Monthly Archives: May 2021
Head on over to Numen Arts and read this powerful post on glamourbombing by Dver. This has been part of my practice for a couple of years now on and off and I’ve see how powerful it can be. It’s a way of opening doors, just a little, slipping through and bringing something of the Other back, then leaving a key, a tag, a marker that draws others into similar experience. Reset and course correct as I like to say. Anyway, the piece is really good and I recommend giving it a read.
The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more
This post has little to nothing to do with religion or theology but it is something I hope some of my readers, who might be going out into the working/professional world for the first time will find helpful.
I was watching this channel on youtube last night and I really like these guys. They’re gracious and they know a lot of things about etiquette and style (I have a side interest in textile and fashion history.) and if you listen to their videos, it’s clear that their interest in these things has also caused them to become better men, because it has led to a focus on developing better character. I think that’s pretty cool (though I don’t agree with their every sartorial choice!). Well, in one of their videos, there is a discussion about things one of the guys wishes he could tell his twenty-year-old self. I couldn’t find the video a second time but the very last suggestion given in the video is one that would have transformed my working life in my twenties and early thirties: clothes matter.
I really wish someone had taken me aside when I retired from ballet and drilled this into my head. In ballet, the line of your body matters. Your technique matters. I suppose your ability to play company politics matters but clothing not so much. Your daily work garb is a leotard and tights. When you’re not wearing that at the studio, you’re likely in sweats. At least that’s the way it was in my day. After I retired, I temped for awhile and eventually got hired in finance. Moving into the corporate world was a huge shock. I was poor as a church mouse, my clothes were many times mended, and I tended to dress comfortably. I had no idea how important it was to dress in professional attire. I always dismissed clothing and make up as shallow vanity. It took seeing a photograph of myself in shabby clothes at a work event to drive the point home, that care for one’s professional appearance wasn’t vanity so much as sheer survival (1). Even knowing how important a professional appearance is (and how what constitutes “professional” differs from field to field), it took me a long time to figure out how to make this work for me. I can do it now, but there was an awful lot of trial and error, lots and lots of error.
The sad reality is though, that you will be judged by your clothing and the way you look every bit as much (if not more) as by how you speak, work, and perform. Here’s something about that you can control: you can use that to position yourself well or poorly. You can control to some extent the first impression you make, and people are by and large shallow. If you *look* professional and *sound* professional, half your work is done (2).
Here are a few basic guidelines: Dress appropriately for the situation (and maybe a touch more professionally than is strictly required), shine your shoes (3), iron your clothes, carry a stain stick to remove sudden mishaps, a small sewing kit to handle popped buttons and simple on-the-spot repairs, and make sure your hair is done appropriately. Women should wear light make up – and this I *really* hate but I’ve seen women written up for not wearing make up in a work setting. Keep the scent to a minimum. It’s ok to wear perfume but your co-workers shouldn’t smell you half a block away. Also, wear jewelry. I don’t know what it is today, but women aren’t wearing jewelry and they look really unfinished in professional or formal settings. Wear earrings and a necklace or brooch, maybe a watch. A ring is ok, especially if it’s a wedding ring. Don’t go overboard though. I forget actually the rubric I was taught. I think it was something like wear thirteen adornments and then take two off. That includes scarves, jewelry, watches, etc. None of this has to be expensive (though I have a friend whose grandfather used to say, “we are too poor to buy cheap things.” In the end, if you buy crap, you’ll be replacing it way too soon, repeatedly and spending more money in the long run. Her grandfather argued that he was thrifty and therefore wanted to buy things that would last). I personally favor having one or two pieces that are high quality that I wear a lot, but one could just as easily buy low cost but pretty jewelry. Do what works for you but pay some attention to aesthetics. This is part of dressing appropriately.
Both women and men should invest in a good brief case appropriate to their field. Women should do the same with a handbag (4). Work within your budget and don’t be afraid to hit thrift stores. You’d be surprised at what you can find. If I could sew more than the basics, I’d probably end up sewing most of my own clothing. I am slowly seriously starting to consider bespoke clothing but it’s very expensive and so I’m still just at the consideration stage. It looks and feels better and lasts longer though, this I know. Women’s clothing is made poorly, not to mention no pockets. It’s made, no matter how high end it might be, to last a single season. Synthetic fabrics are poor on the skin and really devastating to the environment (5). I think it makes more sense to buy a few staples for one’s closet, classic staples in good fabrics with which one can mix and match. There’s no need to buy the latest fashions if you stick with classic looks (though the marketing and fashion fields may be the exceptions to this).
This is a language. It’s a way to signal certain realities about yourself, to signal your competency and your belonging in a particular setting or group. Should this be necessary? No. But we live in reality not in a world of should and would. I’d like to spare anyone reading this the difficulty I had on this front. It really set me back professionally for a long time. I still like hanging out in leggings, or well-mended pants and a t-shirt when I’m home, but you won’t see me heading into work like that. Once a year, before the fall semester starts, I check through my clothing, make sure it’s all clean and in good repair, and replace anything that needs replacing. I find if I’m careful about upkeep, mending what needs mending when I first see it starting to go, it saves a lot of money in the long run (6).
The best thing you can do is find a mentor. I have been lucky to have really good mentors in academia. That was never the case in corporate. If you don’t have a mentor, do a bit of research on what your industry standard is. There are lots of books available on dressing appropriately for every industry. Figure out what the industry base line is and then you can experiment – frugally—with finding your own style.
I think vanity is a terrible fault in a person. It twists the soul out of true and leads to all sorts of damaging behavior. It is unbecoming a person who wishes to develop character. Care of the self, however, is not vanity. It is a necessary part of becoming a professional, and one that insures you’ll be able to put food on your table (7).
- I still mend my clothes but I’m more careful about where I wear those with visible darns.
- I detested working in corporate. I have, however, found this to be true a huge percentage of the time. You still can’t be completely incompetent, but no matter how competent you actually are, if you don’t look the part, you’ll have issues. In academia, I make it a point to dress up, all the more so when I’m teaching. There have been studies on how female professors get lower ratings in student evaluations, and are, as a matter of course, expected by their students to do more emotional labor. It can also be a problem for younger female graduate student teachers to be taken as seriously as their male peers by students when they teach. Dressing for success, as I’ve seen it called, is a weapon in your arsenal that can help offset all of this, maybe not perfectly, but at least somewhat. It sure as hell doesn’t hurt.
- When I worked in HR it was the first thing I’d look at, especially in men. By the way, do not wear white socks with a suit. EVER. There is literally never any time you should do this. Save the white socks for the gym. This is one of those things that you might not be told, but it’s the unspoken sartorial language that signals whether or not you belong in a particular setting. I do love that funky socks are in vogue now for men, even with business suits (at least in academia) and also that the pocket square is coming back. It’s a good look.
- I have found when I worked in HR that women are largely judged by other women on hair, nails, and handbag. Maybe shoes too in some cases. Scuffed handbags can be fixed by polishing them just like you would shoes (so long as they’re leather). Leather brief cases can be heavy, which for me with my injuries is a problem. I prefer canvas bags with leather accents.
- Did you know that a huge number of synthetic fabrics are really just plastic?
- If your invisible mending skills are lacking, you can take damaged clothing to a dry cleaner or tailor. They are usually more than capable of mending any issues properly. It’s also worth developing a working relationship with a tailor who does alterations.
- And beauty and adornment themselves can be sacred in and of themselves.
Once every quarter, I and my assistant (and any students or apprentices that I may have at the time) do a head cleansing. I learned this from my time working in ATR houses, and also in spiritualism. It’s a way of cleansing and then nourishing or “feeding” the Ori, the spirit of one’s head, that part of us which in my tradition is called the gythia or godhi(grammatically feminine and masculine respectively, after the ON word for priest) and which represents our soul’s connection to the Gods (1). Give how much pollution we deal with on a regular basis, and the press of our secular work, and just work-life balance, plus the struggles inherent in any active spiritual life, it’s a nice time to clear away the dreck and reset ourselves. It’s also messy as hell.
Without going into too much detail, I combine white substances (2) like coconut milk, regular milk, honey or honey powder, white fruits, white flowers. I sometimes add certain herbs. I mash it all up and ask for Heimdallr’s blessings on it. Then I smear a healthy cup of the goo on a slice of bread, slap it on my crown, i.e. the top of my head, tie on a headwrap securely (3), and usually put a towel around my shoulders in case of leakage. Then I sit in prayer for a couple of hours, after which, I wash it off and go about my business (traditionally, I was taught it’s best to leave it on for twenty-four hours, which means sleeping with it on my head, but I have never done that). Usually we do this on the equinoxes and the solstices, but with everything going on, we forgot to do it this past March.
So, I’ll share with you a moment of hilarity that ensued today as we did this. Because of how drippy this mixture can be, it’s easiest to have someone else put it on your head and assist with tying the headwrap to keep it all secure. So, I was helping my assistant Tatyana. Unlike my head, which I shave to honor the dead, she has thick, waist-length hair. As a result, she needed a bit more preparation than I for this cleansing. I helped her pin her hair back and poured a cup of the cleansing mixture on a slice of bread. She was trying to position herself so that I could most easily put it on her crown. She leaned back and I, being a woman of action ha ha, slapped it right down on the top of her head. There was only one problem. She moved just as I was putting it down, and I, in my exuberance, used way too much momentum. She came within a quarter of an inch of getting a face full of cleansing mash. It didn’t help that we were laughing our asses off through the whole thing. She had it not just on her head, but all down one side of her face and in her ear too. (I just read this out loud to her and she said, “I am very clean.” with a grin and a double thumbs up). The saving grace of this practice (other than that it really does effect a spiritual restoration of the head) is that the mixture smells really nice.
You know, it’s been a hell of a year all around and I think we could all use a good laugh now and again. Laughter itself can be apotropaic. So, I hope y’all had at least a chuckle reading this. I know that spirit work can seem strange, weird, sometimes a little frightening, sometimes wonderful and filled with ecstatic devotion. It can be all of that and more. But you know, sometimes it’s nothing more than the absurdity of coconut milk and other assorted ingredients dripping out of one’s ear.
Enjoy your weekend, folks.
- This is the part of our souls always in connection with the Gods, as opposed to Vè, which means holiness or holy place and is also the name of a soul-part that represents our reservoir of holiness, something that may be cultivated and strengthened by prayer, devotion, and aligning ourselves properly with the Gods. My assistant today said, “so the gythia/godhi part is like PVC tubing that leads to the Gods and through which They can pour holiness?” and…yes, as a description that’s good enough for government work, as the saying goes.
- White dress is sort of like a spiritual biohazard suit and using white substances carries the same associations of purification. Plus (and this is my personal theory), using different types of milk represents nourishment, milk being one of the first substances a child takes. It’s nourishment on the most primal level. The honey, fruit, and flowers represent sweetness. Nature abhors a vacuum so after cleansing, it’s important to fill that space with something good.
- I usually cut a length of white linen and use that, discarding it after. I’m not generally one for wasting cloth, but this is my one exception to that rubric.
A fascinating post on the use of ropes in different traditions, including certain types of Heathenry, to demarcate sacred space. I’m thinking we don’t use this tech enough today! lots of food for thought here.
A friend sent me a video today by a woman who claims devotion to Odin. I’ve known this person for years, and actually had her in a clergy training program decades ago — she was the only person I ever had to expel (she never quite warmed up to the idea that devotion would occasionally be inconvenient). Well, in this video, this woman – and I’m not sharing the video. It’s such polluted garbage I can’t—has announced that she is no longer wearing any Heathen sacred symbol (Mjolnir, valknot, runes, etc.) because she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s a white supremacist. She’s also strongly encouraging other people to throw away our sacred symbols.
What utter cowardice. And if you read that as contemptuous, you would be reading it rightly. Now is precisely the time we should be wearing our symbols proudly and having those difficult conversations with people who would misunderstand their meaning. To put aside our holiest of symbols is to say that we care more for what strangers may think of us than for our Gods. There’s no integrity in it. Fucking Christians became martyrs for their faith and we have people like this woman who won’t even wear a necklace or be bothered to clear up misunderstandings about our Gods, spirits, and symbols.
What kind of person claims to love the Gods and yet acts as though everything associated with those Gods shameful? What kind of person claims to love the Gods and is unwilling to attempt to clear up blatant lies about those Gods, or to have uncomfortable conversations that cost nothing but our willingness to be present? Runes for instance are mysteries. Odin suffered on the Tree to bring them forth and this worthless creature won’t even stand up and challenge the lies that have been spread about the runes, particularly othala? It’s one thing to be a coward oneself, but to actively encourage other people to also throw away their religious symbols just to make your own choice seem as though it has merit, is so much worse.
People like this bury their heads in the sand which only guarantees the white supremacists win, because white supremacists don’t have a problem speaking up and taking what isn’t theirs to take.
If that’s too much, then you really have to ask yourself why you’re doing this? Why are you here? Why are you wasting the time and resources of devout people who love their Gods and are willing to stand by that love publicly and no matter how much it causes inconvenience? Why are you actively seeking to damage the tradition? After all, when you are actively encouraging others to put aside their sacred symbols, the corollary is that you’re encouraging them to turn away from their Gods. You’re participating in gutting a tradition. Good job. Here’s some advice that I oh, so sincerely hope you’ll take: maybe stick to Dr. Who fandom but leave religion alone.
Dver has written an excellent post on working with plant spirits, which I highly recommend here. I find this particularly intriguing since I rarely consume any plant ally and yet work with them in various ways as a matter of course. I never thought that consumption was required, though I know that far too many books on the matter will suggest this (or warn categorically against it. Take your pick. I don’t think absolutes in work like this are ever helpful). Anyway, if your spiritual work involves plant path, give this a read.
So, I recently received a few books to add to my ‘must read’ end of the semester pile. I can’t wait to delve in. What are you guys all reading (and hopefully enjoying)?
Whenever I pick up our House prayer book, my personal devotional florilegia, or a copy of the Eddas to read for devotional purposes, several things run through my mind at once, almost as soon as my hand touches the book. Foremost is that I often feel like I’m slacking when it comes to cultivating my own devotional world. Devotion can be the easiest and most natural thing in one’s life and at the same time it can be hard, hard work. Sometimes it’s frustrating and confusing – not because of the devotion part of it, but because of my own faltering, fumbling awkwardness with the process. So many questions come up:
- How do we properly pray? How do I pray? Am I just phoning it in? How do I make sure that I remain engaged?
- What the hell is contemplation and how am I supposed to do it?
- How do we read? What and how do we read and how does this bring us to our Gods?
- What is devotion and how can I go more deeply into it?
I used to take all these things for granted but as I teach students and apprentices within our tradition, as I reevaluate my own spiritual work, as I engage with clients who come to me with all sorts of questions about their devotional lives, I realize that nothing here should ever be taken for granted. I also realize I had really, really good devotional models within my family. It’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve truly come to understand how precious a gift (and maybe even a grace) that has been. Of course, the downside to all that is that I tend to be very action oriented: “what do You need me to do, oh my Gods” which often leaves me feeling in retrospect as though I got the work part down but somehow am giving perilously short shrift to the devotional/contemplative (they’re not always the same, mind you) part of things. The more frenetic my life becomes, especially with school, the more I find myself examining these lacuna and wanting to ground myself more securely in solid veneration of the Holy Powers.
It’s odd too because I don’t think a text is necessary. Ours prior to Christianity, was an oral tradition. One learned by experience, by growing up in pious households, seeing the community engaging in rituals and seasonal festivals, and being surrounded by examples of this living tradition. Our ancestors had stories yes, but they didn’t depend on the written word, nor did we ever have anything like “scripture.” Still, we today live in a world that privileges the written word perhaps excessively. I once had a fellow theology student ask me about our “scriptures” and when I said we don’t have anything like your bible, he was floored. He kept asking, “but how do you teach your children your religion?” um…we live it. But I get what he was saying. We depend far more in proper inter-generational transmission of the tradition, directly and via devotional, ritual, and venerative experience. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Still, I like my books and there is value in being able to extract insight from a text. I think so long as we remember that our Eddas and other parts of the lore are not “scripture” as monotheistic traditions would comprehend, but maps to the holy (and maps with gaping holes, tatters, and graffiti sometimes too!), we’ll be ok. So, enough of my blather. Let’s get into the stanzas that I chose for today.
The Voluspa contains part of our creation narrative and I think that creation narratives are particularly important for any religious tradition. They contain all the themes and patterns that we will see repeated again and again throughout our cosmology and in this way provide key insights into how our tradition views the world. Here are the passages, first in English and then Old Norse.
6. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held; Names then gave they | to noon and twilight, Morning they named, | and the waning moon, Night and evening, | the years to number. 7. At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods, Shrines and temples | they timbered high; Forges they set, and | they smithed ore, Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned. 6. Þá gengu regin öll á rökstóla, ginnheilug goð, ok um þat gættusk; nátt ok niðjum nöfn um gáfu, morgin hétu ok miðjan dag, undorn ok aptan, árum at telja. 7. Hittusk æsir á Iðavelli, þeir er hörg ok hof hátimbruðu, afla lögðu, auð smíðuðu, tangir skópu ok tól görðu. Immediately in the Old Norse the words Regin and Ginnheilug goð jump out at me. I usually translate Regin as “holy Powers,” but it may also be rendered as “the Rulers,” “the Gods” and may even refer to Their decrees. This word turns up in the lore at various points always referring in some way to the Gods, thus we have regin-braut – the way of the Gods, regin-dórmr – the judgement of the Gods, regin-kuðr/kunnr – descended from the Gods, and regin-þing – holy thing-place to name but a few of its iterations. Because it is so associated with judgement and holy decretals, it reads as a much more formal term for the collective Gods and when I see it, I perk up and pay special attention. It brings me back to the story of the creation of the worlds, and the ways in which the Gods set everything in its proper place, balance, and order. Goð, obviously also a word for Gods, is nearly always collective and inclusive of both Gods and Goddesses. It turns up in compound words having to do with things and people belonging to the Gods and its cognate góð carries the moral force of ‘good,’ or ‘worthy’ such as góðr maðr (good man). One can be goð-borinn, descended from the Gods, goð-málugr, knowledgeable in the lore of the Gods, or goð-árr, messenger of the Gods, for instance (1). The most significant term there, however, is Ginnheilug: most sacred. Combinations with the prefix ginn—almost always imply great holiness or sanctity. Sometimes Regin will occur as Gin-regin, which I would translate as „the most holy Gods.“ It is not one-hundred-percent clear if this is related to Ginnungagap, the great and yawning void from which all creation came into being with the collision of the Niflheim and Muspelheim, but theologically I would (and do) certainly draw this parallel (2). It is the most holy chasm from which this process of creation began; and They are the most-holy Gods Who oversaw this process. All of this runs through my mind and is the background against which I read this text (or at least against which I was reading the text when I wrote this!). Were I teaching this text, the first question I would ask my students (and this is likewise what I myself zero in on for contemplation) is „what did the Gods do first?“ What was the first collective priority after the three Brothers created the scaffolding and architecture of the worlds? First having come together in counsel, They ordered day and night, the course of the planets, and by extension the seasons. This is all temporal. Materiality has already happened when the two primal worlds ground together, but here we have temporal and one may assume spatial ordering. They gave materiality structure, partitioned it out into a healthy and harmonious rhythm. They created seasons and put planets in rotation. Day and night are the most important divisions for us as human beings, particularly when our lives were – like so many of our ancestors—predominantly agricultural. This division of time was meant as a guide and to nourish us: when do we work? When do we rest? When do we plant? When do we harvest? How does the world work? Moreover, such binary division (day/night, light/dark) reflects the productive exchange of opposites embedded in Niflheim and Muspelheim – ice and fire. I also think this emphasizes how cosmologically important the House of Mundilfari is. Farmers would have looked to the sun and the moon, and the Gods thereof to ensure their wellbeing. It‘s easy for those of us living more urban lifestyles to forget how crucial Mani and Sunna‘s blessings would have been for our ancestors. They literally insured continued sustenance and life. Plus, one could gaze up into the sky and see a symbol of Their presence. So after celestial cycles were established, the next thing the Gods did was build temples – for Themselves or for each Other the text does not say. We know though that Freya has the epithet of blotgyðja for the Gods, and there is precedent in other IE traditions for Gods recognizing and participating in each Other’s divine process. Even in what remains of our sacred stories, what has been filtered down to us through Christian voices and hands, we have a sharing of attributes: Thor borrows Brisingamen, Loki borrows Freya’s falcon cloak, and so forth. When this is done licitly it adds power to the Gods in question (3). So the Gods acknowledged the divinity of each other and by extension we can assume, Their individual spheres of influence and power. After this, the third thing They do is to create art. Craft is sacred, it’s a conduit for the holy. Here, smithcraft is particularly mentioned and in many IE cultures including the Norse, smiths were considered magical figures, magicians, shamans, and such. This is because they wielded the elemental powers of creation, especially fire, and drew from the earth that which was later transformed into objects of beauty. Beauty and art empower the worlds and in good Platonic fashion lift us up to the Gods, in awareness, in understanding, and in devotional longing. This is a process that didn’t just happen once. In setting up the temporal division of night and day, we are opened up to the possibility of change. You can’t have change unless you have time. So each new day is a reification anew of that initial creation. Each day we can remake and restore ourselves within that holy architecture. At this point in my reading, I would most likely take stock of what I have done throughout the day (or if I’m reading in the morning, what I wish to do), always keeping the Gods in mind – how am I affecting that ongoing reification in my world?—and then I”d make offerings and prayers. I’m going to stop at this point. I still have a few things to do for the semester’s end, but if there’s a particular passage from the Eddas that you’d like me to discuss, shoot me a comment and let me know. Notes: 1. See “A Glossary to the Poetic Edda” translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Wörterbuch by Students at the University of Victoria, 1987. 2. You’ll notice that unlike the previous Lectio Divina article that I posted, this time I did not employ any significant level of philological engagement. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t and it depends what first strikes me in a reading. It’s different every time I meet a text anew. 3. When it is done illicitly it’s more complicated. I’m thinking specifically of Freyr sneaking into Odin’s high seat and spying Gerda…it ended well but it was…complicated.