Honor the land, honor the dead

I found this while sorting through some older writing. I’m reposting it because it’s so incredibly relevant to some of the work I’m doing now. 


Some friends were having a discussion with Sannion last night and as I was passing through (swamped with preparations for my upcoming trip), he mentioned one of the things they were discussing and it just blew me away. This is so spot on, so powerful, so incredibly profound that I, half way upstairs, stopped dead in my tracks and asked everyone’s permission to write about it here. (Obviously they graciously allowed me to do so, or I wouldn’t be posting this!).

The latest issue of Walking the Worlds discusses the importance of regional cultus to the restoration of our polytheisms. We talk about regional cultus a lot but I don’t think many of us (myself included) ever really stop to parse it out or to figure out how all of the various parts of our praxis are organically (no pun intended, I swear!) connected. Part of regional cultus is venerating the land spirits, what a Norse practitioner might call vaettir. Hand in hand with this goes a certain reverence for the land and the spaces in which we practice, which support our practice, be they cities or forests or anything in between. This is good. I think honoring the land is the third part of a very powerful trine of Gods, ancestors, and land that is foundational to polytheism as a whole. But I don’t think many of us take this any farther. My friends did and I’m still just blown away.

Essentially when you are honoring the land, over and above any individual spirits you may be engaging with, when we just talk about the soil itself, you’re honoring the dead. You cannot engage in regional cultus, you cannot really honor any piece of land, without also recognizing and honoring the dead. Why? This is basic to the way both geology and ancestor practice works. The dead are always with us, underpinning everything we are and everything we do. The Yoruba have a powerful maxim: “we stand on the shoulders of our dead,” or sometimes “we stand on the bones of our dead.” Well, we do. Literally.

What is soil but eons of dead matter? Many of us in the Northern Tradition praise the forces of decay because without decay and rot, without this process of transmutation what would our world be? With the grace of the gods and spirits of decay and rot, we have soil, soil made up of dead bodies, dead animals, dead plants, going all the way back to the beginning. We quite literally walk and live upon the remains of our dead and we are nourished by it physically just as ancestor work nourishes us spiritually. There is nowhere we can walk where the dead are not. There is nothing we can consume, that has not partaken of this blessing of death and decay (unless it is solely processed in a lab and then I don’t want to be consuming it!). All that grows in the soil and everything that devours that which grows in the soil, and all who devour those things…we are all physically nourished by our dead and in time our corporeal matter will fade into the blackness of the soil to nourish those who come after us in turn. I have said before that there is more life in a teaspoon of soil than in the greatest metropolis on earth and that is true, but in the soil itself, there is also more death. The two cannot be sifted apart.

We as polytheists and animists know that we are not apart from the natural world. We are in harmony with it (or strive to be). We are connected to all things that were and are and will be. The detritus of a small dead plant is as much part and parcel of our tapestry of being as those buried in a cemetery to whom we might be related by blood. We are literally made up of the dead. The soil is the stuff of our blood and bone. It’s all interconnected.


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About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on October 4, 2017, in Ancestor Work, Ancestors, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Kelli of Dancing Goddess Dolls wrote as a description of one the dolls, she was selling:

    This is an Armenian Earth Goddess named Spandaramet, and what I loved about her when I “met” her is that the fertility of the soil is all  blended up with the resting place of our beloved dead. These two ideas  are generally so separate, that of fertility/new life and decay/end of  life, but of course they are all part of the same cyclical dance, and I  just love that it all comes together in Spandaramet.

    Thought you might want to know about this Goddess.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the Roman (Latin) etymology of cultus tells us a great deal also about the subject of polytheism that applies to most, if not all, regions. The root verb of the verb is colo, which can mean the following,

    -till (hence working the land, or at least associating with it closely)
    -inhabit (hence living within a physical and natural region with our community)
    -care for, tend to (hence sharing what is good and benefiting the community, natural environment, etc.)
    -honor, revere (hence worshiping the Gods and following our ancestors, i.e. cult)

    These all connect very neatly with the word culture, which derived from the Latin cultura, or cultivation, which literally applies to agriculture, but also metaphorically to improvement and refinement. Polytheism is therefore, in many ways, a cultural mode of religion, the original and natural mode, evolving from animism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard polytheists praise natural burials and the process of decay; becoming one with the earth so I wonder what the theological reasons for mummification and other forms of long term body preservation in some ancient polytheistic societies were.


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