(I meant to post this yesterday but fell asleep! Lol I’ll post for Saturday a little later on today.)
Friday is Frigga’s and Freya’s Day. Frigga is the All-Mother, Lady of Asgard’s Hall, clever, cunning, and Power-broker extraordinaire. Freya is the Vanic Goddess of love, war, and witchcraft, friend of women and bringer of abundance. These are, of course, incredibly simplistic descriptions of two very mighty Powers, but they’re starting points to give the reader just a bit of a sense of what these Deities are like. Friday is Frigga’s Day, but many, many Heathens give it to Freya too and that’s in part because the etymology of both names (“Freya” is really a title, not a name per se) means “beloved.” They are both enormously beloved by Their devotees so I solve the question of Whom to honor on this day by honoring Them both.
In addition to making offerings (I bought a new icon for each of Their respective shrines which I gave, along with libations, today), it’s a good day to tell those in your life who are important to you that you love them. Do some unexpected act of kindness for someone. Give a small gift to someone you care for. Write a prayer to Frigga or Freya. Adopt a cat (cats are associated with Freya but were also common marriage gifts, and Frigg is the Goddess overseeing marriage in our tradition). There are a thousand, no, thousands of things one might do – keeping in mind that the root word and gift of the day, held by both Goddesses, is “(be)loved.” Approach the day and these Deities with gratitude for that in mind and you’ll be ok.
I have a couple of updates that I want to be sure to post before the weekend.
The first, is that I’m offering Setting of Lights on a weekly basis now and will be doing that throughout the year. See more on that here – this is a reminder because the candle shrine opens this Sunday and the weekly deadline for requests is Saturday.
I haven’t fully set things up yet, but I’ll give you a sneak peek at part of my space. Last year a friend gave me this giant candleholder (the thing is huge!) that he’d gotten at an antique sale.
It’s recycled from a church, I think. I absolutely love it and we originally planned to put it outside by one of our outdoor shrines but there was disagreement about where it should eventually go, so it’s been sitting on my porch for a year. Finally, I realized it was perfect for the candle shrine. I need to give it a good once over with rust remover and a good scrub brush but then it is going to be deployed in the shrine room. I have a secondary small table that will go right in front of it to hold more candles and if I can find it, I may have another cast iron candle holder for that table too (I need to dig through my storage room). I plan on having everything up by Friday evening (and thank you to those of you who have already ordered candles). So, if you are interested, please reach out to me at Krasskova at gmail.com.
Secondly, I have reopened my etsy shop. I have a ton of new cards, all of which are currently available:
- Sheela na Gig (it’s complicated, I know, but this one was by repeated request)
- Hrethe (Hreðe)
They’re all up and available in my etsy shop, which y’all can find at the link above.
Finally, I’m working on a new project. It’s a year long stitch journal – I got the idea from this blog (and the author of this blog also offers a PDF and explanation of the project for sale). I plan to do this as an offering for the House of Mundilfari (though I’m doing each month individually and then will sew them together and onto a nice backing after I’m all finished, instead of how the author suggests). After all, They are the Gods Who govern time and our cycles and seasons. It seems fitting and at the same time, the stitch work honors my female ancestors, my Disir. When I’m all done, I’ll be able to create a stitch roll, and I’ll attach a button with which to tie it and voila. I’ll put it on the shrine next New Year’s Day as an offering. Here’s what I have done so far (only five days of course since we’re only five days in) (1). I’ve already chosen the back cloth for February’s piece.
What do all of you have going on devotionally for this month? What goals have you set for this upcoming year?
- Space one is the Bayeux stitch, a couching stitch over satin stitch used in the Bayeux tapestry. Space two is just some chain stitch and colonial knots. Space three has tulips and a daisy, and I got to practice lazy daisy stitch, which I suck at lol. Space three is more lazy daisy, and then space five is seed stitch and leaf stitch. In various places there’s also back stitch, blanket stitch, and stem stitch.
Happy Thor’s Day! I love this God, Son of Odin, Mighty Warder of Midgard, Husband of Sif, Father of Thruðr, Magni, and Modi. He has been a very strong presence in my own devotion of late, and we call upon Him in our rites to protect our space before the beginning of every ritual and divination session. I never used to have any particular connection to Him or to Sif, but that’s all changed the past few years and I am so grateful for that.
So, it is a joy today, on Thor’s Day, to honor Him. I’m finding that every chance I have to give honor, offerings, and adoration to my Gods is a privilege for which I am so immensely grateful.
Here is a prayer for today for Thor:
(written by me)
Today, I want to call You by Your English Name: Thunor, God of Thunder, Mighty Hammer Wielder, Friend of Humanity, and Protector of all the worlds. You protect our sacred places, our groves and sanctuaries and most of all the shrines and holy spaces of our hearts that we may lay ourselves down before our Gods in adoration, in love, in deepest gratitude without fear, without hesitation knowing that You, Great-Hearted Husband of Sif, Generous beyond measure, will always guard our comings and goings. You are a loving Father to three joyful children and just as You would no more allow Them to come to harm, so we too may rest securely in Your watchful care. Oh God of the oak, God of holy places, God of the mound, I shall never for sake You. Please, I pray, watch over my ancestors, those of blood and those of spirit. Grant that our dead may rest in peace, strengthened by Your care, the vitality only You, son of Odin bring. That is my prayer for today. I am so grateful for the chance to honor You, so grateful for the chance to pay You homage. Hail Thunor, Thor, Thunder-riding God of Asgard.
Image by G. Palmer
Happy Thor’s Day, folks!
Sannion wrote this prayer for me — I love Sekhmet dearly and was made Her priest in 1995. That didn’t go away when I became Heathen. I venerate Her still and will so long as I draw breath. She brought me to Loki and Odin. We’ll be honoring Her as a House on Jan. 7, Her feast day. Dua.
For Galina Krasskova To Sekhmet the Protector Hail to you Sekhmet, Fierce Onewho can swat away the Seven Arrowswith a contemptuous wave of your hand,Sekhmet the Mighty One who hunts downmalignant, vagrant Spirits by day and by night,Sekhmet the Unrivaled One who spits at the Evil Eyerendering it as impotent as the enemies of the […]A hymn to Sekhmet — The House of Vines
I used to do this all the time, making a small offering (usually a tea-light candle, incense, or water) and spending a bit of time in prayer to whatever God or Goddess governs the day, but it’s been a very, very long time as I change up my practice every now and again to keep it fresh. I find myself, however, as the New year approaches, wanting to get back into this type of consistent and regular daily practice again—practice of the sort that ties my contemplations of the Holy Ones to the day and very concrete sense of time and place by which my daily life is ordered.
Before we continue, let me explain for those of you who aren’t Heathen, what I mean by “God of the Day.” In English, the names for the days of the week derive from Old English or Old Norse words that are basically constructed like this: name of a Deity + day. Monandaeg (OE), Mánadagr (ON). So, we have the following:
- Monday – Mani’s Day
- Tuesday – Tyr’s Day
- Wednesday- Woden’s Day
- Thursday – Thor’s Day
- Friday – Frigga or Freya’s Day (the etymology is from the OE “Frigedaeg,” Frigga’s Day but the ON is frjá-dagr and Latin gives the day to Venus. I solve the problem by honoring Them both).
- Saturday – we only have the interpretatio romana for this day, which means Saturn’s Day in OE. The ON word for Saturday is laugardagur, which means „bathing day.“ I don‘t know why there was no Germanic God given to this day, but my House has always honored Loki on this day, and, once my adopted mom took me in hand, I began to honor Sigyn on this day as well. This is for solely personal reasons: Mutti was what one might call in German a putzteufel, or cleaning devil. You could eat off her bathroom floor her house was so impeccably clean. She considered cleaning her entire house daily to be a devotional act to Sigyn. She was creating space where nothing malignant could endure. She would pray to Sigyn the whole time she clenaed. It was a deeply, deeply devotional act for her. Becuase of this, as I honored Loki on Saturdays, so too I began to honor Sigyn and it is a custom my House has maintained.
- Sunday – Sunna‘s Day, the day of the Sun.
I have shrines in my home to Sunna and Mani, Odin (multiple ones), Loki and Sigyn, Thor, Frigga; my housemate has one to Freyja. I have Freyja on the ritual room shrine and that room is also an appropriate place where I can make an offering to Tyr (Neither I nor anyone in my household has any particular personal devotion to Him, so we don’t have an individual shrine to Him in the house).
Starting this Monday (I always count Monday as the first day of the week, but I know some folks would say that’s Sunday. I grew upon rhymes like ‘wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest of Sunday’ which sort of set the tone for how I number the days.), I intend to return to this practice and as much as possible, I’ll post my prayers and any other devotions that I do for each day (for instance, I often honor the military dead on Tuesdays). I might not post every week, but there will be enough for folks to follow along and if they want to start incorporating this into their own devotions.
I have to admit, in addition to just thinking of Monday as the first day of the week, I also deeply love Mani, our moon God, so this will be a lovely opportunity to begin the year with His veneration.
Now I’m off to do the ritual equivalent of mise en place. We begin our ritual at 11:15 tonight, so that we can end right at midnight. Before any ritual, I always read over the rite or my notes thereof and make sure that I have everything required. I set it out, all prepared for use (in addition to setting up the shrines or ritual room – depending on the type of rite I’m doing) so that once we begin, there is no fumbling, no stopping, no interruption, and no nonsense.
Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Celebration, folks.
Mani by V. Hardy
Kofi – Buy me a Coffee here.
I’m not talking about Deity possession, not that this isn’t in the devotional equation for some, but rather the process of virtue formation and the daily choice of doing devotion and deciding whether one’s actions are going to bring us closer to the Gods and right relationship with Them or not. Recently, I’ve been contemplating a clothing/body metaphor that came up at an autumn theology conference during a discussion of Origen: the idea of “body virtue” and I’ve not been able to forget this and what it might mean for polytheists (1). We are all corporeal beings after all, and it is through our senses and our bodies that we experience our world, our Gods, and that we do this thing called devotion.
I’ve also been thinking about a poet named Proba. One of the earliest female Christian poets, Faltonia Betitia Proba (322-370 C.E.) wrote a 694 verse Cento (2), Cento Vergilianus de laudibus Christi, (retelling parts of the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels and pulling on lines from Virgil, particularly the Aeneid) and in that work she writes “Piety and having virtue overcame the difficult road.” There is much wisdom in this line. Contextually in the original (A.6.688/P1.664) it speaks of filial piety, of personal courage, of endurance, and of positioning piety and one’s duty to the Gods and ancestors at the core of one’s journey. It is the thing that carries one through when the road seems bleak and the work particularly hard. It is the thing that allows one to overcome challenges and triumph in one’s devotion and life. It is always the key and the starting point for everything else.
From here, prepare yourselves. I’m going to be jumping a bit, so please bear with me. These are ideas I’ve been wanting to explore for some time, at least since the conference in October. This is a first run at it to get my ideas down and out. One of the metaphors that I find every so often in tandem with ideas of body virtue is that of clothing, putting on what is good, taking off what is bad. Some writers in late antiquity are more colorful in how they present this idea than others, and by the early medieval period in the West, we have this transformed (again pulling strongly on Paul) into prayers that incorporate putting on the armor of Christ (3).
Late antique Syrian theologian Makarios (c. 4th century) used this imagery of clothing when he wrote (and unfortunately, I did not note the source in my quickly scribbled notes at the conference) that “the Evil One put on Adam’s soul as a garment (4)” I had never heard this, though I was familiar with other early Christian ideas such as Gregory Nazianzen’s idea that our corporeality was the result of humankind’s expulsion from Eden (5). The line from Makarios stayed with me for days, so much so that I wrote it down in my journal, because if the sin and transgression, essentially in Heathen terms breaking frith with the Gods can open a soul to such evil as a Christian like Makarios imagined for Adam, then by consciously choosing to embrace and cultivate piety, by consciously and mindfully turning away as best we ever can (being flawed and human creatures) from that which stands in opposition to the Holy Powers, then we can ward and restore the soul in quite the same way, through a reversal of the equation Makarios sets up.
For Makarios and Christians of his time, the mystery of the cross was buried deep within every Christian’s soul, just as the wisdom of the Tree and the obligation to maintain and sustain it is buried within ours. The World Tree is the axis mundi, the ultimate scaffolding holding up the Worlds. We sustain and restore our world, participating – by our choices, by living rightly, by our moral courage, by devotion, by prayer – in sustaining that World Tree of which we are part. We are, after all, descended from Ask and Embla, who were crafted from trees. Why trees? The Gods could have chosen anything, any substance from which to make humanity but They consciously chose trees. In the Gylfaginning, the creation of humanity is presented as a careless choice (6). I would argue however, that nothing the Holy Powers do is careless, especially not at the moment of creation. The creation of the first man and woman occurs right after the ordering of the architecture of the worlds, putting us within that primal order. The moment of humanity’s first forming occurs in a liminal place (a seashore (7)), the type of place sacred to the God of thought and holiness Hoenir. Within the boundaries of the lore that has come down to us (in however mediated a form), and by the nature of the Gods in question, this is highly significant. So why trees? Personally, I think this is because all trees in some way partake of Yggdrasil (just as Yggdrasil partakes of and imbues itself into every tree). By making Ask and Embla from trees, they and all of their descendants are tied directly to the axis of all the worlds, of all creation, to Yggdrasil. Moreover, because of this, our lives have the power to sustain and nourish it …or to do the opposite. All trees are conduits back to that source (8). That is what we carry within our souls. We are literally children of the World Tree. There are ways to bring that to the forefront of our memory, to seat it firmly in our soul’s consciousness.
Returning to Makarios, he further writes that “thorns and thistles of evil spirits” are “removed by fruitful pain.” For those unfamiliar with plants, thistles are abrasive and depending on the kind of thistle like little nasty needles – thorns – that can pierce and tear the skin. If one gets stuck, like any splinter, it must be removed, which as necessary as it is, can hurt like the (no pun intended) devil. This is the power of ascetic practices for purification, of ordeal, the necessity of the darkest places of our devotion, the dark nights of the soul, and all the sacrifices we make – prayer, fasting, devotion, offerings, etc. – to shake the detritus of pollution from our souls every single day (9).
I want to be clear that our participation in the World Tree, in the architecture of the Worlds, and in our Gods cannot be reduced to pain alone. It is not just pain or even mostly pain. There is a terrifying, overwhelming joy there. I would say that it is quite often a joyous experience because in doing this spiritual work, we are aligning ourselves with everything our Gods would have us become. But it can sometimes hurt, because it is a reshaping, a formation that leads the soul out of pollution, out of corruption, out of spiritual malignancy or just spiritual ignorance and into transformation and virtue. Staying the course is our choice, for all that our Gods will meet us more than halfway if we take but the first faltering steps.
Basically, we can choose to put on unfruitful darkness (10), as Makarios might put it, or we can choose instead to put on the clothing of our Gods: holiness, piety, love, and reverence. This is devotion. It is, however, a choice made daily, sometimes minute by minute and that is what devotion means.
- Without subjecting y’all to a long and involved discussion of Origen’s theology or that of Makarios, whom I’ll shortly be referencing, suffice it to say there was a long tradition within Christianity discussing the question of whether or not the body was good or evil, whether it was a creation of God, what its connection to the human soul might be, and what role it had to play in the cultivation of piety and virtue. There were both Jewish and Polytheistic philosophers who dealt with some of these same questions, so it wasn’t just a Christian concern, but it was more charged and centralized in Christian writings mostly due to the work of the Apostle Paul, who had quite a bit to say on the distinction between body and flesh, inner and outer man, etc. Makarios wrote extensively on the role of embodiment in living a life of virtue (see. Papanikolaou, Aristotle, “Learning How to Love: Saint Maximus on Virtue,” in Knowing the Purpose of Creation Through the Resurrection: Proceedings of the Symposium on St. Maximus the Confessor, ed. By Maxim Vasiljevic, Alhambra: Sebastian Press, 2013, p. 241-243, passim). Origen is Origen and probably the most brilliant speculative theologian Christianity ever produced.
- A Cento is a poem that is comprised of lines taken from other, extant works. The whole thing becomes an interlocking word-knot, comprised of meaning upon meaning. The style was extremely popular in late antiquity and poets today still write cento.
- This idea comes from Paul in Ephesians 6: 10-18. Later Christians took it, ran with it, and developed it extensively and one still finds prayers incorporating it today. They can easily be adapted to Heathen or other Polytheistic usage, and I recommend doing so.
- The Evil One refers to Satan who took the form of a snake and tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In yielding to the serpent, Adam and Eve created a division between themselves and their God that could only be restored by the Incarnation. Jesus becomes the new Adam – again, a longer conversation about Christian theology than I want to have here but easily researchable for those interested.
- I’m pretty sure it was Nazianzen. I get Gregory of Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa occasionally mixed up unless I’m looking right at my teaching notes!
- Gylfaginning 9. The Gods are walking along the seastrand and find two trees. This is what They take up to create the first man and woman.
- This type of threshold, a place neither land nor water is nearly always viewed by cosmologists as liminal, as a possible doorway between states of being, between worlds.
- “Tree” can also serve as a kenning for a person in Skaldic poetry.
- Ascetic practices like fasting are not a daily thing for most of us, though some are called to ongoing ascetic practice. It can however, when medically feasible, be a valuable spiritual discipline to engage in on occasion. Likewise, not everyone is called to formal ordeal, but the suffering we undergo as we get ourselves right in our devotion and right with our Gods can be elevated by dedicating it to that very purpose: purification of our souls, a resetting, a cleaning out of detritus that needs to go if we wish to grow in faith, love, and reverence.
- Sometimes darkness can be very fruitful, such as in the dark night of the soul. Darkness does not always equal bad or evil. It can, however, also be used, as I use it in this one time, as a metaphor for all the things that do not nourish our souls or our devotion to the Gods.
Sannion wrote these when he was first courting me and I absolutely love them. They capture aspects of Odin that I don’t often engage with … or rather ways of finding Him, of seeking Him out that I hadn’t prioritized before he gave me these prayer-poems years and years ago. Hail the grey God. Hail Gangleri. You can read Sannin’s nine prayers here.
Sunwait came hard this week. We’ve been shuttling between home, work, and physical therapy rehabilitation center where my husband is recovering from surgery (a place only a little less polluted spiritually than the hospital itself, and in some cases worse) and it’s a difficult thing to go daily into such a polluted place and then to return home without bringing pollution or worse along for the ride. Every time I leave, I hate leaving my husband in such a place, though he is strong and more than capable of handling the situations that arise – malignant bottom feeding spirits feed on pain ,confusion, and loss and they abound in this hellscape. I’m convinced that there are at least two demoniacs on the floor (got cornered by one of them the other day—I was rushing and not properly centered in my Gods and Their power. When I walk with the latter, such foulness cannot come near me. A blessing sufficed to drive it back but what must that be like for the poor soul at their mercy? I pray constantly as I walk through the ward, not for myself but for those who must live there, for those vulnerable to spiritual infestation and harm. I actually don’t know why there aren’t chaplains visiting frequently – It would help).
The upshot of this is that we’ve all been doing many more spiritual cleansings. I usually cleanse myself daily in some way, both with prayer and meditation, but also perhaps with sacred smoke, or khernips, a cleansing bath, etc. We’ve tripled that. One of the things that I have found particularly helpful, that leaves me feeling absolutely spiritually clean and refreshed, is a salt scrub. Now, the one that I do is specifically dedicated to Odin but I’ll give a generic here that y’all can adapt.
Nightly, I fill a tub of bathwater (and put Epsom salts, vinegar, sometimes Kolonia 1800, Florida water or some other scent used to cleanse people, places, and things; sometimes I make the bath khernips – the whole thing lol. Sometimes I add beer and/or milk. I pray to various Gods to bless it. Salt for instance, is sacred to the Roman Goddess Salis, Whose name means salt and who was honored along with Hygeia and Asklepius as a major healing Deity. I ask Freyr to bless the beer. I may ask Idunna to bless the whole thing. It varies based on my mood of the day). As the bath fills, I pray to Odin and read a set prayer to Him and usually make an offering. Once the bath fills, I stand in it and rub the salt all over, including top of my head (crown chakra) and all the way down. Then I sink into the bath and wash it off and get on with having a nice, relaxing bath as per the norm.
I will share my basic Odin – oriented recipe below. Feel free to use different oils. If there are specific scents you associate with your main Deity, go ahead and substitute those oils and focus it on that Deity. Use this as a guide and just adapt it for your own Gods. I don’t worry about exact drop amounts. I just add and mix until I like the smell.
Odin Salt Scrub
One pound of sea salt.
One cup baking soda
¼ cup vanilla powder (found in the baking aisle of your local supermarket)
Liberally sprinkle (at least two tablespoons, more if you want) sweet almond oil and mix it throughout the salt mixture (this helps moisturize the skin because salt, for all its cleansing properties can be very abrasive).
Ok. That’s your base.
To that add the following oils (remember, it’s easier to add than to remove. So, start by adding maybe twenty drops and mix. Then check the scent. You can always add more). Use food grade oils.
Rose otto, galangal, ylang-ylang, violet, anise (go lightly with this one), chamomile (a queen of flowers amongst the nine herbs), and Solomon seal oil (I like to buy it from Luckymojo shop. It’s the best I’ve found).
After adding each one, mix thoroughly with your hands. When you’ve added them all, adjust for your preference in smell. Put it in a jar and set it on your shrine for a night. Then for nine nights do the salt scrub, bracketing the whole thing with prayer.
I’ve been doing it every night after coming home from the rehabilitation center and it is one of the most cleansing practices I’ve found.
That is all for today. We are half way through Sunwait which means half way to Yule and that is a lovely thing.
I was at the physical therapy rehabilitation center today visiting my husband, who is recovering from sepsis. It’s a dismal place. The staff is overworked. They’re ok and do their best but with pain and illness comes miasma and left untreated it erodes hope and depresses the spirit. Hospitals and healing centers, rehabilitation centers and such are not clean spaces. They should be, but we have a long way to go. It’s not the fault of our medical teams, who are working under stressful circumstances, often with little time to rest, and always it seems understaffed. I pray for them often from the janitors who clean the trash, to maintenance men who fix the windows, to the nursing assistants, nurses, and all the various doctors and medical professionals as well as the administrators who are tasked with keeping such places up and running. I pray all the time for them and when I am there, in my husband’s room, I do small rites of purification and ask for blessings throughout the space.
These places are dangerous spiritually. We have forgotten that with illness comes that which would feed upon illness and make it worse. I will speak as a spirit worker now and those who can hear and understand, let them. Those who cannot, well, I hope you will pray for our health care workers, and for those in their care that each receive what he or she needs to emerge whole and hale. I say as a spirit worker that in these places there are bottom feeding spirits-evil spirits, nasty wicked things that feed on the vulnerable and there are those who are even beset by such things, twisted evil entities who torment those suffering, adding to their misery and pain (1). I did chaplaincy work in my twenties (I was terrible at it – what does a twenty-year-old know about life and counseling those in pain? There is the will but not yet the experience. I look at medical residents who seem so painfully young and see the same terror at confronting patients in pain that I myself experienced when I was first sent up to the cancer ward as a volunteer chaplain) but hospitals and medical centers are so much worse now. The walls reek with misery, despair, loss, confusion, pain, anger, and exhaustion. It is a breeding ground for anything but healing. I cleanse before I walk in. I ward myself while I’m there including wearing the best piece of spiritual technology I was ever taught: the white headwrap. I cleanse and make offerings when I leave. Hell, sometimes I carry a spritzer bottle of khernips and cleanse everything I can. I bring cookies to the nurses and tell them how much I appreciate their work—it lifts their spirits and I do appreciate how hard they work. I do what I can to better the space.
One of my allied spirits was a healer in life, long, long ago. He accompanies me sometimes and becomes furious when he sees what passes for Houses of healing. In the hospital, he looked around when we came in and hissed that this should be a House of Life and he blessed it all in fury at how dehumanizing to staff and residents alike the hospital was. One of the things that horrifies him is the lack of prayers, blessings, and purifications done on the space throughout the day. Then there is also the endless noise. How does one heal in such an environment? Only by the grace of the Gods. Even the staff are beaten down. It infuriates him to see men and women who don’t realize (or if they do realize it, are blocked from acting upon it by the demands of the modern medical apparatus) that they are there to restore and bring life and healing when they can, and a respectful holy space for death when they cannot.
The rehabilitation space is better – the hospital was a trauma center so there was death and terrible injury, people being brought in by helicopter and that was a much more intense level of spiritual miasma than the hospital at which I once worked. Still, the nursing home/rehabilitation space is still not clean space. It is filled with suffering and despair. When I walk in to visit my husband, each day, I walk past a room where an elderly woman lies, screaming, face distorted in a rictus of pain. She is tormented both by the decay of her body, the confusion of her mind, but also by an attack upon her being by a wicked spirit. It roared as I passed, and the noise never abated. I wanted to go in and lay hands on her in blessing, to pray, to purify, to do whatever I could to bring her back to herself and free her of her torment. It is one thing to have dementia or whatever is bringing her confusion and another to have atop that a beast that feeds on and augments that. One of the nurses said she keeps a journal where she records the weird, “supernatural” things that she has seen since starting her job. Some of them have frightened her. Going in to engage with that patient, however, was not my warrant, and I did not do it, but it physically hurt to do nothing, to see her in such anguish (and she was not the only one)(2). The spirit tormenting her writhed at the presence of a spirit worker and orpheotelest and shrieked taunts to me and my husband, yelling out things the woman herself could not know. Such is the way of these lowly, debased creatures (and by this, I mean the spirits not the women, who deserve compassion and care).
So, when I left, I walked down the hall praying to all the healing Gods I could. “Apollo, please bless these people.” “Jesus” – after all most patients are probably nominally Christian, “please keep them safe.” “Eir, please watch over those in need of healing.” “Hermes, please protect the staff.” “Asclepius, please bless each and every resident here.” And I lingered on my prayers to Asclepius because it seemed right to do so and He seemed particularly present.
Just as I was approaching the doors to the ward, which were closed, a man appeared. He had not been there before. He was a tall, late middle aged, very distinguished black man, with the kindest eyes and the most elegant manner. He was carrying medical equipment and I just remember his eyes. He radiated peace and such a tremendous sense of well-being it took my breath away. I believe this man was Asclepius, that I met a God upon Whom I had called in my need. We exchanged a few words and with those words He blessed me. As I walked to the elevator, having thanked him for his kindness, so much of the weight and miasma I’d been carrying disappeared and I felt that He had cleansed me of all the long term, never-ending miasma that seeps into one’s very skin in such places. His smile was like the warmth of a parent’s hug, a cool drink of water, the warmth of a wink of sun on a cold, overcast day. My words and poetry fail me. My prayers were heard, and I was given the gift of seeing a God take flesh. Later, my husband told me that where things were usually a battle with constant delays and problems, today was different. Things got done, and we had a particularly special nurse come in to tend him who really saw and understood one of his medical issues. I am so intensely grateful. When I got home, I immediately made an offering to all the Gods to which I had prayed and most especially to Asclepius in thanks (3).
The Gods hear us. They hear our prayers and those prayers matter. I wish that I could share with all of you, the sense that is so deeply ingrained in my bones and heart and mind and spirit, born of experiences like this, born of the gift of theophany given unexpectedly and certainly without any merit of my own. I wish I could ingrain in all of you how deeply, deeply loved we are by our Gods, how They listen and hold our pain as Their own. They hear us and we matter so deeply to Them and it is good. If nothing else, I wish that I could share that heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul with each of you, my readers.
I met a God today and other Gods protected me on my journey to and from the center. I was reminded again how very important our prayers are and I was reminded again that our Gods always walk with us because we are Theirs, carefully crafted by Their will and hands and our prayers matter more than I can express. So, pray for those you love. Pray in thanks to your Gods. Pray that those who work in healing remember that they are healers and that they be sustained in that knowledge. Pray for our health care workers, for those sick and injured in their care. Pray and say thank you and know that our capacity to reach out for our Gods is one of the greatest privileges and joys in our lives.
I said to my husband when we spoke of this on the phone later (texted really, I not being much of a phone person). We are so very lucky. We are so blessed. We are living in a terrible time, and we have to sometimes face terrible things, but nonetheless we are so incredibly blessed. I pray myself, that I never forget to give thanks.
- I wonder if being trapped in the body of someone already suffering isn’t a type of punishment for the evil spirit too. I heard one howl and cry out in utter anguish and what must it be like for a creature of spirit to be trapped in wounded flesh? I understand after this experience, so much better Origen’s idea of apokatastasis and wonder at the free will of such beings.
- I am not saying every sick person or person with dementia is tormented by evil spirits. That is not the case at all. I am saying instead that there are bottom feeding spirits that take advantage sometimes, in some cases. I wonder if this old woman and a second one who was also tormented, had particularly rich and creative lives that attracted the attention of something hungry to augment pain, or if it was just being sick and fragile and having no one to protect them, and being vulnerable. What does it do to the staff to be in that environment all the time – because some of them sense it too? As we treat body and mind, I think there is a need to address the spiritual too and that starts with blessing and purification so that we may serve our Gods in peace and liberty, without interference, so that healing may occur without this other, unseen fight.
- I don’t generally see this God as a man of color, but I think Gods can show Themselves however They wish and I am so grateful to Asclepius for today. I pray to all of our Healing Gods, especially Asclepius, Eir, and Apollo regularly yet I feel as though my heart has been turned open and inside out with a gratitude toward them so enormous it is painful.
I received a really good question about devotion and the Gods a few days ago but this is the first opportunity that I’ve had to respond. This is a really good, basic theological question about why and how we view our Gods and I thought it deserved its own post so here y’all go.
P. asks: I’m wondering how, as a devotional Heathen, you envision/understand the gods especially because all we have of the Northern deities is the myths and like the Greek and Roman myths, they’re not very flattering sometimes. I was listening to a podcast you did like 3 years ago and you mention this as well, that the Greeks for example, have other material like the Neo-Platonists, or the Romans the Stoics, where the gods are discussed philosophically. Of course deities are not bound by human confines and I know what is meant by, say, siblings mating/marrying (that They are equals, etc) and a nature goddess being promiscuous but, perhaps I never had a new-age, free love mindset EVER, the lack of morality sometimes gets to me whilst reading the material. This is true for most myths of course, not just the Northern tradition. But AFAIK, those are the only material we have. And, on a similar note, the gods are usually so…mean, it’s difficult to like them (not all, obviously!) I’m not being frivolous, and I hope you don’t get this the wrong way, gods are gods and not besties obviously but to have a devotional relationship I feel like there needs to be some sort of affection?”
There are actually several good questions here so let me try to take them one by one and I’ll do my best.
I don’t believe the myths were ever meant to be taken either literally or as exempla of how to behave as human beings. I also detest the new age, free love crap fwiw. I find it morally and spiritually repugnant on every possible level, and there were Deities that I really struggled to honor for precisely that reason. Either the devotees that I had met were gross or Their stories presented a morality with which I simply could not accord. It took me many, many years of devotion and study to realize that the Deity is not confined nor even particularly well represented necessarily in His or Her stories (or by Their devotees!). The myths are not revealed scripture and they do not function as the unerring Word of God ™.
How we approach the myths and center them in our minds matters. It matters because it sets the framework for engagement both devotionally and liturgically. These stories contain windows to the sacred but they aren’t sacred in and of themselves in the same way that a Christian might hold the New Testament sacred or a Muslim the Qu’ran (and we are primed in our culture to not only give precedence to the written word over other forms of tradition transmission but also to expect all sacred stories to function like such “scripture.”). The myths that we have are more pliable and I think they may point to different facets of our Gods’ personalities, or certain immutable lessons (like the danger of putting oneself above the Gods) but often storytellers wanted to tell a good story about human events that were shaped in part by their understanding of the power of the Gods to impact our lives (I’m thinking of the Iliad here). The same story can serve many different purposes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t doorways to the sacred, but they aren’t holy in and of themselves. Many story tellers including the poet or poets otherwise known as Homer, were soundly criticized by later philosophers for the way in which they presented the Gods in their writing. It was considered impious. I tend to think that in such cases it was more a nod to the ways in which the Gods are able to inspire us and act in the world. Also, Norse culture particularly was an oral culture. What we have written down, what we consider “lore,” i.e. the Eddas, Sagas, etc. is but a bare fraction of what actually existed. There are some serious lacunae. One can get glimpses in art and material culture of stories that we simply no longer have. In oral cultures like these, sacred things were not the types of things that would’ve been transmitted via the written word because to write it down traps and closes the circle of the narrative. It removes the possibility for future revelation.
When I read a myth about one of my Gods that rubs me the wrong way, I sit with it and look for the greater cosmological lesson (1). What does this say about the nature of my God? What does it say about how that God is able to act in the world, but most importantly, how does it reflect creation and the impetus and actions of our Gods therein. Quite often, there is something in these stories and their presentation of the Gods that hearkens back to the creation narrative. I’ve written about that here.
Are there any patterns that recur in the story? Where do things start to go awry? All of these are important textual markers for places that may serve as windows for something holy or for a mystery belonging to the Deity in question. Stories are never just stories if we’re reading theologically (2).
I think the highest form of interpretation is through the lens of devotion (not philosophy and certainly not recitation of lore) but one text that might be helpful is Sallustius’s “On the Gods and the World.” Sallustius was a friend of Emperor Julian, and this was written, if I’m not mistaken as sort of a primer of how to read poly-theologically. It’s not a bad place to begin. As he notes, the myths never happened and are always happening. That is the essence of Mystery.
I love the Gods. I believe that They are eternal creators of all the worlds, that They are good, essentially, ontologically *good*. I was thinking of this when my assistant Tove played this song for me and we had a long discussion about how *no one* is unloved by the Gods. That is the profundity of Their nature. They imagined us, willed us, crafted us into being. We are Theirs in ways we can barely imagine.
Tove, when I asked her, because we are sitting here discussing this, added, “Our Gods are ineffable and limitless, and the scariest thing is that They see the fullness of our potentiality and the closer we come to Them, the more we see that potentiality juxtaposed against the reality of who we are now. They love us in our whole form, including who we CAN Be and there’s a challenge there: how far can we stretch, how far can we grow. I believe They want, like all good parents, want us very much to grow. This is probably why people say it is a scary thing to be loved by a God. It forces one to be bigger, to be more.”
I have rarely if ever experienced a Deity being “mean.” At least, I’ve never experienced it as being mean just to be mean. Sometimes I have had a God or Goddess push me in some way beyond my limits, push me to the point of challenge and then one step farther. That is a good thing. It is only by pushing against our limits that we grow stronger. I have seen very wounded human souls incapable of experiencing the power of the Holy Ones save through the lens of their own terrible abuse. That is not something that the Gods did. That was a damaged soul unable to see divine love as anything other than terrible…and still something to be longed for jealously. Of course, I belong to Odin, the personification of ecstatic frenzy. His love is the tip of a spear penetrating the heart and it is glorious.
In devotion, the relationships we develop with our Holy Ones may start out in fumbling awkwardness but they grow. Like any relationship they grow in intimacy, in trust. That’s what is really key: trust. We learn to trust our Gods, to let Them in a little more, to go a few more faltering steps forward in devotion. “Affection” is too small, too weak a word for what the Gods are capable of evoking in our hearts. Their love is like the blood beating in our veins. It is like breath forcing itself into and out of our lungs again and again. It is all that sustains us, and all that challenges us to be more.
- While one may argue that some myths like Homer were ancient fanfiction, I think the difference between then and now lies in the fact that the culture of Homeric Greece (to give one example of “mythology”) was infused with veneration of the Gods at every level. The tradition was deep and intergenerationally embedded. That is not the case now, quite the opposite. So much in our world is hostile to devotion of any sort, esp. media which often makes a mockery of it or puts humans above the Gods.
- For pre-Christian polytheists, religion was about devotion and engaging in some way with the Gods. Soteriological concerns were handled via mystery cultus, and building character, virtue, learning how to be a decent human being both by community nomoi but also in some cases philosophy. The myths aren’t examples of virtuous living for mortals because that’s not the correct place upon which to put that weight. That’s not the purpose of religion. Religion is about engaging properly with the Gods. Now, they can teach virtue by dint of teaching what is proper behavior, but it’s through custom, upbringing, and philosophy that one really developed those things…otherwise, the purpose of religion is subtly shifted in unhelpful ways. It goes from being about the Gods to being about us, humanity. It becomes vanity.