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Planting Seeds

March 4, 2015 24 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oaths, Maegen, and Hamingja

March 8, 2013 13 comments

“Keeping your word is one of the most important things you can do.  Once you break your word it is hard to get that trust back.  Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.”  -My Dad

There should be little more needing to be said for oaths and oathmaking.  I make exceedingly few oaths nowadays.  This is not because I am untrustworthy or I avoid commitment, but because oaths carry maegen of their own, and along with that binding power, my and the other parties’ maegen.  This maegen will affect those communities I and they are attached to through hamingja.

Before we go much further, let us define some terms.

Maegen

Maegen is analogous to one’s personal luck or power.  Where önd is the breath and analogous to chi or one’s personal energies, maegen is the strength by which those energies are felt, how they are wielded, and so on.  We all start with önd, and some work with their önd quite well in context of building it, such as by learning breath control, inner control, meditation, and similar arts.  Maegen is worked with and built by keeping your word, by exercising your Will in ways that build you up.

Hamingja

Hamingja translates, roughly, to group luck or power.  This is built in much the same way as maegen, but it also ties into the group’s recognition of you keeping your oaths, showing up when needed (i.e. if you say you are going to be there you will be there), and being a good member of your communities.  Maegen and hamingja are part of the soul, as much as the liche (body), mynd (mind), and vili (Will).

The Weight of an Oath

When you make an oath or a promise you are literally putting a piece of your soul at stake.  You are saying to the other party “I trust you so much I am willing to wager a part of my soul for this oath.”  When you keep your oath your maegen increases, as may your standing in the community, thus increasing hamingja.  The same may be true in reverse: keeping well with your community may help to increase your maegen, i.e. showing up when you say you will, doing right by the community, etc.  After all, if you are keeping your oaths you are exercising the muscles of maegen, and potentially hamingja if the oaths and promises made were before or to a group.

This is why in the Northern Tradition oathbreaking is regarded as the lowest thing you can do, right down there with being a traitor.  Think of most any mythology where a person breaks their oath to the Gods, or to their kin; there is backlash.  Sometimes there is no ‘good’ choice and it is a tossup of breaking of one oath or another, such as the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t story of Cú Cuhulain who was given the unenviable choice of breaking one or the other of his geas.   It may be you have to keep to established taboos, such as not eating this animal, wearing that piece of clothing, or not speaking certain words.  Keeping to the oaths, the taboos, the expectations is more important than I can say in words.  I have lost friends, and hurt those I love both emotionally and spiritually by not doing so.  I was removed from a group for this.  Take my example as a lesson, and don’t repeat it.  The consequences reverberate through your life and Wyrd.

Oaths in America

Modern American culture no longer respects oaths, if indeed, it ever really did.  Our elected officials make empty promises to their constituents, and once elected, to the Constitution.  Veterans give their lives to a People that sees fit to lead them to lives of plastic bags, cardboard boxes and underpasses when they have given their all.  Companies who pledged money to their employees thirty years ago bilk their workers’ retirement accounts in schemes and scams, leaving people to struggle to keep their homes, let alone food on their table, in their old age.  Marriage vows are no longer held, with some celebrities not even waiting twenty-four hours before divorce.  With oaths and promises, taboos and peoples’ word given such short shrift it is little wonder that we are in the straights we are in.

With as many broken oaths, half-truths and full-on thirty year lies, how much work would the U.S. government have to do to get an inkling of trust back?  Look at all the broken Treaties the United States government signed with Native American Nations.  No really, look at them.  It’s a litter of literally hundreds of broken promises, terrible deals, backstabbing, and genocide.  In the Declaration of Independence it was declared “all people were created equal” then, when the Constitution was ratified, it cast blacks a 3/5 of a person, less than human.  Our nation was part of the creation and ratification of the Geneva Convention, and now We flaunt it shamelessly.  Companies poison our bodies, minds, land, sea, and sky are raking in record profits while bottom-rung workers are forced to take up public assistance.  Any thought to the well-being of the People, and associated promises and oaths to take care of the environment, the poor, or anything other than a bottom-line profit motive are met with scorn.  America’s maegen wanes as we shore up our falling power with an ailing, ill-served military, and Its hamingja dies in our constant ‘might makes right’ pursuit of our ‘national interests’.  Meanwhile we have people all over our country unable to care for themselves, half of our nation exists in or under the poverty level, and the nation’s infrastructure crumbles.  Oaths are as important for the soul as they are for the foundation of any society, and when oaths erode, so does the soul.  No less the soul of a nation.

The Marriage Oath

Getting down to the more personal level, let us talk about marriage oaths.  The most common we are used to hearing is “Til Death do you part”.  Think about that.  You are investing a part of your soul, and what ought to be a significant part of your life in a relationship until one or the other of you dies.  There is no ‘out’ in most of these marriage oaths, no ‘if this person turns out to be a total jackass or doesn’t take care of the kids or is abusive I can leave him’.  At least from the Catholic side, you have to get your marriage annulled before you can marry again, but, from the Catholic point of view, this is not breaking an oath.  It is saying the marriage oath was never valid to begin with, and so the oath cannot be binding.

The marriage oath is particularly powerful as oaths go.  You are combining all your bloodlines into one home, welcoming the Ancestors and their descendants of those bloodlines into your life.  You are putting your maegen into your partner(‘s/s’)  hands, and  through your public oath, whether to a court, a few witnesses, your families and friends, or all and sundry at a Renaissance Fair, you are tying together your hamingja to that person, their family, and to the communities you make the marriage oath before.  You are swearing an oath before the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, and the landvaettir.  You’ll be making a home with your partner(s), and you’ll be making it on the landvaettir’s home.  Right relationship with all the Beings involved in making your lives, and in helping you live is crucial.  Keeping the oaths is just one part of this, but a deeply important one.

There are many parts of the marriage oath you can change; heck, you can write your own.  There may be some oaths the Gods, Ancestors and/or spirits want you to change or adapt.  We do not, in most cases, have a singular body of liturgy that has passed down generation after generation, and our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, especially landvaettir, may have different expectations when we come together to marry than what we have in mind.  So while there is a lack in foundation there, there is also a lack in the ossification of the Holy, of written word and spoken oath.

I do not expect much, if any of my living extended family to show up when I get married, yet my partner(s) and I we will be recognized as married when we visit family.  Yet oaths will be made, and the threads of those oaths will tie together our Wyrd to one another, to our communities, and our families.  The ties of maegen, hamingja, and the rest of our soul(s) will still be there, recognized before the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and the communities who see fit to be there.

Maegen, Hamingja, and the Pagan Communities

I have spent a good time talking about oaths, so now I am going to switch gears here a bit.

We build maegen and lose it, break it down and send it up, over the course of our lives.  We can use it to exert control over ourselves and others, we can let it shine like a beacon or we can hood the lamp and keep it to ourselves.  We can work with maegen to make ourselves a better person, or fight its pull and make our lives infinitely harder.  Each person’s maegen is different, and is built differently.  My workout regimen may not work for you.  You might need to build up your arms where I may need to build up my legs.  Your Gods may ask you to contribute to your maegen in a thousand ways  I will never have to touch, whether it is the oaths you keep, the taboos you are not to break, or the path you are meant to walk.  We may even walk side by side, but your maegen is just that: yours.

Hamingja is affected by us, but it is also, in parts, distinctly out of our control.  If it belongs to anyone, it belongs with us and those we share our lives with.  We help to build it up in building up our maegen, but it may also help to build maegen in its turn.  It is, in part, our reputation in the communities we exist in.  It is the relationships we have to those communities, and they to us.  It is the building of partnerships and the burning of bridges. It is the life you touch for good that encourages a person to excel.  It is the person you harmed and helped continue a downward spiral.  It is who you are, and how you are known.  It is your reputation, your name(s), your good word.  It is what you have done for your community and what you have failed to do.  It is trusting the community to have your back as much as it is doing for the community.  It cannot be made alone, though each person has their own part in building it.  Hamingja is like a good barn raising: best made together with those you trust not to drop it as it is raised.

Our maegen and hamingja are the chains we forge with each duty done, each oath kept, each taboo observed, each deed that helps ourselves and others, and it is broken, sometimes link by link and sometimes all at once, when we fail in these.  Yet there is hope because it can be reforged.  So if you do screw up, and Gods knows I have, it is not the end of the world even if, in the moment, it feels like it.  Rebuilding the maegen and/or hamingja from this state is started by making the right choice: to rebuild it.  It may be hard and long, and that chain may never be the same, but it is as worthy Work as any we may engage in.  Good maegen and good hamingja promote frith, good peace and social order.

The Pagan communities have an opportunity to continue to reforge the broken chains that had lain at the Gods’ feet for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  The only way that I know of for these chains to stay forged is for us to remain in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and one another.  This is not a one-shot solution.  This will take time and effort.  It will take patience, starting with ourselves, and branching out from there.  There is no end to this work, really, and no silver bullet, no scrap of lore that will unlock the secrets of this Work.  It is a link forged with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities one person at a time with each and every Being, human and otherwise, that they encounter.  The metal of the links are shaped by our word and deeds, by how we treat one another, and the devotion we show to our Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, our communities, and to our own journey with all of Them.  So let us all dedicate or rededicate ourselves to making these links, to making them lasting long after we are gone so that when the link is tested it will stand strong as it once did, as it can, and I believe will, again.

 

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