A Heathen Prepping -Prepping for Convergent Crises

We are at a crossroads of convergent crises. At time time of this writing the United States is facing the following: supply chain disruption resulting in delays of goods and then services, health care staffing shortages, shortages in necessary medical goods supplies, ongoing massive infections of COVID-19, and rising inflation. Then there is the civil unrest we have still largely not dealt with since January 6th of 2021. Alone, with the effects of climate change already being felt throughout the food industry, this would be disruptive. With these hitting all at once it is high time anyone holding out on prepping began to take the situation as it stands and make plans to take care of themselves and their loved ones.

This does not mean panic buy. It does not mean pick up as much toilet paper, rice, beans, or the like as you can. What it does mean, is, that if you have delayed until now to do necessary prep for two weeks in a SHTF scenario, then start there. Besides, long-term you cannot survive on just rice and beans though, if you try that, you’ll be happy you bought all that toilet paper.

We have seen gas prices rise on average about $1.14 in the last year, per the EIA. Check the year on year price comparison by the BLS of average goods. The price on average has increased in a steady upward climb the last twenty years. A loaf of bread went from $1.50 to $1.52 October 2020 to October 2021. This means that gas went up about 52% and bread 2% in the last year. Between October 2001 and October 2021 prices on these two goods have gone up, from $1.36 to $3.39 or a 149.26% rise for gas and from $1.01 to $1.53 or a 51.49% rise for bread. All this is to say these are long-term trends, not just pandemic-time increases.

With the crunch of supply disruptions bringing together the basics of your home’s prep into a 2 week, then 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and a year as you can should be a top priority. At the least, getting this prep together gives you the means to take care of yourself and your loved ones for a SHTF scenario. If one does not hit for awhile, it means that you can stave off inflation. If supply chains fail or things fall apart worse than what they are, you won’t be caught off guard.

Our current round of convergent crises are predicaments that have been ignored until the weight of them cannot be borne by the system in place. All of these issues were ignored or underfunded through several presidential terms. Since 2001 we have spent literally trillions of dollar on war. Resources were simply not allocated to address them. Assigning fault may be useful to some, but not in deciding what to do now that these threats are here in action.

As a Heathen I understand my life woven with that of others through Urðr, whose Anglo-Saxon cognate is Wyrd. I prioritize those webs of Urðr, first with the Ginnreginn (Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir), then my immediate family, then Kindred, then tribe, and then my wider communities. These priorities matter in predicaments like these, as they dictate who my first concerns and obligations belong to. Those closest to me in obligations and concerns are those who I help first in a SHTF scenario.

So for whom am I prepping? For everyone in my circles of concern. It is my responsibility in every relationship I hold, from the Ginnreginn to the wider community, to do all I can to take care of as many people as I can within my capacity to do so. By do so I am freeing resources for others in my Kindred, tribe, or wider community who need to use their resources in support of their own. If all I can take care of is my family and I, then that is who I take care of so resources are available for the Kindred, tribe, or wider communities.

The beautiful thing about prepping, especially starting out and getting a 2 week then 3 month prep as you can, is that prepping is cumulative. The more you do it the better you can weather SHTF scenarios. If you have a 20 lb bag of rice for your two week prep that same bag counts for the 3 month prep, too. So, even if you’re eating your prep as you go, which ideally you should at least in some degree so you’re not suddenly switching diets when SHTF, you are still stocking up in the long term.

Bought a bag of apples and are unsure if you are going to eat them all in time before they rot? No problem. If you have an oven or dehydrator, you can make apple crisps. Put those bad boys in the fridge, mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, or a jar. Congratulations, you have made another stride in prep! Have veggie scraps like carrot tops and peels? These make good compost. That compost can then be used as soil or fertilizer if you let it break down. Old medicine bottles are excellent for holding emergency supplies you can stash in a BOB, the car, or as part of an EDC. Thinking on and working with what you have, where and when you are as part of prep can help stretch or add to what you have for resources.

A lot of convergent crises where I am are going to look like multiple SHTF scenarios that I talked about here coming together at once. In Winter of 2022 I am most concerned about the weather, then supply chain issues, then COVID-19 and the knock-on effects at hospitals, and then the ongoing infrastructure issues. Once we get through Winter and that ceases to be as big an issue, most of my immediate SHTF scenarios stay the same, with the exception of civil unrest being a bigger factor as temperatures climb. On their own each of these could merit my full attention. Together, even doing as much prep as I can, it can be overwhelming, especially at first.

The thing about SHTF scenarios, particularly convergent crises, is the preps are not meant to fix them. Generally, SHTF scenarios are predicaments that you navigate. My power going out cannot be fixed even by getting a Generac generator for the house -it mitigates the loss of electricity. Stocking up on food will not fix the supply chain issues or rising costs. Food prep will help my family and loved ones get through until the supply chain is restored and/or we can bring our own supplies to bear. These ongoing issues need to be fixed systemically since they are systemic issues.

So, what kinds of prep can you do with regard to multiple SHTF scenarios? Beyond continuing with the preps you are on, be sure to build redundancy as you can. Something City Prepping says a lot is “2 is 1, and 1 is none.” Having backups sure does not hurt. If you grab one of something while you’re out on a shopping trip grab a second one. I recently went to the store and picked up some dry milk. At first I was just going to grab one pack, and, remembering the rule, grabbed another. In a long-term SHTF and/or grid-down situation having extras is a great thing. If you find you do not need the extras, having them means you can offer it to others to help, and you have items to trade with.

By and large the basics of prepping for the most likely convergent crises will overlap one another. The big one for our area is power loss. It threatens both our refrigerated and frozen supplies, and makes it harder for us to get through everyday weather. Most modern American homes are fairly poorly constructed and insulated. These glorified boxes require working HVAC units to chug through all kinds of weather. I find it far easier to get through the cold in Michigan than I do the heat, but not everyone will, so even in prepping members of your home you may need different strategies to keep everyone safe.

Convergent crises can challenge our preps. Right now our corner of Michigan’s most likely long-term convergent crises are a long-term power or grid-down situation coupled with our ongoing supply chain issues. In such a case, relying on a refrigerator, freezer, and the electric stove we have will be pretty useless. While we could do our best to convert the refrigerator and freezer into primitive ice boxes, it would be a far better use of time and resources to orient our preps for these crises to food able to be stored long-term without the need for cooling. Canning while we have electricity and a steady supply of jars and lids is one approach which can provide immense amounts of food which will keep for years. Smoking, curing, dehydrating, and fermenting can be done throughout the year without electricity. Thinking creatively about how we face our convergent crises now can save us pain, time, effort, and resources in the long run.

Convergent crises will be a time that test folks. Crises usually do. Part of the power in doing these preps as a Heathen is that each act of prep is an opportunity for building up good relationships with our Ginnreginn and each other. Engaging in prep provides opportunities for devotional work, magic, and co-creating Urðr with the Ginnreginn and the folks in our communities. A lot of us go about creating some kind of stalli (altar in the house), and vé (sacred outdoor space) where we live. The spiritual work does not, and, especially since we are talking about preps, should not stay there alone. Looking at the written and archaeological sources of our Heathen religions it is clear to me that the spiritual perspective of ancient Heathens was part of everyday lived reality, not hived off from the rest of life as it so often is in our overculture. Much of the spells and spiritual practices that have passed down to us now were concerned with survival, the good of the community, and preserving, protecting, or empowering the community and the folks within them in some way.

A lot of ways to bring spiritual work into prep are simple and often overlooked. An example: when you are canning thank the vaettir of the plants and animals, the jörðvaettir that forms the jar, lid, and bands, the vatnvaettir of the water, and the eldrvaettir that boils the water. You can mark the bottoms or put post-it notes on jars or other items you intend to trade with the Fehu and Gebo Runes. You can put healing bindrunes on the inside of your First Aid kit, and ask for Eir and Menglóð’s blessing on it, giving Them good offerings afterwards.

Learn about the various forms of magic and spiritual practices that ancient Heathens would have used and think about why they used it, and how these things apply to us today. An awful lot of thought, time, energy, and power went into protection, not just personal protection but that of the homestead and animals. Why? Survival was dependent on the stores of food and animals making it through Sumar (Summer). For those animals not destined for slaughter, they were often instrumental in making it through Vetr (Winter). A good chunk of surviving medieval manuscripts combine what the overculture today think of as separate disciplines: medicine and magic. Even into the modern age these things were not separate disciplines.

Enchanting our medicines to be more effective, warding our gardens against encroachment as we put up fencing, and laying down protections on our homes is the ancient ways working in a new time. Parterning with the landvaettiir so the plants grow well, asking Þórr to bless the garden with rain, and asking Freyr and Gerðr to bring fertility to the plants and animals is our Heathen worldview alive. Doing these things intertwines our religion and our lives in visceral ways. It is powerful.

Even if we do not face a particular set of convergent crises there is no wasted time or energy with these preps we bring to bear. Remember, preps are cumulative. They can be equally as useful for ourselves as others, especially those who may not have prepared or prepared as well as we have. We build up our megin (might/power) and hamingja (luck/power/group luck) in doing this work. Partnering with our Ginnreginn to face these crises, to prep and do what is in our power to do, we grow stronger. By encouraging our mutual aid networks and caring for those in our Kindreds, tribes, and communities now, we face the future stronger together.

A Plea in Time of COVID-19

Hail Eir and Menglöð!

Lady of Ásgarðr

Lady of Lyfjaberg

Whose hands heal, whose wisdom remedies, whose medicines recover

Whose knowledge is peerless, whose expertise is matchless, whose experience is endless

Hail to You, O Holy Ones!

Healing Goddesses!

Help us to heal! Help us find remedy! Help us recover!

Bless us and those who care for us with care, compassion, and skill!

Bless us and those who care for us with worth, intelligence, and ability!

Bless us and those who care for us with grace, expertise, and victory!

As we shelter and save others, shelter and save us!

Ves vér heil!

Ves Þu heil!

Hail Eir and Menglöð!

The Hunt is On

I hear the hoofbeats hammer

I hear the howling on the wind

I hear the gait of sword, spear, and gun

The Hunt is on

I smell the slathering sweat

I smell the steel in the wound

I smell the breath of God, grave, and snow

The Hunt is on

I see the sky split

I see the spray of blood

I see the wend of Host, heroes, and Sleipnir

The Hunt is on

I taste the tears’ trail

I taste the take of the kill

I taste the marrow of the wicked, warlocks, and traitors

The Hunt is on

I feel the fury flow

I feel the frenzy of the Ride

I feel the call of the vaettir, Valkyries, and Fráriðr

The Hunt is on

The Hunt is on

The Hunt is on

A Heathen Prepping -Every Day Carry

The Basics of EDC

EDC is a term meaning Every Day Carry. It is what it says on the tin. This is what you carry on your person every day. Some folks read this and think we are only talking firearms. While personal protection equipment may be part of a given person’s EDC, there are a lot of preppers who do not include a firearm as part of theirs.

I am one of those people. The reason is terribly practical: my job does not allow weapons on our person. Since an EDC is meant to go everywhere we do, and I can spend up to 16 hours at my job, my personal EDC is going to be incredibly limited compared to most folks in the prepper communities. Were I able to, I would likely have at least one weapon among my EDC.

The way that I differentiate EDC from a Bug Out Bag, or BOB, is that a BOB is prepped and ready to go for emergencies. Bugging out is an extreme emergency that requires you to vacate immediately from wherever you are. An EDC is what we carry so we face each day prepared. There is no single one-size-fits-all EDC, and opinions on what should be in it vary. Luckily, City Prepping has a video for this where he goes into his, and I recommend folks watch it. Happy Preppers has their own here.

Everyone’s EDC is different. My ideal EDC is certainly different from what I have to carry to be work-compliant. This should be reassuring, though, because each piece of prep we can do is a work in progress. There is always somewhere we could improve, to tweak to make things function or flow better.

My main perspective on prep comes from hospitality and care for those in your family, Kindred, tribe, and communities. By prepping now, you take pressure off of all those you hold ties with and free up resources for them in the future. One more person with the training and experience to use those resources effectively is one less person who needs emergency intervention and can help others prepare effectively for a SHTF scenario. By honoring the various Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of the resources and work with them, you build up good relationships with Them. By building up good relationships now you approach Them in respect, and They, in turn, can help you develop your skills, experiences, and wisdom in the use of resources now, rather than in a crisis.

When it comes to EDC many of these ideas are taken into the everyday. My spiritual EDC are what I carry with me as taufr, charms, as well as the spiritual prep that I do before I leave the house. The spiritual EDC are the necklaces I wear and the tattoos on my skin. The clothes I wear, prayer cards I carry, anything that I dedicate to carrying on my person becomes part of the EDC. Since I understand the lík or the body as sacred, physical prep is part of the spiritual prep, and the spiritual prep provide a strong core and focus to the physical prep. Likewise, the mental prep flows with the physical and spiritual prep. So too, the EDC prep and the home prep flow into and between each other. What I need for EDC will likely differ a lot given I will be away from home.

My Approach to EDC

So what is in my EDC? I will break this up into three main areas because of my job’s restrictions. The first will be what I carry on me most often, then what I carry in my bag, and finally, what I carry in my car.

My Personal EDC

My personal carry EDC are my clothes, my wallet which carries my IDs and prayer cards, my leather taufr bag, my phone, my Bluetooth earbuds and their charging case, and any keys I need for work. The charging case can double as a charger for my phone if needed. The earbuds hold a charge for about four hours of music each, and charge in about 30 minutes. My arms are each covered in the Elder Futhark, and I have a tattoo of a Valknut on my left breast and the Ægishjalmr on my right. Each tattoo carries meaning, a physical reflection and fulfillment of my relationships with each vaettr. Given my ongoing offerings to Rúnatýr and the Runevaettir, not to mention the offerings of pain and blood just to get these tattoos, these are spiritual EDC that are consistently cared for. Likewise, these are each spiritual EDC that are consistently involved in my care.

The approach I have with my tattoos is also true of the taufr I carry in my bag: every one was built with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir I carry active and ongoing relationships with, and none require special offerings on their own. So, if for some reason I lose or need to give away a taufr I do not lose something unique in the bag. That is, while I would lose that particular taufr’s carried power, I do not lose all the power of that relationship by losing or giving away the taufr. If I were to make a completely unique taufr with a vaettr I only every worked with in constructing that taufr then I could risk that relationship by losing or giving away the taufr. So, that is why I have the rule of thumb that I make taufr only with vaettir I hold active relationships with.

Clothes should be the first physical item you think about when you put yourself together in the day. I am the kind of guy who is pretty happy to wear shorts and a t-shirt most of the year. My choice of clothes are made with ease of movement and comfort in mind. However, those choices are couched in the comfort of having a comfortable, warm (or cool, as the seasons change) home to live in rather than being consistently exposed to the elements. If I know I will be out and about I will at least wear jeans and bring a coat. My physical items follow the form and function of my clothes: can I keep it comfortably on my person, and are the items easy to access? In a SHTF scenario if I am out and about in clothes ill-fitted to the situation, I am putting myself at risk. Since it is a good idea to have a backup set of clothes in the car and any BOBs, this is something I am working on putting together.

My Backpack and Lunchbag EDC

Since these bags have to go into work it cannot contain items restricted from the facility that I would like to include, so most of the essentials of EDCs you will find on the Internet, like firestarting kits and water purification systems, are out here too. My backpack is a laptop backpack, so the pouch that rests against my back has a bit of extra padding. This section holds my tablet, mobile keyboard, small mouse, book(s), and journal. The journal is a moddable Tūl notebook that my wife found for me in Office Max. You can swap pages in and out, and there are a variety of pages to choose from, including lined, blank, and graph. If I wanted to, say, design a sigil or bindrune and fire it off quick I can. I can also print materials off, use the special hole punch for it that I bought, and swap those materials in and out as I want. If nothing else, in a crisis where I need firemaking materials I will have plenty to hand.

The center section of the backpack has charging essentials for my devices, including lightning cables so I can pass off the cord to iPhone and Mac users. While I do not care for Mac products at all, it has come in handy for coworkers who forget their cables. In the middle of the center section is a nylon bag. It has three blocks for charging outlets and more cables than I have devices for so I, and others, can charge multiple devices at once. Finally, it has a charging brick in it with multiple cable access points. I carry OTC meds like acetomenaphine here, as well as a large bag of sugar free lozenges, hand salve, soap, and toiletries I may need if I get stuck at work or out on the road. This section is fairly big and deep, so the bottom holds a lot of PPE in plastic containers that I have accumulated since COVID-19 hit. I have at least two disposable hazard suits, nitrile disposable gloves, fitted masks, multiple disposable masks, and a mouth barrier for rescue breaths. It may seem like a lot of PPE, but it is all quite compact. My plan is to add a full medical kit in the bottom of this bag so I have it wherever the backpack goes.

The third section is a bit smaller than the first two, and contains a good deal of spiritual items. It has two decks of playing cards that can serve as divination decks or playing cards, a few prayer cards, and a leather bag with a leather casting surface and wooden Runes. Finally, this section holds four plastic bottles, two of which contain salts, one pure water, and the last holds mugwort tea for internal and external cleansing, blessing, etc. This last is replaced as needed.

The fourth section is the front of the backpack. It is the smallest and is just big enough to hold the pens and comb that are in it.  The side pouch holds a small Rite in the Rain field book and the other side has space for a coffee cup -which I usually am carrying there. Nothing like having refreshment and an offering at your hip!

The lunchbag I have is a hard plastic shell in a thermal case to keep things cold. It can hold a good amount of food, which is good since I frequently have to work doubles. It works well for its purpose, since it also keeps my insulin cold and my daily pill box clean and clear. These are in the front pouch along with hand sanitizer, some packs of instant coffee, and utensils. There are two outer areas where I carry coffee cups. I like to carry extra sanitizer, a few sweets to keep up my energy/blood sugar, extra instant coffee packs, lozenges, and other small helpful items in this bag’s front pouch. Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

My Car EDC

What I carry in my car on a regular basis differs from a BOB since my car is fitted for common road emergencies, including a small car battery starter, a small medkit, a small jack, and a spare tire. I am still working on putting together my BOBs. When finished it will be kitted out for an emergency where my family and I could survive for three days with what is in it whether we are in the car or on foot.

The middle of the car holds a small staff that works well as a walking stick and that I have worked with in various rituals. It also has a car plug-in here for charging USB-C devices, and there is one in the front as well. The front has two USB-C cords, and the middle of the car has one. This allows me to keep our devices, including the car starter, charged on long trips.

In addition to the car starter, car jack, and medkit, my car contains a Sacred Firemaking kit which lives in the trunk. This kit is contained in a leather bag that has belt loops and is lightweight. It comes complete with tinder, a flint and steel, ferro rod, lighter, and both conventional and waterproof matches. The car has a log or two in its trunk so if I need to make a decent fire quick I have the means to. A separate metal ammo crate holds extra firemaking and firekeeping supplies, including twine and wood shavings that could make good tinder, candles, various herb offerings, and a book or two of matches. With an axe in the trunk there would be no question that I could easily get a decent-sized fire going at a few moments’ notice.

The trunk holds a shoulder bag with a hardy survival guide, an orange bandana with various guides to using it in emergencies printed on it, a clip-on crank light and charger, its own separate small firekit, a change of socks, paracord, and a multitool. If, for some reason, I needed to get out of the car with one bag this would be like a mini-BOB for it. In such a case I might quickly toss my shoes off and put on the Muckboots I typically carry in the trunk for going to Crossing Hedgerows. They are quite warm, rated for about -40°F, and hardy. They are also quite waterproof, having waded through Crossing Hedgerow’s stream more than a few times in them without issue, and decent in a forest hike.

There are two water carriers in the trunk. One is a red and white insulated container which can hold at least two liters. The other is a Lifestraw water bottle. The Lifestraw water bottle can filter most contaminants and provide fresh water in most any source I could find. In a pinch I could transfer from one to the other without having to light a fire, and have good potable water in short order.

So far as food goes, I keep at least a pack of ramen in the car so if I or anyone else needs to grab a bite it is available. I will be restocking it with things like Clif bars, and other small items that store well and can be broken up into smaller packs or stuffed into pockets. It is a balance between what can fill us up in an emergency, what stores well, and what can easily be carried. Because of wild temperature fluctuations throughout the year packing canned foods is a bad idea. My objective with any food I store in the car is that it can survive in it long-term and I do not have to do much with it to prep it.

Spiritual EDC in the car includes at least one or two sacred pipes that I have used to smoke offerings and commune with vaettir. Tobacco, mugwort, and chamomile, among the sacred herbs I offer, are stored in a big leather bag in the trunk that holds my Wildwood Tarot, Soul Map, and a collection of taufr and other spiritual objects. This black leather bag holds offering mugs, sacred knives, and different stones I have worked with over the years. It also holds a variety of salts, dirts, and its own firemaking kit. Finally, it holds several representations of Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

Designing EDC in Community

Something not often remarked on is designing EDC in community with one another. If you are involved with community members who are interested in prep it can be well worth your while to talk on the subject. You may have a few fixed items, such as the clothes you wear and your wallet, and beyond that the beauty of approaching things with EDC in mind is how adaptable you can really be. Particularly if you are nesting partners or live in the same neighborhood, collaborating on EDC can help alleviate stress or provide new insights, especially since your fellow community members likely have different skillsets. While mindset behind designing an EDC is different from a BOB, both preps are still made with SHTF scenarios in mind. Designing an EDC with community members can help spread out the stress and make things easier if a SHTF scenario hits.

In my case, having another person able and willing to carry more can make SHTF scenarios easier to bear. Since I cannot carry firemaking or water purification supplies on my person or into work, if someone else can, that shores up the lack of supplies I have on me. I can give Gebo by carrying more long-term stable food and drink powders as part of my EDC so they do not have to carry as much of that. If they are skilled at sigils they could carry more paper/pens to make use of that, and I could carry more offerings. The work that can be done together is far more versatile and adaptable than going it alone and trying to plan for all scenarios. So, if you can, I highly recommend partering with community members no matter the prep at hand.

EDC Changes

Over the years, like a lot of folks who have different EDC for different reasons, my spiritual EDC has changed quite a bit. For one, things used to be a lot less organized. For another, I had only one firemaking kit and did not do much in the way of backups. It took me several years until I included a basic medkit and car starter in the car. My big black leather bag that lives in the trunk now used to be my primary spiritwork bag. Now, that bag is a smaller leather shoulder bag that contains the absolute essentials to my spiritwork. The big black leather bag is a kind of useful hold-all for anything I may need or want to have so all the spiritual EDC has a place to be that is safe, tough, and if needed, can be thrown over the shoulder and taken.

It may seem now that I have an overabundance of firemaking kits. I have owned a lot of lighters over the years, both disposable and refillable. I know how easy it is to forget that the lighter is out of fuel or the matchbook is empty. Far better to have a bunch of quick firemaking kits, whether it is flint and steel, ferro rods, or both, than to only rely on lighters or matches, and not be able to make a fire when needed. Given my years of Sacred Firetending and how quick the weather can turn, I appreciate having backups to tinder and logs. It is not fun getting wet materials to light.

That all said, an EDC is not meant to handle every scenario that comes at us, no more than a BOB or even a home is. Preps are meant to help us deal with situations that are most likely to happen. I am not actively prepping for an EMP strike because it is not likely to happen here. Tornadoes, winter storms, power outages, interruptions to supply chains, and civil unrest are far more likely where I live. So, my EDC reflects that.

The spiritual aspects of EDCs should be the same way: we may have fixed things that we need in our EDC to get us through the day, and beyond that having flexibility in what we carry with us allows us to better approach things. That flexibility leaves us in a better position to handle the challenges life throws at us. So, do not be afraid to change things up. Maybe today you need gentler energy, and carrying a small disk with Berkana woodburnt into it, and asking the Rune to help you, can help there. Maybe you need to connect less with certain Ancestors, so taking Their representations out of your pocket bag and placing it with the Ancestor stalli (indoor altar) is ideal. Something as simple as asking the local landvaettir to help you keep safe or ground and center, asking Them to help you find a stone to carry, and making an offering when you find it can be a great help.

It is a good thing to evaluate where we are now and again, and adjust things to our needs. It is a good thing to ask community members to look at our preps, and take their advice to heart. It is a good thing to ask the Ginnreginn for help and guidance, and adjusting ourselves and our EDC to match it. Being open to change, and willing to do it, is a powerful thing.

When we move into our new house we will be reevaluating all our various preps to align with our new living situation. I expect most of my EDCs will stay the same, but I have wanted to reorganize everything and put it together in a more coherent way where everything has a place. You might find over time you do this as well. It’s a kind of grounding and centering for your prep practice. After all, sometimes we forget we packed something away. Sometimes our needs for EDC change, or our mindset behind having a piece of gear is not relevant anymore. Sometimes we just get better gear or more efficient ways of stowing it. However we design them, EDCs should be adaptable, changing with us as we need them.

My mindset as a Heathen prepper is hospitality and service. Hospitality is practiced by both host and guest. So, prepping is not only to those who can find themselves at my door. By prepping, I am working as a guest to lift stress on a host in a SHTF scenario, just as I am working to help alleviate stress to those who find themselves as my guest. EDC, with the Ginnreginn and my Heathen values and spiritual work firmly in mind, allows me to face each day as prepared as I can be. By prepping in a wholistic way I serve the Ginnreginn, my family, my tribe, and my communities more efficiently, and in good Gebo.

Taking Time

I have spoken here, on my Patreon, on Around Grandfather Fire, and in a lot of other places how taking your time to rest, recover, and relax are important and can be as much a part of spiritwork as doing things like divining and spiritual consultation.

Between the American overculture’s inane drive that everything be ‘productive’, even hobbies and pleasures, and my upbringing, I have found that engaging in rest and relaxation, especially ‘non-productive’ things, to be quite hard. I do not lay this at my parents’ feet, either. The same system that insists I need to be ‘doing something’ is the same one that ground them down during the time they both worked. We live in a toxic culture, one that, given my neurodivergence, seems tailor-made to fuck with my anxiety and my ADHD.

Up until recently my bull-headed response to all this was to put my head down and keep on pushing through. This works for a while. Hell, for years. For years I have had loved ones, family, friends, and tribe alike, pushing me to put things down and actually take a break.

It is a common joke in my family that we go back to work to relax. The vacation I last took from work had me doing yard work prepping raised gardens and a tiered system for growing strawberries for most of it, working with my family from sunup to sundown. We are reaping the rewards of that now, with an amazing crop of tomatoes. Not all work is bad, draining, or harsh. Hell, not all rest or relaxation is necessarily stopping doing everything. I find it relaxing and refreshing to do work outside. A lot of folks do.

What is different here is that I have been doing spiritwork without a vacation or rest for years. My daily routine would start with a 10-20 minute preparation session of cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding, then prayers to start my day. If I had spiritwork to do I would repeat this routine with refreshes throughout the day. This in and of itself was not an issue. My routine has become a lot smaller and compact, and over time I expect it will expand again as changes are needed. What was at issue was the amount of spiritwork I was piling on top of it most every day.

I was doing what, in retrospect, is a good bit of spiritwork for other people. This includes writing on this blog and for my Patreon, answering questions as they came by email or Discord, making prayers not for my Patreon as they came through my email, scheduling then doing divination and consultatation sessions, and ongoing spiritual support work through various Discord servers. When I had time in between work and Work I was writing multiple books.

Consider all of this with being a father, huband, partner, and working anywhere from 40-80 hours a week for my job, depending on how bad mandatory overtime gets, and I was hitting burnout. Only I did not want to see it, and was powering through it.

Unlike times past, however, I am listening to my loved ones.

So, I am taking a break for a month from all spiritwork for others. Likely for myself, too. I know it is necessary to take time on occasion. My hope is by the time November comes around I will be refreshed and ready to go. If not, I will take another month. If I need to I will take time until the New Year. I hope it does not come to that. However, my Ginnreginn, my loved ones, and the communities I serve need me to be at my best. So do I.

Seiðr Song

Rocking, rocking

It begins small

In the seed, in the seiðr

It erupts from below

The power unleashed

In the seed, in the seiðr

It builds up through the middle

The being grows

From the seed, from the seiðr

It extends to the Worlds

The hamr is strong

From the seed, from the seiðr

It bears fruit to the Worlds

The megin is mighty

From the seed, from the seiðr

Its fruit leaves seeds

The cycle renews

From the seed, from the seiðr

You Cannot Eat Theory

I just read an amazing quote that sums up my feelings on so much: “You cannot eat theory.”

This goes for leftists, polytheists, environmentalists, for damned near anything. You cannot FUCKING eat theory. If your response to someone struggling is to say ‘read theory x’ or ‘read this book/book list’ you are lost.

A popular saying in polytheist circles, especially Heathen ones, is that ‘we are people of the library’. What this has increasingly come to mean to me is ‘I am going to make information as intentionally hard as possible to find and integrate into others’ lives.’ Folks who trot this line out often miss the point of what a library is: it is an open access point for information and education for all age levels, all experience levels, and all people. If we truly are a people of the library then where are the accessible resources for Heathens?

The predominant attitude in polytheist circles still tends to be that you should have your head buried in a mound of books at any given point in time as opposed to living the religion. Mercifully, community expectations in Heathenry and other polytheist religions are changing. It is a slow change, though. I have watched no small amount of people throw their hands up in frustration as so many resources are out of reach, whether by price point or education. I have invested no small amount of money myself in books, both written by academics and fellow polytheists. I am deeply grateful for open, free-at-access projects such as TheLongship.net for existing -and we deeply need more.

Reading theory is not going to impart or teach polytheist religion. Nor will it teach a living leftist philosophy, a living animist/polytheist worldview, or a living relationship with Jörð. It can intellectually bolster a person, but without the lived component those books and those theories are empty air and a waste of time. You cannot teach mutual aid merely by talking about it. You have to do it. You cannot teach polytheism merely by talking about it. You have to do it.

You cannot feed a person in body, mind, or soul merely with theory.

What this does not mean is that theory is useless. Armchair theories, inapplicable and without access? Those are. Pieces of cloth are not joined without the sewing, knitting, crocheting, nalbinding. There are many ways of joining cloth and what they all share in common is that each requires you to apply the theory of their craft. You do not need to understand all the ins and outs, all the history, or all the whys even, though these are fine and good things to know. What you need to know is if this stitch or bind will work for the cloth at hand, and then to do it.

I can go on at length about the beauty of regenerative agriculture or the wonderful things that can be done with permaculture -or I can show it to you in action. I can literally eat the results of the work I have done with my fellows at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm. So many people who talk a good game about solidarity and community cannot eat or share their results because there is nothing to eat and nothing to share. The food I have put into my mouth at potlucks was because of the hard work started and sustained by the Cavanaugh family. This was work that they allow me, and others they invite to Crossing Hedgerows, to do. Living reciprocity.

If our polytheist communities are going to live, let alone thrive, we have to take the steps necessary so that they are nourishing communities to be in. This means we do need to have standards of behavior, work, and study -especially for spiritual specialists and leaders- and that we also need our resources to be accessible for a range of education and experience levels. For this to happen there needs to be a serious reckoning with reciprocity in polytheist communities for this be done.

It should not be an expectation that community leaders, administrators, writers, spiritual specialists, supporters, and others who are integral to getting polytheist communities started and continuing to function should give away their labor without reciprocity. “You should write a book on it!” is a refrain I have seen more than a few times in regards to my own work and that of others. So, will the community support me so I can do that? Will the community give me and other writers, presenters, etc the resources so it is worth writing the books they want in the first place?

There is no doubt that there are efforts where resources being free at the point of access is needed. The community needs to support that necessary work being done. Whether it is a larger community pillar like a library, community garden, or smaller, such as one’s personal Kindred or other group, without community support each will fail and shut its doors. Likewise, if the needed resources to help folks learn and grow are exclusively kept behind paywalls then that harms the community in kind. Our communities, then, need to be places where our theories, values, ideas, and work are living, vibrant, and engaged with. They need to be lived spaces where reciprocity is not something we talk about, it must be something we do.

We cannot eat theory. What we can do is eat the results of that theory put into practice. What we sorely need in both leftist and polytheist communities are folks who are living examples of good Gebo with one another, who do the necessary work so that theories can be developed and put into action. The beauty of this course of action is that it is immediately accessible to everyone. Whether you are looking locally or online, see what you can do right now for the folks in your community. See in turn what your community can do for you. Talk with those in your community, and make concerted effort to making the bonds of reciprocity in your community better for everyone in them.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 50: For the Runevaettir

If want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon.

This request was made by Maleck for the Runevaettir.


Sounds

Letters

Concepts

Meaning

Magic

Spirits

From the Ginnungagap You screamed, sang, called

From the Ginnungagap You resounded, crowed, howled

From the Ginnungagap You whispered, breathed, spoke

By sacrifice, You were brought into the Worlds

By sacrifice, You allied with the Gallows God

By sacrifice, You ally with us

Each a sound, resonating with power

Each a sound, shuddering with strength

Each a sound, surging with connection

Each a letter, teaching the tongue

Each a letter, building up knowledge

Each a letter, carrying wisdom

Each a concept, bearing cultures’ weight

Each a concept, keeping memories

Each a concept, transmitting understanding

Each a meaning, guarding mysteries

Each a meaning, teaching the initiated

Each a meaning, deepening the depths

Each one magic, giving Ginnungagap form

Each one magic, bringing might to action

Each one magic, flowing into being

Each a spirit, knowing Urðr’s ways

Each a spirit, giving gift for gift

Each a spirit, touching our own

Runevaettir, I hear You

Runevaettir, I see You

Runevaettir, I understand You

Runevaettir, I know You

Runevaettir, I cast You

Runevaettir, I hail You

Patreon Topic 51: On The Ethical Use of Magic

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“The ethical use of magic.”

The problem with saying “the” at all, especially in the use of such a thing as versatile and nebulous as magic, is that almost any ethical system can be used to justify the use, or the lack of use, of magic. Is your personal philosophy utilitarian? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to “Will the use of magic do the most good or do the least amount of harm to myself and others?” Likewise, “Should I use magic?” can also be answered by “Will the lack of my use of magic do the most good or the least amount of harm to myself and others?”

Is your personal philosophy based on the common good? Then some of the questions to ask may be “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause undue harm to others/society?” and “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause the effect that I am seeking and help others/society?”

Is  your personal philosophy virtue ethics? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to whether or not it is in line with the particular virtues of your virtue ethics to do so.

There is no singular answer to whether the use of magic is ethical, good, or not, because there is no singular ethic that governs magic as a whole. Being a polytheist, I believe that different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can and do subscribe to different ethical approaches. Likewise, different polytheist religions, and then adherents within them, can have different ethics systems, and different systems of understanding and deciding what an ethical use of magic is. Rather than give an exhaustive overview of different ethic systems and their approach to magic, I would rather look at what magic is and does, and from there talk about my own approach.

This took me the better part of a month to write, and I want to say how much I appreciate my úlfkyn, Maleck, here. You are a right bastard and a child-of-a-bitch.

What is Magic?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as:

1 The power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

“Magic: Definition by Lexcico.” Magic: Definition of MAGIC by Oxford, Oxford, 2021, www.lexico.com/definition/magic

The short version of Aleister Crowley’s definition is:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

Crowley, A. (2017, January 22). Chapter I: What is Magick? Magick Without Tears – The Libri of Aleister Crowley – Hermetic Library. https://hermetic.com/crowley/magick-without-tears/mwt_01.

My own could best be summarized as “Changing the weaving or carving of Urðr to an end.” Even simpler “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.” works. Whether through the application of sympathetic magic, eg the smashing or cutting of a fascimile of a deer with an arrow in order to succesfully hunt the deer, the use of seiðr to bring vaettir to me so we can work on a project, or through galdr with Runes to protect a person, place, or thing, magic seeks to change how things were, are, or will be. I understand magic as natural, accessible to a wide variety of Beings besides ourselves.

Routes to Magic

Magic itself, as I understand it, is not the singular province of any one class, group, culture, tradition, political party, religion, etc. There may be forms of magic, routes to it, that are closed to outsiders, and those boundaries should be respected for many reasons. There may be understandings of magic that do not transend the bounds of a given culture, eg my own definition of magic is specific to Heathenry and may not translate well to others even though it is not closed. Even within open routes of magic there still may be particular routes inside that are closed to folks unless you are brought into or initiate into a mystery, tradition, or teachings with a group of people, culture, or certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

The closed routes to magic are often closed for the safety and security of the route itself, and the safety and security of practitioners. This is true both in terms of these closed routes often being in traditions and cultures that were marginalized, persecuted, and/or the victims of genocide, and in terms of the effects the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or the effects of the magic itself can have on the practitioner.

Routes to magic are often linked to specific religions and worldviews. Heathen conceptions of what magic is, looks like, how it is done, and the effects that are expected from certain forms of magic conform to what we read about, experience, and practice within our communities. Seiðr, spá, and Runework are all contained within a Heathen worldview and only make coherent sense within it.

Even forms of magic that are said to be ‘without tradition’ often conform to a worldview, eg Chaos Magic itself as it has come about could be said to be only possible within a post-modernist worldview, as most any other form of magic previous has been linked to a cultural worldview. Unmoored as it is from a single worldview as such, and relying more on the questions around “What does this do? Does it work? Can I replicate this result?”, Chaos Magic is one of the most accessible and easily misunderstood ways of working with magic and in/between/across magical systems.

Magic is Power

Let us be clear: when we ask questions around the use of magic we are asking questions around the use of power. Magic is power. The power to get things done. The power to use, and then, enforce your Will. When we take this understanding and apply it to cultures and traditions to whom a person does not belong, has no standing to partake in, and is an outsider, what a person who is insisting on access or using these closed routes ultimately wants to do is steal power from other cultures, traditions, people, and their Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. There are plenty of accessible routes to power by other means, and where you have a far less likelihood of pissing off entire groups of Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities by trying to take from what you have no right to. This is not even an ethical argument on my part, but a practical one -if what you want is access to power with lower risk to yourself there are plenty of routes in order to study, practice, and effectively use magic that involve far less risk.

Magic is power, and one of the most readily accessible forms in the modern day are sigils and iconography. This is most readily apparent within the advertising industry. Disney, Nike, and McDonald’s feature such powerful figures here that not only are their symbols ubiquitious, they are immediately understood across cultures and can trigger responses in their targets on sight. Especially so since Disney has effectively swallowed entire sections of culture, namely fairy tales and mythologies, as part of its animated features. Jingles and similar pieces of music serve this function as well on an auditory level. This is why I say access to magic is open to any class. Doing magic, gaining and retaining power through it, is accessible to anyone, and few things are quite as powerful as maintaining a stranglehold on the imagination.

Mere sigils and icons are not enough, though. Anyone can design a sigil, draw an icon, or make a logo. Part of what makes these corporate giants so powerful is that they tap into, interact with, and use as fuel the minds that they touch, whether through the imagination or impulses. People will stay up late into the night waiting for the next Disney/Marvel episode to drop, or stay up and shuck out hundreds of dollars on a rare line of shoes from Nike. It is magic that works out handsomely for the companies that know how to work well with it.

Contrasting Religious and Spiritually-Based Magic with Corporate Magic

We have folks of all kinds practicing magic handed down to them, being initiated into traditions and cultures’ magical traditions, or magic being rediscovered, revived, or made new from personal experiences and/or experimentation. Are they somehow less powerful than the magic of Disney? In a sense, yes. However, this is rather like comparing apples to oranges unless you zero in on exactly what it is that Disney’s magic, or any other company, is aiming for.

Disney has a cultural cache and wields power in our society that religious-based magic, for instance, modern Rune magic, does not. However, Disney is not trying to do what Rune magic does, and, generally speaking, Rune magic is not trying to do what Disney does. What Disney does very well is to make good on entertainment and real estate investments, all of which is empowered by the Disney logo, and the collective weight of ‘Disney magic’ they have harvested very carefully over the years through multiple generations. They do this in order to make money, exercise power, and shape law and the markets they are involved with through these means. It is little wonder that Steam Boat Willy’s Mickey Mouse still has not entered public domain with the amount of power they wield.

Religion and spirituality-based magic have different roots they are growing and operating from. Rune magic itself in the Heathen worldview is working with the forces of the cosmos to achieve results through a variety of ways. Some folks are working with the Runes to talk with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through divination. Some folks are working with the Runes for their own ends, such as healing, protection, or personal empowerment. These methods are effective for these things in part because the effects the particular operant is aiming for involve a lot fewer spheres of influence they need to control for, and Runeworkers are people whereas Disney as a whole is a gigantic corporation. Disney has a hell of a lot of ability to flex power because of this, and yet, because of it structure and how it operates within society, in some ways it has a limited scope within which it can compared to the average operant. Granted, an operant has to take care of their daily needs and find time between working, eating, and sleeping to devote time to honing their skills and then doing magic. However, an operant’s magic can be quite detailed and beautiful. Whether intricate, or simple, an operant’s magic it can be effectivein addressing a range of needs and wants, human and otherwise.

Disney and other corporations’ magic, by contrast, is fairly crude, easy to replicate, and is maintained by staff across tens of divisions involving tens of thousands of people. Corporate magic is employed to build up the bottom line at the cost of all else. Unlike most magic, corporate magic’s aim is incredibly shallow. A story by Disney might bring up a lot of feelings, and it may even cause you to question yourself or bring new light to your life. Frozen 2 was a good story, and one that happens to align with many of my values. In the end Disney is selling a product whether it is to you or investors. The magic is used to get you to buy the Disney+ subscription, or the ticket to Disneyland and increase their share price, not to bring you that experience. I say this as someone who has Disney+, enjoys a lot of their movies and associated products. However, I am very clear and understanding that while I do enjoy the stories, movies, etc they produce, each of these is, in the end, a product. The experience is incidental. If they could sell you a product without that experience that costs millions to produce and still make the same amount of money they would do it. Disney and its magic does not exist to make you feel, do, or experience anything -it is a route to making money, and in order to do so they have to provide at least adequate if not good experiences for the fields they are in.

This is among many areas where Heathen magic is very different from corporate magic. Heathen magic is rooted in the understanding that we are all, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, together in Urðr, and that we are co-creating the weaving/carving of that creation as it was/is/will be woven/carved. Engaging in the use of magic, then, is taking an active hand in the weaving/carving whether by our own hand alone or in concert with others’.

In Heathenry magical power, and its gathering, its maintenance, and its use, is seen through a variety of lenses. For certain forms of magic, such as Runework or gandir, gathering power is gaining a number of good, working relationships with vaettir. It is maintained by keeping these relationships well. It can be used to gather information, to harm another, to defend oneself, or most anything else the vaettir will align with the operant on. For others, such as hamfara, gathering power is getting to know and work with your hamr until you can be confident to get to and from where you want to go. Maintaining it can be dedicated time each day to engaging with your hamr. You can use it for the same things as in the example with gandir, and in some cases it may be more effective for you since you are traveling in spirit form to do it. Still, other forms of magic can see gathering power as bringing together different herbs, stones, furs/skins, and a needle together to make a pouch for protection. Maintaining the magical power may be to occasionally changing out, replacing, or adding herbs, stones, or animal pieces.

Commonalities in Heathen Worldviews on Magic

An ethical core to Heathenry would imply there is an ethical framework that fits all of Heathenry. While individual Heathens and even groups may have their own preference, there is no single one that fits. What is common to all Heathens is a worship of and respect for many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. This animist and polytheist worldview underpins everything within Heathenry, from our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, to how we treat each other, to how we live. Accordingly, this affects how we use our magic as well.

Some Heathens leave magic entirely alone, some do a little bit here or there, some leave entire branches of magic to experts, some study it as a curiosity, and others use or work with it. What is common to all of us is a respect for it as a practice, a way of interacting with, working with, impacting, and manipulating Urðr/Wyrd.

What are commonalities in how Heathens employ magic?

We use magic for many of the same reasons humans have used magic for time out of mind. We use magic to protect ourselves, whether from harmful spirits, other humans, disaster, or sickness. We use magic to give ourselves a leg up on our competition, whether enhancing our abilities or reducing/harming another’s. We use magic to help ourselves, our neighbors, our communities to keep healthy and to heal in physical, mental, and spiritual ways. We use magic to find, take, maintain, build, and use power in a variety of forms. We use magic to build, destroy, transfer, or use luck. We use magic to find, discover, uncover, reveal, or be shown information.

Because so many of us are reconstructing, recovering, rediscovering, experiencing, and developing ways of interacting with and using magic, there are going to be far more differences on how we experience, understanding, and use it than we will have commonalities between us. It is hard to have common practice when the religious movement got started in America back in the late 60s.

Almost every Heathen I know that works with or uses magic is doing so alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, so even if we find common threads between us a lot of the particular are likely to look different. An example: Cat Heath’s excellent Elves, Witches, and Gods, and my own understanding and experience of seiðr are close enough that everything she writes about translates well to my own experiences. Morgan Daimler called the book essential, and I agree. There are few sources for learning it as well written or well-sourced like this. and were I to have to learn seiðr all over again her book would be among those I would first want to reference and work through. However, I do not connect well at all with fiber arts and cannot spin well, so a good chunk of her book does not ‘click’ with me. My experience of Freyja teaching me seiðr in the ways I experienced are not inherently better or more valid than Heath’s. What and how Freyja taught me just ‘clicked’ better for me, my needs, and where I was when She taught me In the years since I was first taught the work those teachings have continued to serve well.

Developing Heathen Ethical Frameworks of Magic

Rather than presenting ‘the’ Heathen ethical framework of magic I think it is far more interesting to ask questions about what ethical frameworks may look like and push folks to develop their own. I know what my ethical framework looks like, and I have given some insights into it here. What I cannot tell you is what your own looks like. Perhaps you are an Anglo-Saxon Heathen and the kinds of magic you work with are different, or the entities that you can trust to partner in that work are wholly different. Perhaps you are also a primarily Norse/Icelandic Heathen in your culture background and take different cues than I do from the sacred stories we have. Perhaps your experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits have given you different insights than my own.

I would far rather ask questions and maybe be a whetstone to sharpen your own ethical senses on, even if you vehemently disagree with me. A simple question: is cursing ethical?

What does it do? How well does it do it? Are there more effective means of achieving the result? Are there less effective means of achieving the result? This line of questioning may give rise to the idea that I am a consequentialist, and when it comes down to it that is accurate. I care less about the virtues involved with the use of magic than I do about whether or not it works to the end I employ it. Perhaps your own view of the role and use of magic is different. I do not consider this to be inherently better or worse than my own, it is just a different perspective. So, how do we develop these?

Taking Ethical Cues from Cosmology and Myth

What does a given Heathen cosmology and its myths have to say about magic and the use of magic? Is magic wild, dangerous, and/or unpredictable? Is it only the province of wild Gods, dangerous spirits, and/or can anyone learn it?

What do the stories have to say about how magic functions? Is there a cause and effect to it? Is magic a living Being unto Itself, or is it part of everything? Is it both, or neither? What does this imply about the use of magic and the forms it takes? What does it mean to take up and to use magic in these stories?

Are there examples of humans employing magic, and if so, how are these framed? Who is doing the framing, eg is this a Christian perspective? What can we derive from the sources that are definitely informed by Christian bias?

Do concepts around magic have intersection with certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits? If so, what does it say that these Beings teach, initiate folks into, and/or govern the forms that magic can take? Are there ethical frameworks built into magic as it exists within the cosmology and myths?

Taking Ethical Cues from Direct Interaction with Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits

What does magic mean to your relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? How does this impact your view of what magic does, how it interacts with the Worlds? Do the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits share the same ethical guides or do They each have Their own?

Does it change your relationship with the Ginnreginn when you hit a certain level of proficiency in magic or with a certain kind? What about your relationships with others in your community through that relationship and its growth/change in learning and experiencing magic?

Do certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits impart some of their viewpoint when teaching magic, and if so, in order to learn a kind of it, will you have to align your ethics or can you still learn it and keep your view on things? Are you willing to set aside your ethical framework to learn, to take on, and to use magic? If you are unwilling, what forms of magic might you bar yourself from learning or using? What changes are you willing to take on in order to learn, experience, or develop your work with magic? What are your priorities and how might they change?

Taking Ethical Cues from Heathen Virtues

What is a virtue? What are Heathen virtues? Are they altogether different from other polytheist virtues? Are they altogether different from non-religious virtue ethics systems? What is most important to a Heathen? Does magic comport with the virtues as you have explored them? Is magic itself or its use virtuous?

Is there flexibility within Heathen virtues, or are these to be solid, unmoving positions from which one’s life is lived? Must there be strict means of using magic or its use becomes without virtue? Is there flexibility in using magic that retains the integrity of virtue?

Are certain forms of magic more or less virtuous? If so, what makes them so? If not, why? Is it ethical to use magic, broadly speaking? If it is, are there occasions where using magic may be out of alignment with Heathen virtues? Would it be unethical from a virtuous perspective to not use magic in the furtherance of a virtue? What would the ideal virtuous operant look like in Heathenry? Would would its opposite be?

Comparing and Contrasting

I could go on at length asking questions of different ethical frameworks and how they may or may not apply to Heathenry for some time and still only get so far. So, I am going to explore my own approach to magic. While I definitely have my own perspective on things, rather than swing you to my point of view, my hope is that exploring my approach to magic may provide you more material to think on how you approach it yourself. We can learn a lot from what does/does not click for us.

My Approach to Magic

I have spent a lot of time building up the background of the conversation to be able to get to the point where I talk about how I work with and understand magic. To refresh my point on what magic is: “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.”

If that is the whole of magic, then is everything just a matter of technique? Hardly. Anyone can learn to read the Runes; not everyone is going to have a good relationship with Them. Likewise anyone can learn the theory of how to do seiðr, and not everyone is going to be good at gandr or kveldriða. Magic has a lot of factors into whether or not a particular working will go well. The relationships you carry, the health and power at work in your soul matrix, the megin and hamingja you are able to bring to a working, and the vili you can bring to bear to see the working done all play factors. Magic requires practice to get good at and to keep being good at. If you want to specialize in an area that will take time, effort, and work. Even for folks who take to an area of specialty quickly, I find that no matter what natural knack you might have it does not replace consistency of work.

How I Work With Magic

I use more than a few forms of magic. Some of the magic I do is ongoing work, whereas some forms are as-needed. I have a lot of taufr (physical charms) that I have built, both on my own and with help from others. Some taufr I have received as gifts. Some taufr protect, some connect me with certain Beings, some keep certain Beings away, and other taufr enhance what I already have. When it comes to taufr if I feel I need a boost on something or I need a bit more protection, I make one or ask a friend to.

My approach to taufr is a lot of how I approach magic in general. “What does it do? How well does it do it?” are two phrases that I always ask with regards to the approach and use of magic. I use what I need when I need it, and if I foresee a need, then I learn how to do it, or ask someone to work with me on it. That someone could be a God, Ancestor, vaettir, and/or a peer.

If what I need is immediate relief of an issue, say a vaettr has decided it wants to pester me, I will not wait to make a taufr. To start I may talk with the vaettr, unless the pestering is a direct threat to myself or others. In that case I will work with the taufr I already have, employ seiðr, employ galdr, or whatever is necessary, and work with my vörðr to make it stop. If what I am doing magic for is a long-term goal, say getting the resources so a project gets off the ground and succeeds, I do all the physical, mental, and spiritual work necessary so it can, and then look at where best to apply my magic. If you want a good example of what this can look like, look at my 30 Days of Magic Challenge series of posts where I made and worked with the Fehu bindrune.

An Example: Making a Taufr for Protection

What is the taufr for? If it is for protection, I think about what looks and feel protective. I might work with a wood known for its use in the creation of sword hilts, spear shafts, or shields. I may carve or woodburn a sword, spear, shield, and/or protection Runes into the wood. A perfectly good taufr for protection all on its own would be a Mjölnir.

I start with the premise of the magic I am doing, and then build up correspondences. Why use a wood known for its use in weapons? Because if I want to communicate protection, both to myself and others, I do not want to use a punky wood which is brittle and easy to break. The taufr being made of brittle, easy-to-break material would communicate the same thing physically and spiritually to myself and others. If I cannot even look at the wood for the taufr and think “this is strong” or “this is powerful” then there is little point to it. This will make carving it harder if I go that route, but having worked with oak, while it is harder to work it than say basswood, it is very satisfying when it is done.

Would I use a wood such as birch instead of oak or ash for protection? It can work. I tend to associate birch with long term healing rather than straightforward protection like I do the two other woods. However, birch is a hardwood that was used in knife handles and stools.

Now that I know what I am making the taufr for, what wood I want to use and what symbols I will carve into it, we can get to the making of the taufr. How do I ethically make a taufr?

As best as I can I try to source my woodcraft materials from vaettir who have given me permission to work with them. I first try to work with deadfall, and barring that, from living sources of wood I have good connections with. Last would be wood I have no connection with and/or buy. It is not that this wood is ‘less’ in terms of usefulness to the working, but that a piece of wood I buy to make into a taufr was never able to negotiate with me on offerings, the amount of wood that would be taken to make it, or anything else. The personhood and the willingness of the vaettir was never taken into account when it was harvested. Since I am operating out of a polytheist and animist mindset this considering of the vaettir’s wishes is important. They are Beings unto Themselves, and need to be considered such.

Let us say that a given oak tree has denied me the use of their deadfall or living body for this work, but a birch tree has given me permission to use theirs. In this case the ethical choice is to work only with the birch tree’s deadfall that I have permission to work with, make offerings to the birch, and to leave the oak tree, both their deadfall and their living body, entirely alone. If I cannot find a hardwood in my area willing to work with me, or if my circumstances are that working with already-cut and shaped wood is a better option, I will take time out to talk with them when I go to buy them and make offerings for the vaettir.

Another ethical question is one of proportion. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr one that responds to aggression with proportional? Given I firmly believe in the right to defend myself from a threat to myself or others, my ethical stance is that whatever aggression is sent my way I am within my bounds to respond to it proportionally. It would be unethical to make a taufr that sought to kill someone who, metaphorically or literally, stepped on my toes.

Another ethical question I need to answer is one of accuracy. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr going to be an accurate response to aggression/attack? This is less of a concern to me if the magic in the taufr is the equivalent of a shield or generalized protection because the magic is just meant to defend. If you are hitting this piece of protection then you are trying to hurt me and will be stopped. If the magic put into the taufr is a piece of aggressive protection, say I use a spear, a sword, and a shield for the carving and call on on Tiewaz the Rune twice, this taufr needs to be accurate when it responds to a threat. Perhaps I enchant it so the ‘attack’ portion of the taufr activates when I am under active attack, only attacks what is actively attacking me, and ‘sheathes’ when that is no longer the case. When it comes to enchantments this is a far better option than, say, carving a bunch of swords into it and turning the taufr into the spiritual equivalent of a sword tornado at any perceived threat.

The thing to keep in mind when making a taufr, or working with any magic, is that it should not be the only line of defense, attack, mitigation of energies or spirits, or the only thing watching your back. If I walk into a burning building my vörðr is not going to stop me from doing it, though they might give me warnings or directly ask me not to. I have and keep good relationships with many Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and members of my communities who have a vested interest in me being whole, alive, and able to do the work I have. I do not impugn on those relationships by recklessly or needlessly putting myself in danger, and I do not ignore those relationships when it comes to asking for help to keep myself and others safe. You do not have to just make one taufr or do one kind of magic and that is it. There is nothing stopping folks from enchanting a bunch of taufr to take care of a variety of situations. If your creativity, intuition, and drive lead you to do this, that is fine. There is a lot you can do with that, and there many forms of magic you can apply to work on the same problem.

Magic is not a substitute for good planning, awareness, or doing necessary spiritwork. Especially with regards to Heathen magic you will need them. If you are just beginning your journey into working with magic you should have a good working relationships with at least a God or two, your Ancestors, and at least your landvaettir. Get to know your vörðr if you can. Magic takes work to get results, to get right, to be accurate, and to be proportional to what you want it to do. Sometimes, despite all the careful planning and work, it fails, and being able to troubleshoot why is a skill in and of itself.

Considering Kinds of Magic

Is there an ethical consideration to be had when looking at the kinds of magic I employ? Absolutely. Taufr are physical objects. The thing about making or receiving taufr is that, when I die, whatever of them are left are going to need to be buried/burnt with me, rehomed, or destroyed. Consider the protection taufr above. I have a spear, a sword, a shield, and two Tiewaz Runes carved into it. Is the poor bastard who has to take care of this protection taufr going to have to fight whatever vaettir I have contracted with to be in it or to put Their energies into it as well as whatever work went into the magic I have put into it? Will they have to placate the vaettir, say with offerings or sacrifice? What kind of work am I leaving behind for others to do?

Other kinds of remains can result from the use of magic. If I use sympathetic magic to increase my luck when I hunt deer, eg taking an arrow and destroying a clay representation of a deer, what is my ethical obligation to the deer vaettir? How about the clay that the deer is represented through? Since I have built a link with these objects I need to treat both the ceramic shards, the deer, and the arrow itself, with respect. To be respectful I could bury the shards, or put them in a place of honor, depending on what the deer vaettir want.

Let us set taufr and sympathetic magic aside for a while and look into some of the varieties of seiðr. A good reason for why seiðr was often translated as ‘witchcraft’, was both respected and feared, and still should be today, is because a good chunk of seiðr is straight-up nasty to those who are its targets. Consider the stafsprota, a staff used by a spákona which, according to Price, were used for striking an enemy on the face, used to rob an enemy of their memory and instill minor confusion, and may have been used in divination. A munnriða, a mouth-rider, is a seiðworker whose affected the mouth and its contents. A trollriða, a rider of witchcraft or a troll-rider, could be a seiðworker who performed witchcraft and/or could be working with trolls, or a large variety of rougher vaettir. Consider that the -riða suffix was a form seiðr could take and that it could have sexual connotations. This brings munnriða or trollriða into a whole different light in terms of what the magic is supposed to do to its target or how it gets done.

Seiðr was renowned for being used to affect the mind, will, strength, and power. All of these examples do just that. Are the use of these unethical on their face? No. Not to me.

What I think can make the use of a kind of magic unethical is if its use causes harm for its own sake or if if its use is not proportional to a potential or actual threat or harm. While seiðr, whether in the actual performance of the magic or its affect, may not be conventionally acceptable, it is nonetheless powerful and useful. If a person is spreading harmful gossip or libel then to my mind engaging in munnriða against them can be an ethical use of that form of magic. If a person has threatened or sought to harm family, tribe, community, or one’s own person they open themselves up to action, if not retribution. If magic is power then the use of power should be justified.

Magic and Ethics are Works in Progress

People have been writing on these topics for millenia. We are nowhere near settled on them. Part of the reason for it is that we change. Ethical systems change. They get challenged, and some stay while others fade. They are embedded in our religions, cultures, and politics. That is part of why I find them so fascinating and good to talk and write on. They are part of our lives, are bound up in them as surely as magic is in my understanding and living of Heathenry.

We have been debating and working out our methods of magic and what ethics are and how we apply them to one another throughout all of that time. I think that polytheism’s polycentricity, to borrow the phrase from Dr. Butler, means that we will never find one consensus on anything, much less magic. We are in a beautiful and dynamic period where we are all digging deeper into our paths, the way we do things, and why. I think that as we develop our various religious and magical communities it is good to weigh our ethics, and to being open to change when it is warranted, and standing our ground when that is as well.

Both magic and our ethics are works in progress. They are lived experiences, for all that we can intellectually debate the merits of this action, that spell, this curse, or that working. Given magic are routes to, forms of, and expressions of power we would be remiss not to think on it, but it cannot merely be a thing we think about. In the end what differentiates ethics from head games, idle theorizing, or mental masturbation is that sooner or later those things are lived. They have real, lasting effects on others and ourselves. So let us consider how we will bring in, give form, and use magic in all its forms. Let us consider how we will use power in whatever way it is expressed. Let us talk about them, debate them, consider them, yes, and then? Let us work with our magic and live our ethics well.

Patreon Topic 50: On Völur Past and Present

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From Emily comes this topic:

“What was a volva and what being a volva would encompass today.”

The word völva means ‘staff-bearer’ per Neil Price in The Viking Way. This is a spiritual specialist who engages in seiðr and/or spá. Seiðr and spá are a galaxy of practices, among them being what we would readily recognize today as spiritwork, divination, prophecying, and various kinds of magic including curse work, protection, empowerment, and enchantment. What is most striking to me is that the staff referred to is both itself an instrument of power for directing spirits and energies, and a symbol of office. The wand or staff has a number of forms, including that of an iron distaff, a plain staff of iron or wood that is about as high as a walking cane, and a large staff that is made of iron or of wood, the latter carved and embellished. Price has an excellent overview of these in The Viking Way.

Völur (plural of völva) occupy an interesting area in Late Iron Age religion. As near as I can tell, between reading translations of the sagas and books on the subject, including the excellent The Viking Way by Neil Price and Nordic Religions in the Viking Age by Thomas DuBois, they were both admired and treated with fear. It is key to note that we have little to nothing from before this period, what is coloqially called The Viking Age, and almost all of it is filtered through Christian lenses from the period. So what were they? They were seers, witches, people you went to for spiritual work and spiritual advice. They were people who were to be respected. They were people to be feared. If you were a völva you walked a road between that of the people you served and the spirits.

In the Eiriks saga rauða, the Saga of Erik the Red, the völva is an itinerant spiritual specialist that speaks with and/or works with the spirits. At least with the example provided in this saga through Þorbiörg, she did not act alone. She required “a chorus of women and at least one assistant familiar with a magic song or incantation called varðlokkur” (DuBois 124). The use of a varðlokkur, a spirit calling song, is required as part of her seiðr ritual. I have seen this song referred to as an enticement song, a spirit calling song, and a warding song. Singing, chanting, incantations, and the like form or are part of at least a few of the varieties of seiðr as well as galdr.

Both books provide comparison and contrast between the accounts of seiðr, seiðkona, völur, and Sámi naidevuohtta (shamanism) and Finnish shamanism and rituals. Are völur shamans? In the sense that they provide many of the same ritual and societal functions, yes. However, a noaide is not a völva or seiðkona, and vice verse.

It is fairly clear that there was a lot of contact and sharing between the ancient Nordic, Sámi, and Finnish peoples. Each engaged in kinds of spirit contact. In some cases this involved singing, chanting, and/or trance induction through heavy or rapid breathing and/or ‘yawning’. Both DuBois and Price note that the seiðkonur, noaide, and Finnish shamans had mixed reputations for being both potentially helpful and harmful. They were called on to protect, to heal, to harm. In some cases the Sámi and Finno-Ugric peoples were pointed to as being sources of learning seiðr (DuBois 129). Far from being the only connection points, DuBois (71-73) and Price point out the vibrant trade in goods, as well as grave goods, similarities in treatment of and honoring of the dead, ancestor veneration, and so on that are expressed differently within these cultures yet still share touchstones with one another.

To be clear: the words shaman and shamanism are what amounts to academic loanwords in these books for similar spiritual specialists and phenomena. Where we can, I find it better to use words appropriate to the culture we are talking about. I encourage Heathens to use words appropriate to our religions/cultures, such as völva, seiðkona, and the like. When we do not have the words I encourage Heathens to work with newer terms like spiritworker and neologisms like vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker) formed from Old Norse or whatever language is appropriate to the culture background you are engaging with.

Some of the major differences between historical völur and modern völur is that 1) it seems a lot of them traveled a great deal between villages and towns in order to do their spiritual work, and 2) there were people who were expected to be able to perform the varðlokkur, so there was a groundswell of people within the community who had to be familiar with the rites. Eiriks saga rauða provides a very clear overview of a völva, and features of it and other seiðworkers can be found in the archaeological record. DuBois notes that though the practice is nebulous in what it is and how it is performed, it has a fairly consistent picture across time and stories (128).

“Within this array of pagan rituals, seiðr appears to respond primarily to situations of crisis and is undertaken by a religious specialist (usually a woman) at the request of a client and within the context of a communal gathering. The ritual appeals to some sort of spirit helpers, either for divinatory information or help in controlling the minds and wills of others. Typical is the detailed account included in the thirteenth-century Eiríks saga rauða, in which an itinerant seiðr practitioner named Þorbiörg is invited to a Greenland farmstead to help the community discover whether its current run of ill luck will continue.”

Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, DuBois 123

The lack of experience with seiðr, both in terms of familiarity with the subject itself in Heathenry more broadly, and with specific practices within it, means that völur and other seiðworkers have to do a lot of work to revive this practice. The saga accounts, grave goods, what surviving folks practices we may look to, and conjecture from academics only do us so much. A lot of modern völva work is going to have to just be done. In a way, this lack of concrete bounds for modern völur and other seiðworkers means that we are free to cocreate new ways of being these things in modern contexts alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. While there has been a lot lost with these traditions, it means that our roles and rites can move with the requirements of our Ginnreginn and communities.

This is where especially The Viking Way is a treasure trove, both in how it lays out the information and in the sheer breadth of information it has available in it. The kinds of magic Price writes about alone is helpful because it helps expand our lexicon for kinds of magic and magical practice such as gandr, fjǫlkyngi, and ljóð, which could be combined with seiðr or performed separately, a kind of seiðr such as kveldriða (cold-rider, Price 77). Since a given völva could well perform any or all of these things, or just stick to one specialty, eg gandr or spá in general, becoming more familiar and working with these terms also means we develop a more specifically Heathen way of working with the sources as inspiration and information. Because a given völva is not limited to one practice it is perhaps better to think on how we use these terms to describe the job of being a völva just as the various -riða terms such as kveldriða describe seiðworkers engaging in magical work on others.

What is a modern völva in Heathenry? A völva is a Heathen spiritual specialist, a seer who works with the spirits to gather and share information, and to enact change. Where a seiðworker may do a variety of things, including spá, a völva’s primary job for whatever community or communities she is part of is to speak and work with the spirits, gather information from Them and/or with Them, and enact change with Them. The way I understand modern völur is that their job is to work for/on behalf of their communities with the vaettir. Since we no longer have any living memory of varðlokkur I think that it is a good thing for anyone wanting to do this work to find or ask for inspiration from the vaettir to gain such a song. Maybe it has words, maybe it is a melody; whatever it ends up being, it is a song that works to bring the vaettir to the völva so the work can begin, and be maintained.

Being a völva is, like every other spiritual specialty, a job. It is taking on Work. Maybe you come to it through being grabbed up by a Goddess, eg Freyja. Maybe you went to Her and asked Her to bring you into the work because you feel called to the Work itself. Whatever your inroad, initially you train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and develop yourself and your relationships so you can effectively do the spiritual work of the job. Then, you do the work of being a völva while continuing to train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and developing yourself and your relationships so you can keep being more effective as you go on. Ideally, you would have a spiritual mentor, as well as at least 1-3 people you can go to for divination so you can keep yourself on an even keel. To this end I highly recommend Jim Two Snake’s Spiritual Accounting PDF.

Since becoming a völva is beyond this post, how would we contrast a modern Heathen völva with a person being a seiðworker? I look at völur as a communal role whereas seiðr is fairly accessible to anyone willing to put the work in. You might work with seiðr to make a taufr, an enchanted physical object (Price 36), in crochet or knitting, eg crafting a blanket for warmth and protection. You might do seiðr to work with vaettir to just gather information for your own purposes, such as through a gandr ritual using a gǫndull, a wand or staff for gandr, and/or a ‘yawn’ or the use of breath such as song, chant, or croaking (Price 184) in where you push the vaettir to give you information. You might work with a spá ritual in a light trance where you commune with the vaettir to that end. All of these are accessible modes of operation to both the völva and the average seiðworker. Now, perhaps a given seiðworker is not comfortable working with völva as a term because it is definitely feminine-gendered, and this is where we need to develop more terms or work with neologisms. In my own case I am fine with the terms vaettirvirkr and seiðmaðr (a seiðr-man) for the moment, as I do spiritswork as a spiritual specialist, with seiðr as part of that work.

The difference between a völva and a seiðworker is that, for our purposes here, völur are spiritual specialists whose job it is to work with/on behalf of a community where a given seiðworker may be working on their own. We develop these meanings, work, and community together. What really makes the difference between a völur and seiðworker in the end is whether the word clicks for you, describes what you do, and if you are serving a community what words that community calls you. Being a völva today is not much different in that regard than what it was centuries ago: you serve a community, connecting them with the spirits to speak with them, gather information and to work with Them to change things.