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Questions 12:  The Greatest Challenge and Reward

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

This questions was from Susannah Ravenswing:

From one shamanic practitioner to another: what do you find to be your greatest challenge and what aspect most rewarding?

My greatest challenge as a spiritworker right now is in self-care.  Whether making myself rest and relax or to do things like working out.  I had to think over this question for quite a bit, because I kept coming to things like ‘find enough time for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir’, and that is not true.  They’ve let me know, again and again, I am giving Them enough time.  No, the  greatest issue I’m having right now it’s finding enough time to give myself down time. To truly take care of myself.

Modern American society doesn’t care much for self-care. Rather, working until you drop is lionized. Working until you’re so exhausted you can’t see straight or you break down is held as some kind of achievement. Yet, this ideal of burning the candle until there’s no wax left doesn’t leave us very useful to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir.  It is still taking me some adjustment to the notion that self-care is a form of doing right by the Holy Powers -I cannot do my job effectively if I am worn out or broken down.

Like many things in my life, this is a work in progress.  It is something I am having to reaffirm as something not only that I need to do, it is also reaffirming that it carries deep value for me and my Work.  It is a daily choice to engage in that Work, and all the little bits of work that make it possible.  

My most rewarding aspect to this work is connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and helping others to do the same.  One of the biggest thrills I get is when someone says something along the line of “I laid down an offering”, “I have started to worship/work with x“, or “Things turned out well in following the advice from the Rune reading; I connected with x and I’m going where I need to be”.  Whether teaching the basics of polytheism at a local gathering, doing ritual, or Work of some other kind, I find that my joy tends to come from the doing and having done the Work.

I think that my greatest and most rewarding challenges tend to be one in the same.  For instance, I worked out on a regular basis for quite a bit, and then fell off from doing that.  It is self-care, and it made me feel amazing when I was finished.  It mirrors a lot of the same challenges I am facing right now in regards to self-care: making the choice to do the work out, caring for my body, and so on so that I can do the Work more effectively.  Through the exercise I connected with my more primal self, and did a lot of internal work, as well as offering my work to Thor, Odin, Sunna, and many of my Ancestors.  

So, in making the choice to care for myself and to do the little bits of work, I make the choice to take care in doing the Work.  My little actions ripple out into larger ones just the same as I do when I make devotional prayer and offerings at my altars.  Doing a big ritual every now and again is good, but far better to do 5-15 minutes of prayer a day than one every few months.  

That choosing, again and again, to build devotion is akin to making the choice to hit the gym.  In the choosing the gym and eating healthy, it is to live a life that better honors my body.  In choosing to do regular devotion, it is to keep ways between the Holy Powers and I well.  Some days making the right choice is easier made than others, and sometimes I outright fail at it.  What matters is that I go back to making the right choice, and do all I can to live in good concert with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir so I can get through the challenges I face and be ready to do the Work so that the rewards can come.

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Gefjon’s Project Postponed

February 5, 2017 2 comments

With Superbowl Sunday hitting work like a Mack truck, my initial start is a bit fried.  Lots of overtime without a lot of time to write.  Between this, and the feeling like I need to wait for actual local signs of Springfield, I will do my best to pick up Gefjon’s month of poetry next month.

On Being a Tribalist Heathen

June 9, 2016 1 comment

Something I have been reading quite a bit is the use of the word ‘tribal’ as a derogatory term, especially in online places and discussions on Heathenry.  Mostly, it is being used as it appears in the Oxford Dictionaries’ second definition “The behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group” rather than its first: “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.”  The word ‘tribe’ is not without its issues; tribe was a word used by colonialists to describe the indigenous cultures they saw, as the definition for ‘tribe’ notes.  That said, most people understand what you mean when you say a tribe, whether one is using it in the first or second definition.  Some folks use the word tribe when describing their indigenous communities, others do not.  It is still used to describe some indigenous groups, such as Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.  They define tribe as “a group of people organized through kinship or family relationships.”

As a Heathen, tribe, tribal, tribalism, and tribalist as terms carry meanings more in line with the first definition and with how the Piaute Indian Tribe of Utah uses it.  I would at least like to get some dialogue started on why that is, and why I use ‘tribal’, ‘tribalist’, and ‘tribalism’ as terms to describe my understanding, and living of Heathenry.

Many of the cultures I take as inspiration and much of my understanding of my religious path were organized into what is usually referred to as tribal groups.  The Suebi or Suevi, for instance, were a recognized tribal group that was itself known to be made up of smaller tribes.  This was first recognized in what writings we have from Julius Caesar, and later Tacitus and Pliny.  Funny enough, like a lot of indigenous groups, the name Suebi may mean something to the effect of “people” or “we, ourselves”.

What Tribal Heathenry means

Tribalist Heathenry means that you worship the Gods of Northern Europe, England, France, Iceland, etc., your Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits), and that you care for and about those in your group, your tribe, first.  It means that those you count as within your walls, in your innangard/innangarðr, are within your society.  Those who are utgard/útangarðr, are outside of them.  This does not mean that those who are utgard are without meaning or not considered when looking at the impacts of a decision, but you do not owe loyalty to them as you do to those in your innangard, and they generally have far less impact and say in your life.  Rather, they are guests when they are within your walls, and given the amount of writing that exists on how hosts and guests are to treat each other, are important, but not in the same way as those who are part of your people.

There is another side to this besides the human interaction level, though.  Those one brings into their innangard, or who are brought into another’s, tie their Wyrd together far tighter than those who are utgard to one another.  We tie our hamingja, our group luck, into one another’s.  Me keeping my word is far more important for those who are within my innangard, particularly with important things like big promises to those within the community, or oaths to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, because it directly impacts their hamingja, and through this it can affect their maegen, or personal power.

 

Tribalist Heathenry as it applies to my life

Friends are within my innangard, and acquaintances are utgard.  Allies are within my innangard and those without alliance to me are utgard.

This means that those I care for, am loyal to, responsible to and for those I have deep personal and/or community connections with, whether they are family by blood or choice, friends, or allies, are first priorities in my life.  Note that the way I am using the word friend does not have a thing to do with Facebook definitions of ‘friends’.  When I call someone Brother, Sister, or a term of endearment meaning equivalently the same thing gender-neutrally, such as friend, these mean very specific things to me.  The same goes with the term ally.  I have very clear lines of distinction, then, between friends and acquaintances.

If I count you as part of my tribe, family, a friend, or among my allies, generally speaking, I would take a bullet for you and, in equal measure, I would use such means to protect or save you.  This means that while I count myself as part of the Heathen communities, the communities I am not a member of mean less to me both socially and spiritually speaking than the ones I am part of.  This understanding of things is how I allocate my time and resources, and to whom I owe loyalty and make spiritual ties with.  This is discernment in action.

 

Reviving tribal community and reviving tribal worldviews

I am a tribalist, a universalist, and a reconstructionist-derived Heathen.  Being a tribalist means that I care for those within my innangard.  Being a universalist means that I believe that anyone regardless of ancestral background can come to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Heathen religion.  Being reconstructionist-derived in regards to archaeology and the texts regarding Heathen Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir means that I respect that these things can teach us information on and give some understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, practices and beliefs that have survived the conversion periods are incomplete.  It means that I recognize some practices are unsuited or impractical to reviving a religion and culture for where and when we are, or that we simply lack the information necessary to do so, and I am willing to innovate with the help and guidance of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and community where needed or called.

In reviving tribal community and tribal worldview associated with Heathen paths, what I am seeking is to revive the concept of the tribe itself within a polytheist Heathen context, and the attendant worldview which informs it with those in my innangard.   I do this by referencing and revitalizing the concepts that are essential to this, and where this is not possible to follow what old ways we do know about, we communicate with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and with one another to innovate and adapt what we can to work with us in this time and place.

Tribalist Heathenry as I understand and live it cannot be revived in full from where ancient Heathen cultures were prior to conversion or destruction of the cultures and folkways.  There is simply too much time between us and the Ancestors from which these ideas, structure, and worldviews spring.  In other words, the maps of archaeology and texts are useful to a point until we recognize it is outdated or no longer referencing the territory before us.

Given the diversity of religious/cultural paths within Heathenry, I do not expect our Michiganian Northern Tradition and Heathen tribalist religion or culture to look like another’s, even those that may be located in the same State.  I would expect our religious calendar to look different, especially from, say, a Texan tribalist Heathen’s religious calendar.  A given tribe’s worship of Gods might be very specific, i.e. only worshiping Anglo-Saxon Gods, whereas we worship Gods from a variety of culture backgrounds.  A given Heathen tribalist or their tribe may only worship the Aesir and/or Vanir, whereas mine worships the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar.

It is my hope this post is a gateway to more conversation, not a stopping point.  I encourage folks to post in the comments, to write their own posts exploring this, to talk with friends, family, kindred, and talk with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  I encourage us to deepen the dialogue around these things, so that our communities grow, and keep growing, strong, healthy, and well.

Dancing

April 26, 2016 5 comments

The road rushes past

My cigar glows in my hand

The rainvaettir come down, a billion upon billion rattling dancers

The road, the car, all full of the sound of Their feet

 

The road rushes past and I see it

The first lightning bolt of the season here

Arc through the sky, behind the clouds

A silhouetted dancer

Whose drumming partner pounds and the sky shakes

 

Tendrils of smoke out the window and up to you all

The Thunderbird People

The rainvaettir

The stormvaettir

The Jotuns of storms

The Spirit of Storms

Odin

Thor

 

I call to you and say your names as Midgard fills with stomps with billions of feet

As the skies split with the fury of dancers and beating of wings

As the wind shakes and the clouds let loose the crowds

As the drumming thunderers crash and clash

The Worlds are alive and here

The Worlds are alive and there

and I am thankful to bear witness

Learning the Skills and Getting to Work

January 26, 2016 2 comments

I just got back from a weekend at Strawbale Studio, taking the Rocket Stove and Earth Oven workshop this last week, and the Roundpole Timber Framing workshop with Sylverleaf, gifted to us by her mother.

There are some things where you just need to do them to know you can do them, and this would be one of those.  Like a lot of things we’ve fallen away from doing, building our own structures can garner a quality to it that makes it seem only able to be done within the realm of professionals.  We forget that our Ancestors used to build their own homes from the ground on up.  We disconnect from the understanding of knowing the land, and our place in helping to keep the trees, the forests, all of that healthy, by being collaborators with Them.

This is not to say I’m an overnight expert; hardly.  What it does mean is that with very simple tools and techniques, what I have learned can empower me and mine to build a house.  Given enough people, a community could raise several homes if we put our minds to it.  A small build team supported by a community could do the same if there was need or desire for it.

That is part of the power of places like Strawbale Studio.  You not only can learn the skills and get guidance on where to go from there, you understand in a real, in-person way that you can do these things.  It goes from a conception or an idea of the thing, into hands-on experience with the skills and techniques with the tools and materials.  It goes from feeling so far away, to very here.

I found myself at several times thinking, or saying aloud, “Oh wow.  If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.”  Every time I went to one of the classes, or watched the Roundwood Timber Framing DVD by Ben Law, I could feel the push that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were giving us were actually able to be achieved.  That the dream our family and friends have can quite readily become reality.

We were taught what kind of growth we needed to look for in our wood, and when seasoned vs. green wood was useful.  With teams I helped to make roundwood joints that, with a bit of refinement, could hold up a roof or become a support beam.  I learned how to use a sawhorse and draw knife to debark wood, and also to make square pegs into round pegs.  After drilling out a hole and inserting the peg into or behind a joint, then splitting the peg and inserting a small wooden wedge into the peg, it would hold them together tight.  All of these were simple building techniques that utilize the wood harvested around the place we were learning.  I went to the chainsawing demo, because even though I do not currently own one, learning the basics of tree felling is a skill I may need.  Granted, if I need a chainsaw I’ll be taking a safety course on that as Mark Angelini recommended.

There was a deep communication with the wood I was working with, and it’s not dissimilar from working with the body of an animal.  After all, the tree’s bark is the ‘skin’, and the wood is the ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ of the tree.  It once lived.  Learning to work with a tree by shaping its with a chisel is a very different experience of that tree and working with its body, and its spirit.  It’s similar to when I skinned a mole; it is one thing to work with an object in which leather is part of it, like a book cover or a drum, but a whole other thing entire to work with the skin before it becomes anything.  Same with the wood before it becomes a mallet, a peg, or an a-frame.

I had a similar experience this last week in working with the rocket stoves and forming the earth oven.  As with the previous workshop, I would catch myself thinking and saying “If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.”  Sylverleaf and I have a few books on our shelves, one of which is the Cob Builder’s Handbook by Becky Bee, and we picked up The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, Linday Smiley, and Deanne Bednar. As part of the workshop we received a copy of Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.  It’s one thing to read these books, and a whole other thing to experience their contents.

The books can only describe so well how good cob feels in your hands for making the earth oven, how the slip layer for insulation should feel and look.  While I find it fairly easy to learn by sight, most of these things can only be learned by doing.  For instance, I was having a really hard time visualizing how the dividing bricks between where the feedbox for the firewood is and the chimney were supposed to be put down.  Seeing it done and helping to do it put it together made things click in a way I just couldn’t wrap my head around looking at the diagrams.

During the workshop on the second day I was the only person who took their shoes off to feel what the cob should feel like as you work it through the stages of adding water to the mix, which will be helpful when we do it outside in the spring or summer.  After doing that, I can hardly blame the other folks.  The cob was so cold my feet were aching till I put them near the rocket stove and scraped the mix off of my feet.  It was a lesson in why cob is used for mass thermal storage, though.

I really, really wish we could have finished off the earth oven.  From what I understand the drying process can take most or all of a day, depending on how big it is.  All we would have had to do was apply the insulation and the plaster layer, and we could have started making bread or pizza.  Albeit, since we made the earth oven at half scale, it would probably be more suited to breadsticks.  When we go to make our own we’ll be putting down foundation for the first time, since the model we worked on we really couldn’t put down a foundation as our diagrams depicted and all work on forming it.

One of my big takeaways from the weekend was that we really can put our hands to making a new world with the things around us, and do so in a respectful manner with the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir.  As with the coppicing, working with the materials around one’s home or locally sourced materials harvested with care worked very, very well for the work we were doing.  Having actually seen Strawbale Studio’s full-size earth oven work, and what’s more, tasted the amazing pizza that came out of it, I appreciate the art of making it all the more.

As with the roundwood timber framing, what I deeply appreciate and enjoy about natural building materials is that working with them is not some locked-off secret no one can access.  It’s the accessibility of the material and the building process that is really the key to it all.  The natural building techniques and skills I have learned require relatively few tools, almost all of them simple ones.  Most of the tools I was able to pick up for less than $100 all together.  Some day I will commission or make my own.  Especially when I sit and watch an episode of HGTV or DIY with the folks and see how much it takes to even remodel a kitchen using contemporary building measures.  What galls me about watching these shows is how often the turnaround time comes for needing to gut them and remodel them.  There are wattle-and-daub structures that still stand 600 years after their construction with relatively little input.  With cob thatched roof homes, the thatching needs replacing every 20-30 years, but do not required reconstruction of whole sections of the home.  The multigenerational aspect of working with the land, multigenerational homes and home ownership has been lost in going for materials that have built-in breakdown times, planned obsolescence, and we’re worse for it.

OthilaOthila or Othala presents the idea of odal land, ancestral land, and it is this concept that, in part, inspires me to learn and to pull together all these skills and to work with those in my family, clan, tribe, and with those in alliance with us.  It is why I am looking at working with those already in the community and doing these things, and it is why I encourage folks to take the steps for making firm ties now.  Putting our hands to crafting our own homes and things, or supporting those who do, strengthens our ties as community, and our resilience together.  If you get the chance to do something like this, formally or informally, I would take the opportunity with zeal.  If you’re not in the Michigan area, check around!  More and more folks are engaging with natural home building, reskilling, and networking with those willing to learn.

If you are not sure where to start, I am putting together a post which will give a general start for folks to work with, including basic internet resources, books I have read or worked from, and video links to get started.  There is a lot out there, so if you find or have done work from a source, let me know either in the comments section or by email, and I can add your recommendations to the list.

Simple Connections and Regular Devotional Work

August 23, 2015 3 comments

There’s a simple, beautiful connection in lighting a candle, some incense, and saying prayers.  I’ve done it all my life.  I did it when I was a Catholic, praying for the Intercession of the Saints, Mary, and Jesus.  I do it when I light candles now, asking for my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to speak with me, to bless my family and I.  Just sitting and talking with Them for ten, fifteen minutes, and despite a crush of harsh things coming down in the last week, I feel a sense of connection.

It’s not that I think anything is going to get resolved tomorrow, or even by my next paycheck.  It’s walking forward knowing the Holy Powers are walking with me.  Knowing that I can face the problems in my life with allies before, behind, and alongside me.  It’s the feeling of connection I get when I smoke with the Holy Powers, sharing the pipe with each statue, and talking about the day, the week, what is on my mind, and thanking Them for being in my life, for the blessings They bring.  That connection doesn’t always bring peace.  Sometimes it brings anger, sometimes it brings weeping for the things They’ve gone through.  Sometimes the connection brings frustration, as yet another thing gets added to my plate, or something I thought was key to me is taken away.

I think at times I give the impression that my conversations with the Gods are completely staid, or totally ceremonial affairs.  However, a lot of my prayers go something like this:

  1. Hail or rote prayer.
    1. Whenever I light a Fire I always make a rote prayer that is made out of respect.
  2. Extemporaneous prayers, talk with the Holy Powers about the day, week, month, fears, thoughts, hopes, dreams, etc.
  3. Divination might be involved, especially if I’m asking questions I need confirmation on.
  4. Hail or rote prayer of thanks.

Offerings may be made before, after, or book-ending the prayers and dialogue.  But how do I hear the Gods?

Sometimes I have impressions of, or spiritually hear words.  Sometimes impressions of or spiritually get smells, an emotion, music, the feeling of a hand on my shoulder, or lips on my forehead.  Sometimes I get a combination of these.  Sometimes I get abject silence.  My conversations with the Holy Powers can go in a number of directions, and part of that is natural intuition on my part, and what They are able or willing to use on Theirs.  What also plays into this is what ritual tools I am using, and where I am.  Outside in the garden, I feel a kind of flowing connection with the Gods of our garden with the Earth beneath my feet, the Ancestors, and the landvaettir as we pray to Them, whether planting, plucking, harvesting, or otherwise working with Them.  Inside in the dark at the altars with the candles lit, the energy tends to be much more focused, intense, and personal.  Again, it depends on how the Holy Powers respond.  There have been times in the garden, particularly when I take out the compost and hail Hela and Niðogg, when the connection was focused, intense, and personal, equally as much as inside.  That reminds me: I need to get some devotional items for Them inside.

What I find powerful with regular devotional work is that such conversations, dialogue, impressions, and so on, can become part of, to borrow a phrase from John Beckett, ‘our ordinary times’.  I say ‘can’, because not everyone has such connections, nor are they required to be a polytheist.  That said, that awe, that connection, that intuition can be cultivated by devotional work.  It can be, and is invited each time we kneel in respect, prostrate in honor, give thanks, gift our offerings, open our mouths to pray, and share our lives with Them.  We invite that connection to suffuse our lives each time we make space for Them.  Each time that our religions twine with the whole of our lives, becoming lived rather than just identifiers.  Each time we put our religions forth in our lives as matters of consequence, and not merely matters of belief.

The simplest connections have made for some of the most powerful interactions with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir I have had.  The simple little connections are what have sustained me in the hardest times, and keep me righted in the easier ones.  Regular devotional work does require discipline, but it does not require a lot of ‘stuff’, especially if that would get in the way between us and the Holy Powers.  Heck, even the rituals I put on with the church I serve require relatively little tools.  What matters is that the connections between us are made, Gebo is made, and respect is kept.

So even in the hard times, keep up the devotional work.  Especially then.  Having that ground of discipline and connection has gotten me through, and keeps getting me through the challenges I face in life.  As the polytheist religions continue to grow and thrive, putting down these roots will build up each member in strength and resilience, and do the same for their respective communities.

Where Does It End?

February 22, 2015 2 comments

I ask myself every time I see a proposal like this from Graymont, or another Oil Pipeline repair or request from Enbridge Energy.  Where does it end?  When is enough money, resources, and ecological destruction enough?

What does Graymont want?  10,000 acres of land for open pit and underground limestone mining operations that will take place in 3 counties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Public comment for the Canadian Limestone proposal from Graymont ends March 19th.  Please make your comments here, at the email address, DNRGraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov, and at the public mailing address listed below:

Customer Service Center, ATTN: Kerry Wieber, 8717 N. Roscommon Road, Roscommon, MI 48653

Anyone who has an understanding of modern capitalism already knows the answer.  There is never enough.  Whether to feed the profit motive or the equally hideous beast of debt, like an unholy Ouraboros, there is never enough.  Between the greed of the profit motive and the utter despair generated by the countless billions (whether personally or via their country) in poverty, there is no end.  The only end is when the beast itself is dead.

Let us take stands wherever we can, however we can, for Jörð, for Nerthus, for Midgard our home!

To this end, I nið Graymont and their supporters, including political supportersfinancial backers, and those who would speak on behalf of destroying the ecosystem of 10,000 acres of land!

Share this curse on your blogs, Facebook, wherever you deem appropriate.  Let us not give one more inch to a corporation’s greed.

Three Isa and three Thurse I give

To Graymont and its board

May your projects fail

Your stocks plummet

Let the landvaettir be riled up

May They rise against you

Wherever you dig or set down

Your foul roots

May the people be riled up

May they rise against you

Wherever you dig or set down

Your foul roots

Leave the landvaettir be

Dig no hole, cut no wounds

Into Jörð’s flesh;

Let Her forests and fields grow!

Isa Isa Isa!

Thurse! Thurse! Thurse!

Isa Isa Isa!

Thurse! Thurse! Thurse!

Isa! Isa! Isa!

Thurse! Thurse! Thurse!

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