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Posts Tagged ‘worlds’

Other Worlds -Veils, Separations, and Thresholds

February 9, 2019 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

To the second question: “How much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Polytheism, Rhetoric, and Politics

March 17, 2016 10 comments

Politics and polytheism is not a conflation.  Rather, the one’s involvement with the other is an outgrowth of being human.  Politics is defined by the OxfordDictionaries.com as “The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power”.  What we are seeing stretch out across the blogs, Facebook, and in personal interactions is not a bad thing, in my view.  It is absolutely necessary.  Polytheist communities need to figure out our politics, the rhetoric we employ, the authorities we trust and empower, and what hierarchies we are engaged in and will be choosing to build up.

Rhetoric is “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques”.  It is how we speak, how we help our ideas to become known, and to become accepted.  As with politics, to do this well takes training, whether self-study or through mentors, teachers, and the like.  Rhetoric forms the foundation of how our religions informs us through the worldview it espouses and the place in which it sets us.  Politics is part of the rhetoric, rather than being able to separated from it.  When we talk of religious communities, there is rhetoric in that phrase alone, as much as what comes out of the community and its members.

The difference between those who are members of a religion and those who help to shape the core rhetoric is not a moral idea, but one of spheres of influence.  In other words, hierarchy.  You do not need to be named as a leader to be a leading voice that drives the rhetoric of a movement, any more than being the head of a religion actually means that you will drive the rhetoric of that religion.  This comes down to authority.

Authority is defined as “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience“ and “The power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something”, and with regards to people, is “A person with extensive or specialized knowledge about a subject; an expert”.  Hierarchy is defined as “A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority” and “An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness”

You may actively oppose the entire notion of leaders and still be a leader.  You may actively try to cultivate leadership and never be reckoned a leader.  Authority, then, is something given to a leader whether that leader is a willing one or not.  Authority is not always gained by consent.  In some cases authority invested in certain people is a given, such as an employee’s relationship with their supervisor in being employed by a major corporation, or being a Catholic and holding the Roman Catholic Church as the spiritual authority of the religion.  Authority in academia is invested in those who have positions within the field that are respected by those who have put the time and experience into the field and treat one another as peers.  In other cases, authority is taken up by a despot and enforced through the use of power.  Sometimes authority is seized upon by a person giving or being viewed as giving voice, such as in populist politics, to the energies, emotions, and feel of a given group of people.  Sometimes authority is relegated to an ‘us’ rather than a singular person, such as in consensus-building endeavors.  However it is made, relegated, maintained, taken or given, authority plays a part in communities.

In polytheism we have many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Whether or not these Beings have authority over us as humans depends on your religion, its worldview, cosmology, these Beings and Their relationships to the religion itself, that religion’s worldview, Their placement(s)/function(s)/etc. within the cosmology, Their relationships with one another, the understanding of relationship between ourselves and the Holy Powers, and finally, potentially, your personal relationship with Them.

What is unmistakable in polytheism is that there is hierarchy and authority as part of these religions.  Hierarchy is part of polytheism because of the basis of discernment that polytheism as a word describes: “The belief in or worship of more than one god“.  If you are worshipping a God, then you are not the God being worshipped.  You are not the Gods, then.  On a baseline there must be a hierarchy within polytheism as there are Gods and not-Gods, those who are believed in or worshipped and those who are believing and worshipping.  To deny this is to deny the basic understanding, definition, and relationships that polytheism requires for a polytheist to be a polytheist.  It may not be a hard or inflexible hierarchy in every instance of it, but hierarchy is there nonetheless.

There is authority in polytheism because the cosmology is ordered in a certain fashion by and/or from many Power(s), and/or Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir.  For instance, in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, Wyrd is the authority which governs the existence of all things so that the Gods Themselves are bound up in it.  Odin is the authority which created Midgard in the first place in the Creation Story of the Northern Tradition.  He did it by exercising authority and power, and destroying the hierarchy that came before Him, that of His Grandfather Ymir’s reign.  He replaced the hierarchy of Ymir with His own.  He was given authority over the Aesir as chief by the Aesir who followed Him with this act into the formation of Asgard.  In this, He was also bound by the rules of the Aesir as chief, and was bound to the authority of the rules of Their tribe which bound Them together as Aesir.

The basic rhetoric of the Northern Tradition is that hierarchy and authority are found in many places, and in, of, or by relationship.  The different Worlds are held in authority by certain Gods: Surt in Muspelheim, Freyr in Alfheim, and Hela in Helheim, for instance.   Hierarchy is not merely how how a society orders itself.  There is actually hierarchy in nature, but it is not the first definition that this is found in, but the second.  That is, “An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness”.  What is important to a rabbit is different than what is important to a wolf.  Who is important to that rabbit or wolf is likewise relative.  Threat vs. non-threat, food vs. not-food, pack/burrow vs. outside the pack/burrow.  Animals use discernment, and with discernment hierarchies are created.  The complexity of these classifications and their import into deeper topics aside, separating ourselves off from animals in this understanding is actually a big part of the problem I have with many of these criticisms because they are anthropocentric.

Hierarchy within polytheism does not mean that Gods, Ancestors, or individual spirits are less important than the Gods, but that each Being’s importance is relative.  Relative to what?  The cosmology, one another, the World(s) They inhabit/interact with, and with/to us.  In other words, that second definition I just pointed out above.

Hierarchy within polytheism in relation to a given God’s society, such as the Aesir, is bound up with the first definition: “A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority”.  Odin is the chieftain of the Aesir, as is Frigga.  More to the point, She keeps the keys to Asgard, and can deny Him entry, and has.  There are rules dictating the conduct of a chieftain and there are consequences to breaking those rules, and Odin paid that price.  There’s also the authority one wields and hierarchy of power considerations when one is within a God or Goddess’ place, such as Freya’s field Folkvanger or Frigga’s hall Fensalir.

This understanding in the Northern Tradition applies with regard to ourselves in our homes.  In my home visitors and I are in relation as guest and host which brings with it certain obligations as guest and as host.  Otherwise, we relate as cohabitants.  In either case, a guest and host both have rights, as do cohabitants, and there are rules of conduct we obey in these roles.  What hierarchy I enforce or is enforced as a host with what authority, when and how, is determined by if you are a new guest that does/does not understand these rules, or if you are part of the religion and understand these things well.  I might be more forgiving of someone new to my home who violates a small guest obligation whereas I may cleave deeper to tradition with people who are part of the Northern Tradition and have (or should have) this understanding.  Each Northern Tradition house may have different hierarchies and rules for their home.  When entering someone’s home for the first time I will usually ask for a rundown of any obligations that are placed upon me as a guest, rules of the house, and other things I am obligated to ask by being a member of the Northern Tradition.  If a rule of the house would violate an oath or a taboo and the host is unwilling or especially unable to accommodate me, I leave.  This is respectful of the host as the host, and myself as the guest, and it respects the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir I hold that oath or taboo with.

Several writers, both of blogs and comments, have noted that the current atmosphere in polytheist discourse is fostering hard-lining.  I am in agreement with Dver on Rhyd’s post here, that it mostly has to do with having to contrast ourselves in regards to other religious paths, and atheists.  The us vs them atmosphere is one in which clear dividing lines were laid down, and as differences between folks on different parts of the political spectrum started putting down deeper lines, these too became more hard-line as the two sides have begun defining themselves not as themselves, but in opposition to one another.  Again, I see these things as natural outgrowths rather than things to be avoided.  I would like them to be minded and acknowledged where and when we can.

How our personal politics plays into our religious expression is a highly personal thing even if we can say a few things across the board as polytheists.  It is also highly personal in relationship with our Gods.  Relating this to some of the current discussions that have gone around the polytheists and their communityies lately, I find that casting aspersion on those who offer bullets to the Morrigan is as unconscionable as casting aspersion on those who offer their bodies on the front lines of protest as an offering.

Where I see things are getting lost is when polytheists on one side say ‘But protesting is not offering water or bread and these distinctions are important’ and the other says ‘How can you say that my offering is not worthy?’ when the critique (however well or poorly it was made or received) was meant to include protests as a form of offering, but not at the exclusion of offerings of food and water.  Another aspect of this is that some of us simply do not have the time or cannot afford, at the expense of other obligations, to show up for a protest.  We cannot offer that pound of flesh because our families would suffer.  That does not make my offering of work to feed my family and buy a bottle of mead bought with that work less than one who spent those same eight hours protesting.  They are different and mean different things to our Holy Powers.  Further, they’re what we are capable of giving.

On the other side of this, especially in regards to the bullets-as-offerings, I find that folks are rather missing the point of offering bullets to Gods of war.

Let me take this from my own experience: I wanted to learn how to hunt, and appealed to Skaði for help in this.  Over the years I picked up a good traditional longbow with a hefty draw weight for relatively cheap from a friend who taught me how to use it.  A dear friend of mine (who I consider family) offered to teach me how to hunt.  I paid good money for the bow and arrows from my friend, and picked up other supplies down the road when my family-friend was getting ready to take me hunting.  I bought bales of hay to shoot at.  I prayed to the landvaettir when setting up the targets for their permission, and when I felt I received it, set them up.  I prayed to the landvaettir every time I started practice, and prayed to the spirit of the bow and the arrows, and to Skaði Herself.  Every shot I made I offered to Skaði.  Every frustrating miss, every on-target hit.  I have developed to the point where I have been able to hit the hay bale with every shot at the maximum range where I could expect to hit a deer with a traditional longbow.  These offerings are offerings of strain, anger, and skill.  Had I been able to get a deer, She and the landvaettir would have been getting offerings from the body of the deer.  The deer itself would have gotten offerings as well, and had it given permission or made its desire for this know, I would have crafted its bones and/or antlers into ritual objects, and/or given it a home in my house and made it regular offerings.

The dedication to learning how to shoot my bow, and the skill that I gained by training with the bow is not unlike those who train with the gun.  If my bow was the best way of defending myself or my family I would use it to kill a human being.  One person may be practicing with a gun to go to war, another to hunt, and another for self-defense.  I see these as in keeping with Skaði.  From what little I know of The Morrigan, this is in keeping with Her nature as a Goddess of sovereignty and war.  So too, I understand my offerings of arrows to Skaði are similar if not the same as another person offering The Morrigan bullets.

The difference is the geopolitical backdrop right now.  Arrows have been used for war, and are drenched in the blood of untold billions of lives.  The only reason they are not under the same microscope right now as bullets in regards to offerings is they’re not used by the US and other militaries.  Machetes are a a symbol of the Orisha Ogún, are tools for construction, navigation, harvesting, and are weapons of war and massacre in their own measure, and yet they receive none of the ire from the left reserved for bullets despite this.  This is why folks on the opposite side of this issue will levy charges of racism at those (predominantly) on the left in regards to this issue, among other ones in regards to slaughter and sacrifice.  It seems as though the religions of the African Diaspora, African Traditional Religions, Hinduism, and others with weapons like these as symbols and/or as part of offerings are currently being used in massacres and genocide are given a ‘pass’ for ‘being primitive’ or ‘less evolved’.

What else are we to understand when those on the left say that ritual sacrifice is primitive, brutish, less evolved and the like, only levying this charge at polytheists but not, generally, at Santeros, Hindus, or at Jews or Muslims for their own ritual slaughters?  Even when consistently charged across the board, the charges of ‘being primitive’ or ‘less evolved’ are still steeped in colonialism and capitalist ideology of what is a ‘right’ relationship with the animals we eat: that of consumers rather than in relationship with them, even, or especially, when they are part of our meals.  This insertion of the consumer as the ‘right’ or ‘most right’ relationship with our food is a denial of a reciprocal relationship with our food.  This assertion is unacceptable to all the polytheist religions that I know of, whether one is vegetarian or not, because this actively denies our lives are utterly dependent on other lives, and also denies much, if not all of the dignity of the lives that are taken so we may live.  It denies that our interdependence on their lives relegating the Beings we eat as ‘the consumed’ alone, and in so doing, denies recognition of their full Being, and reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir which have given Their lives so we are able to live.

These ideas of relationships, reciprocity, and obligations are a fairly central in polytheism and animism, whether or not one’s thoughts on the matter are in regard to priests, priesthood, shamans, and other spiritual specialists from polytheist religions.  A friend of Rhyd Wildermuth said “if your relationship to a god is one where you ‘must’ do something for them or else, or you must do so because a priest told you that is what you must do, you are confusing a god with the government, Capitalism, or your parents”.

This understanding of ‘must’, of obligation and duty, is rather central to how polytheism operates.  Gebo, *ghosti, and other understandings of reciprocity fall under this understanding of ‘must’ in terms of how oneself, guests, strangers, and others are treated, what the obligations between kin are within the religion(s), and so on.  Obligation and duty are part of the basic skeleton of religious language, and it is through this understanding of the meaning of obligation and duty within our lives that we come to understand how to relate to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in the first place, which ones we would be best suited or called to in forging relationships, and which we should or must avoid.  Does that mean that we can refuse to participate in these obligations and duties, ignore taboos, and so on?  Certainly, but there are consequences for failing to live up to our part of a given relationship.

Priests serve a duty to the communities they serve, even if initially the only communities they serve are those of the Holy Powers.  In terms of human/Holy Power interactions, priests often serve a hierarchical role in polytheist religions because they are people who have dedicated time, energy, skill, and other aspects of their life, if not the whole of it, in service to the Gods.  Not everyone has the inclination, desire, aptitude, or ability to do so.  It is not that priests are inherently better than non-priests or that they are to be the sole source of authority on the Gods, but that they, ideally, have proven themselves trustworthy to their community, and are reckoned by other means, such as training, initiation, public recognition, and so on.  So yes, they are spiritual authorities, but they are one among many.

Those of us who cross over between spiritual specialist categories, as I do, having been called to service in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry as both a priest and a shaman, try to make it fairly clear where one role begins and the other ends.  Is there bleedover?  Sure, but I need to be able to point to something and say ‘this is priest work’ and ‘this is shaman work’, and ‘this is where they can mix’.  This means that discernment and determining what situation I should be wearing which hat, or if I am a good fit at all for the situation at hand, is quite important.  Again, this relates back to the person/people trusting me as an authority in the religion, that I carry that authority with integrity, and acting within the hierarchy I am part of in how things should be carried out as a priest, a shaman, and when it is/is not appropriate to mix the two, when it is not appropriate for me to be involved, and/or pass it on to someone else.

Understanding the roles of authority, hierarchy, rhetoric, and the clear understanding of our relationships with one another are, in my view, only part of spiritually mature religious groups.  Outwardly recognizing and affirming how we interact with one another and in what ways is part of how we respect each other and the spaces we are in.  This is a key piece to developing better, consistently constructive dialogue and bridge-building.  Respecting one another means I do not come into another’s space, say their ways are wrong and insist they should reform their religion to formalize or eliminate their lineages, hierarchy, and sacrifice.  It’s not my place because it isn’t my community.  Disagreement on powerful things such as authority, hierarchy, beliefs, and so on are one thing, but insistence on everyone towing the same line is quite another.  Likewise, it is rude for folks who disagree with formal sources of authority, hierarchy and/or sacrifice (including not only sacrifice of animals, but also food, liquids, of the self, service, and so on) to come into polytheist spaces where these are expectations, obligations, and ways of relating to the Holy Powers that are part of respect and worship in the religions that observe them. If you are not called to gather in community or to honor the Holy Powers in this way, far be it from me or anyone else to gainsay Them, but at least do me the respect that the selfsame Gods we may worship may call me to things you may not wish to do.

As I have said several times here on this show, the problem with painting with too broad a brush is it misses the nuances, colors, and textures of other brushes.  I may say things about polytheism on a broad basis, and folks are fully within their rights to disagree with me, even vehemently.  Gods know there are things I have in my own right, sacrifice and offerings being among the topics I have butted heads with others on.  There are a lot of polytheist religions, formal and informal, organized and individual.  Even within the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, we certainly don’t agree on everything.  As a tribalist Northern Tradition polytheist and Heathen, what my concern comes down to at the end of the day is those who share my personal community, my Kindred or tribe, and the places where we intersect with others.  It isn’t that the larger polytheist communities aren’t of concern to me, (otherwise why write or comment on this at all?) but that by putting my words out there would, I hope, be part of constructive dialogue around these things.  I would also hope that all these words would be taken in the context that I cannot, and will not speak for all polytheists.  I do want my voice listened to, and to be part of the Polytheist Movement and general polytheist dialogue, but I recognize my voice is one among a great many.

We do not need to agree on much, save being hospitable in one another’s spaces, acting with respect as both guest and host, and when disagreements arise, and Gods’ know they will, doing our best not to assume the worst of one another.

The World

March 11, 2016 2 comments

The world is a Goddess and the world is a corpse

If you know the stories this does not shock;

The corpse of Ymir is the body of Jörð

 

The world is full of vaettir and yet is a Goddess

If you know the stories this makes sense;

The body of Jörð holds us and yet, we live within Her

 

The world is a world and it is many Gods

If you know the stories this is insight;

The world is not one thing to all Beings

 

The Goddess is a world and is one of countless

If you know the stories this is thoughtful;

The world is not the only place of Gods

 

The world is a home and it is one of many

If you know the stories this is wisdom;

This world is not the only one we will live in

 

The world is alive and we are part of it

If you know the stories this is existence;

The world teems with life, as do we

 

The world is living and it changes

If you know the stories this is evident;

The world shifts, and so will we all

 

The world is dying and it will die

If you know the stories this is powerful;

The world dies, and is reborn

 

The world is dead and it will live again

If you know the stories this is Ørlög;

The world is woven, and we are too

 

The world lives and it will keep on living

If you know the stories this is Wyrd;

The world lives, dies, and lives; so will we, one way or another

Our Pilgrimage to Lake Superior

July 15, 2015 4 comments

I’ve been offline for a while, until recently.  Some of it had to do with taking the first vacation in about 10 years where I was not also there to do spiritual work for other folks.  Some of it has also had to do with not feeling like I had much to write on, and the inspiration to do religious poetry not being with me lately.

My family and I went to Lake Superior (aka Gichi-gami), visiting the Porcupine Mountains and living in a DNR yurt for a few days.  We had a great time.  We left immediately after we got home from our church’s Midsummer ritual.

On the road up we stopped at Lake Michigan at a rest stop.  It was quiet, just us and the Lake.  We hailed Her, gave prayers to Her.  I gave offerings of tobacco and mugwort, then smoked on the beach to Her.  Both Sylverleaf and Kiba eventually went back to the car, leaving me to smoke with Her a total of three times, thanking Her for blessing us, for allowing us to be with Her.  When She spoke, it was gentle, and with a deep, deep power.  With each rush of the tide bringing a word: lay.  I wish I had thought to change my pants or empty my pockets, since I did as She told in that moment.

I prostrated myself before Her, and a small wave washed over me.  I immediately felt both cleansed and blessed.  I was also immediately soaked and cold!  Thankfully nothing in my pockets was damaged.  I felt clean from my head to my toes, washed clean by the Goddess of Lake Michigan, and blessed by Her waters.  I felt my Soul Matrix cleansed in that moment.  She had me sing to Her, galdring Laguz to Her.  Before I went to leave, She asked me to take some of Her water and soil with me.  The powerful, almost floating feeling did not leave me until I got near the car, and had to change.  That feeling of being blessed and cleansed has stayed with me.

We crossed the Mackinaw Bridge late in the evening, and I found myself holding my breath at times.  I’m not a big fan of heights.  I thanked the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir profusely once we got to the hotel room, and we bedded down.  We woke, and explored St. Ignace for a bit, spending a great deal of time at the St. Ignace Museum of Ojibwe Culture.  We walked the Medicine Wheel, leaving offerings there, and I spent a lot of time speaking with the front desk clerk for about an hour and a half, mostly listening to her expound on history.  I had a great time.

Unfortunately, we spent so much time in St. Ignace that we had no time to do much else, and so, we made a dash for the Porcupine Mountains.  We arrived very late, too late, and after an hour or so of trying to find our yurt, we turned around and made for a local Americinn.  We crashed, hard.

When we got up the next day, we found we had been heading in the wrong direction  So, we asked for clarification on the map.  The map they give you is really tiny, and unless you blow one up on a phone or have a bigger one, some of the little trails, like ours, can get lost.  After we found the right trail and set off, we were set upon by mosquitoes.  Most were about the size of a quarter, and a few were about the size of a half dollar.  It would take us a few days to find a combination of sprays that would repel them.  So we made for the yurt as quick as we could, and got inside.

The yurt itself was pretty, elevated off the ground, and cozy.  It’s nestled in amongst a lot of trees, and it feels incredibly private, and the landvaettir were very inviting.  After taking care of offerings to Them and to the Gods of Fire and the Hearth, I got to work on building a fire in the firebox.  I found very, very quickly that it turned the yurt into a sauna.  I had not realized yet how, or that I could, open the sides of the yurt or the plastic dome.  So my first few hours I was absolutely drenched in sweat…but my wife and son were quite comfortable, thank you!

Because the yurt is a rustic camping site, it has no hookups; no electricity, no water, no sewage.  All the water was brought up from the stream behind and below the yurt, following down a path to a large stream, and hauling the 5 gallon bucket back up.  I felt a great deal of satisfaction in hauling and boiling the water, and cutting firewood.  It is a kind of connection to the land I do not have in my own home.  I already recognize that I am dependent on the land, and acknowledge and pray to the vaettir of the water that are in the well that gifts us with the water for our showers, our drinking water, and the water we use for food preparation and cleaning.  Yet, it lacks that really down-and-dirty tactile quality I experienced when I was physically hauling the water, and going through the process of finding wood for the fire, and cutting up the wood for the fire so that we could heat the yurt and boil the water we were going to drink and cook with.  It made me realize how truncated all of our processes of life, living, and thriving are in our modern way of living from where they have been with our Ancestors.  It made me deeply appreciate just how much work the hot water heater in our home does, how much work my Ancestors would have done just to get water to home.  I appreciated the making of a cup of tea much more when it was done with the wood stove.

We spent the rest of the day and most of the next relaxing in the yurt before braving the mosquitoes to explore the towns nearby.  We grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe, and headed to a gift shop in the town.  It turns out that if we had stayed up another hour or so from when we knocked out, we may have seen the Northern Lights.  I was bummed we missed them, but given where we were in the woods, I am unsure we would have seen them in any case.

After we explored around some more, we made our way to Lake Superior for the first time.  Lake Superior was quiet, and as in the yurt, I felt worlds away from anyone else.  Our first day at Lake Superior we only saw one or two other families.  There was maybe one person or family per stair access, and the driftwood was all about, and far out to tide you could see old, well-polished stones.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  The Lake was all around us, stretching out like an ocean.  The Great Lakes I have seen, offered, and prayed to so far feel something like oceans, Goddesses in Their own rights.  Something smelled familiar about each Lake: similar to the scent of the Undine Goddesses, yet unique to Them.  As with Lake Michigan, Gichi-gami’s power was gentle, inviting to a point, and yet, there was a ferociousness to it.  Not…hostile, per se, but this quiet, waiting ferocity and strength.

As with Lake Michigan, we made offerings, and I smoked with Her.  As with Lake Michigan, I dipped my sacred pipe into Her waters just enough so that She could smoke, without the water consuming the fire inside the pipe.  I smoked with Her three times, and offered Her mugwort and tobacco, and sang Laguz to Her.  Her power rolled in small waves on my feet; She was icy.  There was a power in Her waters, too, something I did not start hearing about with a name until I got back.  As with Lake Michigan, I made offerings not only to Her, but to the vaettir that were within Her, and the vaettir were pleased.  I had nothing in my pockets this time; I left my sacred pipe, the matches, the mugwort, and tobacco on a large driftwood tree when She asked me to prostrate myself before Her.  When Her waters rushed over me, the ice ripped into me; I yelped and cried out.  She hurt.  She burned with the fire of ice, and it took everything I had to stay down and let Her run over me three times in full.  It felt like so much had been taken away, as if a piece of Nifelheim Itself had come and taken my spiritual detritus, pain, and in a kind of quick death, had scrubbed me clean.  It was so cold.  I sweat in freezing temperatures.  I find a lot of winters here tend to be too warm; I sweat a lot.  So when I say “I felt cold down to my bones” I mean it felt like I was bathing in ice.  I shivered as I warmed up under the sun.

When we went back to the yurt and I built up the fire, it made me appreciate it all the more.  Granted, I was back to sweating, but I appreciated the feeling of cleanliness the ice and the fire brought, and given the Norse Creation Story, it made me appreciate it all so much more.  That evening when I was sawing logs I heard wolves howling, and it sent the shivers down my spine that said “Run with them! Go to them!”  I gave a howl of my own, and listened, and they responded a little bit later.  I feel blessed to have had that contact, to hear the kin respond.  I stayed outside for a few moments, relishing the feeling.  When I went in, I spent some time keeping the fire up that evening, and reading some of the entries from past guests, and making my own entries.

The next day we spent most of it traveling around to different towns, then going to Adventure Mine and walking in the old copper mine there with hardhats with LED headlamps on them.  A lot of mines around do little mine car trips; this one we walked.  It was quite the experience, heading in with just the headlamp.  I felt very close to the Dvergar then, and at points the mine felt like there were spots where the two Worlds, ours and Theirs, connected.  As we walked, we could see the old drill sites for testing and connecting tunnels, and the air shafts.  Looking at it, and taking it in,you could feel and almost experience, hear the work that had been done by a couple hundred hands over the course of a few centuries was amazing.  When we kicked off our headlamps and the guide lit a single candle to demonstrate how much visibility the miners had, it really brought home how dangerous the work could be, and how much you were at the mercy of your coworkers, the rock, and the mine as a whole.  It also made a good deal of sense why Tommyknockers were ubiquitous in the gift shops.  We came across native Michigan copper, one of them being a large chunk whose cost bankrupted the company that sought to mine it.

We returned to Lake Superior later in the day, and I smoked with Her after offering Her mugwort and tobacco.  I remembered the public shrine project that Galina had posted about, and set about making one while smoking my personal sacred pipe.  When it was finished I brought Kiba back to take a look at it, and he liked it, but did not add anything to it when I offered him the chance.

When we came back to where Sylverleaf was, I stopped at what I assumed earlier had been someone’s hangout area made with driftwood and local dead trees.  it would have maybe held one person.  When I took a good at it, though, I realized it was more of a shrine.  So I added to it, leaving a Yggdrasil made of stones and twigs.  I left it beside the opening; I did not feel that I should put anything into it.  When this was done, after smoking one last time with Gichi-gami, we headed back to the yurt for the night.  I felt that same ice-cold bone feeling in my feet creep up my spine, and when we finally got in the yurt, I immediately got a fire going.

Our last day in the Porcupine Mountains was going to be fairly brief; we had to be checked out by about 11am.  So, we packed everything the night before that we could and got it back to the car.  While Sylverleaf was taking things back I was sawing wood and keeping the fire going, leaving enough so the next folks should have an easier time of it than we did.  As I had been reading through the yurt’s journal, what came up again and again was that here Gebo was the rule.  You left wood for the next group, and if you could you left items you needed during your stay.  In our case we left wood, bug spray, a pack of toilet paper, and a lot of kindling and tinder.  It was interesting reading that those who had left little or nothing were chastised in the journal against doing that.  Many of these people were staying in the yurt in the winter, and were arriving after a 2 mile hike in snow with no trail, and only a tarp covering any excess winter wood there may have been.  Gebo meant the difference between these folks having to forage for wet wood, or going out 2 miles again, buying wood, and hauling it back.

By the time we were ready to go the ashes were cool enough to put into the bucket, and then into the pile.  We left offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, and the landvaettir for letting us stay, and for being so hospitable.   When we started heading towards the car there was a part of me that wanted to stay like that.  Maybe not necessarily in the Porcupine Mountains (because seriously, fuck the horde of enormous mosquitoes) but in a situation where we were living that close with the land.  We checked out, and feeling called to Her, we visited Lake Superior one last time.  She had me bring some stones home, and was generous enough to let me bring home water and soil from Her beach.  I smoked with Her one final time before we left.  The communion I have felt with the Great Lakes feels at times beyond words.  This sense of connecting with something that reminds of the ocean, yet is not one.  Connecting with this vast Goddess who smells like an Undine Goddess, whose one song I know of is how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank into Her depths, and yet has shown my family and I such gentleness, blessing, and cleansing.  Our Gods are many things; They can be ferocious and kind, brutal and gentle, and so much more.  I know in our short time there I only touched a bit of this Goddess, and hope to again sometime soon.

The ride home was nice.  Even facing the Mackinaw Bridge after the week didn’t leave me white knuckling much.  As soon as we made it home around eleven or midnight, we all crashed.  I had Michigan Paganfest to look forward to, and had to be up for Opening RItual at 10am.

The ongoing pilgrimage plan is to take a similar pilgrimage out to Lake Michigan.  It will be a lot shorter trip, and now that we know what to expect in a yurt we will be a good deal more prepared.

I feel blessed that we were able to take this pilgrimage, that we had such a good time, and learned so much.  It was a powerful time, even the times where I was cutting wood, keeping the fire going, or boiling water.  I’m looking forward to meeting with the other Lakes.

Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest

April 18, 2013 7 comments

Another question from Valiel Elantári:

What difference do you make between “shaman” and “priest” ?

I had defined a shaman in Question 9 as ‘an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.’  A priest may be that as well.  Where I see a marked difference is the kind of relationship a priest has vs. what a shaman has in their community.  A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods.  When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion.  A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity.  A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.

Some of the Work of a priest I do see as dovetailing with the Work of a shaman.  There can be very direct parallels between the two jobs’ requirements.  Both, for instance, need people to be spiritually clean, firm in their religious foundations, knowledgeable in their cosmology and in particular the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits they work with and/or worship.  Depending on the needs of the community, the two jobs may place requirements on the shoulders of a priest and a shaman that are similar, if not the same, such as blessing a newly birthed baby, weddings, fields before or after planting, etc.  The requirements of a priest may be wildly divergent priest to priest, tradition to tradition, the same with shamans, so saying anything across the board means somewhere I am getting something wrong.  The palette has too many colors for me to accurately paint with a select few.

In my own work as a priest and a shaman, my work as Odin’s priest is different from being a shaman in that He may ask me to deliver messages on His behalf as a priest whereas in my role as a shaman I may be asked to do a ritual action instead.  In a way, it seems to me I am engaged more in action serving Him as a shaman than I am as a priest, in which I tend to act more in the role of a passive message-passer.  Then again, as I am both, sometimes the two blend together in terms of my service to Him.  So the only thing I can say for certain here, is that I serve Him as He asks or demands of me.

In my Work as a priest of Anubis this is a bit markedly different from my service as Odin’s priest.  For one, Anubis demands very little of my time nowadays, but I can feel Him starting to really come back to the fore now that I have a new altar to the Dead, rather than, say, just the Military Dead or my Ancestors.  For another, Anubis’ requirement have been to offer Him offerings on occasion, but nothing like the dedication of Ancient Egyptian temple priests.  I have a small statue of Him that I feed offerings to, put water before, and occasionally bathe in similar fashion to how temple priests might have done.  However, that is more or less the extent of my historically-based practice.  Much of my work with Anubis is pure UPG, and when He calls upon me to help a Lost Dead or to deliver a message on a spirit’s behalf on His behalf, I do, and my services are rendered, and I go on my way.  My service to Anubis is more haphazard and as He needs me then I imagine other priests might serve, i.e. those who have permanent temple space.  Some of my Work with Him dovetails well with the Work I do for Odin, for instance, the consistent cleaning, grounding, and centering rituals.  Keeping myself clean, as well as keeping the altars clean, are part and parcel of my Work with Him.  So too, making sure the altar to the Dead is kept well, that offerings are laid out.  I must also be sure that the Dead are not insulted or treated ill in rituals, another place where my Work as a shaman dovetails with my priest Work.

In this way, priests, as with shamans, are intercessors in that those who come to us will learn that there are certain rites to be observed, and taboos to be avoided.  One taboo I have as a shaman is that whenever I do for another I must in some way, shape, or form, have Gebo from the other party.  Another, in my role as Anubis’ priest, is that I must not let the Dead be insulted or poorly treated.  It is on me to establish what requirements and taboos there are to working with these spirits, especially the person in question is coming to me for help or training.  That is part of the Work of any intercessor: you are, in some way, shape, or form, establishing and reestablishing the proper boundaries of and engaging in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  For those who know them, you are reinforcing the boundaries of and encouraging engagement in right relationship.

I think this hits on another aspect of the difference between being a shaman and being a priest.  As a shaman I am often required to traverse boundaries, whether my own personal ones, or in journey work, or in transgressing some unspoken cultural boundary, i.e. Ancestor worship.  A shaman is often a boundary crosser, may be an ambassador of some kind to other communities including other Worlds, and puts hirself at risk so they, their community, and the relationships they hold can flourish.  A priest is often one who reinforces the boundaries, who stays within the boundaries and teaches from that place of power on how to live well, to live in right relationship, and establish communities in the teachings from their God(s) or Goddess(es).

To put it another way: a shaman often must journey to the útgarð for their Work whereas a priest’s main place and Work is done in the innangarð.

 

Odin Project: Day 30

November 30, 2012 2 comments

This is the final day of the Odin Project for this 2012 year.  Thank you to Galina, who inspired me to be part of it, and everyone who has participated in it.  Thank you to everyone who has followed my blog through this month; I hope that the Odin Project has somehow touched you, or brought you closer to Him.

Long suffered He | who traded Eye and Life

for giving wisdom to the Worlds;

Praise to the Allfather | given in gratitude

for gifts heaped upon gifts

 

Hail to Odin | in times of peace

for its blessings are hard-won;

Hail to Odin | in times of strife

for oft does it visit

 

Ever-mindful is Odin | of His children

who wanders the whole of Midgard

Hugin and Munin | ever-watch and wheel

and speak news to His waiting Ear

Hanging

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I made this song listening to Skrillex and Innerpartysystem.  For some reason Odin’s Hanging on the Tree kept coming to mind, so I wrote this.

 

Fervent fever

Blood burning

Ligament lashing

Muscle mashes

Teeth tremble

Skin slackens

Eye erupts

Brains bombarded

Heart hammers

Feet fetter

Hand hacks

Tongue tastes

Blood blackens

Panting panic

Noose knotting

Spear shaking

Breath billows

Body breaking

Eye extinguished

Tree triumphant

Dark descending

Death demarking

Hanging hallowing

Gap gushing

Runes rushing

Power pressing

Enlightenment erupting

Life leering

Vying vicious

Hands hit

Bark bites

Feeling fulminous

Eye easing

Blood beating

Rope ruptured

Runes rapturous

Ground greeting

Spear sentinel

Blood beckons

Grip grasping

Feet finding

Legs locking

Body bending

Knees kneeling

Eye earnest

Lungs leaven

Form freed

Spine straightening

Feet follow

Legs lengthen

Stride seeking

Hands heaving

Reigns reaching

Mouth moving

Runes responding

Words whispered

Designs drawn

Movements made

Blessings born

Curses created

Sacrifice sanctified

Holiness haggard

Death deterred

Road rejoined

 

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