Category Archives: Heathenry

A Couple of Things…

Orthodox Ritual Praxis

This morning I read an article on Greek and Russian Orthodox Church services and it was fascinating. The services, particularly around holy week can be quite grueling. They last for hours and in the most traditional churches people are standing that entire time. Of course, they don’t just stand: they pray, they sing, they move to various icons and light candles and pray some more as the spirit moves them. It’s interactive and quite physically demanding. Here’s the article I read, which actually downplays quite a bit the physical exertion and discipline required.

So I read this and think: we can’t even get people willing to offer water without them whining about how put upon they are, and how they feel being expected to actually DO something is elitist, ablest, classist, insert ‘ism of your choice here.

If people cared about their Gods as much as they cared about the latest cause or video game or Dr. Who episode maybe we’d actually be getting somewhere but I look at articles like the above and realize exactly how far we have to go to hit even a bare baseline of active devotion.

 

The Vikings Didn’t Need Islam to be Religiously Fulfilled.

Then there’s this little gem. Apparently, the Arabic word for God (Allah) was found on some Viking textiles and a group of academics is using this as an opportunity to normalize Muslim invasion of Europe, and to erase our indigenous religions. The scholars involved are claiming that Vikings were influenced in their burial practices by Islam, extensively influenced, because of course Heathen religions couldn’t possibly have complex and fulfilling beliefs about the afterlife. Of course, the Vikings would have had to turn to a monotheistic religion for that. It’s utter bullshit and frankly bad scholarship along with being subtle pro- Muslim propaganda. It goes without saying a certain portion of our communities are celebrating this.

Yes, religions communicated. We know this. No religion evolved in a vacuum and there were borrowings across history. This is a normal part of the conversations that happen culturally between different groups, including religious groups. That, however, is not what the article is saying. It’s flat out giving Islam credit for Viking burial practices and doing so with zero evidence.

Why were there Islamic textiles in the Northlands? Most likely trade. And frankly, given that silk is a luxury item, it shouldn’t be too surprising that it’s found in burials. Why wouldn’t you want to bring back and give pretty, rich things to the dead that you love before sending them off? (I’ve seen this before though in academia. Secularism and/or atheism holds such sway in certain fields, along with the blanket assumption that if you’re educated you will not be religious,  that I’ve actually attended lectures on religious topics like pilgrimage wherein the speaker put forth every possible explanation for why someone would undertake this difficult and expensive process…except devotion and piety. There is a swath of academics who simply cannot conceptualize devotion. It’s quite sad and leads to some seriously shady scholarship or at the very least, scholarship that misses its mark significantly).

Why is that surprising? This is right up there with archeologists finding multiple burials of women having died of war wounds, having been buried with weapons – repeatedly—and acting confused, claiming that perhaps the burials were contaminated because women can’t have been warriors to the degree they’re finding. There is a level of obtuseness and flat out stupidity in this that I find mind-blowing. The standard attitude of academia toward polytheism in the ancient world (they hardly ever acknowledge it in the modern) is to insist it didn’t exist, to insist it was solely a matter of praxis, that there was no meat or belief or devotion or passion there…despite quite a lot of evidence (linguistic, literary, archeological, etc.) to the contrary. The contemporary academic response to polytheism is, essentially, erasure.

Bringing this full circle, it’s bad enough when academics try to erase our devotional worlds. It’s bad enough when they damn our ancestors and their traditions like this. You know what’s worse? When we do it ourselves by simply not giving a damn.

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Third submission to Nehalennia’s Agon

Arrival
by Dr. Emily K.

Welcome Home!
We shouted from the docks on the day You arrived,
Splendid and sailing up from the South,
Your barge trimmed with beaten gold.
A noble hound attended Your right hand
And a basket of the sweetest fruits spilled from Your left.

We have You now!
O Queen who has travelled in many lands,
Now at last in these low fields
Walled off and dug from the ocean
You are home at last.

Keep safe our sailors, silks, silver, slaves,
And all the wealth our merchants will display.
You will be our Mother
Until the day we come sailing to Your harbor
Hounds and health-bearing fruits laid by our sides
As we lie in earth
Seafaring in the mound
Then You will say to us:
Welcome Home!

Submission #2 to Nehalennia’s Agon

To Nehalennia
By V. Morelli

I do not know You, Lady of bogs and marshes,
Goddess of all the liminal places that are home,
sometimes, to those of us who fit nowhere else.
You were venerated by many nations.
You were loved and honored, given sacrifice,
remembered in stone,
remembered in the stories of Your people.
We do not have those stories now.
We have only sparing inscriptions,
an image roughly carved – erased by time –
though surely once beautiful,
Your name, and the knowledge that once, once
not so very long ago, You ruled the trade-ways of the North.
You guaranteed wealth to those that honored You,
wealth of land and sea, wealth of devotion in the hearts of Your people,
a wealth of hope and peace and protection.
You shepherded the lost dead to their places of sanctuary.
You kept pollution and corruption from those sacred pathways.
You were guard and guide to our fragile humanity, and to the fragile passages
that mark our journey from life into death. It is right that once bogs were bloodied for You.
It is right that stones and markers, monuments to Your glory once rose, that Your name was hailed, cried out in longing and need, celebration and joy, devotion and deepest veneration
by numerous tongues, numerous voices, numerous people whose common meeting point
was the place where You heard their prayers.
Be hailed again and anew, Great Goddess.
Bless us again, Nehalennia,
and may we always remember Your name.
Hail, oh Goddess.

Winner of Persephone’s Agon and First Submission to Nehalennia’s.

The Winner of the Persephone Agon, chose by div,  is Alexeigynaix. Congratulations. i’ll be in touch today about your prizes. 

Everyone else, thank you so much for submitting such lovely pieces to the Agon. May Persephone ever and always be hailed. 🙂 Please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com with your mailing addresses and also to let me know which prayer card you would like. 

Here is the first submission to Nehellenia’s Agon. 

Prayer to Nehalennia

Nehalennia,
May my life,
Be a boat under your guidance and protection,
Grant me strength,
To hold the rudder of my life,
And follow to the right direction.
Grant me wisdom,
To discern between the moment,
To anchorage or to start new voyages.
May the winds blow gently,
And no storms destroy the pleasure of living.
Grant me access to my inner treasures,
And to your deep mysteries.
Oh Lady, grant me prosperity and fullness!

Hail!

by Bela Síol, 06/11/2012. (This. prayer is part of The Oracle and Nehalennia author Bela Síol and the artist Igor Alexandre).

An Example of Heathen Piety

I was thinking about the ‘Lay of Hyndla’ today. There’s a beautiful, haunting passage where Freya talks about the piety of Her servant Ottar, whom She has transformed into the boar, Hildsvini — apologies to Old Norse readers. I’m typing this directly into WordPress and can’t figure out how to do the accent marks.  In Stanza 10, She tells Hyndla about Ottar, indicating why, perhaps, She is willing to help him on his quest. She’s arguing with Hyndla, who is basically a Goddess of genealogy,(1) so that the latter will recite Ottar’s ancestry, enabling the hero to tap into his ancestral blessings. It really shows how important it is to have proper relationships with the Gods and ancestors, and that if you have one, They’ll help with the other. 

10. “For me a shrine | of stones he made,–
And now to glass | the rock has grown;–
Oft with the blood | of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever | did Ottar trust.

In other words, Ottar made so many sacrifices, and committed those sacrifices to immolation on Her altar, that the heat of the fires turned the stones to glass. Note that it’s his piety that wins Freya over, not some great heroic deed. May we take him as an example of good, religious behavior.(2)

Notes:

  1. Not everyone in the Northern Tradition views Hyndla as a Goddess, but my particular tradition does.
  2. * sarcasm* I guess that makes Ottar one of the original members of the Piety Posse.

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On the Subject of Syncretism

So I had a discussion this evening with someone about syncretism. Apparently, there had been some push back recently over certain Gaulish Deities having been treated to the interpretatio romana. It really made me think about the process of syncretization, how it works and why it’s an important way of engaging with certain Deities.

For the most part, the Romans were very respectful of indigenous religions. The times when they oppressed or legislated against a particular tradition it was never (despite how Roman propaganda may have spun the issue) purely about the religion. It was, without exception, due to political issues. For instance, four examples spring readily to mind: there was the persecution of Bacchic Cultus in the second century B.C.E. Southern Italy was a hot bed of resistance to Roman rule and much of that resistance was fomented by leaders of that particular cultus. Likewise with the Druids and the Isle of Mona. It was central to resistance to Roman rule. The cult of Isis was briefly prescribed by Octavian but this had little to do with the cult itself and everything to do with the aftermath of the civil war with Antony, in which Cleopatra (who positioned herself as an incarnation of Isis) was central. Then of course there was Christianity. That rather, in my opinion, speaks for itself. Romans were a bit horrified when they found out what the cultus of Cybele entailed but they never prescribed it. There was a period where Roman citizens were forbidden from becoming galli, but the cultus itself was otherwise allowed to flourish uninterrupted. For the most part, the Romans attempted to respect and engage with indigenous religion. They were very pious people. Quite often this was done through the interpretatio romana.

When Rome took over a province, they would often append the names of their Gods to that of local Deities. For instance, we have Sulis-Minerva, Mars-Lenus, and Tacitus in his Germania gives us an account of Germanic Deities where suddenly Odin becomes Mercurius, Tyr becomes Mars, and Thor becomes Herakles. This was not done out of disrespect but as a means of finding a keyhole, a window, a doorway to understanding and engaging with these Deities. This was especially true for those Romans who settled permanently in a territory. Looking at Britannia or Gaul or any other province, the syncretism became a meeting point for both the indigenous people and the Romans and it gave the Gods more power.

Moreover, insofar as the Romans went, this was done as a mark of respect, an acknowledgement of the Deity’s power. Gods are powerful and the Romans ever and always acknowledged that in their religious and military practices. They had several specific religious rites performed by their military to ensure that the Gods of those people they conquered would support the Roman cause, rites like evocatio, which invited those Gods to join the Roman side. In this respect, it seems the Romans used the names of Their Gods almost as titles. If they saw a particular aspect of an indigenous Deity that in their minds connected that Deity to one of the Roman Ones, then it was easy to augment that connection with syncretization. For instance, with the Gaulish God Lenus, there is significant martial symbolism. Therefore, the Romans logically equated connected Him with Mars. In other words, They were putting Him in a place wherein He would receive the same attention and awareness as their own Deity Mars. It is almost as if the names were titles, markers, placeholders wherein the Gods might dance. It was also on the Roman point of view, a mark of respect. Rome was the greatest power in the world during its time, and to acknowledge a Deity with a Roman title was one of the most respectful things to the Roman mind that one might do.

Now, I will admit, as I once told my [academic] students: syncretism is not a simple term. When it comes up, it means that something happened. There was movement, interaction, migration, colonization and that might happen naturally and organically or it might be a matter of conquest. It should never be taken at face value. Where there is syncretism there is a story, and sometimes a bloody history. Like it or not, however, syncretism is part of the history of polytheism. Sometimes in fact, that syncretism was spurred by the indigenous peoples themselves and not always under duress. Points of syncretism became a point of weaving culture, religion, and a meeting point for the indigenous communities (be they Celts or Gauls or Britains, etc.) and the Roman people. Ignoring syncretism takes away a place of power from the Gods in question and ignores that complex history of Their worship.

All of this, of course, raises questions for us about whether or not we should include Roman imagery in our icons of various Deities and more importantly whether or not we should venerate syncretized Gods. I think it is important that we do. The syncretic form and space in which the God or Gods (because after all, we don’t know what deals the two deities in question might have made with each Other regarding that form) are honored is part of that Deity (or Deities’) history. It’s part of Their cultus. It is a huge part of how the ancestors for generations engaged spiritually. To cut that off, to ignore it, to demand that it be erased is deeply disrespectful not only to the Gods but to the ancestors as well. It is nullifying their religious experience of their own Gods. It is also nullifying a point of peace, neutral territory if you will, between the Romans and the various peoples they conquered. In some cases, it is nullifying the horror and pain our ancestors experienced (i.e. in the Middle Passage which gave us religions like Lukumi, Candomble, and Voudoun) and the fact that their Gods followed them into exile.  

Returning to the question of specifically Roman syncretism, if nothing else, we should remember, I think, that we owe the Romans a debt. For Heathens at least, we know the names of certain Deities (including the Matronae) largely from Roman inscriptions. This is not because Rome destroyed sanctuaries (they didn’t) but because literacy was not widespread in the northlands until the Christian invasion. Knowledge of certain of our Holy Powers exists because Roman men and women were grateful to Them, prayed to Them, petitioned Them, and then left markers and offerings of thanks. They did this in their own vernacular. They did this via interpretatio romana. If the Gods in question could accept it and allow Their cultus to flourish, can we do any less?

Shutting that out and excluding all of that in the hopes of having some illusionary purity of religion shuts out all of these complex conversations that we could be having about the subject and ignores a very uncomfortable reality: there was never any such pure practice. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Religions and cultus always developed in conversation with each other.

 If I were confronted with a syncretic form of a Deity I venerate, and I were uncertain as to whether or not I should venerate this God or Goddess via such a form, I would simply divine on it. That is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Polytheisms ancient and modern were always religions of diviners. In the end, this isn’t a difficult question at all. It comes down to one thing, between the individual and their holy Powers: what do the Gods want?  That answer should define practice not the opinions of so-called community members you’ll never meet face to face, who will always find something to be critical of in your devotion usually reflecting the paucity in theirs.

Submission to the Hoenir Agon

For Hoenir
by Sarenth Odinsson

You Who gave us oðr
Swift-legged, Long-legged
Mud King, Marsh King
Vili
You Who gave us Will
Hail to You!

Whose friend and aide is Mimir
Who is confidante and conspirator to Odin
Who brings action in Vé’s wake
Hail to You!

Whose mouth is full to bursting
Whose hands held Ymir down
Who helped Odin and Vé craft many Worlds
Hail to You!

Whose silence is full of wisdom
Whose countenance is fearsome
Whose counsel is prudent
Hail to You!

Who knows the many ways forward
Who even the Gods seek in counsel
Whose divination sees the Worlds set aright
Hail to You, Hoenir!

Submission to the Hoenir Agon

For Hoenir
by C. Greene

Hoenir, King of the lands of plenty,
what wisdom have You found amongst the marsh birds and the eels?
God Who granted will to Ask and Embla,
terrible will born of a slayer of Ymir,
Haunter of the lands most filled with Ymir’s blood,
what do You seek there?
Are the bog lamps the lingering flicker of Ymir’s synapses,
does wyrd stretch out its threads before You in the fog,
or are the cleansing places of the world whispering their secrets?
With whom would You share Your heron-wit?
Will the descendants of the driftwood born be worthy of such a gift,
or will we burn brightly and fade like the will o wisps of Your holy places?
Silence in the bulrushes may greet the querent, but that may be an answer in itself. May we be worthy Hoenir, may we learn from Your primal acts, and in Your silence may you not be forgotten.

Submission to the Hoenir Agon

To Hoenir the Long-Lived
by P.S.V.L.

It was sense and wit You gave
when Óðinn and Loðurr made humans—
the High One and Vé, Whom men call Loki,
came together in You, Víli, to form minds.

It was sense and wit You showed
when in Vanaheim’s hostage-ship with Mimir
and You kept holy silence therein—
only the best advice fell on Your ears.

It was sense and wit You had
When Óðinn was in exile and with Vé
You stood in His stead over the Æsir—
it brought you to bed with Frigg.

And, it will be sense and wit that are needed
when You stand after Ragnarök
casting blood-wands for Viðarr and Vali,
Magni and Móði, and Baldr—wise Hoenir, hail!

The Identity of Lóðurr

In the beginning, when materiality had been ground into existence by the conflicting forces of Niflheim and Helheim, when the great cow, born from that primal ooze had nourished the proto-giant Ymir and the first race of what would eventually evolve into our holy Beings was crawling from out of His mass, there arose three Brothers: Odin, Hoenir, and Lóðurr (or to use Their other heiti, Odin, Vili, and Vé). These three Brothers slaughtered Ymir, Their eldest ancestor and set the worlds and the cosmological order that binds us all into being. It was a defining moment in our theogony, the moment when those proto-beings, from Whom our Gods evolve, stepped up, looked far ahead, made choices that shaped and defined Their existence and everything that would come after it, and took necessary, decisive action. It was at that moment that existence truly began.

Of course, we know Who Odin and Hoenir are from the surviving lore, but the identity of that third brother, the one that gave us our rushing blood, and goodness of hue (healthy, living color i.e. vitality and life force), has been a bone of contention for years. Yet it shouldn’t be. It’s quite clear from [albeit later] sources that Lóðurr is in fact Loki.

Dagulf Loptson discusses the relevant passages in his article here and I encourage everyone to read this marvelous piece. He notes that the Eddic reference to Lóðurr helping to forge the worlds occurs in Völuspá 18. There is, however, a later c. 14th century ballad, Þrymlur, most likely drawn from earlier oral sources, that have Loki clearly addressed as Lóðurr (the relevant sections are Þrymlur I-III 21). We know that our Gods have many heiti. Odin, for instance, has hundreds. He may be called Yggr, Hangagod, Runatyr, Sigtyr, Oski, Gangleri, and so on and so forth (pun probably intended lol). Freya may be called Syr, Mardoll, Vanadis, etc. Likewise Loki has His bynames too.  With regard to the name Lóðurr, one thing that we do know is that He is a figure strongly associated, as Hoenir is, with Odin. That in itself is telling, given that of all the Gods with Whom He dallies (take that word as you will), it is Loki that is recognized as Odin’s blood brother. Perhaps there is more to that tale than has come down to us.(1) What we take as ‘lore’ after all, is hardly a complete record of what our ancestors believed and the stories they told about our Gods. It’s reflection of their worldview is partial at best and while a good starting point, it is not a complete map.

As Loptson suggests in his article, Loki as Lóðurr is Loki as a creator God, but as with His brothers, that moment of creation is born of blood and violence a theme which recurs throughout our cosmology. It is through these Gods, Loki included that such conflict is transformed into something fruitful.

Our Gods have so many different facets. It is easy to say, when one has only known a playful or gentle aspect of Loki, that the hungry, violent, driven nature that shows forth in Lóðurr could not possibly be Loki, just as one might opine that the kindly gift giving Oski could not possibly be Odin, but we should be cautious in doing so. The Gods have histories of which we cannot conceive and are far, far greater than anything we can imagine. My mother used to say a prayer to Loki almost daily, one that sums up how to approach the Gods without attempting to bind them to the limitations of either our experience or awareness. I’ll end with that prayer now:

“For the life that brought me to You, I thank You.
For the rapture of knowing You, I thank You.
For the heartbreaks that open me to You, I thank You.
For the hunger that goads me to You, I thank You.
For Your kindness and Your harshness,
For all You give and all You take away from me,
I thank You.
For the death that will legitimate my life, I thank You.
For all You were, are, and shall be, I thank you.
My beloved God.”
(–F.A. Plaza)

Notes:

  1. See here for an article by Þorgeirsson that discusses the debate around this name and Loki, as well as the reasons for giving credence to the attribution.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.