Category Archives: devotional work

Lectio Divina – March 30, 2021: Havamal, stanza 138

I woke up thinking today that I should start doing more exegesis of our lore – sort of like what I do in my approach to the creation narrative. I asked my assistant to randomly pick a bit of lore, and she suggested the Runatal section of the Havamal. This is the part that talks about Odin’s sacrifice on Yggdrasil by which He won the runes. I will preface this by noting that this is not an academic reading of this text. It is lectio divina, sacred reading for the purpose of devotion.

(Taking up the first stanza, here is the Bellows English translation, followed by the Old Norse, followed by my own translation)

  1. I ween that I hung | on the windy tree,
    Hung there for nights full nine;
    With the spear I was wounded, | and offered I was
    To Othin, myself to myself,
    On the tree that none | may ever know
    What root beneath it runs.

  1. Veit ek, at ek hekk vindga meiði á
    nætr allar níu, geiri undaðr
    ok gefinn Óðni,
    sjalfr sjalfum mér,
    á þeim meiði, er manngi veit
    hvers af rótum renn.

  1. I know, that I hung upon the wind-twisted tree,
    Nine full nights, wounded by spear,
    And given to Odin
    Self given for me myself,
    Upon that tree, which no one knows
    where each root runs (1).

Whenever I encounter this particular text, the first question that comes to my mind is what would you do in order to fulfill the fate the Gods have laid out for you? What would you do to do all that They asked of you, to rise up and become better in your living? There is a conscious choice embedded in this opening line, a conscious decision and irrevocable choice. This was not immutable law, but a God choosing that which led to all He later became. On the human level, this brings home to me that life is made of small choices. Atrocities happen by small, seemingly insignificant choices. The best of humanity is also revealed by the smallest of choices. Those choices are what define a life and more importantly, a character. We are, however, called to choose every day the type of person we want to become, and in this context, we have the capacity to choose devotion every day (and it is a choice). The little choices matter. That is not to say that I think Odin choosing to hang Himself on Yggdrasil was a “little” choice, rather that we are faced with choices large and small throughout each day of our lives and they matter. This is especially the case when we’re faced with the choice to make time for prayer or not, to make time for devotion or not, to center our lives around the Holy Powers …or not. How do we do that, how do we inspire ourselves to do that, and how do we do that consistently well?

That is the first thing that I think of when I read the opening line: I ween (know) that I hung on the windy tree… This verse also highlights the importance of Yggdrasil, the world tree, “steed of the terrible One,” within our cosmology. The Tree supports the architecture of the worlds and at the same time is indisputably tied to Odin. It is central to His deepest and darkest mystery. The Nornir, the Fates, tend the Tree and we can support it too. We can tend the Tree through our piety, our devotion, through cultivating an awareness of the sacrality of our world, of our duties to the Holy Powers, and our ongoing, transformative awareness of how Their presence infuses every atom of creation. Veit ek (I know) tells the reader that there is volition involved in this, conscious knowledge of what one is doing and why. Again, this goes back to conscious choice to do what needs to be done, what is correct to do, what will gain in Odin’s case power (2) and in our case greater devotional awareness, even with the knowledge that it will change everything, that it will hurt, that it will transform in uncontrollable, unplanned ways.

At the same time, when I read this verse, I visualize it, sometimes projecting myself into it as an observer in the hall of my soul’s memory. The Tree is wind-twisted (vindga), so what is that place wherein it rises like? Do the winds howl, drowning out Odin’s later shrieking (there is a later verse that mentions his shriek as He took up the runes)? What abrasive force must those winds have to bend and twist and shape a Tree as mighty as Yggdrasil? This echoes for me the breath by which Odin implanted our souls, starting with the creation of Askr and Embla, taking up wood and remaking it on an ontological level by the power of His breath.

Odin hung nætr allar níu (nine full nights). What is time to a God? With our sacred stories we enter not into human temporality but mythic time. Nine nights, nine eons – there is an incomprehensibility to the question of length of time here. It is always occurring. Part of Odin is always on the Tree. It has not yet occurred. It happened the last age and all of these temporalities are contained inside these three seemingly insignificant words.

He hung wounded by a spear and tradition tells us that it was His own spear (3). When I read this, I think of several things: the need for sacrifice (blood sacrifice) for some mysteries, the sacrality of sacrifice, the power of ordeal and the way pain can be used to open certain spiritual doors, and then, on a more visceral level, what it felt like to have the steel edge of a spear ripping into one’s flesh, driving deep into one’s viscera. Why a spear? It was not enough to hang and suffer. The blood and pain was a necessary part of this ordeal, a necessary key to open up the worlds to the runes and to bring (or perhaps lure) those runes through. Moreover, we have a God associated with the sword (Tyr) but the spear is particularly Odin’s. It’s a long-range weapon, one that takes keen aim and strong arm to use effectively. The sword may require those things as well, but the sword is not a long-range weapon. Is there something in the use of a long-range weapon here, something that hints at Odin fore seeing the long-range implications of His quest for power? I also consider the physical mechanics of aiming a long-range weapon successfully. I shoot fairly regularly and one of the things I really appreciate about using a gun is the focus required for a good, tight grouping. Is this a sign of His focused hunt for power? He later gives an eye for wisdom, so the visual, the power of sight and hard, ruthless focus is all embedded in His story.

To Whom was that blood sacrifice given? The answer of course is to Himself. Odin offered Himself to Himself for Himself (ok gefinn Óðni, sjalfr sjalfum mér). No one else is present in this retelling leaving the reader to conclude that Odin made this sacrifice of Himself to and for Himself and by Himself (4). Sacrifice is a powerful sacrament. Here, a God was sacrificed by a God. The implication of course is that Odin died on the Tree, became Yggr, the Terrible One. The epithets and heiti or by-names of Gods are important. They show facets of a God’s nature, allow us to conceptualize that which is too vast to ever be completely grasped. They also tap, each and every one, into particularly Mysteries of the God in question. Yggr occurs in the name of the Tree: Yggdrasil (drasill means steed). The adjectival form of this by-name, Ýgr, means ‘terrible,’ which of course can have two meanings. A thing can be terrible because it is terrifying, dreadful, and capable of inspiring terror, but something might also be terrible because it inspires awe. This latter usage is the older sense of the word. Something terrible is something that disturbs. It is something of power. I think both senses of the word apply here to Odin, especially if in using the name Yggr (5) we are invoking the corpse God Who died on Yggdrasil and then walked through death to claim to the runes, rising from the Tree full of power. There is another word etymologically related to Ýgr: ýggiungr: one who causes fear. This certainly applies to Odin (and in fact, my glossary notes that it’s used in the Voluspa for Odin (6)). Whatever other mask Odin may wear, however civilized He may seem, at His core, His time on the Tree effected an ontological change in this being, marked by the acquisition of this heiti, and at His core, He is Yggr.

I actually find the last two lines of this stanza the most perplexing and it may simply be that my Old Norse is piecemeal at best. These lines refer to Yggdrasil and note that no one knows to where its roots run…I have always taken this to refer to the Mystery of Odin’s hanging on the Tree. We know from later stanzas that when, as a result of His ordeal and sacrifice, the runes were opened up to Him, that He reached down to grasp them. Did He see the origin point of the Tree? This stanza for me likewise reminds the reader that there are Mysteries we will never plumb and that is part of the sacred order of things. The preposition af annoys me here though. It generally just means the place from or two which something may run or flow, but according to Zoega’s dictionary, it can have the meaning of “among” or even a temporal meaning: past or beyond a particular period of time. It may also have causal implications. I don’t know how to render that adequately in English. I say that in part because I want all of those meanings to be clearly represented in an English rendering. Why? Because this story is connected to our creation story, Odin being one of our primary creator Gods. Also, this is mythic time. If something has valence beyond the here and now, if the roots tell us that the origins of the Tree are prior to the creation of the worlds or even prior to the emergence of materiality and temporality itself, that the Tree is perhaps the pivot point upon which all of this turns, then I want to reflect that in my translation and I haven’t yet figured out a graceful way in which to do so. We don’t know, cannot know where the roots of the tree are, that is where it came from and when. It, like so much of what unfolds in this story is a mystery, a central mystery within our tradition.

Yggdrasil is also traditionally conceived of not just as a Tree but as a gallows (for Odin), so does something of its unknowability refer to the unknowability of death, or perhaps to the power of this God to traverse the path between death and life again – though then that raises the question of whether the Gods are alive in the same sense that we are (the answer to which I think is a ‘no’…they are more. The category of βιός may come from Them, and the vitality of existence but They are more than simply alive or dead or in between). We have mentions of Yggdrasil in the lore (7) but nothing about its point of origin. We do know that the Tree is holy though, not just from its place in the lore, but it is actually accorded this sobriquet in Stanza 27 of the Voluspa. The word here is helgum, which not only means ‘holy’ but more literally having been consecrated or made holy, rendered a fit place for the performance of sacred rites (Zoega). Coming from the word heilagr, there is a sense here not only of holiness but of inviolability.

The Tree is inviolable, yet it is hungry (as any rune master knows). The Tree is inviolable, yet it suffers (this is noted in several places. See note 6). It must be renewed by the work of the Nornir. The Tree is inviolable yet that is not an unchanging condition and does that mutability have something to do with why the blood of a God was required for the runes, with why it was upon Yggdrasil specifically Odin chose to hang?

These are not questions to which I ever expect a clear, cut and dried answer. That’s not how a μύθος works. They are, however, questions that drive me more deeply into contemplation of my God, and tangentially of my own relationship in service and devotion to Him. I look for key words here and for me, reading this stanza now, they are holy, sacrifice, suffering, power. The result: Yggr, the One who Brings Terror; or one might translate it I suppose as “the One Who evokes Awe.” I like both translations because Odin’s nature, as is the nature of any Deity, is more than can ever be fully known through one epithet or story. We are sensate creatures, and we process the world through our sensoria. Can we define our experiences with our Gods any other way than through the visceral experiences Their numen evokes in us?

I’ll stop here save only to note that as the spirit moves me, I’ll be doing regular exegesis of brief passages of our lore. Again, this is not an academic study of these passages, but lectio divina. If you have a particular verse or passage you would like me to cover, shoot me an email. I’ll get to it eventually (in the order they are received). Happy Tyr’s Day, folks.

Notes:

  1. The preposition af seems to have multiple meanings, not just implications of place from which, but also of time – of moving past, beyond. My Old Norse is very basic, but looking at this, I almost want to translate it as “what from the root runs…” Looking at other translations, I know this is incorrect, but I can’t help but think there is more beneath the surface of this line than I’ve heretofore tapped.
  2. He clearly demonstrates in His stories that power, knowledge and wisdom are not the same. He doesn’t gain wisdom on the Tree. He gains power (and knowledge). Wisdom comes with another sacrifice, that of His eye to Mimir for a draught of the water of wisdom.
  3. The spear is a weapon particularly associated with Odin Who bears one duergar forged: Gungnir.
  4. I have, though, had UPG that at least for part of the time, Loki accompanied Him and drummed at the base of the Tree, keeping vigil while Odin hung.
  5. Yes, I anglicize His names promiscuously and inconsistently.
  6. Stanza 28 wherein Odin is referred to as “terror of the Gods” uses the word ýggiungr for “Terror of the Gods”.
  7. See Stanzas 19-20, 27, 45 of the Voluspa, stanzas 29, 31-34, and 44 of the Grimnismal , chapters 15 -16 of the Gylfaginning, and chapter 64 of the Skaldskaparmal, in addition to the Havamal stanza elaborated upon here.

Shrine pic: part of my ancestor shrine

A close up of the part of my ancestor shrine given to the castrati.

Learning the Runes – A Few Tips to Those Starting Out

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure

One of the key mysteries of our tradition is that of the runes. The word itself, rúnrúnar (1) means just that: ‘secret’ or ‘mystery.’ Our high God Odin (Oðinn) hung on Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days in agony, pierced by His own spear, a sacrifice to Himself. The result of this ordeal was acquisition of the runes and the knowledge and ability to wield them. There is much the story doesn’t tell us, starting with where the runes originate, what they are, and what their connection to the fabric of creation might be. 

I talk about all of these things in my book Living Runes, so I won’t focus on that too much in this post. In short, I think they originate in the Ginnungagap, are a family of living, sentient spirits, and are worked into the architecture of existence in numerous ways, creating loopholes through which the holy can seep (or work) again and again. When I think about this, they’re so often in motion, coursing through creation the way platelets, plasma, and blood cells course through our veins. They may rivet the more liminal parts of creation in place, or they may whirl and dance through the world working His will and their own. I think it varies and it’s something I’m still exploring in my own practice.  

What I wanted to discuss today is one of the techniques that I employed when I was first learning how to really engage with the runes. This is also something that I give to my apprentices when they are learning the runes for themselves. Usually, this is done after one has initially met the runes through offerings and galdr – a round 1 of ‘getting to know you,’ shall we say. Once a student has passing familiarity with the runes, knows what they are, has maybe galdred a bit, or meditated with them, once he or she has his or her own devotional relationships to Gods and ancestors securely established (2), when that student is ready for the second round of in-depth engagement, this is what I have each of my apprentices do (and no, this isn’t in my book). I do this myself every now and again myself. One never stop learning after all!

Before I describe this, I want to offer one caveat. If you are going to do this, begin with Odin. He is Master of the Runes (Rúnatýr – God of the runes) and they are first and foremost His mysteries. Afterwards, next approach the Deity or Deities in turn to whom you are dedicated, Whom you would consider your fulltrui, Who hold the most significant place in your personal devotions. This is simply a matter of both protocol, and courtesy and respect. 

Now, onto the exercise. 

A). Make a list of the various Deities that you venerate or Whose insight you might be interested in gaining with respect to the runes. For instance, Odin, Frigga, Freya, Loki, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Heimdall, Mani, Sunna, Sinthgunt, Eir. (Make your own list, starting with Odin. This is just an example, though it’s close to the list one of my apprentices recently employed). 

B). Each night, meditate upon and galdr the same rune, first making offerings to one of these Deities, and then to the rune itself. So, start with Fehu. Set up a working altar or shrine, some place where you can make offerings to the rune of the night and to whatever Deity you’re approaching. If you have a personal household shrine (and if you’re doing this, you should (3)), you can go ahead and use that. The first night, make an offering to Odin. Offer prayers to Him and ask Him if He would be willing to teach you something about fehu. Make an offering to fehu itself, asking it if it would work with Odin and teach you something about itself. Then galdr the rune, meditate on it, write down your insights. Thank the two powers, Deity and rune invoked, and you are done for the night. Work through your list of Deities meditating on the *same* rune. When you’re done, move on to the next rune and go through the list again in the same order. 

What you’re essentially doing is building your own book of correspondences as you engage in this process. I would also repeat this, either approaching the same Deities or perhaps with a new list (though always begin with Odin. He is the doorway to the runes in many respects), every few months. Be polite when you approach both Powers. You are not after all, entitled to Their wisdom. As with anything, the more polite you are, the more productive this is likely to be. Even having worked with the runes for close to thirty years, I still keep this in mind every time I approach them. At the end of your list, or even somewhere in the middle of it, do one night where you do NOT approach a Deity, but work only through the rune itself. 

I stumbled on this process of approaching various Deities like this accidentally. I was having a bit of trouble with something and struggling to figure out how to work the rune I had decided to call upon. Completely unexpectedly, Sigyn sorted it out giving me an unexpected bit of insight. I thought, ‘wait. You know runes?’ Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised – She is a Deity after all –but when we have deeply personal devotional relationships with our individual Gods, it can be easy to forget that They are well, Gods. It can be easy to think that we know Them as we might know a friend down the way. We may indeed know a little given that relationships are mutual processes, but no matter how much experience we have in devotion to a Deity, THEY are always so much more. 

One of the things that I really like about this particular exercise also, is that it allows the one doing it the opportunity to approach Deities he or she may not have previously considered approaching. It allows for a potential devotional relationship to bloom. It gets one out of one’s comfort zone, away from the regular way of doing things and allows room for unexpected insights to occur. 

There are things to consider when you are engaging in this process: how does the rune feel? When you galdr, do you get any images running through your mind, any words popping up wanting to be worked into the galdr, any other sensory expressions of its presence (and that may include taste and smell too)? How do you feel before, during, and after? Has your impression of the rune changed at all? Do your best to keep a good record of this. It is helpful when you’re going back to check your progress. Be sure to stay hydrated and maybe eat a little protein after your nightly sessions. I would also be sure to center and ground well afterwards.

 Finally, the futhark tells a story. Each Aett (4) contains its own mysteries. It is normal that some runes will prove harder and more difficult to access than others. That’s ok, and the reverse is also true. Most will have one or two runes stepping forward as a guide through the futhark and through one’s work therein. When you encounter a rune that just won’t open, that’s ok. Be respectful, do your best, make your offerings and come back to it later. There are runes (for me, mostly in the third aett) that have taken years before they allowed me to so much as dip a toe into their mysteries. Again, as with so much spirit-work, you’re building a relationship. Part of the process of learning to work with runes is that they are learning your mental patterns, internal language, internal symbol set and you are learning something of theirs and the two of you are building this pidgin (is that the correct linguistic term?) by which you can communicate. You’re learning each other’s language and building a shared syllabary through which you can productively communicate. That’s going to take time. Some things cannot be rushed. 

Before I close, I want to take a moment’s focus on the first aett. As with our sacred texts, there are numerous ways that one can approach and interpret the narratives that we’re given. Since there are numerous patterns in the way the runes relate to each other, one can tell many stories. While these stories are not direct engagement with the runic powers, they are a means of conceptualizing and learning from them. They are doorways into each rune’s power. Here is a very brief way of reading through the first aett connectively. Fehu is the luck that flows through our blood (ancestral luck, hamingja), vitality, wealth, abundance, power. Like a sap through a tree or chlorophyll through a leaf, it flows through our veins and the veins of our soul body giving it life – just like Loður gave us sense-awareness and color, and the roaring pulse of our heart’s blood when the Gods created humanity. Uruz is raw power, maegen, the ability to tap into, access, and use one’s luck. It is initiation that awakens us to the Powers, challenge by which we earn the right to use what we have been given. Thurisaz is a challenge to focus, to discipline, to hone and temper our power. It’s the hard work we do to strengthen our spiritual and ethical muscles. It is the force that shatters our illusions,  clears us out, devours what no longer serves, frees one – sometimes violently – from constraints, burns like napalm in the soul until we order ourselves rightly and leave our bullshit behind. (Edited 3/7 to include ansuz, as I was writing with a migraine and accidentally left one of my favorite runes out). Ansuz is divine inspiration, ecstasy (in the classical religious sense), surety and confidence in the Work. It is the touch of the Gods, grace that allows us to persevere in our spiritual becoming even when it is hard. It is the opener of the way, that, if we are working to become rightly ordered, will show us the way forward. Raido is movement, momentum, overcoming of obstacles, the progress made when we accomplish the first three runic lessons and are rightly ordered with the Powers, and the power by which we may find our way through any obstacles in the way of that. Kenaz is the torch, the hearth fire, the offering fire, a candle on a shrine, the light of knowledge, piety, and devotion. It is that which we have been given to tend, to keep fed and bright and warm (our devotion, our traditions). Gebo is the process of exchange between us and the Holy powers, the law by which we are called to live our lives, the pious sensibility underlying every positively ordered engagement with the Powers, and with each other. Wunjo is the fulfillment of fehu, pleasure and ecstatic awareness of the powers, perfection and glory, joy and transformative power. It is the sum total of the other seven runes in this aett. One cannot access the fullness of wunjo, without first accessing and understanding these preceding runes. Wunjo is also the mead of inspiration, of frenzy, of magic, of inspiration on every possible level. How will you drink of it, how will it shape itself to your mind and talents? It will enliven you for the work to come with the next aett, which takes us down immediately into the place of the dead. This is the foundational work one must do in order to access the Mysteries, in order to be of use to our Gods, in order to become functionally realized human beings. It is ongoing work, and the runes can reflect that, though they are also so much more (5). I would also stress that this is only one way of lightly tapping into their insights. 

I’ll wrap this up for now. As all rune work begins with Odin, so too should it end with praises to this God Who had the will to win them. 

Hail to the God of the gallows,
Terrible and unrelenting.

Hail to the Wyrd-riven Wonder-worker,
Who leaves ecstasy in His wake.

Hail to the Bale-eyed Beguiler,
with His whispered charms
and savage conjurings.

Hail to the Lord of Asgard,
Architect of the Worlds
Who breathed us into Being,

Eternally let us praise Him.

Notes: 

  1. These are the nominative and genitive singular forms respectively. 
  2. It goes without saying that the runes are a specialty, as well as being a Mystery all their own, and not only does one not have to work with the runes to be a good Heathen, but those who don’t already have their spiritual houses, i.e. their devotional world, in some semblance of order, should not work with them. They are tools of magic and divination and it becomes very complicated, very quickly. 
  3. Really, if you don’t have the most basic devotional space set up and active in your home, you’re not ready to work with the runes no matter how far along you think you are. 
  4. This word just refers to a set of eight. There are three sets of eight that make up the elder futhark. 
  5. They are sentient, amoral, non-human spirits. They have their own agendas and are allied to the All-Father Who also has His agenda. It’s healthy to never forget that. 
AM 28 8vo, Codex runicus

What to do when the Gods aren’t there

Well, firstly, the Gods are always there. The question really should be, what do I do when I can’t sense or hear Them anymore? 

This is an important question and a painful one. Those times will happen in the midst of the deepest devotion. Christian writers would call times like this a ‘dark night of the soul’, but it’s part and parcel of spiritual life that there are fallow times. If handled properly, which I’ll talk about in a bit, those times can be some of the most fruitful. Weird, right? (Also weird, or at least a nice bit of synchronicity, that I was in the middle of writing this, about halfway done, when it came up in a comments thread on one of my posts). 

The first thing I would say right away is that with few exceptions (and those exceptions can be teased out via divination, since that is a sacred tool that we have at our disposal. Respect your diviners, people.) this is not punishment. It doesn’t happen because the Gods are angry. It doesn’t happen because you’ve done something wrong. Like anything else, there is a rhythm to our spiritual lives and that includes certain plateaus. 

Secondly, fallow times can be extremely productive. They build our spiritual muscles, so to speak. It’s easy, after all, to engage devotionally when you’re getting feedback, even the feedback of just having a palpable sense that the Gods are *there*. It’s not so easy when that’s not happening. Here’s the thing though, we need to be able to do our devotion even when we’re not feeling the feedback partly because it’s not about us – we’re not owed constant pats on the head (and I know this looks harsh in print even to me, but I really don’t mean it that way. It’s perfectly natural to want to have that reciprocal sense of the Gods to Whom we’re devoted. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Most people can’t sense Them as a general rule. When we can, every single time we can, it’s a grace and a blessing). Anything can disrupt that on our end. Maybe we’re tired, stressed, getting sick. Maybe we’re distracted. Maybe it’s a plateau that presages a time of deep spiritual growth. We’re never going to know unless we stay the course. 

That’s the most important advice I can possibly give when one stumbles into one’s dark night of the soul: stay the course. Continue with your devotions. Make your offerings. Pray. Understand that just because at this moment, for whatever reason, you’re not sensing the divine Presence, well, that doesn’t mean the Gods are absent. It just means that, again, for whatever reason, you’re not able to sense Them at this time. I might increase my ritual cleansing regimen…miasma/spiritual pollution can gunk up our ability to sense the Holy, so I might make sure I’ve got everything under control there, but otherwise, I would not worry (1). 

Longing is a powerful means by which to find one’s way to the Gods. Longing renews us and it renews our devotional connections. I think there is a mystery there to be untangled. There’s a powerful grace in coming to Them in utter longing for Their presence. Maybe that’s what these fallow times are meant, in part, to show us. 

Regardless, if this happens to you, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad polytheist. Make sure you haven’t been neglecting your devotional work and prayer (I find the spiritual senses, much like physical muscles can become blunted through lack of use), but if all is in order there, continue as you have begun and trust your Gods. There is wisdom in the dark nights. We learn to cleave to Them in faith and surety if we persevere and that is a powerful thing. After all, when you can sense the divine Presence, it’s not really faith; it’s a special type of knowledge. The faith is a discipline that we need to develop too. 

Notes:

  1. While sometimes it is the result of one’s negative actions, miasma can be a purely neutral thing, simple consequence of one’s surroundings. For instance, it is right and proper to visit the graves of your ancestors and leave offerings. That’s a holy thing. When you do that, you’re exposing yourself to a particular type of miasma, of spiritual pollution. It’s not bad or evil. It just is. It’s a different state of being. Therefore, it’s necessary to cleanse that away when you get home (and in that case, I’d do it by ablution with khernips). One of the consequences of miasma is that it can interfere with our spiritual clarity. That’s why it’s so important to [spiritually] cleanse oneself regularly. 

Word of the Year

I got this idea from a genealogy list that I follow (and highly recommend. Check it out here). Instead of making resolutions for the New Year, this genealogist suggests that one choose a word to be a focal point throughout the year. It represents your goals, what you wish to achieve, what you want to be the hub around which everything else revolves for the coming year. I really like this idea. I like having a single touchstone to guide one, a single point to which one can return again and again when chaos and stress threaten to derail one’s endeavors. I also like words. This is a win-win for me and maybe for some of you too.

So, I am choosing two, and may they work together like a pair of interlocking hands, each one supporting and strengthening the other: focus and devotion

I think one thing we upon which we can all agree is that 2020 was a really terrible year for so many people. 2021 has already begun, chaotic and terrifying. I write a lot about how it can be difficult to motivate oneself to begin consistent devotional practices, how we can all grow forgetful or obstinate in our devotions, how sometimes it’s just hard to organize oneself to stay the course. All of that is true (Gods know I’ve been through it all myself). What I don’t talk about as much as I should is that external pressures can be equally problematic, and sometimes more so. It can be very, very easy to fall away from one’s devotional practices, especially when anxieties are running high, especially when we’re busy, especially when we need those devotional practices the most. I also really think that devotion, religion, simple piety are all under attack in our world and that can create a terrible degree of resistance as we struggle to find and maintain our footing in our religious and devotional worlds. The key to countering this is to control the parts that are within our power to control.

Let me offer an example: If I’m having trouble getting up to pray in the morning and I really, really want to do this (or more importantly, I feel that my Deity wants me to do this), well, I can choose to go to bed earlier. (This is, admittedly, a very simple example, but use your imaginations and expand the metaphor). That involves something within my power to change and control. That’s not the case with a lot of external stressors so it can be helpful, I think, to have a by-word or touchstone to guide one along the way. It also gives one a lens through which to focus one’s meditation, which is also helpful. 

My devotion to the Holy Powers is the single most important thing in my life. I want to stay clean there, engaged – fiercely engaged, and focused. I don’t want to allow myself to get carried away on a tide of emotion, of frenetic work, of anxiety, stress, and most of all, I don’t want to fall prey to acedia. I have in the past and it is a terrible thing, a deep, dank pit from which the climb back to the light is hard and painful.  

That’s why my second word is ‘focus.’ I don’t want anything to get in the way of my focus, not only devotionally, but across all avenues of my work. Stress can wear a person out and Gods know the past year has been so, and let’s be honest, when it comes to stress, this year isn’t looking great either. I don’t want any of that to impinge upon my focus. I want these two words: focus and devotion to be emblazoned on my brain as something to strive to, to return to again and again, to cultivate, and hone. It gives me a reminder, something to guide my way back when I wander off my self-chosen path, and I’m curious to see the results. 

Excellence in anything, after all, must be (as Aristotle opined) conciously cultivated. It doesn’t just happen. We have a lot of power and potential to cultivate ourselves, especially in the intangible world of devotion. There are so many ways we can go to our Gods and venerate Them. There are always going to be external stressors that we can’t control. I think it’s important to focus on what we CAN. So, (leaving aside those words, you know which ones I mean lol) what are your words, my readers, for the coming year? 

A Zentangle drawing by Lynn Vaughn Allen — I love word art. I think this is just charming. I don’t know Ms. Allen. Don’t go harassing her now. I just found this image on Pinterest.

Greeting New Spirits- There is a Protocol

And oh how I wish I’d remembered that tonight!

It has been a very, very fruitful Yule season. As part of that, there is an ongoing cycle of gift exchange and my family gifted me with several ongon, spirit infused ritual pieces. They are beautiful and the first two were welcomed into the house with all the decorum new spirit allies should receive. The second two …um…not so much. There is a lesson here and one I am both grateful for but should really know by now. 

Two of them sat in a box for a week, maybe a little more. They’d arrived right before our solstice ritual proper, and we were only expecting one. They were big spirits and I knew that it would be very important to place them properly but we don’t really do divination during the ember days, at least not from Modranacht till the New Year, and we all knew that div would be required to determine the proper place for them to live. All of that would have been fine, but we didn’t properly explain it when we packed them away, and then new problems arose tonight when we did our first divination of the year. 

We got it sorted out, but at first it was really aggravating. They wouldn’t respond to any of the divination systems we use. I kept getting “go to divination” but they weren’t familiar with our systems and we didn’t know theirs. It took much, much longer than it should have done and it wasn’t until the whole thing was over and done with, and I was placing one of the spirits that he explained to me what we should have done. I’m sharing that here for any of you who might find yourself in the same boat. Let me just say, I’m grateful for the patience of these two new spirits, tremendously so. 

Firstly, we should have greeted them and made small offerings right away. It was fine not to divine for a week or so, but rather than keep them in a box, we should have welcomed them and incorporated them into the household rituals. That way, they would learn about us, we about them, the household spirits would get to know them and vice versa, and it would be easier to figure out how to forge a functional relationship. They’re not things. These are living spirits. It was like I kept a super genius cat locked in a box for a week because I wasn’t sure where to put his food! Or like grandma came to visit and you kept her locked in the bathroom for a week! Both working with spirits and divination involving spirits is a matter of learning each other’s languages, symbol systems, mental metaphor and image maps, of figuring out how to most efficiently communicate with each other. We lost out on an opportunity to do that early on and we were unintentionally rude too.  What’s more, had we let our house spirits get to know the new spirits and vice versa, our own spirits could have better facilitated this whole process. 

Secondly, when we sat down to divine tonight, we should have started by inviting the new spirits in, welcoming them again, making offerings and most importantly of all, explaining the systems we use, how they work, etc. THAT is what made the whole thing so aggravating. They had to figure that out on their own because it never in a million years occurred to us to make that explanation before we started. 

Everything worked out well in the end, there were apologies and offerings made and the situation was properly sorted but we made it a lot harder on ourselves by not having a set protocol instituted as a matter of course when welcoming new spirits into the cadre. I have a set protocol for divination from which I never deviate and I instituted that after a horrible experience where I was tricked by an unhappy and sick spirit, a recently deceased ancestor of the client who was jealous and angry that my client had a life while the spirit, who had died of a drug overdose, no longer did. It was nasty, messy, and never would have been so had we stuck to our protocols. That time, I was convinced to skip them. Never again. Now, I have learned another valuable lesson about first contact protocol (lol) and it’s not one that anyone in my house will neglect from here on out. 

One caveat: because we are so familiar with the Gods and spirits that form such a strong and beloved part of our Household cadre, we tend to forget to be properly formal (and hospitable, because that is what these protocols are, in part) with new spirits. 

I hope this is helpful to those of you reading this who likewise have spiritwork concerns. I receive a lot of questions about how to engage properly with Gods and spirits, about my own protocols, and I find that sometimes pointing out where one falls short, and the lessons learned from that can be tremendously valuable. We learn, by Gods we learn. It sure as hell isn’t always pretty though. 

Might As Well End the Year Just Like It Was Begun

Predictably Patheos Pagan is on a roll again. If you want to learn how to do any type of polytheism poorly head right on over. I’m still shaking my head at what was read to me this morning. Apparently, people are freaking out because some polytheists (iirc, the conversation is about Celtic polytheism, but Heathenry was mentioned too) choose to A) honor Gods of multiple traditions or B) NOT honor Gods of multiple traditions. If you do B, you’re a racist (and maybe acting like the Heathens do! *gasp*) and if you do A, you’re doing it wrong, or some such. The lack of logic, sense, and piety gets kind of hard to follow sometimes. 

Get ready to have your minds blown, folks: either one can be proper and pious. Either one. It depends on the devotee, the Gods, their wyrd, their tradition, and any number of things. This is between the individual devotee and his or her Gods, and any sensible polytheist would get his butt to a good diviner, preferably one within his tradition (who is therefore familiar with that person’s primary Deities) to find out what his Gods want, if his can’t sort it himself. You’re not racist if you choose to only honor one particular pantheon (and unless that pantheon is Germanic, it doesn’t make you Heathen. Know what? Being Heathen is not synonymous with being racist either, and it’s just flat out hate-speech to claim otherwise). You’re not a bad polytheist if you honor more than one pantheon. Actually, the latter is probably closer to what many ancient polytheisms looked like. 

Here’s the thing, and if this bunch actually read books, studied history and theology, and had one wit of sense among them, they’d know this: there was hardly ever any expectation of exclusivity in pre-Christian religion. One honored one’s household and ancestral Gods, the Gods of one’s city or town, and was free to initiate into any mystery cultus he or she wished that would take them (just because we might want initiation, doesn’t mean we are owed access after all). If one did not wish, that was fine too. There are a lot of problems we face as modern polytheists working to restore our respective traditions. This bitch ain’t one of them. It shouldn’t be one of them, and really, there are better things to do than invent problems. 

My caveat, and I say this working in a blended tradition, is that each family of Deities should be honored according to Their own customs. I would not advise mixing and matching ritual styles. That’s a matter of politeness and respect. Our polytheistic ancestors crossed pantheons all the time. Here again though, if there is any confusion, an elder, priest, spirit worker, or diviner can help you sort it out. If you are called to honor only one pantheon, that doesn’t mean you’re not hearing your Gods rightly (yes, this was one of the comments made on Patheos: if you honor certain Gods exclusively, you’re not hearing Them). There could be reasons you can’t even comprehend for why They might put that restriction on you, and it’s hubris for some pissant second rate blogger over at Patheos, or anywhere else,  to imply that it is hateful or wrong. Likewise honoring across pantheons. 

You can find a million reasons not to do devotion but in the end it’s a choice. Every choice creates opportunities and closes off others. We have to work that out – in fear and fucking trembling – with ourselves and more importantly with and before our Gods. You know who doesn’t count in this equation? Some blogger on the internet whom you will never meet, and whose opinion matters to no one. 

A New Shrine

One of the things we did in my household this Yule was set up a shrine to Idunna. I’ve never really had any type of devotional relationship with Her before, but this autumn, we all began finding ourselves deeply drawn to Her veneration. I wanted to share a picture of the shrine. I’m very pleased with the way it’s coming along. It is a wall shrine, though I”m not sure that comes through in the photo. We have it hanging at the top of our stairs and every time we pass by, we pray to Her.

Tonight was our last formal Yule ritual. We had Modranacht on the 20th, a proper Yule rite on the 21st, and tonight we did a rather informal rite for the House of Mundilfari. Our next rite will be on the 31st to usher in the New Year. Happy Yule, folks.

Sunwait Week 5: Sunna and Raido

We always begin our rites with a fire blessing that ends with the words Thunor weoh three times. Thor hallow. He is the one to Whom we turn, along with fire itself, to protect, cleanse, and gird our sacred space, and tonight He, along with Sunna, was so very present. Our ritual was humbling and it left me in tears. I have never before had a particular devotional relationship with either Thor or Sunna…until this year, and with Sunna, that didn’t really happen until this Sunwait. Suddenly, I have a sense of Them, Their Presence, and the mysteries They bring. I never expected this, and it is a blessing. Sitting in ritual Their presence – Sunna, Thor, and even raido– was so soothing and peaceful, so very there. It has completely transformed the room, something we all felt, and I think from here on out, it may well have likewise transformed my devotional relationship with these Powers. I am so very, very grateful for even the barest sense of Them, and the way I felt Them tonight, it really underscored what a tremendously holy time Yule is, and certainly why our ancestors honored both Thor and Sunna so fervently (1)!

It also occurred to me during the ritual that there is a very potent relationship between Sunna and Thor (as colleagues), particularly when it comes to hallowing. It was the last thing I expected to sense. I think in part, there is a genealogical connection between Them too. In the tradition I follow, Nott is Sunna’s aunt, but She is also Thor’s grandmother through Her daughter Jorð, the Goddess of the earth. That makes Thor and Sunna some type of cousins, I think first cousins once-removed (it also means that Dagr is Thor’s uncle, since Dagr is also a child of Nott – though with a different father than Jorð. Nott had three husbands and She had a child with each) (2).

Raido surprised me too. At first it was difficult to capture its rhythm in the galdr, but then that rune came showing itself as a gauntlet worn by Sunna, as a power that opens the way, as a force that barrels right over any obstacles, brooking no resistance, and also as a rune whose power has been knit into the very fabric of the cosmic architecture (3). 

For the ritual tonight, my housemate Tatyana and I co-wrote the following prayer. Instead of our regular prayers last night, we meditated on Sunna for a time, and then I wrote the first line of each couplet, and she wrote the second. We each tapped into different aspects of Sunna, which was really powerful. I think I want to take some serious devotional time this year to really explore Sunna and all the ways She may manifest. 

Prayer to Sunna with Raido
(by G. Krasskova and T. Vitta)


Hail to Sunna, Who roars across the sky, 
skipping in a half circle through the clouds. 

Hail to Sunna, Whom no force can stop, 
a rolling, roaring fire, unfolding, expanding, and glorious. 

Hail to Sunna, wielding the magic of fire, 
burning away all darkness, ensuring survival. 

Hail to Sunna, mighty Magus,
driving out all pollution, wickedness, and harm 
with Her unstoppable force. 

Hail to Sunna, Whose presence brings healing,
destroying all infection, all that hinders 
the relentless progression of life. 

Hail to Sunna, Who orders the calculated roar of time, 
from summer to fall, fall to winter, to spring, to summer again, 
Inexorable Power. 

Hail to Sunna, Shamaness of the spheres, 
wielding raido in joyous synergy. 

Hail to Sunna, mighty Mother, 
Who opens the way, showering light and blessings
on all the Worlds. 

Hail to Sunna, Who paves the way for Nott, 
welcoming darkness in its rightful time, 
and bringing us to well-earned rest. 


Hail to Sunna, now and forever. 
Hail to Sunna, Glorious Power. 

There is now one more week of Sunwait,  a little over a week until Yule. The rune for next week’s Sunwait is kenaz, and that seems a very fitting way to encapsulate the blessings and holiness of Yule (4). 

Notes: 

  1. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that our polytheistic ancestors were pious, but in tonight’s ritual, I felt like I glimpsed some small measure of how fervently they must have felt about the importance of venerating these particular Holy Powers and why. 
  2. There is nothing in the Eddas about the relationship between Sunna and Nott, but some traditions accept, via shared personal gnosis, that Nott is Sunna’s aunt. Nott’s connection to Thor, however, is attested to in the Gylfaginning. It all really demonstrates though, how deeply interconnected the various families of our Gods are. 
  3. A huge part of that architecture is the cosmic cycles, the shifting of seasons, the turning of day to night to day again, the rhythm of tides and torrents all inexorable, all built into creation by our Gods. 
  4. The runes for Sunwait are really quite perfect a preparation for Yule. Fehu sets us on the right course with luck and blessings, uruz strengthens us for the journey, thurisaz challenges and cleans out any stagnation or corruption, ansuz opens everything up, clearing out the road ahead, raido increases the momentum until we reach kenaz, which encapsulates the holy fire of Yule. It’s a truly beautiful preparation. 

Sunwait – Week 3: Sunna and Thurisaz

I feel like we’re getting into a nice rhythm with our Sunwait rituals. I’m really loving this gentle and ritualized progression toward Yule, and as I said the other night to a friend, I’m really, really glad that we decided to incorporate Sunwait into our hearth cultus this year. Since we decided to do our rites on Fridays, it’s also a lovely way to cap off the week (a particularly significant transition since we tend to immerse ourselves in ritual and devotional work over the weekends). 

So, last night, as is our norm, we began by bearing fire around our space, chanting the fire cleansing song that I learned more than twenty years ago, and asking Thor to cleanse, purify, and bless our space. I wrote about Thor before here. He may specifically be invoked as “Guardian of the Shrine” before rituals to consecrate the space and rite. Thor is awesome. Then, I explained the purpose of the ritual – we all knew, as we’d agreed as a household to do this, but stating that intention was one more way to center our minds and allow for a smooth transition into the appropriate headspace for reverent veneration. After that, I offered the following prayer to Sunna and lit the three candles (the candles for weeks one and two are only about half way burned down):  

Prayer to Sunna
 
Force and fire, that is what You are, 
Swift precision as You plough across the sky, 
Driving back pollution, and cleansing the path
that Day must tread.  Force and fire,
bringing the light that restores our souls,
bringing Your glorious brightness to our world. 
You are force and fire, gleaming and fierce.
Battle ready, You are indomitable. 
There is no obstacle You cannot surmount, 
No enemy You cannot conquer. 
You drive forward the rhythms of the world. 
You smite malefica, wickedness, evil, 
and all that stands against the order created by our Gods. 
These things You obliterate with the force and fire 
of Your passing. That order is Your order, 
blessed and structured by Your holy hands,
and always will You defend it. 
Teach us, oh Sunna, to stand courageously
no matter how afraid we might be,
in defense of that order too. 
Hail to You, Glorious Goddess of the Sun,
May You grant us bravery in our devotions,
as You move across our world 
leading us to Yule. 
 

After this, I galdred thurisaz which came so joyously (there’s really no other word for it). It was like the force of a storm wind hitting the house. That’s how it felt to galdr this rune. He came immediately and with such a tremendous kinetic energy that it left me wired for hours afterwards. We passed a horn filled with sparkling apple cider and hailed Sunna, Her family, Thor, Odin and the runes, our ancestors, and more. After this, we sat down in sacred space, in holy space, and brought out our divination materials. We had been talking earlier about the small asteroid orbiting the moon, and had wondered if it was a physical representation that Mani had had a child. We meant no impiety by divining, but if He had, we wanted to know how or even if we should include that child in our veneration of the House of Mundilfari. We stumbled into epiphany and mystery and I am still shaken by it. 

Sunna wanted this story told or I would not speak it. 
The holy order of the heavens will not fall. 
She and Mani were joyous and the rune that fell was wunjo:
Joy, perfection, a blessed gift. 
They had a child, star of heaven, Himinstjarna,* 
A glorious daughter (fehu tells us how to honor Her:
Song and beauty, art that elevates the soul, 
Land and life and glory, freeing the world of its disorder). 
I thought it lovely and we were moved to tears,
Then I realized what a terrible omen it was, 
but what a powerful hope too. 
The sun and moon will not fall:
Their continuity is ensured by Their child. 
She will bring Them back from the darkness.
A magical gift, hope for our world. 
Mani prepares to go to war. 
Taking up His scimitars again, 
For He was a warrior in days of old. 
But the holy order of the Gods will endure. 
Himinstjarna: praise Her.
 

We closed the div session and then sang Sigdrifa’s Prayer, which is our way of closing almost every ritual. After that, we staggered off to get food, because after the spiritual work that was done, we were ravenous. So, that’s where we are and I think the House of Mundilfari will play a far larger role in our devotions from here on out. 

Mani by V. Hardy

*this is Her name to the best that we could translate with divination, and an ON grammar.