships and be changed by them are incredibly diverse.  It is my hope that as more people become or are raised polytheist that the need for these sorts of general polytheist guideline posts becomes less relevant.  I hope to see all the polytheist religions respond to the needs of their individual communities and develop well.  It is my prayer that, so long as these posts are needed, that this one and others like it help those who find it.  May the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir bless the work before us.

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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.

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.

Cleansing and Changing the Altars and Shrines for Yule

December 20, 2013 3 comments

Continuing the series of posts on altars and shrines, we come to how our shrines look like now, just before Yule.  The altars and shrines are more than just a place to leave offerings; these are places where we can devote ourselves wholly and fully to worship, to good relationships.  In my own case I am doing my best to make sure I spend at least 10 minutes a day with my Ancestors.  Much of the family’s altar and shrine times are when we pray.  Our lives are hectic, and our schedules are up and down.  In my own case I work midnight shifts and Sylverleaf morning and evening shifts, and our son goes to school.  These altars and shrines give us places, even for a few moments, to slow down, remember our blessings, pray, and give offerings for all we have.

These altars and shrines, as I have mentioned, change throughout the year.  Much of the decorations, and the altars and shrines themselves were gifts or bought from thrift stores and garage sales.  The cloths come from our local JoAnn Fabrics when we cannot find the right colors/patterns in thrift stores.  There’s nothing saying you cannot buy good/expensive things for your altars or shrines any more than cheap.  We take care in selecting what goes on our altars and shrines, regardless of where it comes from.  We listen to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits for what They want on our altars and shrines, what offerings They want, and so on.  What matters, in the end, is the care you put into crafting your altars and shrines.

Cleaning and Preparing Altars and Shrines

What also matters is the prep work done before making an altar or shrine, and/or when transitioning between set up and take down.  When we make a new shrine we first clean the area, vacuuming, dusting, the works.  We then will clean the shrine inside (if there is an inside) and out physically with water and soap, if needed.  We will then cleanse the altar or shrine with blessed water and/or Florida Water, and may use this water in lieu of soap and water, using fresh towels when needed.  Whenever we transition the altars and shrines, we clean all their cloths.  We also clean any new cloths prior to their use.  While those are in the washer and then dryer, we will clean every piece of the altars and shrines that we can, bathing the statues, if we can, and scrubbing everything that can be scrubbed clean with fresh towels.  We then dry with fresh towels, and they usually wait on my bed until the cloths are ready.

When the cloths are ready and we have all the items we need for the shrine, we will take some time and ask the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits for whom the altar/shrine will be made, what color altar cloth They would like.  We usually do this well ahead of time for new shrines, but with transitions between seasons and/or cleanings, we will not know until we the cloths are clean.  When we have an answer, or if we are left by Them to suss that out, we will lay the selected cloth on the surface and adjust until it looks/feels right.  Then we decorate the altar, first with the direct representations of the altar or shrine itself, such as the Gods for the Gods’ altar, the Ancestor for Their shrine, and so on.  We generally start in the middle and work our way out, so the main Gods with whom we work are in the center of the altar and those who we give honor to are on the outside.  This does not always follow, though, as sometimes Gods we have had long relationships with, such as Sunna and Mani below, end up outside of the granite tile and on one of the sides of the Gods’ altar.

The Gods’ Altar

At this time of year since our families are coming together we put our Gods together on the Gods’ altar by families wherever we could.  So Odin and Frigga are together, Brigid and Bres, Mani and Sunna, Freyr, and Freya, and so on.  The green altar cloth was laid down in reflection of the evergreens.  The Gods our family actively worships are in the center, with many Gods whom we have connections to have prayer cards, such as Sekhmet and Hermes below the two paintings of the Valkyries.  On the opposite side is a sword I received at this last year’s Renfaire from a Michigan-based blacksmith.  The glass crystal chalice was a gift from a dear friend, someone I count as a Sister. In the corner are my journey staff, a sword I’ve had for about 7 years I used in evocation work, and a spear I received as a gift from a dear, old friend for work I did with him.

The Gods' Altar Yule 2013 Pre-decoratiion

The Gods’ Altar Yule 2013 Pre-decoratiion

The Prayer Pillow for the Gods' Altar Yule 2013.

The Prayer Pillow for the Gods’ Altar Yule 2013.

The Gods' Altar for Yule 2013.

The Gods’ Altar for Yule 2013.

The left side of the Gods' Altar Yule 2013.  On top are the two Valkyries.  To Their left are Odin with His offering bowl.  To His Right are Frigga's Keys.  Below the Keys are two Brigid's Crosses representing Brigid and Bres.  To Their right is Mjolnir, Thor's Hammer.  Two of the four prayer cards are Sekhmet's,  Mani and Hermes prayer cards are to the right beside Them.  Sunna's symbols, a golden coin surrounded by four metal suns, are placed next to Her Brother Mani.

The left side of the Gods’ Altar Yule 2013. On top are the two Valkyries. To Their left are Odin with His offering bowl. To His Right are Frigga’s Keys. Below the Keys are two Brigid’s Crosses representing Brigid and Bres. To Their right is Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer. Two of the four prayer cards are Sekhmet’s, Mani and Hermes prayer cards are to the right beside Them. Sunna’s symbols, a golden coin surrounded by four metal suns, are placed next to Her Brother Mani.

Right side of the Gods' Altar Yule 2013.  A sword, whose study I dedicate to Odin, is waiting for its scabbard.  To its left is the drinking horn.  Behind the offering chalice is the Negative Confession.  To the left is Freya.  Left of Her is Bast and Anubis.  Before Them is Freyr as the Green Man.  The Earth Goddess represent Nerthus and Jord on this altar.

Right side of the Gods’ Altar Yule 2013. A sword, whose use and study I dedicate to Odin, is waiting for its scabbard. To its left is the drinking horn. Behind the offering chalice is the Negative Confession. To the left is Freya. Left of Her is Bast and Anubis. Before Them is Freyr as the Green Man. The Earth Goddess represent Nerthus and Jord on this altar.

The Disir’s and Väter’s Shrine

This shrine is relatively new.  This was made in the Fall after we picked up the table at a garage sale, and the batik patterned cloths at JoAnn Fabrics.  The batik patterns struck us as being perfect for each set of powerful Ancestors.  The two ceramic pieces we picked up at our local thrift store.  The left part of the shrine is for the Disir, and the right, for the Väter.   The plastic container has my necklace for the Disir, bought from an excellent craftsperson at ConVocation, which broken recently.  The necklace on the left was made by a good friend of mine, made while she meditated on all the men who had an impact on her spirituality.

Disir's and Väter's Yule 2013 shrine pre-decoration.

Disir’s and Väter’s Yule 2013 shrine pre-decoration.

Disir's and Väter's Yule 2013 shrine.

Disir’s and Väter’s Yule 2013 shrine.

The Ancestors’ Shrine

The Elemental Ancestors have spaced out a bit since the last time I took photos.  They now are part of the four pillars of the shrine.  Sometimes the Elements switch places entirely.  At one point Earth and Air were in the front of the altar, and now They are in the back.  This is reflective of the relationships we have with the Elements as with the seasons we are in.  Earth and Air were in the front through the Summer, if memory serves, and come Fall we transitioned to the layout we have now.  This new layout brought with it important additions to the shrine.  The first that was placed on the shrine is the glass insulator my Brother gave to me.  It belonged to his grandmother, and now sits prominently on the shrine.  As with adoption, when I call someone Brother or Sister, and am called a Brother in return, our Ancestors mingle and become part of one another’s lives, part of our family as surely as we are.  With my adoption into the Thunderbird People I placed the Native American bust in the back, given to me a long while ago by my Mom, on the shrine.  Given my own tribemates have similar statuary, one on their own Ancestor shrine, I felt it was about time I did so too.

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013 Top-down view.

Ancestor Shrine Yule 2013 Top-down view.

The Earthvaettir Shrine

The Earthvaettir Shrine has changed quite a bit.  Ramses II is now on the Warrior Dead shrine, per His request.  The shrine has new offering bowls, part of a set we bought from the local thrift store to replace the bronze ones.  While the bronze bowls would work for dry offerings, they got weird and green with liquid offerings, so we have switched them out for the time being.  The shrine to the Roadside Dead, which has been part of the Earthvaettir shrine for a while now, has a more prominent place.  A moonstone sits at the feet of its incense holder, which our son made.  At its top sits the offering bowl.  Behind it is the cairn, which, as mentioned in the last post, changes position and structure each time the Earthvaettir shrine is cleaned and remade.  In the center of the shrine behind the ceramic offering bowl is the Gebo stone on the left, the Earthvaettir stone on the right, and the large stone in the back is the Landvaettir’s stone.  On the right the Gnome and Dragon of Earth have more prominence, and before Them are the stone we have used in magical work and healing over the years.  At each of the four corners are stones, which change between them and other stones when the shrine is remade, symbolizing the four directions and the Four Dwarves who hold up the sky.

The Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013 Pre-decoration.

The Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013 Pre-decoration.

Long shot of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

Long shot of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

Left side of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

Left side of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

Right side of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

Right side of the Earthvaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

The Watervaettir Shrine

This is the newest shrine.  The table is a temporary one, given it is a wooden TV table and likes to wobble.  It sits between the two bookshelves on which the Earthvaettir, Housevaettir, and Moneyvaettir shrines sit.  This was almost exclusively made by our son; he insisted we make it one day, and all we did was buy the cloth and gave him a choice of containers for offerings.  The paper image he made at school, and while he has not explained to us what it is, he made it with a friend and told us “It is for the water spirits.”  While he is involved almost every time we clean and set up altars and shrines, this is the first he has made by himself.  We are very proud of him.

The Watervaettir Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

The Watervaettir Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

The Watervaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

The Watervaettir Shrine Yule 2013.

The Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Shrines

These two shrines have not changed much at all.  The Housevaettir now rests atop a woodburnt Ægishjálmur that I made here at home.  The Moneyvaettir Shrine has more shell and coins added to it, and some taken from it.  The coin jar has sheaves of coin holders in it, with the idea of ‘we hope to fill these’ and ‘we have a place for you’ in mind.  There was a point in the Fall where we emptied the coin jar of a good deal of coins to help pay for things.  That adding and taking from the coins is part of a good relationship with Moneyvaettir; sometimes you have a lot and sometimes you do not.  Every time we’ve needed coins on hand They have been there for us.

Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

Long view of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

Long view of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

Left side of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

Left side of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

Right side of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

Right side of the Housevaettir and Moneyvaettir Yule 2013.

The Dead Shrine

This is a shrine that I set up this year as a priest of Anpu.  My work with the Dead as His priest had a long break, about 4 years.  When I started to do prayers for the Ancestors of my House, House Sankofa, I also felt called back to offerings prayers for the Dead, especially the lost Dead.  I was pushed by Anpu to go back to the work of helping lost Dead and whoever comes to the shrine cross to where They need to go, with His help.  The shrine has four candle holders around a censer in the middle.  The four fires are there to cast light and warmth to the four directions, inviting the Dead, and the censer as a gathering place where They can smell the sweet fragrances and be comforted by the frankincense, myrrh, and other offerings left there.  Anpu’s image is above His wand, which I use for Opening and Closing the Door every Sunday in the work.  There is a bowl of water below the censer to quench the Dead’s thirst, and a place for more incense and other offerings to the left.  On the right is a bell that I use in the weekly work to soothe the Dead, and call to those who wander.

The Dead Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

The Dead Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

Long view of The Dead Altar Yule 2013.

Long view of The Dead Altar Yule 2013.

Top-down view of The Dead Altar Yule 2013.

Top-down view of The Dead Altar Yule 2013.

The Warrior Dead Shrine

The Warrior Dead Shrine now has Ramses II on it in the back of the shrine with a stone star above His head.  The altar cloth is now white, and the placement of its items have been switched around a bit.  The last of the Ezra Brook is now in the flask, and the offering liquor is now Lauder’s Blended Scotch Whiskey.  The formerly white ceramic offering bowl now is stained with the offerings I have given despite my best attempts to get it back to white.  Given the candle-pot was both unwieldy and I could not light a candle in it, it was moved off of the altar.  The Warrior Dead did not seem all that attached to it, as it was.  The shrine is closer together and simpler, but feels better overall, and Ramses II has settled in well here.

The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013 pre-decoration.

The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013.

The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013.

Side view of The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013.

Side view of The Warrior Shrine Yule 2013.

Animal Spirits Shrine

Only the placement of things has changed on this shrine, but I thought it would be good for people to see how things can change even on altars that don’t change all that much throughout the year.  Aside from dusting on occasion, and cleaning Them as needed, the animal spirits prefer I not change out the altar cloth.

Long view of the Animal Spirits' Altar Yule 2013.

Long view of the Animal Spirits’ Altar Yule 2013.

Left view of Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013.  The left bone on the far right and the horns are a male buffalo nose bone.  To the right of the nose bone is a deer leg bone.  The black stone has a seal in it.  To its left is Turtle, Dragon, and Snake stone sculptures.  The snake skin in the jar is a gift from good friends.  The eagle bone ring and feathers both were gifts from good friends.

Left view of Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013. The left bone on the far right and the horns are a male buffalo nose bone. To the right of the nose bone is a deer leg bone. The black stone has a seal in it. To its left is Turtle, Dragon, and Snake stone sculptures. The snake skin in the jar is a gift from good friends. The eagle bone ring and feathers both were gifts from good friends.

Center of the Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013.  All of the statuary were gifts from my Mom, the wolf fur and bones from Shin Cynikos, and the mushroom from a former girlfriend.  The Raven stone I bought from Earthlore in Plymouth, MI.
Center of the Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013. All of the statuary were gifts from my Mom, the wolf fur and bones from Shin Cynikos, and the mushroom from a former girlfriend. The Raven stone I bought from Earthlore in Plymouth, MI.

Right side of the Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013.  The rightmost bones are male buffalo bones from the Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve.  The two stone animals are a cat and pig, sacred animals to our Gods, and as spirits Themselves.

Right side of the Animal Spirits Shrine Yule 2013. The rightmost bones and fur are from male buffalo from the Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve. The two stone animals are a cat and pig, sacred animals to our Gods, and as spirits Themselves.

Runevaettir Altar

The Runevaettir altar has not changed all that much.  It now has many Rune mandalas made with ink on paper, and holds the communion talisman, one of two I made for the 30 Days of Magic Talisman Challenge put on by Andrieh Vitimus.  The offering bowl now is in the back left corner where it can sit without blocking the mandalas when I use them or make another.

Runevaettir Altar Yule 2013.

Runevaettir Altar Yule 2013.

Come the Spring I will need to take photos and write about shrines we keep outside, since at least one of them cannot be seen well right now.  These shrines include the shrine to Hela and Niðhogg, the Landvaettir’s outdoor shrine, and the Air spirits.

Expanding Altars and Changing Shrines

November 21, 2013 4 comments

These pictures were taken back in 2012 when I moved back home.  This was prior to my son and Sylverleaf coming to stay with us.  At the time I lived in the basement, as the entire living arrangement had been changed since I moved out.  I finally had a bit more room to make altars and shrines, and much of my parents’ resistance to such things in their home was gone.  They recognized my need for space to set out devotional space for worship, and I will always be grateful to them for this.

I made an altar to the Gods, a shrine to the Ancestors, a shrine to the Earthvaettir combined with the Moneyvaettir and Warrior Dead, and a shrine to the Animal Spirits.

The Gods’ Altar

At this point in time my Gods’ Altar was still fairly squished, at least compared to how it is now.  It is also a lot more simple; the Gods’ Altar as it is now has a lot more statuary and representations on it, whereas this was me trying to get back to some simplicity.  For example, the Chaos Star got packed away, as at the time I felt I’d had more than what I had needed of that.  The drum I made my journeys with was placed on the Gods’ Altar as I did a lot of journeywork to Their Realms at this point in time with Its help.  There are two chalices on the altar here: the pewter one I dedicated to Freya as our relationship was going very well, and She was teaching me a lot at this time.  That, and the chalice, which, if memory serves I had picked up at a thrift store, had at one point been given to someone as a Valentine’s gift back in 1985.  I found not long after I started using this that anything placed in the chalice would degrade and mold quick, despite repeated cleanings.  It has since been retired from service to any Gods since I can’t get it stop doing weird stuff to the contents within a few hours of being in the thing.

There’s also more prominence to the Valkyries’ representations here, with Brynhilde being directly behind Odin, and another to Her right.  The blue vial to the left of the pewter chalice long contained the last of a Dansk Mjød Viking Blod that I eventually ended up offering that year.  The crystal in front of the altar is selenite, a crystal I and my family still use to cleanse ourselves before some evening prayers.  The Negative Confession is on this altar in front of the vial and pewter mug.

The Gods' Altar 2012.

The Gods’ Altar 2012.

The left side of the Gods' Altar.

The left side of the Gods’ Altar.

The right side of the Gods' Altar.

The right side of the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Anpu, Mani, and Sunna on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Anpu (center), Mani, and Sunna (left) on the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Odin with Sigurd and Brynhilde behind Him on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Odin with Sigurd and Brynhilde behind Him on the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Freya, Brighid and Bres, Freyr, and Jord/Nerthus' representation on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Freya (center), Brighid and Bres (left), Freyr (front center), and Jord/Nerthus’ representation (right) on the Gods’ Altar.

Left to right: Brighid and Bres, Freyr, Jord/Nerthus, Sunna, and Mani, closeup up before the statues of Odin and Freya.

Left to right: Brighid and Bres, Freyr, Jord/Nerthus’s representation, Sunna, and Mani, closeup up before the statues of Odin and Freya.

The Ancestor Altar/Shrine

The Ancestor Altar/Shrine had finally come into being.  I had not been able to have a separate shrine for Them due to space issues, so being able to give space to the Elements as part of the Ancestors was wonderful as well as connective for me.  With this came a sense of connecting not only with Them individually as Elements and Ancestors, but in the space of the altar/shrine itself, each Element having Their own space in the way it is laid out.  This time also marked, roughly, when my Ancestors started asking for semi-regular tobacco offerings.  I started doing smoking offerings in 2009, 2010.  I had long held a taboo in my mind because of my parents’ smoking habits.  The deal I made with Them was that, so long as I was not going to become addicted I would smoke for Them.  So, cigars and cigarettes became part of the Fire area of the Ancestor shrine at this point, but that ended when Sylverleaf, our son, and I, transitioned as a family into the whole of the top floor of the house.

A long shot of the center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

A long shot of the center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

The center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

The center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Left side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Left side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.  Leftmost is the Fire area, and next to it, the Water area.

Right side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Right side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.  The Earth, represented by the bowl of stones, and Air, with the incense holder, are here.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead Shrines

This was the second shrine I had set up for the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir; Their previous places had been set into a bookcase on a whole shelf.  I do not believe the Warrior Dead had a shrine before this, and if it had, it had been rather squished in between everything with the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir.  Here, again, I felt a sense of being able to breathe, of expanding not only my physical limits, but practice.  Of having space to actually physically acknowledge Their place in my life, Their Presences, and to honor that not only with space, but with prayer in that space.  Of giving offerings to those beings, whereas once They may have been lumped all in together with a single offering chalice between all of these great, diverse Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir otherwise, now I had space and ability to honor each closer to Their own ways and desires.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead shrines all on one surface.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead shrines all on one surface.

The Animal Spirits’ Shrine

It was relieving to finally have space to do this.  I honor a great deal of animalvaettir not only as representations of the Gods (i.e. the snake as Bolverk), but as the animals Themselves who have come and shared wisdom and training.  Some of these representations pull double-duty; for instance, the wolf in the top above the center of the shrine is representative of both wolves, and Lupa, the Wolf Goddess who came to me early in my journey as a Pagan and in my self-discovery, helped me to realize a lot about myself.  More, She helped teach me how to not only explore it, but integrate it into my life as best as I could.  As the Wolf has been a central figure in my life as a whole, and as I mark It as kin, it forms the center of this shrine.  The patch of fur and wolf bones were gifts by the wonderful Shin Cynikos.  I keep these as sacred items to this day.  They still lay upon the animal spirits’ shrine.

The Animal Spirits Altar in 2012.  It sat on an old steamer trunk a friend gave me.

The Animal Spirits Altar in 2012. It lay on an old steamer trunk a friend gave to me.

It wasn’t long before I transitioned out of this kind of layout.  When I moved back into my old room upstairs to live with my family, there was a lot more room to expand, and express the changing relationships and growth in our lives together.  The next post will go into the expansion that occurred at that time, and what the altars and shrines tend to look like nowadays.

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