Since passing my qualifying exams in May, co-organizing/facilitating an academic conference on Syriac studies, and then teaching a whirlwind five-week theology course over the summer term, I’ve been taking some time off. Of course, my idea of taking time off involves… well, work, just different kinds of work from what I normally do.
Right now, I am participating in an art show in a lovely town in the Hudson Valley. I’ve shown my work both professionally and internationally before, but I took a break when I started my PhD studies, so this is the first serious show I’ve done since 2019. I had invitations but painting is very, very different headspace from academic work and I needed to focus on the latter fully. The curator of the show took a serious injury about two weeks before we were due to open, so I and several other artists are filling in for her for the month of August. This means hanging the show, gallery sitting, managing sales and records, and so forth. It’s not my first time at the rodeo but it is like having an unexpected second job dropped in one’s lap. I am, as they say in German, fix und fertig!
It’s nice to be painting again. Check out my Instagram (heathenliving) to see some of my recent work and a current still life in progress. I like taking progress shots and posted two tonight of a still life I’m working on. It fascinates me even now how a painting comes together.
I’ve also started to study classical guitar (I promised if I passed my exams, I’d do something new that I’d been thinking about for the better part of a year). I’m loving it, though my arms and hands hurt in new and amazing ways lol. I expected this though. The good thing about this isn’t just that I love the instrument, but that it allows me to connect with so many of my ancestors: the castrati and also the dancers that I honor (I honor my ballet lineage) – because it’s music and of course that dove tails with the world those spirits and I myself moved in at one time, my adopted mom who was a musician, and my great grandmother (maternal, biological) who was an opera singer and pianist. It’s nourishing part of me as well that greatly missed that world (in my case of ballet). I found a marvelous teacher who is very patient and very focused on proper technique and I’m having a blast.
Of course, I’m reading German every day (I decided that this summer was going to be given over to studying German – I’ve gotten rusty). I need to add Greek and Latin to it as well (lest I lose them) so I’ve started just recently alternating days: German and Latin one day, German and Greek the next. So, I haven’t been totally ignoring my academic work. The term starts Sept. 1 and I’m teaching a Byzantine Theology class so there’s also syllabus prep and such. No rest for the weary or wicked or…something. Lol.
On the spirit-work and devotional work side of things, I’ve been focusing extensively on the ephesia grammata. I was originally introduced to this family of spirits through a colleague years ago, but they never really clicked, especially since they were presented almost exclusively as useful for divination. I put the knowledge aside and never really did anything with them. Recently however, I and several members of my House received a cleaner re-introduction to these spirits and they’re fast becoming significant allies. This was unexpected and has been taking up a good deal of my time. It’s humbling to realize how much was taken from us in the period of conversion, how much was lost. The haunting process of bringing it forward once more, of opening doorways long forgotten, of restoring cultus and speaking again the sacred names, of taking up again the sacred contracts is awe-inspiring, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to take part in this process in whatever way that I have and shall continue to do in service and use to my Gods.
Recently, I’ve also received an email from a reader asking if I was going to finish my Freya devotional. I’ve had this on a serious backburner since I started grad-school. The request was so fervent that I am moving it to the front of my devotional “to-do” pile. This autumn, I will work on and hopefully finish my novena book – part of my pocket-sized devotional series – to Freya. After that, I hope to do one for Sigyn. So, I ask patience.
Finally, I’d like to recommend a TV series that my husband just introduced me to: “Reservation Dogs.” It’s a fascinating series set on a reservation in Oklahoma and focusing on a group of young people who are trying to find their way through the challenges of their lives. It’s so good!!! Best of all, it incorporates elements of spirituality and treats the indigenous spirits and customs with utmost respect. It’s refreshing and I highly recommend it.
Musically, my teacher has me listening to the guitar work of H. Villa-Lobos, so I’ve been focusing mostly on that. I go between that and vengeance country LOL. I love this particular genre of country music.
Lest I neglect books, I recently finished a fantastic history of ballet in Australia called Dancing Under the Southern Skies by Valerie Lawson. It was one of the best books on ballet that I’ve read in years. It has extensive chapters both on Anna Pavlova and Olga Spessivtseva – both of whom I honor as part of my professional lineage and it’s remarkably well researched. The book is a bit tough to find – it’s not available on amazon—but I got an inexpensive copy on abebooks just by chance.
That’s it for me for the night. What books, music, movies, or tv do y’all recommend? I’m always looking for good recommendations and love learning what folks are enjoying (just please, no marvel movies. They’re banned in our home by common consensus both for misusing and misrepresenting our Gods and for the anti-theistic attitude at their core).
for Loki, Friend of Odin He Who battles alongside His friends maintains the strength of Asgard, using His gifts to challenge the giants, using His body to subvert Svaðilfari’s Master. He pours treasure down upon His allies, He rains wrath down upon His foes. His victory lies in the longest game, and of all the Gods, not even He knows its end. Bright as fire, slippery as a fish, drenched in the well-bright, whispered warnings, this God comes. He challenges everything, laughing around a bonfire encompassing even His own destruction. He knows that with chaos comes opportunity, to turn the final battle on its end, to grab victory out of the maws of the wolf, a celebration of blood and steel, and those who think He lacks courage know not what His courage has cost. Hail to You, Loki, friend of Thor, Who works Your wiles in Odin’s shadow so the Old Man may shine all the more. Hail to the fighter Whose wit is a wound deadlier than poison in the heart of Their enemies. May we always honor You, oh God Who finds the loops in every loophole. Show us too how to be slippery and hard to catch in the maze of things that would bind us away from our Gods, stifle our devotion, and burden our hearts with pollution.
By G. Krasskova
excerpted from this book.
Affiliate advertising disclosure.
So the other day was the anniversary of a very small book that I wrote about the Evil Eye. The book was a result of a four-week course I taught (not academically but within my religious community) about how to deal with the evil eye. I never used to give the evil eye or “malocchio” any thought at all. I even poo-pooed the use of eye charms, but they do actually work, at least as a preventative. It wasn’t until I was hit with the eye myself that I gave it serious attention. I should have known better from the start: traditions about how to ward off the evil eye date back to Sumer. You find them not only in Greece but across world. Even in the southwest, I saw many lintels and doors painted blue to ward off evil.
Now, why blue one might ask? Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you that it’s the rarest color in nature, once one of the most expensive, and throughout the history of painting has consistently been associated with holy things. In the American Southwest, as I noted above, one often sees doors and window frames painted a bright turquoise blue; in the Southeast, porch ceilings might be painted a color called “haint” blue, in both cases to ward off evil. The best evil eye charms are likewise blue, often in the shape of an eye – a case of fighting like with like. The hamza (a representation of the protective hand of the God El) may also be used (sometimes the two are combined in the same pendant).
The earliest references to malocchio talk about it as an evil spirit. I have often wondered if those who can cast it (and many don’t do it on purpose. I find that there is a particular personality type that is able to cast the eye: they tend to be passive aggressive and deeply envious of the good fortunes, or perceived good fortunes, of those around them) aren’t really just tagging the victim in a way that calls the evil spirit forth. Fortunately, there are a list of signs and symptoms to watch out for and it’s not that difficult to banish. I cover all of this in my book and give quite a few academic sources for those who want to do a deeper dive than my brief course and text allow.
I’ve had a few questions coming in the last four days, so I figured I’d handle them here all at once. I have also been reading a couple of interesting articles so I’m sharing those too. Questions two and three were from the same person.
- What is your favorite of Odin’s heiti? – J.
J, that is a hard question. I probably resonate the most devotionally with Odin as Gangleri or Runatyr but it really varies depending on where I’m at devotionally at any given time. Eventually, I want to explore Him through the lens of as many of His by-names as possible devotionally. Each one is a mystery and each heiti an opportunity to get to know Him better, to go deeper into devotion, and more importantly to push oneself outside of one’s comfort zone in devotion. Right now, with Oski’s day just past, I realized that while I’ve honored Him as Oski before, I don’t think I’ve written any prayers to Him in that capacity. I was shocked! Lol. So, that’s the heiti I’m most focused on but is it a “favorite?” I would say no, which is not to say that I have any personal issues honoring Him that way, it’s just not the primary way that I’ve encountered Him in my devotions and I tend to only address Him in this way in December. Mostly, there are so many heiti from which to choose that I find it really hard to say, “this one is a favorite.” There’s also liking a by-name and connecting most strongly with Him through that by-name. Those two aren’t always the same thing. So, it’s complicated.
In the New Year, I plan to start my series here discussing Odin’s various heiti. Many of you had great suggestions for which heiti to examine first when I first mentioned this a month or so ago, and I’m looking forward to delving in. I didn’t want y’all to think I’d forgotten!
2. How do you justify being folkish? Why do you support the AFA?
(I’ll leave this and question three anonymous)
I’m not folkish and I don’t support the AFA. I’ve never been a member and I have significant problems theologically with their positions. They are however, entitled to have those positions just as I am entitled to disagree with them. That is their first amendment rights granted to them by our Constitution. I can disagree with them and they with me, but I won’t abridge their right to practice as they wish. I’ll simply not engage with them or join their organization. I will vote with my feet!
Here’s where I stand. I believe that anyone of any race or ethnicity can practice any tradition including mine and I would not allow discrimination against anyone in any of the religious spaces that are mine to tend, whether that discrimination is based on ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality, or any other personal characteristic. My job as a priest is to nurture devotion and faith, to teach the tradition, the right relationships between people and their Gods, ancestors, and other Holy Powers, and to work to the best of my ability to serve my Gods well.
Now ancestor veneration is an important part of my practice, of Heathenry, and of most polytheisms in general. We know that all those alive in the world today are here today because there is a line of ancestors who fought and struggled through hardships to keep living. We respect and love and venerate them for this and the sacrifices they have made. That doesn’t mean we don’t venerate or respect other dead, or that we think only ours should be venerated – everyone has ancestors. Honor them. It’s a simple equation. People call me folkish because I tell them not to forget those sacrifices and to respect their ancestors, remember them, learn from them. We all stand on the shoulders of our dead. Every last one of us.
3. What do you think about Hindutva?
(Several links that I won’t share here were included in this email, many of them accusing former acquaintances of mine of being fascists because they have in some way worked for organizations that have ties to Hindutva).
What I really think you’re asking, is what I think of Western polytheistic attempts to make alliances with Hinduism, and also, Western polytheistic attempts to visibly support larger, extant indigenous polytheisms.
I think for the most part, those attempts are foolish—until we build up our own communities how can we be a credible help to any other polytheistic tradition that is under attack or in danger? Yes, we should absolutely stay informed and speak out when we see other polytheistic and indigenous traditions under attack – especially when those traditions are under attack by monotheistic attempts at proselytizing and erasure. However, until we get our own house in order, we’re not useful to ourselves or anyone else.
I think right now, we are better served spending the bulk of our energy building up our own traditions. With all due respect to my Hindu colleagues, and my colleagues in any other indigenous tradition, these traditions have nothing to gain by any alliance with any Western polytheistic group. While I do think that it is good when polytheists can stand together as a block, and it may be emotionally satisfying to sidestep the difficult work of building our own traditions by friendly alliances with Hinduism, or Ifa, for example – lineages that haven’t been sundered, in the end, I don’t think it’s beneficial to either side right now. Maybe on paper. Maybe as a public relations stunt, but what is really accomplished in actual, concrete actuality? Not a damned thing. Our energy would be better spent focusing on our communities.
When we can enter into these alliances as equal partners then I would be all for it. Right now, at very best, we are the ones likely to be changed or absorbed by any such work because we have not taken the time to develop a backbone, a cohesive sense of identity as religious communities, or any clear sense of piety. We have no ethics because too many of our people mistake politics (usually progressive but not always) for religion. We need to start and really commit to the process of building solid, in person communities, religious houses, temples with the attendant infrastructure to think and act like the communities we can be. We need to be raising children in the faith and looking to restore the framework for intergenerational transmission of our traditions. Then, maybe we can step up and enter into larger alliances with something to offer other than pretty words. In other words, we actually have to HAVE communities before we can have any type of productive alliance.
Now onto some interesting links that I read this week and think some of you may find interesting:
An article about how birds perceive time. Read here.
Vikings got here before the eleventh century. Read that here.
Finally, I just saw a new book came not too long ago on Heathen concepts of the Soul. I have not read it yet, but it looks promising. The book is called ‘Heathen Soul Lore Foundations: Ancient and Modern Germanic Pagan Concepts of the Souls” by Winifred Rose. You can find it here. (and … half way through the first chapter I disagree with the definition of “soul” offered so strongly I may have to write a review. This is theological work but it’s not approached theologically and I find this frustrating. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing how Rose develops her ideas historically and philologically).
Finally, over at House of Vines, a commenter (Xenophon) gave the perfect response to those that are constantly nattering on about how everyone who practices actual religion instead of politics or who disagrees with the political position du jour is a fascist: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of my prayers to the Gods.” That’s it, folks, the best advice of the week: ignore the haters and get on with devotion.
Here is an apotropaic phallus.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
Last weekend I reread C.S. Lewis’ beautiful, poetic, and absolutely wrenching novel Till We Have Faces. It was the last novel Lewis wrote and I’m using it in an intro to theology class that I’m teaching. As it’s been nearly a decade since I had read it last, I’d forgotten how powerful a text this is. For those who may not have read it, Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the story of Psyche and Eros and no novel I have ever read better encompasses and explains the story of a soul’s journey to its God. By the time I got to the end of the book I was sobbing my eyes out. It happens every time I read it.
The story centers around three sisters: Oruel (the protagonist of the book), Redival (her second sister, a fairly minor character in the book), and Istra (whose name in the fictional world of the book means ‘soul,’ or Psyche in Greek). Oruel, whose physical ugliness is highlighted by the book, which in turn is written from her perspective, loves her youngest sister dearly and very, very possessively. Istra, in turn, is so incredibly beautiful and kind as a child that people begin to treat her like a Goddess. They begin to venerate her. Neither she nor Oruel encourage this in any way. Of course, those familiar with Greek myths will know immediately how spiritually dangerous this is, and the problems that may (and do) ensue.
Receiving praise due to a Deity is a form of hubris. It is violence against the proper order of the cosmos. It is a way of placing a human being and the human ego above the Gods in that cosmic order. Allowing this, even passively to occur, is tremendously disrespectful to the Gods in question. It’s a type of impiety that has the potential to spread like wildfire too. This is exactly what happens in the fictional city of Glome, where all the action of the story occurs. The people began to venerate Istra in place of the Goddess of Glome (a Goddess named Ungit, who, as the text tells us, is their Aphrodite). This leads to devastation in the land, with the result that Istra must be taken up to a sacred mountain and given to Ungit’s son. This spurs a painful, bitter, but ultimately enlightening journey for the book’s protagonist Oruel.
Oruel, for the first 2/3 of the book is deeply resentful and bitter toward the Gods. She spews vile, impious, and hateful things toward Them because They have “taken” Istra away from her. (Istra for her part, until Oruel intervened with bullying manipulation, was supremely happy and fulfilled). We see through the course of the book that Oruel doesn’t love. She covets. She is greedy, selfish, and deeply self-centered. Her idea of love is possession. Her complaint against the Gods was this, “I was my own, and Psyche was mine and no one else had any right to her.” This included Psyche’s right to herself. Like so many self-centered people, Oruel was fully prepared to destroy Psyche’s happiness because it wasn’t centered on her (Oruel). She was fully prepared to shit on anything holy, to pull those she purported to love down into the empty, shallow morass of her own mediocrity and misery rather than allow them to exist, whole and happy away from her control in loving relationships with their Gods.
The book is about the consequences of jealousy. Spiritual jealousy – that is jealousy over someone else’s spiritual gifts, is one of the most destructive things in the world. It twists, corrupts, and destroys everything good, clean, and holy. It destroys the jealous person most of all. Oruel spends 2/3 of the book complaining that the Gods never answer her accusations, that Their answers are confusing, misleading, impossible to understand. She is presented with mystery and refuses to see (even when she is granted a vision). It is easier for her to condemn it as madness and her sister as mad. Oruel eventually becomes Queen of Glome and sovereignty begins to heal her, forcing her to care for those in her kingdom. What really cements that process is writing her account of Istra’s being taken up by the God. Only in the end, when Oruel herself begins to realize how misguided she has been, how cruel and selfish, do we see the true nature of this manuscript.
Here’s the thing: every mystic, every devotee, everyone who loves his or her Gods and works diligently to center their lives around piety and devotion is Oruel as much as we have ever been Istra. Every one of us must, at some point and often more than once face the “holy darkness” that Oruel so pits herself against again and again in the text. Every one of us faces the choice over and over again, day after day in how we respond to the call of our Gods, the press of devotion, or the press of the world and what we have been taught is “rationality.” Every day we face the temptation to dismiss it all as “madness,” just as it was easier for Oruel to claim that Istra was “mad” rather than to accept that she was loved by a God. The book even has Oruel asking, “Was it madness or not? Which was true? Which would be worse? (142).” It’s so much easier to dismiss a life-changing (or challenging) theophany as madness than accept that it is real and have the safe, known pattern of your life fall away. It’s so much easier to call it madness than accept that someone else has received this and you may not be there yet. Jealousy is a terrible thing, especially spiritually, and it twists our souls all out of true. It’s a challenge I think we all face at some time or another (1).
It’s with part II that Oruel starts to heal and come to fruition spiritually. After writing the first part of her story, she has an epiphany, and a theophany that causes her to realize the horrible evil she has done in trying to tear Istra away from her God. Moreover, she comes to repent of it and, gaining both insight and humility, enters finally into right relationship with the Gods. It takes her entire life, as the story is at its core, the story of the soul’s journey. Toward the end of the book, she asks her teacher ‘are the Gods just?” His answer moves me to tears every time: “Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were? (p. 335). They are ever and always better than we deserve, even though it might take us our entire lifetimes to realize that. It is a touchstone, a thing to contemplate, a thing that urges one to cultivate virtue and piety *better* — whatever better means for each individual soul.
One of the other key questions, the question that gives the title is something Oruel asks after she’s had her epiphany: “How can They meet us face to face until we have faces? (p. 335)” and the novel asks the reader to contemplate exactly what that means. What does it mean to have a face? Why is it necessary before we can experience the Gods? I don’t have an answer to this save that the story of the soul is one of becoming, of growing, of peeling away layers of pain, jealousy, and misunderstanding until we see what Orual finally grasps in the last couple of paragraphs of the book: throughout she has been demanding answers from the Gods. In the end, she realizes that the God –in her case the “God of the Mountain”—IS the answer. In the end, our Gods are enough.
- I’m not saying that one should not engage in clear spiritual discernment. This is always necessary. Just because one is engaging in deep devotion to the point of having mystical experiences, doesn’t mean one should ignore one’s mental and physical health.
All page numbers are from this edition of the book.
Affiliate advertising disclaimer.
Bibliophiles that love increasing their book hoards, if you haven’t yet picked up my books “A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions” and/or “Living Runes: Theory & Practice of Norse Divination” there’s a deal right now if you order direct from the publisher. Alas, the deal is only good for orders shipped to a mailing address in the United States, but it is for 30% off. Just use coupon code SEWE at checkout from now until it expires on October 15, 2021 at RedWheelWeiser.com.
ABOUT A MODERN GUIDE TO HEATHENRY
An accessible yet in-depth guide to this increasingly popular pre-Christian religious tradition of Northern Europe
Heathenry, is one of the fastest growing polytheistic religious movements in the United States today. This book explores the cosmology, values, ethics, and rituals practiced by modern heathens.
In A Modern Guide to Heathenry readers will have the opportunity to explore the sacred stories of the various heathen gods like Odin, Frigga, Freya, and Thor and will be granted a look into the devotional practices of modern votaries. Blóts, the most common devotional rites, are examined in rich detail with examples given for personal use. Additionally, readers are introduced to the concept of wyrd, or fate, so integral to the heathen worldview.
Unlike many books on heathenry, this one is not denomination-specific, nor does it seek to overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon or Norse terminology. For Pagans who wish to learn more about the Norse deities or those who are new to heathenry or who are simply interested in learning about this unique religion, A Modern Guide to Heathenry is the perfect introduction. Those who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work as well.
The book takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions (2005) as a foundation and significantly expands upon it with more than 70,000 words of new material especially on devotional work, honoring the ancestors, and theological exegesis. It’s basically twice the word heft of its predecessor!
ABOUT LIVING RUNES
Living Runes provides a thorough examination of the Norse runes that will challenge the experienced rune worker to deepen his or her understanding of these mysteries. The book begins with an explication of the story of Odin, the Norse god who won the runes by sacrificing himself on the World Tree. It continues by examining each of the individual runes in turn, both the Elder Futhark and the lesser-known Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. Each rune is studied not only from a historical viewpoint but also from the perspective of a modern practitioner. You will be introduced to the practice of galdr as well as the magical use of the runes and the proper way to sacrifice to them and read them for divination. Most importantly, the book specifically addresses the runes as living spirits and provides guidance on developing a working relationship with these otherworldly allies.
Living Runes: Theory and Practice of Norse Divination is a re-release of Runes: Theory and Practice. Please note there is NO new content.
I usually try to ignore the garbage I see online but Patheos’ latest post reached such a level of confusion and just outright stupidity that as an historian I feel the need to jump in just to correct the historical mis-information. I’m literally just stunned at the depth and breadth of inaccuracy and flat out historically incorrect nonsense being presented as fact here. Ready, Readers? Take a good stuff drink and buckle up because here we go.
“Christianity had the privilege of a couple thousand years of recorded history. Men, white men, have contributed the most Christian theological information than any other ethnic or gender in their field.”
This is flat out incorrect. The first two seriously influential Christian theologians were….North African (Tertullian) and Egyptian (Origen). In fact, the majority of Christian writers for the first four hundred or so years of Christianity were from the east, particularly places like Antioch, Alexandria, Damascus, Cappadocia, Babylon, Syria and Turkey, in addition to North Africa and of course Italy and Judea. During the medieval period you also had significant intellectual movements within Islam and Judaism – so how dare this ill-informed author claim that only white men have contributed? Christianity for instance, crossed all classes and ethnicities (one of the reasons I suspect Constantine chose to legalize it. Christians in his time may have only been about 10% of the society, but they were 10% across every possible social stratum).
“White men also dominate books written on Paganism, the Occult, and Witchcraft.”
Really? Working hard to win the oppression Olympics aren’t you, sweetheart? Let’s see, I’ll pull three or four for each category just off the top of my head: Occultists: Dion Fortune, Margerie Cameron, Helena Blavatsky, Leila Waddell, Moina Mathers, Pamela Colman Smith, Ida Craddock; Paganism, Witchcraft, and Polytheism: me (lol), Diana Paxson, Margot Adler, Phyllis Curott, Tamara Siuda, Janet Farrar (like her or hate her, she was very influential early on), Starhawk, Sybil Leek, Margaret Murray, Olivia Durdin Robertson, Normandi Ellis….shall I go on? And just for kicks, here are some early female Christian writers: Egeria, Perpetua, Hildegard, Mechthild, Marguerite Porete, Catherine of Sienna, Catherine of Genoa, Margery, Julian, Clare, Teresa of Avila, Angela Folino, Anna Komnena, Proba Betitia Faltonia, Athenais-Eudocia, Macrina, a ton of desert mothers…and this is all off just the top of my head. With a quick web search or a look at my bookshelves I could come up with dozens more.
Our genius goes on:
“So when we support movements like #defendoccultbooks then we are inherently supporting classism and sexism.”
No, you’re supporting competence and excellence. If you can’t go to the library and get a book, you shouldn’t be practicing any occult art. Knowledge is the great equalizer across classes, but the reason this tag came into being is we have a generation of children wanting to style themselves occultists who can’t be bothered to read. They want to learn their craft indiscriminately from videos and tiktoks. It doesn’t work that way.
“Upper class men and, eventually women were the only people with formal education for a long time. Even then women weren’t allowed to read or write for a huge portion of recorded history. Additionally, black and brown people weren’t given access to formal education for most of that time.”
This is why we need you to read, dear. You might actually have some grasp of historical fact if you opened a book occasionally, you know, those things people are trying to defend. The earliest known writer historically is a woman, a priestess in Sumer named Enhenduanna. Female literacy across the ancient world was quite high, likewise in the medieval period, though it is true that formal education was a privilege of the wealthier classes. As to black and brown people…Egypt. Ethiopia. Syria. Carthage. In these countries alone – and I could list a dozen more – there were key centers of learning. The ancient world didn’t divide itself into racial categories as we do now. That was something that happened only in the early modern world. They might recognize differences of appearance, but what mattered was customs, culture, and learning. These things could be acquired – Again, education was and is the great equalizer.
This author then goes on to offer a list of some well-known occult and witchcraft authors:
“Aleister Crowley, Cornelius Agrippa, Anton LaVey, Dion Fortune, Eliphas Levi, Israel Regardie, Helena Blavatsky, Samuel Liddell Mathers, Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, Gerald Gardner, Robert Cochrane, Scott Cunningham, Paul Huson, Ronald Hutton, Raven Grimassi. What largely ties them all together? Being white, being educated, and mostly being male.”
Firstly, note how her list of rich white male occult writers 1) ignores the contributions of women (except for Dion Fortune, Blavatsky, and Valiente) and 2) overlooks the fact that a number of them were of Jewish and Romani backgrounds and 3) some of them were massively poor and struggled to eke out a subsistence living. (Thinking in particular of Scott Cunningham and Anton LaVey.). And that they are male, is because she cherry picked a list of mostly male authors. She’s purposely ignoring the contributions of anyone who doesn’t fit her demographic there so she can beat her breast, cry oppression, and avoid the responsibility for actually learning anything.
I do agree with her when she says that “having education doesn’t make a person more worthy, better, or intellectual.” These things say nothing about a person’s intellect or character. Some of the most intelligent people I have known haven’t finished high school. Education however does help with intellectual formation, whether that education is formal or acquired on one’s own through hard work and study. If you want something badly enough, you find a way to make it happen. Libraries are wonderful things. The internet too, for all its problems, allows for a remarkable access to knowledge.
This person goes on:
“Raise your hand if you have a disability that makes it difficult to comprehend text-based information.”
If that is the case, then the onus is on you to speak up and tell your teachers what you need. Advocate for yourself but do the work. Don’t use your disability as an excuse for why you can’t acquire a particular bit of knowledge. There will sometimes be teachers who refuse to even attempt to work with you – well, in that case, find another teacher.
You might also try showing respect to your elders and teachers – something sadly lacking in most of the communities this author is discussing. That of course, would mean taking responsibility for oneself and obviously that’s occasionally onerous (and before you accuse me of being ableist I have both physical and learning disabilities. Does it make knowledge acquisition more difficult? Yes, in some cases it does. Does it make it impossible? NO. Not if I’m willing to put in the work like an adult). She is correct of course in saying that disabilities do not make one anti-intellectual. I’m not sure why one would think they did.
This author brings up folklore and says,
“These practices and beliefs were rarely written down by practitioners in older times, perhaps out of fear of persecution. That, or another likely answer is that witches of yore simply could not read or write well enough (or at all) to put it in a book. Or they didn’t have enough money to buy ink and paper, let alone cough it up to have a book bound.”
Usually such practices weren’t written down because the best way to learn is from teacher to student, elder to neophyte, mother to child, etc. Putting something in a book means that it is available across a broad swath of one’s community. It opens up knowledge (think I’m wrong? Look at the results of both translating the bible into the vernacular and inventing the printing press. It led to a democratization of knowledge with consequences both good and bad for the institutional church). Most traditions throughout history have had their mysteries, and mysteries are not for the uninitiated. Also, fear of persecution. When? If you’re talking about the supposed “burning times,” those women and men were not, for the most part, occultists or witches. We see plenty of written occult tomes (my favorite come from Iceland) in the late medieval/ early renaissance period. Nor was paper the only material used in books. In the ancient world, papyrus, parchment, vellum, even cloth were used. Ink is easy to make. Professional book binding was complicated, but I’ve made books myself simply by sewing folios together. It’s not rocket science and our ancestors weren’t stupid. While owning books was in the past a sign of luxury, with the internet, kindle, libraries, and the relatively low cost of paperbacks today, that is no longer the case. Lending libraries in particular are a wonderful thing and so is inter-library loan, but perhaps she hasn’t heard of them (though she says she’s a librarian).
Books are a grace and a gift in the process of learning. Ideally, in addition to all the reading a novice should do, he or she also –usually–collects a personal journal, grimoire, whatever you want to call it. One creates one’s own repository of knowledge. Is this a privilege? Absolutely. Everything worth having requires sacrifice. Everything worth having is a privilege. If we can learn, if we have the capacity intellectually to learn well, if we have access to formal education …yes, these ARE privileges and we’re damned lucky. I look at writing sometimes, just the process of putting pen and ink to paper and think what a miraculous thing it is and how incredibly lucky we are to have this knowledge. I believe that equal access to teachers and books is a good thing, an important goal toward which to work. That is going to take commitment and ongoing dialogue (I want to hear from my students when something isn’t working. We can work together to find something that WILL work to help them better acquire the knowledge I’m trying to teach). The one thing we can’t guarantee even then is equal outcome, because excellence is a choice and the result of hard, ongoing work.
Also, and I know this isn’t going to be popular, in the end, the occult arts aren’t meant to be open to everyone (that’s why they’re called “occult,” i.e. “secret” or “hidden”). You work and if you have the talent, if you’re able to stay the course physically and mentally, if you budget for your work, if the stars align, you’ll get somewhere. You don’t need a ton of money (I learned the most as a magus when I had nothing, up to and including a period of homelessness), but you do need commitment, sound judgment, and personal discipline. But these arts were never meant to be open to anyone and I’m just fine with that. I think with the occult in particular, a necessary formation happens as one struggles to acquire knowledge, works to gain access, to learn, to practice, to become competent. That process cannot and should not be truncated because the art and end result will suffer. The work forms the magus and there are no short cuts there.
No one should be barred from learning because of race, finances, or disability but once you’re in the door, if you want to gain any measure of sustainable competence, hard work, study, humility, and BOOKS are going to be part of the game. If that’s not your cup of tea, fine, but then don’t call yourself an occultist.
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)?
Today is the last and final installment of my Yuletide Shopping Guide. I created the Yuletide Shopping Guide in part because Yule is one of my favorite times of year. The guide features items polytheists might enjoy seeing in their homes or under their tree this yuletide. All with the hope of spreading some holiday cheer in a difficult year by finding items that can help feed our devotions within our polytheistic traditions, but also to hopefully along the way lift up some of the artisans in our midst too.
So far I’ve included resources for crafters, makers, and DIYers: cookie cutters, crafting molds, fabric (Mesoamerican, Egyptian, Greek, Northern Europe), machine embroidery designs, cross-stitch and embroidery patterns, as well as knitting and crochet patterns. I’ve also highlighted some items on a Krampus theme. I’ve spotlighted items you can use to deck the halls & trim the tree.
Check out the Greco-Roman themed products relevant to devotees of Cultus Deorum and Hellenismos, the Egyptian themed products ( Part 1 & Part 2 ) relevant to devotees of Kemetism, Northern European themed products ( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5) relevant to Northern Tradition polytheists (Heathens, Asatruar, etc.), as well as some Miscellaneous ( Part 1 & Part 2 ) spotlights featuring artists and artisans who offered a range of product across pantheons, or whose work focused on a tradition that I didn’t have enough items to spotlight on its own. Peruse with care and you will find items related to deities from the Norse, Slavic, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, Polynesian, Mesoamerican, Minoan, Assyrian, Sumerian, Welsh, Asian, Native American/Inuit, and more!
Today I’ll be spotlighting books.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
I am an avid reader and quite the bibliophile. If I really wanted to do this section justice, I could be writing for over a year on suggested books. So I decided to approach this list primarily from the point of view of more recently published works I have either personally read and therefore recommend, or for texts that are on my to read list. I’ve also sprinkled in a few classics, and some books I felt kids could enjoy too so we can pass our traditions to the next generations.
Unfortunately, I will warn you that some of the academic books are part of small academic print runs and can be prohibitively priced as a result.
- Triin Laidoner’s Ancestor Worship and the Elite in Late Iron Age Scandinavia: A Grave Matter
- Declan Taggart’s How Thor Lost His Thunder: The Changing Faces of an Old Norse God
- Anders Andren, John Lindow, Jens Peter Schjodt’s The Pre-Christian Religions of the North: History and Structures
- Maria Dahvana’s translation of Beowulf
- Barbette Stanley Spaeth’s The Roman Goddess Ceres
- Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Northern Mythology
Books for Polytheists
The Illustrated Havamal and Illustrated Voluspa takes the old Bellows translation of those eponymous texts but is released with illustrations by artist Sam Flegal. The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a fictional work with strong themes that should resonate with polytheists. The remaining texts were all written by polytheists for polytheists.
- The Illustrated Havamal (art by Sam Flegal)
- The Illustrated Voluspa (art by Sam Flegal)
- Andrus Kivirahk’s The Man Who Spoke Snakish (trans. Christopher Moseley)
- Dagulf Loptson’s Pagan Portals – Loki: Trickster and Transformer
- Susannah Ravenswing’s The Duergarbok: The Dwarves of the Northern Tradition
- Dan Coultas’ The Gods’ Own County: A Heathen Prayer Book
Many of these texts are geared towards children and young adults, so content tends to be adapted for that audience.
- Chris Pinard’s Celtic Mythology for Kids: Tales of Selkies, Giants, and the Sea
- Mathias Nordvig’s Norse Mythology for Kids: Tales of Gods, Creatures, and Quests
- Morgan Moroney’s Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Mythology for Kids
- Yung in Chae’s Goddess Power: A Kid’s Book of Greek and Roman Mythology
- Donna Jo Napoli’s Treasury of Greek Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes & Monsters
- Donna Jo Napoli’s Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals
- Donna Jo Napoli’s Treasury of Norse Mythology: Stories of Intrigue, Trickery, Love and Revenge
- D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
- D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths
- Johan Egerkrans’ Norse Gods
- Morgan Daimler’s A New Dictionary of Fairies: A 21st Century Exploration of Celtic and Related Western European Fairies
- Caroline Hickey’s Classic Stories – Greek Myths
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Greek Myths: A Wonderful Book for Girls and Boys
- Geraldine McCaughrean’s Ancient Myths Collection 16 Books Box Set
Coloring books for both kids and adults.
- John Green’s Greek Gods and Goddesses Coloring Book
- Jeff Menges’ Norse Gods and Goddesses Coloring Book
- Selina Fenech’s Goddess and Mythology Coloring Book
- Jade Summer’s Greek Mythology Coloring Book
- Jim Barrow’s Greek Mythology Coloring Book for Adults
- Johan Egerkrans’ Sketches from Norse Gods Coloring Book
In case you missed it since last December I have released 9 books. A Modern Guide to Heathenry is a significantly revised and expanded book built on the foundation of Exploring the Northern Tradition with over 70,000 words of additional, new content. Sigyn: Our Lady of the Staying Power is a re-release after a change in publishers. The other books are all new releases.
- A Modern Guide to Heathenry
- Walking the Rainbow Bridge: A Collection of Heathen Poetry
- Heart on Fire: A Novena for Loki
- Sigyn: Our Lady of the Staying Power
- Of Bow, Lyre, and Prophetic Fire: Nine Days of Prayer to the God Apollo
- The Ecstasy and the Fury: 9 Nights with Odin – A Novena
- In Love’s Winged Harbor: A Novena for Anteros
- Seven for Sekhmet: A Pocket Book of Prayer
- Seeking Valhalla: A Pocket Book of Heathen Prayers
Walking the Worlds
After several years and 12 volumes, Walking the Worlds, a peer-reviewed journal of polytheism and spiritwork has concluded its run. In commemoration, here are the links to each release of the journal in case you missed any.
- Volume 1
- Volume 2
- Volume 3
- Volume 4
- Volume 5
- Volume 6
- Volume 7
- Volume 8
- Volume 9
- Volume 10
- Volume 11
- Volume 12
What books are on your to read list? What books would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments.
If you haven’t picked up my books “A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions” or “Living Runes: Theory and Practice” you can currently enjoy 30% OFF through December 31, 2020 using discount code FORT at checkout direct from the publisher’s website: redwheelweiser.com. Please note that this deal only applies for orders being shipped for delivery to the United States.
As a reminder, my book A Modern Guide to Heathenry (2019) takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions (2005) as a foundation and significantly expands upon it with more than 70,000 words of new material especially on devotional work, honoring the ancestors, and theological exegesis. It’s basically twice the word heft of its predecessor! Living Runes: Theory & Practice, however is a re-publication under a new title of my earlier work Runes: Theory and Practice book.