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Posts Tagged ‘struggle’

Broken Lines

January 11, 2016 6 comments

Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions.  In some places, those lines are fairly stark.  In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways.  At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture.  We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.

I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family.  No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members.  I was taught a smattering of German words.  There was nothing left by the time I was being raised.  I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual.  Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.

So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them.  As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them.  I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error.  Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life.  She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that.  There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit.  It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things.  While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.

I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact.  What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.

I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:

  • A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
  • A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
  • A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
  • A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
  • A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.

There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.

Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.

Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound.  There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions.  A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here.  One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this.  I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.

Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?

Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.

Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.

Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods.  It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us.  Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow.  It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.

I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis.  There was no temple structure.  I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life.  There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to.  If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you.  If not, it’s a loner’s game.

What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward.  Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine.  For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.

For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities.  Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on.  This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis.  At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple.  While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.

Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture.  In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.

Difficulties and Victories

September 3, 2014 4 comments

I have been avoiding this blog.  Of late, I have been wracked by difficulties, namely financial pressures and depression and anger, cycling states, resulting from it.  I am a diabetic who, on a pretty small budget to begin with, has had to shuck out $243 per vial of insulin to get the stuff I need to live.  This eats about half a paycheck, and this happens at least once a month.  I do not like to write in this headspace, not for this blog, at the least.  A good chunk of my early poetry as a teenager was written in stages of anger and depression, similar in cycles to what I am going through right now.  I do not like to be vulnerable like this.  I don’t.  This is the stuff I keep pretty tight to the chest.  This is the stuff that I tend to keep even from close friends because of some misguided notion that I am keeping my problems off of people.

I will admit, right now my problems seem pretty insurmountable with anything other than the passage of time.  I have made my prayers, and I will keep making them.  I will smoke my personal sacred pipe, and keep on smoking when I am in the headspace where I can do so in respect and appreciation of the sacred act.  I I have made offerings with my family and will continue to make them.   Still, I feel gnawing anxiety, sometimes panic when I think about the $20,000 hospital bill waiting to breathe down my neck that my hospital has gracefully kept at bay for the time being.  Then there’s the collection letter, the first one I have ever received, that arrived in the mail because the physicians go through someone else other than the main hospital billing department.  Turns out the help the hospital offered did not include the physicians and I found myself on the other end of a phone begging to pay half the bill in two months time.  Here’s hoping it won’t squelch my credit score.

I write this not as some kind of pity-party, but because when I came back to this blog a few years ago after a hiatus, I wanted to present a more full image of myself, my religious life, and my journey as a shaman, priest, polytheist, father, and lover.  My life is rather difficult right now.  I want to be pretty damned clear: sometimes the religious aspect of my life is a great balm and comfort for these trying times, and sometimes it is a struggle to even work up the desire to do a meal prayer.  Anger and depression coupled with anxieties about finance do that.  It eats, gnaws at you.  When your doctor tells you everything is going to be okay, and hugs you and you want to cry, this person you see maybe once a month, you know things are rough.  Our son and his mother help quite a bit, both with keeping my spirits up, and keeping the prayers and offerings.  I cannot do this alone.  This is a tribal religion.  If this were all on me I am unsure I could do it, even without that aspect of it there, given the challenges before us.  The beautiful thing about being in a tribal religion though, is that you don’t need to do it all.  You can be weak, and that is okay.  In letting yourself be weak you can allow others to be strong.  For you, if no one else.

I mentioned sometime back that the shrines/altars I care for alone are the shrine for the Dead, the shrine for the Warrior Dead, and Rùnatýr and the Runevaettir’s altar.  All the other ones Sylverleaf and our son take care of together with me. This does not mean I should not or do not take care of the other altars and shrines, but when I am this low sometimes it is all I can do to ask for help with the altars and shrines.  Again, taking strength from them and them helping me has kept me pretty motivated and keeping on keeping on with the offerings and prayers.  Occasionally I will take some time and talk, especially with the Ancestors, Odin included, and talk about my situation, how I am feeling, and ask for Their help.

It’s funny, in writing a post so in-the-moment how things can move forward.  I started writing this 8-27-2014, and then,I got the call the next day: I finally qualified for Medicaid.  My financial problems are far from over, but an important step in making sure we aren’t hurting for money all the time has finally, finally, been reached.  I have been trying to get this leg of the journey done since January.  It took months and months, and my first case manager did not get back with me or the hospital at all.  The hospital got so pissed at this person and the lack of communication from DHS that they said ‘fuck it’ to my bills in February.  I was denied twice before this ruling, despite being told over and over I qualified.  While it is still up in the air whether Medicaid will help me with the April’s $20,000 bill, going forward I won’t have to panic if I need to head into the hospital.  I will be able to afford my life-preserving meds now.  I will be able to see the doctor, and get the physical I need so that I can qualify for a better job, if not get into a career.  I will be making offerings and prayers of thanks to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

This does not mean that the Gods somehow favor me over other people, even if my prayers have been answered.  Piety does not equal prosperity.

I am poor.  If it weren’t for my folks there is no way my family or I would be in anything like a stable living situation.  I’m saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and were we completely on our own we would be struggling to pay rent, let alone put food on the table.   I am the subject of ridicule when people write derisive works of people living with their parents till they’re in their late 20s and 30s.  This, despite going to college while working, and taking on an inordinate amount of debt with nothing to show for it.  At the moment the only options are to a) scramble around trying to save enough to survive on and hope some breakthrough comes our way, or b) head back to college to be saddled with yet more debt in the hopes of making a career.  I am working on the latter, going for my MA in Counseling.

Many of the people that I look to as friends, colleagues, and elders have been or are poor.  There should be no shame in being poor, but there is; a deep amount of it.  I have no delusions of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire; my family has been blue collar and/or union jobs for quite a while.  Everyone except my generation, and some of the last one, has worked the land since they were young.  Both sides of my family raised chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, and herbs.  This is the kind of life I am looking to go back to.  I see no viable future in the rat race, no good coming of indulging in the idea that those who have the most toys at death win.  I want to leave something lasting; odal land to my people, whether it is Sylverleaf, our son, or our community.

When I think of getting our own home, our own land, I think of the Hávamál, line 36 and 37 in the Olive Bray translation edited by D.L. Ashliman:

36.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats and a bark-thatched hut
’tis better than craving a boon.

37.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
each man is master at home;
with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
his meat at every meal.

Piety does not equal prosperity, yet this also does not mean that the Gods will not bless our lives, or that it is hubris to recognize those blessings.  Rather, it is hubris to ignore the blessings They give, leave it unmarked, without thanks.  I have held on to some very good mead for awhile now, given as a gift to me, and it may be time to offer and share it.

I’m not shouting from the rooftops going “Woohoo!  We’re great!” because we’re not.  Getting Medicaid and being able to care for my chronic health conditions are small steps in a series of steps to living on our own, raising our family, and bringing together the life we wish to have.  There are still financial challenges ahead, mercifully one of them not being the medication I need to live or doctor visits to help keep me healthy.  We are moving forward together and celebrating this victory.  We will keep pushing forward to the next one, reaching for our goals.  We are getting there.

For anyone who has offered prayers, kind words, an open ear and mind, or wisdom in all of this, thank you.  Thank you for helping us get through one more leg of our journey.  Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and individuals who all have supported us in these hard times.  Thank you for continuing to support us, and help us wherever you can.  Thank you.

Hope is a Tough Choice

October 14, 2013 2 comments

Hope is hard.  Hope is hard because it asks us to look at the ugliness around us and to dream of more than what we see.  It demands we reach beyond the abyss we see when we look upon violence and hate that grips so much around us, in us, through us.  Hope is the hard road, the rough road, the road that says “Stand up”.

It is hard to hope.  It is hard to hope when so many are arrayed against it.  Yet hope is not delusion, is not a honeyed tongue, or a fever-dream.  It is reachable and doable, even if only through steep odds.  Yet hope, like many roads, begins with steps, and keeps on with determination.  It must be chosen. Yes, the skies are poisoned, the seas are choked with plastic, the world roils under the heat we produce.  Yes, massacre and genocide sweeps across the world and eats, a furious glutton on the entrails of all who feed it.  Even in that there is hope. There are the small steps; the person who seeks alternatives to their consumption, the person who uses less and saves more.  There is the person who opens their home to refugees, who squirrels away the children so they will not become child soldiers; it will not stop the war, but one more will not need to suffer.   There are the small steps of a person who plants a garden and eats from their own yard, or the person who drives less or is more efficient in their energy use.  There are the small steps of a person who stands up and says ‘No, no more’.  These are not just gestures but points of hope put into action.  That we can and are changing.

Do we need big steps?  Yes, of course we do, but these are steps we can take as individuals, then communities. When our resolve becomes to stand before the problems we face, from climate change to genocide, from ecological disaster to the gutting of our communities, hope is there because we stand in our place and claim what power we have.  We cede it far too much.  No, a changed lightbulb or car route will not halt global warming, but it can inspire change through its demonstration of what action begins to look like.  Will a single child saved stop a civil war?  No, but it saves that child’s life for something more, one less killer, one less victim, inch by inch building up the hope that there can be a better tomorrow.  Hope is generated by action seen through to its conclusion, is shaped by the hearts of those who seed it.  So wherever you can, however you can, sow and grow hope.

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