Patreon Topic 9: On Seiðr

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From my third Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

“The distinguishing characteristics of *authentic* seiðr, from your perspective and from the perspective of the medieval sources (as relevant).”

When we’re talking about authentic I think getting to what is vs is not authentic is worth taking some time to define.

When it comes to authentic seiðr I care far less about what may be historically authentic comparative to what is authentic to the requirements of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, religions, and communities now. This is not to say historically authentic seiðr is something to brush off, but I recognize that we have a handful of sources and one detailed account of what seiðr looked like at one point in time, and conjecture in a handful of other sections. Further, it can be argued in one instance we see, in Eiríks saga rauða (The Saga of Erik the Red), what we are seeing is a spá rite rather than a seiðr rite. Our map of seiðr, like a lot of what we have available to us, is far less complete than ideal.

This comes to how we define terms in the modern age vs how they may have been divided (or not) in the past. Because I like discrete categories for explanation and for looking at things, I put seiðr and spá into two separate categories. Generally, the way I tend to divide the categories is to the purpose of the rite. If the point is only to contact the spirits for divination, it is a spá rite. If divination is involved but the point is to affect change on a spiritual/magical level, it is a seiðr rite.

I likewise will use descriptions for the people performing the magic. If a person’s primary training and involvement in a ritual is for divination/transmission of spiritual messages with the calling in of spirits, it is a spákona (prophecy woman), spámaðr (prophecy man/human). If a person’s primary training and involvement in a ritual is for affecting Urðr/Wyrd then it would be seiðkona (magic/spell/enchantment woman) or seiðmaðr (magic/spell/enchantment man/human). A prophetess then would be a völva. As I usually use the term a völva can do both even she specializes in one or the other.

How I separate seiðr from other forms of magic, eg sympathetic magic, is that seiðr requires the use of óðr, frenzy, both in the sense of the furious rocking back and forth and/or other forms of ecstatic trance, and the working with of the soul part of the same name. It is spellwork that affects the flow/weaving of Urðr primarily through the use of óðr and other techinques and soul parts as needed. Now, that is not to say that you cannot blend seiðr with sympathetic magic, or other works as you need, are called to, etc. You might find blending magic work to be effective. Given each person engaging in seiðr is doing so in a modern context I would hardly be surprised to find a wide variety of seiðr practices.

All of this is to say that how I define ‘authentic’ may run completely contrary to how another Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan may define it. Since my definitions and ideas of how seiðr is conducted take from the medieval sources we have, I would say that my understanding of authentic is not counter to them, but inclusive of them. This holds with how I treat much of the surviving material. None of what we have was meant as religious instruction and none of what we have is primary source. All is secondary sourcing, and most of that buried behind Christian or Christian-biased writing on the subject.

Authentic seiðr, like any modern Heathen practice, is what schews as close to our Heathen sources, and moreover, what works. We know in the sources that she sits in a high seat and that there is a vardlokkur, a ward song, held before the seiðr rite. What was this song? We are not told, and so, it may be the seiðkona needs to find her own vardlokkur and teach it to someone else to perform, or perform it herself prior to the rite.

What to wear? Thankfully, this is where The Saga of Erik the Red is a lot more explicit.

“Now, when she came in the evening, accompanied by the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in such wise that she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. A staff she had in her hand, with a knob thereon; it was ornamented with brass, and inlaid with gems round about the knob. Around her she wore a girdle of soft hair, and therein was a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her in her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs to them, and great knobs of latten at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within…

…She had a brazen spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus-tusk, which was mounted with two rings of brass, and the point of it was broken off.”

Now, consider this in the modern age and that many of us are operating on shoe-string budgets and our communities even more so. I think most of the accoutremonts make sense for the time period, and that they were often patronized by the wealthy. A stripped down variation of this would be a blue head covering, or a blue hoody with a black hood. Some kind of necklace with glass beads. A brass-headed staff on the more expensive end (JoAnn Fabrics and hardware stores have pieces that could work here), a simple wooden staff on the other. Mind, I do not think a person needs to dress the part exactly to work with seiðr. It might help some folks to recreate the look of a seiðkona as accurately as possible. It might help others to just work with the suggestions here, or a good blindfold or a cloak to get a similar effect to get them in the seiðr headspace.

How to bring in the spirits? We only have a few hints at how seiðr was done, and these are sparse. We know the seiðkona sat on a highest seat and the spirits came in after the vardlokkur was sung. From my reading it is likely some kind of heavy trance was entered into, and something akin to mediumship work or channeling took place. I am not comfortable talking in depth on this in a modern context for a few reasons. First, is that my process was given to me by Freyja when Óðinn handed me to Her for instruction. Second, divulging how to do this without training brings a lot of risks and it would be fairly irresponsible of me just to outline what to do. Third, whatever I do write may not work for you -at all.

What matters is whether or not a given seiðr working is a success. Does it enable the seiðr worker to contact the Holy Powers they need to? Does it provide accurate, actionable information? Does the hamingja and megin of those engaged in it improve through its use? To my mind the reason seiðr survived so long as it did is because it worked. It is the same reason seiðr is seeing a revival now.

Relationships with Spirits -Part 2

This post was started a long time ago, and I am relieved to have finished it as well as I can. Part 1 is here.

Before we begin to address the question of how to begin a relationship with a vaettr, we need to address why we are forming relationships with vaettir at all. This really cuts to where we find ourselves in cosmology and how we relate to the different kinds of vaettir. Our worldview is vaettir-filled, where we as humans are not central to our cosmology and we live in co-existing and co-creating relationships with vaettir in Urðr/Wyrd. The default stance I take with Heathens and Northern Tradition Pagans in regards to vaettir is that of devotion -we form relationships that are devotional because we worship the vaettir and wish to cultivate right relationship with Them.

Stating the standard for our relationships is that of devotion gives proper place to our relationship to the majority of vaettir we exist in relationship with. We rely on various vaettir for our existence, such as the Ancestors without whom we would not be here in the first place, the vindrvaettir who form the air we breathe, the vatnvaettir that make up the water necessary for our lives, the eldrvaettir that makes so much of the modern world possible with Their fire that flows through our buildings, or the jordvaettir beneath our feet and that make up our homes, just to name a few. We can have a variety of kinds of relationships with vaettir. With devotion as the baseline we underscore our general relationship to the vaettir and can contrast it with the different kinds of relationships that can grow out of or beyond that baseline.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Ancestors

The easiest way to build a relationship with a vaettr (singular of vaettir, spirits) is to give space for that vaettr. Physical, real space on an altar or other kind of vé, a sacred place. As mentioned in the last post, the least you need is a surface with a cloth, a candle, matches or a lighter, and a cup for offerings. Water, sacred herbs, and food are our most common offerings to all of our vaettir. As you develop relationships with various vaettir They may make certain requirements for offerings known to you. The physical space and the giving of physical offerings given to the vaettr is necessary; it invites the spirit into your life in an utterly physical way, grounding the relationship in one’s life as well as in one’s space.

Before any other vaettir I recommend people start building relationships with their Ancestors, especially the Disir, Väter, Ergi, and Ancestors one knew before They died. This is because our Ancestors, especially the powerful ones, have our best interests at heart. The reason I recommend building relationships with those Ancestors we had relationships with in life is because it aids discernment, and can help smooth the process of reaching out to the rest of one’s Ancestors. I tip my hat to my Brother Jim for this. For those who have had troubled relationships with their recently dead Ancestors, I recommend going back further. If your mother or father were abusive, go back farther in your family line until you are away from the poison of that abuse. If you do not know the names of your Ancestors, do the geneaology research you can, and in the meantime ask the Disir, Väter, and Ergi to help you meet your good and healthy Ancestors.

When you are ready follow the Simplest Altar and Simple Invitation Rite of the last post. Remember that a gipt fá gipt/Gebo relationship is one that honors both participants, and it may take a while for the relationship to get beyond introductions. There is no timeframe you need to have for settling into a comfortable relationship with your Ancestors. It will take its own time. Setting the space and maintaining the right mindset and giving time for the relationship is vastly more important than courting powerful visions or experiences. If you want feedback from the Ancestors and do not get it in direct experiences get some kind of divination system, learn how to use it, and dedicate it to communication with Them. This divination system might only be useful for communication with the Ancestors, or it may be useful to communication with any vaettir. This is something that you will need to learn by experience. Directly asking the vaettir in question if They want a dedicated divination system does not hurt. Even if you do get direct experiencess with the Ancestors I would still heavily recommend learning at least one if not many divination systems.

If you are fully new to Heathenry or the Northern Tradition I would recommend spending anywhere from half to a full year doing regular Ancestor worship before starting any new relationships with other vaettir. Dedicating fifteen minutes a day after cleansing and other preparation to simple prayers and offerings each day, at least three to four times a week will build a solid foundation of devotion and understanding. There will be times when life intrudes; in that case, dedicate time the next day to your devotion. Explain to the Ancestors why you missed, not to beat yourself up or denigrate yourself, but because your Ancestors deserve the respect of an explanation.

Adding new items to the vé does not have to be big or elaborate. The most common additions to my family’s altars come from thrift stores and antique shops. Often our additions, especially with the Ancestor vé, are vessels that hold offerings and serve as representative of certain Ancestors. Whatever you add needs to be connective between you and the vaettir, and respectfully maintained. As time goes on you might find yourself accumulating items representing various Ancestors, but this is only a requirement insofar as the Ancestors make that requirement of you. There is something to be said for simple vé as well as busy ones. What matters is that the ve is a place of connection with your Ancestors.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Landvaettir

As with the Ancestors it is about giving space to Them so you have a common meeting place. In our home we have two different areas for different kinds of landvaettir. The housevsaettir have Their own space while the landvaettir have Their own on a different altar entirely. A really simple way of making a space for landvaettir is to ask the landvaettir for a piece of Them to bring into your ve. The rock we have on our jörðvaettir vé is a stone we uncovered while preparing our garden. Our housevaettir have a wooden bird feeder in the shape of a house. Our outdoor vé is a sacred grove with a single tree representing Yggdrasil and the landvaettir. Another option is to make a hörgr, a vé made of a pile of stones. You can make the vé for landvaettir indoors or outdoors, though given my experiences I would recommend both. It is far better to pay regular attention and cultus to the landvaettir who have a space on an indoor shrine or altar than to only occasionally visit Their shrine outside.

The Ancestors generally have our best interests in mind and will guide, follow, and walk with us in life. We literally live on and alongside the landvaettir. Having a good relationship with the landvaettir may start simple, but I can assure you that over time it will not stay that way. Having a good relationship with the landvaettir requires us to treat our homes, whatever your living situation, as places that are inhabited by Beings besides us. Thoses Beings have interests that may or may not align with our own. Living well with the landvaettir will probably push you to take a hard look at how you live, encouraging land-healing things like composting scraps, and altering your spending habits so you produce less garbage. Anyone can improve their relationship with the landvaettir by being more mindful of what we consume, how we treat the land we live on, and by growing what we can where we can, dedicating all these things as offerings to Them.

When beginning a relationship with the landvaettir perhaps the best questions you can ask yourself are related to how you live on the land. How can I honor the land I live on? How can I live as low-impact as possible on the land? What native plant species can I encourage where I live? If I cannot grow or raise my own food who can I patronize that can? Ask the landvaettir directly what they want, and go from there.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Fylgja, Kinfylgja, and Vörðr

In the Ancestor section of this post I recommended learning at least one if not many divination styles. Vaettir like fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr are why. As with other vaettir giving Them space in your vé is important. Unlike the Ancestors and landvaettir where you can have clear ideas of who They are, figuring out the identity of one’s fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr will likely require divination.

With fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr one of the best questions you can ask is: Why are you seeking Them out? Really dig into this, especially since a given vaettr will likely want to know why you sought Them out.

Do you just want to know who They are? Do you want a better working relationship with Them? Do you want to make new connections with a fylgja as a tutelary spirit in a field of magic or hobby you are interested in? Do you want to connect with kinfylgja your Ancestors still have connections with but only you are willing to put in the work for the relationship? Do you want to know your vörðr so you can better work with your guardian? Are you looking to develop power, skill, talent, or a bond that will help you out when you need it? There are a lot of reasons to seek out relationships with vaettir, and the more clear and honest you can be the cleaner you will be in looking for the relationship, and if reciprocated, engage in the relationship.

If you have an idea from divination what kind of vaettr the fylgja, kinfylgja, or vörðr is you can tailor your initial offerings and method of contact to Them.

It may require, either instead of or after divination, some kind of spiritwork. One example of this is utiseta, Old Norse meaning sitting out. One goes somewhere, such as one’s vé or on in a natural spot such as a clearing or grove of trees in a forest, then sits or lies down and enters into trance. Historically utiseta was connected with going somewhere to stir spirits up, do magic, or spirit work. Utisetsa itself, combined with a calling prayer, song, or something similar, may be enough for a vaettr to come to a person. If not, the more dangerous option may be open, known as hamfara, or one’s hame-shape faring forth, or engaging in spiritual journey work. This hamfara may be a requirement to meet certain vaettir, including certain fylgja or kinfylgja in a designated place. Perhaps it asks you to visit it in its home, perhaps on neutral ground. This kind of spiritwork in detail is beyond this post, but I would be remiss to not include it as a method some folks may need to engage in order to find or encounter a given vaettr.

This is not something I recommend for most people -at any skill level. If you can get the work done here in Midgarðr and don’t have to leave your body then you are far safer doing so. While not everything will be out to get you should you fare forth, there is enough danger to your hamr that I recommend folks do a good amount spiritwork before even going to a place friendly to them. I do not see vörðr as likely needing hamfara, but They, or more likely you, will need utisetsa to see them or communicate until the relationship is more solid.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Alfar

This section is going to be limited purely because I do not work with the Alfar all that much. As with any vaettir knowing why you want to establish a relationship with Them and giving Them a space in your life is key to starting a good relationship. Where the lore is concerned Alfar are often split into two or three separate groups: Ljossalfar, Dökkalfar, and Svartalfar which are light elves, dark elves, and black elves respectively. As I mentioned in the previous post, there is a great deal of confusion over identity and who each kind of Being is.

Wherever I can I try to relate to vaettir by Their own names, understanding Them as separate Beings. So, in my understanding of Them, the Ljossalfar, Dökkalfar, and Svartalfar are all different kinds of Alfar, each with Their own culture. It seems to me on first glance the Dökkalfar and Svartalfar are separate groups, so I will err on the side of caution here. What kinds of approach work for different kind of Alfar will depend on that culture, and on the individual vaettr.

Most of my interactions with Alfar in general have been with regards to visiting Freyr. When I have encountered Ljossalfar I was doing spiritual journeying in Ljossalfheim. This is not true of the Svartalfar, some of whom I have seen in Svartalfheim. However, most of the interactions I have had with Beings in and from Svartalfheim have been with Dvergar, dwarves. So, are the Dvergar Svartalfar? I am just not the spirit worker to ask on this. So, my recommendation is to read as much as you can of the lore and firsthand accounts of modern folks who have journeyed and have good relationships with these vaettir. Much of my advice for developing relationships with the Alfar in general is going to follow similar lines: do your research, learn what traditional offerings there are in the lore and make the ones you can to the Alfar you wish to develop a relationship with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Dvergar

The Dvergar or Duergar are generally known as Dwarves. They are said to be or share Svartalfheim with the Svartalfar. In my experience this is a shared world between these two peoples. Shared unevenly, but shared nonetheless.

They are renowned for being cantankerous and the best crafters in the Nine Worlds. Understanding this is why being really clear on why you want to develop a relationship with a given vaettr or group of vaettir is so important. Gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift, aka reciprocity) matters, and the Dvergar in my experience hold it in the deepest regard. That is not to say that developing a relationship with the Dvergar to ask for help in a given craft is a bad idea; far from it. Rather, do not approach Them only as a friend and then begin asking for Them to share secrets of the trade with you. If you want to learn from Them on how to do a given craft better then do it, but do not do it hidden under the guise of friendship. Sure, a friendly relationship could grow from such an interaction, but far better you are clear in your motives both for your own sake and the sake of the relationship.

In my experience the Dvergar enjoy well brewed items, including beers, mead, and liquors. This is especially true if you brewed it yourself or worked with a brewer to make the offering. From my rather limited interaction with this group of vaettir, meats and breads are also appreciated, the less processing done and the more care taken in cooking/baking it the better.

All of this said, my relationship with Andvari has been very different from my other devotional relationships. Mostly, it has consisted of being as clear as I can in what is mine. Apply the idea as broad and as thin as you can of being exceptionally clear on what is mine. This is an ongoing work that I do both for Him and I. Another quite powerful part of my relationship with Andvari has been developing a far better and healthier relationship with money and working at chipping down my debts. You could well ask why, and part of it is because that is what Andvari is really good at, where at least part of His focus lies. The sorting out of my debt is, in a way, sorting out what is mine and bringing back into my hands all that is mine so I can put it to my use. This is not all that different from a crafter making sure they have all their tools at hand and cared for. Money, having its own group of vaettir as well as being the means by which we trade our claim on labor for goods, services, and the repayment of debt, can bring power when we are in good alignment with it.

You may find that the Dvergar you interact with want the same kinds of offerings as other Holy Powers, but given my experiences I would not be surprised to find that They have very specific wants from you should They accept your cultus. Gifts of your hands, made to the best of your ability, may be accepted. Another may be ongoing dedicated work, such as learning a craft, which can vary as far as blacksmithing to knitting, brewing to soapmaking. Whatever the offering, it should be made with and in the spirit of excellence even should you be far from being master at whatever it is.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Jötnar

Jötnar are perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood group of Gods and vaettir in Heathen religion and the wider Pagan communities. Since this post is about vaettir I will dig into the Jötnar as vaettir rather than going over the various Jötnar Gods.

The notion that Jötnar are uniquely dangerous is rather undeserved in my view. All vaettir are potentially dangerous. Anyone who thinks deer are little more than placid creatures should watch videos of hunters who have had to tangle hand-to-hoof with one. It tends to end poorly for the hunter. It should be remembered no small amount of the Aesir that so many seem to think are less dangerous are actually ferocious and equally, if not more dangerous than many Jötnar. Many are Jötun or have Jötun ancestry Themselves even if the allegiance They hold is to the Aesir. All of the Gods are capable of being ferocious in battle, and anyone who tries to, say, pin the Vanir as uniquely being Gods of peace or specifically pacificity should be reminded that though Freyr gave up His sword for love, He still took up the antler as His weapon and fought Surt with it at Ragnarök. The Aesir and Vanir fought one another to a standstill which was only broken when hostages were exchanged.

So what are Jötnar? Put simply They are vaettir who are tied quite close to primal forces and natural phenomena, though They may or may not be the personification of that primal force and/or natural phenomena. They are often looked at and understood as wilder than Aesir and Vanir, with these two tribes of Gods often looked upon as the ‘civilized’ Gods. My experience with Jötnar is that They do tend to be more outwardly wild than the Aesir or Vanir, but that the claims that the Jötnar are uncivilized is dead wrong. They have cultures, distinct to the regions They live in and/or roam. This ties into the idea of regional cultus, the idea that our location, environment, place in time, and culture’s response to these factors impacts our spiritual relationships, making them unique to an area. Regional cultus has existed because we came to understand our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and our relationships with Them in context of where we live and how our culture’s traditions reacted to and reinforced those relationships. This understanding, to my mind, is a two way street: we relate to our Holy Powers in context of where we live and how, and They in turn relate to us through those ways. So some ways in which we relate to Jötnar may not translate 1:1 with our sources of lore. For instance: Michigan has a lack of mountains (except the Porcupine Mountains, for instance, in the Upper Peninsula) so that I have very little interaction with vaettir in general tied to mountains unless I journey to a place with mountains spiritually or physically.

Beginning a relationship with a landvaettr seems to make sense to people intuitively in an animist/polytheist way. After all, we live on the Earth, the Earth is a Goddess and is also full of spirits of that Earth. Why wouldn’t we want to have a good relationship with the land we live on? When it comes to Jötnar folks seem to forget this mindset, also forgetting that the Goddess whose name is Earth, Jörð, is Jötun. I do find that some Jötnar ride the line or are landvaettir Themselves. Others are Beings who take up space within the context of being aligned with a place, eg Jötnar aligned with bodies of water such as Undines tend to be there. They tend to be of or take up the wildest aspects of these places.

So why do we develop relationships with the Jötnar? They are part of the primal forces that make up our world, and They are found throughout most of the Worlds. We can encounter Jötnar most anywhere we do landvaettir. Additionally, we may find Them in the primal aspects of this world, among them storms, ice, snow, winds, forests, swamps, and animals. Some, given They live in Jötunheim, Niflheim, Múpelheim, and so on, may require a spiritual journey to meet with Them. My previous warnings on journeying apply here even more so considering how much more powerful the Jötnar generally are than us, how extreme these environments are to us, and that in journeying to these places we are entering their realms. If you can meet with Them here that is probably for the best. That being said, Jötnar are renowned in many arts, from medicinal to martial, magic, shapeshifting, and more. Seeking Them out for devotion is slowly becoming more accepted, but whether a thing is accepted or not, devotion to these Beings is a beautiful and powerful thing. They are among our Holy Powers. Seeking Them out for devotion, partnership, or help in an endeavor is a powerful working in and of itself. How much more so when you worship and/or ally with the primal Beings we share this and other Worlds with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -The Dead

Of any of the various vaettir one could work with the Dead are one I advise folks have a lot of caution before working with Them. It may seem counterintuitive, given how much emphasis I have put in this post and in my blog in general on working with our Ancestors. After all, They are Dead. The Ancestors are, at least in part among the Dead, but not all are the Dead, and for those that are, we hold unique relationships with Them. We do not have this connection with the general Dead. The Dead draw Their ranks from among every Being in every World. Some may retain grudges into whatever Their afterlife is, whereas some change entirely.

So what are the Dead? They are spirits of those who once lived. They come from every World. Some are human; most are not. It is not worth bothering most of the Dead. Most Dead who can be contacted know about as much, sometimes more and sometimes less, than those when They are alive. Likewise for the Dead’s ability to act in the Worlds. Contacting the Dead besides those methods approved by a God or Goddess of the Dead tends to be fairly dangerous. Not only are you risking wrangling with a potentially angry and dangerous vaettr, you may also be risking pissing off a God or Goddess of the Dead. So why develop a relationship with the Dead at all?

We all have Dead people, not just Ancestors, as part of our foundation. The Dead share this world with us. When we get right down to brass tacks, we literally stand on the Dead as the decomposed bodies on the soil of the Earth. Our homes are built on Them, our civilizations’ foundations, metaphorically and literally, rest on Them. We are in relationship with the Dead whatever our religion. Some of these Dead are part of the landvaettir, and others remain distinct. We might reach out to the Dead to form better relationships with the places we live. I live on land that the Patawatome, Ojibwe, Wyandot, Iriquois, and others may have lived on. To be in good relationship with the landvaettir I need to be good to the Dead that are part of Them, that live with or within the landvaettir.

We might reach out to different kinds of Dead as a devotional act. In my own case I give cultus to the Warrior and Military Dead, most of whom I am completely unrelated to. I honor the Dead as a priest of Anpu that come across my altar to the Dead as a kind of spiritual waystation. I maintain it per Anpu’s direction by providing a good place to rest for those Dead who need it, and for others who are ready to move on. This physical space is an offering in and of itself, giving the Dead the use of the waystation to go to where it is They need to. Others worship factions of the Dead because they relate to certain professions, callings, and the like. Whatever one’s reason for forging relationships with the Dead, one should have good relationships with one’s own Ancestors first, and clear ideas of boundaries around one’s relationship with any Dead one would like to make.

The safest way that I know how to build a relationship with the Dead is to first ask permission from Hela if the Dead are in Hel/Helheimr, or the God of whatever Dead you are trying to contact. If you are trying to contact one of the Dead who has drowned then Rán would be the Goddess to direct prayers to. If someone died in combat, then Freyja or Óðinn. I find it a cool and interesting part of Norse/Icelandic Heathenry that there are a number of places for the Dead to go, though the majority will go to Hel/Helheimr. If you secure the permission of the God of a particular group of Dead to contact Them, then, as with other vaettir make a space for Them on/in a vé, make offerings, and do your due dilligence to be sure that contact is made, the offerings are accepted, and the relationship has begun. I highly recommend the Dead have an entirely separate vé from your Gods, Ancestors, and other vaettir. Keeping clear and healthy boundaries is to your benefit and respectful to the Gods, Ancestors, and other vaettir you hold relationships with.

Beginning to Build a Relationship with Vaettir -Elemental

Elemental vaettir are what it says on the tin. Now, an obvious question here is “Are landvaettir elemental vaettir?” and my answer is “Yes.” The way that I figure it, is that all landvaettir are jörðvaettir but not all jörðvaettr are landvaettir. Sometimes a vaettr of the Earth, a jörðvaettr, is not part of or attached to a specific piece of land, but it may be an individual rock, bit of soil, a tree, and so on. So what are the elemental vaettir within Heathenry? They are beings of or related to the elements of Fire and Ice first, followed by Water, Earth, and Air. Fire and Ice, in the Worlds of Múspellheimr and Niflheimr, were the first two Worlds to emerge from the Ginnungagap (often referred to as “the yawning void”, but another interpretation can be the “power-filled space”) and from the meeting of Fire and Ice the Water flowed, Earth was uncovered in Niflheim, and the first stirrings of Air were made, the first breaths taken.

I understand that all elemental vaettir are related to and interconnected with each other. Looking at this from the perspective of Fire is helpful. Each eldrvaettr, fire spirit, relates back to the First Fire that burns in Múspellsheimr. Is that First Fire Surtr? I happen to believe so, but whether Surtr is the First Fire or the First Being that comes from the unfolding burning of that First Fire is rather immaterial. He is the the First God. That Fire that became or is Surtr is the Eldest Ancestor, the First Being that burns still from whom all Fire descends. Each fire, no matter how great or small is related back to that Eldest Ancestor, that First Fire. Each fire, whether an eldrvaettr, a jötnar, or a God associated with or possessing qualities of Fire relates in some way to that First Fire. Each fire, whether a small candle, a firecracker, a wildfire, a volcano, relates back to that Fire.

So how do we develop a relationship with elemental vaettir? We honor Them, we make prayers and offerings to Them just as we do other vaettir. We make prayers and are respectful to the powerful Beings connected to Them or from whom They descend. We understand each Being, no matter how small or great, is or is connected with a vaettr, and treat it well accordingly. We understand that the world is full of and is a vaettr.

Like with other vaettir we make space for it on a vé, and this can be very simple to start with: a simple white cloth on a surface with a representation of ice, or something that can hold actual ice or snow when able. For fire, a candle either a burning candle or LED if you are in a space where burning is not permitted. For water a small bowl or cup filled regularly. For earth a patch of dirt or rock from where you live; do not forget to ask permission and if you get it to make offerings to the landvaettir you take this from. For air an incense burner with incense, a pinwheel, or a bell. Really, what you can make a connection with here is going to matter far more than some examples I can give you. The point is that, whatever vé you set up for whichever vaettir, it should be something you can connect with.

Among the reasons we reach out to elemental vaettir as a devotional act to understand Them better, to have better relationships with Them. In understanding and working with Them better we understand and work with the basic elemental forces that make up the Worlds, that we live alongside, that we depend upon and are part of our everyday existence. We can develop deeper and better relationship with the Beings Whose bodies our modern world is built upon, and in so doing, come into better alignment with where They would have us be, and so, find ourselves embracing better ways of living in this World.

We Are Not the Center

Since we are not the center of our cosmology or the relationships we form within that cosmology, we must recognize that we are not the only ones capable of proposing or forming relationships. Any of the vaettir can reach out to us for a relationship for Their own reasons, reasons which They may or may not share with us. Being most of us are free agents in regards to the relationships we forge with the vaettir, we may accept or deny these connections, and then live with whatever consequences may come from that. Note: I assigned no value to this for a reason. We may have legitimate reasons for not wanting to develop a relationship with a given vaettr or group of vaettir. Your reasons for developing a relationship with a vaettr or a group of vaettir are just that.

There are a variety of factors beyond our basic worldview that can factor into our relationships with vaettir. Among them are the Gods we worship, and what role(s) we take on within our religious communities. Some find that worshiping the Æsir keeps them from worshiping Jötnar altogether, though this has not been my own experience. Some find that worshiping the Dvergar may be a factor in whether or not they can worship the Ljossalfar. Some do not. This is also why we have a broad range of spiritual specialists in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition Pagan religions. We cannot be all things to all the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If you came to me as a spirit worker and asked for help with the Ljossalfar I would be pointing you in another direction because I do not hold relationships with Them. I coud maybe do some divination for you, maybe something in the realm of yes/no, but anything digging in too deep with how to develop good relationships with Them or what to do when one comes knocking on your door? If you want to positively respond to that I generally do not have much for you. It does not make me a bad spirit worker or that the Ljossalfar bad Themselves, I just do not have a good relationship with Them.

A spirit-worker will likely have different kinds of relationships with different kinds of vaettir from the average non-specialist. After all, a non-specialist can have very deep relationships but carry no baggage from being sworn to a group of vaettir into a given relationship. The non-specialist here then has, potentially, quite an advantage over the specialist since many of us are grabbed up by or have otherwise come into the service of a group of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. We may not have the option of engaging with a group of vaettir that a non-specialist could. Being a spirit worker does not make us inherently better than a non-specialist, it just means we are geared or driven towards certain kinds of spirit work. It’s a job title like diviner or healer; some spirit workers get more than one job wrapped up in their job as a spirit worker, and some do not.

What matters, in the end, is that each person is willing and able to develop good relationships with the vaettir that they come to or vice versa. Really, this gets down to the core of being Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan. Whatever you do, whatever your role, whether Heathen, Northern Tradition, or just adjacent to these communities, you should be coming to the vaettir to develop a good relationship with Them. May these relationships be well-made and well-maintained.

Good luck and ves þu heil!

Patreon Topic 4: Commercialization, Commodification, and Gentrification of Magic and Spirituality

If you want to submit a topic for me to explore on my blog, sign up at the Uruz level or above on my Patreon.

From my first Ansuz level Patron comes this topic:

“You might’ve written on this before, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the commercialization, commodification, and especially on the gentrification of spirituality. Magic is the tool of the oppressed, what happens when that tool is turned into yet another weapon used against the poor, as I see all around me now?”

I would say that magic is not only the tool of the oppressed. It is accessible to anyone of any class. Look at ceremonial magic vs kitchen witchery, for instance. How hard is it to pick up and make the traditional materials for those workings? Brass, copper, silver, gold? Those cost a lot of money, resources, and/or training. Meanwhile kitchen witchery may need time, and training, but if the point is to do kitchen witchcraft (in my understanding) with items out of your pantry those are going to be accessible at whatever your income level is right then.

This means that certain kinds of magic, (or at least in their traditional forms) are, by dint of cost of time, materials, training, accessibility, etc, cut off from folks beneath a certain income level. For what it is worth I did ceremonial magic when I was unemployed in college. I used a lot of paper substitutes, printouts, sooo much salt, cheap incense, and the like, becauses there is no way in hell I could afford things like a magic ring or magic tools made out of copper, silver, or gold.

On the commercialization of magic: If the definition we are working with is, as the OED puts it “The process of managing or running something principally for financial gain” then I think that there can be quite a bit lost when we are talking about only working with magic to that end. That loss can be healthy connection between communities. That loss can be between a person and the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. That loss can be a healthy connection with money and/or the moneyvaettir itself. If the lust of result of financial gain or the desire itself for financial gain overcomes the reason for laying down a piece of magic, depending on the magic being deployed, it can be hugely detrimental to any working one does.

There is nothing inherently wrong with working or using magic to financially or otherwise benefit your community or yourself. I have a far healthier relationship with money and the moneyvaettir, and carry a good relationship with Andvari thanks in no small part to my Elder. I had no idea when Galina introduced me to Andvari what a powerful, dynamic impact it would have on the course of my life to come into better relationship with the Dvergar, let alone the moneyvaettir and through all of this, a better future for my family. I have made plenty of magical and spiritual items for money, among them bindrune mandalas burnt into leather, woodburnt Runes, and woodburnt bindrunes. I have done plenty of money workings for my family, Kindred, tribemates, and I. My family and I keep a healthy devotional relationship with Andvari and the moneyvaettir that extends into our daily night prayers and offerings that we make.

Commercialization is a problem with magic from a few different perspectives. From my perspective as an animist and polytheist when things are seen from a primarily commercial point of view it is far easier to depersonalize those we share the Worlds with. Rather than see a Being like a tree or its branches as part of a Being, commercialization encourages us to relate to Beings and things only in terms of “this branch can make me x amount as a wand, y amount as a bunch of Runes, z amount as Rune charms”. When money is the goal of holding a workshop on magic rather than teaching the magic then the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir may be deeply disrespected in the process. This disrespect, not addressed and continuing to ripple out into the communities touched by it and engaging in it, can sour relationships between them and the Holy Powers.

From my perspective as a (mostly) former ceremonial magician the commercialization can harm magical operations themselves. Just having the lust of result of “I need money, this needs to work” can be interrupting to good flow of magic because rather than focus on the work at hand your focus is on the need you feel to get more money. Commercialization can also harm our relationships with spirits we might work with otherwise in a ceremonial magic setting.

If, for instance, you have partnered with/summoned/compelled a spirit of Jupiter to the end of enriching yourself but do not exercise good judgment, either in the choice of the spirit you contact or the details of how the money comes to you, you can land yourself fairly deep in debt to the spirit(s). This can go to the point where you are having to do some serious work to pay back what you owe to a spirit or spirits before you can get anything done for yourself. This takes away from your magic working for you and instead, you give both your sovereignty and your ability to do work over to someone else until you pay back your debt.

Commodification and commercialization often go hand-in-hand. Commodification is “The action or process of treating something as a mere commodity.”. A commodity is “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee” or more simply “A useful or valuable thing.” Commercialization then further objectifies the thing at hand by treating that useful or valuable thing as a means of “managing or running something principally for financial gain”.

Commercialization/commodification can also hit the wider community by cutting entire sections of it out, either by a company or group of people producing cheap things like charms, Runes, and the like without any attachment to the actual processes to make them empowered/useful. Commercialization of magical items, for instance, can use processes to make those items that at least do nothing to help our relationship, and at worst produce ongoing harm to our relationships maintained with/through those items. A given company or group of people only wanting to make money can mass produce Rune sets and bindrunes without thought to the materials, and without offerings to the materials on which the Runes and bindrunes are made. They may make things more cheap and so, easier to access monetarily. They may also make connecting with a given God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr harder by providing a barrier by not having set up the item to be receptive, or worse, if its construction is thoughtless to the relationship, to be an impediment to the relationship

For a contrasting example: if I make a Rune set from a branch my Runes come from pieces of deadfall, generally from trees where I am living and/or from trees I have good relationships with, that I have let season. I make offerings to the tree the branch comes from, and make offerings to the Runevaettir, both before the carving/burning of the Runes into the wood, and as part of my ongoing relationship with Them. I have a living relationship with Them, and the point of offering a Rune set to someone for sale is to establish a good relationship between that person and the Runes.

As I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with earning money for doing magic or making magical and/or spiritual items. I have spilled a good deal of my own blood, dedicated an immense amount of time and work in my relationship with the Runes. This deserves reciprocity on its own. By being paid or exchanging gift for a gift, requiring Gebo for my sacrifices, I also ask for exchange as an honoring of my Elder in Gebo before me, and in honor to Odin as Gebo for His. This is part of continuing right relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, my Elder, and my own relationships.

I understand and know magic as an animist and polytheist as being interwoven in relationship with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, including our human communities. When magic and the ways we work with magic are themselves commodified and commercialized what this means is the very ways by which we may establish relationships, use power, and cause spiritual effects through those relationships and use of power, are used as sources of income. Often those income streams go out of our communities and into someone else’s pocket.

Commodifying and commercializing spiritual practices, magic, the creation of magical and spiritual items takes from the communities they come from without giving back to them or their Holy Powers. It is a lack of Gebo, of reciprocity. I have no issues at all with buying prepared magical or spiritual items. I have bought prepared Florida Water as a backup cleanser and found it very effective. Likewise, I have bought plenty of sacred dried herbs I have not grown myself. I feel very strongly that I need to mark a big clear line between engaging in trade and transactions that are respectful and based in reciprocity as opposed to commodification and commercialization. Trade and transactions can be done in a way that respects all parties involved whereas commodification and commercialization depersonalize and disrespect the culture(s), the Being(s) that is part of or is the product being sold, and disrupts right relationship.

Diviners, magic workers, spirit workers, and the like should be compensated for their work. That is precisely what I am asking of everyone who contributes through my Patreon and who asks for services through the Shamanic Services section of this blog.

There is a stark contrast between a Rune set made by a person who holds good relationship with Them and a Rune set put together by a person without a relationship with the Runes only because it will sell well. There is a stark contrast between someone who requires a set amount to read the Runes as opposed to someone who is looking only to make money off of people looking for answers. There is a stark contrast between the rootworker or other spiritual specialist charging for a service and someone who is just taking clients for a ride.

Look at the dynamics of the relationships here: The commodification and commercialization of a spiritual practice, item, etc requires none. Commodification and commercialization of spiritual paths, items, work, and so on is nothing less than the appropriation of these things to make someone money. Gebo does not exist here between a commodifier/commercializer and the spiritual paths, traditions, and so on they take from to make money. It is even more heinous when a person within a community goes the way of commercialization and commodification. They are participating, willingly, in the strip-mining of their own religious community/ties and disrespecting their Holy Powers only to make money.

Gentrification goes hand-in-hand with commercialization and commodification. It is “The process of renovating and improving housing or a district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” In America the default ‘middle-class taste’ is generally what is comfortable for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). If the point is to sell a thing to make the most amount of money you appeal to those with the most money.

There is an additional wrinkle, at least for US citizens: In America the idea of the middle class and being part of it is so tied into ‘normality’ and ‘goodness’ that it is claimed by folks beneath the poverty line and so far above it that the very idea of a middle class is less an economic idea and more of a mutable ‘everyman’ that has served to flatten rather than serve as a useful highlight of economic/political class differences. So, appealing to ‘middle class’ in America through commercialization, commodification, and gentrification of religions, spiritual practices, initiations, spiritual and magical items, and so on, requires almost all the rough edges be scraped smooth and most of the teeth removed. Oh, there needs to be enough roughness for it to be edgy or off-center just enough so it is marketable, but not so much so that the person engaging in the religion, the spiritual practice, working with the item, etc is uncomfortable or challenged.

A gentrified spirituality is a wolf on display whose teeth have been ripped out. Robbed of its ability to feed itself, robbed of its ability to defend itself, robbed of being fed anything other than what mush it is given, producing only money or prestige for its displayer and shit otherwise. It exists to make the observer feel good about the wolf being on display, but the wolf makes no material impact in the world as it should. It is there at the whim of the displayer, and put away when it is embarassing or too much for the displayer or their onlookers.

This is not to say that a given religion, spiritual practice, or act of magic must absolutely be red in tooth and claw in all its aspects. Some of the most remarked upon forms that magic took in Heathen lore was with spinning, working with fabric, blacksmithing, things our modern society often look at as only crafts but that the home cultures understood to be sources of and ways to work with power. Some pretty famous pieces of magic involve food and drink. The seemingly innocuous or ordinary can hold great power.

When you understand things from a polytheist and animist perspective, from the Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan perspective, the potential for magic is in everywhere and everything. That’s a pretty powerful antidote to the consumerist mindset that is encouraged by commercialization, commodification, and gentrification. When the whole world is alive with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and we understand that we truly own very little of the Worlds we walk in, it is also a humbling experience. Commercialization, commodification, and gentrification require people to absolutely ignore the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in order for a thing to be done purely for profit. It requires a sundering of relationship, a one-sided using of a religion, religious community, spiritual techniques and/or tools in order for the profit motive to be the first priority. It is an inversion of priorities for a polytheist and animist: the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the relationships in which we are all interwoven.

Moving Beyond the Wound-Chasm

I recently listened to Episode 28 of Everyday Animism, Animism and the Broken Path. The hosts raised some good points, among them being the understanding that decolonization of and embracing authenticity within our religious lives is an ongoing process. They hit the idea of the breaking of our Ancestors’ ties with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir quite a bit.

Heathenry has faced and is continuing to face the same challenges as those they were speaking to as animists. As Heathenry came up from the 70s, there has been quite an effort expended to come up with our own words, our own understanding of ourselves. Reviving religions and eventually cultures takes work and time. As academic fields came up with new information we adjusted our understanding of where we stood and where we are going. As new understandings of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir came forward many changed with them. Heathenry, like a lot of polytheist religions, does a lot of looking back.

Where I would like to see conversations like these move is beyond where our Ancestors’ wound-chasm lies, that place where our Ancestors destroyed or whose connection was destroyed to their culture and absorbed into Christian and Muslim cultures. We are not living there. It is important to look at it, to acknowledge it, and to work to heal it, but our point of view cannot live there. Likewise, I feel we need to shift the conversation away from cultural appropriation and into embracing our own cultures. Beyond surface-level idiocy, see the Coachella models wearing headdresses or the same at Burning Man, my understanding is that a lot of appropriation is a grasping for something. That grasping might be words to describe a thing, like when folks grasp onto the word smudging (which is a ritual in and of itself, not just waving around smoke to get rid of evil spirits) when we have reykr (Old Norse for smoke) or recan (Anglo-Saxon for cleansing something with smoke) as words for smoke cleansing. That grasping might be for ancestral spirits, where folks might grasp for totem (which is a corruption of the Ojibwe word doodem, itself being a noun needing a prefix) I would point them to kinfylgja (Old Norse for kin follower/helper spirits). Wherever we are grasping we should look to our religions, our cultures first.

This means that we need to embrace our own understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and ourselves over that of outsiders to our religions. Academics and others external to our religious and cultural communities are fine and should be looked to so long as their studies, commentary, etc are useful to us. Rather than this being an anti-academic or anti-science approach, this is an approach that weighs the usefulness and relevancy of outsider views on us, our religions, and cultures. Dr. Jackson Crawford and Dr. Caroline Larrington are excellent academic sources on Old Norse texts. What neither are is Heathen. Their expertise is not in religious instruction, nor would I want to put them in such a position. Likewise, the texts they have translated, the books they have written, and lectures they produce are not meant to be religious instruction.

Part of decolonizing ourselves and our communities is to radically embrace our own living religious worldviews. Decolonizing cannot be accomplished without this. Indeed, part of the point of it is to stop drinking the poison and to drink good clean water. We do this by understanding and especially living within our worldview. For Heathens this is living in good Gebo, reciprocity, with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and within ourselves. We are going to develop neologisms and work with words and concepts in new forms. My own use of the word Mikilvaettir and use of Ergi to describe and honor our Powerful Queer Ancestors is evidence of this. I understand that writing here on my blog, resources such as The Longship, and the work of countless individuals and communities developing their own relationships, vocabulary and worldviews all are part of this work. Whether we live quiet lives doing devotion or busy ones full of spirit work, or whether we lie somewhere in between, by worshiping Them and fuIfilling our part of Urðr we do the work of rejecting poison and drinking good water.

My Patreon is Live

For awhile now I debated launching a Patreon for folks who enjoyed my writing and wanted to help support my work.

After soliciting feedback from friends and loved ones I finally have gone live with my Patreon. Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback and encouragement to do this.

The link is here for my Patreon.

This is a breakdown of the layers of support, and the tiers folks can sign up for:

Fehu: $3/month
The basic supporter level.
Fehu, meaning cattle and so, mobile wealth, allows for me to do my work. You will have access to my content here on the Patreon, including Patreon-only blog posts and responses to questions and feedback. If we hit the $500 a month goal then I will produce videos that every Patreon subscriber will have access to.

Uruz: $6/month
Uruz means auroch and relates to wild power and strength. Contributors at this level help add to my strength to better focus on the work at hand. You will have access to my content here on the Patreon and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. The blog where I write about polytheism, Northern Tradition shamanism, Heathenry, and animism is at Sarenth.wordpress.com.

Thurisaz: $9/month
Thurisaz, relating to the words thurse (giant), and thorn.
Patrons at this tier have the ability to get into the thorns with me: to ask a question in my monthly Q&A, and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. As with the other tiers you will have access to my content here on the Patreon.

Ansuz: $36/month, 3 spots
Ansuz, relates to the God Odin, breath, and communication.
Contributors at this level get more access to communication with me. As with the other tiers you will have access to my content here on the Patreon, the ability to ask a question in my monthly Q&A, and to contribute topic ideas to the blogs I run. Ansuz’s unique tier benefit is now you can commission a sacred poem or song for a God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit.

Raiðo: $45/month, 3 spots
Raiðo relates to the ride and the long journey.
Those who give monthly on this tier are looking at taking their own long journey with me. Not only will Patrons have all the other benefits of the previous tiers, they also will be able to retain one three-Rune reading per month. My normal rate for readings are $75 each, so if you are looking to work on your own long road journey become a Patron at this tier.

Kenaz: $81/month, 3 spots
Kenaz relates to torches and the light they bring to the path before us, as well as to pain, ulcers and mortality.
Patrons at this tier have access to the previous tiers. Patreons at this tier can brighten the path before them and get help to work with the challenges before them with a personal Rune reading or an in-depth exploration of a topic relevant to my blog and Patreon.

Gebo: $99/month, 3 spots
Gebo means ‘gift’, and so, the Rune of gipt fa gipt, gift for as gift: reciprocity.
Patrons at this tier have access to the previous tiers.
In the spirit of reciprocity Patrons at the Gebo tier will have the ability to set up a Skype call with me for an hour long session once a month to explore a topic relevant to my blogs or spiritual work.

When I reach $500 a month I will start to produce monthly video content that each tier will have access to.

We Walked Among the Dead

We walked among the Dead today

We walked side by side

Before, beyond, behind, with broom in hand, we walked where They still lie

We came upon the Warrior Dead, those Who held the Line

We came upon the Straw-Death Dead, who peacefully reside

Yet came we upon the Head of Graves, of this great and powerful host

What gave us pause and tears to shed were the youngest that hurt her most

She could not say why she sobbed, only that she must go

And in her face, as I kept pace, I saw the place of fear and woe

It has been said that tears are gifts unto the Dead

Each drop acknowledges the life from the mortal coil it shed

We must each take our rest deep within the Earth

I can only hope I have been an Ancestor of worth

(I began writing this September 8, 2014 and finally found the words to finish it.)

Smoking Prayers

I breathe in slowly

Vindrvaettir about me

Drawing the holy smoke inside

I exhale a prayer

 

I breathe in slowly

Vatnvaettir thrum in my chest

Each limb enlivened

I exhale tension

 

I breathe in slowly

Eldrvaettir dance on the cigar’s tip

Dancing a holy ring on my lips

I exhale offering

 

I breathe in slowly

Jorðvaettir reach up to draw me down

My roots settle in

I exhale relief

 

I breathe in slowly

Ancestors sit beside me

Speaking, listening, smoking with me

I exhale with Them

 

I breathe in slowly

Gods on every side

Their Presence comforting, hearing my prayers

I exhale thanks

Relationships with Spirits -Part 1

Thanks to The Rusted Barrow for their dedication to writing on the spirits. Reading that post inspired my own.

Alongside The Rusted Barrow I got inspiration for this post from reading the book The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux. It has been an excellent, approachable, and informative read. It digs into the various kinds of household spirits, their places, and practices associated with Them, and then what Their origins may be. It predominantly focuses on European beliefs, including those of France, England, Norway, Angland, and Russia. I highly recommend reading it, as many of the practices will be right at home with hearth cultus for any Heathen or Pagans in general.

Having read both The Rusted Barrow’s post and The Tradition of Household Spirits in the same week, I felt I had to write something on the topic of spiritss and I got to thinking: there have not been many guides on what spirits are out there in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition, nor of how to start a relationship with one, or how to interact with spiritss you are not used to. What started off as a large single post look like it will become another series of posts all on its own.

I call the spirits by the Old Norse plural for the word, vaettir; vaettr is the singular. The vaettir are all around us and within us. There are vaettir in and of the earth, jordvaettir aka earthvaettir, just as there are vaettir in and of the fire, eldrvaettir aka firevaettir. There are vaettir within us, and we ourselves, both our essential or ‘higher’ selves and various of our soul parts, which have their own names, are vaettir. For this post I will not be writing on the Soul Matrix, since that is a subject all on its own. This post series will focus on the vaettir external to humans. I think it is important, though, to reflect that even we humans are full of vaettir, whether we are talking about the spiritual reality of the blood of the Ancestors running in our veins or the individual cells of our body each being in and of itself a vaettr that helps to make us up.

What are Spirits?

Any thing which is ensouled can be said to be a spirit. They are any thing which weaves and is bound up in the web of Urðr or Wyrd. What, then, can be ensouled and woven in Urðr/Wyrd? Potentially everything, from the tiniest of atoms to the largest expanse of space. Whether or not a thing has a larger or smaller sphere of influence depends on the effects it has on others and its ability to act in creation. A given thing being a spirit does not mean it operates or acts in a way we may consider logical or at all with our interests in mind. Planets have their own spirit, for example, but whether or not that spirit can or has the desire speak to me, or vice versa, is another matter.

Mikilvaettir

Over time I’ve worked out different words in Old Norse that get across ideas relevant to the experiences I and others have had with vaettir. One of those words is mikillvaettir.

Mikillvaettir or ‘big/tall/powerful/great spirits’ is similar in my understanding to a head/co-head and/or guardian spirit over a family line, specie of tree, animal, and so on. We can have close relationships with spirits, even the mikill, and so may appeal to them using more close, familiar terms. I call the mikillvaettr of Mugwort Grossmutter Una, German for Grandmother and Old Norse for Joy. Were I being more strict with my language I would be calling Her Amma Una. Mikillvaettir, both as a word and concept, is distinct from the term totem. Totem is a corruption of an Ojibwe word, doodem. As the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary notes, doodem itself means “clan, totem” and that “There is no simple independent word for clan, totem. A personal prefix goes with the dependent noun stem /=doodem-/ clan to make a full word.” Further, /=doodem-/ are related to personal clans in Ojibwe cultures. Mikilvaettir may be related to us, such as the Disir or Väter, our powerful female and male Ancestors, or They may be head of a kind or group of vaettir.

When viewed in this worldview, even the familiar takes on spiritual significance. If we understand that our cells can be ensouled, then so can a disease like the flu. The flu has a discernable way of coming into existence, of spreading, being fought, and triumphing over an infected host or being defeated. Since each iteration of the flu is a spirit, we can extend this knowing to the variouss strainss of the influenza virus and to the flu as a whole. The idea is that, as we might approach a mikilvaettr of a plant (for instance mikillgrasvaettr for ‘big/great grass or pasture spirit’) so we may have better relations with its ‘children’, we may also approach the flu. We could refer to as mikillsóttvaettr or ‘big illness spirit’. Understood this way we may not be able to beat the big illness spirit that, like our own Ancestral lines, governs the development of its own descendants. However, we may propitiate it or negotiate with it to tamp down on its rambunctious children. Barring that we might simply do spiritual work, alongside our physical remedies, to stop the small flu spirit from burning through a person, killing and dispelling the flu spirit so the person gets well. Since our own lich, our body, is a part of the Soul Matrix, in such an animistic view physical remedies for the flu are spiritual as well. The difference is how the remedies are made, where they affect, and what they affect. Some may be more effective than others. So would I take only a magical/spiritual approach to the flu? No. I vaccinate myself, I take care to wash my hands, and do all the other prudent things to ward off the flu just as I do unwanted spiritual influences by regular cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding work. The approaches work together.

A Vaettir-Filled Worldview

When we view what is often understood as ordinary, whether it is the electricity in the walls, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the places we live, where we work, all as being full of spirits, the world changes. Not only are we not alone, but literally everything around us is composed of spirits. Each spirit, in turn, has Ancestors of some kind. The concrete used in the construction of our buildings (jorðvaettir) to the furnaces (eldrvaettir) used to heat them, to the pumped water (vatnvaettir) going into them. Through merely co-existing in the web of Urðr/Wyrd we weave in relationships every moment of every day. Some may be perfunctory, some transactional, and some truly deep. In my experience most of our relationships with spirits are going to be on the same kind of level as we might passing a random person on the sidewalk as we are both heading opposite directions. We are neutral to each other, trying to stay out of one another’s way and just trying to get wherever it is we want to go. Except where one party or the other initiates contact for a deeper relationship most of our connections with spirits are really cursory. A simple example of this is when we come into cultus with the landvaettir and/or husvaettir. After all, we are living on and with Them so it is in our best interests to get along well with the very land we live on and those we share our home with. Sometimes we have to do a lot to even attract Their attention. Because of experiences with humans in Their past some vaettir may need some patience on our part, and for us to put our best foot forward early and often. With some vaettir, we need to know that we are not going to get along and leaving the vaettir alone is the best way for us to have good relations.

With a vaettir-filled worldview Heathenry does not allow for the centrality of humankind. This puts it at odds with many philosophies from the start, such as humanism, which proposes a human-centric worldview. Humanity in Heathenry is just one class of vaettir among many. With the centrality of humanity absent, understanding ourselves in relationships with the Earth (Jorð) around us and potentially any of the Nine Worlds, we then enter a region in which human desires must take a back seat to the needs of other Beings if we are to live well together. We do not denigrate ourselves or ignore the needs and wants we have in a vaettir-filled worldview. Rather, one of the central tenets of Heathenry is to live in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir; a human-centered worldview is utterly at odds with this.

Kinds of Vaettir

The Heathen worldview encompasses a lot of different kind of vaettir. My point here is to give a basic overview of what the vaettir are, and how one might encounter them rather than give an exhaustive look at specific vaettir.

Ancestors

Ancestors are those vaettir who are related to us. The tack I take with who the Ancestors are is very broad. Ancestors and ancestry is complex, a weaving of relationships of blood and bone, spirit, lineage, and adoption. Ancestors can be human and non-human, Gods as well as other kinds of vaettir.

Ancestors, especially the Disir, Väter, and Ergi (more on these later) have our immediate interests at heart. Generally, Ancestors are among the first vaettir to have our back in hard times and to work well with us. Each of us are Ancestors in the making and will someday join Them, so beyond being Their descendants They have a vested interest in us doing well so when we join Them we are best placed to help our own descendants.

Ancestors of blood and bone are those Ancestors we are directly related to through blood relations. These are the people you are looking for if you do geneaology or are looking for via DNA results. Taken at large, all of humanity shares blood Ancestors at some point in the distant past whether we are looking at our common early homo sapien Ancestors, or even further back through to Chromosomal Adam, or further back, Mitochondrial Eve. As a primarily Norse Heathen I look to Ask and Embla as our common human Ancestors in addition to those of our larger human ancestry.

Ancestors of spirit generally refers to Ancestors that are spiritual kin to us whether that is through a group of vaettir bringing us into their fold by adoption, by blood relations where a vaettr had a hand in the creation of a line of people such as Ing to the Ingvaones, through initiation/ceremony into a group who share common spiritual Ancestors, or by direct invitation into a vaettr’s family. These Ancestors may or may not be human.

Ancestors of lineage are our Ancestors related to us through our work, through initiated lines such as mystery cults, or are spiritual specialists like priests or diviners. These Ancestors might be also relate to us through crafts such as weaving, woodworking, painting, sculpting, brewing, etc., as most of these professions were, at varying times, initiated roles such as Master and Apprentice, or had deep spiritual significance in the ‘home cultures’ of Heathens.

Ancestors can be adopted as can we. Fostering is one way Ancestors can adopt us. Another is when we become part of a close-knit spiritual community, such as a Kindred and/or Heathen tribe. In my own Kindred I make offerings to all of our Ancestors, and include at least a few Ancestors of beloved people who are chosen family. A common refrain in various forms that I am seeing across the Internet lately towards QUILTBAG+ folks is “If you are disowned by your blood family for being who you are, I am now your parent.” If someone were truly taking on this role then I think in turn they would be adopted as sure as anyone fostering a child would be.

Disir

Disir are the powerful female Ancestors. Many of the alternative interpretations for what They are that I have found online I understand are among the roles the Disir occupy: They are the guardians of family lines, those who keep the other Ancestors in line, act as the voice of the Ancestors where needed, are instructors, and may act as mediators between Their living relatives and other vaettir.

Väter

Väter are the powerful male Ancestors. While many will use the term Alfar to refer to Them, I do not. I understand Alfar as Their own discreet kind of vaettir. The Väter occupy very similar places to the Disir in my experience of Them.

Ergi

Ergi are the powerful queer Ancestors, and occupy similar places in Ancestors to the Disir and Väter. Like the word queer, ergi used to be an insult which has been reclaimed. In this case, ergi referred to someone being unmanly, namely the recipient in homosexual sex, and was considered an insult deep enough to kill or outlaw over.

Fylgja

Fylgja is a word meaning ‘follower’. Generally it means those spirits that follow a given person. A fylgja is often conflated with the Celtic ‘fetch’ which appears as an omen or a familial vaettr to a person. Its sighting is said to portend the person’s death. I use the term to mean any vaettr which a person works with in a tutelary, guardian, familial, or similar capacity in which the vaettr in question would have reason to actually ‘follow’ or, along with its other meanings, to ‘help’, ‘attend’, or ‘serve’. Rather than describing the kind of relationship one has to a fylgja, it is a term for a vaettr that one is attached to or vice versa.

Kinyflgja

As with fylgja I use this word in its more general capacity. Here, however, it references those vaettir who are tutelary, guardian(s), helping, attending, or serving in reference to one’s Ancestors. These may Ancestors Themselves or vaettir related to our Ancestors, whether they are animals or plants asssociated with Them, or bonds our Ancestors made with vaettir that They have in kind passed on to us.

Vorðr

A word describing a vaettr, among whose meanings are ‘guard’, ‘guardian’, ‘watch’, and ‘warden’. This word is very-much what it says on the tin: it is a spiritual guardian. In spiritual sight it may take the form of an animal. It may also take the form of the hamr of a person, their spiritual body. So far as lore is concerned I have not found a definite answer to where the vorðr comess from. The origins of a vorðr may come from one’s Ancestors, either a spirit of the Ancestors or from the Ancestors, eg a spirit the Ancestors formed some relationship with to watch over Their descendents. Depending on its origin you can reckon a vorðr as fylgja or kinfylgja.

Alfar

The word means ‘elf’ and belies the vast corpus of beliefs that have grown up around this word. I look at the diminutive use of elf in the same way that Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits, namely that it, like dwarf, sprite, and others have been used so much to cram lore about various beings into it that we need to differentiate what we are actually talking about from the mass it has become in Medieval and later folklore. Rather than take the approach that any diminutive, ‘cute’ or similar vaettr is an elf, the Alfar are namely those vaettir who belong to the world Vanaheim. Though there may be cross-currents between Scandinavian and Irish sources for what elves may be, I look at the Tuatha de Denaan as utterly different beings to Alfar. Likewise, I differentiate from many other Heathens in that I understand the Alfar to be Their own distinct spiritual category of vaettir rather than the powerful male Ancestor (whom I call Väter) or from the Dead who occupy burial mounds. So what are Alfar? Vaettir who often take on many (often beautiful) forms who are powerful in magic. In my experiences with Them I have found Them statuesque, powerfully spoken even when ‘quiet’, a commanding presence, and able to make powerful magic and having varying connections with natural places, especially groves and wooded areas.

Dvergar

The word means ‘dwarf’, and like Alfar belies the absolutely immense amount of beliefs that have become attached to that word. As with ‘elf’, Lecouteux describes in The Tradition of Household Spirits how ‘dwarf’ came to mean an absolutely dizzying array of things, some of them interchangeable with ‘elf’. The Dvergar definitely have more to offer from the lore we have, including that They are the best crafters in the Nine Worlds. Their moods tend to be stern and They exact heavy tolls from those who cross Them. My experiences with Andvari is that They are concerned with what is Theirs, and that part of keeping frið (good social order) with Them is maintainin awareness of what is ours.

Jotun

Jotun is a word related to ‘consuming’ and ‘devourer’, while often glossed as ‘giant’ nowadays. Jotun tend to be related to wilderness, natural forces, and animals. They can be monstrous, achingly beautiful, both, and neither. As many forms as nature can take, so can They, and yet more. Some Heathens eschew relationships with Jotun entirely, others only with those aligned with the Aesir, and yet others are willing to work with Jotun from any corner. Where one falls on this depends on the understanding one has of what Jotun are, Their place in the cosmology, and what our relationships with Them as humans can be. For myself, seeing as how many of the primal Holy Powers are Jotun, eg Surtr and Kari, and individual Jotun may be vaettir related to specific weather events, nature, and similar things, having a working relationship with at least some of Them can be good, in keeping with doing right by Holy Powers underpinning our Worlds. We do not have to get along with every vaettr to have a good relationship with some of Them any more than we must worship every Heathen God or Goddesss to be a good Heathen.

The Dead

The Dead are any vaettir which once lived. While the Ancestors are generally looked on as Dead, not all of Them are. Some Ancestors may never have incarnated in Midgard, eg some Ancestors of spirit. The Dead encompass a wide range of vaettir, including the Dead of those mentioned above. Some of the Dead are ambivalent to the living, while others actively seek out the living. The Dead may be bound to a particular place such as a barrow mound or grave, they may wander free, or belong to a realm of a God or Goddess, eg Folkvangr, Valholl, and Helheim. In my understanding, most of our Ancestors’ graves and barrow mounds were both a resting place for parts of the soul matrix, and a point of contact or a possible ‘door’ between whatever afterlife They go to and where we are. Because a portion of the soul is in the lich, the bones, furs, teeth, and claws maintain powerful spiritual connections to the Dead.

Elemental

Elemental vaettir are directly related to the Elements of the Northern Tradition/Heathenry. While not reckoned in this way in the lore or other sources, I find looking at the elements Themselves in this way speaks to the breadth and length at which vaettir are in our lives. It also helps with organizing associations, unsderstanding, and where and how those relationships are made. Jorðvaettir are Earthvaettir, Eldrvaettir are Firevaettir, Vatnvaettir are Watervaettir, Vindrvaettir are Windvaettir, and Issvaettir are Icevaettir. Why look at the Elements Themselves in terms of vaettir? Because not all Eldrvaettir are necessarily Fire-Etins, nor all Issvaettir necessarily Thurs. Having kinship with or association to certain Elements does not make Jotun necesssarily vaettir of those Elements. An Elemental worldview does have its limits, and that is about when it stops being accurate to the Being of a given vaettir.

We can also break down what we mean when speaking about certain Elemental vaettir. Jorðvaettir is more of a broad category when we look at a piece of land, because it belies all the many vaettir contained on and within the land. A single big Earthvaettr may be made up of the trees, animals, insects, and other vaettir in that piece of land, and yet that does not negate that each of those trees, animals, and so on are, Themselves, vaettir. I count my húsvaettir, or housevaettir, among the Earthvaettir. As my relationships with the land and the house that lies upon it differ, so too does my relationship differ between their vaettir. It is also worth pointing out that how and in what form you engage with a given Elemental vaettir may have drastic consequences on how it responds to you. Just starting out working with Eldrvaettir? Probably best to start with candles rather than a bonfire. Regardless of the size or scope of its form give any vaettr its due respect.

Beginning Relationships

While each vaettr may have its own requirements for how it wishes to be reached, perhaps the easiest way to reach out is to make room for the vaettir on our home altars. If you are starting absolutely new to Heathenry or the Northern Tradition, my first recommendation is to build an Ancestor altar before anyone else’s. Not only will this encourage good relationships with your Ancestors, it will also have the benefit of the Ancestors you build good bonds with helping you to make new good and safe bonds with vaettir going forward.

To begin a relationship with a vaettr first you need to actually want to make a relationship with a vaettr. This might seem self-explanatory, but a good mindset is the best thing you can have starting off. Having a gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift) relationship, a relationship based in good Gebo, is not about transaction, but about wanting to establish and maintain right relationship. A gipt fá gipt/Gebo relationship is one that honors both participants, is good and wholesome. If you are looking for a transactional relationship where you put an offering out and get something immediately or near-term for it, that is fine to engage in with a vaettir you want to have a business relationship with. However, that is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is developing a long-term and powerful devotional relationship with vaettir.

Once you are clear that your intention is to develop a good relationship you need to make space for that relationship. Making a physical space for that vaettir on an altar, often called a vé, or sacred space, is a powerful way to invite that vaettr deeper into your life. After all, you are making or setting aside space in a sacred space dedicated to the spiritual relationships you have and you are developing. So if have never made an altar, how do you go about doing it?

The Simplest Altar

A solid surface with a white cloth, a cup for water, and a single white candle with a lighter or book of matches and a holder for spent matches. That is the bare minimum you need for a simple altar. The surface can be a table, a bookshelf, an Altoid tin, or a cigar box. The candle can be as big or small as you need, from a birthday candle clear on up to a big taper. The cup can be made of whatever material is best for your situation, so long as it is clean and holds water. Start small. Altars can always grow if they need to.

A Simple Invitation Rite

Most of my relationships with vaettir have begun in similar fashion. First, I realize and affirm that I want to begin a relationship with a vaettr or group of vaettir. Then, I make space for Them on the altar. Then, after cleansing an object representing the vaettir/vaettir, I make prayer and offerings, then consecrate the item as Their representation and/or vessel.

Before beginning the rite, for a simple cleansing, ask the Eldest Ancestor, Fire, to cleanse you and the space. Something simple like “Hail Eldest Ancestor, please cleanse me and this space.” then pass the candle over yourself and the area clockwise. If you are seeking to connect with the Ancestors the Eldest is the best one to go to first. Leave the candle burning through the ritual if you can, and invite the Ancestor(s) you wish to connect with. Simple is better, especially if you are just taking your first steps. If you are just beginning Ancestor worship I would call on the Disir, Väter, and Ergi first, along with any Ancestors you knew in life, and for the first few months just dedicate Ancestor worship to Them. This establishess your relationship with your powerful and known Ancestors first, which helps to protect you from interloper vaettir pretending to be Ancestors, and helps your own discernment. Once the vaettir have been invited and asked to bless the items dedicated to Them, spend a few moments speaking with Them about the relationship you would like to build with Them, and spend time listening to Them in turn. You may ‘hear’, ‘see’, etc nothing, get no kind of spiritual feedback. That is fine. What is important is that, regardless of your receptivity, you give in kind for the time you took to speak. If you have divination tools handy and want direct feedback through them, now would be the time to bring them out. It would be good to double-check that the rite is appreciated, the offerings will be accepted, and if there is anything else needing attending to.

Offerings can be a simple cup of water, any foods or drinks the Ancestors may have liked or were denied when they were alive, or sacred herbs such as mugwort, chamomile, or tobacco. You don’t have to smoke or burn offerings as incense, especially if you live in a place where burning is prohibited, such as a dorm room. In such a case, LED candles work for the same purpose and making the offerings at the nearest, biggest tree should be fine. If you feel you should burn the offerings, keep the offerings in a container, and burn them in a simple ceremony. Once the offerings are taken care of, thank the vaettir for Their Presence, and snuff the candle. Blowing on the candle means you may accidentally spit on it, and so, snuffing it tends to be more respectful to the Firevaettr and the Eldest Ancestor. I tend to make water offerings on the roots of the biggest, nearest tree after asking the treevaettr for permission.

 

This will be it for the first part of Relationships with Spirits. The next post will dig into how we can begin relationships with spirits, the kinds of relationships we can have with Them, and the ways we keep these relationships healthy.

Thinking on Chris Hedges, Revolution, and Climate Change

I was watching a lecture by Chris Hedges entitled Corporate Totalitarianism: The End Game. In it, Hedges engages with the subject with both frankness and humor, both of which I appreciate. Hedges has, for a long time, spoken quite well on the problem facing us. What he, and most any social or political critic has been awfully short on, is how to address the predicaments we are in.

He rightly points out that the prison systems rely on slave labor to operate and that, were prisoners retaining even a minimum wage salary, it and the industries this work supports would collapse. He rightly points out that our democracy doesn’t function, which by this point is almost “No shit?” passe. He could have cut a huge chunk of his lecture out by just saying “There is no top-down approach coming because the top is going to watch the bottom burn and drown.” It is the same damned song regardless of political party that has been pursued for the entire length of time that I have been alive. This is a point I am grateful that Hedges hammers on throughout his lecture and in the Q&A. The politicians are not coming to save us.

Something a lot of folks watching this lecture are probably going to miss is a very key point I felt was buried in the lecture among all the socio-political commentary. It is something I hammer on a lot in my writing and that folks from the Post-Carbor Institute, JMG, and others have been hitting on the head for some time. Namely, that the oil and natural gas markets are operating on what amounts to gambling to keep money in the system and keep production somewhat commensurate with needed supply. Except the field outputs are down. The Bakkan Oil Shale is being run by large companies with lots of land that they lease to small, risk-taking companies whose primary income is venture capital. The main way most of the large fossil fuel companies here stay afloat has nothing to do with well productivity, but land leasing. When that glut runs out the ability to generate income will also dry up, not because the gas will all be gone, but because the cost to extract and produce it in useable forms will eclipse the revenue from selling it.

In other words, the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) is going to go down and bring a good chunk of the energy market with it. The whole system is facing this all at once alongside climate change. We would be lucky, and I use that term loosely, if the whole damned facade of the energy industry fell away before that 12 year mark for 1.5F increase in global temperature hits, because the damned near complete demand destruction we saw in 2008 when oil hit almost $150 a barrel of crude was one of the most effective acts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we made in this country. It was hell for any of us who were low-income, as I was fired in 2007 not long before the financial chickens of the crash came home to roost. When a gallon of gas hit $4 and was threatening to hit $5 the ripple effect was enormous. So trust me when I say such a thing will not be a picnic nor even desireable for the average person, but it may be something that could save us from our own consumption of fossil fuels.

Hedges’ point in the lecture about going to Scranton, PA where the city is insolvent is happening in every State and damned near every city I can think of in my own State. Hell, the DIA in Detroit almost sold off its collection to pay debts. His point that capitalism eats itself and its own until collapse is what we are in the middle of right now. The economic system is simply unsustainable. I appreciate he hooks this into his point in the lecture where he talks about the money system, especially in regards to how personal and student debt cannot keep churning out new debtors if the means to pay off interest and principle are subject to these interruptions. As he says, 1/3 of the employed people of America make less than $12 an hour and have no health insurance provided by employers. Keep in mind that Obamacare takes another chunk out of that, either directly through one of the health care plans, or with the year end penalty for not choosing a provider. There is a growing swathe of Americans who bought into the lie that a college education would help us become solid middle-class members. Instead, it has indebted us, some of us through our whole lives. Those, like myself, who went into public service with the promise that if we gave 10 years of our lives that our debt would be forgiven are now coming out the other side, having served that obligation, and our debt forgiveness being rejected. With the costs of living tracking to increase with energy costs there’s not going to be a way to pay off the debt, let alone stave it off much longer.

If we are to make any progress anywhere it is in getting that point across. It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative, liberal, leftist, rightist, any of it. The economic system is unsustainable. The energy infrastructure that allows for the modern American way of life is unsustainable. If you don’t get that then there is no conversation to be had. Without energy being available, on which money depends so it can work, the whole house of cards collapses. If folks disagree with basic reality, that we cannot expect infinite growth on a finite planet, then there is no more conversation to be had. The person can be on the same exact part of the political spectrum that I am on and if they deny the basic nature of where we are then speaking with them is completely without merit.

If, as I feel, Hedges is speaking well and pointing out fundamental problems in regards to our political and economic systems why do I feel such a disconnect from him? For the same reason I imagine most folks do. Though he has covered war and conflict as a journalist and lived alongside folks in those horrible situations I get the distinct feeling that his life, given he was educated at Harvard and has taught in prestigious universities, is a world apart from my own.

Hedges is right in saying that we were conned by Bill Clinton and his pushing through NAFTA, stating it would make us countless of middle-class jobs. I can look out into the neighborhoods where the auto industry was king and clearly see this lie on display, as can anyone who has seen similar scenes in coal and natural gas country. He is right to talk about the collapse of societies and bring his experience of what that looks like into this lecture. He got to watch Yugoslavia’s disintegration up close from the sounds of it. He’s right that we could well be facing the same damn thing here for the same kinds of reasons.

Hedges speaks of democracy as though we could possibly save it at this stage in America. His proposal to save America from totalitarianism is “sustained mass acts of political disobedience”. To me this is completely and hopelessly naive. He uses Standing Rock as an example, and I think it is a poor one in the way he uses it. Standing Rock was a powerful example of civil, sustained disobedience because, at its core, there was and continues to be a series of communities, the Standing Rock Reservation peoples, with real spiritual and physical stakes in the care of Standing Rock and in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. So long as there is abstraction there is inaction, and for far too many people Standing Rock is and remains abstract. Mni Wiconi for too many people is a slogan, something to put on their Facebook wall and to think about every now and again. If Mni Wiconi is merely words then its impact and its meaning is truly missing. The peoples of Standing Rock, and those who joined them long-term in their work, had real skin in the game and something to lose: sacred lands and sacred water their people were tied to in sacred right relationship.

I was at Occupy Wall Street protests near me not long after OWS started to come together across the nation. I attended rallies and I found them complete and utter wastes of time. Hedges states we need to not be restrained by the tyranny of the practical. I got to see what that looked like with OWS rallies local to me. The decision making process, if ever it could be called such a thing, was long, drawn out, tedious, needlessly time consuming and without any sense of order, duty, or use to the communities in which they were arranged. They actively repelled anyone older than maybe folks in their mid-30s. Even for those in their age group, many OWS folks pushed us out because we could see nothing was going to get done. There was no interest in folks with years of experience in organizing, non-profit work, none of it. The OWS in my area died about as quickly as it appeared.

Not a few moments after this statement regarding the tyranny of the practical Hedges calls for revolution, for ‘the overthrow of the corporate state’. Without practicalities addressed this will never happen, not for all the faith one has. Countless Marxists and Communists since Marx wrote Das Capital have been eagerly awaiting the Worker’s Revolution. So many millenarian, apocalyptic, and radical sects who have had faith in and waited for the coming of saviors and the awakening of ‘the people’ have been waiting for the exact same thing. Whether secular or religious, both groups who have had abiding faith in their salvific movements have ignored that revolutions that seek to succeed must pay attention to the practicalities of things so that not only is the revolution succesful, but that any of its gain can stick.

For anyone that has studied the abdication of the Tzar and the rise of the Bolsheviks, to call that anything like a nonviolent movement is foolish at best and obfuscating history at worst. It also ignores that deep, ravaging pain that the Bolsheviks and later Communist regimes would exact on those people they would be in charge of or conquer. These are not revolutions to look at as examples. Rather, I would see such be avoided.

The Founding Fathers understood that the practical and idealistic had to walk hand-in-hand. They understood the notion very well, organizing on levels that I think anyone thinking of such revolutions would do well to pay attention to. They did not merely speak pretty words. Their necks were, on signing the Declaration of Independence, very-much on the line. Hedges’ assertion that we can have a revolution with non-violence, especially in this country where corporate interests are entrenched with violence, where the State stands as it had with the Pinkerton agency in coal’s heyday times with TransCanada and Enbridge Energy today, and come through to victory, is foolish at best and at worst dangerous for his would-be revolutionaries.

The corporate people who hosed down the Standing Rock protesters in sub-zero temperature were committing violence. That pipeline is still getting its building permits worked on. The company, TransCanada, has not stopped to see that its aims are realized. Non-violent protest stalled the progress of the pipeline, but has it stopped it? No. For all the attention the pipeline garnered, all the protest, needed as it was, for all the symbol it was and how good a victory it felt when it was temporarily stopped, folks need to get that it, and countless B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s like it are not done. They are not stopped -yet. These B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s still need killing. Thankfully, the Standing Rock people of the Dakotas, the Anishinaabek Line 5 Protesters here in Michigan, and so many others are standing up again and again with folks in and across their communities. Not everyone standing up, proverbially here, will be doing so before a pipeline; not everyone can. There are plenty for folks to do who are unable to be a physical presence, and the best place where people can go to and learn how best they can contribute is to talk to those who live on the land and waters being threatened.

Another source of disconnect I feel with Hedges is that he is still living a very comfortable upper middle class life. Unlike many peak oil folks there is nothing I can point to that comes through in the lectures I have seen or interviews he has given that give me an impression of him like those I have seen of Richard Heinburg, James Kunstler, or JMG who live their values through living as sustainably as possible on the land each lives. He is not showing the future, showing where he has put up solar panels, started community gardens, or grown his own food. For all that he speaks well, he has not shown, even in general, how he seeks to enable future generations to live well in a post-petroleum climate change future. It is one thing to approach a crowd with a good speech. It is another to approach a crowd with a vision of the future where a good life is possible, even if it is not the life we have been sold by countless companies and TV shows. We need more than speeches. We need living leaders whose lives show us how we may live better on and with the planet and one another.

Now is time to do everything we can to live well with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Now is the time to organize our communities; the politicians will not save us, and the States are not going to make the coming crises easier to face. Now is the time to learn the skills we can, to pass on what we know, to do everything in our power so the next generation can face what is coming with every possible advantage on their side. We must do the work before us however we can do it. It is not enough to merely write and speak on what we need to do. Each of us concerned with our Holy Powers, our communities, and the Earth we live on will, wherever possible whenever possible, be living examples.

Other Worlds -Veils, Separations, and Thresholds

A friend of mine posed a series of questions for a metaphysical discussion group we both frequent. I was not able to attend that night, but I thought the questions were good and worth thinking on.

Is there a veil between worlds? How much? If not a veil, are there other separations?

To the first question, “Is there a veil between the worlds?”:

The conception of a veil separating this world from the world of spirits in general is not something I ascribe to any more. I certainly think there are times when our perception of the various Worlds is more open, and sometimes this has to due with worldview or mindset, and other times to do with significant events, such as holy days, anniversaries of deaths, astrological events, and other times where spiritual potential for contact is elevated.

It also depends on which ‘worlds’ you are talking about. I think there could well be worlds out there that could be shielded from contact, worlds we may never visit because our minds can’t grasp the place to be able to, worlds so openly hostile to our presence that our spirit is repelled or put at risk, or worlds that we have to have an express invitation to see in the first place. Not so much a general veil as the question asks.

To the second question: “How much?”

A way to think about this would be in terms of effort. Some spirit worlds are completely intertwined with our own, eg Gods whose forms/names/Beings are more immanent, landvaettir, the Dead, and Ancestors. I have a graveyard a stone’s throw away from my house. I can walk to it when traffic is low. I have good relationships with the Dead of this graveyard as these Dead are close and were willing to forge good relationships with me.

Gods whose forms/names/Being are more transcendent, vaettir more distant physically and spiritually from us, Ancestors further back in our bloodline or separated across an ocean would all be examples of Beings who may be harder to contact. Going with the previous example, visiting some the other Dead I have relationships with means I have to drive to get to other graveyards, and sometimes these visits turn more into day trips. There isn’t a veil here, but there is more effort expended to do the physical journey to visit the world of that graveyard.

To the last question: “If not a veil, are there other separations?”

Some spiritual worlds may take more out of us or present us with more challenges that we need to prepare for when we go to visit them. As with the previous example it requires more preparation and better weather for me to visit a graveyard farther away from me than the one nearest me. I’ve visited my home graveyard in the midst of Winter with most of the graveyard being a snow-covered ice sheet. I would not make this kind of trip for a graveyard even a bit further away unless I needed to.

Applying this idea of effort, preparation, and work to get places is part of it. Spiritual worlds are inhabited and it can be seen as rude to outright invasion to try to get into a world you are not formally invited into. Trying to break into Helheim is a fool’s errand. It’s river, Gjöll, has a bridge, Gjallarbrú, to Helheim’s gate which is guarded by Móðguðr and Garm, Hela’s wolf. Asgard has a mighty wall to block anyone uninvited from coming into its walls and defenders on them. Even if a given spiritual world does not have these kinds of defenses, it makes sense to ask to come in rather than barge in. You are likely to have better reception and the relationship begins on a good note.

Turning this around, this is also why warding is so important. If you do not ward then any old spirit that strolls by can walk into your proverbial front door. In a sense you are protecting your ‘world’ from those Beings you don’t want strolling through. It also helps with discernment because if you have good wards you have a safe place free from the energetic and spiritual intrusions of the world around you where you can relax and live, and invite the Beings you will into a far more well-ordered space than if everything was just open.