To my British fans, today (January 25, 2020) is the UK release of A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations & Mysteries of the Northern Tradition from my publisher Red Wheel / Weiser Books! Some of you were impatient and imported the book already, for the rest of you, happy book release day!
The book takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions (2005) as a foundation and significantly expands upon it with more than 70,000 words of new material especially on devotional work, honoring the ancestors, and theological exegesis. It’s basically twice the word heft of its predecessor!
What the Back Copy Says:
An accessible yet in-depth guide to this increasingly popular pre-Christian religious tradition of Northern Europe
Heathenry, is one of the fastest growing polytheistic religious movements in the United States today. This book explores the cosmology, values, ethics, and rituals practiced by modern heathens.
In A Modern Guide to Heathenry readers will have the opportunity to explore the sacred stories of the various heathen gods like Odin, Frigga, Freya, and Thor and will be granted a look into the devotional practices of modern votaries. Blóts, the most common devotional rites, are examined in rich detail with examples given for personal use. Additionally, readers are introduced to the concept of wyrd, or fate, so integral to the heathen worldview.
Unlike many books on heathenry, this one is not denomination-specific, nor does it seek to overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon or Norse terminology. For Pagans who wish to learn more about the Norse deities or those who are new to heathenry or who are simply interested in learning about this unique religion, A Modern Guide to Heathenry is the perfect introduction. Those who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work as well.
Available For Purchase from these and other booksellers
I knew that in some areas, St. Michael was syncretized with Apollo but had no idea Michael was also syncretized with Odin. wow. (and it always amuses me that when Odin and Frigga — it’s Frigga here, not Freyja– go up against each other, He loses. ^___^).
On a slightly related note, I was having a conversation with someone about the Hebrew meaning of St. Michael’s name: “Who is like God?” It occurred to me that, in the Archangel responsible for leading the armies of heaven against evil angels, that it’s not a simple question. Rather, it’s a challenge: Who dares to think he is like God? Who dares to raise himself up to that level? It ‘s an exhortation to piety, humility, reverence, and respect.
so here is my final question, partly tongue in cheek, but partly serious. There’s a grotto in a cave in Italy that is sacred to St. Michael. was that originally a shrine to Apollo, to Odin, or licitly to Michael? *G* Inquiring minds and all that shit.
Paulus Diaconus in his Historia Langobardorumdiscusses how in the course of their migration from Scandinavia to Northern Italy a Germanic tribe changed their name from Wandals to Lombards, due to a contest of wits between the Gods Godan and Frea.
8. At this point, the men of old tell a silly story that the Wandals coming to Godan besought him for victory over the Winnili and that he answered that he would give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise; that then Gambara went to Frea wife of Godan and asked for victory for the Winnili, and that Frea gave her counsel that the women of the Winnili should take down their hair and arrange it upon the face like a beard, and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands and in like manner station themselves to be seen by Godan…
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I just ran into a “scholar” on twitter (it was I passing and I don’t recall his handle) who said “well, they” meaning polytheisms “weren’t contemporary for very long. Christianity took care of that. They were very successful.” Um…as I did in response to twitter, let me explain how Christianity took care of it: by first passing religiously restrictive laws, then eventually (usually sooner rather than later) butchering religious practitioners, desecrating sacred spaces, destroying holy objects, spreading like a pollution over the land via intimidation (backed by military force), violence, bloodshed, the martyrdom of devout polytheists, destroying temples, and cultural and religious genocide. They’re still doing it (India, Brasil, Haiti, various countries in Africa, anywhere they think they can get away with it). You know what though? We’re still here. Polytheism is still here. We’re growing. We never disappeared fully so Christianity was not as successful as it thinks it was. It did not win. So, you, dear scholar, can suck it.
Seriously, it’s gross to be gloating about the effects on real bodies, real people, real traditions, real places of colonialism, conquest, and genocide. Toward no other group would this be acceptable.
I grew up amongst my maternal kin. Rather, I should say, I grew up amongst the Shoff and Heffner descendants. There wasn’t much awareness of continuity or genealogy in the immediate family – for instance I was in my forties before I realized my great grandfather and great-great grandmother were buried not 20 minutes from my childhood home—and with one exception, my maternal grandmother’s children seem to want to cut themselves off from their heritage. There’s something emotionally unsettled and rootless in them, a brittleness that I put down to that conscious abrogation of their ancestry. I could speculate on why they feel that way, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Rather I’d like to focus on connection.
There is a cemetery, St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran in Chanceford Twnship, PA where I am related to 98% of the inhabitants and if I looked closely enough, I could probably find connections to the remaining 2% as well. So many of my direct descendants are there. Visiting was overwhelming. I’ve been to cemeteries before where I had one or two relatives buried but never six+ generations of my maternal line! It was one of the richest and yet most disorienting moments I’ve ever had in my genealogy work! I sank down in the grass in front of my great, great, great grandparents’ (Elizabeth Oberlander and Jesse Runkle) stones and it felt like a homecoming. I wanted to stay there for hours and hours.
My friend MAG was with me (she took the picture of the cemetery shown here) and helped me to stay focused. She’s a good handler lol! It was blistering hot and all I could think of was finding relatives but she made sure I stayed hydrated and kept an eye on me as I staggered from grave to grave. She was a trooper too. When we started out, we knew the cemetery was off route 425 but not the exact address. When we found it after about an hour of driving around, the sense of “this one is mine” was so strong it knocked the breath out of me. (I found this page, by a librarian and genealogist talking about the cemetery for those interested).
My third great grandparents are there, second great grandparents, my second cousin twice removed who died in WWI, his parents, assorted Revolutionary and Civil War dead to whom I’m related. There’s a list of the burials MAG found as I was staggering through the cemetery and when I started reading through it, I think all I could say over and over was ‘Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods.” Shoffs, Runkles, Oberlanders, Heffners, Smeltzers oh my. (Even as I typed this up I went off on a genealogical expedition through cemetery records. I had to stop myself lol).
Not belonging to an Abrahamic religion, I often ponder the fact that we have no universal “holy land” comparable to what Jerusalem is for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. One could say that all land is holy to us but that, I think, is a cop out. This cemetery is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a place that felt holy on an inter-generational level, on a deeply sacred level and it was a joy.
For Heathens, this is one of our holy symbols. It may, in fact, be our holiest of symbols and it’s certainly the one that the majority of us wear to indicate that we are Heathen (in much the same way a Christian might wear a cross or a Jewish person a star of David) (1). I’ve been meditating a lot on what the Hammer means, especially since it seems I cannot wear it these days without questions and occasionally direct hostility. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this gift, crafted by the duergar, given by Loki, wielded by Thor for the good of the worlds is the most important symbol we will ever bear.
Thor is a God Who brings holiness. There is nothing foul or polluted, wicked or spiritually wrong that He cannot conquer. He renders His protection without contract or stipulation. For this reason, He is called “Friend of Man.” More than any other God, He watches over Midgard – the human world, our world – ensuring that it maintains its integrity (despite our own depredations of our home). He travels with Loki, the God most gifted at finding loopholes. I think this is particularly important. I think that very special care must be taken when the Gods act directly in our world, that doing so promiscuously threatens to weaken the very scaffolding They seek to maintain, and perhaps Loki is Thor’s favorite traveling companion because between the Two of Them, They can find all those loopholes too, never missing an opportunity to drive back evil and entropy threatening existence (2).
I often think that Thor is one of the Gods most often underestimated. Despite one of His by-names being “Deep-Minded,” despite the fact that He is the Son of Odin, despite the fact that He is the son of the earth (Fjorgyn), the Goddess Who provides all we need to sustain our world, He’s quite often dismissed as … a dumb jock. He’s pigeon-holed in a way that I also see with Goddesses like Freya. We reduce Him in our minds to a one-dimensional character in a book. I don’t think this is purposeful or intentionally disrespectful, I think it’s what we’ve been programmed to do by popular culture, by the way our Gods are treated in academic writing, by the way they’re treated in comparative lit., and by the way They were treated by the working-class founders of American Heathenry. But our Gods are not characters in a set of stories. They are living Holy Powers, Immortal Beings, the Creators of our very existence and the space in which it plays out.
Consider a few of His by-names (heiti ): Atli (The Terrible), Einriði (One Who rules alone – in other words, I interpret this to mean that He is more than capable in and of Himself of purifying and rendering holy, and carries the blessing of the sovereignty of the land through his Mother), Harðhugaðr (strong spirit, fierce soul), Rymr (noise, which makes me think of how sound, like rattles, drums, bells, chanting, etc. is often used to clear spiritual pollution and purify people, places, and things), and last but not least Veurr (Hallower, Guardian of the shrine). Thor hallows. Wherever He is, whatever He touches, wherever He chooses to make Himself manifest, there He hallows and in hallowing creates space where the enemies of the Gods simply cannot exist.
Thor’s hammer, then, is a sign that the Gods are engaged with us in the ongoing process of creation. It is a sign that They guard us, that Thor girds the world against dissolution, against entropy, against all that would threaten the cosmic and divine architecture. Like His mother, Thor provides. He sustains. Like His Father, He battles back the enemies of the Gods. Like He, Himself alone, He renders holy those places He has been, those spaces through which He has passed. When we wear the Thor’s hammer, we are signaling that we too are aligned with divine order. We are signaling that we stand with Him in maintaining, protecting, and most of all nourishing that which the Gods have created.
So, wear the hammer proudly. When people ask you about it, or the ruder ones challenge you for wearing it, explain exactly what it means and hold your ground. We must not give up a single inch of space, not in mind, not in body, and not in soul. That hammer signifies that we are hallowed ground, reclaimed, rededicated, consecrated to our Gods, committed to Thor’s protection. Wear it proudly, wear it mindfully, and every time you touch it, give thanks to this God Who sustains His Father’s creation.
- Some Scandinavians will wear it as a cultural symbol and then of course it’s endlessly misappropriated by individuals who have no faith in the Gods, but you see the same thing with other religions’ symbols too, at least the latter use by the godless.
- I think there are cosmic rules that the Gods adhere to, blocking how directly They may act in our world. This is hinted at most fully in the Homeric corpus but I believe it holds true amongst our Gods as well, that the more they violate those structures They Themselves have put into place, not only the more They weaken the cosmic architecture, but more importantly, They provide openings for the Nameless, that unnamed force – the Kemetics called it Isfet, Native Americans had different names for it – that ever hates and threatens divine creation to also come in. I think there’s a cosmic détente and no God is better at finding ways to act without violating that détente than Loki.
“Monotheism is a disease of the soul, and even the kindest, most open minded Monotheist who finds the idea of forced conversion ghastly is still a carrier for spiritual plague. I have friends and family who are Monotheists who I love dearly, but I never let myself forget that they are infected and see the spread of their infection as both good and necessary. As decent moral people we should respond to kindness with kindness, but we should also never forget that at its core, Monotheism desires death to all other religions.”
This is a very good article on the desecration of Thor’s sacred Tree by Boniface.
This man was a piece of shit. He did his desecration backed by the military forces of Charles Martel (I believe it was Martel.). In case you’ve always wondered why the Heathens didn’t fight him — the asshole had an army present and protecting him. There is a similar story of St. Martin of Tours. Both accounts read as though the “saint” were alone when they destroyed the shrines. No one mentions the armed, Christian military force also present.
Now hagiography is not history but i think sometimes we have to look at these depredations – religious and cultural genocide– as an accurate portrayal of how our polytheistic ancestors were reduced to a subaltern people and then their religious traditions erased: at the end of an ax blade and a bible.
I’d like to see that statue that marks the spot where Boniface acted put to the ax. and in general, it’s about time we polytheists were the ones bearing the axes in defense of our traditions because while there are good Christians who would be horrified by such actions as Boniface represents, there are also those like the evangelicals in Brasil, who are murdering pious priests and practitioners of Candomble when the latter won’t desecrate their shrines. Monotheistic barbarism continues.
And this type of desecration of sacred places, what monotheism did in its spread across europe was religious and cultural genocide. It starts with trees and ends with people as any study of Charlemagne’s war on the Saxons shows.
Don’t think this is one bit different from what the Taliban did to those Buddhist statues. It’s the same psychopathic impulse embedded in monotheism. Monotheism isn’t just the belief in one deity, it’s the eradication of all others.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims should absolutely have clean space to practice their religions to the best of their ability. Everyone should love and honor their Gods as best as they possibly can; however, the moment they start encroaching into polytheistic spaces, we need to rise up in defense of our Gods, traditions, and ancestors with pen, paintbrush, or ax, if the situation requires. Because now, as in the time of Boniface, shrines are being desecrated and polytheists are dying.
A very good post about the relationship of temples to towns, and towns and communities to inter-generational survival of our traditions. Read it here.
One of the prompts for this particular week on the official facebook page for this project asks if there is an occupation that seems to recur in one’s family tree. Ironically, there is and it’s one that I myself am pursuing too: theologian/clergy.
On my maternal line (through her father), my 7thgreat grandfather is Alexander Underwood (1688-1767), a Quaker minister who settled in Pennsylvania. I’ve actually been in the Meeting House that he helped to build in Warrington Township. He was apparently very prominent in his community and travelled frequently to help build up Quaker communities in the colonies. (Warrington Meeting House — my photo).
I’m descended through his daughter Ann Underwood, who married Stephen Ailes. Their son Stephen Ailes (1750-1828) and his wife Elizabeth Swayne (1751-1820) had a son Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) – my family has never been overly creative with naming their children lol. It’s a pain in the ass as a genealogist—who married Sarah Byland (1773-1830) had a daughter Esther Ailes (1798-1887) who married James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874) and their son Stephen John Hanna (1832-1897) was my great great grandfather. I’ve been able to visit his grave and the graves of his wife Elizabeth Johnson, their son Perry Hanna, and his son, my grandfather Roland Hanna within the past couple of years. It looks like Stephen John Hanna was a farmer primarily (quite common on both sides of my family as well).
Also on my maternal line (this time through her mother), theologian and mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) is my 11thgreat grandfather. This was really exciting when I discovered this. He was considered rather controversial in his time but had tremendous influence on German romanticism. He was trained as a shoemaker but read extensively, becoming effectively self-taught. He was a visionary and mystic and wrote extensively on various theological topics like angels, theodicy, and theological anthropology. He wrote several books including “Forty Questions on the soul,” “The Incarnation of Jesus Christ,” “The Six Mystical Points,” “The Signature of All Things,” and “On Election to Grace.” His work is still in print today. He engaged with leading clergy of his day and also leading religious controversies. There are strong Platonic elements in his work. His work also birthed a theosophical religious movement called Behmenism (an English corruption of his name) which influenced Romantic poets and artists including William Blake.
So, I am descended from Jakob Boehme through his son Jakob Boehm (1599-1670) –there was no regulated spelling of names until the early 20thcentury, so I tend to alternate spellings depending on the document with which I’m dealing. He had a son also Jacob Boehme (1643-1734) who married Barbara Karrer (1637-1737) and they had a son also named Jacob (1668-1692) who married Anna Marie Sherer (1671-1750) and they had a son of the same name (1693-1781) who married Barbara Kendig (1695-1780). They were my immigrant ancestors on this particular line, coming to Pennsylvania in the 18thcentury, and they had a daughter Magdalena (1738-1804). She married Frederick Shoff (1732-1800), himself an immigrant from the Palatine and they had a son Jacob Shoff (1765-1838). He married Nancy Hess (1775-1810) and by this time that particularly family line was already well ensconced in Chanceford township in PA (there’s a Lutheran graveyard there where I’m literally related to 98% of the inhabitants and If I looked hard enough, I’m pretty sure I am probably related to the other 2% by marriage!). It looks like by he and his father were too young and too old respectively to have fought in the American Revolution (I have other maternal relatives who did that). Anyway, their son David Shoff (1800-1881) married Barbara Smeltzer (1801-1844). Their son Christian Shoff (1815 – ?) married Catherine Markley (1793-1859). He fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. His son Rudolph Reuben Shoff (1842-1886) married Mary Jane Adams (1846-1936) and their son Hugh Clay Shoff (1873-1957) married Lucinda Alice Heffner (1875-1952). They are my maternal great grandparents. Their daughter Linnie May Shoff (1909-1987) married Roland Isaac Hanna (1903-1991) though they later divorced. Their daughter Mary Ann (1947-2012) is my biological mother. Whew!(Linnie Hanna as a young woman, c. 16).
Throughout the line, at least through my great-grandparents’ generation, there has always been a strong thread of interest in things spiritual. My great-grandfather’s sister, if my grandmother’s stories are correct (and given some of what I learned from her and later researched and checked, I think they are) was a spiritualist of some note in the family. My great-grandmother was apparently “very, very spiritual” (as far as her grandchildren’s accounts go). My grandmother herself was a mystic and visionary – I know that from my own time with her– and it’s from her that I learned the importance of devotion and prayer. I myself have been a priest within my religious tradition for almost 30 years (a terrifying thought lol) and I’m pursuing a PhD in theology.
Likewise, lest I forget to mention them, also on my maternal line, we’re descended from Huegenots who immigrated rather than betray their religious principles. We also had several Swiss immigrants who were Mennonites. I’ll admit to having little patience with Protestantism (I’d rather deal with converts from Catholicism any day in our tradition, since there are elements of prayer, devotion, and shrine work that seem to come easier to them and the Protestant focus on the written word has had problematic influence in my own polytheistic tradition) but I’m proud that my ancestors would not be swayed from what their conscience at the time dictated.
Basically, I’m descended from a long line of people who had no problem stirring the religious pot and causing trouble and I’m happy to say I uphold that particular family tradition proudly. Lol.
Love this song. It calls the ancestors for me like nothing else, our polytheistic ancestors the ones steeped in their traditions. the rhythms are the ones for calling the dead. five minutes of this and i’m there: ready to pound the earth, pour out offerings, and bring the dead to life again.