Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

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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

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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.

Patreon Topic 22: Ancestor Work and Weregild

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 Stephanie comes this topic:

“In the latest episode (#52) you mentioned weregild. Could you elaborate on what this is and how it might come into play with ancestor work? What a weregild might be? Is it like a big crime(what my google search showed) or can it just be emotional baggage they never dealt with?”

Weregild means “man price”. In ancient Germanic societies this was used to describe the damages paid to a person or their family for harm or death. Weregild applied to all people, and so long as they were of sufficient rank in society they could collect on it. The exception to this case were thralls, slaves, who had no weregild price but whose death or injury were often compensated to their owners.

When I apply the term to Ancestor work I am talking about the weight of debt our Ancestors have accrued to each other and to others through the wrongs they have done. This is not just emotional baggage, though it can include emotional baggage having to be worked through if an Ancestor is refusing to handle an issue because of it. I also need to be clear in that when talking about weregild regarding Ancestor work that I am putting the responsibility to paying it on the Ancestors’ shoulders as They have generated it in the first place and carried the burden of it to us. This is different from ‘the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son’ in the way often taught in modern Christian churches.

Weregild owed by our Ancestors is our problem because the weight of that burden causes turmoil in our Ancestral lines. For example, if our Ancestors stole land, murdered a person, abused people, or caused injuries that were neither corrected or forgiven, They carry that debt with Them. That debt is owed to those who were wronged. Sometimes the wrong is so far back in history we cannot hope to contact a physical descendent of those wronged to pay the weregild, and so, we must seek to have our Ancestors right the wrong in another way. This might be extensive spiritual work on our part, eg sitting two sets of Ancestors down and working out past wrongs with them. We might be called on to heal old divisions between our family lines so that the descendents are reconciled with one another. We might be called on to help raise funds to buy land back that was stolen from a people or a person.

We may have situations where we simply cannot compensate the harm done. This may be because the damage done is so egregious or the harmed party is unwilling to allow a settlement. For cases where the wrong was done to people who are all dead, there certainly are things that can be done. As mentioned previous, we can do our best to compensate those who have survived the wrongs our Ancestors visited upon them. We can ask our Gods of the Dead to liase and work out what we and especially our Ancestors can do so weregild is paid.

The point of weregild is not guilt. Rather, it is to correct the wrongs done so that the harm done does not continue any longer in its effects and the harm done is compensated.

Something to keep in mind with this work is that your Ancestors paying their weregild does not absolve you of the work you need to do in this life, either personally or on Their behalf. Americans still live in a system that institutionally targets BIPOC for state-sanctioned murder, maiming, violence, and ongoing harm besides. Likewise, we still live in a system that institutionally does harm to QUILTBAG+ folks. As if this were not bad enough, the harm often intersects the worst with BIPOC QUILTBAG+ folks. Desired or not, whites, especially straight cis whites, overwhelmingly benefit from this situation. This is not something we can pay to go away. These are interconnected injustices that need to be addressed, fought against.

When we put our Ancestors into healthier positions through the spirit work we can do, They in turn can support us and our families better. When weight of spiritual debt is lifted through the payment of weregild and similar work, it is easier for our Ancestors to render Their aid, to do Their work, and to reweave lost threads between our various families, whether by blood, adoption, lineage, and so on. Our reciprocity to our Ancestors is to help Them to be better, and likewise, this is Their reciprocity to us.

Patreon Topic 20: On Worshiping vs Working With

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:

“Working with vs worship. Where is the line, is there a line, how does this dichotomy play into a layperson’s spirituality vs a spiritual specialist’s practice from your perspective?”

I am going to start with the basic definitions of the words and work out from there. I also want folks to bear in mind that the answers I am going to give come from my perspective as a Heathen. In my experiences with Wicca there is a lot more blending of worship and spiritwork vs that of Heathenry, especially for laypeople.

Work is “1 Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result…2 A task or tasks to be undertaken.”

Worship is “1 The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. 1.1 Religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity.”

The fairly bright line between these two is the purpose for which a spiritual activity is engaged in. Is the work with a God a religious rite or ceremony ‘constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity’, or is it ‘effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result?” Where that line gets a lot less bright is in the shades of gray where a God may have us do work in service to Them. Even so, unless the worship of my God is the point of the activity at hand, then it is work of some kind of work I am undertaking for Them rather than worshiping Them. Work can, of course, be done as a devotional activity, “Of or used in religious worship”, such as dedicating the sweat of one’s exercise as an offering, or the money one earn’s going to a monthly donation to a water preservation effort in one’s State as an offering to the watervaettir.

Can working with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir involve worshiping Them? Certainly. Every time I engage in Runework I am making prayers of worship and thanks to Óðinn and the Runevaettir, my Dísir, Väter, Ergi, Þverr, other Ancestors, fylgja, kinfylgja, and other vaettir who may work with me during the Runework. I make offerings before and/or after the Runework. However, the overall focus of the Runework is in the name: it is to do work with the Runes. Likewise, spiritwork of all kinds (including Runework obviously) can involve worship even if the worship itself is not the sole focus.

So we could be very stark and say ‘this is work and this is worship and never the twain shall meet’ and just a cursory look at my own practice would not bear this out. I explored this a bit in my August 2020 Q&A 1 where Elfwort asked me about magic.

I think where the dichotomy comes into a layperson’s spirituality is if they choose to engage in spiritwork. My wife very rarely engages in spiritwork, and when she does, it is usually because Frigg or Brighid, has called her to do it. Most of her expression and experiences, religiously speaking, are those of worship. I would say that unless a layperson is regularly choosing to engage in spiritwork this is also their experience.

A spiritual specialist does tend to blend the two, especially in work they are called to do. My work as a spiritworker are areas where I tend to blend a lot of worship and work together. In order to do a Rune reading well I need to have had a developed relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, have studied the Runes, and experience reading the Runes. Initiation into working with Runatýr and the Runevaettir was part of this for me. The set up for doing this work well is to have a good relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, and so this requires to make prayers and offerings. Spiritwork and worship come together into a whole relationship.

Is it necessary for every spiritual relationship in spiritwork to combine worship and work? No. There are some spirits that I may have to work with, eg the spirits of disease, for whom I have no desire to have a worship relationship with. I just want them gone or handled. Here, the line is fairly bright since I have a goal in mind for working with (or working on, as the case may be) a spirit. A spiritual relationship can also be quite different depending on context. My work with Yggr has been “We have things to work on” rather than a worship relationship. Yggr is Óðinn, to be sure, but this heiti generally comes forward when something needs to be done or worked on.

If there is a hard, bright line between worship and spiritwork, I do not often see it. Often my spiritwork is interwoven with worship, and my relationship as solidified through my worship is the backbone of how and why I can do work with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in the first place. I think this can be equally true for laypeople, since laypeople are not spiritual specialists but can have entire swathes of spiritwork available to them. Where it plays into one’s life is where we choose to go with it, and where we are called to by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

Patreon Topic 19: On Seiðr

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would it be possible for you to discuss seidr work in some depth?”

I will. Before I get started a few things need to be acknowledged up front. Seiðr is a lot of things to a lot of people. This website provides a good very basic overview on it. I also recommend reading my overview post on seiðr here.

When I write about seiðr I am specifically writing about the working with spirits to achieve an end even when establishing communication and retrieving information is involved. Spá is working with spirits to make prophecies, establish communication, or retrieve information. I differentiate seiðr from spá, while some use the terms interchangeably or as close to one another. While it could be said that a seiðkona could also be a spákona, I like to keep terms as neat and tidy as I can. The big difference, as I see it, is the purpose. In doing a seiðr working you are seeking to cause some kind of change, whereas with a spá working you are seeking to see what is there or to prophesy.

When it comes to seiðr I cannot speak about seiðr work in depth as Hrafnar does it. In my experiences with their oracular seiðr, it strikes me as being spá, since the work is about getting information from the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir and to those gathered for the work. I also cannot speak to how others do it. Most folks who do seiðr and spá take inspiration from The Saga of Erik the Red, or Eirík’s saga rauða and the few scant references to it in the lore.

The majority of my experience in seiðr and spá is being told by Óðinn I was going to study it from Freyja. Her instructions were very clear and to the point. It started with my usual regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and then warding the space. Describing the work itself is simple: I start by breathing deep, rocking, and shaking. Once in trance, I call to the spirit or group of spirits I am to work with. They are to come to me, or come into me, as is needed for the working. Once done they depart, and I do cleansing, grounding, centering, and shield work to be sure I was clear of spirits and then the space was clear prior to taking down the wards.

In going back and rereading my experiences and looking around online, what I learned from Freyja was more in line with the interpretation of Jan Fries’ understanding in the book Seidways, which I have only recently run into since writing this post. I would have to read the book to see where what Fries’ understanding and practice of seiðr and spá is.

What does it feel like, engaging in seiðr and spá?

It is a spirit sliding into you, not unlike in The Matrix or Shadowrun where a person is jacked in, a feeling of sliding into the base of your skull and a click, or some other sensation that lets you know the seiðr or spá has taken hold. One moment you are trancing to the beat of a drum, a song, and/or the rhythm of your own breath and heart. I usually do this work with my eyes shut or under a cloak or hat.

The next moment, a new consciousness joins you in the dark. Maybe it is a voice, a scent, a taste in the air, a touch, or a knowing. Whatever it is, it is outside you, definitely not you, and in this space between with you. Assuming this vaettr (spirit) is not one of your fylgja, kinfylgja, Ancestors, and other vaettir (spirits) that you trust and are with you, you ask if the vaettr that has joined you is legit, both that it is a vaettr and that it is who it says it is. Maybe you get confirmation from Them, maybe They turn hostile and eject the vaettr. Maybe you have to do divination so you are not just relying on your own experience and intuition, so you take a moment in this space to pluck or throw a Rune, or draw a card.

Working with the Runevaettir before, during, and after the seiðr or spá through galdr or other spiritwork, putting Them on your body, or through asking Them to help through a reading, can be a powerful ballast. Provided you have done right by Them, the Runevaettir can help provide clarity or power in a working that your Ancestors, fylgja, etc may not be able to. So much of seiðr and spá work is dependent on the reason you are doing the work. It depends on what you are looking to do, or to bring back knowledge on. It can also depend on Who you ask the question. Given I have seen and experienced Gods in seiðr and spá work, it is entirely possible They can come into the session whether you ask Them or They come on Their own.

For however long the work needs to be done, I am often engaging in some kind of rocking motion alongside regular breath patterns, often in groups of three, six, or nine. I generally will lose my sense of time. Timing is often a fruitless endeavor for me. It takes however long it takes to do the work. It can feel like I have been gone mere moments, or for days, depending on the working.

For anyone who has received divination from me, you have likely seen me do this spá work. When I learned how to do seiðr and spá from Freyja I incorporated this into my divination work. It stayed as I developed my divination protocols.

There is only so far in depth I can really get until we hit the wall of experience.

The way to learn how to do seiðr or spá is to do it.

Patreon Topic 18: Reflecting on The Culture of Intensity and Spiritwork

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From Fen’harel comes this question:

“I was listening to the AGF podcast episode with Chiron Armand and the topic of “the culture of intensity” came up. What does that culture, in your opinion, look like for spirit workers? Is it something like not feeling one is doing enough work? I hope that makes sense.”

When I first got this question the most recent TikTok stupidity had not yet come to my attention, but now that it has? It is a great, almost perfect example of the culture of intensity. Now, it looks like a bunch of folks are trolling other TikTok folks saying they’re going to ‘hex the Fae’ or ‘hex the Moon’ and similar stupidity. Then there are others how are rising to the trolling/baiting and saying they will counteract this. Keep in mind we are in the middle of a damn pandemic, we are supposed to be socially isolating, and this is probably as close to interacting with peers as some folks are going to get until this COVID-19 crap is done with.

For some, this is what the culture of intensity looks like. You get someone or you yourself get riled up and in arms about stupid shit someone else is engaged in that is not actually hurting you and cannot hurt the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits in question, just to have something to do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I find the notion that folks would even entertain the notion of hexing the Fae, Moon, or Sun incredibly dumb, funny, and requires more than a bit of hubris. That said? I have no reason to jump out in front of these folks. Go ahead, sew the wind and reap the whirlwind you dipshits.

For a lot of spiritworkers, myself included, the culture of intensity looks like “I need to be doing something important/powerful/challenging right now!” Sometimes it comes from a feeling of not being/doing enough. Other times we are in a transition period. Those are uncomfortable, and patience is not a virtue easily cultivated in a culture where instant gratification is so prevalent I can order a book, sink, or something else and have it arrive 1-2 days later due to just-in-time delivery options.

The culture of intensity can manifest as feeling like “I am not doing enough!” or “Shouldn’t I be doing more?” When your value as a person in the overculture is determined by what you do, eg the job you hold, and how ‘productive’ your hobbies are, eg “Can I turn this into a side-hustle?” then the overculture teaches things that are “not productive”, aka making you money or stepping stones on the way to that, are wastes of time.

Part of the reason so many have a hard time meditating, taking time out to do self-care, or just taking a walk, is that it feels like you are wasting time as it is not producing a product or making you money. It is a vile trap. It devalues peace of mind, reflecting on things, self-care, and a host of other needed things that actually require our input of time, energy, care, experience, and expertise to do well. It also devalues the time we spend with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, our communities, and by ourselves taking care of our needs and wants. The culture of intensity pushes us to keep seeking the highs while devaluing the lows that make getting there reliably and safely possible in the first place.

The culture of intensity is also quite ravenous, asking for our time, attention, and continuously feeding a variety of time-wasting beasts. For a spiritworker, just as much as your average Pagan, polytheist, and/or animist, spending time praying, communing, and worshiping the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and doing good self-care work is hardly a waste of time. Because these things are not valued in the overculture and so many of us are hungry for human interaction, it can be so easy to get sucked into go-nowhere conversations whether it be over Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, or other places that increasingly serve as distractions rather than points of connection. This is not to knock the very real use that Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, etc can serve, but that, as platforms, their primary purpose is to serve as data collection/networking/disbursement rather than connectivity. I find better and more consistently fulfilling connection over personal email, personal chat/text, and programs like Discord and Zoom where the people I am interacting with are not communicating with me through a reference medium (see this retweet, that like, that share, the For You page, etc), but about as close to face-to-face as I can get without being right there with them.

So how do we work to address this? We need to take time out each day so we have that self-care. That self-care does not need to take a long time, be particularly productive in and of itself, nor does it need to tie into anything any more than peace of mind, connection with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, our communities, and/or ourselves. I take about 10-30 minutes each day. I spend that time doing cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, checking on any wards I have needing maintenance. I also spend that time making prayers to my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and then making offerings. I recommend anyone, spiritworker or not, put that time in each day.

If I have a hard time engaging in self-care, I refocus on doing the preparation work (cleansing, etc) so I can do the prayers and offerings cleanly. It is easier at times for me to think of others over myself, and is a way I engage in self-care so I can do the connective work. Taking my needs out of the equation and engaging with the obligations I have helps my frame of mind at times, because it is no longer my emotions that are center stage, but the obligations I hold. If sitting and meditating is not working for me I may switch it up to walking around the garden and talk with the plants and trees. If my usual methods of cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding are not working for me, I switch it up. There is nothing wrong with fighting boredom or making adjustments so that whatever you need to do has you more involved in it. This is also why rote prayers and spiritual prep work are useful. Sometimes I do not have the brainspace to effectively make more involved processes and I need to do the motions that are most near and dear to me so I can do my work. Whether you need to switch things up or keep to how you have always done them, what matters is the efficacy of the spiritwork you engage in.

The ‘culture of intensity’ has a lot of ins to influence our lives. Excising those can be pretty tough, especially if you have grown up with a lot of the ‘culture of intensity’ as part of your own value system. So, instead of fully shifting or damming the river, working with its flow may be the more effective option. One of the keys for me is reminding myself that I need to do the ground work so the rest of the work is possible. That the small moments lead to the ability to do the big moments, and that whatever I experience, the moment is not the goal.

The goal is to do the work before me so that the work may be effective and see through to its end. It is like throwing a punch. Your aim is not merely the target, it is to blow past the target so the hit connects with the fullness of the energy behind the punch. In a sense, the blow is ‘behind’ the target. You follow through. The goal of planting a garden is not merely to plant, it is to lead to plants to grow, whether flowers, herbs, or food crops. Refocusing the ‘culture of intensity’ to serve our purposes is a needed repurposing. That ‘culture’, such as it is, is unsustainable and liable to destroy us quite quickly. The follow through of long-term planning is desperately needed more so than the short-term highs. We need to shift the culture from one of intense, short experiences, to one where we can build up from foundations into intergenerational communities.

It will take patience, work, and follow through. It will take concerted effort to refocus the ‘high seeking’ behavior of the overculture and to live our lives as valuable things regardless of monetary or social media gain. It will take us being willing and working to refocus our lives with different priorities than many of us were raised with so the ‘culture of intensity’ has less hold on our own. Intensity is a part of life, but the way things are wired right now to produce the maximum reaction on a consistent/constant basis is leading a lot of folks to burnout and quick. So, we need to channel these things and make them more effective over the long run so we have candles to spare when all the other lights go dark.

Patreon Topic 17: Journey Work

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Regarding the topic idea we would love it if you would discuss journey work.”

Journey work is spiritually traveling from one place to another. It is usually done with some kind of end goal in mind. It might be visiting a realm to establish contact with a spirit, develop a relationship, or to learn some kind of spiritual skill. Journey work may be used to diagnose or treat spiritual illness, maladies, injuries, or soul loss. It may be engaged in to learn secret things, engage in spiritual combat, or to do healing work on one’s own behalf or on another’s behalf. The uses of journeywork as a tool in one’s spiritual toolchest are many.

There are a number of ways to engage in journeywork. For the sake of brevity and staying in my lanes of experience, I will talk about Heathen forms of journeywork. First we have utiseta, to sit out. Often this was done over a gravemound or grave to contact the Dead, though sitting out in and of itself can be meditative exercises without the journeying component. While it could be argued it was more of the Dead coming to you, some modern Heathens do utiseta as part of journeywork to Helheim or the Dead. Then there is hamfara, or sending out your hamr, or spirit double.

When most folks talk about journeywork they are talking about your consciouseness leaving your body, aka hamfara. Generally, this is spiritual travel with your hamr. This is dangerous work for a few reasons, not the least of which is that once we get out of our bodies and into the wider spiritual World(s) it turns out there are a lot of Beings out there far bigger, nastier, and competent than we are at existing in the other spiritual Worlds. No matter if you are hamfara here in Miðgarð (our World and/or our World’s spiritual double depending on who you ask/read) or in Jötunheim (not something I recommend to anyone who does not need to, eg is invited and has reason to be going there) spirits pose potential dangers to you.

If you approach, say, a wolf spirit’s den in Miðgarð without permission you have opened yourself up for an attack just like kicking in someone’s door. If you are invited? Maybe you gain an ally or you get to experience some aspect of a wolf spirit’s life or lesson for you. Maybe you gain an obligation to the wolf spirit and Their family. As with a lot of things in Heathenry, having a good, established relationship first is key.

I generally do not recommend folks journey unless they have a clear reason to. In part it is because of the dangers of being out and about in your hamr, and the other is that we can do so much in our bodies to interact with the spiritual worlds that while it may be a cool or powerful experience, it may not be needed. Engaging in hamfara or utiseta unless you need to also keeps you from taking on obligations you may not need to.

I used the example of a wolf spirit earlier, so I will return to it here. Let us say you make an offering to the wolf spirit because you want a lesson in some aspect of the wolf spirit’s expertise, eg tracking. So the wolf spirit teaches you to track in spirit, perhaps even showing you how to transform your hamr into that of a wolf. It might ask for more offerings, prayers, and other obligations to show and teach you that vs a request to help you track in the flesh. Now, learning how to do this in your hamr may be more useful than learning to do it in your lyke (physical body), but some spiritual lessons and learning will open a person up to more obligations than those learned another way.

Think about this from the wolf spirit’s perspective: they are opening themselves up in a vulnerable way to you, to teach you a skill or even a whole set of skills. This is cultivated over the course of a lifetime, or if the wolf is a representative vaettr of a pack, that of several lifetimes. If this spirit wolf tends a den, as I mentioned in this example, it has several vaettir that it tends and by working with you, also opens them up to vulnerability. This wolfvaettr serves a community, their pack, and you may be operating independently. Humans have not had the greatest relationship with wolves over our history, and yet, our species are tied quite intimately in many ways. Perhaps it is willing to overlook the transgressions of certain of our Ancestors, with no small amount of reasonable caution. You may be the first human in generations to work with a wolf spirit at all, let alone respectfully. You are doing so in a hamr, a spirit shape, and depending on your Ancestors, very few of Them may have ever done something like this, let alone reach out to a spirit they do not know very well.

Consider, then, this case with every spirit you could come across, some of which may be more or less hostile to humans. So, patience, care, and respect are watchwords whenever the subject of journeywork comes up around me. If you find it is going to be a useful part of your spiritual toolchest work with it, understand the risks and rewards that come with its use, and take care in how and how often you work with the practice.