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QOTD- Celsus

We must never in any way neglect the Gods, neither by day nor night, in public or in private, neither in word nor deed; in working and in repose let the soul be continually directed to God.

— Celsus

Keep On Keeping On

On another forum I’ve been writing about spiritual warfare – no, I wasn’t raised evangelical and I know this is a term that one usually hears in that context. It’s an uncomfortable term, a term that challenges our ideas of how the world works, of how our traditions work. I know that and unfortunately, I have no words and no way of making this any more palatable. I have no better term for what is happening now on every front. I can only write about what my own experience has been and what I see and deal with daily. 

To be blunt, probably blunter than I ought to be, we are beset on every side by evil, apathy, entropy, degeneracy, and moral and spiritual decay. It’s not just happening to us, but is seeping in, breaking in, crashing in through the doorway of other religions too, and through the doorway of political events (on every side). Everything we are seeing I very strongly believe is a reflection of a greater, deeper, spiritual war that is going on behind the scenes. Evil exists and it can influence people, corrupt them, and it aligns itself against all that the Gods, the good and great Holy Powers have wrought. Looking at it now seems so overwhelming. It fosters a despair that can corrode and damage the soul. Our traditions so often ignore or downplay, or sometimes outright deny the existence of Evil that I think we hobble our ability to respond to it and to ward ourselves from the hostility and despair is its greatest tool. 

As I told someone yesterday: don’t give into despair. There is no need. That only allows that which is evil a victory. Instead turn to your prayers and redouble them. Prayers open doorways for our Gods, doorways into our hearts and minds and souls, doorways into our world. Double down on your devotion. Do that which is given to you to do. It doesn’t matter how big or how small it is: when we honor our Gods, our ancestors, our land, we align ourselves with the Powers and create in microcosm a world in which the good and holy has triumphed. This is where transformation starts: on our knees before our shrines, with offerings filling our hands, with prayers filling our mouths, with love filling our heart. Don’t be afraid. Don’t despair. Maintain cultus to the Holy Powers. Throw yourself into whatever creative work you can do. Pray and celebrate your Gods and your love for Them. That will transform you and sustain you. It is enough. It drives back the foulness. 

Each one of your voices matters. Your prayers matter. Your devotion matters. Each one of us fights this battle one on one in the hidden passage ways of our souls but we don’t fight alone. We have our Gods, our ancestors, our fellow devotees right by our side. Our voices are joined by the voices of all those who honor and who have in their lifetimes honored the Powers, hoping and  praying and working together. That conquers evil. When we lift our voices together in piety and praise for all that is Holy: then we are mighty indeed. What is evil before that? We conquer it again and again within ourselves, uniting ourselves in devotion to our Holy Powers and from there it spreads out like a tidal wave. 

Lovely is the Labor…

There’s a passage from one of Euripides’ plays that begins “Lovely is the labor, O Phoebus, I carry out for you before Your house, honoring. Your prophetic shrine… (καλόν γε τὸν πόνον, ὦ 
Φοῖβε, σοὶ πρὸ δόμων λατρεύ- ω τιμῶν μαντεῖον ἕδραν).”

Whenever I am aggravated or tired or just plain resistant to doing my devotional work, I think about this. I think about it a lot. It is a grace and privilege, an honor to be able to venerate our Gods. Every single time we approach Their shrines, every single time we utter a prayer, every single offering given – we are privileged to be able to do this. That should be a thing of joy and that sense of gratitude is something that I try hard to cultivate in my work, especially when I’m not feeling quite up to doing anything but curling up like a worm on the couch. (That’s not to say that I don’t do THAT later too!). It’s this thought that motivates me quite often to make a small offering, or to refresh a shrine, or to bow my head in a moment’s prayer. It’s that thought that keeps me going: lovely is the labor that we do for our Gods. Always. 

When You Run Out of Spoons

For those who don’t know what I mean, here is a little bit about the spoon metaphor.

Disclaimer: this topic did not come to me out of the ether. I saw a post on twitter about someone who was doing a podcast on the subject which made me think about it myself. I’ve been hunting twitter for that post and my response but I can’t find it. My apologies to the lovely person who first gave me the idea for this topic. If you know who you are and see this, please let me know and I’ll update my post to give you credit. (edit: I think it was this video. Thank you, E. for sending it my way. There are good suggestions in the video. This does not mean I support the channel or the creator – I don’t know this person at all. This video, however, offers good pointers). 

I have severe chronic pain issues.  Having worked as a ballet dancer for the first part of my working life, I was sidelined by injury and retired in my early twenties. While I loved my work, it left me with spinal damage, torn ligaments that never properly healed,  tendonitis, arthritis, and chronic pain. Later, I developed fibromyalgia and severe migraines. Ballet taught me many things that I have carried over into my spiritual work and devotional world. I can work through a great deal of pain (whether that is healthy or not is a totally different question! Often I’ll be so focused on a task that I won’t realize my pain levels are creeping into seriously dangerous territory until I stop working. Once my concentration is broken, suddenly I’m hit with massive pain and it can lay me out for a long while. I do not advocate this for anyone, but, it’s a habit that I picked up as a dancer). I can use pain productively, as in ordeal where pain is one of the catalysts for going deeply into an altered state. I can force myself through pain if something needs to be done. I can function until I can’t, or rather I can function but then I pay a high price for it. 

Learning to admit when I have to stop, and to take better care of myself before I get to that point has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. I have an aversion to laziness that only someone raised with dictums like “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” could have. It took me a long time to really accept that self-care was not laziness. I’m still somewhat dubious about where self-care ends and self-indulgence begins but I find it helps to think about self-care as a marathon. What is going to help us stay the course long-term? I bring myself back to this in my academic work, where I am all too often struggling with pain, and I bring myself back to it with my devotional practices too, especially as I get older. So, this is not an easy topic for me to approach in a way that I think will be valuable to you, my readers – even though I’m going to try to do just that here. All of this is complicated for me in that I think it is terribly easy to use one’s pain or circumstances as an excuse to do less, as an excuse to forego devotion all together and I have a knee jerk reaction to that, or to fostering that in myself or anyone else. It’s not always easy for me to balance these two things.  Couple that with being an Odin’s person and very work-oriented. 

I want to love my Gods better so much it hurts. That being said, devotion should not be torture. It should be something that is as natural and easy to us as breathing. There are going to be those times where we’ll struggle, or where we might have to slog through resistance but devotion should be the thing that sustains us and lifts us up.  It’s important to build good devotional habits from the beginning and I think it’s so incredibly perverse that it can be so easy to build bad habits and so damned hard to build sustainable good ones. What is with that? Then chronic pain or some other physical or neurological condition comes along and complicates things. Like it’s not hard enough already? Argh. So, I have found that it’s perfectly ok to bitch, whine, and moan about this. Frustration with our limitations is natural. If you need to vent, allow yourself to do so. It doesn’t make you a bad polytheist to want to pound a wall sometimes in sheer frustration!

More importantly,  I like to say that we are as we have been made and the Gods are not going to fault us for the peculiarities of our corporeal forms. If you’re having a bad day physically or a bad brain day and just can’t do the type of devotion you usually do, that’s ok. There is zero reason to be ashamed. Don’t beat yourself up. There are enough people in this world who are ready to do that for no reason at all. Just pick yourself up and do what you can do. If it’s just a whispered prayer that’s enough. The Gods know your heart. The best you can do is the best you can do at any given time. It’s ok if that varies considerably from day to day. Do what you can do and know that the Gods see you and it is enough. 

I think it’s natural for us to plan for our good days. I would suggest having a series of plans for your bad days, and then those days that are worse. When XYZ happens (when I wake up with a migraine so bad I’m screaming for instance, or with my joints so inflamed I can’t get out of bed) what is the devotional game plan?  It may not be much. It may be a single prayer, like Sigdrifa’s prayer that I have committed to memory. Usually we can always pray – maybe not too coherently – but at least there is some kind of reaching out. If that’s the best one can do, then it is enough. 

I think it’s really important to establish a base line for the very worst days. Prep for that. Know that they will happen and that’s ok. That’s not going to be the new normal. It’s temporary and there’s no shame in it. Do what you can do – and you yourself are the best judge of that. When you are feeling better and are able to do more, then do more. It’s that simple for me. I have the goal of giving 110% but when I fall short, provided I’m doing the best I can, I don’t beat myself up. I just regroup on the days I feel better. 

Self-care is part of the work. We can’t do devotion without at least a modicum of self care. For those like me with chronic pain, that may mean getting enough sleep, eating regularly, staying hydrated, doing what exercise one can…I know if I disrupt my sleeping patterns for more than a night or two, I’m going to get hit with a migraine. It’s almost certain. Learning how my chronic pain works and what triggers it and doing my best to avoid those triggers (not always a possibility, I might add) has been an important part of my own self-care.  

A friend of mine, when we were discussing this said, “Proper self-care is the first service you can offer your Gods because you are Their instrument and if you aren’t keeping that instrument in proper care, you’re neglecting your first duty to Them. You’re breaking something beautiful that They have created.” She’s right. “Always ask yourself how your behavior is benefiting Them.” If you’ve crossed from self-care into non-productive self-indulgence (1) (because feeding the soul with beauty is not a bad thing) then step back and see how you can get back on track within your limits. My friend continued, “always ask: is this behavior on course with what my Gods intend for me? Am I still on the same road with Them? If you feel you’ve deviated then perhaps it’s time for a reset, perhaps you’ve crossed from necessary self-care into behavior that is damaging to your development.”

You know best when you’ve crossed those lines, just like you know what your body best needs to function. Don’t be afraid to prioritize self-care when those bad days come. It’s not just making sure you aren’t in physical pain, but making sure that internally – mentally, emotionally – you’re in a good place. Do what you need to do to feed yourself on all levels. Feed your eyes with art. Feed your mind with poetry, with books, with things that inspire us to live better, to live fully, to live joyously. Listen to music that echoes the voices of the Gods in every note. That’s self-care too. 

 Note

  1. This is such a terrible term. Luxury isn’t bad. Beauty isn’t bad. We need to feed our eyes and ears and tastebuds, and our entire sensorium with beauty to be healthy. Beauty lifts us up to the holy. Beauty is sacred. We should enjoy life and enjoy our work at least some of the time. I don’t have a word other than “self-indulgence” though for when one falls out of right alignment with the Powers and with oneself. I will say this:  that line is going to be different for everyone anyway. 

A Reader Question on Prayer

Question: I have a copy of your little booklet of polytheistic prayers, several of which, you say, come from your personal prayerbook. I was hoping that one of these days you might write about the process of creating that prayerbook. Is it a handwritten book, a Word file, printouts and clippings, organized, disorganized? How did you start and how did it evolve over time? Anything you’d be willing and allowed to share.”

I do have a handwritten prayer book that I illustrated myself. It’s pocket sized and I made it when I was traveling quite a bit. I’ve since typed up most of those prayers, added quite a bit more to make it useful for all the rites and rituals that we customarily do as a House, and printed that up in larger format for myself and other members of the House. It contains all the prayers in the two small prayer books I sell on etsy, other prayers that we use for protection, exorcism, and cleansing, prayers and rituals for the holy days, funeral prayers, birth/blessing prayers, daily prayers like a couple that I’ve posted here (like the four-fold Adorations to the House of Mundilfari) and so forth. For awhile, I was printing up each set and stapling it as it became something we began to use more and more, but I got tired of having multiple print outs all over the place. So, once I collected everything in a single file, I had it printed in a little book with 25 blank pages at the back so we can all add personal prayers we like or make notes. Every six mos or so I reprint it with new material added as well. It’s a work in progress. I’ve shared some of the prayers on my blog but that book is not something I’m willing to share publicly. 

We use this book and then Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheistic Household for our regular day to day, as well as any prayers we might say extempore. Then I have a separate book with all my divination systems and prayers for those. 

I DO recommend creating your own handmade prayer book if you can. It’s a lovely devotional offering. It doesn’t have to have every single thing in it. You can make small, very focused prayer books.  I made one with just a few prayers as an offering to Mani. You don’t have to learn bookbinding either! You can stitch the pages together and stitch fabric covered squares of cardboard onto that as a cover. Decorate it as you will. There are many, many tutorials on youtube or just online in general that will give you plenty of suggestions. If you do know bookbinding, go to town. It’s on my list of things I want to learn but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. 

My prayer practice has certainly evolved over time. I was really lucky to have grown up in a religious family. I think for those who didn’t have good devotional models when they were small, this whole thing of prayer, devotion, and praxis can be really difficult. One’s default isn’t piety if one wasn’t raised in a household – be that religious upbringing good or bad – where piety was practiced (again, however well or poorly; though if it was a religiously abusive household, that causes problems all its own beyond the scope of discussion in this particular blog post). It’s like working a muscle: if the muscle wasn’t worked as a child, it atrophies. This isn’t insurmountable. It just means that one has to be aware of one’s default state-of-being a little more than someone raised religious. Don’t worry, those raised religious have other issues that they have to guard against. No none gets any type of free ride with this stuff. 

So, I was lucky to have grown up in a religious household and also to have had really good devotional models available to me from the time I was small. I was surrounded by people who prayed in some form or another. I didn’t give that up when I became a polytheist. In fact, if anything, my prayer practice became stronger. I’ve seen the results of that in my own devotional life. I think prayer is crucial. It’s the single best starting point one can have and I often suggest shrine and prayer work simultaneously when one is starting out as a good place from which to begin. I would go so far as to say there isn’t a more important tool in our arsenal than prayer. By that I mean set prayers, formal prayers, extempore prayers, informal prayers and everything in between. One of my former students once brought me a quote (I don’t recall at this late juncture where she found it): “Pray as though your hair were on fire.” I like that image. Of course my more literalist readers had to point out how illogical the saying was, but it’s the intensity, the need, the frenzy of the thing that appeals to my Odinic heart. Pray as though it’s the most important thing you will ever do, because it is. 

It never occurred to me until quite recently that not everyone grows up learning to pray. I’ve taught within my religious community for over two decades and usually, during that time, I would be meeting quite regularly with students and holding regular rituals and they’d be seeing prayer in action all the time they were around me or others in the House. It’s only recently, when I acquired an apprentice who was raised atheist (in a communist country to boot), one who wasn’t shy about saying, “how do you do that?” (because she wanted to know and learn!) that I realized I can’t take this as a given. Should it be? Yes. I think ideally we should all be raised in communities where we pray to the Holy Powers as easily as we breathe, but we’re not there yet. In fact, in our society these days, prayer is actually quite often viewed as something negative. At least if it’s treated with indifference, you can start with a clean heart, a clean/blank slate. Many coming into our religions don’t even have that these days. 

I realized that if one didn’t grow up doing this, prayer of any sort can be anxiety-inducing (one wants to do it correctly!), embarrassing (one never sees others praying in the mundane world), confusing (am I doing it right?) and a plethora of other things. I tell people that prayer is talking to the Gods and giving Them space to answer (maybe not in words, but in ways that fill and transform a life). It’s communication and just like communication is key to building strong human relationships, so too it is key to building strong devotional ones. I usually recommend time spent extempore in front of one’s shrine, but balanced with a few simple set prayers (like, for instance, “Sigdrifa’s Prayer”). I also give a handful of meditational exercises to help still the mind and begin teaching discernment in one’s practice. 

Over the years, there have been certain books that have reinforced or helped to shape my prayer practice today. Most of them are Christian since I study early Christian theology academically. That’s ok. Prayer is the thing that crosses all religious boundaries. The earliest known recorded prayers were, I believe, by a Sumerian priestess Enhenduanna. This is a practice that belongs to neither polytheism nor monotheism but fills every religious tradition with life. Recently, I read “Courage to Pray” by Metropolitan A. Bloom and George Lefebvre and I recommend it without reservation. Yes, eventually you have to filter out the specifically Christian scriptural material but so what? Do it. The information on prayer in this book is extraordinarily helpful. Likewise Evagrius “On Prayer” and Cassian’s “Conferences.” The latter is much more monastic in its focus so read it and take what you can use. I have cannibalized libraries like this in order to learn to love my Gods better. 

Prayer is also the thing that provides the best and most essential protection from the gaping entropic evil that pits itself against all that is holy. If you don’t pray, if you can’t pray, if you refuse to pray, you are a weak link, and a danger to pious people around you. You’re also a danger to yourself and you can fix it so easily by actively reaching out to the Gods. It doesn’t matter how falteringly you pray. Just do it, fumble through it. We all fumble. We all feel awkward sometimes with it. But prayer shapes and forms the mind, the heart, the soul in ways that make us receptive to the Gods, the Good, and the Holy. It’s essential. It is a spiritual vaccination. Take the shot. 

Formal prayers often trip people up. By formal, I’m thinking set prayers like the Catholic “Hail Mary.” There’s a set text that doesn’t vary and one says that text whenever one says the prayer. It’s very, very easy for these set prayers to become stale or even worse: mindless repetition rattled off at the speed of light. This isn’t their purpose. Rather, they serve three purposes (and maybe more, but three come to mind at the moment I’m writing this). Firstly, they’re a good baseline. When you can do nothing else, when your exhausted, your brain is fried,  you’re pissed off at the Gods, you’re having a bad pain day or any other reason that might make it hard to pray freely, you can reach for one of these prayers (hopefully committed to memory through regular use) and it’s *something*. There is that. Secondly, in a ritual setting, a set prayer allows everyone there to participate, hitting the same devotional groove. Songs are like this too, which is why we should all probably envy the Catholics for their hymnals! We really should be upping our game there. Thirdly, set prayers allow the mind to constantly be filled with prayer, which keeps the whispers of evil out. It allows one to contemplate the Gods’ mysteries, Their sacred stories, to wander off in the heart of a word, a byname that opens up an entire devotional universe. Each word is a window, each whispered syllable the turning of a key in a lock opening wide the gates of this world, our world, our interior world to our Gods. Informal, extempore prayers can do this too but there’s something really helpful in having a verbal scaffolding, rooted in our cosmology, already prepared within which the contemplations of our minds might unfold. 

I find there can be a great deal of push back against the idea of prayer in Heathenry. This is partly because too many Heathens allow atheists to take up space in their kindreds, and worse, to take up leadership positions. Get your Houses in order.

This is partly because some have been raised in abusively fundamentalist households. This is sad. This type of religious abuse doesn’t just damage heart and soul, but it also makes it very, very difficult to develop a loving devotional relationship with any holy Power. I wish for those in this situation compassion and that they find teachers, mentors, elders, and therapists who know how to help them through the pain and into the joy of clean, healthy devotion. 

Sometimes, though, this is partly because people claim to be Heathen but just don’t want to deal with the Gods or ancestors. These things make nice abstractions, nice stories in a book but the reality scares the hell out of them (or for many does what’s worse: inconveniences them) and they just don’t want to be bothered. Shun these people like the plague. We choose devotion every day. It’s a conscious choice. It is a willing, often difficult choice that has to be made again and again and again and if someone isn’t willing to make that choice, or is consistently hostile toward the even the idea of making that choice, they’re not Heathen, they’re not devout, and they’re sure as hell not spiritually healthy. In fact, they are spiritually ill in a way that is polluting and contagious to everyone around them. We make spiritual choices about everything we do, everything with which we fill our minds, and everyone with whom we associate. They count. Part of developing devotionally is learning to make healthy choices. We need to have the courage to do that even with the small things. 

Someone asked me once if we’re really meant to be praying 24/7. Um…yeah. I think so. That is the goal. What does that mean? Well, for me, part of my mind and heart is always reaching out to the Gods in devotion. I may not be murmuring prayers, but part of me is always thinking about Them, engaging in some way devotionally. When I’m not doing that, I try to center everything I do, even the small tasks through the lens of my devotional world. I fail at this a lot but it is the goal and when I fail, I pick myself up, center myself, and start again. When I can pray more obviously (say I’m sitting a home or on the train) I’ll use prayer beads or sometimes just do so extempore. I’m nowhere near 24/7 but I hold it up as a goal. It reminds me to strive. I may not reach that goal, but by aiming for it, I’ll go far more deeply into devotion than I otherwise might have done. That’s the thing with devotion: aim high and just plug away consistently at it. It’s the consistency that matters, not whether we reach the goal (and as an Odin’s woman who is very results oriented, that just about kills me to say, though it’s true). Some days will be better than others but the one thing that costs nothing, that is fully within our power no matter where we are or what we’re doing is prayer. We need only the will or maybe the courage to do it, the desire to reach out. Beyond that, there’s a lovely Baltic proverb with which I’ll end this piece: “The work will teach you how to do it.” One could say, as the Havamal does, “one word leads to another word, one deed to another deed.” The best starting point is prayer. 

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Beautiful Things for Our Gods and Dead

My housemate Tatyana is working on a beautiful project for both her ancestors and her Gods, particularly the Goddess Freya. She’s Ukrainian and if you look at traditional Ukrainian garb, you may notice beautiful, multi-tiered necklaces, often with pendants attached (1). Traditionally, these beaded strands were given to girls at key moments in their lives, a strand being added for each significant point of transition.  They are then passed down the generations. She told me that while most of the necklaces were made of red beads, white necklaces could be given at marriage and then passed down from mother to daughter (2). Tatyana is a spirit worker and a gyðja (priest) in training and almost two years ago, via divination, Freya directed her to make two necklaces, one white and one red. She‘s almost finished with the white one, and it is stunning. When I saw it today, I asked her permission to write about it here, which she graciously gave. 

Tatyana’s necklace, not quite, but nearly done.

The beads are Siberian reindeer bone. Each pendant represents a particular Deity, ancestor, or group thereof, to whom she pays homage. A great deal of divination went into determining which Deities should be included, and what type of pendant Each of Them wanted, and whether each particular God or spirit should be on the white necklace or the red (this latter is not pictured here). There was divination throughout every single step and then some—I know, becuase I was the diviner for some of it! Each pendant has been carefully chosen and most of them have been handmade just for Tatyana, often from amber, sometimes from gold. It‘s been an expensive project and she has made a lot of personal sacrifices in order to be able to afford it, stretching it out over months and months for the same reason, and it has taken a very long time to get it just right. All of this is in love and devotion to Freyja. All of this is a pouring out of her love for her Gods into this piece that will be a useful tool in her work for the rest of her life. 

In our particular tradition, one of the first serious tools that spiritworkers receive are necklaces marking their committment to their sacred Work, and delineating that work. For me, that happened when I was midway through my ordeal cycle years and years ago. I received three, one marking my job as a diviner, one marking my ordeal cycle and my work as a vitki, and one for my work – which I didn‘t know i‘d be doing at the time—as an ancestor worker. Like Tatyana, I made them myself. 

In my father‘s Lithuanian culture, instead of necklaces, it‘s woven sashes (3). I don‘t know how to weave them, but I‘ve contacted several artists in Lithuania who make them and I have several that I use in my own spiritual work. They were traditionally made by young women and given as gifts at moments of transition. For instance, when Tatyana joined our religious House, I gave her one to welcome her and to mark the occasion. 

Lithuanian woven sash — this one is actually the one I gifted to Tatyana upon her moving into the House.

It doesn’t matter where you come from. Anyone may honor the Gods. Anyone, provided they are willing to be respectful and pious, may venerate our Gods. Likewise, we all have ancestors and it doesn’t matter from where those ancestors come. The important thing is to honor them because they are our foundation and strength. One thing I’ve learned through my own work, through seeing Tatyana’s work is that the practices that come from our ancestral cultures might just weave their way into our spiritual work, bridging the space between living and dead, past and present, ancestors, Gods, and us too.  I see it as a microcosm of Brisingamen, enfolding us in Their protection, and of Bifrost connecting us now and always throughout the Worlds. 

Notes: 

  1. Called дукачь – dukach’, which I think is etymologically related to the 14th century French word for particular type of coin: ducat.
  2. She told me that often you’ll see a young woman wearing one white strand and then the rest of the necklace is red. I wonder if it was a case of a mother having more than one daughter and parceling out the gift of her own wedding necklace, one strand to each daughter. 
  3. I’m a mutt. My dad is 99% Lithuanian with a bit of Russian in there. My maternal side is Swiss, German, Scots-Irish (Hannay Clan! ^_^), Huguenot, and English – mostly Swiss and German. My adopted mom was Swiss and Venezuelan, with a bit of Spanish. My sister is half-Korean. My husband is Italian with a smidge of Welsh and fully half Blackfoot Native. I include all of these lines on my ancestor shrine because they too are my family. It’s a beautiful mix and I love it all. Because I grew up around my maternal family, that has had the largest influence on me, but the past couple of years I’ve been drawn more closely to my Lithuanian line. I write more about my genealogy at my other blog, though be warned, I don’t update it often. 

More On Our Cleansing Protocols

I live in a small religious community. We are a small House of four devotees at various stages of training and experience and we are setting down the seeds of what we hope will grow into a proper, sustainable temple and religious House complex. It may take us years to realize this dream, but we are well on our way. As such, we’re always looking for ways to improve and, if possible, streamline our regular cleansing and purification protocols, just as we’re always trying to find ways to deepen our prayer practices. I’ll write about prayer at another time (though I think it’s the single most crucial thing anyone lay or specialist can do) and today I want to add more to what I’ve previously touched on with regard to cleansing. 

In addition to everything else we do, we have selected one night each week to do divination for the week, divination for other questions and issues that might arise, and more serious and more intense cleansing rituals. One important part of that is uncrossing. This is a conjure and hoodoo term (I got my start with conjure and I’ve studied and practiced it for years. I’d moved away from it for awhile, but lately I realize how foolish that was) for a cleansing that removes any curses, hexes, or other malefica thrown at one. So much of what rare fragments of conjure that I learned as a kid was about keeping the home free of negative spirits. Then as an adult when I really studied it (instead of just doing what my grandmother herself had done by rote – she hadn’t realized that her spiritualist aunt was also a conjure woman), I discovered how proactive in keeping spiritually clean and bringing luck and peace to a home some of these practices really allowed one to be. (Hoodoo itself is a blend of Afro-American, Native,  Scotch-Irish, English, German, practices all smooshed together – it’s eminently practical and what I learned from my grandma has a PA Deutsch feel to it as opposed to what I learned later from active practitioners). 

So, on that night, we take massive cleansing baths: varieties of salt, beer, milk, khernips, various herbs, flowers, honey powder, vinegars…in any combination thereof, depending what we feel needs to be cleansed and how we wish to fill the space that has been cleansed (nature abhors a vacuum. I always do a blessing after a cleansing). Usually I like beer, salt, and khernips OR milk, salt, and khernips. Those without tubs can pour the blend over their head and bodies while standing in the shower – this is actually a bit more traditional. 

Then, we do a cleansing with stalks of specific herbs, partly as an uncrossing and partly as blessing. I’ve been quite taken with this blend for some time now: hyssop, basil, rue, and marjoram. One might also add mint. We grow all of them in the herb garden. One of us will pick the largest stalks of each we can find and collect them together like a bouquet. Then, we take turns, sweeping it over each other’s [clothed] bodies, slapping the plants over them like a babushka cleaning herself in a Russian bath house. This is done in a downward motion. At the end, the plants are burnt (or taken out into the trash immediately and outside the house. Burning is better). 

Before the div, we make offerings and tend all the shrines, and then after all the cleansing work, we spend time in prayer. More and more, cultus to Askr and Embla has been growing as an essential part of recentering ourselves. Finally, at least once a week we have a full spectrum of protection, exorcism, purification, and blessing prayers that we do. The full rota takes about an hour, sometimes a little more. 

Our weak spot is that our home is cluttered but little by little we’re addressing that as we can (bookshelves are at a premium!). I wrote this mainly to give readers some sense of how seriously we take cleansing protocols and also a glimpse of how they can be integrated, relatively easily, into one’s devotional life. I’ll close by sharing one prayer in that rota that I note above. Feel free to use it, but please do attribute it me. 

Prayer of Purification  

Hail to You, Oh great good immortal Gods, Mighty Brothers Odin, Hoenir, and Loður,

Sovereign Powers over all the Worlds, Unyielding Conquerors in the face of evil, You Who made all creation, setting into place the orbits of moon and sun, crafting and honing the bones of Ymir into the beauty of Midgard, Who wrought the Nine worlds by will alone, and sacral vision, You Who ward and protect Your children, hear my prayer. 

Odin, Sig-Father, unafraid of sacrifice, Who blessed Ask and Embla, and every human after with breath and soul, Who brings healing when all other healers have failed, I beseech You now to stand as healer to my soul. 

Hoenir, Who infused Ask and Embla and every human after with sense and intellect, bless my mind that it may remain free of the fury of the Unmaker. Turn my mind to You and the works the Holy Ones have made. Always. 

Loður, Who blessed Ask and Embla and every human after with life and warmth and feeling, increase my love and devotion to the Gods a thousand-fold, until my prayers are a raging inferno burning away anything unholy. Fill me with the fire of devotion. Always. 

I beseech You, oh Great Good and Glorious Gods, render powerless, banish, and expel every diabolical power, presence, and machination; every evil influence, malefica, or evil eye, and all actions aimed against Your faithful servant (NAME). Where there is envy, jealousy, hatred, and malice, grant us instead an abundance of victory, benevolent blessings, endurance, and piety. Oh dear Gods, Makers of all the Worlds, Who love us faltering human beings as fathers love their children, I pray that You extend Your wills, that You reach out Your powerful hands, and come with mighty arms and focused power to our aid. 

Help us, weapons-wise Allfather, cunning and clever Skyfarer, and Mighty Marsh Lord, help us Whom You have so carefully crafted. Send angels and disir and good but fierce helping spirits to watch over us, and to protect us body and soul. 

Keep at bay and vanquish every evil power, every servant of the Enemy, every poison, malice, or malefica invoked against us by corrupt, envious, and bitter people. Free us from oppression that we may serve You in gratitude and joy. You are our shield and buckler, invocation to You the weapon in our hand, Your blessing our preservation and salvation from harm. Whom should we fear? Who is as powerful as You? Under Your gaze, I shall ready myself for battle. Under Your gaze, and in the solace of Your protection, I shall gird my spirit as I prepare to engage the foe. Let my hands, my will, my words, and my soul never falter and let my mind ever be turned to You, and the works You have so carefully wrought. ALU.

Polish artist creates awe-inspiring Monstrances

Not polytheistic, but what a beautiful, beautiful devotion. Mary healed him and he dedicates his (stunning) art to Her service. As an artist and a devout person, I found this video inspiring.

Iconoclasm, Iconophile, Icono-clash?

Dver has a thoughtful post about deity images versus an-iconic veneration. You can read that here (and I really suggest you do. She brings up a lot of things that we should be considering in our worship). I wanted to share her post here along with my own thoughts, quickly brought together on the matter, which I likewise posted in response there.

I think though that there is equal danger in conceptualizing our Deities as abstractions: God is love. Sib is hospitality, frith, etc. It erodes Their Being-ness into something that demands very little active, personal engagement.

I detest, absolutely detest the Marvel Loki influence on Lokean iconography, all the more because I think that most of the young Lokeans indulging in this are NOT conceptually clear about precisely Whom or what they’re venerating. I don’t think there are many times where I would accept icons of the Gods based on actual people (I’ve seen some gorgeous Orisha art the past year where men and women were dressed as the various Orisha and while I recognize the devotion behind it, and find the art itself beautiful qua art, I would never use these images devotionally. I’d consider it very impious because of the potential to direct that veneration toward the handsome man or beautiful woman in the image). It’s easy for that cognition to slip into what is more easily grasped or recognized (the benefit that aniconic worship has, I suspect is that this potential is far, far less).

So that being said, I still come down on the use of images, but carefully. I judge traditions by their aesthetics because Beauty leads one to the Gods. It’s important. it speaks to the senses and the spiritual senses. Abstractions about the Gods have their benefit (Because really, the Holy Powers are not limited to anything we can conceive) but look at modern Protestant traditions or even modern Catholicism with their God is love BS. Where are the mystics? You lose something when you reduce the Gods to abstractions just as you lose something when you become to invested in the image.

I learned a new term today (having just taught a Byzantine Christianity course about the iconoclasm conflict): Icono-clash. Maybe that’s what we have here and maybe it’s good. Let’s have both and argue and discuss and find more ways for the Gods to come through. But you know what we shouldn’t have: fucking images of actors with the misapprehension that this somehow represents our Gods.

So that was the end of my posted comment. Thinking further, I think it’s crucial that we not invest the image with the attention given to the Gods. It’s a placeholder. It’s a doorway. It’s a telephone. It’s a means by which for devotion. The devotion, the worship, the veneration, the adoration goes to that which the image represents (even for those images that have been enlivened into homes for the Gods and spirits). It’s a crucial distinction. These things are means by which the Gods may touch us. They are not Gods themselves. No thing wrought by man as the Christians would argue is a God. But Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Art, these things elevate our souls to the divine and in this way, through sacred images we participate more fully in that devotional economy. We are, after all, creatures of the senses. Odin, Hoenir, and Loður gave us our breath, our cognition, and our sensorium (respectively) for a reason and having that means by which to connect to the Gods is a good thing. Being able to do so without — to understand to our core that the statue imbued with divine energy because it has been blessed by the Gods, because it is a focal point of venerative worship, because it is holy as all that has come into contact with the Powers is holy, is a doorway and tool, NOT the Power itself–is also good for the soul, cleansing. So long as we don’t go into full iconoclasm.

This is the main issue I really have with Pop culture imagery seeping into iconography of certain of our Gods. Without proper respect for elders and the tradition, without good spiritual direction, often without any religious upbringing, with less sense and more emotion and attraction toward the actors in question, I’m really not sure that those using images of Marvel Loki for the real Loki are, in the depths of their souls certain about Whom they’re venerating and that, spiritually is a problem. It’s not that the Gods cannot work through such images, it’s that we’re generally as a species idiots. I feel about this the same way I feel when New Agers (and some who should know better) go on about ‘Oh Spirit…’ ok, which one? Evil spirits are spirits. What exactly are you calling? To Whom is the veneration given? It matters.

The main thing here, and I think this comes out in Dver’s beautiful piece, is that it’s important to be mindful with our Gods and in our devotions. It’s important to remember that the image is beautiful, holy but the Gods are so very much more. The image is for our convenience, not Theirs.

Hunting for God (and Putting Pieces Back Into Place)

Years and years ago, over 20 now, I went through a period where Odin completely cut His presence off from me. Everyone I dealt with could sense Him around me. I still did His work effectively; but I myself had zero sense of His presence, something that until that moment, from the time I felt claimed by Him, had been a constant in my life. This devasted me. I had no idea what was happening and no conceptual spiritual framework in which to place it. I got through it, because I tend to be duty-motivated, stubborn, and I know that feeling or not feeling His presence was no reason to stop honoring the Gods, honoring Him and doing what I knew to be my spiritual work, but it broke something in me that took a very long time to heal. In time, I was grateful for that period, sort of, the way you know that something terrible made you stronger in the long run, and after about a year or so, it was like a flood gate opened and His presence was back as strong as ever. 


Now,  yes, I know that the majority of people, especially lay people never experience their Gods like this. I realize that having this experience even once in my life has been a privilege. At that time, however, this was my normal and I didn’t realize it wasn’t like that for most people. The sudden absence was the worst internal pain I have ever experienced. I had read all the works of mystic literature (especially the Rhine mystics like Mechthild of Magdeburg) and I had a framework for what it was like when a God swept one up, for what a theologian of medieval Christianity might term raptus and a polytheistic theologian ekstasis. I didn’t have any model at all for what happens when that stops until last night. 

While doing some reading for class prep, I stumbled across a couple of texts, one of which ironically I’d read before, a long time ago for a class (but sometimes it’s a matter of reading the right thing at the right time, which last night apparently was): Guigo the Carthusian’s Ladder of Monks. (The other texts were more relevant in putting into place things I’d been recognizing about my prayer practice and I’ll save that for a separate post later. In his exploration, which is in fact a lovely letter to a fellow monk, Guigo breaks his spiritual practice into four parts: reading, meditation (on what one has read), prayer, and direct experience of the divine or contemplation. Part of what he discusses is what happens when one is suffused with the sense of the presence of one’s God and then that presence goes away. It hit me so incredibly hard. THIS was the text I’d needed so very many years ago. Here are a few passages, (keeping in mind Western Christian mystics often conceived of Christ as the Bridegroom and the soul – whether the mystic was male or female—as the Bride after the language of the Song of Songs): 

“Do not fear, oh Bride, nor despair, and do not think that you’re despised if, from time to time, the Bridegroom veils His face. All of this is for your good; His leaving is just as beneficial  as His coming…He comes to console you and leaves to guard… (p. 27). 

The Bridegroom comes, bringing consolation and leaving desolation. He lets us taste a bit of His ineffable sweetness; but before it can penetrate us, He hides and leaves. Now, He does this in order to teach us to fly toward the Lord. Like an eagle He extends His wings and pushes us to rise” (p. 28).

Years after this particular ordeal, this absolutely accords with what I experienced with Odin and I wish that I had been aware that this framework existed, was understood and explored somewhere. Had I read just these two passages, I would have found myself better able to more productively endure. As it was, I still feel like that time left scar tissue and now my job is to break that tissue down, excise it from my soul so that evil cannot use it, cannot cement it causing me to grow around it in a shape contrary to what my God, Odin, would have for me. 

Last night, having stumbled over these passages, I was sharing them with my husband and all of this came up in a rushing flood and I realized how much deep, and deeply rooted pain I carry from that time. He put on some music and we talked for a time. I respond extremely strongly to music and it’s one of the things that can put me in an altered state pretty quickly. I chalk this up to my having been a ballet dancer. I went down hard to the feet of my God and for the first time in maybe a decade, I was able to turn to mild ordeal to open myself up. It was nothing excessive. I had first asked my husband if he could do it but he honestly told me he didn’t trust his hand (and I so respect his honesty). My housemate was asleep and I wasn’t about to wake her up so I just did the ordeal on myself and then sat with Him. 

I called Him, galdred to Him, received insight and runes in return and HIM the feel of His presence moving through me and highlighting the scars, cleansing some, showing me how to tend the others but most of all there was that direct engagement, furious and open and raw and joyous and a thousand other things and it was delicious, restorative and I woke today tired, scarred, but feeling so much better than I have in months. Let evil come to test and try us. It is insignificant. Only the Gods remain and that is a union which I for one will never yield. 

So many thoughts on prayer and hunting for power, spiritual power, the power to clean out blockages, to obliterate all those things that root inside us, causing us to grow twisted and out of true with that which our Gods wish for us. Tonight for the first time in years, I did a small ordeal, to clean myself out, open myself up to Odin, in devotion, in love, in adoration and it was wonderful.