Monthly Archives: October 2020
This morning we put our vegetable garden to sleep. We gathered what I think is likely to be our last harvest this season (I still have a few onions not quite ready to be picked). We have our greenhouse up and running so hopefully we’ll have tomatoes, peppers, culinary herbs, and greens through the winter, but even so, for the first year we did this, our garden produced an amazing amount of produce. I am grateful to all the Gods of the land and harvest. (We even got a small handful of perfect figs from our trees, which I placed in offering on Ceres’ shrine as a gift of first fruits).
This will be short, because today is a very full day of rituals. We honor the Aventine Triad every full moon, various vaettirand the fair folk receive offerings, and we’re also going to be going our ancestor ritual tonight AND making special offerings to Mani (separately). Today will be hopping and I’m just starting to get myself ready to go out to make the first of the offerings.
To give a quick recap, on Thursday, we did a rite to honor our Disir, our female dead. That was unexpectedly moving. It’s funny, because I always find the Disir to be somewhat more protocol heavy than male ancestors, yet despite wanting us to “dot our I’s and cross our t’s,” as the saying goes, they always seem to dig deeply down into our hearts and wrench out raw emotion. Also, there are things the male dead wanted, certain prayers, in which the women had almost no interest. It was interesting to note the flow of things. Yesterday, we made offerings outside to the wandering dead, those who have no one to honor them, and also to our Gods of the dead and the Underworld. Tonight, we’re doing a ritual to honor our collective dead. Tomorrow, we honor our sanctiand martyrs, and then the day after, we visit cemeteries and then that marks the end of our ancestor days. Tuesday after I go vote, I’ll be taking down the offrenda. (As an aside, this year I decided to use a ton of battery operated candles and I love it. While it doesn’t do anything for cleansing and purifying a space – for that one needs actual fire – it does allow me to keep memorial light going throughout this entire week and that has been lovely. I may keep one on my ancestor shrine always lit from here on out).
One of the ways that I often prepare before ancestor rites is to listen to certain songs that have the ancestor rhythms. Certain rhythms call the dead like nothing else and that music will take me down into an altered state very, very quickly. It makes for a particularly nice transition out of mundane headspace and into ritual space for me. Here are two of my favorite. It’s nearly the same rhythm, but the second is harder, more driving and gives one a much harder drop into altered headspace. Anyway, I’m off to prep for rituals. See y’all on the other side.
What a lovely article by Wyrd-dottir on Dia de los muertos traditions. Check it out at the link below.
Living in Texas one cannot deny the growing influence of Day of the Dead celebrations. As the Hispanic population becomes the largest demographic group second only to the Anglicized population here in Texas (and growing strongly in a population boom across the nation), I have begun to notice major retail store chains starting to carry Day of the Dead themed décor.
As a Heathen, I love seeing this ancestral celebration growing in both awareness and popularity, but there are a few things to know before you decide to incorporate the Day of the Dead into your own celebrations. The most important of which is the Day of the Dead is not Mexican Halloween.
The Day of the Dead (or el Día de los Muertos, sometimes simplified to just Dia de Muertos) is a cultural celebration most strongly connected to Mexico (but does appear in other parts of the Americas, especially…
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My household sits down together each Sunday night and does divination for the week. It gives us a guide, shows us where potential spiritual weaknesses are, where we can better focus on the Gods, where we might fall flat –which provides the opportunity to take reparative steps beforehand—and often brings up other issues that are good to know in advance. It helps us prepare and to be more functional and effective during our week. Usually, we just use a lithomancy system and then move on to various sacred sortilege systems as needed but this week, for the bulk of the divination, we were using a system devoted to Frigga. As always, we ask the God’s permission – whichever Deity Whose system we’re using –before closing out the session for the night, and we were told She had more to say. What She said, which was crystal clear through the lines that came up, was unexpectedly all about modesty.
Without going into any specific detail, we had been reading about an issue that might involve greater purity/purification taboos. So, the person in question was facing a potential uptick in their obligations and, since these can be difficult and inconvenient to navigate sometimes, there was concern (1). Frigga answered this by a discourse on modesty. I’ll recap key points here.
Like many of us, my housemate had an automatic connection in her mind between modesty, purity, and sex. I think this is part of the paucity of our language, and also the inheritance from two thousand years of Christianity that positions both modesty and purity specifically (and pretty much only) in the body and sexuality, and particularly in women’s bodies and sexual expression (2). This makes it difficult for us to discuss these things without that shadow impinging on our understanding. The first hurdle was putting aside those presumptions.
In the divination, were told that modesty and purity are essential to proper living. It’s not about sex. One could work as a prostitute and still have massive purity taboos (3). Modesty is about integrity, about reflecting our devotion to the Gods in a way that impacts everything we do in our world. To make sex alone the locus of purity or modesty puts a terrible pressure on these things, unfairly, and colors them in ways that are more damaging than not. Our job is to expand those categories again.
In ancient Rome, there was a Goddess Pudicitia, Who goes hand in hand with the Goddess Pietas. Both of these Holy Powers were so important that Their temples were central to Rome. Their names mean “Modesty” and “Piety” respectively. From Them we learn that purity is integrity of action and behavior. It may include the body, but it’s not about the body alone. Integrity is how we follow our Gods, allowing Their guidance to seep into our lives. Tying purity to the body, to sex alone renders any other outlet for it illicit. It is then granted no purchase in any other sphere. By putting too much weight on sexual purity alone, we go to one extreme or the other because we’re overburdening this one thing. Because of Christianity, purity weighs everything towards reifying sex and then denigrating it. That is not correct, certainly not for us.
Now, of course our body, our dress, our conduct will likely be impacted by our awareness of proper modesty (which will be different for everyone based on their sacred work, their Gods, their tradition, etc.), because it is through the body that we engage with our world. It’s the most obvious and apparent marker of our individuality, our physical presence, our agency. We’re corporeal beings, so of course our corporeality will come into play as we contemplate modesty and purity. It’s important, however, to remember that just because our sense of modesty may be demonstrated through the body, that the body is one of many ways this can be enacted, it’s not solely about the body nor even primarily so. The body is just one physical marker of many in which this virtue might play out. It deserves no more weight than any of the others.
In fact, putting too much emphasis on appearance and dress as markers of modesty or purity is problematic in another way too. It can lead to one appearing to be modest but not actually being so. When we focus on trifles, as a friend of mine once said, we become trifling. It is far better to actually be virtuous (however one defines that) than to seem to be so. Authenticity is crucial in our spiritual endeavors.
We had a lively discussion about these things after the divination concluded, the results of which you see here in this post. One thing I haven’t done here is clearly define either ‘modesty’ or ‘purity.’ This is, in part, because those things will always be shaded by our Gods and traditions and those devotional worlds are different for each of us. For instance, the very things that help me to maintain spiritual purity within my devotions to Odin pollute my friend who is a Freya’s woman. Likewise, the very things that help her to maintain purity, pollute me. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important – at least I think it is—to understand these concepts broadly, leaving room for the Gods to move, act upon, and inspire us in our understanding.
If I had to define it, I’d say that modesty is right conduct, living in a way that best reflects our commitments to the Gods and ancestors. Dictionary definitions often define this as ‘decency of behavior’ and I think that is correct. For us as polytheists, what is ‘decent’ is shaped by our tradition and its values, and the Gods we venerate (4). Purity is remaining free of miasma and keeping ourselves properly receptive to the Holy Powers and Their inspiration. Dictionary definitions include “careful correctness,” “freedom from evil,” and “freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes” (5). Maintaining these things, modesty and purity, means keeping ourselves as closely aligned as possible with the architecture of creation our Gods have crafted and of which we are a part, and as cleanly and closely entrained as is possible for a human to be, in devotion to our Holy Powers.
I really like the idea of “careful correctness,” in part because there is nothing nebulous about that. It puts the locus of agency on the individual both for determining what is correct and then doing it. I think there’s also something about ‘modesty’ that speaks to one’s interior life, interiority of practice but I haven’t yet parsed that out fully. I do know that it starts not with external seeming but with deep, internal compunction to do and be that which is most pleasing to our Gods – whatever that is – and that within our traditions, we have remnants of ways in which to figure that out.
This to the best of my ability, was what we received from Frigga, Sunday evening, October 25, 2020.
- Taboos happen naturally sometimes. One is told by a Deity or simply gets a powerfully strong sense that is later confirmed via divination that an action should be done or not done from here on out. These things are given by the Gods and spirits and I think part of the reason is to help us to cultivate specific aspects of our practice, or as a logical outgrowth of such cultivation. They’re not things to seek out or obsess over. When they happen, they happen. If they don’t, great.
- To be fair, at least as far as the sixth century where I tend to live academically, men are also exhorted to be modest and sexually chaste almost as much as women are. I think problems arose in places where Christian identity came into conflict with Roman identity, the latter of which put a great deal of emphasis on the generative and procreative power of the man. It’s a complicated issue beyond the scope of this brief post, and it got significantly more complicated once Christianity achieved political power with the Edict of Milan.
- I would point out that prostitution can be considered sacred and healing work and in a proper society it would be openly positioned and respected as such.
- It is likely also impacted by whether we are laity or called to specific specialist jobs like priest, diviner, or spirit-worker, etc.
- These are based on definitions proffered by each entry here.
Tonight was the first night of a rather intense ritual cycle. Each October, we hold rituals nightly from October 25 through November 3. We’ve done shorter rites and preparations earlier throughout the week, but tonight was the first big ancestor ritual. It really did feel good to return to this practice. Even though we all honor our ancestors regularly, this type of formal ritual seems long overdue.
Tonight, we specifically honored our male ancestors, naming those we wished to name, honoring groups of our male dead, telling stories, praying with and for them. (Tomorrow we honor our Disir, our female ancestors, Friday is Hela’s feast day, though as tonight, Veles will get his due as well. With so many Slavic dead around in our household, this, I think, was inevitable. Saturday and Sunday are for all our dead, and form the primary focus of our Winternights rite, and then the next few days are for more personal veneration and cemetery work.). I honor the dead as I was taught years and years ago, and this is the form that has become customary in our House.
We kept our ritual very simple, consecrating space with fire, praying to the ancestors as a whole, praying to Hela, pouring out offerings, offering an unexpected prayer to Veles because He was suddenly so very present and the Slavic ancestors really wanted Him honored, pouring out offerings, then prostrating to the dead, telling their stories, saying their names. This year we incorporated a simple symbel (a ritual where the horn is passed around three times and ancestors and Gods hailed). I have a novice training to become a gythia (priest), so taking this ritual slowly and simply allowed me to really delve into each of the constituent parts with her. It was a surprisingly powerful rite.
Tomorrow, we repeat the whole thing again for our female ancestors. What a motley crew we are in this House, ancestors from every corner of the world, and it is wonderful. May they all ever be hailed. For those of you who celebrate at this time, what do you have planned?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Thor lately. In the Himiskviða and, I believe the Voluspa, He is given the epithet Vèurr, which means “Hallower,” i.e. One who hallows, One who makes something holy. A variant of this epithet, with roughly the same meaning is Víurðr (Defender of the shrine).Thor is also the Defender (or by some translations, Keeper or Protector – all are correct) of Midgard. He girds our world against destruction and dissolution. I’ve been pondering these particular heiti since someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, which of our Gods I would invoke should I ever need to perform an exorcism. Since then, I’ve also been working prayers to Thor specifically calling upon Him as Vèurr into our near-nightly prayer regimen. It’s been enlightening.
I will speak first to the way my sensorium interprets His presence when He is called thusly. When He comes there is a force, a fullness, a weight, a Power, a Presence. At the same time, if there was pollution and/or miasma present, it dissipates and the room visually lightens (it seems to grow cleaner and above all else brighter and sharper). In tandem with this, His presence is a comfort and while there is an enormity and sometimes even a ferocity to it, that is never – that I have yet encountered—directed toward us, but toward that which threatens, toward malignancy and pollution. Like all our Gods, His Presence carries with it its own rhythm and vibrancy too and a in Thor’s case, a sense of deep groundedness.
Thor has a number of heiti, and I’m sure that modern devotees have added even more to the traditional list. When Thor comes as Vèurr though, what specifically does that mean? I mentioned in my creation article part 2 that epithets are important. They are lenses through which the Gods reveal something of Themselves, lenses through which They may act in our lives and in the world. To use a particular epithet is to petition the Deity in question to reveal Him or Herself in a particular way, to petition Them to act by means of a particular role – to come wielding this type of power and not that type (to come as one Who hallows for instance with all that may entail, and not as God of fertility or storm God or God of X.). It’s never meant to limit a Deity – we do not have that power nor should we seek it – but it allows us a cognitive lens by which we are better able to connect devotionally, to seek understanding, and to engage in effective veneration.
What does it mean for something to be holy? Our modern English word comes from the Old English word halig– to be whole. It’s also related to the Old norse heilagr (1). This word has a rich meaning not only of holy, but of ‘invulnerable, belonging or destined for the Gods (and therefore treated with proper reverence), sacred (2). So for our ancestors, holiness was directly connected to health, well-being, good luck, and integrity (in the sense of wholeness, proper integrity of a being or thing) (3).
To be holy is to be, again according to its etymology, godly (4). What does this mean? I interpret this as a call to reify and align ourselves with the divine order of creation. To be holy is about integrity of the spirit, heart, and mind, and in this context, that integrity means being properly aligned with the architecture the Gods have created, an architecture of which we are a part. To be “godly” for us as human beings (who have been carefully crafted by our Gods and imbued with certain inherent gifts that enable us to move in, experience, and effect the world), is to behave in a way that reflects our connection to the Gods, to reflect to the best of our ability, the connection via Their creation of us and the gifts given therein. Moreover, and more importantly: the Gods created the scaffolding of creation. They set it in order and continually work to maintain it (5). If we are “godly,” then recognizing that order and doing our own part to maintain it (through our devotion, through the way we move in the world, through piety, through cultivating formation of our spirits, through cultivating virtue congruent with how our Gods would have us move in the world) is part of that too.
To hallow then, means to restore a person, place, or thing to a state of holiness, i.e. to drive out any pollution and restore the ontological integrity of the person/place/thing vis-à-vis the unfolding of that divinely crafted architecture. With these specific praise names for Thor, (Vèurr and Víurðr), what is this work of hallowing? It is the work of rendering something congruent with that original, primordial order that our creator Gods established, bringing it into the attention of a God, and determining its proper place (6). I think this ties in, partly, to all the stories we have of Thor fighting forces of chaos, or various Jötnar because this highlights that it’s not always engaging with something because it is malignant or evil – I don’t believe the Jötnar are evil – but rather preventing disruption of divine order. Thor restores that order by restoring the proper place of things. He rebalances. Of course with what is malignant or evil, well, then He may choose to eradicate and cleanse, rendering holiness by removing its opposite (7).
I think it’s worth asking too when He is hailed as “Guardian of the shrine,” what does that specifically entail? What is a shrine and what happens there? It is the heart of community or personal worship. A shrine is a doorway for the Gods, a place to honor Them, a place to experience Them. It is a seat of honor, property, real-estate belonging to the God or Gods in question for Whom the shrine has been made. It is a visual representation not only of devotion and veneration but also of liturgy and tradition, especially tradition. Just as one consciously aligns oneself with divine order to become holy (deepening that ever as we are able), so too a shrine makes that statement externally, visually. It becomes a place of full sensory experience of that from which holiness comes: i.e. the Reginn (8). It becomes a mediator for our experience and for the history, the present experience, and the future of our traditions, particularly the individual cultic traditions of a particular God or Goddess. Thor preserves that. This tells us that these things are crucial and worth preserving.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Thor in the future but in the meantime, here are two briefer pieces that I’ve written over the last couple of years on this wondrous God. You can read those here and here. They mostly discuss the meaning behind His most well-known attribute: Mjölnir.
- See entry for ‘holy’ here https://www.etymonline.com/word/holy
- See p. 92 and the definition of heilagr in A Glossary to the Poetic Edda (translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Worterburch by students at the University of Victoria), 1987. Personally, I think that a difference could and maybe even should be parsed out between ‘holy’ and ‘sacred,’ but that is a bit beyond the scope of this post.
- We could, of course, argue that this would include being properly ordered ethically and morally in a way that articulates and advances the divine order and architecture that the Gods have set into motion, in addition of course to physical and perhaps even cognitive integrity.
- See footnote 1.
- Hence Odin’s constant search for knowledge, or Thor and Loki’s various journeys throughout the worlds. Hence, Their engagement with us via the conduit of ongoing devotion. By engaging with us, They are engaging with the world, and that engagement presupposes to my mind, the obligation for us to reflect in our own lives, work, interiority of faith, and exteriority of praxis, what the Gods Themselves give, reveal, and pour forth into our world through our cognition of and veneration of Them and moreover, how we can assist in Their project.
- Of course, when we are talking about sacred things or holy things, there is also an element of imbuing spaces, places, people, and things with the positive contagion of divine awareness…though as I write this, more and more, I think making something holy is really about restoring its full place in the divine architecture, waking it up to its place and everything that naturally flows from that. It’s a shift in awareness, and in the construction of being.
- Part of this process is also making a person, place, or thing inhospitable to the unholy, the malignant, the wicked. What is imbued with the force of a God, what is in proper ordered alignment with the divine architecture is not a place where evil can be present. That is not to say it will not try to find purchase, or to induce us to move out of that holy alignment. I think evil in whatever capacity it presents itself will do all those things and more. Here’s the thing though, and it’s a crucial thing. As John Cassian said in his Conferences, particularly in Conference VII, evil spirits, wicked spirits, and other malignant things have only the access we give them. The necessary component to devotional integrity is learning how to avoid providing that access.
- Reginn is an Old Norse term for Holy Powers.
I occasionally will write prayers on commission for folks. It’s one of the services I offer at my etsy shop. I want to share several of the more recent ones that I have done, though none of these Deities form part of my own personal devotion. I also want to share a little bit about my process in preparing for and writing these devotional pieces, especially those Deities to Whom I don’t have any personal devotion.
It can take me some time to write these prayers. First, I like to spend a few days reading up on and meditating upon the Deity in question. Sometimes insights will come to me through this – often through contemplation of particular epithets of the Deity—that I’ll later work into the finished prayer. I usually set up a small, temporary shrine and make nightly prayers, not rushing but taking time as I would with any prayer cycle. I make small offerings – nothing excessive but usually flowers or incense, fresh water, or alcohol where it is appropriate. I make sure to cleanse before approaching the shrine – especially if I do not know the traditional protocols around that Deity’s cultic practices. Some Deities desire stronger purificatory protocols than Others. Usually that takes about two weeks and then I will look up as complete a list of the epithets of that Deity as I can find and I’ll pray for inspiration, make another small offering, sit down and write the prayer.
Over the past month, I’ve had several commissions so I want to share the last three that I wrote. I like the way they turned out, and the first, to Imhotep, reminded me of one of the first Kemetic Deities that I ever honored after Sekhmet. I had forgotten how intrigued I once was by Him but it’s only now, writing for someone devoted to Him, that the devotional connection opened up. I am grateful for the momentary grace. (If any one of my readers honors Imhotep, feel free to comment below. I would love to hear a bit about your practices).
Prayer to Imhotep
By Galina Krasskova
(For C. for personal use only)
[Before praying, cleanse yourself ritually, even if only by a token washing of the hands and face. If you can, set out a glass of water in offering, to be discarded later respectfully. Water is the most basic of offerings and almost always appropriate).
Hail to You, Architect of Peace.
Hail to You, great and wise Physician.
You, Imhotep – come in peace, I pray!
Great servant of Ra,
You are a conduit for His healing rays.
You good God, restore balance and health.
I pray You turn Your benevolent gaze upon me,
my household, my land, and those dear to my heart.
Restore us and protect us from all iniquity,
as You ever restore the richness of the red and black land
Oh, Wisest of Physicians,
both firm and gentle in Your counsel,
hear my petition I pray.
Restore my ka.
Protect my ka.
Ward me from all evil.
Refresh my soul with Your healing waters.
Stretch Your hands over me, oh sweet and gracious God.
Bring my soul into alignment with Ma’at.
Bring my will into alignment with the will of the Gods.
Bring me, heart and mind, body and spirit
into the true health of reverence,
and let me never falter in my devotion.
You, Who are patron of scribes,
teach me to write the names of my Gods
immutably and always on the walls of my heart.
You, Who are patron of architects,
may my heart ever be ordered and aligned
to the ways of goodness, industry, and virtue.
You, Who are patron of mathematics,
teach me to know my part,
in the harmony of creation.
You, Who are patron of medicine,
may my hands bring healing to my world.
Beloved of Thoth,
Beloved of Ra,
Beloved of Ptah,
Beloved of Sekhmet,
Friend of Asklepios,
Counselor to Kings,
Bless our growth as You bless the rising of the Nile.
You Who were the best of temple priests,
guide us in our devotions.
That which comes from Your hands is good.
Please lay those healing hands,
upon the body of our souls,
that we may learn always,
to walk in reverence.
You are preceded by the ibis bird
and holiness follows in Your wake.
All the souls of those buried
at the holy land of Saqqara praise you.
Always, I will praise You too.
Come in peace, oh great and wise God,
Come in peace and please, I pray,
bring peace to my world too
Hail to You, Imhotep.
Hail, mighty Healer.
Now, I had never before honored Tawaret. I’m not a mother. I’ve never wanted children (though I like them well enough). I had erroneously thought that was all She was about. Instead, when I began to honor Her now, preparatory to writing this, I discovered a Deity who, like Sekhmet drives back evil, drives back pollution and protects with a fury and fullness of power that nothing unholy would dare to challenge. I may actually be integrating Her into my household veneration, I found myself so moved by the power of Her presence.
Prayer to Taweret By G. Krasskova (for C. for personal use only) copyright 2020 Hail to You, Life-Giver to Gods! Hail oh Goddess, Who nourishes humanity, Hail oh Goddess, Who nourishes us in our humanity. You are the richness of the Nile, the fertility of the rich, black soil, the promise of the endless waters rising and falling, filling the land with abundance. You are fullness: of blessing, of grace, of glory. Please hear my prayer now. You, oh Great One, guarantee the fertility of the land. You are ferocious, even as You nurture and protect. Oh Mistress of the Horizon, Goddess of the Northern Sky, You Who protect the vault of heaven, Who clears the way for the passage of Ra, He Who drives the dawn forward in His boat of Millions of years, raise high the ankh, the symbol of life, above our heads and rain down Your blessings, I pray. Oh terrifying One, You Who take the form of the lion and of the hippopotamus, great horse of the waters (1), You Whose name means ‘Great,’ protect us from evil. Drive out wickedness. Protect us from peril. Wield Your gleaming knife in our defense, and keep us clean of all pollution. You are mighty, and under the great shield of Your protection, no malignancy may find purchase in our hearts. Protect us, I pray, I and my friends, my family, and household, protect our world too from evil in all its forms. Grant us the space, the opportunity, to go to our Gods clean. Grant us the grace that we may always walk rightly in reverence. Oh Great and gracious Taweret, You are the Protector of all young and vulnerable creatures. You protect pregnant women. You protect laboring women. You protect their children too; and where You have turned Your gaze, no evil spirits may enact their evil intent. When you are present in the birthing room, You are a guard and a ward to the laboring woman. The birthing bed is Your sanctuary. You protect us now, and Your care ensures our next generation too. Offerings of milk, I shall bring you, offerings of figs and bread, incense with my head bowed low, for You restore and connect the circle of being, bridging the passage into life and death into life again. As You protect the living, so too You protect the dead. You assist souls in their journey to the gentle embrace of Osiris. You guide their way in rejoining the ancestors, --may they eat honey from the hands of their dead. You restore the soul, --may You wash us all in Your refreshing waters. I praise You as Taweret, (2) Great Lady of the heavens. I praise You as Ipet, and as Reret, for You are the ever-birthing One, restoring the order of heaven and earth through Your labors. Friend of Isis, Friend of Hathor, Friend of Sobek, Preserver of all that is holy, Make us holy too. Let nothing impure or wicked twist the integrity of our souls out of true. May we always be guided in the best ways to honor You and to honor all the Gods in ways pleasing to the heavens. Mistress of pure water, Lady of the birthing house, Lady of heaven, Yours is the power to ward off evil. Friend of Hedjet, Yours is the power to protect the household. Grant us peace, great Goddess. Let us rear our children in peace. Guard our house against evil, and always, turn our hearts to the ways of devotion. Hail to You, Taweret, now and ever. Notes: 1. Hippopotamus is from the Greek for ‘river horse.’ 2. From this point on can be taken out and used as a smaller, shorter, prayer of praise. Two for the price of one. Lol.
Finally, I was asked to write a prayer to Artemis (this was actually the first of the latest three, though I have a few more in queue to do, which I hope to get to this coming week).
Prayer to Artemis (For T., for personal use only). Copyright 2020. I pray to You, most gracious Goddess, and I ask that You hear my prayer. Daughter of Zeus, Daughter of Leto, born radiant with Your prophecy-loving Brother, You are fierce, and none may equal You in the focused fury of the Hunt. Under Your watchful eye, babes are birthed, children thrive, girls grow to adulthood, woodland creatures are nourished, and those who celebrate Your mysteries are protected. May I be nourished too. These things I know: You brook no offense toward Your pious Mother. You brook no violation of Your sacred groves, Your grottos, Your wooded glades, and sacred places. To gaze upon You is a privilege granted to few, yet Your protection is offered to any young girl who needs it, and You guard their integrity like a She-bear with Her cubs. In this, You are unswerving like the arrows You wield so keenly. None dare trespass the boundaries You fiercely lay. Rightly, it brings only woe. You are called Aeginaea, huntress, Weapons-wise with javelin, bow, and every killing tool. You are called Agrotera, blessing the land with the grace of Your hunt. You are called Amarynthus, Apanchomene, and Aristo, because You are supreme in all the arts that are Yours to govern. You are called Astrateia, greater than any amazon; Brauronia, most ancient Goddess, Receiver of Sacrifices, Diktynnaia, the huntress whom none can escape. You are called Chrysaor, golden armed Goddess, and You receive victory dances. You are called Phoebe, Cynthia for the moon, Delia and Limnaea for the land upon which You were born, and a thousand other names drawn from places where You were venerated by those wiser than we. You are the leader of the woodland hoard, Hegemone, and You take maidens and married women alike into Your service, Hymnia, Glorious, You are celebrated throughout Arcadia. You are celebrated throughout the world. You are called locheia, Upis, and women cry Your name when giving birth. Your blessing falls on every child, and woe betide those wishing them harm. You are called always Parthenia, because You will never yield Your liberty to any man. All Who have recourse to You call You Soteira, savior, for Your hand preserves and carries us away from harm. By these and many other names are You known, but today, in this place, and in the secret bower of my heart, I call You Artemis, for this name is sacred, and rings like a trumpet’s blast through all the rough places of my soul, bringing renewal. I thank you, Great and Holy Lady, and ask only this in return: may I serve you well and better each day. May I never do that which would make me ashamed, to place myself in Your presence. May I learn and do all that You would have me do; and in the end, may it be enough. Hail to you, Artemis, Holy One, Child of Zeus, Favored of Your Father. Child of Leto, Beloved of Your Brother. Hail Great Goddess, Beloved by me too. I thank You.
I enjoy doing this type of work. Even if it’s a Deity that I don’t personally venerate, it gives me an opportunity to enter into devotional headspace more carefully than I sometimes do – it’s easy to get into a rhythm with one’s own Gods and that can sometimes lead to cutting corners or becoming careless – taking it for granted. Having to approach a Deity Whose protocols I don’t know keeps me on my toes. It makes the experience fresh again, and that in turn highlights the areas that I need to better in my practice with the Gods I do regularly venerate.
I woke this morning to find an email from Bethany H. asking “Why do you shave your head?” There were other implications in the email that I won’t go into, but I seriously want to thank Bethany for actually asking me outright instead of making stupid assumptions. This has come up occasionally since 2016, including once in a restaurant where my husband nearly had to intervene (I was largely oblivious as to why the person sitting next to us was so agitated.) and Gods know wearing a hammer and runic tattoos these days can lead to rather unpleasant encounters. So, to answer Bethany’s question:
I shave my head as an act of religious piety to honor the military dead. As part of my practice of ancestor veneration, particularly my work as a spirit worker/ancestor worker, in addition to honoring my own personal dead, there are a couple of special groups that I feel vocationally called to tend. One of those is collectively, the military dead and I maintain a separate part of my ancestor shrine for them. About eight or nine years ago, I felt pushed to start shaving my head as part of this work. I consulted divination and was told the choice was mine, but yes, they would like that visible marker of piety.
There was a time years and years ago, where I was bound to keep my hair long, but I suspect – in retrospect – that this was a gentle way of easing me into the idea of physically marking oneself for devotional purposes. That particular requirement was lifted easily more than twenty years ago though, right around the time I was pushed to mark myself with the valknot for Odin. I suppose such bodily choices are a form of conscious “othering,” or at the very least of marking out one’s religious identity visually, and the Northern Tradition is hardly unique in wearing their faith and praxis. I may have to do a separate post on that at some point. I do find that Heathens are more likely than many polytheistic religions to consciously give our body’s real estate to our Gods by way of devotional tattoos and the like. (All of my tattoos are religious, marking initiations, contracts, vows, commitments, and devotion). Some polytheists, some Heathen, some other polytheistic religions, are pushed to cover their heads for their Gods (something I only do when I pray, or occasionally for a brief span of days for purification purposes), some are actually forbidden this. It depends on the Gods, the devotee, the tradition.
The most important thing here is this: don’t assume. You make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. ASK. I will never find an honest question, asked in good faith, offensive. Some may be a bit too personal to answer, but I will always come out and just say that.
Picking up where we left off in Part I, this is the conclusion of my initial inquiry into our creation story. After the Prose Edda, the story is recounted in the Voluspa, stanzas 17-18 (in some versions, the pagination gives this as 18-19):
fundu á landi lítt megandi
Ask ok Emblu örlöglausa.
Ǫnd þau né átto, óð þau né hǫfðo,
lá né læti né lito góða.
Ǫnd gaf Óðinn, óð gaf Hœnir,
lá gaf Lóðurr ok lito góða
…[They] found on land ash and elm,(7)
with little strength, empty of fate.
Soul they had not, sense they had not,
Life-warmth nor proper bearing, nor worthy appearance.
Soul gave Odin, sense gave Hoenir,
Life-warmth gave Loður and worthy appearance.
The Gods – and here, they are not the more primordial Odin, Vili (will), and Ve (holiness), but Odin, Hoenir, an Loður again transform bits of wood into functioning human beings. Epithets matter in reading our sacred stories. They tell us something about the traits and nature of that Deity, they show us what to infer from the Deity’s actions, guiding us through the text as surely as any translator. So, here, the Gods again give gifts and the first gift given is Ǫnd (my apologies to Icelandic readers. I’m having a horrible time with my very old laptop in making the appropriate diacritical marks.), breath or essence of life. Without this gift, the exhalation of a God, the other gifts would not matter, nor in fact would they be capable of being animated and utilized. The word Ǫnd actually translates as soul, not just breath. This word, especially read against its Indo-European cousins is complicated and would lend itself to this interpretation: Odin gave these proto-humans their souls. That is certainly my reading, and it’s backed up by Anthony Faulkes and Michael Barnes in their glossary for A New Introduction to Old Norse (8). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it translated as ‘soul’ in any Heathen discussion, nor indeed, in most translations. Why do we resist that translation so much? Did Odin really breath into us breath and with that breath soul? Yes, He did. What is a soul? What does it mean that the first gift given by the Gods, before anything else, was the gift of the human soul? What effect did this have?
Only after receiving soul carried on the breath of a God (Odin), were they given sense. They were given functioning intellects, the ability to process and articulate their experiences. Then they received life-warmth and a worthy appearance. They are given a sensorium – life-warmth endows these first humans with the capacity to experience the world through the senses. They are no longer inert. A worthy appearance (lito góða) has a certain moral dimension to it (góða). What does it mean to have a goodly or worthy appearance? Is it an appearance blessed by the Gods? Is it an appearance that reflects the touch/Presence of the Gods? Is it an upright appearance reflective of the capacity to cultivate virtue? What does “worthy” mean in this context? What does it mean to have worth? This phrasing implies an ontological change occurred via the blessing of the Gods, not just in form and function but from one type of being to another, inherently (8).
The order of the divine gifts is also different from the Prose Edda where they receive 1. Breath and life, 2. Wit and movement, 3. Appearance, speech, hearing, and eyesight. In the Poetic Edda, Ask and Embla receive souls, which are the essence of life (9) first as in the Prose Edda, but then the Voluspa simply notes “sense” being given by Hoenir. The word óð is probably better translated as ‘movement’ than as ‘sense.’ It comes from the verb vaða, which actually means to ‘wade ashore.’ I haven’t really considered the meaning behind the Gods presence on a sea shore when They discovered the trees that became man and woman, but this would imply there’s something quite significant there (don’t worry. I’ll tackle it in another article when I’ve had a chance to consider it more fully). It’s movement in the sense of movement out of the murk, movement from unknowing to knowing, unbeing, to individual consciousness. The above passage is followed immediately by :
19. Ask veit ek standa, heitir Yggdrasill
hár baðmr, ausinn hvíta auri;
þaðan koma döggvar þærs í dala falla;
stendr æ yfir grœnn Urðar brunni.
I know an ash tree standing, it is called Yggdrasil
Grey tree, wet with white water poured out;
Then comes glistening dew that falls in the dales;
It stands green over Urda’s well.
The immediate mention of Urda’s well ties the state of being human directly into the flow of wyrd. Prior to the creation of materiality and temporality, especially the latter, wyrd was not in play. It is only with the movement from unbeing to being that wyrd becomes active and we’re told this by the specific mention of Urda, the Norn associated with memory. Without temporality there is no memory. Memory automatically implies the flow of time. This also implies that human beings are yoked to temporality – we’re mortal. This sounds obvious to say but nowhere in the text until this particular point is there anything clearly articulating human mortality.
There is also an implied connection with Yggdrasil. Now, this could simply be that all trees are in some way part of Yggdrasil (this is how a northern tradition spirit-worker would interpret it) but I think there is more here. Water pours out from the tree, white and clear (white- hvíta– is often used in medieval writing to indicate not skin color, but pure and shining brilliance. Heimdallr, for instance is sometimes called the “white God” but this is not a reference to skin color so much as to His shining, brilliant, blinding countenance). This water, we know from other passages, nourishes Yggdrasil. It is the water of Urda’s well, the water of memory. Memory is a gift of temporality, its passage held and ordered by a Norn Who is, by Her nature, above the passage of time (10). If the well is filled with the water of memory, then what is that water that flows from the Tree? If it is memory and it is pure (we know this by the use of the word hvíta) then one can posit a connection with both the Gods and human beings. We are defined by our memory. Our character, our personality, our drive are all impacted by our experiences, which are held in our own internal well of memory. In the Grimnismal, we read that Odin has two ravens named Thought and Memory and while both fly free daily to do His bidding, He always fears for their return, but – as the Edda tells us – He fears the loss of memory the most. Why is memory more important than thought? I posit that it is because it is the sum total of our collected experience, the totality of who we are, who we have formed ourselves to be, good and bad, victory and failure, it is the tapestry of our life. In some way this transforms into the gleaming and pure water that nourishes the Tree and fills the well of Urda. What has once occurred after all, always rests in the wyrd and can be read and discovered by canny diviners.
I think this says something crucial about the state of being human though; namely, that we nourish the tree by our experiences, by the quality of our experiences. We come from the Tree, having been crafted first and foremost from ash and elm (all trees being part of Yggdrasil), so there is that ontological connection already. More than that though, we nourish Yggdrasil through our deeds that become enshrined, transformed into memory and because there is this double emphasis on character (first with the word worthy –goðaand then with pure and shining white – hvíta), I posit that we specifically nourish the Tree by perfecting our piety. The proper state then of being human is that of pious reverence because we are always connected to both the Well and the Tree, and how we live matters. Not only do we come from the Tree in this way, but some part of us – memory, also a soul part in the Northern Tradition – returns to nourish it. That is brilliantly interlocking design.
I will take this a step further. Those proto-humans only become fully and properly human when the Gods interact with them. Up until that point, they are inert pieces of wood. It takes interaction with the Gods, proper and fruitful interaction (which only happens on our end, when we approach Them in a pious and reverential head and heart space) to make us fully human. I would further posit that this devotional equation continues to hold throughout our lives. We make choices every day that have the potential to reify that moment of creation, that initial moment of creative engagement with the Gods. Now in our creation story, that moment is initiated by the Gods, but then the human beings are given the trappings of civilization (which I note in Part I): names, clothing, homes. They’re given identity, craft and creativity, beauty, security. Then the choice becomes what to do with those things and how to live rightly (later stories have the God Rig coming to walk and sleep amongst mortals, teaching us how to live and infusing our bloodlines with that of the Gods (11)). Clearly – for me at least!- it is continued interaction with our Gods that teaches us how to live rightly and well. We need that continued, repeated infusion of the divine Presence to truly cultivate our humanity in ways that elevate us above the inert.
Finally, there is a parallel between Ask and Embla in our creation story, and Lif (life) and Lifthrasir (stubborn will to live/love of life), the two humans who conceal themselves within Yggdrasil and in so doing survive Ragnarok (12). They survive by returning to the source. They are renewed as the world is renewed. I don’t put much stock in the Eddic account of Ragnarok. It is so obviously Christianized that I think picking out the Christian apocalypticism from the story is nearly impossible. Instead, I think we may interpret this allegorically. Through that conflagration Ask and Embla are reborn. They go to the Tree, to the Well, to the holy places of the Gods and find sanctuary and through that experience they are renewed in life, humanity, and their ability to thrive. In the conflagrations that consume our lives, be those times of trouble large or small, we are given a productive model of how to behave: we should go to our Gods, to the places that nourish Them and us, and seek shelter by reifying our connection to and alliance with Their holy architecture. We are part of that order and acknowledging that renews a primal connection that has the potential to nourish us on every level, when we let it; and we “let” it through cultivating piety and reverence and an awareness of our place in that architecture, our place and the rightness of our beings in the sight of the Gods. They made us, breathed soul into us, infused us with our minds, our sensoria, goodly form, goodly character. They named us, bringing us into collectively articulated being with each
I’ll stop here, because I did after all posit from the beginning of this two part series, that this was only an initial and brief examination of our human creation story. There is so much more to look at here and in the future, I hope to return to this subject in a deeper way. My sister asked me once if I believed these stories are objectively true. Yes and no. What is truth? There are different kinds of truth. A thing can be true without being scientifically true after all. These are stories our Gods have inspired, ways of explaining our world and the grace of our Gods, ways of better understanding our role in relations to Them, our obligations vis-à-vis the divine architecture. Are they true? Absolutely. Are they literal? That’s a totally different kind of truth and not really relevant in the realm of μυθος. Learning in what register to read and how to interpret after all, is just as important as learning the actual abc’s of language.
I will close as we all should close (and begin and do everything in between!), that is, with a prayer:
For the gift my soul I am grateful.
For the life that I have been given to craft,
I am grateful.
For my mind, will, and sensoria,
my goodly form, and worthy being,
I give thanks.
May I tend these treasures well,
cultivating a good and pious character
ever rooted in the soil of devotion
from which the Tree of my being
Hail to the Gods
and all the glory They have wrought,
now and always.
Notes – Continuing from Part I:
(7) Most translations give “Ask and Embla” as proper names, but it occurred to me looking at this, that it could just as easily refer to the trees as the people created from them or perhaps the audience would have heard it that way, with the double meaning embedded, particularly since they are referred to as ‘empty of fate.’ No human being is empty of fate.
(8) In the Northern Tradition, the physical body (like) and its vitality (litr) are actually considered by some to be parts of the soul. The physical body particularly is the part sloughed off after each incarnation, given back to the earth to nourish it for all that we have taken for our own sustenance. This is not articulated in the Eddas but is something spirit-workers in the Northern Tradition take on faith and it affects our practice in very specific ways (both in divination and in soul workings – practices designed to strengthen specific parts on the soul in which diagnostic divination has determined there is a weakness).
(9) The word can mean breath, essence of life, or soul. I follow Faulkes and Barnes in giving precedence to the last.
(10) I wonder if the Nornir are time, if somehow the passage of time – past, present, future – are somehow contained within Them, flowing from Them, ordered by Them. I hesitate to say They were formed by it, because Their position in the lore seems to set Them above temporality in some way, yet They are intimately connected to it (and yet have no connection that we know of with the House of Mundilfari, Deities connected to the daily passage of time). The role of the Nornir in creation has not come down to us. Like the primordial cow Auðumla, They just appear.
(11) Scholarly arguments abound over whether Rig is Odin or Heimdallr. The modus operandi fits Odin quite well, but for a number of reasons, I tend to fall into the Heimdallr camp.
(12)They hide in Hoddmimis Holt, Hoddmimir’s wood with some scholars, most notably Carolyne Larrington assert is another name for Yggdrasil.
What a beautiful thing! Someone did a bit of guerilla art: this person put up a shrine to Hermes in the Brooklyn subway. My friend M. sent me the link yesterday and you can check it out here. I think this is just wonderful (and I particularly like that it looks like some offerings have been made). We need more of this! May Hermes and all our Gods ever and always be loved.
Here are some pictures from the link above of the shrine. May Hermes smile upon whoever did this. Bravo/a.