I make my students and apprentices study the lore and this sometimes seems rather ironic given how I feel about the way ‘the lore’ is utilized in mainstream Heathenry. Here is the thing though: the lore is not in and of itself holy. It contains clues and keys to that which is holy. It’s a bit more than a map, but far, far less than revelation. I think this is an important distinction. Those texts that we consider ‘lore’ were never intended to be used in any religious capacity. They were not, for the most part, written by polytheists. They were not intended to be used as scripture and many of them, having been recorded by Christians, are in fact, somewhat problematic. However, they contain keys to the holy. We study lore to learn about our cosmology, to learn how our ancestors ordered their world, to gain a glimpse into the paths that lead to mystery. it’s a tool, nothing more.
All of this has made me ponder the damage that having a reified ‘scripture’ can do to a tradition. I think it turns “god” into an idea instead of a living, terrifying Presence. It makes religion an intellectual exercise, especially if one culls out the experiential, mystical, or embodied devotional practices as the Protestant Reformation did to Christianity. Religion isn’t an intellectual exercise. There are protocols and practices to be learned because it is necessary to meet the Holy on properly prepared ground, especially the ‘ground’ of our hearts and minds. At its core though, religion encompasses all those things, those structures and practices, patterns that pattern and infuse us with the experience of our Gods. It is a thing that reaches into our guts, tears open our hearts, brings us to our knees before the Powers and changes everything. It is not neat and sanitized. It is dark and bloody, terrifying, and glorious. It is not a thing of civilization, it is a thing that connects us back to our earliest ancestors and the Gods that brought them the gifts to create civilization. It is a thing the practice of which reaffirms and recreates our cosmology every single time we engage. It is that through which our world and experiences are properly filtered.
When ‘god’ is an idea and not an experienced, shattering Presence, the mystery is stripped from one’s religion and it becomes a game, an intellectual exercise, it becomes a brittle carapace. With so many of us having converted from monotheisms, from religions centered around a deeply reified sacred text or texts, it’s important to challenge and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We prioritize the written word in a way that our ancestors never, ever did. We look to the written word to define our experiences instead of allowing our experiences to inspire our written word.
Moreover, we should be getting the interpretation of our lore not from scholars but from our shamans, spirit workers, clergy, and specialists, from those stepped in the deepest mysteries of our traditions, not from those who would analyze the holy out of those traditions. Doing the latter damages not only the community and those devoted to their Gods, but sterilizes the tradition as a whole. If one is properly stepped in one’s tradition, there are numerous illusions that the lore can lead one to. For instance the story of Thor killing his goats so a peasant family that was offering the gods hospitality might eat well, and then restoring those goats the next day provides a trail that can be followed when one is contemplating how to do proper sacrifice. The story of Odin hanging on the tree and winning the runes provides a blueprint for one of our esoteric traditions. The story of Freya winning brisingamen points to connections, deep and powerful, between the Duergar and the Vanir and the connection between creativity and abundance only otherwise hinted at in our stories. It’s not enough to read the lore or to memorize it. One must steep oneself deeply and fully in the cosmology so that one has the necessary keys to decode and interpret. General lore thumping is all the more frustrating because it’s a further corruption of the holy. To be blunt, these people don’t know what the fuck those stories are about. Yes, the stories are fundamental but *not* the text itself, rather what is important is what the text alludes to.
Story is always alive. Reifying lore is no different than Christians mistaking the Bible for the Word. It’s the Word that creates not the book. Of course, this is also a symptom of our converts having been raised in a monotheistic, modern culture that wants quick, carefully organized, boxed in, rigid answers. Mystery is never, ever easy and simple. It’s painful, often bloody, confusing, messy and bigger than we can ever imagine. Most importantly of all, it has to be experienced to be understood, otherwise it’s just useless trivia. I think there’s a difficulty in Heathenry, and in our world in general with mistaking the knowledge of the lore for experience. I also think wanting those rigid categories becomes a dangerous crutch. It further conditions the mind to keep the holy terror at bay but the holy terror is what mystery is made of. It is the essential conduit to our Gods. Keeping it at bay, sanitizing it as I wrote above, keeps Them at bay too. Essentially, the lore are accounts of the holy so they contain the holy even if in imperfect form. They’re doors into that world that underlies this one. Truly comprehending our sacred stories prepares one for being dropped into Mystery.
As an example of how important that mental lens is, a spirit-working colleague told me he has a new taboo: he can’t talk about mystery stuff in his tradition, not even with initiates unless he is in the proper headspace. This trumps even being in clean, unpolluted space for him. Now I don’t have that, but it’s an interesting example for me at least, of why understanding cosmology and headspace is so important and so, as much as I shake my head to say it, because I never thought I would, all of us need to be steeped in our cosmology, starting with he Poetic Edda. This means, not just having read them, but having meditated upon, discussed, and analyzed them. That cosmology needs to shape the fabric of our minds.
Now, to reiterate, the Eddas were written down two hundred years after conversion by a Christian. They’re not in themselves sacred writ, but they are what we have of the stories of our Gods and they invite us into the cosmology and contain within themselves even such as they are, hints at our mysteries. This all came up when I was teaching my apprentices the basics of our fire mysteries. In my tradition (and this much I can say publicly), that starts with learning how to make fire from flint and steel. Part of this connects us to our ancestors, but part of being a good fire worker isn’t just being able to pull off the technique, but rather consciously reenacting the cosmological moment of creation, when the world of fire and ice met. One reaffirms and recreates that via the headspace the one is in while doing the technique. Everything started with fire and ice.
Everything before everything came from the interplay of the world of fire and the world of ice. Then there is the breath of Odin that brought us to life, the fire given by Lodur (Loki), the spark of intelligence by Hoenir. everything resolves back to fire, ice, breath, and force. When you’re making fire with flint and steel, you’re bringing together opposing forces. It perfectly recreates that moment of creation. Flint hits steel and sparks and BOOM it’s the action not either of the tools themselves. It is what you are doing and the headspace and mindfulness in which you do it. In Anfang wer der tot…I think of the beginning of Goethe’s Faust : in the beginning was the deed.” (if I have my German right) So much repeated in our cosmology as a theme is the interplay of opposing forces. This in turn is a necessary consequence of polytheism: multiple Forces with different desires,, agendas, preferences and They’re going to be in conflict and crash into each other and that’s not a bad thing but on the contrary, a tremendously, terrifyingly creative thing. These are in many ways, mysteries. Our whole cosmology is contained in starting a fire, which is why it’s the first mystery.
Going into our spiritual work, our devotion, our practices with an awareness that unites the stories we have read, with an understanding of the sacral interplay of forces (and Forces) in our world, is the point of the lore. I always suggest to my students that they think of the “lore” as Cliff notes, bullet points, truncated thoughts but that they never, ever mistake it for experience of the Mysteries, nor for the Gods Themselves.
Wisdom of the Fool Prayer
Flame haired Trickster
Silver tongued God
Please hear my prayer.
Please teach me the wisdom of the Fool,
Teach me to laugh at myself when I …
Fall on my ass both literally and figuratively
Smile at my current infatuation while I have spinach stuck between my teeth
Get drunk and disorderly at the company Christmas party (hey! Someone had to do it!)
For only Fools know true wisdom
Because they have lived life to the fullest.
Since they have been laughed at and mocked,
Fools are more compassionate and tolerant towards others.
And only Fools may speak the truth to Kings (oh, how well You know this!)
Please teach me to love life like You do
To laugh out loud without wondering what others think
To love passionately without fearing a broken heart
To embrace others and life with a furiousness that matches Your own fire.
Hail to you Loki! You who are the patron God of Fools!
(remember, folks, the agon ends 9pm EST tonight).
- Loki’s Agon will be ending in two days. If you have a piece that you were thinking about submitting, now is the time to do it.
- We have a new prayer card, which will be up in my shop shortly:
Mithras by G. Palmer.
There is a grace to the dead. We have our ancestors and they‘re a mixed bag: good, bad, and everything in between and it’s our duty, the sacred compact to which we were born, for which we were born to make sense of that, to shoulder it and dance through our lives. Our dead are ours, our strength, our foundation and so long as they are doing right by us, we’re called to honor them. (When they’re not, we may be called to elevations and healing work or to call them to account, or in some very desperate cases to cut them out but this is not the everyday norm). Here is the thing though: our dead for the most part tried to live good lives and to do for their families. Even when they fucked up grievously, very few set out to be horrible human beings. They may have been damaged. They may have made terrible choices, but in most cases they did the best they could in a very diseased world to make sense of their lives.
I think on my 3rd great grandmother Rachel Bobo. According to census records, she was illiterate. But she and her husband seem to have moved around quite a bit, possibly for opportunities for themselves and their children. She and her husband were illiterate but her son was a mechanic who owned his own home and could read and write and her granddaughter was an opera singer.
I’m not sure my own maternal grandmother ever finished high school. I suspect she had only an eight grade education if that. One of her daughters worked forty years plus in a respectable position in the Pentagon, the other at Aberdeen Proving ground, and two of her sons own their own businesses. I’m going for my doctorate. For some families, it’s getting a child to learn to read. For another, it’s getting them safely to adulthood. For others, it’s seeing that they never go hungry. Step by faltering step, our ancestors in the best of times pushed us forward. There were those so damaged or broken that they failed even in this, yes, but overall, stumbling in the often bitter confusion of living, they did the best they could.
Someone asked me recently why we honor the dead. It was an honest question, not asked in sarcasm or petulance but out of a desire to understand. We honor the dead because it is the right and proper thing for adults to do. People who don’t honor and respect their dead aren’t fully realized human beings in my opinion. They are like trees without roots. This is one of the ancient contracts (along with honoring the Gods and honoring the land) and it’s a sacred obligation. It shouldn’t be rocket science to instill in our children and our communities the rightness in not only preventing desecration of the dead, but in honoring them and giving them their dignity. This benefits us too.
Nor is honoring the dead about supporting their causes in life. That was a hard lesson for me to learn with my military dead. We honor our dead as individuals (remembrance is a powerful thing, a holy thing) but also because now they are part of this collective of ancestors that nurture and protect us. At least that’s part of it.
A few years ago I had to do a pilgrimage for my military dead and part of it was going to union and confederate graveyards and it was very, very hard for me to visit the latter. I don’t support what they fought for, I find so much of what they fought for personally vile and I was flat out told “it’s not about supporting their causes. it’ s not about patriotism or lack thereof. it’s about honoring the men and women who contributed to making us who we are today, who laid down their lives for something, who lived, suffered, experienced joys, and died trying to make their world a better place for their descendants. It’s about the link in the chain of humanity, and the strength of the ancestral collective. When we honor them, we restore and renew that ancient compact.
We carry our dead. We carry them always. We should do it proudly and we should do it well.
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by Amanda Forrester
My head is on fire.
I can see it all –
The threads of destiny, of wyrd, coming together,
I see the ghastly fate of my sons,
I feel the bindings tying me to the boulder
I see the red, weeping eyes of my loyal wife
Holding the bowl above me.
And I see all the worlds consumed in fire and ice
When I (at last!) make my escape.
My head is on fire.
I can feel the venom even now.
Still, I do not try to avoid that future, but do what must be done.
And so a dart of mistletoe seals my fate
As surely as it did Balder’s.
My head is on fire.
I saw it all, knew it’s coming,
But also that it must be done.
I told my blood-brother so.
My lips were sewn shut not because I lie,
But because I tell the truth,
(at least, when it matters)
And even the Gods cannot bear to hear it.
Jon Upsal recently reached out to folklorist Carolyn Emerick and the resulting interview was quite interesting and enlightening, much better than the Wild Hunt coverage. The link is here and I suggest people take read. Emerick has been shat upon professionally because she holds to the radical notion that Europeans are people too.
So…Antifa garbage is now targeting the military dead. There are apparently plans for burning flags at Gettysburg on July 1 and pissing on Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Exactly what is wrong with us when we think it ok to demean, pollute, and desecrate the resting places and memorials to our dead? We are a civilization that deserves to fall.
As my friend T. said recently, “These people were someone’s brother, someone’s father, and someone’s son. Their children and their mothers cried over those graves. Those children grew up fatherless because they fought for this country. Would you piss on their sorrow and the orphans that grew up without them?”
Don’t dishonor the dead used to be a universal tenet of healthy, functioning people. Obviously, not anymore.
An interesting post on moon Deities. I have never been able to form a relationship with Selene, precisely because of having such a deep devotion to Mani. I know the Gods are more than capable of sorting it all out but I found this a lovely meditation nonetheless.
Diana and Endymion by Pier Francesco Mola, c. 1660 (Switzerland)
When I visited Rome in 2006 (I think it was), I had not yet made the paradigm shift to Hellenismos. I was a fairly eclectic polytheist keeping a few shrines for a few different goddesses from different pantheons. I had had feelings for Athena that were not reciprocated, yet She was present in my life. Everywhere I went in Rome, I encountered Roma, the goddess of the city, and I remember being very frustrated because all the images I saw of Her looked to me like they were really of Athena or perhaps Minerva. I kick myself now for the gorgeous paintings, statues, and temple remains to Apollo that I must have missed, but I was very focused on Athena during that visit. It was only on my trip to the Capitoline Museum that my attention was torn away by…
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He is so many things to me… words are weak in His presence and weak on this page as I struggle to shape them into something approximating His power.
He is a maw. That’s what started all of this, another poet calling Him a maw. And He is and we are ever being devoured in it. The whole initiation process into Him is a crushcrunching down between His predator’s jaws. It’s a good way to live, soaring within the storm. It sets a certain stage and we can run with that for now.
Endless shrieking hunger. Cold, calculating, yet searingly passionate in His focus. I hear it all the time, when He is near, that roaring in the brain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool
Or has not learned how to listen.
He sees farther than we can ever conceive. He sees us too and our potential.
I know what it is like to be hunted down like prey. I know what it is like to fight a killer but I don’t know what it is like to walk away. Some knowledge isn’t worth having.
A vicious, beautiful Bastard and I love Him for it and sometimes I hate Him too but I never, ever forget the stench of my own fear in the woods when that first Hunt began or when His corpse creaked high in the Tree above me. I’ll never forget how He treasures my viciousness either.
a frenzied ravening Beast who has learned to wear a pretty mask to court the ladies (and some men too). He is brutal and wondrous and the ironsharp tang of His presence a joy my heart can barely hold.
the sovereign Power that has drenched the earth in blood and glory, the wailing wisdom of poets, the shivering terror of bards, and the enchantments that hold it all together swallowed and spat about by His flock of charmed women with razor tongues.
The Force that will use those women up until they seek any crevice in this world to avoid seeing into His.
Ho, ho, ho,
Who, Who, Who
But a God who knows the secrets found only in madness would do that? Let’s see which of us will be the last one standing, oh my darlings. Go ahead. Run.
the Architect of Worlds who loves His people and the pristine symmetry of the cosmos and will spit us all on a spear to see that it does not burn.
While we bicker and scramble and piss away our charms where the grass is green and blood runs blackest in the streets, He snakes His way ahead to keep it all from curling back into the Gap.
Devastation. Another poet warned about things like this: “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question” and so it is and so it was and if I’m lucky, so it shall ever be.
He is the frenzy that drives me and His the calloused hands that pick me up when His work drives me to my knees and I kiss the ground in exhaustion. He is the frenzy that inspires me, and with Him at my side I have seen I have seen the birthing of worlds and wonder. He is a monstrous Glory and He is my Salvation.
It is enough that He is.