Monthly Archives: September 2021
Today, I posted this picture on Instagram and twitter of part of my preparation for our equinox ritual today (which we will be doing in about an hour). I noted that I have pulled out the mineral oil and have happily been oiling the wooden statues, the wooden blót bowl, and my ritual horn. Someone pinged me back on Instagram and asked about using oil on one’s horn, and also wanted to know whether olive oil could be used. Care for one’s ritual tools is part of good practice and this is an important question if one wants to keep one’s tools in good working order.
Firstly, do not use olive oil. It can go rancid – at least that’s what I was taught. Use mineral oil and preferably food-grade mineral oil. The bottle will list whether it’s food grade or not. On statues it doesn’t really matter, but for bowls and horns, food-grade is definitely the way to go.
Wooden statues and bowls need a little loving care every now and again. Wood can dry out and become brittle. The natural oils of one’s hands will help condition the wood, but usually, something of any significant size like a statue needs more. If wood dries out it can crack and even break. I recommend food-grade mineral oil applied every couple of months to statues. Just take a clean cloth, put a bit of the oil on the cloth, and apply it to the statue. Usually, the wood will soak it right up.
With ritual bowls, it’s even more important to keep them conditioned. Never, ever let a wooden bowl (or any wooden implement) soak in water. Wash them properly of course, but don’t leave them soaking in water. It can completely ruin them. I once had a friend take two of my ritual knives and, completely well meaning, leave them soaking overnight in soapy water. The handles were hand carved wood. They were ruined. There was no coming back from that damage. It was a hard lesson to learn but one I never forgot. (I couldn’t even be angry with my friend – she was just being helpful and doing the dishes). Wash and dry your wooden bowls right away. With wood, I don’t even suggest leaving it air dry. I manually dry even wooden cooking implements. Then, spread a thin layer of mineral oil on, again, working it in with a clean cloth.
The same goes for one’s drinking horn. Horn can become dry and brittle too. I usually wash my drinking horns right after ritual (never let them sit overnight without first cleaning them), dry them thoroughly and then, before putting them away, I will give them a rub down with mineral oil (always food-grade oil). This time, I washed and oiled the horn first because I had taken it to show a group of students a couple of weeks ago. I figured a little extra loving care wouldn’t hurt.
Mineral oil can be used to oil knives too. So, that’s my practicum post for the day. Have a lovely equinox everyone and a good rest of the weekend.
So many Gods…so many ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Another thoughtful post from Freyja’s Frenzy.
Our Gods are many, and They are beautiful.
Each with Their distinct paths and Their ways.
One of the most enriching, frustrating and multilateral parts of being a polytheist is finding out that the teachings and the road of one deity doesn’t necessary apply towards another. Indeed, it may not even apply towards different people owned by the same deity.
I recently had a short exchange with a man who belongs to Hela. Forgoing the rather explosive correspondence that we exchanged, as well as an unnecessary dose of impiety that poured eventually from his fingertips, this prompted me to include prayers to Hela into our daily prayer ritual.
We have read many prayers to Her that night, and it was a very powerful and revealing experience. There were prayers that asked Her to strip one of all their mortal coils and memories so that they…
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I am indebted to Rowan Williams for his work “On Christian Theology,” wherein he offers a rich and nuanced discussion precisely about how to speak theologically – i.e. about the Gods—without crossing the line into speaking. *for* the gods. I was first exposed to his writing two years ago when I TA-ed for one of my professors who was teaching an intro to theology course. Now, I am teaching Williams’ text, or at least the excerpt on theological integrity, in my own intro course. It’s something that crosses all religious boundaries and denominations and something with which anyone who is writing, blogging, speaking, or presenting on theological issues really should be aware. It has changed the way I write and also changed the way I evaluate the writings of others. If we are writing about our Gods publicly, with the thought, however remote, that newcomers might read and be influenced by our writings, then there is an obligation there to do that writing with utmost integrity. What constitutes “integrity” is something that I think we’re always examining, learning, and refining.
Theology is complicated and the ways in which our religious experiences touch our lives, impact us emotionally, shape us spiritually, and guide us down various roads of virtue are likewise complicated and often antagonistic to mundane, secular living. There’s always a process of negotiation happening as we try to live our religious traditions and to cultivate our devotional lives with integrity. Sometimes we make poor compromises that set us back, or negatively impact our devotion. We ALL do this at different times in our lives and then we have to go back, figure out where we went awry, and do a bit of course correction. That’s ok. If we handle that well, it can make our faith much, much stronger. We make decisions about how we mark ourselves out as devout people, about how we carry our faith into the secular world, about how we define and delineate the spaces in which we move as marked by our awareness that the Gods are all around us. We carry Them after all, wherever we go. That itself is a process of negotiation and figuring all of this out can make us clumsy and fumbling as we are formed and remade anew again and again in our practice and in our faith. Having some scaffolding, some sense of how to do this with integrity can serve as a guidepost, a lifeline, a small handbook to see us through.
“Integrity” has two meanings:
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
- The state of being whole and undivided.
So, what does that mean when it comes to discussing our Gods? How is theological discussion rooted in integrity or not? How do we know? Rowan Williams dives right into this question and comes up with a few answers. Firstly, a “discourse is without integrity” if it “conceals its true agenda.” It must be honest, and an honest attempt to communicate and create dialogue. The language and arguments must mean exactly what they seem to mean on the surface. There’s no hidden agenda or quest for power. Keeping it open and honest in this way allows for a conversation to happen. It allows for the possibility of “a genuine response.” The essential agenda of one’s conversation is clearly articulated, without deceit or shifting goalposts.
Because it is a conversation, there is a certain open-endedness to the discussion. There’s the possibility for growth and correction, of going more deeply into the issue at hand, of finding different answers and then finding new and different ones again. If that is lacking, if there is concealment of purpose, of the agenda, then the “conversation” is little more than a strategy for the acquisition or retention of power (and I’m quoting Williams here again). This is one of the reasons I am so critical about polytheistic writing that pushes a political agenda: it is dishonest about its purpose. If you’re writing about the Gods, write about the Gods. If you’re writing about your politics, write about your politics. Be up front and stop trying to convince your readers that one equals the other.
Writing about the Gods with integrity is more than that though. Yes, we start by being completely upfront and open about our agenda, but that’s not enough. We have to seek and write and speak in a way which allows for answers, but also for a continuation of the discourse. There is no final end to theological discussions because in part, the Gods and Their work is never-ending. And this is what specifically sets theological discussion apart from any other type of conversation. There’s always an unseen participant. When we talk about the Gods, it’s a conversation in which the Gods take part. What this means is that if we want to do this with integrity, we cannot then speak FOR the Gods. When we speak for the Gods, we are taking upon ourselves a claim to power and authority that shuts down any dialogue, that prevents a continuation of the discussion, and prohibits free exploration and response (1). We are putting ourselves in the position, of the Gods.
This is problematic. It lacks integrity for sure, but it’s also impious and intensely disrespectful of the Gods Themselves. If I am writing about any topic, and I say, “You will have to answer for Odin for your position here because He thinks…” then I am stepping onto unholy ground. I am speaking in place of my God and taking for myself an authority that belongs to no human being.
If instead, I say, “well, in my experience I would be cautious because I think that Odin might not like it” or “I’m inferring from what we know in lore” or “based on this divination, I think…” then that is different. I’m qualifying my statement. There is room for the Gods to move and express Themselves. I’m not taking Their position. In other words, I’m qualifying my statement, leaving room for those reading or listening to me to have their own experience with Odin and leaving room for theophany, or individual discernment, and for the Gods to speak on Their own. This care in speech is all the more important for us when we serve as oracles because we are imperfect vessels and even in the case of an oracular statement, it is filtered through the lens of our minds, our cognition, our experience. I might be 110% sure of something that comes up in divination but I’m always going to qualify it. Why? Because I am translating and interpreting. I receive information, patterns, and sensory input, then filter (translate) it into human idiom, words and images that make sense and then I convey (interpret) that for my client. There’s room for error (2). Likewise, when we are writing or speaking about topics that are deeply important to us: there’s always room for error.
Williams states this more boldly: “religious and theological integrity is possible as and when discourse about God declines the attempt to take God’s point of view” (3). How often do we see this on blogs and in our communities?
God hates f*gs. (This one is easy to argue against. We see groups like Westboro Baptist Church preaching their message of hate, using vile rhetoric like this and most of us are rightly disgusted. I can’t even bring myself to type it out fully. We can see the lack of integrity here. It’s not so easy though when we agree with the message like my second example below).
Freya loves trans people. (well, yes, I think we can infer this from Her stories but let’s not state it as a totalizing perspective. We don’t *know.* We must resist the urge to speak as though we are Freya, as though we know with 110% certainty.).
I can even see speaking with utter certainty within the bounds of one’s relationship with a God. I know for instance, inasmuch as any human being can, what Odin wishes of me at a particular moment. But even there, I have to interrogate my discernment, constantly, because I want to be sure, because I want to avoid error, because it is important that I know. I wouldn’t say that Odin wants X for every single Odin’s person out there. If we realize that the Gods are there, silent conversational partners in every discourse we have about Them, then it changes the way we approach that discourse. We must, if we wish to write and speak with integrity, leave space for the individual to encounter the Gods for him or herself. We cannot claim what Williams calls a “totalizing perspective;” we cannot claim to be the moral voice of a God, unerring and infallible (4).
We may suggest. We may infer. We may consider. But to put ourselves forward as speaking or writing infallibly for a Deity is to silence the voices of our Gods. Always, always we must leave that space for the Gods to be Their own voice, Their own presence. We must direct our conversation and our writing to the Gods without closing the door to Their response. In this way our work not only has the honesty that is so much a part of what “integrity” means, but it forms a unified whole, working with the Gods, rather than against, rather than pushing the Gods out of the conversation completely.
- See Williams, 5.
- Now of course, it’s my job to study and practice, and pray, and meditate, and maintain my protocols and cleansing rites, so that my discernment is sound, but there is always room for human error. There’s a saying in translation studies that I can’t help but think of here: “Translator: Traitor.” Every time you touch a text to translate it, you’re twisting it away from what the original intended. You might be brilliant. You might have the best of intentions. Your result might be equally brilliant but there is a process happening that allows for subjectivity and interpretation and that is where error may creep in. It’s no longer the original voice of the original author.
- Williams, 6.
We must never in any way neglect the Gods, neither by day nor night, in public or in private, neither in word nor deed; in working and in repose let the soul be continually directed to God.
An excellent article on the sacrality of choice by Freyja’s Frenzy. It’s long but most definitely worth the read.
Choice. Use it or surrender it, and thereby surrender your power.
I grew up on reading Russian fairytales. Growing up in Ukraine, this was pretty normal. The good ones – and there are many, I can recommend some – often have a hero who needs to undertake a quest and who at some point ends up at a crossroad. At the crossroads, there is a rock that has some version of the following inscribed on it:
To the right will you ride – yourself you will save, but your horse you will lose
To the left will you ride – your horse will be saved, but yourself you will lose
Straight ahead will you ride – wed will you be
This is a common theme in Russian fairytales, with multiple original versions going back to church Slavonic, an archaic…
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I can hardly believe that today is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. I remember that day all too well. At the time, I worked in finance at a bank with offices in Jersey City. I had to take the train from the World Trade Center every morning. On 9/11/2001 I was running really late so I didn’t dawdle. Usually, I’d make a bathroom stop, grab breakfast, maybe peruse magazines and generally kill time before heading off to a job I really didn’t like. Thank the Gods – and I do all the time – I didn’t do any of that on that particular day. I ran to catch the train in order to get to work on time. Mine was the last train out. The first plane hit as our train was leaving. Five minutes later, we pulled into Jersey City and came out of the station to see the smoke rising from the first tower.
I had maybe a block walk to my office and several co-workers were with me – we all took the same train. We noted the smoke but had no idea what it was. I remember we were puzzled but didn’t think much of it at first. It was only when we got into work and saw all the brokers gathered around the television sets (there were televisions mounted on the wall of the brokerage floor and also in human resources). I don’t remember if we watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center on tv. I remember one of my bosses saying that there was a terrorist attack on the Center and on the Pentagon. My aunt worked at the Pentagon.
I’m an ancestor worker. I reached out to the dead and did not find her there, so I knew she was ok. Turns out, it was her office that got hit but she was coming back from having delivered a package. She saw the plane through the window and thought, “that’s way too low” and turned, trusting her gut, and ran out of the building. She was fine. A holy picture she kept at her desk was fine. The rest was rubble.
I tried to call my mother but could not get through. I did manage to call my best friend to let her know I was ok. My poor mom spent most of the day thinking her daughter and sister were dead. The phone lines had gone down or were so busy we could not get any calls out after the first half hour or so. I wasn’t able to speak to my mother until late that night.
Our office evacuated, fearing another, larger attack. We were told to go to an evac center by the pier. I had a member of my religious House who was legally blind working in the brokerage area. I retrieved her and we went together. Once there, I did my best to minister to those who were frightened, passing out water, offering on the spot counseling. I sat with an EMT who was shaking as she told me what ground zero looked like and saw her panic as airplanes (thankfully our military planes) suddenly flew overhead.
At some point, we decided to donate blood and went to the hospital, but they didn’t need more so my friend and I were left with no way to get home. A lovely Hindu family took us home with them and kept us safe until the trains were running again. We brought water and provisions to the local fire department and then this family, whose name I never learned, walked us to the train station and we went home. The next day, I came into the city to work at the Red Cross center (and this is why I will never support the Red Cross again). They refused to allow me (as a polytheist and priest) or a female episcopalian minister with 18 years’ experience, to work with any of the shocked, hurting people filing in for help. This was the case even though the head of the seminary I had attended was there and vouched for my competence as a chaplain. We were only allowed to pick up garbage. The Red Cross can go fuck itself. They only allowed a couple of Catholic priests and a Rabbi to actually do chaplaincy work. I did witness probably the best example of chaplaincy in action in a young priest who was tending those hurting. His humility and compassion were inspiring.
Later, I went to the hospital where I was one of the chaplains and our supervisors wouldn’t let us minister to patients until we sat in a circle and shared our own shock and horror. I remember one other chaplain, a woman sobbing as she recounted that she had been doing dishes when her five-year-old son called her to the tv. News channels broadcast the attack on the World Trade over and over again (to a degree that I actually find potentially traumatizing to viewers) and her child was watching images of people throwing themselves out of the burning Trade Center. He wanted to know why the people were falling out of the windows. At his mother’s honest answer, he hugged her and said, “Don’t worry, mommy, God will catch them.” That night, for the first time, the Gods hauled me out of my sleep, and I found myself guiding confused, agitated, angry souls across the divide from living to dead. I remember arguing with one woman that she had to cross over. She didn’t or couldn’t realize she was dead. It had all happened so fast, so unexpectedly.
For days we went to the Red Cross to help however we could. The city was a ghost town. People walked around but silently, in a stunned daze. When work started up again the next week, we brought in counselors to help everyone. I worked in HR at the time and one of my jobs was to sit in on the counseling sessions. I saw a Vietnam veteran break down in tears, sobbing that he was afraid his son would be called up into a war like the one he himself had fought. His fears were not without warrant and this man resigned shortly thereafter.
I now teach students who were born after 9/11 but for my generation, this is our defining moment. There is before 9/11 and after. The world that existed before is gone. We have inherited a country willing to sacrifice freedom for security. It’s a bad and dangerous trade off. We’ve inherited a country that has been at war for twenty years. I mourn for the dead. Most of all though, on this day, I remember not only those who died in the attacks: World Trade Center, Pentagon, Flight 93, but also their families; and I remember those who worked tirelessly to retrieve the bodies of the fallen. I remember particularly Father Mychal Judge, chaplain and member of the NY Fire Dept and first recorded victim because he ran toward the horror and not away. I remember the search dogs who suffered depression because they could not find survivors in the rubble. Let us remember all those who have died. Each and every name. They are our dead. Let us remember them.
Bibliophiles that love increasing their book hoards, if you haven’t yet picked up my books “A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions” and/or “Living Runes: Theory & Practice of Norse Divination” there’s a deal right now if you order direct from the publisher. Alas, the deal is only good for orders shipped to a mailing address in the United States, but it is for 30% off. Just use coupon code SEWE at checkout from now until it expires on October 15, 2021 at RedWheelWeiser.com.
ABOUT A MODERN GUIDE TO HEATHENRY
An accessible yet in-depth guide to this increasingly popular pre-Christian religious tradition of Northern Europe
Heathenry, is one of the fastest growing polytheistic religious movements in the United States today. This book explores the cosmology, values, ethics, and rituals practiced by modern heathens.
In A Modern Guide to Heathenry readers will have the opportunity to explore the sacred stories of the various heathen gods like Odin, Frigga, Freya, and Thor and will be granted a look into the devotional practices of modern votaries. Blóts, the most common devotional rites, are examined in rich detail with examples given for personal use. Additionally, readers are introduced to the concept of wyrd, or fate, so integral to the heathen worldview.
Unlike many books on heathenry, this one is not denomination-specific, nor does it seek to overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon or Norse terminology. For Pagans who wish to learn more about the Norse deities or those who are new to heathenry or who are simply interested in learning about this unique religion, A Modern Guide to Heathenry is the perfect introduction. Those who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work as well.
The book takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions (2005) as a foundation and significantly expands upon it with more than 70,000 words of new material especially on devotional work, honoring the ancestors, and theological exegesis. It’s basically twice the word heft of its predecessor!
ABOUT LIVING RUNES
Living Runes provides a thorough examination of the Norse runes that will challenge the experienced rune worker to deepen his or her understanding of these mysteries. The book begins with an explication of the story of Odin, the Norse god who won the runes by sacrificing himself on the World Tree. It continues by examining each of the individual runes in turn, both the Elder Futhark and the lesser-known Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. Each rune is studied not only from a historical viewpoint but also from the perspective of a modern practitioner. You will be introduced to the practice of galdr as well as the magical use of the runes and the proper way to sacrifice to them and read them for divination. Most importantly, the book specifically addresses the runes as living spirits and provides guidance on developing a working relationship with these otherworldly allies.
Living Runes: Theory and Practice of Norse Divination is a re-release of Runes: Theory and Practice. Please note there is NO new content.
My assistant is currently hard at work delving into all of Freya’s bynames (I am currently busy harassing her to put what she’s written so far up on her blog lol). This has inspired me to return to Odin’s Heiti in a similar fashion. Every by-name, every epithet is a mystery. It’s a word of power. It’s a doorway into a very specific face of a God. It’s multi-faceted and complex, and each and every one has a life of its own. It’s been many years since I did any kind of extended meditation on Odin’s epithets (and He has *a lot* of them). Returning to this practice now seems almost like a homecoming.
Since I have my favorite by-names, those to which I return again and again, I thought I would ask my readers which of Odin’s by-names you are most interested in. Which would you like me to focus on? Is there one that is puzzling you, vexing you, or intriguing you? I would welcome your input and invite you to post in the comments here. Let me know which of His hundreds of names you would like me to gnaw upon and I will do my best to oblige. I think this is going to be my ongoing project for the next few months at least if not longer.
Anyway, I look forward to reader suggestions below. 🙂