Monthly Archives: July 2021
We honor Frey today, and His Divine Family with Gifts of joy, celebration, with food, drink, prayers, and song. In the time of our ancestors, it would have been the start of the harvest. By now, the garden would be flourishing and there would be so much bounty from the land with which to feed one’s family and community. I think it’s easy to forget what a crucial turning point in our survival this holy tide marks. Hail Freyr, every and always, the God of bounty, God of the land, God Who brings peace and fruitfulness, and God Who loves without measure.
And happy Lammas everyone. May Freyr’s blessings fall upon all those who need it, and all those who honor Him, and all those struggling to find a way to reap a fruitful harvest in life and work and devotion.
Years and years ago, over 20 now, I went through a period where Odin completely cut His presence off from me. Everyone I dealt with could sense Him around me. I still did His work effectively; but I myself had zero sense of His presence, something that until that moment, from the time I felt claimed by Him, had been a constant in my life. This devasted me. I had no idea what was happening and no conceptual spiritual framework in which to place it. I got through it, because I tend to be duty-motivated, stubborn, and I know that feeling or not feeling His presence was no reason to stop honoring the Gods, honoring Him and doing what I knew to be my spiritual work, but it broke something in me that took a very long time to heal. In time, I was grateful for that period, sort of, the way you know that something terrible made you stronger in the long run, and after about a year or so, it was like a flood gate opened and His presence was back as strong as ever.
Now, yes, I know that the majority of people, especially lay people never experience their Gods like this. I realize that having this experience even once in my life has been a privilege. At that time, however, this was my normal and I didn’t realize it wasn’t like that for most people. The sudden absence was the worst internal pain I have ever experienced. I had read all the works of mystic literature (especially the Rhine mystics like Mechthild of Magdeburg) and I had a framework for what it was like when a God swept one up, for what a theologian of medieval Christianity might term raptus and a polytheistic theologian ekstasis. I didn’t have any model at all for what happens when that stops until last night.
While doing some reading for class prep, I stumbled across a couple of texts, one of which ironically I’d read before, a long time ago for a class (but sometimes it’s a matter of reading the right thing at the right time, which last night apparently was): Guigo the Carthusian’s Ladder of Monks. (The other texts were more relevant in putting into place things I’d been recognizing about my prayer practice and I’ll save that for a separate post later. In his exploration, which is in fact a lovely letter to a fellow monk, Guigo breaks his spiritual practice into four parts: reading, meditation (on what one has read), prayer, and direct experience of the divine or contemplation. Part of what he discusses is what happens when one is suffused with the sense of the presence of one’s God and then that presence goes away. It hit me so incredibly hard. THIS was the text I’d needed so very many years ago. Here are a few passages, (keeping in mind Western Christian mystics often conceived of Christ as the Bridegroom and the soul – whether the mystic was male or female—as the Bride after the language of the Song of Songs):
“Do not fear, oh Bride, nor despair, and do not think that you’re despised if, from time to time, the Bridegroom veils His face. All of this is for your good; His leaving is just as beneficial as His coming…He comes to console you and leaves to guard… (p. 27).
The Bridegroom comes, bringing consolation and leaving desolation. He lets us taste a bit of His ineffable sweetness; but before it can penetrate us, He hides and leaves. Now, He does this in order to teach us to fly toward the Lord. Like an eagle He extends His wings and pushes us to rise” (p. 28).
Years after this particular ordeal, this absolutely accords with what I experienced with Odin and I wish that I had been aware that this framework existed, was understood and explored somewhere. Had I read just these two passages, I would have found myself better able to more productively endure. As it was, I still feel like that time left scar tissue and now my job is to break that tissue down, excise it from my soul so that evil cannot use it, cannot cement it causing me to grow around it in a shape contrary to what my God, Odin, would have for me.
Last night, having stumbled over these passages, I was sharing them with my husband and all of this came up in a rushing flood and I realized how much deep, and deeply rooted pain I carry from that time. He put on some music and we talked for a time. I respond extremely strongly to music and it’s one of the things that can put me in an altered state pretty quickly. I chalk this up to my having been a ballet dancer. I went down hard to the feet of my God and for the first time in maybe a decade, I was able to turn to mild ordeal to open myself up. It was nothing excessive. I had first asked my husband if he could do it but he honestly told me he didn’t trust his hand (and I so respect his honesty). My housemate was asleep and I wasn’t about to wake her up so I just did the ordeal on myself and then sat with Him.
I called Him, galdred to Him, received insight and runes in return and HIM the feel of His presence moving through me and highlighting the scars, cleansing some, showing me how to tend the others but most of all there was that direct engagement, furious and open and raw and joyous and a thousand other things and it was delicious, restorative and I woke today tired, scarred, but feeling so much better than I have in months. Let evil come to test and try us. It is insignificant. Only the Gods remain and that is a union which I for one will never yield.
So many thoughts on prayer and hunting for power, spiritual power, the power to clean out blockages, to obliterate all those things that root inside us, causing us to grow twisted and out of true with that which our Gods wish for us. Tonight for the first time in years, I did a small ordeal, to clean myself out, open myself up to Odin, in devotion, in love, in adoration and it was wonderful.
We find our faith in the depths of darkness and fear. We find it when evil comes for us, when suffering is there, when there is only one choice: to raise our hearts and hands up to the Gods or to bow down to desolation. We find it when we must, in the depths of battle, the battle fought within every human soul.
A thoughtful blog from Amor et Mortem about honoring the God Set.
According to the way I reckon the old Cairo Calendar, today is the Third of the Five Epagomenal Days, sacred days set aside as certain Gods’ (the Children of Geb and Nut) birthdays during the liminal period of the old year ending but the new year (Wep Ronpet) not having yet begun. (The New Year in ancient Egypt was calculated by the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, which usually takes place between what we know now as August 1-3.) Day Three of the Epagomenal Days commemorates the birth of my most cherished Kemetic Holy Power: red-hot, ultra-dynamic, take-no-bullshit SET!
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I’ve been trying to deepen my prayer practice lately. I feel like somewhere in the rush of grad school, I fell away from some of my regular practices and that’s not where I’d like to be. I plan on writing more about how and when I pray, sharing prayers, quotes, and other ideas that have helped me and maybe might help my readers.
I don’t think there’s anything more important than prayer. It’s one of *the* most basic, most foundational practices we have in building a solid, personally sustainable spiritual life. It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially if one wasn’t raised in a devout household (I realize more and more that I was so incredibly lucky to have good devotional models growing up). There are formal, “set” prayers, extempore praying, and quiet contemplation, the type of daily engagement that roots one deeply in awareness that we are surrounded by Gods and spirits and this is good and holy. We move through a world graced with the sacred. Having grown up praying (which doesn’t mean I have a good prayer practice. I don’t think I do.), I never thought of this as a potential problem, but more and more, folks have been asking me about prayer, how to do it, and what is right or wrong in the process. I’m happy to answer questions to the best of my ability to send your questions along and I’ll do my best. In the meantime, I’m going to talk about my Thursday routine.
Firstly, the moment I open my eyes, I usually try to mutter out Sigdrifa’s prayer (from the Sigdrifumal, the translation I use reads: Hail to the Day, and Day’s sons; Hail to Night and Her daughters. With loving eyes look upon us here and bring victory. Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses! Hail to the mighty fecund earth! Eloquence and native wit bestow upon us here, and healing hands while we live.). Because this prayer really sort of reifies our entire cosmology (I read “Hail to the mighty fecund earth” as including our ancestors, whose bones rest in the earth. Also, we are formed in part from the minerals our parents and their parents, and so forth back generation by generation have eaten courtesy of the food and water taken from the land) I usually say it multiple times a day as the mood strikes.
I’m not a morning person, but once I’m mobile, I start the Mundilfari adorations, which you can find here. These are brief prayers for waking, noon, sundown, midnight. I usually manage them all and what I miss, my assistant catches.
I have a huge set of prayer beads that I use and I often find myself going through these when I exercise. I don’t use the beads themselves at the gym, but keep count in my head – I try to get to the gym a couple times a week. Often I will dedicate the workout to Hermes, Thor, or one of our Healing Deities.
I try to pray before meals. This is the one I forget quite often because with my work schedule, I tend to graze rather than have sit-down meals at a set time. I’m working on this one though, to be more mindful. I think it’s important and I’ve gotten into a bad habit of not being mindful about this here that’s proving harder than I’d like to break.
I also offer a prayer to various Gods (usually Odin, Mani, Loki, et Al) before I begin my work. Sometimes I’ll pray to other Deities (Hermes, Apollo) if I’m feeling more pulled to the Roman part of m practice that day. It depends on what I’m doing, what I’m teaching, etc. I also read quite a bit of early Christian material for (academic) work and there is quite a bit of good information there, so I parse that out when I find it and tuck it away. Why reinvent the wheel? So I’ll try to also read something polytheistic to cleanse my mind just in case, and center myself in our Gods. When I find a good piece of Christian writing though, I will add it to the florilegia I typically keep. Likewise any other writing including secular. If it helps, it helps. I try to read or meditate on something like this a little each day. I ask myself what this can teach me about my own practice. What can I learn? How will this deepen my relationship devotionally to my Gods? Lately, also, I’ve been spending a great deal of time contemplating our [Norse] creation story. I think this is maybe the most important part of our lore and every time I meditate on it, I go more deeply into it and come up with greater insight. It refreshes my practice and it’s this that taught me that when we do ritual or prayer, we’re reifying the moment the Gods came together and set the architecture of the worlds in motion. It taught me the deep need to align our wills and our hearts and our souls with our Gods too in every possible way (even if we have to keep plugging away at it for the rest of our lives to get it right).
Sometimes in the morning there is a small ritual I do as a spirit worker, but that is a simple greeting to all the Powers with some minor offerings. I also tend our household Lararium and make offerings (usually candles, water, coffee, or liquor) to our ancestors.
In the evening, on most days (we miss here and there), we gather as a household and pray. There’s no set time for this: we pray as long as we feel like praying and often conclude with prayers for those in our families and household who are sick or struggling, or the well-being of those we love. There are also certain prayers of protection we do regularly.
Lately, and I’ve just gone back to this after a fairly long absence, I’ve been trying to make special offerings and prayers to whatever Deity rules the day. For Heathens, Monday is Mani’s Day, Tuesday Tyr’s, Wednesday Woden’s, Thursday Thor’s, Friday Freya or Frigga’s (we honor Them both), Saturday a day for cleansing. Originally in Latin it was Saturn’s day. Personally, I tend to give special offerings to Loki and Sigyn on this day, and then Sunday of course, is Sunna’s.
Thor is just amazing. I’ve written about Him before here here.
Because today is His day, I intend to pay special focus to Him all day, turning my mind to His stories, His nature, the feel of His presence when He is invoked, and the incredible way that He cleanses away pollution and evil as though it were nothing at all. He truly is the great Protector of humankind. I want to center my day, each day, around gratitude to the Powers remembering always how deeply blessed I have been in my life. It changes the way we move in the world to think of these things, to consciously choose devotion, faith, and gratitude, to choose to cultivate that which most benefits our devotion to cultivate. I pray to this God of strength and fortitude, that I shall always have the strength to make the appropriate choices in these things, especially when it is most difficult. Here is a prayer that I have written for Him today:
Today, I want to call You by Your English Name: Thunor, God of Thunder, Mighty Hammer Wielder, Friend of Humanity, and Protector of all the worlds. You protect our sacred places, our groves and sanctuaries and most of all the shrines and holy spaces of our hearts that we may lay ourselves down before our Gods in adoration, in love, in deepest gratitude without fear, without hesitation knowing that You, Great-Hearted Husband of Sif, Generous beyond measure, will always guard our comings and goings. You are a loving Father to three joyful children and just as You would no more allow Them to come to harm, so we too may rest securely in Your watchful care. Oh God of the oak, God of holy places, God of the mound, I shall never for sake You. Please, I pray, watch over my ancestors, those of blood and those of spirit. Grant that our dead may rest in peace, strengthened by Your care, the vitality only You, son of Odin bring. That is my prayer for today. I am so grateful for the chance to honor You, so grateful for the chance to pay You homage. Hail Thunor, Thor, Thunder-riding God of Asgard.
My friend KV sent me this today, as we were discussing Byzantium, Arabs, and the Rise of Islam, and how all these cultures intermingled etc. It was a fascinating discussion and this exhibit is equally so (my friend mentioned how you can’t necessarily trust museum attributions: an item can be equally positioned as byzantine, Italian, Frankish, or Muslim depending on where it was created, through whose hands it passed, where it was used, etc. there’s a certain level of arbitrariness about it all). It does a really, really good job of showing the global reality of Rome, the Middle East, Parthia, and Byzantium. There is some really gorgeous art here. Check it out. Be sure to scroll all the way down for the podcasts and videos.
Distrust anyone who doesn’t take spiritual and ritual cleansing/purification seriously. That’s my general rule of thumb, largely because it shows that, for whatever reason, they either aren’t taking what they’re doing seriously, or they haven’t been fully or properly trained. I cannot emphasize the importance of cleansing too much. It is one of THE single most important things you can do, right up there with regularly honoring your dead.
As I said recently on twitter, the only people I’ve ever had whine and bitch about cleansing, purification, and the need to avoid miasma are those too polluted to be able to stand to be in spiritually clean space with integrity. That’s actually a thing too. I think some people are so mired in the shit of this world, so miasmic, so polluted, so disconnected from the holy that clean, ordered, holy space feels bad to them. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve seen.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned about spiritual pollution and it’s incredibly easy to wash it away.
- Firstly, it can really cloud and clutter one’s spiritual discernment.
- It can affect one’s health and well-being.
- It can exacerbate depression and anxiety.
- It can damage one’s luck.
- It can cause disharmony and arguments between friends, family, etc.
- It slowly occludes the devotional connections that we share with our Holy Powers.
- It can open one up to the influence of evil spirits and malefica.
- It makes it more difficult to connect when in sacred space and actually pollutes that sacred space.
- It is contagious and can affect others.
I probably missed a few things but at the moment, these are the primary dangers that come to mind. Why, in the name of all that’s holy would you NOT want to deal with this? Miasma and spiritual pollution isn’t difficult to remove (there are exceptions to this but since most of us aren’t behaving like Pelops or Pentheus usually it’s not that hard!).
Now, if you’re a spirit worker, priest, or other spiritual specialist, the requirements for cleansing might be a bit more intense, but still, it’s not rocket science. All it requires is a bit of mindfulness and consistency.
Here are some things we do in my house to keep ourselves clean (this is not a comprehensive list).
- We take regular cleansing baths. There are any number of things that can be added to a cleansing bath to remove miasma. I usually combine salt (I like pink Himalayan salt, but any salt will do. Black salt is particularly strong for cleansings), beer (beer baths are awesome), milk, and khernips. I make the entire bath khernips. I might also add other things like a scented oil, Epsom salts (not for removing miasma but to help my old and aching joints), bubble bath, etc. So I combine cleansing pollution with regular bathing.
- I put a cup of khernips in every load of wash (yes, I also use detergent!).
- Every morning we cleanse our head, heart, and hands with khernips.
- I wear protective charms and sometimes cover my head when I feel pollution is particularly bad. I also routinely cover my head when I pray. For the lay person, this can be as simple as wearing an evil eye charm or a Thor’s Hammer or other religious symbol. Cleanse it regularly and if you can, bless it.
- I vacuum and clean my house weekly (though it is cluttered), and khernips the hell out of it.
- We light candles, do fire blessings, and pray almost every night as a family.
- I pray regularly throughout the day.
- I khernips my bed whenever I make it.
- If I have been in a potentially problematic situation, I’ll change my clothes and asperse with khernips when I come home immediately.
- Then of course, before prayer and ritual, we again asperse with khernips or do some other cleansing. It’s simple and fairly easy.
- I try, but often fail, to make sure there are no dirty dishes left before I go to bed. There’s an ATR tradition about warding off a particular type of evil spirit if the sink is completely devoid of dishes.
- I bless the salt in the house and keep it in one large container in the kitchen and this is used for all our cooking and food.
- We regularly bless our food and drink.
- Before any divination or spiritwork, we do special prayers, offerings, and cleansings.
There are a few other things too that we do to protect our home.
If we take our Gods seriously and understand that every time we step into ritual space we have the opportunity to reify Their creative process, then this isn’t too much. With the exception of what we do as specialists, which admittedly is more than the average lay person need worry about, cleansing away pollution and miasma is no more problematic than brushing our teeth, washing our face, and dressing in clean underwear every morning. Anyone who makes it more than that, who goes on and on about how problematic it is, how it’s a red flag, etc. etc., well, take a step back and look at why they’re saying that. Perhaps they themselves are so polluted that such cleansing rites are painful to them. Perhaps they have no desire to be truly clean before the Powers. Perhaps they have no respect for those Powers. Perhaps they are so mired in pollution and foulness that cleanliness seems aberrant to them. Or, perhaps they’re just assholes.
If I were a kinder person, a better theologian, a more patient priest I would probably approach this less bluntly, but today is not that day. I have a wonderful apprentice now of sterling character and deep piety and she asked me recently (now that she herself is getting close to the point where she will likely take a student or two under supervision) what to look for when deciding to take on this responsibility. While the sarcastic bitch in me wanted to respond, “Xanax,” her question is a necessary one and not a conversation that my own teachers ever had with me. This is not to their discredit. It simply wasn’t the way things were done then. We were all young and some lessons are hard, very hard learned. So, speaking to the question of apprentices and students within one’s religious community (1), here we go.
Cowardice is pandemic in our communities. When someone asks me what to look for in a group, a teacher, or when a teacher/priest asks me how to vet potential apprentices and students, this is the first thing I tell them: look first for virtue and character. Over and above anything else, that has to be there. If it’s not, do your best Usain Bolt imitation and run as fast as you can the other way. Also, if there’s not a willingness to prioritize devotion and the Gods, even when it’s uncomfortable, or arouses hostility in the community, or causes inconvenience: run. You cannot fix this in a person. It doesn’t matter how much you may personally like that person or how otherwise gifted he or she is: run.
One thing that I have learned in over thirty years of teaching, writing, leading rituals, etc. is that when taking an apprentice one must look first and foremost at innate character. If character is lacking, that is terminal spiritual damage. It cannot be fixed. I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, a young man became my apprentice. I did not particularly want to take him on. He had, with almost no training, been engaging in deity possession and using that to engage in sexual improprieties bordering on coercion with at least one woman to whom he was attracted. In conversation with my own elders we took his word that he hadn’t realized what he was doing, or how great a blasphemy it was. We assumed on good faith that he was redeemable with a little teaching, with strict mentorship, with a chance to learn and cultivate virtue and values, to build character, to devote himself to the Gods without having to worry about being called upon, far before he was ready, to step into a leadership role in his community (which had been part of the pressure and problem, or so we figured). We were all wrong and bad character remained bad character, egotism and vainglory (the need to be liked and to receive accolades, to be held up as top of the class, so to speak) only now hidden behind a façade of piety. This was compounded by the fact that the work of necessity was done long distance where it was difficult to accurately gauge progress. Just don’t. If even once this type of behavior is noted, shun that person one thousand percent (2). Also, with very rare exceptions, I do not think I would ever take a long distance apprentice again. The work is intense, demands such deep, often painful and challenging internal processing, that I just don’t think it can be effectively done (or monitored for problems) at a distance.
Here’s a second example. Many years ago, farther back than the case of the man I mentioned above, I took as a student an incredibly gifted young woman (one of the most gifted students I have ever had). She was also utterly without character, which I didn’t realize until much later. She was actually my first serious student and thanks to her, I know some of the things to look for in gauging potential students from here on out. What we took as vivid exaggeration and a gift for story telling was really an addiction to chronic lying. What we took as struggling piety, was really a desire to garner all the attention in the room by pretense of ecstatic revelation. Had we looked harder (I and the fellow priest who helped train her), we would have seen lack of responsibility in her life, constant disorder in every area, endless making of excuses, dangerous promiscuity, poor decision after poor decision, and vanity. There was extraordinary giftedness but a character dependent on those around her. When she was with us, she was fine. She mirrored what was dominant in those around her. When she was not with us, her character did not hold. Instability on every level surrounded her life. Eventually it led to a psychotic break and a descent into trouble. We mandated psychotherapy. She agreed and then lied about going. She was a parasite. So, for those of you intending to start a spiritual house, a kindred, a coven, an Iseum, a Thiasos, or other group, look deeply into those you allow into your spiritual world. If there isn’t base line character, you will fail in aiding in their spiritual formation. That’s what the work of a spiritual teacher and priest is: spiritual formation and that takes cooperation and hard work on both sides.
Also, you’re a priest or teacher, not a psychologist. We can do so much with those who come to us, but we’re not psychotherapists. Learn where that boundary is and don’t allow a disordered student to push you past it. Also, the teacher-student/teacher-apprentice relationship should be one of loyalty and respect, commitment and support mutually for life. I would go to the wall for many of my students and my current apprentice. When that relationship is violated it affects the luck and wyrd of each party on a grossly violent level. It is polluting in a way that is very difficult to cleanse. The obligations on both sides are enormous. Likewise the curse on those that take what they have learned, half-assedly usually, and set themselves up as competent spirit-workers is a stain on the soul that will taint and corrupt every bit of the work such nithlings do.
I hear a lot of complaints in the community about lack of elders and teachers. Well, folks, they’re there. They just get sick and tired of being shat on by students, neophytes, and apprentices who don’t want to step up and prioritize devotion and do the work. We are not great cosmic tits that you can drain dry with your mommy and daddy issues, your authority issues, your unwillingness to address character flaws or develop virtue. We’re not there to hand over the mysteries of our tradition to the untested and untried. You want an elder or a teacher to guide you, show some fucking respect.
Then there’s the cowardice. It is, as I have said, pandemic in our communities. I have a number of readers and twitter followers and those on facebook who smile to my face and then turn around and support those who slander me and (more importantly) my work. You’re cowards. Pick a fucking side.
I’ll also add, that when you meet someone who wants to drag the Gods down into morass and pollution of human politics, in an effort usually to garner praise, and in ways that exclude devout men and women from worship, step back and take a hard look at why. What pat on the head is that person getting? Whom do they serve? What do they actually value and where do the Gods and devotion and piety figure in that value system?
Veneration to the Holy Power is the thing that should be lifting us up beyond all our human shit. It should be the thing that encourages and incites us to elevate our souls, to throw ourselves into devotion, to transform our internal world and sometimes our external world to through the power of that adoration. When that is twisted out of true by ungrateful apprentices who lacked the spiritual fortitude, commitment, and virtue to stay the course, it’s an ugly, ugly thing. So beware.
- This does not apply to academic teaching at all. This is a totally different animal. The work we do in training apprentices and students within our religious communities is emotionally and spiritually intimate and steeped in a shared cosmology and hierarchy that would not in any way be appropriate to transfer over to secular teaching.
- Now don’t accept gossip. Of all the evil spirits, that of gossip is THE most dangerous and destructive (see the book “Osogbo” by Ochani Lele). There should be clear proof and/or witnessed offense. Spectral evidence my friends, ain’t evidence at all.
This is a beautiful and powerful example of animism in action. For those of us who are polytheists, this relationship with the land is the third support of the theological scaffolding in which we work: Gods, ancestors, land. It’s a little stunning to see it so powerfully in action here, as Dver notes.
Land is powerful. It’s not just that it is alive, full of spirits large and small, but that we are formed from it. The minerals found in the dirt, in the food we eat, the water we drink, moreover, in the food our mothers and fathers ate form our very bones. We carry our ancestral soils within us. At the end of our lives, it’s the earth that receives our bodies, that takes the Likr, our physical bodies (which in the Northern tradition are part of our souls, the part that we slough off each time we die, giving back to the earth in return for all that we have received. It is our payment for life, and a tangible connection between Midgard and Helheim). The spirits of the land welcome and cradle the bodies or ashes of our dead. The spirits of the land engage with us all the time whether we’re aware of it or not. They’re all around us, and can guide us in living sustainably in our world. It is right and proper to honor them.
So, when I see a place as devastated as Chernobyl and see that elderly women returned, because it was *their land,* it moves me tremendously and encourages me to consider and better my own relationship with the spirits of the world I inhabit.
Anyway, take a look at Dver’s piece and see where it takes you.