Blog Archives

Wednesday for Woden

It goes without saying that I have something like seven household shrines to this God Who owns such a large part of my heart. I keep meaning to write meditations on each of His heiti or epithets, but while much meditation has happened, it hasn’t yet translated itself into my writing. Don’t worry though – several of you have emailed about this – I have a whole new year to work and eventually I’ll write some of it down here! In the meantime, Here is one of my favorite prayers from the small novena book The Ecstasy and the Fury. It’s the prayer for day three. Odin’s name – better spelled Oðinn in Old Norse (I probably left off an accent somewhere), literally means “THE Frenzied One” (or “The Furious One” – I’ve seen it translated both ways) and that Frenzy could be battle hunger, or the seething trance of a shaman, the ecstatic oracular state of a seer, or the frenzied inspiration of a poet. What of that He chooses to share with His devotees is beyond the power of words to capture. But, through poetry and devotion, I do try. 

For Odin

For Odin, He Who is Frenzy 
The raven has hooked his claws in my heart 
tethering me to the interstitial frenzy 
pouring out from gallows to God. 
Let us praise the furious One,
Who rendered Himself upon the Tree 
gore-blessed, ever-hungry,
victorious over Himself first of all.
Let us praise Gangleri,
Who wanders through
all the darkest corners
of our world,
spitting mouthfuls of glacial fire
into the heads and hearts
of fervent women.
Let us praise the One Whose spear
keen and sharp, ever finds its mark, 
Gerölnir, blistering across the field of battle 
ever ecstatic in His fury.
Let us praise the Burden of Yggdrasil, 
Corpse-God and eunuch, ever renewed 
through the agony of sacrifice.
He mounted the Tree 
and with a war cry like shrieking thunder 
swallowed the glory of the Gap – 
gasping, gripping, spewing runes, this sovereign Power.
Let us praise the Roaring Thruster, charmed and charming, 
Who scatters His seed inciting longing, 
carnal and cunning, clever and cruel, 
exquisitely adroit across all the worlds, 
Glory burning.
Let us praise this God in Whom
all opposites reside, compelling adoration, 
devouring opposition, like grist in His teeth, 
ground up and grinding, bale-eyed Beguiler, 
Who gnawed on fire, this Architect of Being,
throbbing, pounding, aching, wanting, 
implacable Force, unsparing Fever, 
unappeasable haunting Hunger,
to Whom Being itself surrendered
torn apart and structured anew.
Oh Glad of War, Galdr-Father,
Glad of Battle, God of Gain,
Blinder of Foes, sharp Wand-Wielder,
Gaunt God Splendor, World-willing Wonder, 
Incanting Hjarrandi, Herjan, Goðjaðarr,
Lord of Hosts and Valhalla’s hall,
Blazing Ravager, Renewing Ruler,
howling winds herald Your terror.
Odin we call You, vehement and lethal, 
vigorous valor, we hail You always. 
We ask that You fill us with Your thirst for knowing, 
so that our lives will ever be full of color. 
Hail to You, oh Frenzied Hunger.
Hail to You, Odin. 

(from The Ecstasy and the Fury: 9 Nights with Odin – a Novena, by Galina Krasskova, Sanngetall Press, 2020). 

“Odin” prayer card by W. McMillan

(from The Ecstasy and the Fury: 9 Nights with Odin – a Novenaby Galina Krasskova, Sanngetall Press, 2020). 

I’ve also written a compilation of all of my work on Odin up to the time of its publication (it does not include the novena work) that includes the full text of Whisperings of Woden, and the English text of Walking Toward Yggdrasil.

Of course on Woden’s day, I’ll be making offerings to Him but I’d also like to offer a rune pull for anyone interested- one rune, no questions.  Just shoot me an email at Krasskova at gmail.com by 9pm EST tonight. You can support my work at the Buymeacoffee link below if you are so moved. 

Have a happy Wednesday, folks. I’m still waiting for cold weather…this damp, chilly crap is killing my joints. When in my head, I think I’m 20, my body quickly reminds me that No, oh NO, I very much am not. I hope those of my readers who like me have chronic pain issues are doing well. Pain flares are terrible things, but they do not last forever no matter what it seems at the time. As an Odin’s woman, I learned to dedicate the pain to Him, to elevate it and give it purpose – may He feed on it and be nourished, or transmute it into something useful in His work of sustaining creation. It helps me to bear it, so I pass this on. Not every God may want such an offering (I’m not sure if Odin *wants* it so much as sometimes graciously accepts it from me) but if it clicks, if a God accepts it, it does make it easier to carry. Regardless, I wish you well and I wish all my readers health in this new year. 

Here’s the link to Buymeacoffee. I like coffee, and tea too and this is a lovely site that allows readers to participate in the work of those writers, artists, et al. whom they follow. It is very much appreciated and I thank all of you who have contributed to my work either at this site, or via PayPal, or by your prayers to the Gods on behalf of my house — particularly when my husband was sick. THANK YOU. You do matter and I firmly believe you are seen in the eyes of your Gods. May They ever hold you kindly in favor.

Bookversary! Runes: Theory and Practice

Today marks the bookversary of my published book Runes: Theory and Practice originally released by New Page in 2009. Since then, New Page was acquired by Red Wheel Weiser Books, who re-released it under the new name of Living Runes: Theory and Practice of Norse Divination.

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.

amazon: https://amzn.to/2PGHrms

Bookversary: Honoring the Mothers

Honoring the Mothers made its initial debut on December 13, 2016.

51p3GltU6TL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“Honoring the Mothers” is a collection of novenas to ten holy women, mothers of heroes like Achilles and Perseus and Gods like Hermes and Dionysos. These mighty women received cultus in the ancient world. They were reverenced, honored, venerated. This novena booklet provides a starting point for those wishing to honor them today.

Available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2htKzyB

Bookversary: Modern Guide to Heathenry!

Modern_Guide_to_heathenry_Layers
Today is the anniversary of A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations & Mysteries of the Northern Tradition, first released on December 1, 2019 from my publisher Red Wheel / Weiser Books.

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 expanded 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!

What the Back Copy Says:

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.

US, CANADA & UK ORDER LINKS

Bookversary: Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner!

On this day in 2008, Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner first released.

51LBfgU4OCL

Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner is not denomination-specific: rather, it seeks to provide an entry into interior practice for anyone involved in a branch of this broad family of traditions of the ancient Norse, Germanic, and Saxon peoples, using material suitable for the solitary, independent practitioner. Those outside of the Northern Tradition who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work, as well.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2gaaA8X

General Update for August

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). 

July for Loki – For Loki, Friend of Odin

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.

On the evil eye

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. 

Miscellaneous Roundup of Questions and a Couple of Interesting Links

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. 

  1. 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!

woodland winter Santa

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. 

free standing Pagan temple

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. 

Roman carving of a winged phallus with wings, tail, and little legs

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure

On Again Reading “Till We Have Faces”

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. 

Notes: 

  1. 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.