Category Archives: Odin
Sometime it’s hard to believe just how much time has passed when these bookversaries come around. It has been six years since, He is Frenzy was first published. As a devotee of Odin, I have published several books around Him through the years: my first devotional (and the first devotional in all of Heathenry/the Northern Tradition) Whisperings of Woden, followed by Walking Toward Yggdrasil, He is Frenzy and then most recently a little chap book of prayers Nine for Odin.
He is Frenzy collects all of the essays and poetry that Northern Tradition author Galina Krasskova has written to honor the God Odin since 1995. Providing a survey of His ancient and modern cultus, it is also a deeply personal exploration of devotion, ordeal work and what it takes to walk the Odinic path.
So for my loyal readers who have read these various books around Odin, what was your favorite, and why?
When you’re standing at the Tree
and Odin says, “Come with me.”
Well, you have a choice to make, Son.
And it’s the choice upon which
the slaughtered remains
of all your other choices will rest
now and forever. Amen.
When you’re standing at the Tree
and Odin says, “Come with me,”
you may think you’re already too late,
with nothing left to lose
what the hell…
but you will learn
as He did learn
that there is always more.
A virus in the blood:
Grist between the teeth:
The taste of blood on the tongue:
The holes left in a soulskin
stretched wyrd and wide
Dyed with the heart’s ochre—
they let the spirits in
don’t ya know?
Not all of them leave.
Remember that, Son,
when that question comes
and then think of this
after the Tree…
if there is an after:
All that red…
touch tongue to lips
Listen to the heartbeats
Scent that fear in the air
You’re one of the monsters now
and it’s glorious.
The Hunt rides.
Across your bones,
But it rides.
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Tomorrow is the anniversary of my ordination, something that in many traditions is a day to be celebrated and marked. I don’t generally do so with mine, save by making special offerings to my Gods, but it’s got me thinking: not about the ordination but about the process that, for me, preceded it: initiation. That’s one of those things that a lot of us talk about, but no one ever seems to really explain. Part of that is because it can’t be explained really—oh, I could give you a run down of every single part of the ritual, but doing so would just be discussing the scaffolding; it would do nothing to explain the transformation that initiation can and should bring.
First, I want to note as strongly as possible that A) initiation does not necessarily lead to ordination. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with that. I’ve undergone many initiations at the hands of my Gods and Their people and that the very first one was a predecessor to ordination was simply a reflection of the way that tradition was structured. It is not necessarily the norm; and B). initiation isn’t a matter of one and done. One can undergo more than one type of initiation. It all depends on the tradition, the Gods, and the individual.
This is not a new concept. Polytheisms have always had their mystery cultus and have always, as far as I can tell, had rites of initiation. Sometimes these were ceremonies marking life transitions, such as moving from childhood to adulthood. That is not the type of initiatory ritual that I am talking about here. No, when I talk about initiation, I’m not talking about anything that binds or marks one’s place in the continuum of generational human experiences. I’m talking about those things that bring us, sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes awe struck and weeping into communion with our Gods, those rites that change forever our world both inner and out. There is no going back from an initiation of this sort. It is a type of death, rebirth, and transformation and the person who exits the ritual space at the end of such a rite is not at all the same person who entered it.
Pretty words and I’m sure that some of you reading this think that I’m speaking metaphorically. I’m not. Initiation can fuck you up. A true initiation is not a pretty ritual after which you can go on your way feeling good about yourself. This is a terrifying rite that can strip you bear, open you up, and throw you face down before your Gods. It can open up fractures in your emotional matrix and your psyche, dredging up scars and issues and pain that you may have thought long ago put to rest. It can create internal chaos because it is the Gods effecting a change spiritually, energetically, emotionally, psychologically. It can bring taboos and obligations. It can damage you physically – not because of anything those shepherding the initiate through whatever the rite may entail do, but because of the internal process itself, and the energies in play.
Of course it may also fill you with ecstasy and joy, transform you in such a way that you are in closer, ongoing communion with your Gods, transform your afterlife, mark you as being one of the cultus of a particular God energetically and many other things and usually it is a glorious and joyful transformative experience. Sometimes though, it’s not and there’s no way to tell. I sometimes think the Gods must consider the initiate much as a master jeweler considers a rough stone. How to polish, how to facet? How much pressure to apply and at what angle? It’s such a delicate procedure and only the Gods have a hope of making such a thing work. This is why it’s so very important that They be at the beginning, center, and end of it all. An initiation isn’t something to seek out for one’s own purposes. It should be at the behest of one’s Gods. Divination should be done – thorough and extensive—to make certain that it is the right time (the Gods fix the time), and that the initiate is ready. Divination –thorough and extensive—should be done to figure out what offerings need to be made, what the rite should consist of (even in traditions where there is a strict process, this should still be done. There is always the possibility of the Gods wanting something special), how it should unfold, if there are any taboos or obligations to be kept before, during, or after, and so many more things. Most of all: is this initiate ready for this initiation into this tradition done by these elders? This is all the more important as we are restoring our traditions. Unlike religions like Lukumi or Ifa, our initiatory rites have largely been lost. We don’t have the inter-generational structure. We are restoring it now slowly but surely but so much of that is a matter of finding one’s way, inching nervously forward, and it must be admitted, making terrible mistakes. Initiation is not a place where mistakes can afford to be made. It is dangerous enough all on its own.
This is why it’s so crucial to have competent and trusted elders, and a community that can support and guide the initiate not only before, not only through but after the initiation and by after I mean for weeks, months, and possibly years.
I’m going to tell you a story of an initiation gone bad. I’m going to gloss over many parts of this story because parts of it are not mine to tell. Yes, I have changed personal details. I saw a young man undergo an initiation. I was witness to it. The initiation was done perfectly. The elder in question did everything right. The initiate in question was well-prepared and very devout. The witnesses, including myself were experienced, well-prepared, and devout. All the divination, from several diviners, gave clear and strong go ahead. When the ceremony, lasting several days, was done, there was joy, the overwhelming joy of such a process. There were blessings. Everything looked perfect. I brought my concerns to the elder and was told that perhaps I was over-reacting. That surely I was misreading. I celebrated with the rest and then over the next year watched this young man ,a good friend of mine, destroy his life.
Remember I said sometimes initiation brings up past wounds so that the initiate can address them and move forward into healing, stronger and healthier? Well that was what was happening. He began to spiral down into a very bad psychological place: hoarding, self-harm, cutting off ties to all friends, ceased working on getting clear of a damaging family relationship, became extremely paranoid, lashed out at everyone in the religion, began to encourage others to back away from devotion and throw themselves into mundane life, began to have outbursts of rage, and worse. I believe my friend gave himself over to the Filter rather than continue his spiritual work—work that would have required facing so much pain. He has been lost to us, though still he lives and more than that I cannot say. It is a painful subject…and this is an initiation where everything was done right.
I myself underwent an initiation that was necessary, but done in such a way that I was left partially crippled by pain for months. It was only when the scars to my energetic body, and the blockages were cleared by an elder that I began to heal. I do not mean that my spiritual life was impinged, I mean I would wake up screaming in pain so severe that my husband on more than one occasion nearly took me to the ER. I was lucky. I was able to heal from this damage and the issues that caused it were not mine, but rather a matter, as I found out later, of the one doing the initiation lacking the requisite qualifications. The transfer of energy—in part what an initiation is—could not happen cleanly. The initiation was legitimate, but damn near killed me.
I want to emphasize for those of you who may be wondering that in the above examples neither ritual involved any measure of what we term ordeal work. Both were done within the structure of the respective traditions. In the first case, well, sometimes initiation is a crap shoot and sometimes there is a terrible attrition rate. In the second, a corner was cut that shouldn’t have been and the price was pure agony and ongoing damage. I want to note again: no one laid a hand on me (save to touch my head in blessing). There was no ordeal. There was simply the initiation ritual and the transfer of power. These are horror stories and they’re not the norm. Most initiations leave the initiate feeling liberated and transformed and filled with wonder and joy and a new sense of connection to their Gods. But…even the best of them can go wrong and there’s often no way to tell until well after the ritual how the initiate is going to cope with the changes spiritually wrought. It’s not a game. They’re not words or pretty rites. This can fuck a person up in this life, and it can change the nature of the initiate’s afterlife too. An initiate becomes a carrier of a tradition. (One initiates generally not just to a Deity but within a particular tradition, after all). The changes wrought are often those which allow the initiate to become a container of the Mysteries of their God. It’s a powerful process.
No one, by the way, is owed initiation. That’s also something that I want to put out on the table. These things have real world consequences. I, for instance, am forbidden to initiate into the Mysteries of Dionysos. I love Him dearly. I’ve worked for years helping to build His cultus. I have nearly a decade of ongoing venerative practice to Him and I maintain a household shrine to Him. Hell, I even married a Dionysian! Still, extensive divination showed that I cannot receive His mysteries via initiation. I can honor Him – He is delighted for me to do so. He has helped me and I have had powerful devotional experiences with Him. This is one of the Gods that I deeply love but I will never become a bearer of His mysteries. I cannot, no matter how much I may want to do so. Why? Because undergoing Dionysian initiation can both change where you will go in the afterlife (part of the deal Dionysos made with Hades to liberate His people from the Hades’ control when they’re dead) and change one so that one is wired specifically for Dionysian energies. I belong to Odin. Where I go when I’m dead, the energies I’m wired to carry and receive when alive are His. It is specifically because I am Odin’s and patterned for this God that I cannot receive the mysteries of Dionysos. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel left out when Dionysos’ folk gather. It doesn’t matter that I may love Him dearly. It wouldn’t matter if I wanted initiation. I can’t have it and trying to force the act not only would be a deeply impious act, but also a damned stupid and dangerous one. There are consequences for the things we do and the Gods we carry.
This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have and to respect our competent elders. They carry the weight of their Gods’ tradition on their backs. They are guardians of that tradition just as we become when we take up certain burdens. They are the ones who help navigate these waters. It’s also why it’s so absolutely crucial to have supportive and cohesive community. The community is the container for all of this. When a community gathers to welcome a new initiate back into human/mundane space after that person has been transformed via initiation that is a tremendously holy and sacred act. That is what roots both the initiate and the energies of the rite and the tradition in the here and now. The community is the rootbase of the great tree of whatever tradition they are carrying. They are necessary and it’s the interplay of elders, community, Gods, initiate that gives everyone the best chance for initiations to occur safely and well. We need our initiations. We need all the various levels of interaction with our Gods, all the various rungs on the sacred ladder of our traditions and cultus.
I understand the enthusiasm of wanting to honor the Gods this way and go deeper into devotion but it’s important to follow the necessary protocol. There is a right way to do these things and a right time.
The mysteries are not for the unbeliever.
We destroy the paths of rivers to make room for the sea.
This dancing took many deaths.
My ecstasies changed to an ugly cry,
and the loss of things desired.
We hushed the ancient glory.
Fear is a house gone dry.
The violent space cries silently.
He led me trembling cold into the dark forest,
Taught me the secret rites—
a cautionary tale for whoever knows how
to read the clues.
What we used to be is gone.
Shadows grew in my veins.
The blackness rose before me like a wall,
Wound infected to the bone.
This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence.
The scavenger crow knows.
Make them dead white and dry bone bare.
You have to fight magic with magic –
Marry a monster.
The first slaughter is for victory,
But the second slaughter is for grief.
To Him my other life.
I am broken at last,
with razorblade eyes.
This is what it means to die amongst barbarians.
I once lost track of the medicine I held so blithely,
after I died forever in the river.
The battle is there, the inevitability of it all.
Shadow of darkness over the enemy field,
This hunger bewilders me.
There are grotesques who shine a dark light that lures us,
like how the sirens tried to lure Odysseus.
Night, like dead water, sows together
The tattered contours of the past.
The dark God broke out of the earth,
A ghoulish guard of love.
I accept this covenant, this way of life as true.
I prayed under His cloak
A voice from the distant past, an evocation,
(the sweet honey of the old cadence,)
In the hour of its agony, render;
one scarlet flower is cast on the blanch-white stone.
(their ten years’ war had ended.
It was an adventure much could be made of.)
Good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
I wasn’t myself in a kingdom of unnamed animals and totem trees
But never wished to unsay my vows.
Violence stands like a blaze at our doors.
[With respect to Euripides, Robin Robertson, Adam Clay, Daniel Schoonebeek, Siegfried Sassoon, Leah Umansky, Etheridge Knight, Anthony Madrid, Ciaran Carson, Muriel Rukeyser, Tom Sleigh, Carolyn Kizer, Louise Glück, Fiona Sampson, A.E. Stallings, Lucia Perillo, H.D., Seamus Heaney, Barbara Jane Reyes, Solmaz Sharif, `David Perry, Lia Hunter, Matthew Sweeney, Traci Brimhall, Grigori Dashevsky, Jennifer Moxley, Stephane Mallarme, Ezra Pound, James Doyle, Brian Culhane, Mark Strand, Czeslaw Milosz, Yusuf Komunyakas.]
Love has stained my body,
the holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
A terrible beauty is born.
Too long a sacrifice can make a stone
of the heart.
Oh Gods, if I have kept faith, please grant me this:
Purge Your spirits of slow reluctance.
The black cobra of love burns,
Ash for the cruel and merciful wind,
Who never lets go out
the procession’s sacred torch.
His words like a storm wind can bring terror
with a mercy that outrides
Glow Glory in Thunder —
You have come to be entirely a feeling for me.
Love shakes my heart,
Dreamslender exquisite white firstful flame.
That’s how people burn to death.
This blood has turned to dust.
Who even dead, yet hath his mind entire?
A broken bundle of mirrors
first must thou go the road to hell.
Like a small beast shaken from the moon,
Everything seems too large,
as red as terror and as green as fate.
Be on your mettle now!
Wait for the wounded to scream themselves to death.
Wonderful relic, all that’s left us of deserted greatness.
I saw battle corpses, myriads of them,
a conversation of 500 years.
Pay we our vows and go
with words imposing on my tongue.
Outside a May god moves His paws to alter wind.
He will return,
bringing me asphodel and a dark feather.
Redeemer of outcasts!
You reveal Yourself age after age;
and as one sees most fearful things,
You must know who I am, my Love.
Rock ribbed and ancient as the sun,
to the tally of my soul,
O sane and sacred Death.
Make for our searching: yes, in spite of all
Bear the brunt,
and the elements’ rage.
Your mouth’s a hook.
All this subdues me utterly,
a verdict wholly in our favor.
[With respect to Mirabai, Wallace Stevens, William Butler Yeats, Catullus, Michelangelo, Constantine Cavafy, Emerson, Sappho, Gerard Manley Hopkins, e.e. cummings, Tennessee Williams, Wendell Berry, Ezra Pound, Beowulf/Seamus Heaney, Ntozake Shange, Dionysios Solomos/Rachel Hadas, Marianne Moore, Robert Herrick, Seamus Heaney, Michael Ondaatje, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Karr, Oscar Wilde, William Cullant Bryant, Walt Whitman, John Keats, Robert Browning, Makedoios Hypatos/George Economou, Paulus Silentiarius/Edmund Keeley, Aeschylus/Aaron Poochigian].
So last spring when I was taking medieval studies course called “The Spiritual Senses,” we had to read a good bit of writing by 12th and 13th century mystics. One of them (and my favorite) was Mechthild of Magdeburg. In her book, she wrote this effusive poem for her God and i liked it so much I copied the form and write one for mine. I’ve shared it before, but I’m posting it here again. I’d love to see you guys take this form and write up similar paeans for your own Gods.
9 For Odin
We praise You, All Father, Architect of the Worlds, Who breathed us into being.
We praise You, Runatyr, World-maker, Whose keen far-seeing intellect wove the fabric of reality.
We praise You, Bolverk, for by cunning negotiation You brought us poetry and ecstasy.
We praise You, Oski, ever generous Giver of gifts, for You pour Your favors out upon Your people.
We praise You, Sigfather, for teaching us to ever strive for victory, for inspiring us with Your might.
We praise You, Woden, for sharing healing charms and the wisdom of driving out corruption.
We praise You, Galdrfather, for giving us the gift of enchantment, the continual re-sacralization of our world.
We praise You, Yggr, for Your sacrifice upon the Tree. by which You instructed us in wisdom.
We praise You, Odin, that You have elevated us by means of your nobility, driven us forward by means of Your attentions.
Oh Burning Brand.
Oh Self-Chosen Sacrifice.
Oh Sweet Wine of Ecstasy.
Oh Bottomless Well of Wisdom.
Oh unscalable, soaring Height.
Oh Fierceness without Measure.
Oh Might without Opposition.
Oh Treasure-House of every Honor.
Oh Hunger without Restraint.
Ever and always do Your people praise You.
Some nights I just can’t sleep and tonight was one of them. So since i’m reading a book of sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay, I decided to look up the sonnet form. I don’t think i’ve ever written one. While checking that out, I came across a modern invention first seen in the mid 1980s: word sonnets. These are small sonnets where instead of 14 lines in a particular rhyme scheme, there are 14 words, each word a single line (–a traditional sonnet typically has 14 lines.). I decided to try my hand at it and it’s more difficult than I thought but I managed three.
I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead;
And the public mourners come: the politic tear.
Patience flowers into death now,
Washing the mountains bare.
One slight bruise and we die,
Packed away in our crude beginnings.
I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark.
What if, after so much history, we succumb?
The dead are stronger and know
how to gobble down pieces of sky.
Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me.
I meet my shadow in the deepening dark.
Lifted in the fading light of the hemlocks,
I arrive full of mud and death.
What goes, comes back. Come back.
Spend the spark of iron,
Sing small thing.
Much madness is divinest sense:
Avalanche sliding, white snow from rock face,
Versed in all ancient magic,
Great is the Battle God, great, and His kingdom.
I have chosen the Indestructible for my refuge,
Heaved the yoke out to Him for harnessing.
A cypress-tree gains strength, as it grows old;
And lions, when they’re old, rage all the fiercer.
Oh Love, despite your growing violence,
I cry, I burn, I waste away.
The greatest gift of the gods is honor:
To reach your hand in triumph up
Over the heads of the enemy.
Give me courage to stay.
It is the price of vision that we owe, the cost,
Frenzied but firm.
My soul was on my lips.
[With respect to Antonio Machado, Thomas McGrath, Miklós Radnóti, Robert Bly, Pablo Neruda, James Welch, César Vallejo, Federico Garcia Lorca, Etheridge Knight, Theodore Roethke, Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, Rumi, e.e. Cummings, W. H. Auden, Mirabai, Apollonius of Rhodes, Michelangelo, Euripides, Robin Robertson, Homer, Wendell Berry, Andreas Embeirikos, Plato.]
People ask me sometimes “why Odin?” I’m always boggled by that question. It’s asked with honest curiosity of course and it’s not something that ever gives offense, still I always find myself puzzled when it comes up: how could it not be Odin?
Firstly, the question presupposes that I chose Him instead of being called to service by Him and my experience was far more the latter than the former. I’ve talked about this aspect of devotional work before, that sometimes it’s the Deity calling the human forth. I’m not going to focus on that here. Instead I want to tackle the question in the spirit it’s usually asked: why would I cement myself so deeply to Odin (if I had any other choice)?
Even writing it, this boggles. How could I not? It’s not a matter of being a godatheow, it’s not a matter of being in service and having given my consent and choice to Him a long time ago … none of that is enough for a truly good and positive devotional relationship. More and more I’m coming to think that to be in the best relationship possible with one’s holy Powers, one has to make that choice again and again, every single day: when I wake up, I can choose to order myself, inside (heart, mind, spirit) and outside (actions) around Him and my understanding of what He wants from me or not. He doesn’t have to force this. It would have little worth if it were forced again and again. This is something that I compel myself to do … it is a turning of my own heart inside out for Him every day. This is a daily renewal of our relationship, our bond of service, my love for Him, my devotion. This is what I do to maintain a clean, healthy relationship with Him while being in service to Him. Could I serve Him without this mindful recommitment? Sure, I suppose so but it would not be vital, it would not be clean, it would not be done well. I care about such things: I want to love Him well.
The argument usually given when this question is asked is “but He’s so hard.” Yes. He can be very hard upon those He claims but He is hard upon Himself, harder than we can ever imagine. I often think that all of the Powers have the potential to be demanding in ways for which we, raised as we are in a culture unaccustomed to reverencing clean and honorable service, lacking in some cases even the definition of what this might be, are scarcely ready. We come to our devotions terribly unprepared. This steepens the learning curve of course and, I suspect makes the process more difficult than it otherwise has to be. Ironically I also believe that it’s precisely this spirit of clean devotion: to the Gods, to the ancestors, that is the curative for that cultural disconnection.
I often feel tremendously sad for our various communities (and let’s not pretend that there’s any one Heathen community; there isn’t. There are many intersecting and often opposed communities). We have such a long way to go before we grasp even the most basic understanding of what devotion is all about and the many ways it can benefit not just the Gods but the community itself as well. We fight the very medicine that would make us stronger and more cohesive. The learning curve is very, very steep.
Why Odin? It’s Odin. He is my everything. He is the breath upon which I live and die. He holds my heart. How could it not be Odin? Even in mortal love, we seldom have the luxury of choosing to whom our hearts are given in adoration. The heart knows its master. It knows its best shelter. It knows wherein to find its most fulfilling joy; and if that joy requires a bit of sacrifice now and again, such things only make the whole thing sweeter. That’s why Odin; because there are conversations of devotion between us that even I have no capacity to translate. Because He did not have to write Himself into my heart, He was already there. Perhaps because, just because, I never had to ask why.
I’m often asked if I ask Him for things. Usually only one: let me love and serve you cleanly and well. Anything else I need will flow from that as inevitably as the sun will rise.
May He always be hailed.
(Excerpted from “He is Frenzy” by Galina Krasskova, Sanngetall Press).