Patreon Topic 48: On Difference and Variety Among Spiritual Specialists

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

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

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

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

Introductions to Spiritual Specialist Work

Religion-Initiated Training/Initiation

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

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

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

Holy Powers-Initiated Training/Instruction/Initiation

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

Experimentation

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

Contract

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

What Next?

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

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

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

Kinds of Spiritual Specialists

Spiritworker

Someone who does work for the spirits.

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

Priest

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

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

Clergy

Someone who serves a polytheist community as a spiritual guide.

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

Diviner

Someone who serves a community by doing divination.

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

Sacrificer

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

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

Operant (Witch/Sorcerer/Magician/etc.)

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

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

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

Monastic

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

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

Storyteller

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

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

Figuring Out Where You Stand

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

Requirements

Rootedness

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

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

Learning and Work

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

Discernment

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

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

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

Discussion and/or Divination

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

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

Questions

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

Baselines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skill Level

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

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

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

Training

What are the requirements of training in this spiritual specialty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initiation

Is initiation necessary for this spiritual specialty?

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

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

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

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

Everyday Life

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

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

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

Going Forward

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

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

Deity Work v Being a Polytheist

Rotwork wrote a post here exploring the idea of deity work that I will be pushing back on, and adding my own thoughts as I go.

Before I begin I want to be clear: I respect Rotwork a lot. I get that a lot of online spaces are cesspits, and produce a lot of toxic ideas that then get circulated. Those need to be pushed back on. That being said, I am going to push back a bit on some of the things they have talked about regarding deity work. There’s enough in here that I agree with in some respects that I feel like I am going to have dig into it a bit to be clear on where I disagree.

After exploring some of the ideas I posted on their Twitter feed and talking with friends, I find much of my issue is with baseline definitions. I understand deity work as any work assigned to you by a God. I often place deity work under the catchall term spiritwork, that is, work done on behalf of, for, or with vaettir (spirits), Ancestors, and/or Gods. I do not see prayers, offerings, or any of the normal praxis of a polytheist aka exoteric religion, as being deity work/spiritwork per se.

To quote what I said in the Twitter feed:

When I think of ‘deity work’ I think of stuff assigned to you by the Gods. Not the basic stuff of *being* polytheist like prayers, offerings, etc. Being a spiritworker is a *job* not the baseline of being a polytheist. Hopefully I’m making sense here.

When I use the word spiritwork, spiritworker, and/or vaettirvirkr that means the person is doing work with, for, or on behalf of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Real simple equation to my mind. In the case of ‘working with’ a God it’s to Their end even if it does benefit us.

Even in the cases where I got ‘hired out’ by Óðinn to do things for other Gods it was still in service to Him. When Óðinn came into my life like a whirlwind I could have said no, and did not.

Here is another point of contention: deity work is dangerous. It is dangerous in no small part for many of the reasons they claim it is safe, and thinking on it in the same terms. Gods are as dangerous as They are sacred. Gods that stop plagues can start them, eg Apollo. Gods that can control whether or not you win a battle can make sure you get killed so you come to Valhöll, eg Óðinn. The Gods of Fire that warm our houses have the ability to burn down forests. Our Gods are, to paraphrase CS Lewis, ‘not tame lions’. However, that does not mean that They’re in our lives just to fuck with us or do us harm. I find that, if your life is being flipped upside down by a God entering it then it probably needed to be -though there’s exceptions to every rule since Gods are individual Beings, and so are we.

The Gods do have limits -clearly. Óðinn is not omniscient, frequently refers to other Beings in the stories we have for Their knowledge and wisdom, eg Vafþruðnir and Mímir. This does not make me a selfish asshole. Further, Óðinn is a known oathbreaker. It means that I clearly know my lore and that not every God (or Ancestor or vaettr) should have trust extended unconditionally. Some Gods have very little to do with humanity since They have whole sections of Creation to deal with, deserving no less of our respect and worship. Some Gods are not the gentlest or even the most caring towards humanity. Again, They are deserving of respect and worship even if an individual polytheist chooses not to worship Them. Maybe if you are not interacting with, say, a river God in Their river then They have no reason to really pay you mind. Again, no They are no less deserving of respect or worship. You may just not be as interested in worshiping Them, or They in interacting with you, if you do not live on or near Their river.

Now, I will heartily agree that when it comes to deity work we are not working with the Gods as equals. We simply cannot. We are working for Them, which is why I refer to being a spiritworker as a job. It’s work. However, deity work is not worship.

Worship is the baseline of being a polytheist. It is what each and every polytheist should be doing in whatever their capacity is. It is the action of being a polytheist. Belief in the Gods is the baseline choice that any polytheist should hold. Note, I am not saying perfect faith or any of the other cluttering Christian notions regarding that. Belief in the Gods is a choice, a recognition. Faith is an emotion, transitory at best sometimes. I do not always have faith, but so long as I am a polytheist I have to have belief that the Gods are real and that I worship Them.

I have no disagreement with their bullet points, excepting that the Gods are mostly everywhere. It is too wide a point for me. I do not think that Óðinn or Loki are everywhere. I have no indication They are from either the lore available or my own experiences of Them. It is still monumentally stupid to be two-faced before our Gods, though.

The next point bears some digging into.

“But how do I know if I’m contacting the right entity?”

Now when it comes to addressing prayers to Gods, so long as you’re using the correct names and epithets your prayers are very likely being heard by the God in question. Now when you’re hearing a response of some kind? When you are looking for feedback or input? This is where doing your due diligence is necessary.

I will refer to my Brother Jim Two Snakes on this one: Spiritual Accounting. His breakdown is this: (M+C³)xR = V. M is messages, C is confirmations, R is results, and V is verified. Lore, divination, and community input are the three legs of this stool. Why would we need this? Because we can be mistaken. We can think we are talking to a God and getting input back and its a sock puppet we are fooling ourselves with or a spirit using that form to get attention/energy from us. Sometimes spirits lie. Sometimes we get stuff wrong, or we are not in a good place to experience the Ginnreginn (Holy/Mighty Powers) well at that moment. Working with Spiritual Accounting is a way to make sure that we get as much as we can right.

Unless you are looking for or are getting some kind of response though, this may not even be an active concern for you. Not every polytheist is, nor should be expected to be, a spiritual specialist whether as a spiritworker, priest, or otherwise. It is perfectly acceptable to worship the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in whatever capacity you can, and live by your life’s philosophy. You may get responses, or you may not; that is not the measure of a polytheist.

I started off my journey as a Pagan with 5 salt crystals in a thimble-sized glass jar. Size of the sacred space your worship takes place in, the offerings you make, and the prayers you make all can change over time. To my mind, these questions are key to the measure of a polytheist regardless of whether you are an individual worshiping at your hearth the size of an Altoid tin, or with a large community the midst of a stone circle:

Are you worshiping, praying to, offering to, and speaking with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits with respect? Are you worshiping, making prayers, and making offerings in ways that are respectful and in alignment with the religion, traditions, and individual Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you worship? If you are doing deity work, are you doing whatever work you have assigned in a manner your Gods find respectful? Not respect as I understand it. Respect as your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits understand it.

Are you living in good and respectful reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? That, in my understanding, is the measure of a polytheist. Your worship, and if you have spiritwork, your work, may not look like what others are doing. You are a person in relationships with Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. Whatever it is, however it is expressed, worship in respect to the best of your ability. If you have it, do your deity work and/or spiritwork in respect to the best of your ability. No one could reasonably expect more.

Patreon Topic 41: On Keeping Multiple Paths

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Streaking Fate comes this topic:

“I’m not sure if you posted much about this or not, but how you keep multiple paths running smoothly without colliding (ie Anubis and Odin).”

I am not entirely sure it is possibly to keep them from colliding. Sometimes you can have obligations that reach over one another, and you will have to pick what comes first based on your priorities.

Having clearly defined priorities is the biggest way that I avoid collision in the first place: having clearly defined priorities from my Gods, my family, my friends, and for the things in my life. This can be established by direct contact with the Ginnreginn and/or divination. I need to communicate my needs fully and honestly while also fulfilling any obligations I have to Them, my family, and communities. To communicate what I need I must have a clear idea of how my days go, what I can or cannot budge on, and what needs must come first so that I can best fulfill the obligations before me and live well.

In my case Anpu stepped back when Óðinn came to the forefront of my relationships with the Gods. This made the prioritization of one God’s work over the other’s relatively straightforward. Not everyone has this, and even in my case I still have to prioritize my spiritual work.

If you are encountering a time where you need to choose what work to do when, it may be best to think of what you can realistically do with the time you have available to you. If Óðinn wants me to do a large-scale research project over the course of a year, do I have the ability, energy, resources, and time to do this? Can I negotiate on the particulars of the project? Is whether I can do the project dependent on these factors, or is it more a matter of my time-management? Can I do this work in addition to the obligations and other factors already at play in my life? If this is a high priority being put on me, what can I put on the back burner, or stop doing during the duration of the project so I have the time and energy to get it done?

How do I organize my priorities?

This is how I lay out my months: I start with my day job which has a set schedule and the overtime I have preplanned for it. Then, I lay out what days I have regular spiritual work engagements such as divination, workshops, and the like. In between all the time where I have the spiritual work I regularly do is when I have my work as a father, husband, community member, and then, me time. Sometimes the me time gets sacrificed, and sometimes it is my time in the community. I try to hold back as much time as I can for being a father and husband, yet sometimes I need to give that time to spiritual work so it gets done. I am lucky that I have family, friends, and community that understands this and supports me, both in our collective outlook and in direct support of my work. I would not be able to do it otherwise.

Within that broad category of spiritual work will be the things I do for folks on my Patreon, blog, Around Grandfather Fire, 3 Pagans on Tap, Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, and any personal spiritual work that needs doing. When I am negotiating with the Gods on priorities, I am negotiating on things that are not as scheduled out in my personal spiritual work time. If a God or Goddess comes forward with work for me to do I weigh it against the work I am already doing. Why did I list all that out? Because if I am going to come to the negotiating table with any God, Ancestor, or vaettr I need to clearly account for the obligations I already hold before I take anything else on. I need to be sure that what I am negotiating for or against can realistically fit into my life.

Even with all of this work to prioritize and plan collisions still happen. How do I negotiate that? I apologize and, where I can, work to do better in the future so it does not happen again. Maybe I know a piece of work leaves me with little energy, or I have a double to work every week so certain days will not be possible for me to make offerings. If I need to I negotiate these things out with the Ginnreginn. Then, I do whatever work that I can do. Sometimes what is easier in the moment gets done first, and sometimes it is what is harder. I do the work at hand, even if it is piecemeal.

Without going into disaster thinking, explore what a collision of paths looks like well before you get there. In all likelihood it is going to be something simple, like “I have X amount of energy to do Y and Z. This thing I agreed to do with/for Deity A and Deity B requires that X to do, so I have to choose one or the other today and do the other tomorrow.” Does it radically harm your relationship(s) to do this? In all likelihood, no. However, at least for me, it does head off anxiety at the pass so rather than overfocusing on what I cannot do I focus on what I can, and then get what I am able done. If you know you have weekly offerings and time can slip you by easily, making reminders in calendars, set alarms, and work with any housemates you have so you remember to do them promptly. If you need to buy offerings setting reminders in your calendar a day or two ahead, and always setting them in the same spot not only breeds familiarity with the routine, it gives the offerings a place to be, and less likely to be misplaced.

Everyone’s priorities and spiritual work is different, and each person’s way of avoiding collisions in their life will be as well. What matters is that when you do have collisions, and you likely will, you do whatever is in your ability to do. Then, when you can finish the work at hand, you do that. Do your best and relax. We are weaving Urðr with our Ginnreginn; They have vested interest in each person doing their utmost to weave well.

Climate Change, the Myth of Progress, and Telling New Stories

This is an old post from December 1st, 2018 that has been lingering in my drafts folder. Seemed a good time to upload it.

Climate change and peak oil are predicaments. Problems have solutions. Predicaments are states of being to be lived through.

Digging deep into the climate science or studies on the fossil fuel industries is fine and all, but doing that does not address the situations that have lead us to make the very choices driving both of these predicaments. Something I have gleaned from years of reading up on both predicaments and watching responses to the challenges they raise is that each and every time a presenter finishes speaking on climate change or peak oil is that the story we tell ourselves needs to change. It continuously comes back to this. It does not matter how compelling the science is, it does not matter how detailed the arguments are. If you cannot tell a story the audience is lost.

Many peak oil folks who have given lectures will talk about a moment where someone, especially in the Q&A section, will say something about a technological fix to peak oil and hold up their cell phone as if it provided proof. Some seem to use the phone as a talisman against the notion that we cannot just ‘tech our way’ out of the problem. We have told ourselves that we are so clever and so good at using technology that we just have to design a new gadget to fix the situation.

Like a lot of things, folks recognizing climate change and peak oil as predicaments needs to be worked through through the stories we are raised on. The myth of progress is a big hurdle in most folks’ imagination. There are those who are utterly convinced that, even if the world encounters deep climate change that ‘they will figure something out’. A nebulous they, sometimes filled in by a technocrat or a scientist, an inventor or an investor; whoever the person is, they serve a messianic function. For Christians who either do not wish to deal with or actively deny climate change and similar predicaments, Revelations and the Apocalypse are comforts in that no matter how bad it gets, there is an end and it will be in God’s glory and Christ’s victory. For techno-futurists ‘The Singularity’, ‘Ascension’ and similar ideas fulfill a similar religious/spiritual/psychological impulse.

It is deeply uncomfortable for anyone in our American society to question the myth of progress because so much of the edifice of our modern understanding of who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going is built on it. The basic narrative of the myth of progress is that as time goes on everything will improve over time. Time in this myth is linear, assuming that things become more just, technology get better, knowledge improves, the economy grows, and that peoples livelihoods get better over time.

The opposite is also true in the myth of progress. As the myth is linear, its assumption is that things get better as time goes on. When it looks backward to the past it frames the past as being where things were progressively more ignorant, stupid, horrible and destitute the further back in time you go. The present in this myth is treated as the best things have been, and the future as being even better as a matter of course. It follows very similar lines of thought to the old notion of a hierarchy of religion because the central premise in that narrative was taken up into the myth of progress. The hierarchy of religion (or evolution of religion as it also has been known) is we started in an ignorant state of polytheism and animism religiously and tribal societies organizationally. It then states that we ‘grew’ into better states with monotheism religiously, empires and kingdoms organizationally. Now, it treats us as having ‘become better’ as we are. Monotheist dominance places itself at the top of this hierarchy, while more recently atheists often places atheism as the new crown in the myth religiously. Politically, superpower nations and global power structures like the UN and EU, are placed as the top of the hierarchy.

Both the myth of progress and the hierarchy of religion’s two-pronged approach defends itself by positing anyone who is other than monotheist or atheist is ignorant, backward, and against modern society, and that anyone who believes in any other organization model outside of national and global power structures we have now is seeking to plunge us back into times of want and privation. The myth has staying power for two reasons: the first being that its main source of strength is in a powerful call to the betterment of humanity’s lot through engagement with its myth, and the second being that it holds a great deal of social cache over peoples’ heads who disagree with it. In truth it is little different than Christians in the conversion periods of polytheist Germany, England, and similar with a carrot and stick. The carrot being if you wanted to trade with Christians your leader or your merchants had to be baptized Christian. The stick being if you wanted to stay heathen then they would slaughter you till you gave in or you were all dead.

Bound up with the myth of progress is that capitalism as it exists is always going to improve and is the best economic system. It states each movement forward in time will obviously, as it has brought ‘progress’ to religion and organization, will bring that selfsame ‘progress’ to the economy. As with religion, it treats looking back to other forms of economic systems that worked in the past, eg gift economies, small-scale interdependent communities, etc as harmful, ignorant, or being against prosperity, health, or the good of the humanity. Anyone who has paid attention, either to the history of economics or to the last thirty years of economic ups and downs in this country will see that money and wealth and the attendant power of both have concentrated in fewer hands while the cost of living increases for everyone. Meanwhile the majority of people in this country having falling wage levels to meet this increasing cost of living. That is, assuming you have a wage and aren’t in the so-called gig economy or bound up in contractual work.

Our entire money system is based on fiat currency that is borrowed into existence at interest. As this debt increases so too does our money supply. As this debt increases the overall ability of that money to do work goes down. There is no way, in the end, to pay our debts because there will never be enough money to pay them. The money system cannot improve over time for anyone but the most rich because anyone trying to save money (such as through a savings account) is losing money by keeping their money in the system. Retirement as a concept is vanishing for all but the most rich. With booms and busts occuring about every 5-10 years most people whose do have retirements are now predominantly bound to the stock market through 401ks, 457s, and similar market investments. Pensions and retirements were crushed in the last economic downturn in breathtaking numbers. Given the cycle of boom/bust, those who have some kind of retirement account could lose some, most, or all of what they have invested in the economy.

It is not anti-capitalist to say that things cannot continue as they are. It is self-evident to anyone paying attention that the myth of progress we have been told is not comporting with what reality is. Yet, having written all of that, I have not told a story. I have given you, the reader a great deal of information. If I reject the myth of progress and see the predicaments of climate change and peak oil will require us to tell new stories, what new stories do I tell? How?

I tell stories that come from my heart. I tell the stories of my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. I tell of how my Holy Powers have inspired me through their myths. I tell of how the Gods are working with us to face these predicaments, how my Ancestors faced predicaments in the past, like the Great Depression, how the vaettir ally with us when we do well by Them. I tell of how the Holy Powers are encouraging us to live better in harmony with Them. I tell of how we develop new ways of relating to our Holy Powers as we develop our approaches to these predicaents. I tell of what I find exciting about a world where we address climate change and peak oil on a local level. I share what I am most looking forward to doing to address the predicament we face as a community, of what things will need to be done so we can be more resilient in the face of the predicaments coming to bear. I inspire, speaking of how we will rise to the ocassion in the face of our country doing nothing on the national stage to address the perils facing us.

We tell stories of the animals we want to raise, and the plants we want to grow. We tell of the things we want to make, whether it is cheese or cloth, chairs or tools. We bring our stories into each thing we put our hands to; rather than a chair from a store, it is a chair I put together after learning how to do it. The tools are not merely tools, our things not merely things; they are sources of interconnection between one another. We weave the stories around the closeness of community we want to foster, and the sacred ways that will tie us all together as communities, Kindreds, clans, and groups, families, and individuals.

We are living stories. Embodied stories. Bound up and woven with our Gods, our Ancestors, our vaettir, and one another. We not only talk about how we are living in Urðr with all things, we live in that understanding consciously. Whether I am telling the Creation Story of Fire and Ice coming together so the rivers flowed and life could flourish or I am telling the story of how I made this bottle of mead, I am not only telling that story but bringing it to being again with each telling.

This is one of my living stories:

Not long ago our Ancestors dug into Jörð and brought up the Dead. Our Ancestors could not recognize the Dead, not then, but the Ancestors did recognize Power. At first it was by little bits; they used Fire, and burnt the Dead. Then the Ancestos saw the Power of the heat the Dead carried in Them allowed us to do more than we ever could by the horse, oxen, or our own hands. Generations passed. We dug and looked for more Dead, and found Them everywhere beneath our feet. We burnt the Dead for heat and for light. We were burning so much Dead there was less and less in the ground. Some said “We need to burn more!” and so they burnt more.

There were others that said “The Dead need to stay in the ground!” They had come to see that the Air, the Water, the Earth, and even the Fire Itself were being so abused by all the burning of the Dead that they could not live on Jörð and carry on this way. They could not say “You are our Mother!” and be so cruel to Her. They could not say “We need to burn more!” They could not honor the Gods right when they did not honor the Goddess on which they live. They could not honor the Ancestors as they fed the Dead into their fires to feed their want for heat and light. They could not honor the vaettir as they disrespected the Beings they shared the Worlds with. So, they resolved to change, and they asked their Gods, their Ancestors, and their vaettir to help them.

Some were told to stay where they were and work hand in hand with their neighbors, some for the first time. Some were told to move to the country and live as their old Ancestors had. Others were told to move to the city and work with those already there. Some were given set paths to follow, and some were given a field of choices. Each had their Work to do, and it was no more and no less important because it was given to them to do by the Holy Ones.

Each did the Work given to them. As each person did the Work others would see this. Each person who lived well on Jörð gave courage to another to live well on Her. Each person who did their Work gave courage to another to find their Work and to do it well.

They came to live in right relationship with Jörð. When Jörð swelled with heat and water they knew what to do because the Work had taught them how to understand Her and to prepare for these times. When the air went sharp and the ice came, they knew what to do because the Work had taught Them how to understand Her and prepare for these times. They were able to care for their people because they learned from Jörð how to live upon Her, with Her. They were able to live well upon Her because they listened to Her and did well by Her. They listened to the vaettir and became good neighbors, good relatives with Them once again. Generation on generation came and lived well because the Ancestors had taken the time to listen to the Earthmother, and worked to live in right relationship with Her.

Thoughts On ‘A New Economy’ and The Road Ahead

This was a post I started writing August 5th of 2019. I found it among my drafts and decided to finish it.

I have just started watching a documentary on Netflix called A New Economy and so far the basic notion that we need to make our economies more oriented towards what is healthy and good for humanity and the environment is one I heartily agree with. John Fullerton put our need to get back to human-scale levels of interaction, and the challenge facing us quite well: “We’re in transition and what’s remarkable to me is thast people feel that in their bones. We need to figure out how to align the human economy with the principles and patterns that tend to operate in all living systems. That’s the essence of it. And so the challenge is to kind of switch out the engines while we’re keeping the plane in the air.”

Richard Sennet, the author of Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation said “You can look at cooperation as an ethical, good-hearted thing. Or you can look at it as something people need to do to take your work seriously, to take other people seriously, to organize politically. This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This is about actually getting the world to work.” The point was made that these cooperative efforts go beyond 20th century capitalism and socialism. I find it interesting that both were included, and it is something that heartens me quite a bit.

No economic models that rely on cheap and easy to exploit energy are going to make it long-term. Burning fossil fuels has put our environment into multiple crisis points. Our ways of doing things the last 200 or so years has led to the world as it is now. No amount of trying to engage with either economic model is going to be useful when the very means by which both capitalism and socialism have operated in are swiftly vanishing, and by trying to engage in them would continue to perpetuate the very harm we need to address. Not every endeavor people will embark on to face the future will work, but that is not the point. Rather, it is that our various approaches are needed because continuing to clutch to capitalism and socialism as the only models worth pursuing cuts all of us off of creative, dynamic, and needed approaches on far more local and sustainable levels.

This all being said, I’m not fully convinced that co-ops are the way to go as many of the subjects in A New Economy seem to. I think that different approaches will be useful to different communities, enterprises, companies, industries, and businesses. Where I will agree with the ideas of co-ops is that everyone needs to have skin in the game. Among the large failings that capitalism has, is that in order to allow for is the intimacy of connection and interdependency that growing your own food, brewing, etc all required to do well while also locking down relationships, information, and technology useful to all those things behind paywalls, patents, and proprietary services. Sensorica, a cooperative open source manufacturing network provides prototyping services with equipment that would normally cost tens of thousands for people to access. Just to access, not even to produce anything. They can do this for 20% of the cost, providing accesss not only to would-be entrepeneurs and inventors, but also to universities who would otherwise be denied this access. This kind of open-source work allowed Linux to become one of the top operating systems, allowing access to PC technology without having to engage with overpriced bloatware like Windows or Mac OS. Worker owned co-ops, collective works, and open source information provide means for many to not only reach for dreams, but to achieve them.

Another idea floated in the movie is the idea of regenerative economics, the idea that capital assets, namely land, water, air, etc and the things which are derived from goods within those are tied to economics. The problem I have with this is that it is enclosure by another name. It is capitalism’s maw closing around the last things it should ever have access to. No, I do not think that we should be tying this into our system of economics, especially when we trade futures and such on the NYSE, directly affecting the price of natural resources. The exploitation of the world’s natural resources and the history of imperialism around them should show us readily that this is not worth pursuing. It is in capitalism’s nature to turn things into revenue streams, and this is one area where its worst excesses should be kept at bay.

The central idea of the documentary, though, is one I find both heartening, especially now in 2021. We can collectively build our way to a better future through mutual aid, empowerment, work, and heart. By keeping our ideas open, allowing for the free flow of ideas, we can empower each other to experiment, design, and build on our ideas and dreams. As humans, part of this world, we can engage with beauty, heart, and intelligence together and make our lives better collectively. One size of approach certainly won’t fit all, nor will it be the answer to the myriad problems we face. However, I think it is one of the paths that puts us on better track to make good traction with the predicaments we face.

Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Elfwort comes this question:

“Would you talk about decolonizing magickal practice vs honoring ancestral traditions?”

I am going to start with the point that I do not view this as an either/or. I look at this with the perspective that this is an ‘and’ approach. In my view honoring Ancestral traditions requires we decolonize them. We also need to be clear when borrowing has occured vs appropriation. If information, techniques, or inroads into relationships were shared that would be one thing, and quite another if these were gained by pressure, stolen, or obtained under false pretenses.

Decolonizing our practices may require us to do a lot of work, including digging, soul searching, and work with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Lots of websites feature discussions of decolonizing ecology, education, and so many more ways. I like to define terms before digging into how we are going to apply them. So, what is decolonizing? To briefly summarize, it is deconstructing white Western European methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, worldview, and perspectives as the dominant and privileged ones. It is bringing in other modes and methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, and perspectives as co-equals, and centering them.

Each Pagan community and person will have its own decolonizing to do. This work, in and of itself, can have many layers. At the least we Heathens have to separate out Christian, atheist, nationalist, and racist influences on our communities. Decolonizing our worldview and personal mindset requires us to reckon with the nationalist and racist history behind modern Heathen revivals. It also requires us to approach the stories and myths we have with a critical eye, as many of these were originally written down by Christians, and later interpreted through Christian or Christian-dominated frameworks. Doing this work gets us closer to our Ancestors’ worldview, and so, doing the decolonizing work and honoring Ancestral traditions goes hand-in-hand.

Taking off that many layers in front of our understanding of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the root culture we are reviving can seem like a lot at first. In practice we begin with the best information we have, make our cultus as good as we can, and that as new and useful information comes to light we integrate this new understanding. Not all information is useful to our endeavors, even if it is based in history. Likewise, we have to be critical with what information we take in and apply. A given author may be furthering outmoded or historically incorrect ideas, and this can be true of modern Heathen authors as it can scholars. A given author can also be speaking for or on behalf of the Ginnreginn and the information they are sharing does not apply to us, our situation, or is wrong for our relationships with the Ginnreginn.

Decolonization of our mindset also requires us to look at what spiritual tools, technologies, ideas, and work we employ, why, for what reason. If we have learned these from someone else we need to ask if they have the authority to teach it to us and we have the permission to use it and/or pass it on. For instance, I do not do smudging. It is a ritual unto itself. I have not been taught how to do it. What I do with mugwort, aka Ama Una, whether I work with Her as an offering, cleansing by reykr (smoke) as incense or by smoking Her, etc, are not a Native American teachings, rituals, or relationships. When we are firmly rooted in our own relationship with the Ginnreginn we have no need to appropriate others’ cultures, practices, relationship, ways, or spiritual technologies.

This is not to say that we should not look to Native Americans for how to live with the vaettir we share this world with. An example: I offer the landvaettir tobacco, something I picked up by observation and teaching from Native American friends of mine. However, I also offer alcohol to the landvaettir, and this is something that is generally acceptable in our relationship with Them as Heathens that would not be with the Native folks I know. So why would I offer tobacco and not engage in smudging?

Smudging is not merely the burning of herbs in a shell or other fire-safe holder. It is a ritual, one I have not been taught or cleared to do. Offering tobacco, so far as I know, is open to everyone, and a good gift to almost every vaettr I have encountered. One is a closed practice, the other is not. Smudging would be theft of a spiritual practice while offering tobacco is being a good neighbor with the vaettir. Decolonizing our ways excludes those practices that harm, diminish, or marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) while also including those practices that center their voices, experiences, and practices as they are appropriate for us to engage in.

Honoring Ancestral traditions can be a powerful, lived experience. Since a good many of us Heathens are reviving our own, and some of us are starting to pass on our ways to a second or even third generation, this is a huge responsibility on our parts. Decolonizing our traditions as much as we can before passing them on, and being willing to correct ourselves and our descendents when we err is our responsibility. The creation of Ancestral traditions is also very much in our hands and that of our Ginnreginn. Perhaps the older ways no longer apply because we live in radically different climates, or our relationships with Them are so different that we have to develop new traditions.

There is NOTHING wrong with developing new traditions when the old no longer can apply to us. Given how many of us are taking up broken threads across a good expanse of time in reviving our Heathen religions, there are a lot of traditions that are next to impossible to revive, and then there are traditions we cannot revive because we live in a wholly different society. We are going to have to develop new traditions in many cases, and this provides both us and the Ginnreginn with powerful opportunities to turn aside from the colonization that has marked a lot of modern Pagan religions.

One example that comes to mind is the establishment of vé, sacred space. We know our Ancestors had them outside, and given the role of hearth cultus, they likely had them inside as well. Each of us has the ability to develop family hearth cultus, and traditions that unfold from that. We have the ability to bring in old customs with respect to how to worship and treat the húsvaettir (house spirits), and together with Them, we can make new ways forward. After all, few of us live in a farm house so a lot of the ways you would build a relationship with, interact with, and/or ask for help from a tomte, nisse, etc may no longer apply. Those that we interact with might be totally different since They are likely not attached to a farmhouse, but apartments and single-family homes. Hearth cultus itself has had to change over the years since vanishingly few Heathens even have a literal hearth!

These subjects can range far and wide. Just the two websites I linked on decolonization go over education and ecology. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s books Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass are powerful explorations of her lived Native relationship with science and ecology. Erika Buenaflor covers Curanderismo centered in Mexica and Maya cultures in her book Curanderismo Soul Retrieval. Sade Musa does ongoing education and anti-colonialism work for African American diasporia, especially with regards to herbs and healing ways with her Roots of Resistance. We had both Erika Buenaflor and Sade Musa on Around the Grandfather Fire.

I cannot hope to cover all perpsectives with this post or to do them justice. Whatever our paths forward, we can decolonize our paths while honoring our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and the traditions we build with Them.

Patreon Topic 34: On Rune Signs and Confirmations

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Leslie comes this topic:”Do runes or runvaettir ever appear as signs or confirmations of a Working, well, working? Outside of divination, if they do, how might they do so?”

Oh yes, They can. I have had branches fall down in front of me, unmistakably forming a Rune after asking for a sign. Unless it is something that blatant I will ask that a Rune show up as an answer three times before I will accept it. Sometimes the way the Runes have made Themselves known to me is a little subtle, such as graffiti on a wall or municipal signs.

Sometimes I only see such things after the fact, eg the graffiti really sticks with me and I can’t figure out why until I sit with it. I had this once where Gebo showed up on a wall three times, and I just took it to mean Xs instead, maybe a tag or something. It hit me a little while later that the meaning of Gebo three times was a sign and fit with the question on my mind at the time. Sometimes you recognize it in the moment as something seemingly mundane that just…leaps out at you.

Can They make Themselves known in other ways? Sure. Understanding that Runes are vaettir, spirits, They can communicate with us other than through visual mediums, such as by touch. If you know the literal feeling of how a Rune feels when it has been cut into an object, then that can be a way They use to communicate, such as by running a hand or finger gently along a concrete wall or a wooden table. Since They are vaettir and can work with any of our spiritual senses that happen to be ‘on’ at a given moment, They can work through sound, even smell and/or taste if you have experienced Them in this way. There was a couple of books I encountered a while back where you would literally bake cookies and take the magic of the Runes into you through them, so if you did something like this with a recipe specific to each Rune even the taste of a cookie could kick-start a conversation.

Depending on the Rune(s) at hand, how They come to you, and whether or not you asked a question beforehand can have an impact on your answer. For instance, if I ask for a sign and get it by sight, smell, and feel I might consider that a confirmed sign, and then need to interpet what the medium of communication is saying to me, and what the Rune Itself means. For instance, if I see Hagalaz, smell a smell that I interpret as corresponding to Hagalz, and feel the etching of Hagalaz in a stone I felt called to pick up, then I need to interpret the meaning of Hagalaz from there. This is where having a cache of understanding for the Runes is really helpful. That cache ideally includes knowing the Rune poems well enough to where you can reference them for guidance, your experiences working with the Runes, and correspondences you have built up otherwise with the Runevaettir.

Let’s apply this to my example of Hagalaz showing up in sight, smell, and feel. When Hagalaz shows up in a reading I tend to interpret that much in the same way as a Tower card: things are going to go to shit. Unlike the Tower card where folks reading them might see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with Hagalaz that light may well be a damned train. It is one of the roughest Runes to get in a reading, and only occasionally do I get the understanding from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem of it being the ice that melts rather than the Icelandic Rune Poem where it is ‘cold grain, sleet, and sickness of serpents’. This translation here by Bruce Dickens on Wikipedia is a good, accessible one. Both Hægl and Hagall are hail, and hail can be incredibly destructive to crops and people. So, when this pops up in a reading whoever gets this Rune is generally not going to get away unscathed.

So how do I interpret this in context of “is a Working, well, working?” If Hagalaz shows up it is a hard “hell no, and this might turn quite ugly”. At the very least if I am asking an Up/Down or Yes/No binary answer it is in the hard “Down” and/or “No” category. Context is key, though. If the working was, say, to cut someone out of my life or to bring something to an end, then it may be effective, if painful.

The context I receive Hagalaz be sight, smell, and feel matters as well. If I receive Hagalaz by sight, say, on a building, then it may be a commentary on how the working was built up, especially if it is at the foundation or ground level. If I receive Hagalaz by smell, say a sharp, clean, and/or piercing smell like cleaner, new-fallen snow, or the like, it may be a comment on something I missed during the working or something that needs to be done so the working can be completed. If I receive the feel of Hagalaz on a stone I have picked up and it is jagged then it may be the working will be ragged, uneven, or is being disrupted by the process itself having been so. This is highly subjective, personal, and completely dependent on your relationship with the Runevaettir, your correspondences, your experiences, and your understanding of Them and yourself at minimum.

While the Rune poems and various books can point you in the right direction to interpret signs and omens from Them, in the end you are doing the interpreting. If I am not getting a clear enough signal I will usually take things to divination. There is nothing wrong with being sure you are understanding the message clearly. There are times you may not need that, and you will understand the meaning of the message crystal clear the first time you get it. In the end, it is up to your relationship with the Runevaettir, and your intuition and understanding.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 34 -For the Local Birds and Birdvaettir

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Leslie for the fuglar (birds) and fuglarvaettir (birdvaettir).

The cold has come

So have I

With kernels and seeds

To ease your cry

Eat well, eat well

Now crack the shell

Eat well, eat well

Let your bellies swell

Eat well, eat well

The frost is here, the cold has come!

So eat well, eat well, eat well!

Patreon Topic 33: On Laypeople vs Spiritual Specialists

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic: “Laypersons vs spiritual specialists and the levels between. What do they look like in Heathenry? Where do the lines fall?”

Spiritual specialists are folks who have been trained to fulfill needs within a given community. These can be clergy, practitioners of magic, healers, diviners, and so much more. They come from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. It is probably more useful to say what each kind of person does and then talk about what they look like in Heathenry, and where the lines fall between a layperson with an interest in a given spiritual specialty vs a spiritual specialist.

The biggest line between a layperson and a spiritual specialist is that the former can have an interest, say, in seiðr without responsibility to or developing skill and competence for other people in that interest. While a layperson may have training in seiðr, they are not offering services professionally and/or for/on behalf of a community. A spiritual specialist in seiðr will have trained in the work of doing seiðr, possess skill in it, have competency and expertise in its use, and may offer seiðr services. It is not a title alone that makes the difference here. There are community expectations of a spiritual specialist that do not generally exist for a layperson. The spiritual specialist bears a responsibility with and to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likewise a responsibility with and to the community/communities that they serve.

This is not to say that a layperson lacks skill or competence in the subject. A layperson may have skill and competence surpassing that of a spiritual specialist, but they bear no responsibility to or with the communities they are part of in the capacity of that spiritual specialist.

Another comparison might be that of a ritual leader vs that of a goði/gyðja for a Kindred or other group. Any Heathen can be a ritual leader whether you are solitary in your hearth cultus, or do regular cultus with your family or group. A goði/gyðja has formal responsibilities for and to the community they serve. They are responsible in their conduct to their community, for the particular ritual responsibilities they have within their role (these can vary by group so I’m being intentionally general here), and they are responsible to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir they conduct ritual with. Some goði/gyðja act as representatives to the Ginnreginn on behalf of their community in group cultus, and so, their skill and competency in the way they do ritual, including the making of prayers and offerings, as well as their general conduct, can have a significant impact on the rest of the group in the way that a layperson will not have.

Saying anything too general in regards to what laypeople vs spiritual specialists look like would be trying to speak for far too many communities at once. To be blunt, I do not know what an Anglo-Saxon Heathen spiritual specialist would look like vs that of a layperson because that is not my community. I know what I generally look for in spiritual specialsits, though: competence and expertise in the field at hand, an admission of what they do/do not know, training and experiences that are useful in the field at hand, and a community or series of communities that they serve in that capacity, even if that community is that of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I also will look for folks who will vouch for the spiritual specialist, especially if I am looking for a spiritual service such as magical work or divination.

In terms of ‘levels’ between laypeople and spiritual specialists this gets down to who I trust, what kind of work they do, who vouches for them, my experience with them, the experiences they have, and other qualitative evaluations. I might trust a layperson I know well with my life to do divination over a spiritual specialist next door that I do not know. I might only ever do my own magical working and never trust another person to do it for me, regardless of how well I know a seið worker.

I would imagine a lot of folks operate on this level. After all, in my case I am the goði for Mímisbrunnr Kindred. I am not everyone’s goði. I am a rýnstr (someone skilled in the Runes) or a rýni-maðr (Rune-man). While my services may not be for everyone, I offer my Rune services to the general public. I am responsible to those who hire me, eg for divination, to do my job well and to not bullshit them. This is the same responsibility I hold as a vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), whether that is to my Kindred or to those who come to me for this service, though how that responsibility shakes out may differ because of the relationships I hold.

Since every Heathen holds responsibility to hold cultus with their Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likely does so in their own way, spiritual specialists probably do not look all that different from laypeople. Since anyone can approach with and work with various forms of spirit work, magic, and the like, whether that is seiðr, spá, galdr, Runework, etc., differentiating laypeople from spiritworkers from the outside looking in can be a challenge. Looking at the relationships folks hold within a community, to W/whom they hold obligations and duty, what work they do and for W/whom they do things are probably the biggest divides between a layperson and a spiritual specialist in Heathenry.

Patreon Topic 24: Crafting Ritual

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Alec comes this topic:

“Do you think you could possibly go over how you create a ritual? I understand if maybe it’s too personal but I always find myself having a hard time organizing a ritual and there’s so much confusing information I would love to know what you do, if you’re okay with sharing.”

This is something I have gone over in my blog before, but not quite in this way. The posts on ritual praxis are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. However, since that was covering specifically Heathen praxis I thought it was worth revisiting it here for a more general polytheist and Pagan audience.

First, to define what a ritual is. According to the OED a ritual is “1 A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Thankfully, this definition tells us nothing of what that religious or solemn ceremony actually consists of, only that there is a prescribed order. The fun part of being a Pagan is that your prescribed order may be entirely worked out with your Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and/or developed on our own depending on the relationships, roles, and the reasons for the rituals we engage in. Likewise, our solemnity may follow either the first or the second definition rather than the first alone: “1 Formal and dignified. 2 Characterized by deep sincerity.”

Rituals may be performed anywhere. I mean that sincerely. We may be more or less prepared to do a ritual in whatever the ideal ways are for us are. Ritual is available to us as a way and tool of connection, power, and relationship wherever we go. They can be incredibly simple, from three deep breaths and a “Thank you” to the Goddess Sunna for shining down on us or as complex as a community-wide Haustblot (Autumn Sacrifice) with animal sacrifice and feast.

To make how I craft a ritual easier to follow I will break it down into steps.

Step 1: The Reason for Ritual

Before we begin to design a ritual we need to know why we are doing ritual, what ways of doing ritual are respectful for my Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and what role(s) are in that ritual. Is this ritual’s purpose right? That is, does a given ritual deepen my right relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestors, vaettr, or group of Them? If it is not a devotional ritual, but something like a rite for empowerment or protection, does the ritual provide some kind of positive result for the ritualist(s)?

Step 2: The Form of the Ritual

This is how the ritual will be conducted and where it will be conducted. The language you use, the cadence, tone, and other delivery of it may change depending on if you are approaching the Gods in a formal way or an informal way, or if you are doing ritual for a group. It can also depend on the size of a give group, or the kind of emotion the ritual is supposed to tap into. In the case of a simple devotional rite, like the one above with three breaths to Sunna and a “Thank you”, it a simple ritual of thanks. With a Haustblót it can be incredibly complex, with many ritual steps including leading a group through prayers, offerings, divination, and sacrifice.

Step 3: Consideration for the Ritual

This is about where the ritual taking place and how best a ritual space can be accomodating to its ritualists and attendees. Can the ritual be performed as desired in that space? Is the place for the ritual accessibile to folks with mobility disabilities? Is the ritual or ritual prep going to take a long time and the ritual crew and attendants need food/drink? Are there special props, offerings, etc that must be included or excluded? If alcohol is at the rite is there a non-alcohol option for folks who do not drink it?

Step 4: Roles for the Ritual

This is about who does what in the ritual. If you have a spiritual specialist, or several, what role(s) do they serve and how do they serve it? If you are doing a solo ritual, how do you create your role within the ritual so that you can enact the ritual while also experiencing it? Are there aspects of the ritual you can ask others to perform or do you need to do it yourself, eg divination after the rite? While this step takes on a bigger function in a group setting thinking about your role as a ritualist in private rituals can be helpful in considering how a given rite might affect you, and what you need to do to be in a good mindset for each part of it.

Once these questions are answered we can get into designing the ritual itself. We will go over my basic ritual outline below.

1. Cleansing. Cleanse yourself, the area, and anything being brought into the ritual not consecrated to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. Likewise, cleanse any spiritual or other tools that you bring into the space. Cleansing can be done by tradition-appropriate methods, eg khernips or reykr/recels, or by a simple blessing spoken over water and sprinkled on an area/person/item.

2. Grounding. This is letting go of any excess energy whether accumulated throughout the day or disturbed by the act of cleansing. This can be as simple as three long breaths, letting your muscles relax, and getting ready for the next step, or as complex as a multipart tree visualization where you put your ‘roots’ into the Earth and exchange energy with the Earth and/or an Earth Goddess.

3. Centering. This centering yourself in what you are doing and why you are here. For ritual work this is coming to focus on the ritual. In other contexts centering might be focusing on the hereness of your body, the next step in whatever task you have before you, or being present and acknowledging thoughts as they occur and letting them go.

4. Shielding/Warding. This is present in Wiccan traditions as casting a circle, and while most non-Wiccan polytheist religions do not normally do this, there are definitely ways in which a person is shielded or a place warded. Atropotaic symbols adorn temples as well as people the world over. We wear symbols of our Gods, which not only serve as signs of our devotion, but also may call to our Gods to protect us, and/or give us strength to protect ourselves. The bringing of fire around a space in Heathenry to cleanse a space also serves to set the sacred boundary so it is a two-in-one cleansing and shielding. I put this step here because some folks, myself included, usually have a step where a space is formally declared sacred when it is not at our home altars, shrines, or vé and we cannot use something like fire to cleanse and ward.

5. Set the Intention of the Ritual. This can be a simple declarative statement such as “Thank you, Sunna, for shining down on me. I share this coffee with You in gratefulness.” It can be as complex as “Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir! We come together today to celebrate the Haustblót, to celebrate the Fall Harvest, and to sacrifice our offerings so that cycle of gift for a gift continues! Hail to all of our Holy Ones!” The point of Step 5 is to firmly fix what the point of it is and to get undewray.

6. Call to/invite the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Again, this can be as flowery or as simple as your Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, tradition, or style of ritual allows for. Sometimes simple is way better, especially starting out. Be sure if you are calling to Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir by certain titles, epithets, heiti, etc that you know what they are and what calling on Them in that way means.

7. Engage in the ritual itself. Take the time you need to do it well. Immerse in the experience in the moment and analyze your experiences after the ritual.

8. Thank the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their Presence. Make offerings, prayers, and do any work needed in thanks, in reciprocity, at this point.

9. Do any ritual aftercare, cleanup, and take down of the vé, altar, etc if needed.

Especially for new folks or folks who are out of practice it may take doing more than a few to get everything down. The work will teach you how to do the work. If you have questions, comments, or thoughts leave them in the comments or email me and we can work from there.