You lurk in the marshlands, a pale and ghostly figure. It is Your treasured abode. The creatures there know You well. They heed Your will and do Your bidding, carrying Your messages far and wide. Once, before creation truly was, You stood with Your Brothers: Fury and Fire--Frenzied inspiration and Holy Power-- at the moment You all slaughtered Ymir, thus becoming Architects of creation, erecting the pristine structure of the worlds. You were the will that held it all together in those first crimson-encrusted moments. Before it was done, You saw it all unfold. Wyrd is a flicker of light on Your bone-slender hands, and You weave it as You will. You are the silent Watcher, often overlooked and under-estimated. That is fine. Nothing escapes Your notice and silence won You freedom once. You save your incantations for moon drenched nights in the fens. Then You willingly unleash Your power. You are a God of strange and liminal places, and the mind is the most liminal threshold of all. You gave us this gift, cognition, worlds unfolding within us, divine in their potentiality, imprinted the senses on our souls, when Loður gave us our physical sensorium. It is both a grace and blessing. Thanks to you, we may walk in many realms, tasting the savor of the liminal, and that is Your gift to us too. Everything is full of meaning. Three Gods made us. Three Gods loved us enough to carefully craft us into being. The persistence of Their regard holds us all together. May I ever see with the eye of my understanding, and hear with the ears of my soul, all the glories You and Your Brothers have wrought. Hail to You, Hoenir, Wili, Lord of the Marshlands. Hail Great God Who blesses the work of my mind. Ever and always will I praise You. (by G. Krasskova)
I don’t usually advocate reading our sacred stories for moral exempla. I think that in polytheistic religions the relationship between lore and living morality was complicated and polytheists tended to draw their moral code from their community and country values more than from their cosmological stories (1). In many cases, they were sensible enough to know that in no way can the Gods ever properly be submitted to human morality or authority. Our insight is too narrow, our understanding too limited. For us to drag our Gods down to our level is often gross impiety. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t examine and work out various types of exegesis for our myths. We may infer, examine, and certainly, I think we are also expected to use our reason. After all, Hoenir gave us cognition and just as we engage with our world through the corporeality of our sensorium, we also engage with it through our capacity to reason, through Hoenir’s gift; and it is by means of that engagement that we hone our characters. To submit the Gods to our morality though, is to elevate ourselves above Them in the cosmic architecture. That is something that twists that sacred architecture out of true. It is not our rightful place, and we are not equipped to hold it—no matter how arrogant we may be, we are not equal to the Gods (and that this needs to be said every so often in our communities just fills me with sadness). So, while I usually wouldn’t engage in the type of reading that is shortly to follow, every so often, there is a story that stands out, either as a positive exemplum of piety (Lay of Hyndla, where we see Ottar praised and rewarded for the incredible devotion and depth of his piety to Freya) or, to turn my attention to the Greco-Roman world, where we are given a clear warning of the dangers of impiety (the story of Hippolytus). It’s this latter that I would like to discuss today.
The lesson in Hippolytus is one that some of us take for granted, but it’s also one that I know I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s not immediately intuitive. I’d like to say that’s because of the way monotheistic religions permeate our culture, or because of the influence of modern popular culture but I don’t think that is actually the reason. If it were, we wouldn’t see this being teased out as an issue by ancient authors. I just think it’s possible to love one’s primary Deity or Deities so much, so deeply, that it can be very, very difficult to also see other Deities as equally holy—especially if those other Deities have areas of expertise diametrically opposed to our own “Patron” Gods. We are shaped and formed after all by those Gods that we love and to Whom we are especially devoted. One of the beauties of polytheism is that there is no expectation of devotional exclusivity. Moreover, often what is correct for one devotee to a particular Deity is forbidden to another devotee of that Deity. It can be confusing. It can be difficult to say: “these practices that my God encourages are holy but so are these diametrically opposite practices the devotee of God X is doing over there. Those things just aren’t holy for *me*.” This was a powerful lesson that I actually learned by reading a medieval Christian mystic.
Years and years ago I was taking a medieval studies class wherein I had to read the works of Italian mystic Angela of Foligno (1248 C.E. – 1309 C.E.). While I love my medieval mystics, I’m not a huge fan of Franciscans in general (she was a Franciscan tertiary) but that wasn’t where the lesson came in. Angela often worked with lepers. These were the lowest of the low in the society of the time. They were marginalized, forced to live away from the community, and generally treated like garbage. (This was partly because there was, at the time, no cure for leprosy and people feared contagion. For those wondering, a cure was discovered in the 1940s and 50s). Angela would go and minister to them, bringing food, treating their wounds, even bathing their wounds. At one point, while she was washing a leper’s legs and feet, she had this interior vision of Christ, and she realized that the leper was Christ, that she was never closer to her God than when she was caring for these men and women. Some of the damaged tissue had peeled off the leper and had fallen into the bowl of water she was using to bathe him. Get ready for it. In devotion to her God and in a moment of ecstatic revelation she drank the water. The first time I read that I was utterly, thoroughly, and in every possible way revolted. I think I even got physically ill from reading it. I still find it one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read. At the same time, for Angela, this was an intensely holy thing. It was sacred. It drew her closer in devotion to her God. It was not holy for me, but it didn’t have to be. This was something between Angela and her God. Learning to hold that paradox (?) in my head, to acknowledge that something like this was sacred work, a sacred act, but just maybe not for me personally with my God was a huge insight. For one thing, it’s been a tremendous help when I acquired an apprentice who was as far away in her devotional orientation from the ascetic practices I prefer as one could possibly be. I was having the same aversion and disgust that I had with Angela when the same lesson hit me like a two-by-four again: this is holy for her and her God. It isn’t for me and that’s OK. It’s that last part that I think a lot of us struggle with, the part about that difference being OK.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because one does no honor to one’s God by spitting on the mysteries of another Deity and recently I’ve been seeing a lot of that in various fora. I’ve already written before about how none of us get to speak for our Gods with impunity. If we aren’t willing to qualify our statements, to acknowledge the fallibility of our humanity, and to step back from using our relationships with our Gods (be it as devotee, mystic, godspouse, god-servant, priest, or shaman – or anything else) as a club to attack the cultus of other Deities then we are betraying those self-same Gods and our work is deeply compromised. See my previous article titled “Theological Integrity.” It’s quite easy to share one’s religious experiences and even to discuss and argue about what our own experience has taught us about our Gods provided we qualify it instead of making normative statements intended to shut down religious discourse and silence other devotees, specifically if this latter is done by calling into question the integrity of their Gods. It is never our place to assume the right to submit our Gods to our puny authority (2). This is where polytheism gets really complicated, though I suspect every religion faces this in some way, shape, or form, especially with practices labeled as falling into the ‘mystic.’
While we have plenty of positive exempla in the Norse lore exhorting piety and devotion, exhorting humility, and common sense. I’m going to look instead at a Greco-Roman story to make my point, because it is very well known and very, very obvious in its intended interpretation. I would like us to consider the story of Hippolytus.
Hippolytus was the son of Theseus. He was an ardent, passionate, deeply devout devotee of Artemis. Because She is a virgin huntress, Hippolytus wished to remain chaste and virginal for Her. He was disgusted by sex, dismissive of marriage, and deeply contemptuous of Aphrodite and Her mysteries. He was so contemptuous that Aphrodite grew angry at his hubris. She cursed him (and one may infer that She had the consent of Artemis in this matter). His stepmother Phaedra fell madly in love with him, pursuing him to the point that she was physically ill in mind, body, and spirit. Hippolytus, utterly revolted, rebuffs her so violently that in some versions of the story, she kills herself, after leaving a suicide note accusing Hippolytus of rape. Theseus, who has been granted power by Poseidon, curses Hippolytus and Poseidon sends a sea-monster to attack the young man’s horses. Hippolytus is flung out of the chariot, and tangled in the reins, is dragged to death. Artemis reveals the truth to Theseus and establishes cultus for Hippolytus so that his memory and story will not fade.
What is the lesson we ought to take from this? Well, I think it shows us that while it is right and proper to venerate and love our Gods, to have deep and specific devotion to a Deity (as Hippolytus did to Artemis), it is NOT ok, and is in fact a polluted and curse-worthy act to use that devotion to revile the mysteries of another Deity.
We should not ever diminish the relationship between Deities to petty, human relations. They are GODS. It’s not for us to ever criticize our Gods. It’s for us to look for wisdom in Their stories. To think that we are equal to the Gods, to think that one can be a God is the height of delusion. It is a moral and spiritual sickness. Avoid the impious. Avoid the contamination they put into the world like shit with every breath.
- Herodotus for example, in talking about what makes a people, clearly separates “honoring the same Gods,” from “following the same nomoi, or customs and laws.” This is picked up by multiple ancient writers and reflects a different hierarchy of understanding. Religion did not do the work of defining our morality (upbringing, paideia, philosophy did those things, albeit it in many cases likely informed by devotion). Religion was protocol for engaging with the Holy Powers, for engaging with the sacred and the holy.
- Each God or Goddess is equally holy. What is complicated for devotees is that They don’t often agree, are often at cross-purposes, and sometimes have opposite agendas for Their devotees, or opposing taboos, etc. This is messy but that’s polytheism. We don’t have a single holy book telling us precisely how to do things from which there shouldn’t be any deviation because we’re not monotheists. (Hell, they don’t even have perfect accord over how to interpret their own holy writings). Heathenry is not, as much as some people would like it to be, Protestant Christianity. Something a God gives to a person can be perfectly right and true *for that person*. There are few universals save that piety is good and we should cultivate it.
Dver at The Forest Door has created these devotional tokens for Hermes. I think they’re absolutely gorgeous. For those that honor Hermes, check them out here.
T.P. Ward writes a bit about his experience with the Roman Goddess Cloacina.
A couple of years ago I sponsor a prayer card for a lesser-known deity for whom I keep a shrine, Cloacina. Why I venerate a god of the sewer comes from a struggle that my family endured nine years ago, when we lost our connection to the municipal sewer system for 149 days.
Before we purchased our house, the prior owners had a subdivision done to allow them to sell off a somewhat spacious yard separately to a developer. We knew that eventually a house would be built there, but we didn’t know that our sewer connection ran directly across that new lot. All underground utilities must be shown on subdivision plans, but that legal requirement just wasn’t followed.
We were without our sewer connection for a lot longer than 149 days. It was probably destroyed when they were ripping up trees to make room for the new house, but…
View original post 233 more words
This is so spot on…a moving, thoughtful, and painful read.
When I was 24, I had given birth to my one and only child, a boy. About 3-6 weeks earlier (it’s been about 20 years now) my husband was hospitalized for bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies. At the time, I was working as an administrative assistant at an investment brokerage firm.
I did receive 3 months of maternity leave, but as I was put on bed rest at approximately 6 month of my pregnancy, I had to go back to work in about a month after I gave birth. The only other option was to go on short term disability and receive a portion of my paycheck until I was able to go back to work. This was not an option, as by this point, my husband was in and out of psychiatric wards, barely able to stay awake or be lucid…
View original post 2,761 more words
This is actually a multi-part question, so I’ll take each one in turn. Here we go:
Question 1A: “I was reading your article on prayer but and a question came to mind…”How do you determine who to pray to?” Say for example a person wishes to do so in reference to a research paper they have been working on. What determines whether they should pray to Thoth, or Athena, or Hermes or Saga, or any God or Goddess of Knowledge/Wisdom?”
You know, it seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t. This is definitely a “polytheist problem!” I have my set of household Deities, Gods to Whom I’ve been dedicated to for years and I pray to Them regularly – I aim for nightly but I’ll admit I do miss days. Sometimes I or my household are just too tired to do it properly. Then the morning prayers, which are brief, have to suffice. Sometimes though, I’ll just get a feeling that I’m entering into another Deity’s house, sphere of influence, so to speak. Then, as a matter of what used to be called “guestliness” (the hospitality and grace owed by guest to host) in some of the Heathen groups in which I worked, I will reach out to that Deity. Sometimes, it will come up in our regular household divination that one of us should approach a particular Deity. Sometimes one prayer just leads to another. There’s no formula or rule for it. If one has a fulltrui, a patron, a particular Deity or family of Deities to Whom one pays regular devotion, I would always start there. You can always ask the Gods to Whom you usually pray, ask for insight and be patient.
Question 1B: “Another question I have is…does a particular place affect one’s connection to the Gods? I have read a few articles where people have moved to different places due to work or personal relationships (significant others), and in their original place they had a good communication with the Gods, but in the new place, it’s like the communication seems to be cut off. Does the “God Phone” tend to get bad reception in different places? I wonder if there is something to it because I felt more receptive to the Gods when I was in [state redacted] but since moving to [state redacted] I’ve had difficulties…”
Yes, (though it’s not that the the ability to sense or hear the Gods is cut off, but something else). This is why regional cultus is such a powerful thing. We see the same Gods being venerated in different ways, manifesting in different ways, carrying different bynames in different areas. For instance, my primary God is Woden in Old English territories, Odin in Scandinavia. Sometimes He is Gangleri, sometimes Oski, sometimes Wotan, sometimes Allfather, and so on and so forth. Not all of these heiti depend on the land, but there are reginal manifestations of His power. To give a second example, there is Dionysos of Mount Beacon – how we honor Him here– and Dionysos of Nysos and a thousand more iterations of this God. The Gods have Their own business, I think, with all the spirits of these places completely unrelated to us and our relationships and They wear different…”clothing” so to speak, accordingly). I’ve often said that the polytheistic triad is Gods-Ancestors-Land and it may be, and this is my speculation here, that some sort of conversation between the Gods and the spirits of the land is occurring. After all, They have relationships not just with us, but with multiple families of spirits (like land spirits) too. This applies to Gods and ancestors too – those are unique relationships. To get back to your question, there are definitely regional expressions or currents through which our Gods work.
I would suggest making offerings to the land spirits in your new home and also to your Gods (and ancestors too –never hurts). When you move to a new place, or even if you’re visiting for an extended time, greet the land and make offerings. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn to see your Gods through new eyes. It’s not that They can’t hear your prayers, or aren’t present, rather I think that it’s a matter of us sometimes struggling to catch the… “frequency” for lack of a better term, of one’s Gods in a new place, and of one’s Gods in conversation with new land spirits. Also, we do like our preconceptions and those can be a powerful block to new experiences of our Gods, all without us ever really being fully aware of how much this is the case.
It really takes time (and sometimes, it becomes easier after moving to a new place – this is not always a problematic thing). Just be patient and continue your practices. I asked my friend who is a land worker and she said she thinks there’s some kind of negotiation between the Gods and the land that happens and how they come to you is different because of that. Also, you need to get to know the spirits in your new place. Sometimes the Gods will even step back a bit in Their presence because it can overwhelm the sense of the land spirits or one’s ancestors in a new territory. There’s important work rooting oneself there that should be done first, grounding yourself in this land and developing those relationships, that all needs to happen before the Gods express the fullness of Their presence again.
You have to acclimate. You can’t really do clean work of any sort, including devotional until you acclimate. The space needs to be met, greeted, honored. Then it needs to be cleaned, ordered, blessed, and protected. Otherwise, there will be interference, distractions…and some of this can simply be the interference of chattering spirits who are curious about the new person. Even if we can’t hear or sense this (no one is in the state of perfect receptivity all the time no matter how good their general abilities are!), on some level it gets registered as interference or blockage. It’s not though. The process of moving, involves acclimating on both sides: you, your Gods, the land…sometimes rituals of formal introductions for all parties can help. But in the end, just give it time. It’s always easier when you make friends with the land.
Finally, here is Question 1C: “Also I can point out with these articles I glanced at, no mention was made of cleansing practices so perhaps that’s an important way to “boost the signal”. Are there other ways?”
Well, the first and most important thing you can do is establish a regimen for cleansing and purification. That is rule one when it comes to discernment. Rule two is to be consistent in your prayers and devotions. If you’re not cleansing regularly, of course your discernment and ability to accurately engage with your Gods will be severely impinged.
Hope this helped. There’s nothing worse than moving to a new place. My land worker friend said moving is one of THE most traumatic things for her personally! Psychological studies that I’ve read, put it right up there with the death of a loved one and divorce. So, be kind to yourself and soldier on.
I was studying last night and came across an interview with another theologian on the topic of evil. The interview was quite good (because of course I listened to it – it was relevant to what I was reading) despite the difference in our theologies. I was taken aback though when he discussed four of the main ways one can tell if someone is influenced or aligned with evil. I was taken aback because A) I agree 110% with him and have for years and B) I’ve seen every one of these things –pandemically—within our communities (actually, within society at large, which, of course, bleeds into our communities). I’ll get to those four points in a moment. I realize that no one likes to consider evil as a force that might assault us, but I firmly believe it exists, (in addition to the evil we choose to do). Of course, I also believe that such external evil only has the openings we choose to give it, so with the protection and grace of our Gods, a little mindfulness and common sense, prayer, and a willingness to cultivate virtue, we can be just fine.
I have no idea where evil comes from. Is it a byproduct of creation? After all, creation is an act of ordering materiality. It is a driving back of entropy, of nothingness. It is a shaking off of that which does not serve that purpose. That implies a certain sentience in the created material itself…or maybe I’m pushing the thought too far. Is it something that we create by our poor choices and vicious actions, droppings we spew of hatred, cruelty, fear, jealousy, and malice (we can be a terribly inhumane species)? Is it an extant force fought by the Gods (For the record, I don’t think the Jotnar are evil at all. They are part of the created order)? I don’t know but as I move toward having to teach a class in theodicy (the question of why evil exists), I find myself pondering this question more and more. Personally, I tend to answer yes to all of the above but that is based more on my personal experience than any theological or philosophical treatise.
I’m getting off track though. Here were the four points from the interview:
- A person believes s/he can do whatever s/he wishes.
- A person believes no One can command him/her.
- A person believes s/he is his/her own God.
- Deep hostility and aversion to the sacred.
I actually look at number 4 as key evidence that someone is unhealthy and potentially under diabolical (in as much as we can use that word) influence. It’s the one constant that I have seen wherever evil spirits, bottom feeding trash spirits, and other such garbage have gained purchase. It’s a sign I watch for in myself and since I do spirit work, and often have to clean up spiritual pollution, I submit myself to evaluation to at least one other spirit worker regularly. Am I clean? When the Enemy—that which has no name, which stands against all the Gods have created, the true opponent at Ragnarok– whispers in my ears the most impious things when I pray, have I allowed any of that to gain purchase in my heart, mind, or soul? If I have, let’s get it out, just like weeding a garden. By the way, if that happens, just keep praying. In fact, pray louder. If you’re praying extempore, report this to the Gods – literally tell Them that something nasty is whispering impieties in your ear. Bring it to Their attention. Give these things nowhere to hide in your mind. Don’t take that which is not yours to carry. If you’re using formal prayers, and this happens, offer an apology to the Gods and just keep going. Don’t let it distract you. Pray as though your life depended on it. That which seeks to distract is unimportant. It is, as we’d say in the south: “trifling.”
However overwhelming and powerful these evil spirits may feel, speaking outloud, hearing your voice speak the bullshit they’re trying to feed you, to implant in your mind, having your Gods right behind you, all of this reveals the evil lies for what they are and strips these creatures of their power. There is no need to feel shame. Instead, go right to your Gods in heart and mind and report them. Do not permit them to become so internalized that you take on the nefarious things that they’re whispering, that they’re trying to make you think are coming from you. Stand tall and proud, like a pillar of iron, and call upon your Gods and know that They are there. However bad you think it is, our Gods have heard it all and They will carry our burdens with us and stand with us in any dark place we need to walk. There is no place so dark that They do not know the way through, and They will sustain us through it.
Now, there are normal thoughts too that can interfere when we pray or meditate, normal things like “oh, my nose itches.” Or “I forgot to book that appointment.” Etc. This is going to happen. Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad polytheist. Also, more positively, it’s normal for regular thoughts to sort of float through your mind when you’re trying to focus. Don’t worry. Just let them go. It’s a perfectly normal thing that happens to nearly everyone. Note those thoughts, let them pass, and return to prayer.
I think one of the biggest fracture lines in our theological understanding in our communities centers around #1. There is a cosmic hierarchy and, despite what modernity, popular media, and new agers might tell you, we are not at the top of it. We cannot actually do whatever we like—or rather we *can* but certain choices are going to twist our souls out of true. A pious person is indentured in service to her Gods. A responsible person has a place in his community, maintains a household (even if only a household of one), stands rightly within the world. We are tethered to our commitments and known by how well or poorly we keep them. Within our religious traditions there are rules, protocols, a right way to approach holy places, to treat holy people, to engage with the Holy Powers and a wrong way. It is not a free for all. To say that one can do whatever we want is to elevate ourselves and our passing whims and desires over the obligations of piety and respect. Those obligations create in us a fully realized human being, or at least they have the potential to do so when approached rightly. The former is shallowness yes, but also against the divine order. This is what it’s all about, folks. We can work with our Gods, support the order They have created by the way we choose to live, by our devotion, by how joyfully and consistently we cultivate Their veneration, honor our dead, care for the land, care for each other, or we do the opposite. We set ourselves against that order and in so doing twist our own existence and our souls, breathed into us by Odin Himself, out of true.
Likewise, the Gods have the right to command us. We are not above Them in the cosmic order. Point 2 is really about acknowledging the cosmic order, the divine architecture and the hierarchy therein. That hierarchy does not place humans at its top. That is a relief! There is something, many Somethings greater than we, Who had a hand in our creation, Who recognize us as part of Their work and what a lovely and beautiful thing that is. We are, however, still a religion of converts and many people come to our traditions having been deeply scarred by their birth religions and upbringings. Sometimes even the words of devotion: ‘prayer,’ ‘piety,’ ‘adoration,’ ‘worship,’ the word ‘devotion’ itself…cause pain. It can be agonizing to recognize a hierarchy that in impious hands has been used to condemn and to shame. All I can say here is that these things should be a comfort, a connection, a joyous homecoming and I am so very sorry that anyone ever used them to cause pain. That is not what piety or the Gods, inasmuch as I understand Them, are ever about. Be gentle with yourselves and each other and work devotionally where you can work. Trust yourself and trust, if you can, the Holy Powers in Their ability to restore to rightness the spiritual connections and bonds that have been severed by such abuse.
Returning to my original point about #1 and 2, the Gods exist, and we are, if we are piously oriented, in fealty to Them. They become our center, our axis mundi. It is around this sacred point that all else is oriented. That nourishes and strengthens *everything*. If we are properly aligned with our Holy Powers, then that should have an effect on how we move in the world. It changes everything and for the better.
I think point 4 speaks for itself and I’ve already touched on it anyway. I’ll post more as I think about this more. I welcome readers’ thoughts.
I was shocked this morning to learn that Heathen elder Stephen Grundy (June 28, 1967 – Sept 29, 2021) passed away on September 29 of a sudden heart attack. Some of you may know him from his works “Teutonic Religion” and “Teutonic Magic” as well as his long-standing involvement in The Troth. A full bio/obit may be found here.
May his journey to his ancestors be swift. May he be met with joy and celebration. May he eat honey out of their hands. Hail to him and my deepest condolences to his family.
I think this is a beautiful ministry. I’m so glad that T.P. Ward posted about it here and I encourage you to head over and read the full article.
Rescuing American flags from display and releasing them by retirement is an activity I take up in service to the spirits of this country. It’s my belief that these flags are infused with an amalgam of a great many spirits of this land, not just the ones connected to colonists and their descendants. I know that there are others who see things differently.
This flag was flown continuously over a machine shop for as long as a year, before I offered to replace it. To respect a flag is to inspect a flag, after bringing it in before dark, and repairing any damage. Flags require care, as do any spirits.
This flag haunted me for many days before I was finally able to free it from its bondage. During my mother’s final days of life, I traveled to visit nearly every day; the trip takes about two hours. I would…
View original post 591 more words