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.

Patreon Topic 49: On Jarnsaxa and Angrboða

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From Vixen comes this topic:

“Maybe you could talk about what you know about Jarnsaxa, or maybe even Angrboða. I know they’re two Jötunn’s I don’t hear may people talk about. I’m assuming it’s because they’re Jötunn but I think they’re important and I’m trying to learn more about them.”

Part of the reason we do not know much is because They are Jötnar, and another is because They are Goddesses. Much of what is known of Jarnsaxa comes from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Hyndluljóð, Skáldskaparmál, and Harbarðsljóð. Much of what we know of Angrboða is from the Hyndluljóð, Gylfaginning, and the Völuspá. These are relatively scant passages; there is just not much to go off of here.

With regard to Jarnsaxa, I do not know much about Her. I have not held cultus to Her, though I am not opposed to it. I just have had no reason to engage in it with Her so far. She and Þórr have a son, Magni, and I believe also Móði, though I have found no reference for His Mother. Her name is supposed to translate to ‘Iron-dagger’, ‘armed with an iron sword’ (Orchard and Lindow respectively; thanks Wikipedia!) or ‘the one who holds the iron-knife’ from jarn meaning iron and saxa meaning a single-edged blade or knife . Unfortunately, no one I know holds cultus for Her, so I could not refer to others on Her modern day cultus either.

Angrboða, whose name means ‘the one who brings grief’, ‘she-who-offers-sorrow’ and ‘harm-bidder’ (Simek, Lindow, and Orchard respectively, thanks Wikipedia) has a fairly active modern cultus. Among the heiti I call Her is Chieftain of the Ironwood, Úlfmóðir or Wolfmother, Mother of Monsters (which may translate into Old Norse as Foraðmóðir), and Fostramóðir. I have held cultus for Her for quite a while, not too long after becoming a Heathen. She is powerful, formidable, and can be quite ruthless. In a way I look at Her and Óðinn as being very similar, though She wears Her wolf/monster face far more prominently than Óðinn.

How have I experienced Her?

Angrboða is very much a take-no-shit Goddess. She wants you as you are, and if you want to improve, expects you to work on it. She does not waste Her time, so if She is reaching out to you then She has good reason even if they are Hers to know. While She has understanding of weakness and frustration, I find Her patience like that of a mother wolf: She will abide a lot until you overstep and then She will bark or nip so you remember your place.

I find Her to be more animalistic and primal than a lot of Gods. When I have seen Her when I have hamfara (faring forth in my hamr), She sometimes appears to me as a woman in a simple tunic, trousers, and sometimes with a couple fur pieces wielding a spear. Other times She is a huge wolf, and others a great half-wolf half-woman. Her voice is commanding, deep with power and wisdom, rough. She smells of forest, and various animals, trees, and good earth.

I have held cultus for Her for most of my time as a Heathen, and this is in part by introduction through Loki. I came to know Loki through His blood-brother. For a long time I held cultus with Her the same as my other Gods: offerings, prayers, and devotional time at the Gods’ vé. In night prayers with my family, we thank Her for protection. In knowing and getting to understand Her I came into a better appreciation of the wolves that She has given birth to, and I began cultus with Fenrir a few years back. I also grew to appreciate Hati and Sköll better in this, and while I do not yet have a devotional relationship with Them yet, I can appreciate the work They do that keeps Sunna and Máni on Their ways.

A few years ago I found myself working for Her and coming to understand Her as Fostramóðir as a result of an agreement between Her and Óðinn. Some of the work is to visit Her in Járnviðar, the Ironwood, Her home in Jötunheim. Sometimes this is to just go there and experience it, and other times to run or hunt with the Jötnar there that call it home. The work She has for me is ongoing, and I have yet to fully uncover all the things She wishes me to do. She has done a lot of work with me on my inner nature in the meantime, exploring different facets of being a spiritworker, an úlfheðinn, and bringing lessons there into how I live my life and do my spiritwork.

I find folks who recoil at Her but not at Óðinn a bit odd. Their temperaments, particularly around the accrual and use of power and knowledge a lot alike. They share an association with wolves, bears, shapechanging, and in my experience, also with faring forth in these forms and spiritwork associated with these things. It makes little sense to me that folks would seek to have a good relationship with Hel, or Hela, our Goddess of the Dead, and villainize Her Mother.

While the sources tell us little about Her that is no barrier to developing good cultus with Her. If anything, it pushed me to get to know Her in ways She wanted rather than having the relationship first mediated or sieved through the written word.

Through worshiping and coming to understand Her, She has helped bring me into a new appreciation for the various Jötnar that are intertwined with other Gods and through Them, our lives. She has blessed my family, Kindred, tribe, and I. She protects, She empowers, and She emboldens. She pushes us to see our monstrous selves, to embrace Them fully and without shame. My devotion to Angrboða has provided no small amount of challenge and growth in my life. She has pushed me to embrace myself fully, and in doing that, to better and more fully embrace others. Through devotion and work for Her, She has pushed me to improve myself and the spiritwork I do as a Heathen. Hail Angrboða!

Patreon Topic 48: On Difference and Variety Among Spiritual Specialists

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Difference and variety among spiritual specialists. Not everyone is, can, or should be an expert in every area. Generalists exist certainly, but even generalists have weak and strong areas. Could you perhaps talk about various kinds of spiritual specialty, figuring out where you stand, etc?”

There is an amazing variety of spiritual specialists out there, and depending on your religion, communities, and culture(s), there are a lot of ways to figure out and occupy various nieches. I am going to contrast with some varities of ways people first find themselves becoming a spiritual specialist and ways that a given path might bring a person to that job, and then I will tackle ways we can look at how we can figure out where we stand.

Note: This categorizing does not speak to the credentials, ability, etc a given person may hold. A person formally recognized as a priest by a Heathen group may have poor skills in priestcraft just as a person who is entirely spirit-taught and initiated by the Ginnreginn they serve may excel. A person brought into a spiritual specialist role by contract may be uninterested in pursuing the work once a contract is up whereas someone who has come into the work through experimentation may increase their abilities throughout the course of their life. An additional complexity to all this is that a person may be introduced to spiritual specialist work in a combination of these ways. I may have missed a way of introduction here that is specific to a path. For this post we are talking very generally and out of my experience as a Heathen and prior to that as a Kemetic polytheist. If folks want me to dig into specifics I am willing to do that, but it will need to wait a month as this took me several days to write.

Introductions to Spiritual Specialist Work

Religion-Initiated Training/Initiation

This is a person who has been formally trained and/or initiated as a spiritual specialist by another human or human group. Even within a broad category such as priest, this can take on a lot of different meanings depending on what is meant by a give spiritual specialist area or discipline. For instance, seiðr.

What a seiðworker’s function in modern Heathenry is matters a great deal on the dynamics of a given Heathen group, the training they receive, and any initiation work they may undergo. Some folks begin calling themselves a seiðworker/seiðkona/seiðmaðr/seiðmann/etc immediately on interest in the vocation whereas others only do so after extensive training, recognition from a group and/or formal initiation by a group. Generally, a person within a group only calls themselves a spiritual specialist once they have gone through the training and initiations, if there are any, as laid down by a given group.

What differentiates this path greatly from one brought to a person by the Ginnreginn is that the person’s training and initiation(s) are first engaged/invited to by the person or their group. Any training and initiation are decided on by/with heavy input from Elders or otherwise qualified members of that group. This is not to say the Ginnreginn are not at the center of these spiritual specialists’ lives or have no say, just that the decision to bring a person into the work/teachings is mitigated by humans and not the Ginnreginn alone.

Holy Powers-Initiated Training/Instruction/Initiation

This is where the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, the Ginnreginn or Mighty/Holy Powers, bring a person into training, instruction, and/or initiation. It is direct experience of these Beings that starts a person on the path to being a spiritual specialist, that informs their training, and/or serves to initiate them into the work rather than being mitigated by human beings, such as by initiating into a line of seiðworkers in a specific tribe. This would be things like Óðinn coming out of the relative blue in a vision and bringing you along the path you need to walk with Him to learn the Runes or Freyja grabbing you up in a freeform journey meditation to learn seiðr. It should be noted that you do not inherently have less freedom or ability to say no to such things. You still maintain your sovereignty, and any agreements you are asked to enter into should be carefully considered.

Experimentation

Fucking around and finding out is how some folks get brought into being a Pagan, let alone being a spiritual specialist. Maybe you saw a cool idea for a ritual in a book and tried it out to see if you could replicate the results. Perhaps you decided to stop into the local group’s dedicatory ritual to the An Morrighan and you didn’t step back when prompted. Whatever the case is, you tried something out and not only did it work, it now helps to inform your path -assuming it has not outright become it.

Contract

A formal agreement reached between at least two entities to achieve an end. In this case there is a formal agreement between the person being brought into spiritual specialist work and those introducing/training/initiating them in it. This could be a contract with a working group, a mentor, and/or the Ginnreginn that have contracted with them to that end. Perhaps there are certain things you need to do prior to restrictions in the agreement to be lifted, eg a training period of a year and a day or better has to be completed before you can call yourself the spiritual specialist’s term, eg seiðmaðr/seiðkona/etc. Perhaps you have a limited time of expectancy for performing the role of a spiritual specialist. One way that I have read this can occur in the ordinary existence of a group is that some Wiccan covens rotate the role of high priestess.

What Next?

All of these ways are merely what will get you in the proverbial door. Perhaps an experiment brought you to a realization that a given God was calling you to service. You wanted to honor that calling and found a group to help you in this. The group itself does not do training itself, and they are a group of peers that provides a support network. So what results is folks engaging in a lot of spiritual contact mutually support each other through their own journeys. Around Grandfather Fire’s Discord server works a lot like this for those inclined to spirit work and callings.

What is next really depends on what specific spiritual specialty you are being called to. In a general case there needs to be a grounding in the lore and religious community surrounding the spiritual work, and ongoing spiritual discipline that supports the accomplishment of the spiritual specialist work. So, for a modern Rýnstr (Runester aka Runeworker), this would first be grounded in the ongoing basic exoteric work of being a Heathen. This would include regular cleansing before ritual, making good prayers and offerings, and living life in a well-balanced way the same as any other Heathen. From there the training of a Rýnstr would include a study grounded in both the literature and archaeological resources on the Runes, and ongoing spiritual connecting and working with the Runes Themselves.

Sometimes figuring out what your strong suits are is to just try things out. Within my experience of Heathen spiritwork you will not know if you are good at something until you experiment with it. Even so, sometimes you have to try more than a few techniques before you find one you click with, and then take the ones that work for you and really work with them awhile before you can truly call yourself skilled at them. Alongside all of that if you are serving within a religion/religious tradition you have to undergo training in order to be considered competent within a religious tradition, and continue to provide service within that tradition. It is not enough for me to have done a good Rune reading once, as though a capstone is enough to continue to use the title of vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), goði, Rýnstr, seiðmaðr, and so on. There is no resting on laurels to being a competent spiritual specialist. With all of that being said, let us dig into some general descriptions for polytheist spiritual specialists.

Kinds of Spiritual Specialists

Spiritworker

Someone who does work for the spirits.

Their work can range from communicating to divining, engaging in spirit travel to do work in one the Worlds, to maintaining a public shrine space so contact can be made between the spirits and people. Often a spiritworker serves as the connection point between spirits and people within their community. A spiritworker often serves as a kind of cross between the roles on this list, especially when other kinds of spiritual specialists are not available.

Priest

Someone who serves a God or group of Gods in the maintenance of Their cultus.

This notion of a priest is markedly different from what monotheists understand a priest to be, as a priest in modern Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc serve congregations and not only in the cultus of their God. By contrast, a polytheist priest’s main role is in the cultus they give to their God(s) first, and then, if this is part of their duties, to those who seek to connect with the God in the shrine/sacred space. Some priests may simply serve a God with no outward community involvement whatsoever, maintaining personal shrines, including daily prayers and offerings for the God.

Clergy

Someone who serves a polytheist community as a spiritual guide.

Clergy are often what folks think of when they think of ‘priestly’ duties, however, I find this is a completely separate set of skills. A skilled priest may be excellent at giving prayers and offerings to a God while being lousy at providing spiritual guidance or spiritual counseling. This is a clergyperson’s main focus. They seek to bridge the gaps between the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and their worshipers and help maintain good relationships. Where a priest serves a cultus role a clergy serves a communal one.

Diviner

Someone who serves a community by doing divination.

This person may perform only one kind of divination service, or may be pushed to learn a variety of divination styles. They serve a vital function in helping community members discern messages, taboos, initiation rituals, and various life events as they are called on. Where a spiritworker serves as a connection point, a priest serves the cultus of a God, Ancestor, or spirits, and a clergyperson serves a community in spiritual guidance, a diviner’s service is helping to establish and maintain communication. Divination is, in my experience at the time of this writing, one of the most common skills across polytheist communities for both specialists and non-specialists. I do not expect this trend to go away. Now that polytheist communities are getting sufficiently large and specialties are have been emerging, diviners are emerging as their own specialty.

Sacrificer

Someone who performs sacrifice to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

This person is trained in and performs sacrifice according to best practice and what is required of their particular religion. While most will see the word sacrifice and think blood sacrifice, and while this can certainly part of this specialty, it is not the only form this can take. A sacrificer may be someone who tends a garden full of herbs, flowers, and other plants whose main reason for being grown is that they will be made into offerings. A sacrificer takes the risk of a poor sacrifice on themselves and performs this service on behalf of a person, community, etc. They may do this to help ease an angry spirit, help heal a group of Ancestors, or to please a God at a seasonal rite. Because sacrifice is still looked down upon by the overculture and a good understanding of what sacrifice is and with regard to blood sacrifice, how to do it safely and well is not understood by most polytheists, it is one of the most taboo and misunderstood specialties here.

Operant (Witch/Sorcerer/Magician/etc.)

Someone who engages with magic and the spiritual fabric of reality.

Given the pervasiveness with which witches dominate the Pagan communities it might seem to be odd that this is noted as a spiritual specialty within polytheism. A common denominator I find with operants, whether the word is witch, sorcerer, magician, is that this person engages with magic in some way and the underlying nature of reality through it. This is, historically and increasingly in modern polytheism, not something commonly done. Most polytheists engage in exoteric practice and either do very little in the way of magic, or focus on specific practices such as protection.

In Heathenry there are a large number of things to call operants, among them seiðworkers. Some folks would call Rýnstrar (Runeworkers) operants, and others would call them spiritworkers. I tend towards the latter, but they still fit the bill here. While not every operant does their specialty for trade, some do, and this is a practice well-founded in history. Some operants work with spirits in various ways whereas others work on their own, though I find this latter operant fairly rare in polytheist circles.

Monastic

Someone whose primary vocation in life is oriented around and dedicated to a disciplined devotional service to a God, Ancestor, spirit, or group of these.

Monastics may come from any walk of life. Their discipline may be oriented around extreme aesceticism, simple-living as a hermit, or living alongside others in whatever community they find themselves in for whom their monasticism is the focus of their life. They may have taken specific vows with a fellowship, such as The Maetreum of Cybele or the Gnostic Celtic Church’s Hermitage of the Heart, among other groups, or are independent. Whatever else, their day begins and ends with devotion to the Being(s) they have dedicated their time, life, and/or work to.

Storyteller

Someone who tells the stories of the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities.

Storytellers are those who keep and tell stories, particularly sacred and important stories. Storytellers do more than merely memorize stories, though this certainly is part of it. They also relate the stories they hold, whether through written prose or poetry, through oration, song, dance, gesture, play, or crafts. Storytelling is literally an embodied story whether that comes through a tapestry, song, recitation, or a three-act play. Some storytellers may be given new myths, new legends, new stories to share, whereas some storytellers’ duty is only to pass on what they were given.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

Have these descriptions spoken to you? Stirred something within you? If so, explore that. What feelings does it bring up? What images or sounds? What stereotypes do you have about the specialist type you are exploring? What do you want to do? How? Once you have explored these things, it is time to think about some of the general, baelines requirements of being a spiritual specialist.

Requirements

Rootedness

In order to be a spiritual specialist you first have to be spiritual. This notion that you can just take on a role like seiðworker without any groundwork having been done, no prior spiritual experience or outlook, is not only irresponsible, it is flat dangerous to anyone you might serve in that capacity. In order to be a polytheist spiritual specialist you need to have a clear, grounded rootedness in a polytheist religion. This includes a belief in the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as real Beings unto Themselves, and a lived relationship with Them. The roots of rootedness are in reciprocity, respect, and ritual.

Ideally you will have several years in the religion prior to being called or pursuing to some kind of role. However, my own experience with the Gods is that sometimes they take you up for work fairly quick. Rootedness, however much time you have in the religion, serves to ground you, to make sure you know what you are doing, that you know why you are doing it, and what it means. Rootedness also gives you community, in whatever capacity you are able to be part of one, and hopefully a community of Elders, peers, and others who you can call on when you need help, advice, or comradery.

Learning and Work

This is an ongoing process. Learning is not just studying books or oriented around academic learning. It may include that, but if all you are doing is looking at academic texts you are likely not doing the work of your spiritual specialty. Study should inform what you are doing, and it should feed into the work that you learn through. The other side is doing the work of being a spiritual specialist. You have to learn the requirements of the spiritual specialist role you are looking at, to know if you can effectively fulfill that role, and if you decide to take it on, to do the requisite learning so you fulfill it well. Any of the spiritual specialies listed above will require you to do ongoing work. This study and work should unfold hand-in-hand so that you learn what you are good at and reinforce that, and show where you need to improve and to work on that.

Discernment

One of the key skills needed to do any spiritual specialist work effectively. Working off of the previous requirements, discernment needs rootedness to be able to discern chaff from wheat, and learning so the discernment one has is informed instead of prejudicial, ignorant, or incorrectly applied. Discernment is informed by both study and by experience, both your own and that of others. This is part of why Elders and peers are so valuable -you do not need all the answers nor the experiences.

There are much more specific requirements as we dig into polytheist religions, specific paths of learning and work within them, and the direction a given spiritual specialist may take. This is beyond the very general scope of this post.

I expect that as time goes on the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits will call folks to different ways and needs within the communities will cause change to how spiritual specialists work within a given religion or religious tradition. As time goes on perhaps each will have their own dedicated spiritual specialists so that a Heathen looking to see if their plan to engage with a Heathen sacrificer is okayed through divination with a Heathen diviner. Perhaps not, and we will have a similar pattern to what we do today, with spiritual specialists fulfilling a lot of roles at once within their own particular communities and between them as well. It is quite possible we will have a blend of these depending on location, the polytheist religion in question, the spiritual specialist type, and trends within the overculture and our specific ones.

Discussion and/or Divination

Figuring out where you stand include both discussion and divination. Depending on how you started this journey it might include more of one or the other as the deciding factor for entering into the work of becoming a spiritual specialist.

As I wrote above, you always retain your sovereignty, and so, your ability to say no to entering into the work. You also retain your sovereignty and ability to say no to the work once you are involved in it. Once begun you may have consequences for walking away from it depending on any oaths you take, where you are in a community with that choice, and the relationships you have made in that journey.

Questions

Whether in discussion with an Elder, mentor, or peer, or sitting down to divination, I find these questions to be some of the most useful to figuring out where you stand.

Baselines

What are the boundaries of this work? What am I willing to do? What am I not willing to do?

Is this a spiritual specialty, topic, and/or skill I need to know? If so, how much knowledge and experience do I need to have to fulfill my obligations as a spiritual specialist with this specialty, topic, and/or skill?

Am I suited to this spiritual specialty by temperament, training, and/or calling?

Am I willing to commit to this work fully? What obligations, taboos, training, initiation, and other requirements will this spiritual specialty require of me?

Does this spiritual specialist work dovetail with my current spiritual work, discipline, etc, or will I need to modify my spiritual work in order to do this? How?

If I take this work up what down time, if any, do I have? How does my relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits change through it? How does my relationship with my communities change through it?

What discipline(s) will I need to maintain in order to train and become this spiritual specialist?

Skill Level

Do I currently possess the skills, training, and/or abilities required to carry out this spiritual specialty? If so, where do I need to improve? If not, what do I need to work on?

With regard to a given skill within a spiritual specialty: What is the skill? What does it do? What is its function within the spiritual specialty?

Do I have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to learn this spiritual specialty well? Do those teaching me have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to teach me well?

Training

What are the requirements of training in this spiritual specialty?

What are the necessities to train to become this or that spiritual specialist?

What are subjects that are not core to this spiritual specialist but still useful to it?

What are subjects to avoid until the initial training/initiation period is over?

How do I train? Is there academic work needing to be done? Experiential? Both?

Who do I train with? Is the training self-directed or is there a regimen or outline to follow?

Is there an expectation of hours of service, experience, etc before I am qualified to move into a new phase of training, work, etc

Initiation

Is initiation necessary for this spiritual specialty?

If I am to undertake an initiation what are the boundaries to it so that it is as safe as possible?

Is an initiation needed to perform certain duties within this spiritual specialty?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc before initiation?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc after initiation?

Everyday Life

A key aspect of figuring out where you are as a polytheist is orienting your everyday life around your spiritual outlook. This is particularly true if you are going to be a spiritual specialist. An example of this would be a monastic schedule during which periods of contemplation, prayer, and devotion are scheduled alongside any other activities the monastic has. They are far from the only people who could benefit from such a thing, and even so, not all polytheist monastics have such a schedule if they have a formal one at all.

Whatever you do, there should be time in the day for at least 5-15 minutes of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, prayer, offerings, and connection with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. Keep in mind I am not saying this time even needs to be all at once. My family and I make prayers throughout the day -when we first see Sunna, each meal, when we see Máni (if He can be seen) and before sleep. We make offerings as often as we are able. The strictness or laxity of your schedule will depend on your needs, the requirements of your religion, and, if you are a spiritual specialist, the requirements that brings.

Beyond spiritual self-care and cultus, there is also a need to orient as much of your life to be in concert with your worldview as possible. In my own life this has meant that I have foods that are taboo, so I have to work to avoid them. It also means that I avoid certain actions, spend my money on companies and causes that align with my interests as a polytheist and animist, and literally schedule my life around my religious obligations. Not only do I set aside hours of my life for things like divination, my family respects this time because it is service to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and to those who come to me for that service.

Going Forward

There are as many ways to be a spiritual specialist as there are people, and despite the length of this post, I am only touching on the outline of the subject. A polytheist understanding of things like priests, monastics, spiritworkers, and so on is fundamentally different from that of monotheists. The requirements of different polytheist religions’ spiritual specialists will differ from one another as well. A Heathen priest will differ from those of a Kemetic priest, and even within a given polytheist religion individual requirements of spiritual specialists will differ from one another. A priest of Anpu will likely not have the same role as a priest of Aset even if many of the requirements to be a priest, the taboos held, the conduct during ceremony, the offerings made, and so on, are the same.

Whatever brings you to the work of being a spiritual specialist, whatever way you engage in it, whatever work you need to do is just that: yours. No one else can do it, no one else can do your work for you. So, if yours is to be a spiritual specialist, ves Þu heil to you, and may your luck be strong.

Patreon Topic 46: On Housevaettir

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From Alexis comes this topic:

“Have you talked about house vættir?”

Not in so many words until your topic on this post and Q&A request here.

Are the housevaettir landvaettir? Yes, and They are separate. From the Q&A:

There are a few reasons I make a distinction.

First, the house is an entity unto itself marked by the boundaries of its walls and outer doors.


Second, our modern houses are generally distinct from the land they sit on or in. Very few homes anymore are made with materials directly sourced on site.

Third, the means of relating to home vs land are different in how we treat and understand ourselves in those spaces. 

Our relationships with our home are fundamentally different to ‘the outside’. Even where there is bleedover between the two boundaries of húsvaettir and landvaettir I find there is usually some distinction in relationship with us.

March 2021 Q&A 2

Are the beings that live on/with the land landvaettir? They can be. That answer also implies we are also vaettir ourselves. It is true though, we are vaettir. We are not becoming vaettir and we do not become vaettir when we die; we are vaettir whatever the condition of our líki (body) or other soul parts.

So the distinction here is that we ourselves are not landvaettir until we join with the land. Likewise with húsvaettir. We are close, sometimes even indistinct if you are taking a bird’s eye view, yet we are still distinct from each other. I am no more a rock than I am separate from the land.

Húsvaettir are more intimate with us and vice versa than a lot of vaettir. After all, we live in and with Them. We see Them sometimes more than our own extended families, so having a good relationship with Them is all to our mutual good.

Each vaettr within the home is a vaettr unto itself, and yet, like with our own bodies and the billions of cells that make us up, as we constitute a whole so does the collective húsvaettir. If we look at the home itself as a composite Being, we can clearly see the idea of the soul matrix applies to it.

The materials that make up the house is the líki (body), the air that circulates through the home is its önd (breath), the heat and cool the lá (heat), the litr (color/blooming hue/goodly hue) would be how the interior and exterior are lit and the emotions the painting of the alls and decorations bring. How are its hugr (mind/memories/spirit) formed? The decorations are part of that too, especially photographs, the layout of special places including the hearth or what serves for it, the places shrines are placed, and the bedrooms. The munr (mood/mind/logic) is the flow of the home’s layout and the layout itself, and I also see it in the way that the guts of the house are arranged for flow of information such as the cable and ethernet lines. The hamr is the second skin, the spiritual form of the house. Perhaps it appears warm and inviting to us who live in it, but it could just as easily look foreboding to unwelcome spirits.

What might its fylgja and kinfylgja be? Those vaettir that it descends from, the constituent Beings of wood, metal, and the Dead that are Ancestors of the large amount of oil-derived products (if it is a modern Western home), or whatever is used to build the home. Its hamingja (group luck) is made with those who live with/within It and whom It helps to keep well. If the home’s occupants actively seek to make oaths with It before occupation then keeping Its part of them increases Its own hamingja. Its megin is felt in how it welcomes those who live with/in It in, and how it stands up to storms and other occurences in Its life. Its ørlög is laid down when it is made, and its Urðr unfolds from here as it ages.

Here’s a fun thought to think on: if we understand that the house itself is distinct and separate from us, possessing its own soul matrix whether occupied or not, then what are we when we live inside a house?

In a sense we are distinct from the house in that we can pack up, leave, and never come back at any point in time. The húsvaettir cannot do that. We die, and the house still stands. Perhaps someone else will come along to call it home. Yet, without a home we as humans are understood as missing something vital. So, in this sense a house is a distinct entity from us, and so too are the húsvaettir and landvaettir.

Mind you, I am not saying we need to have a rooted-to-the-ground home to have a home or that this understanding of húsvaettir is exclusive to American stick built homes. There are plenty of examples of homes that can be carried on your back or that of an animal or vehicle, whether a tent, a yurt, a tiny home on a trailer, a camper, or RV. What matters it that this is a place we call and relate to as a home, as our home. As with a lot of things in Heathenry, it comes down to the relationships we are engaged in.

My relationships with the húsvaettir are expressed in similar ways to those of other vaettir. We have a space for the húsvaettir on a vé that They share with our Ancestors, the févaettir (moneyvaettir aka money spirits), and Andvari. They get offers the same as other vaettir, usually water, but also on herbs and food on occasion. As with other vaettir, engaging respectfully, and with respectful lines of communication is the best way to developing a good relationship with the húsvaettir.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 46: For Cleaning with the Húsvaettir

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This was requested by Alexis for cleaning with her húsvaettir (house spirits).

It’s time to clean

It’s time to clean

Húsvaettir I call

Come help me wash

Come help me sweep

Come help me keep our hall!

The work gets done

The work gets done

With effort and with song

The grime is gone

The dust is gone

The cleaning carries on!

We cleanse the home

We cleanse the home

Together húsvaettir

We cleanse above

We cleanse below

This home we all hold dear!

(When all is done)

The cleaning’s done

The cleaning’s done

Thank you húsvaettir

Time to rest

Time to relax

Within our home most dear!