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So, I recently received a few books to add to my ‘must read’ end of the semester pile. I can’t wait to delve in. What are you guys all reading (and hopefully enjoying)?
Whenever I pick up our House prayer book, my personal devotional florilegia, or a copy of the Eddas to read for devotional purposes, several things run through my mind at once, almost as soon as my hand touches the book. Foremost is that I often feel like I’m slacking when it comes to cultivating my own devotional world. Devotion can be the easiest and most natural thing in one’s life and at the same time it can be hard, hard work. Sometimes it’s frustrating and confusing – not because of the devotion part of it, but because of my own faltering, fumbling awkwardness with the process. So many questions come up:
- How do we properly pray? How do I pray? Am I just phoning it in? How do I make sure that I remain engaged?
- What the hell is contemplation and how am I supposed to do it?
- How do we read? What and how do we read and how does this bring us to our Gods?
- What is devotion and how can I go more deeply into it?
I used to take all these things for granted but as I teach students and apprentices within our tradition, as I reevaluate my own spiritual work, as I engage with clients who come to me with all sorts of questions about their devotional lives, I realize that nothing here should ever be taken for granted. I also realize I had really, really good devotional models within my family. It’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve truly come to understand how precious a gift (and maybe even a grace) that has been. Of course, the downside to all that is that I tend to be very action oriented: “what do You need me to do, oh my Gods” which often leaves me feeling in retrospect as though I got the work part down but somehow am giving perilously short shrift to the devotional/contemplative (they’re not always the same, mind you) part of things. The more frenetic my life becomes, especially with school, the more I find myself examining these lacuna and wanting to ground myself more securely in solid veneration of the Holy Powers.
It’s odd too because I don’t think a text is necessary. Ours prior to Christianity, was an oral tradition. One learned by experience, by growing up in pious households, seeing the community engaging in rituals and seasonal festivals, and being surrounded by examples of this living tradition. Our ancestors had stories yes, but they didn’t depend on the written word, nor did we ever have anything like “scripture.” Still, we today live in a world that privileges the written word perhaps excessively. I once had a fellow theology student ask me about our “scriptures” and when I said we don’t have anything like your bible, he was floored. He kept asking, “but how do you teach your children your religion?” um…we live it. But I get what he was saying. We depend far more in proper inter-generational transmission of the tradition, directly and via devotional, ritual, and venerative experience. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Still, I like my books and there is value in being able to extract insight from a text. I think so long as we remember that our Eddas and other parts of the lore are not “scripture” as monotheistic traditions would comprehend, but maps to the holy (and maps with gaping holes, tatters, and graffiti sometimes too!), we’ll be ok. So, enough of my blather. Let’s get into the stanzas that I chose for today.
The Voluspa contains part of our creation narrative and I think that creation narratives are particularly important for any religious tradition. They contain all the themes and patterns that we will see repeated again and again throughout our cosmology and in this way provide key insights into how our tradition views the world. Here are the passages, first in English and then Old Norse.
6. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held; Names then gave they | to noon and twilight, Morning they named, | and the waning moon, Night and evening, | the years to number. 7. At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods, Shrines and temples | they timbered high; Forges they set, and | they smithed ore, Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned. 6. Þá gengu regin öll á rökstóla, ginnheilug goð, ok um þat gættusk; nátt ok niðjum nöfn um gáfu, morgin hétu ok miðjan dag, undorn ok aptan, árum at telja. 7. Hittusk æsir á Iðavelli, þeir er hörg ok hof hátimbruðu, afla lögðu, auð smíðuðu, tangir skópu ok tól görðu. Immediately in the Old Norse the words Regin and Ginnheilug goð jump out at me. I usually translate Regin as “holy Powers,” but it may also be rendered as “the Rulers,” “the Gods” and may even refer to Their decrees. This word turns up in the lore at various points always referring in some way to the Gods, thus we have regin-braut – the way of the Gods, regin-dórmr – the judgement of the Gods, regin-kuðr/kunnr – descended from the Gods, and regin-þing – holy thing-place to name but a few of its iterations. Because it is so associated with judgement and holy decretals, it reads as a much more formal term for the collective Gods and when I see it, I perk up and pay special attention. It brings me back to the story of the creation of the worlds, and the ways in which the Gods set everything in its proper place, balance, and order. Goð, obviously also a word for Gods, is nearly always collective and inclusive of both Gods and Goddesses. It turns up in compound words having to do with things and people belonging to the Gods and its cognate góð carries the moral force of ‘good,’ or ‘worthy’ such as góðr maðr (good man). One can be goð-borinn, descended from the Gods, goð-málugr, knowledgeable in the lore of the Gods, or goð-árr, messenger of the Gods, for instance (1). The most significant term there, however, is Ginnheilug: most sacred. Combinations with the prefix ginn—almost always imply great holiness or sanctity. Sometimes Regin will occur as Gin-regin, which I would translate as „the most holy Gods.“ It is not one-hundred-percent clear if this is related to Ginnungagap, the great and yawning void from which all creation came into being with the collision of the Niflheim and Muspelheim, but theologically I would (and do) certainly draw this parallel (2). It is the most holy chasm from which this process of creation began; and They are the most-holy Gods Who oversaw this process. All of this runs through my mind and is the background against which I read this text (or at least against which I was reading the text when I wrote this!). Were I teaching this text, the first question I would ask my students (and this is likewise what I myself zero in on for contemplation) is „what did the Gods do first?“ What was the first collective priority after the three Brothers created the scaffolding and architecture of the worlds? First having come together in counsel, They ordered day and night, the course of the planets, and by extension the seasons. This is all temporal. Materiality has already happened when the two primal worlds ground together, but here we have temporal and one may assume spatial ordering. They gave materiality structure, partitioned it out into a healthy and harmonious rhythm. They created seasons and put planets in rotation. Day and night are the most important divisions for us as human beings, particularly when our lives were – like so many of our ancestors—predominantly agricultural. This division of time was meant as a guide and to nourish us: when do we work? When do we rest? When do we plant? When do we harvest? How does the world work? Moreover, such binary division (day/night, light/dark) reflects the productive exchange of opposites embedded in Niflheim and Muspelheim – ice and fire. I also think this emphasizes how cosmologically important the House of Mundilfari is. Farmers would have looked to the sun and the moon, and the Gods thereof to ensure their wellbeing. It‘s easy for those of us living more urban lifestyles to forget how crucial Mani and Sunna‘s blessings would have been for our ancestors. They literally insured continued sustenance and life. Plus, one could gaze up into the sky and see a symbol of Their presence. So after celestial cycles were established, the next thing the Gods did was build temples – for Themselves or for each Other the text does not say. We know though that Freya has the epithet of blotgyðja for the Gods, and there is precedent in other IE traditions for Gods recognizing and participating in each Other’s divine process. Even in what remains of our sacred stories, what has been filtered down to us through Christian voices and hands, we have a sharing of attributes: Thor borrows Brisingamen, Loki borrows Freya’s falcon cloak, and so forth. When this is done licitly it adds power to the Gods in question (3). So the Gods acknowledged the divinity of each other and by extension we can assume, Their individual spheres of influence and power. After this, the third thing They do is to create art. Craft is sacred, it’s a conduit for the holy. Here, smithcraft is particularly mentioned and in many IE cultures including the Norse, smiths were considered magical figures, magicians, shamans, and such. This is because they wielded the elemental powers of creation, especially fire, and drew from the earth that which was later transformed into objects of beauty. Beauty and art empower the worlds and in good Platonic fashion lift us up to the Gods, in awareness, in understanding, and in devotional longing. This is a process that didn’t just happen once. In setting up the temporal division of night and day, we are opened up to the possibility of change. You can’t have change unless you have time. So each new day is a reification anew of that initial creation. Each day we can remake and restore ourselves within that holy architecture. At this point in my reading, I would most likely take stock of what I have done throughout the day (or if I’m reading in the morning, what I wish to do), always keeping the Gods in mind – how am I affecting that ongoing reification in my world?—and then I”d make offerings and prayers. I’m going to stop at this point. I still have a few things to do for the semester’s end, but if there’s a particular passage from the Eddas that you’d like me to discuss, shoot me a comment and let me know. Notes: 1. See “A Glossary to the Poetic Edda” translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Wörterbuch by Students at the University of Victoria, 1987. 2. You’ll notice that unlike the previous Lectio Divina article that I posted, this time I did not employ any significant level of philological engagement. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t and it depends what first strikes me in a reading. It’s different every time I meet a text anew. 3. When it is done illicitly it’s more complicated. I’m thinking specifically of Freyr sneaking into Odin’s high seat and spying Gerda…it ended well but it was…complicated.
I’m posting this to share a prayer to the Kemetic God of the moon, Khonsu, that C.C. recently commissioned from me.
Prayer to Khonsu By Galina Krasskova (if possible, begin by lighting a bit of incense) I praise the God of the Moon, Keeper of Night, Khonsu (dua!*). I praise the God of the Moon, most Holy Traveler, Who marks the passage of time, blessing each moment of our lives. We dream under Your blessed gaze, and Your hands brought us into being, with craft, care, and magic. Dua! You Who are our Pathfinder, You have filled us with magic too. Be our Defender, oh sweet God of night. Keep us safe as we sleep and dream. Illuminate the darkness and protect us, Oh great Healer, as only You can. Protect us against malefica, against sickness, against evil spirits, evil tongues, and evil thoughts. Protect us please, against vicious animals, against injury, and the peril of sudden death. Make our sleep restful and relief giving, that we may rise refreshed to praise You again. You, Khonsu, are the wise serpent Who fertilized the egg of the world, setting creation in motion. Let us dream for ourselves a better fate than that with which we were born. Teach us the power of transformation, the trick of the serpent shedding his skin, that we too may be born anew, each day upon awaking. Son of Mut, Son of Amun Friend and Companion of Thoth, You protect the order the Gods have decreed. May my tongue ever praise You. May my heart ever find joy in Your service. Dua! Most Holy God May I ever find favor in Your sight. Hail to You, Lord Khonsu. *This Kemetic word is an expression of both gratitude and praise. Copyright 2021 G. Krasskova
Here is an excellent post by Dver on spirit work (and she shares a link to another, equally thoughtful post. For those involved in this type of work, these are both good reads. I don’t talk much about spirit work these days, saving that for in person training of my various apprentices and students, but maybe that should change. Anyway, check these links out.
Wyrd Dottir tried to post this as a response to my previous article (the one I shared from Rotwork) but Facebook and WordPress were not cooperating so here it is. I hope it gives y’all a good chuckle. 🙂
This is an excellent article at Rotwork. This emphasis on learning ON, OE, etc. used to be pushed heavily in Heathenry thirty plus years ago, at least in various denominations. I like learning languages (my academic degree depends on my learning quite a few) but I’ve never understood why it was necessary to put up a road block for converts like this. There’s no theological reason behind it. Our Gods understand us just fine in English. The only thing one needs to be a good polytheist is devotion to the Gods. Period. End of story. If one likes learning languages, feels that it is a valuable devotional act, feels that it helps one connect to one’s ancestors, and wants to do it, rock on. I think that’s great. But it’s not a requirement. It’s nice if one has the capacity and wants to do it, and for clergy it does help with research but I don’t think the Gods are going to be judging us on our facility with ON any time soon. lol
“You need to learn [language] to be a [good/better/more devout] polytheist.”
I’ve heard some variation on this theme for as long as I’ve been in and around polytheists. And frankly, I never liked it. Here’s why it’s a wacky thing to insist:
- It’s just plain ableist. Are you saying that nonverbal autistic people are always going to be bad polytheists? That pre-language infants aren’t on the gods’ radar? That deaf people without verbal skills should just siddown and shaddap? Or that people who are weak speakers for whatever reason just aren’t trying hard enough? Because that’s what you’re actually kind of saying when you say this.
- It’s never “learn a couple words” or “learn to recite a prayer” or “learn the etymology of a few god-names”. It’s straight-up “learn the language”. All of it. As much as your overworked, underpaid, shoestring budget can accommodate. Buy the 300-page tome that your…
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I appreciate everyone’s patience here while I head into finals time at school. The next two weeks are pure frenzy and not the good, Odinic kind. lol. Once that is over though and I come out the other end, I have a couple of key articles that I’ll be posting, including another Lectio Divina piece.
In the meantime, what are you all reading or watching that might be of interest? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
Walpurgis/Beltane is in less than two weeks. What have y’all got planned? 🙂
While our House does not practice Rodnovery (1), given that two of us have strong Slavic backgrounds (the author of today’s piece actually having been born and raised in the Ukraine), it was perhaps inevitable that the occasional Slavic Deity would creep into individual devotional practices (2). For instance, our guest writer today, T. Vitta, has a deep devotion to Moist Mother Earth and when a mutual friend asked about the relationship between this ancient Power and the Goddess Mokosh, it provided an opportunity for T.V. to explore her understanding of these two Deities. I found her words inspiring and asked permission to share them here. She agreed with the caveat that this reflects her understanding and practice. One should always note that there is the possibility for distinctive regional cultus to develop in many different ways (and such most certainly happened as a matter of course in the pre-Christian world), and as part of that, syncretism may also happen. This is always a given point of understanding undergirding her approach. There is obviously a deep working relationship between these two Deities, at the very least, and she acknowledges that this can take forms for other devotees of which she herself is heretofore unaware.
Mokosh and Moist Mother Earth
By T. Vitta
Moist Mother Earth is much much older than Makosh (3). She is ever present, in Russian fairy tales, embedded in Russian language so strongly. She is a matter of course a part of Russian swears, Russian promises, and an inescapable part of Russian speech. I sometimes listen to my parents and their friends, but more often Russian movies and Russian documentaries and smile at how expressions are littered with Her, in ways that tell you plainly who She is – very often without people giving full credence to what they are saying.
If there has ever been a human bodily representation of Her, I have never seen one or found one, not in writings and not in archaeological findings. I don’t believe She has ever taken human form, not from what I have seen, read, or experienced (but I can only speak from my point of view and my experience.) I just don’t think She ever had a need to do so. She is the Land, the living spirit of the Slavic lands. She is the progenitor of health, wealth of the land, fertility, death and the afterlife. She nourishes when those of Her land are ill, She picks up those who are tired and hurt, and when people of Her land are near death, She collects them, She is the One in whose arms we fall for the last time. She is so ingrained into the very make-up of the Slavic people, Her names are still embedded in the language. Today, I hear Her invoked more when people are dying or are dead, probably because people live in cities. You can’t separate Her from the language, it’s a part of it. Last year I did a translation of an old Russian fairytale for one of Galina’s publications, and at her encouragement I made a very detailed footnote on Her (4). One of the oddities about the US to me is how people here, compared to those I grew up with, don’t have this attachment to the land whatsoever (5). All the nationalistic songs in Russia and Ukraine, the very way that the people there fight wars, fight for their land – it all goes back to Her. When you read all those old stories you see it staring you in the face – heroes who are far away from home saying how their aching bones need to go back to their land, to feel Moist Mother Earth under their feet, how when they fall on the field of battle, they lay themselves on the Moist Mother Earth, asking for Her peace, for Her to embrace them at the moment of their death. What has been amazing is that this past year, when faced with illness or lack of vitality, I instinctively prayed to Her for strength and healing, and She heard me, immediately coming to my rescue time after time. I think it’s the bloodline, She recognized the bloodline and reached out to Her people. I suspect that there is an unbreakable contract between the Slavs and Moist Mother Earth, and that this contract is so strong and they still uphold it, still ask for Her help, and She still comes to us all. She is the seeded field. She is the health of the soil. She is who gives us power and gives us the right to the land. She is the fertility of our land. She feeds us with Her strength when we are weak and sick. Her cold embrace takes us in when we must transition.
Makosh on the other hand is a weaving Goddess. She is the Goddess of the hearth, the Goddess of fate, Goddess of the “women’s” crafts. In the days these deities were prayed to, things were strictly gendered between the two sexes, and She is pretty much as close as you can come to a Goddess of female mysteries, if you forgive the expression. I think this is why people conflate them – they are both Goddesses that bring plentifulness. The thing is, it’s a very different kind of plentifulness. Makosh, being the Goddess of Fate and Hearth, brings good luck into the home, helps the bread rise, and weaves the futures of all men (humans, I mean by that). Moist Mother Earth is the fertility of the earth itself, life coursing and pumping itself through the earth to all the animals and plants. Close – but not the same. Moist Mother Earth does not distinguish us from every other living creature living on Her. Makosh – I suspect those who are Hers will learn to weave, learn to spin, learn to work magic into their cooking and learn the magic of the crafts that were considered traditionally female. If you pray for- let’s say pregnancy,– you would pray to Moist Mother Earth for fertility. You could pray to Makosh – but because She will weave fate to bring you a child, because She will bring joy into the home.
I just googled “Moist Mother Earth” in Russian and the 4th link on google says “ensemble, Jesus the Savior and Moist Mother Earth”… People don’t even think about it there, it just is (6).
Notes (added by GK):
- Slavic Polytheism, from the word Rodina or motherland.
- In my case, it’s more the occasional Baltic Deity. I have no particular devotion to either of the Goddesses discussed today, save simple respect.
- I have also seen this name spelled Mokosh. We are translating a divine name of a Holy Power honored throughout Slavic lands at one point so there will be linguistic differences in pronunciation and spelling, not to mention all of this is being transliterated into English. If you see it spelled differently elsewhere, relax.
- See Issue 12 of Walking the Worlds, The Bewitched Queen, translated by T. Vitta. The footnote (footnote 7) reads as follows:
“The expression “moist earth” has a special significance in Slavic language and Slavic culture. This is a diminutive of the full expression “Moist Mother Earth”, often heard when heroes are expressing their love for the land in which they were born. It is an intimate prayer to the soil of their land itself. This is because the language itself has been permanently marked by 1,000s of years of prayer to Moist Mother Earth and is now inseparable from the language and its people, a practice long before Christianity came to the Slavic lands. She is the progenitor of health, wealth, fertility, and death and afterlife alike. Moist Mother Earth is the original primordial Goddess the Slavic people prayed to when they seeded the earth and watched the crops grow, when they were suffering and in pain, and when they were far away from the very soil of their homeland. This expression stayed in the language, an ancient prayer recalling the connection between the land and its people. Even in cursory sentences like this it is evoked to remind the reader of the fertility of the land, and how we all eventually and rightfully are put into it to take up our journeys after we die.
This expression is evoked especially in the older written texts such as fairytales when people lived closer to the land, survived and died via the land. It appears both when the character talks about the fertility of the earth, such as in the above passage, but also in how it is the inevitable place we all must go to when we die. This appears in such expressions as “he laid his head on the moist earth” that often appear in fairytales to note the hero as close to death. While this is a tragic point in the tale, a time when the hero is dying, this is also a powerful reminder of our ties to the land. Moist Mother Earth is not the enemy that forcibly takes you, rather She is ever loving and loyal and takes you in when life is too much to bear. Dying and coming into her is like coming home. This is a particular connection between the Slavic people and the Slavic land, a promise, a covenant that the people know so instinctively that long after Christianization erased all memory of the prayers to a deity, they still pray to Her and She still knows them. She hears their prayers, and She comforts and protects and eventually takes you in. “
5. Since taking a course last year in the History of Jerusalem, I have often pondered the lack of connection to a specific land that I see in modern polytheists and pagans. Is it because our sacred sites were destroyed so thoroughly? Is it because at least in America, we are working in diasporic traditions? Is it something in the attitudes of modernity? I don’t know but I wonder what we have lost by this.
6. Tatyana told me after she sent me this that there are numerous examples of Moist Mother Earth being syncretized with the Virgin Mary.