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Brjóta ekki bein (Don’t Break the Bones): Sacrifice in the Northern Tradition

(I know that this is going to be a challenging topic for some of you. If you are bothered by frank discussions of religion and animal sacrifice, stop reading and go watch this cat video. Here’s some pussies for you to play with. For everyone else, let’s have an adult conversation).

Years and years ago (at least fifteen if not longer) when I was still Theodish, I remember many heated discussions over the proper way to perform sacrifice. Those among us who were trained to perform this ritual were split about the proper way to dispatch the chosen animals. Some favored shooting the animal in the head first (as a mercy) and others using a clean cut at the throat. One of the reasons given for preferring the traditional method (the cut of the knife) was the story of the Thor and His goats.

Thor’s chariot is driven by two goats: Tanngrisnir (snarler, one who bears his teeth) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder). When necessary, Thor is able to kill, cook, and consume these goats who will then be restored to life with His hammer provided their bones are left intact. The prose Edda tells the story of Thor’s visit to a farmer. He and Loki stop for rest, and Thor (perhaps knowing that hosting two Gods is a bit much for a poor farmer) offers up His two goats in sacrifice to provide the evening’s meal. There’s one caveat: the bones must not be cracked for their marrow. They must remain intact. The farmer’s son Thjalfi can’t resist and cracks one leg bone to suck a bit of the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life, one of them is lame. In reparation for this, the peasant offers his children Thjalfi and Roskva to Thor as servants. It’s an entertaining tale and Loki, Thor, and the children go off to have adventures. For our purposes, however, the important point is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the bones.

In the Theod, we solved the initial debate by choosing to sacrifice in the traditional way (and in retrospect I’m very, very glad we did so). At the time, I didn’t see the problem with shooting the animal first. It seemed merciful and kind but over the years I’ve completely changed my position. Partly, I’ve had so much more experience with proper sacrifice and I’ve become far more confident in making sacrifice myself, and I’ve had far more exposure to other traditions where this is likewise common. I learned several things, not the least of which was that if a cut is done cleanly and correctly, it is actually all but painless for the animal. I’ve also come to realize how crucially important this story is to the ritual scaffolding in which sacrifice must take place.

When we do these ritual actions, like sacrifice, we’re re-enacting our cosmology. We’re bringing to life the communal mysteries of our tradition. A living tradition exists in those currents and it is the obligation of those practicing it to renew them regularly.

This is also largely why I no longer believe it appropriate to shoot the animal before cutting its throat. A) it’s far more humane to cut properly and B) any other method is a violation of ritual protocol. The bones must remain intact. I went back and forth on this for years and I used to come down on the side of shooting the animal first if one felt one must but now, I think that is incorrect. As we learn better, we do better. A sacrifice is more than just a collection of mechanical techniques. It is the living expression of a tradition. It is a sacrament.

For the blotere,(1) there are three parts to any sacrifice that must be carefully learned and understood: the mechanics (how to make the cut and to do it painlessly for the animal, and effectively), how to do the divination to determine how to dispose of the sacrifice and whether or not it was accepted, and the ritual itself, in other words, how to infuse the entire procedure with the holy, how to make the conscious connections between the cosmic structures in which we’re working, the ritual being done, the living tradition, and the Gods Themselves. This is a ritual process. It’s not enough to simply cut an animal’s throat, or kill it in some other way, and give it to the Gods. There is a proper ritual scaffolding for the act, an act that is our holiest and most important of sacraments.

It’s not just that you’re giving a life to the Gods; the act of sacrifice is an imitation of primordial creation: Odin, Lodhur, and Hoenir create the world out of the slaughter of Ymir. Sacrifice is tapping into that, recreating that act, everything that it encompasses, bringing our traditions into being again and again and again and that’s potent magic.(2) It must be approached in a proper way, with purity and focus, and attention to every detail. It’s not enough just to slaughter. We must understand what we’re tapping into and why.

This all came up recently within my lineage when one of my apprentices received inspiration for a sacrificial song. We had long felt that there should be some sort of song sung when the animal is being sacrificed.(3) In fact, it’s rather odd for our traditions not to have one; after all, the ATR have a special song that is sung when an animal is given and so did many Greek and Roman traditions. It was part of the procedure in many IE traditions and it always seemed rather odd to find the Norse and Germanic ones lacking. I was delighted when L. came to me with his song and when I did divination to confirm its appropriateness, the sense of it was overwhelming. Our tradition regained one of its songs. Think about how profound that is for a moment. When our traditions were destroyed by Christianity, our songs fell silent. Our procedures were lost. The scaffolding that supported our traditions was broken. This is one step back to full restoration and that is incredible.

It brings home the necessity, the crucial necessity of re-sacralizing our ritual procedures. It’s not enough to do, rather we must understand how to invest these actions with the sacred and why – otherwise, it’s pointless. (4) We must open ourselves up once again to awareness of the Holy. Our Gods are counting on us. Our traditions demand it.

The next time I take up the sacrificial knife and prepare myself for this ritual, I will think on this: Thor had two goats given over to nourish both Gods and man. Their bones must always remain unbroken and they will be restored to life. As I take up the blotere’s blade, with each offering, I am calling our traditions back to life again, and again, and again. May they flourish.

Notes:

1. sacrificial priest
2. this article is about ritual sacrifice to the Gods only. Sacrifice for magical purposes is a different matter all together, not covered here.
3. It doesn’t matter to which Deity the animal is being given, or how the animal is disposed of afterwards: the act of sacrifice itself taps into certain cosmic grooves within the tradition.
4. and a mockery of our ancestral ways.

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My Morning Began with this Question…

My morning began with the following question, which got me out of bed faster than any alarm could have. After responding and going back and forth with my correspondent a bit, I asked permission to share the question and my response here.

My correspondent begins:

Hi I’m sorry to bother you. I’m just struggling to figure out what this movie character Loki marrying all these really lonely, isolated women is.

I could see taking advantage of the films to get followers but I’m not sure if what clients are dealing with is a deity.”

My correspondent then goes on to describe behavior of this wight that her friend is describing as Loki in ways that are bizarre, violating, and manipulative.

…(I’ve made some edits for privacy, even with permission to share.)

He wanders around my room looking at my stuff and doing dramatic David Bowie poses.

The “wife” never promised to be his wife forever, just until she finds a human. “Loki” doesn’t like it and says, “We’ll see.” She can’t worship Set because Loki is scared she’ll fall in love with Set. There’s a spirit “Green” who comes (and was coming before the movies got her into the Northern Tradition) and makes love with her, especially if she feels neglected by Loki. 

Loki dresses up in clothing from her favorite TV show and they act it out.

She’s never had friends because illness hit young so she’s been living with her parents her entire life without any relationships like friends, boyfriends, work, and she’s socially delayed, like a child I think from it. She’s completely alone aside from her mother and “Loki.”

At this point I was seriously alarmed. This is not Loki. This is not Loki. I’ll say it again for those who may find this difficult: This is not Loki. If this is what is happening to you in your relationship with what you think is a Holy Power, you may want to consult an elder or specialist. This is not the way a God behaves. Godspousery is a thing, a binding, lifelong commitment (that may or may not rule out human relationships) but it does not function in any way, shape, or form like what this person is describing, nor do healthy devotional relationships.

Part of the problem is pop culture specifically how it teaches us to view and approach the Divine and what it teaches us to expect from such exchanges. It opens a door toward incorrect behavior with the Gods and spirits, in ways that seriously and negatively impact discernment. There is an undertone in so many movies, television series, comics, books, etc. of the Gods being childish, vain, immature or otherwise behaving in ways that allow for the human characters to gain the upper hand in relationships, to put Them in their place, most of all to dismiss Them as Powers in favor of human supremacy in the grand cosmic hierarchy. The cultivation of this attitude is bad enough but what is worse is that it entrains us to think that Gods will behave this way, and the way described above – They don’t—which in turn opens the door for any bottom feeding, parasitic hanger-on spirit to masquerade and someone raised on a steady diet of pop culture pabulum all too often lacks the discernment to tell the difference.

At any rate, my morning’s email continued:

I wonder if she made it up, but I’ve experienced him, this spirit she calls Loki, as how she described. My health gets much worse after reading for her every time.

I’ve never done spirit work where they’ve ever behaved like this, especially deities. Usually they are more … dignified and have meaningful messages that the client needs. “Loki” just tells her what he wants her to do and offer to him. It’s a very sulky bitchy vibe.”

Folks, read that last paragraph again please. It’s right on the money. This is simply not how Deities generally behave and that includes Loki. This is one of the key things to watch for in certain interactions: are you being told only what you want to hear? It’s a huge red flag.

My client continued:

So something IS there, but I think it’s something else (abandoned thought form by some coven, incubus, I have no clue). When I said I couldn’t work with them anymore, “Loki” immediately jumped on me, trying to stimulate every “You’re my true love, 100% perfect” sexual thing. I ended that in a second. But if this thing is giving “You’re perfect, dedicate your life to me” romance novel intensity to lonely, kinda imbalanced women – it feels dangerous. It’s taking advantage of the movie Loki form.

Maybe. I don’t know. Freya and divination say I’m right, it’s a low level predator spirit preying on vulnerable Pagan women.

But you know the real Loki and I think I recall you had opinions about this. I rarely know what pop culture or Paganism (another pop culture too much of the time to get anything of value from it) is doing, so I didn’t pay attention. I had no idea Loki was in movies and people were worshipping movie characters and saying it’s the deities.

Since I had someone else contact me who also became a Loki wife where he always treats her like a queen and it sounds like escapism – the opposite of every deity or ancestor or land spirit I’ve met and all their messages and none wander my space, terrible with boundaries and then wanting me in the exact same time of relationship – all consuming love/lust – I just want to know if there’s something like this people are experiencing. It’s like a … virus. A needy virus who takes over people’s lives.

Sorry to bother you again about this. But in a world of Loki wives this is obviously going to be happening more.”

My response was rather terse:

I think that what you’re describing is, on the part of your friend, delusional. In many of the cases where one sees this, it’s fanfiction gone awry. I think it’s a case of people who want the Gods to be their best friends instead of the Powers that They are. Can Loki choose to take the image of Marvel Loki? Yes, absolutely. He is a God and this can be a doorway for Him. However, the behavior that you’re describing is simply not how Loki is, not how any Deity is. It is, however, precisely how certain bottom feeding spirits behave however.

What you’re describing is concerning, and I would be more inclined to say this is someone who A) needs to get off tumblr or other social media and B) needs good firm spiritual direction and possibly C) Therapy. Lots and lots of therapy.

I would agree with you actually: it’s very likely a low level predator spirit but I also don’t think your friend is going to hear you. She’s most likely too invested in it being Loki. You describe it like a ‘virus’ and I think that is an apt metaphor and the virus is going to defend itself. I don’t think your friend is going to be willing to have her delusion challenged because it makes her feel good (despite what you’ve told me – which for privacy reasons I did not quote the specifics here—about it damaging her health).

I detest the Marvel movies. I find them deeply impious (which doesn’t mean that the real Loki can’t use that image– i do not want to sound as though I am limiting the power of a God!). 99% of the people that I see claiming their Loki looks/acts like Marvel Loki have one of the following happening: 1. low level predator spirit fucking with them, 2, they’re delusional and incapable of telling fiction from reality – or unwilling to do so– (and often live more of their lives online than in actual in-person social interactions 3. they’re deeply confused. In all cases they lack spiritual discernment. The desire for it to BE Loki and for themselves to be special is the only thing driving the interaction.

I have seen devout Lokeans put an image of that character on their shrines for Loki because it is a pop culture representation of Him but in those cases, there’s a clear understanding that “this is something that reminds me of Loki as trickster” not “this is Loki and he’s dancing around my bedroom.” I am always deeply suspicious when Gods no longer behave as gods but are reduced to being someone’s playmate or best friend — unless that someone is a child in which case I’ll make allowances though even then I would do serious divination and investigation.

I know very devout Loki’s wives. I don’t know a single one of them who can’t tell the difference between the fictional marvel Loki character and Their divine husband. 

I’m sorry but your friend is either being harassed by a low grade spirit or delusional. The behavior you describe from the thing when it jumped out at you is NOT Loki, and yes, I think your comparison of it to a virus is very apt. 

To get rid of a bottom feeding spirit, you’d have to cut the cord it has with your friend — it’s probably feeding on her– cleanse her, shield her, and banish it, warding her home. Then she has to not invite it back. She’s not going to cooperate with that. I would instead make offerings to the real Loki and your own patron Goddess Freya and maintain continued prayers for your friend’s well-being and protection. I think, however, that she is far too deeply invested in the emotional umph she gets from these encounters to listen to you. 

I do rather consider it a collective insanity.

I would, by the way, given the interactions you describe with your friend and this wight, suggest major cleansings for yourself. If you don’t know how to ground, center, and shield, I recommend learning. The book I usually recommend for my students is Sophie Reicher’s “Spiritual Protection.” Understand that when you are in your friend’s presence as she is now, and when this wight is present, you are engaging someone and something deeply polluted spiritually. You will need to cleanse yourself so that you do not become impacted by it or open to its influence.

All of this, my readers, highlights the importance of proper spiritual discernment. There is a difference between engagement and wish-fulfillment and it’s important to know the damned difference.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

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My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

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Shrine pictures

After running about making various offerings to Hermes, I spent the rest of the morning redoing my Hermes shrine, and my Loki and Sigyn shrine. 

feb-25-2017-hermes-shrine-new

Hermes’ place. ^

feb-25-2017-loki-sigyn-shrine-new

Loki and Sigyn’s place.^

The icon above is by Grace Palmer, and belonged to my mom Fuensanta. 

Schrödinger’s God

loki-meme

A colleague posted this image on facebook and it got me thinking and I’m going to share some of those thoughts with you now. The statement in the image implies that since at some point Loki was bound, He cannot now be an active part of the pantheon. The corollary to that of course calls into question the integrity and veracity of those who claim devotion to Him. That’s what this meme is clearly stating.

Loki is a polarizing figure in contemporary Norse and Germanic traditions. Some denominations venerate Him, some don’t, some excoriate Him, and some will pour out offerings to Him when Odin is given offerings but only because of a single line from the Lokasenna.(1) They pour them out, but they don’t like it. I think it fair to say that no other commonly recognized God evokes such strong feelings (one way or another) as this one. (2)

Assuming however, that because Loki was once bound, that He is always bound, or that in being bound, He loses His capacity to act in our world is a bit problematic from a theological point of view. It makes for nice apologetics for those who detest His veneration and want an excuse to mock those who hold Him dear, but theologically it doesn’t quite hold up.

Firstly, to make the assumption described in the photo is to assume that the Gods are bound by substance, corporeality, and temporality in exactly the same way that we as human beings are bound.(3) We know that the Gods are outside of these things because They created them, existing before these substantive things ever were. This is all the more so if Loki and Loðúrr are indeed the same Being. While not all Gods may have been involved in that particular moment of fixing the materiality (and by extension temporality) of the worlds, there are Three Who were: Odin, Vili, and Vé or Odin, Hoenir, and Loðúrr, the latter of Whom I hold with the skalds to be Loki. If temporality then has no hold on Them, in the way that it does for us as human beings, if Their nature as Holy Powers is by necessity different from ours (which I’m going to assume for sake of this discussion it is. If you want a proof, I can play Anselm later), then it follows that Loki, like Schrödinger’s Cat can be at once bound and unbound. Time would not be a mitigating factor here.

That is the key to something called ‘mythic time.’ Perhaps part of Loki is always bound as part of Odin is always hanging on Yggdrasil –but here we veer into the realm of Mystery. He is bound and not bound. Loki devotee Kenaz Filan says, “For me the binding of Loki is one of the greatest sacred Mysteries of our cultus, and Sigyn’s loyalty to Her spouse one of the greatest examples of piety the Nine Worlds has ever seen. It’s not something to be joked about.” (4)

In the Eddas, Snorri, writing as a Christian two centuries after conversion carefully euhemerized the Gods. In other words, he presented the stories he was telling as though the main figure, the Gods, were at one ancient time, people. He stripped the sacred from our tales because he was not Heathen. He was writing a guide for poets who were, having been Christian for two hundred years, forgetting the meaning of the various kennings employed in Norse poetry. He was not a devout man and though we owe him a debt for preserving what he did, it would have been better had we never been exposed to Christianity in the first place. We have fragments of what was once invariably complex and nuanced body of regional practices. Snorri reduced our Gods to human. Why are we so eager to do the same? Mythic time is not our time. The Gods are not people.(5)

Nor are our stories morality plays. So much of medieval Christian literature served as morality plays for the listeners, readers, or viewers. That is not the case with our sacred stories. They were never intended to be taken as a guide to life or to inculcate values.(6) They were intended to teach us something about the Gods. They were keys to the Mysteries of the Gods.

Loki is, whether some Heathens like it or not, a key figure in our cosmology. He is a catalyst – the enemy of entropy. He is a helper to the Gods, essential in acquiring for Them Their primary attributes (Odin’s spear, Thor’s hammer, Freyr’s boat, etc.). If He is indeed, as the skalds maintain, Loðúrr, then He likewise has a powerful cosmological role in re-ifying creation within our mythos again and again and again. He carries the holy, the numinous into our world and along the rainbow bridge to all the worlds, traveling with Thor, Protector of Midgard. Given the strength with which His cultus has grown over the past decade, across denominations, even across religious boundaries, it may be that the question of whether or not He is still bound, is effectively moot. Res ipsa loquitur.

Notes:

  1. Lokasenna, stanza 9.
  2. To the point that some Heathens even question whether or not He is a God. The most common refrain along this line of thinking is “He’s nowhere called a God, He’s a Jotun!” Actually, for those who need a reference from the surviving skaldic materials, Loki is actually referred as ‘Ás’ in Gylfaginning, chapter 20. (The cry then goes up from some Heathens, ‘well, Snorri didn’t mean that!” And thus interpreting out of the material all the inconvenient facts that would make your religion something other than polytheistic Protestantism begins. * sarcasm *) Ás of course, refers to a member of the dominant pantheon of the Norse, the Aesir. We could say that it means ‘god’ but that’s not exactly its primary translation (there are other words in Old Norse that one could use for that). It implies one of the holy Powers, specifically one associated in some way with the Aesir, that tribe of Gods responsible for ordering the cosmos.

Of course the question of the difference between a Jotun and a God is a curious one. The Jotnar were the primal divine race. Until the moment Odin and His brothers decided to create the worlds, the beings that sprang from Ymir’s body were Jotnar. At no point in the surviving creation story is there a single moment where suddenly some of them are transformed from Jotun to Ás’…unless it be the moment that Odin and His brothers (of Whom Loki may be one – more on that in a moment) decided to slaughter Their ancient kinsman Ymir to create the worlds. That is the only defining period in the creation epic where differentiation occurs. Suddenly these three Gods Odin (frenzy), Vili (conscious will or desire) and Vé (the numinous, the holy) decide to act in a way that transforms everything that comes after. If ‘Aesir’ refers specifically to a clan of Powers focused in some way on creating and maintaining cosmic order (and there’s enough in the surviving myths that scholars like Dumezil certainly thought so), then membership into this clan might be somewhat mutable (all Aesir having begun as Jotnar perhaps?) and we likewise know that there are other clans of Gods like the Vanir, Whose cosmological focus is different. One wonders at the mutability of membership in these divine clans.

In the creation story, Vili and Vé are sometimes called Hoenir and Loðúrr. The identification of Loki with Loðúrr is not universally accepted but there is skaldic evidence. As Dagulf Loptson notes in his article here:


Völuspá 18


Þrymlur I-III 21

“The identification of Loki as Loðúrr is one that has been highly debated, though in reality becomes perfectly blatant if one reads the Icelandic rímr, which are epic ballads from the 14th century. One of these ballads, Þrymlur (which was written roughly between CE 1300-1400) follows the same basic storyline as Þrymskviða. Both stories are an account of how Þórr’s hammer Mjöllnir was stolen by the giant Þrymr, who demands Freyja as his bride in exchange for it. Þórr is then persuaded to disguise himself as Freyja in order to reclaim his hammer, and Loki accompanies him disguised as his bridesmaid. In the Þrymlur account of the story, Loki is directly referred to by Þrymr as “Lóður” when he comes to visit him.”

  1. It is also to assume that we possess the full canon of sacred stories. We know that we do not. We likewise know that the stories we do possess were, to one degree or another, Christianized. This has been an ongoing problem within Heathenry. Because most of us grow up in religions bound by “scripture,” I think there’s an instinctive desire to have the same type of written authority and written legitimacy in our polytheisms. It doesn’t work that way though and for our ancestors never worked that way. One may use the lore to provide something of a scaffolding for one’s practice, to keep one from going off the rails (see here or here) but to assign it the authority of the Bible or Koran is stupid, anachronistic, and ultimately deleterious to the traditions. It is a source of information, information that must be carefully picked apart and analyzed. It is not the word of the Gods.
  2. We don’t, I think, see the Gods interfering with and specifically undoing the work of another God. That would be a violation of Their sphere of influence, a breach of cosmic order. The question may be thus raised of how much of Loki’s power to act is bound when He undergoes this ordeal, as well as for how long. In Greek mythos we have one story of Apollo violating cosmic order to avenge His son. He is banished and has to serve a mortal for a specific period of time. The banishment and service is temporary however which raises the question of the imbalance that might be created by permanently binding a God’s power, as well as the question of whether or not such a thing is even possible for the Gods to do.
  3. To reify Snorri is the equivalent of treating some fanfiction on tumblr authored by someone who can’t tell the difference between a marvel character and a Norse God as scripture; or let me correct that, perhaps it’s better to say the equivalent of treating Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” as scripture since Snorri did , unlike most on tumblr, have talent.
  4. Almost without exception in polytheistic cultures that role was taken by philosophy. We don’t know what type of philosophies the Northlands would have developed, had they been left unmolested by Christianity. But we do have the examples of Greece and Rome, as well as the Celts with their Druidic class, not to mention Indian traditions, that point to a differentiation between religion which is about relating to the Gods, and wisdom traditions like philosophy which are about developing oneself as decent human beings. There’s no reason to think that the Norse, amongst all the extant IE traditions, would have differed in this regard.

 

 

Gods of Rot and of Decay?

In a private discussion, a colleague told me that someone argued against the need for cleansing on the basis that Gods like Hela and Ereshkigal were Gods of rot and corruption and decay. Another person brought up compost heaps, where decay fuels further growth, all apparently (unless I misunderstood what my colleague was saying) in order to object to the idea that cleansing pollution is fundamental to healthy spirituality (you know, like bathing is fundamental toward not smelling like a dung heap).

This is going to be short and sweet. I have neither the time nor the patience for a long article breaking this down so allow me to get right to the point.

The Gods of the Underworld are not Deities of corruption. They are Deities that guard and nourish the dead. They are often likewise Deities of initiation, and/or Deities that in some way govern the mysteries of the earth and its wealth. It is true that in some cases the Heavenly Powers may not be able to cross into the dwelling of the Underworld Powers (Odin, for instance, cannot cross into Helheim though His sons can. Minerva cannot cross the threshold of the Erinyes’ dwelling. Inanna must undergo purification and ordeal to cross into Ereshkigal’s realm). This is largely because the positions and the power Each holds is so different. To maintain proper boundaries and proper functioning of Their respective realms, there can be no breach of protocol. It would upset the natural order of things.

Corruption is likewise different from rot. Rot is a natural part of the cycle. It is that which allows substance to be repurposed by nature. In this way, yes, I would say that some of these Underworld Deities like Hela are Gods of rot, but not in a way that transcends the need to be mindful of miasma. They allow for the transformation of souls, for the earth to receive what it needs from the rotting bodies of the dead. In its own time and place, that is good and holy. For us, being neither Gods nor dead, contact with that process is miasmic. It is not however, bad or corrupt.

I will say again, as I have many, many times before (perhaps pretend a man is saying it and then it might make more sense to some of you, hmm?): Miasma is not necessarily bad. It is a neutral thing. Sometimes miasma happens as a natural result of coming in contact with something that in and of itself is good (cemeteries, weddings, babies for instance). That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to cleanse. Rotting for instance, is a natural process. One would not, however, (I hope) stick your hand in a rotting piece of road kill and then eat finger foods without a serious engagement with soap and water first. This is no different.

I think to honor the Gods of the dead with the rituals of the Heavenly Powers and vice versa would bring miasma, because that is twisting things out of their natural order, but those Gods Themselves are not “concentrated miasma” as one critic averred. That which is Holy is not miasmic. That does not mean that we might not be rendered miasmic by contact with certain Beings, holy or no. The Holy carries with it a contagion. It marks us and changes us and we have to be careful bringing that back into everyday space. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but sometimes not.

We do, in the Northern Tradition have a Holy Power that is fully focused on transmuting Rot, Nidhogg, the great dragon. She takes in rot (like the compost heap) but it doesn’t remain ‘rot’. It’s transmuted, just as purification transmutes.

To quote Kenaz Filan: “Even rot and decay are not in themselves miasmic. A compost heap is a fine thing. But when you put a compost heap in the dining room you have miasma.”

In the end, polytheism is large and flexible enough to contain exceptions such as sin-eating and working with spirits of decay, but these exceptional things don’t invalidate the general need for purification. It is unfair to apply the standards of a rare form of devotion (like sin-eating) to every single polytheist out there. Because that transgressive work, and the necessary flouting of conventions and precautions which doing so requires takes a tremendous  and sometimes devastating toll on the devotee. Why should Jane Heathen, who just wants to make offerings to her household Gods, have to endure those problems, which is what you’re advocating when you suggest casting aside ancestral tradition and things like purification rites? Way to shoot yourselves in the feet, folks.

 

piety-possum-is-walking-away-from-all-your-bullshit

(Piety Possum, walking away from all your bullshit)

A Prayer to Odin

These two prayers were recently commissioned by my Patreon supporters: 

To Odin, for Dreams
(written for T.)
By Galina Krasskova

Ravenous for knowledge,
hungry for wisdom,
You drove Yourself
through the worlds,
upon the Tree,
to the gates of Hel
and back.
You sought out seers,
mighty women
prophets seething
with fateful fire
caught by mind,
held on the tongue
spat forth at Your command.
You unraveled and deciphered
the dreams of Your omen-marked Son
bound spirits, and raged through worlds
to undo His terrible fate.
You Who know the magic
of the Vanir, for Whom dreams
are as open books,
worlds waiting for reason’s plunder,
I ask now this boon,
knowing it will come with a price,
a price that I shall pay:
Send me dreams, Raven Father,
clear omens to guide my way.
Make my dreams my grimoire,
that I too may grow in wisdom.
This I pray as i pour out this offering.
Hail to You, Odin.

(make an offering of beer or whiskey, etc.)

 

To Hera
(for A.)
by Galina Krasskova

To the Queen of Olympus
let homage ever be paid.
To She Who renders right judgment,
let offerings be laid out.
To the Goddess Who brings glory,
may libations be poured.
Hail to Hera,
Who grants no quarter,
and yet, is merciful.

She is the Maker of heroes,
glorious and fierce.
She hones them,
tempers them,
renders them worthy of the blood
from which they are sprung.
Herakles, Achilles, even Dionysos:
She brought Them into Their power.
She taught Them what it meant,
to bear the blood of Gods.

Hera, ever mighty, orders the world,
watches over its mysteries.
She is Beloved of the Thunderer.
She is Queen of all the heavens.

To Argive Hera, I blow my head.
You teach us that power must earned.
You, Great One, at Whose hands all
is brought into order,
may my words and prayers
be pleasing to You.

Hail to You, Glorious Hera.

(if you are in a place where you can do so, light some incense for Her).

 

(I’m generally always willing to write prayers on commission: $15/prayer. These were done for free as a gift to my Patreon supporters with the caveat that I would share them here.

There are some other caveats to my commission work: a) there are certain Deities with Whom I have no relationship and if i’m not able to catch a sense of Them, I won’t be able to write a good prayer and also, b) there are Deities that I am tabooed from approaching. But so long as you’re willing for me to say ‘sorry, can’t do that one,’ if you’d like a prayer written, shoot me an email at krasskova at gmail.com).

A Prayer to Loki

In the blistering furnace of our hearts,
may You be hailed.
In the fierce rantings of mind and memory,
may You be hailed.
In the tumultuous storm of our senses,
may we gasp, and chant, and sing Your praises.
May our lips burn with whispered adorations to You.
May our bodies shake in the onslaught of Your presence.
Where You are honored, there be in all of Your glory.
Where You are reviled, there also be,
and work Your cunning wiles.
May You ever be the unquiet thought,
the unruly impulse, the unwary stirring
of holy cravings, the longing for internal revolution,
the descant-mad, dervish-driven
prophetic-spewing roar that drives us
ever and always, unceasingly, unmercifully
into the arms of our own liberation.
Hail Loki, Liberator,
cunning, wild, and wise.
May You ever be hailed.

Gender, Runes, and the Great, Yawning Gap

 

(Most of this is drawn from a conversation I’m having with several other spirit-workers and NT shamans. We’ve been discussing and exploring our cosmology, specifically the Norse creation story. I write a bit about that here and this delves a bit deeper into some of the ideas expressed in that piece. This is speculative, posted mostly to give myself a record of my thoughts).

I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize the importance of our cosmogony. I think any understanding of the way Heathenry and the Northern Tradition works must start with an exploration and understanding of our cosmogony, because that is the lens through which we are expected to engage with the world, relationships, and everything in between. I’ve occasionally seen the primal Gap (Ginnungagap) described as a ‘womb’ but I really do not like the image of a ‘womb’ for the Gap. It’s too much a gendered term. The Gap is a crucible and for many reasons that I’ll be discussing here, precedes any idea of gender.

Likewise with the runes: one often ascribes gender to them (and they can in fact present as gendered) but I think it’s perhaps a mistake to assume that any gendered presentation represents the actual nature of the rune itself, and for many of the same reasons as with the Gap.

I’ll start with the runes because in many ways, they’re easier to touch on than our cosmogony. From my experience, some specific rune spirits might take on a gender, but as a whole, they’re not what we would term masculine and feminine in their essence. I think this is important…I don’t think that like the Odu, (with whom I have seem the runes often compared) they’re building blocks of creation. Instead, I think they in some way expand and expound from the Gap, almost like agents provocateur, instruments that carry that synergy wherever it needs to go, especially at the points where wyrd begins. This is all speculative theology but the runes are not of this world. They were never of the human world (at least not the elder. I have suspicions about the younger. I suspect that the younger were born of the elder, and born to be a more direct bridge to this world, are more inherently connected to this plane of existence). They take on gender, or can take it on, when they enter our world/state of being but within their own natural realm, the Gap, it is an alien idea.

I think we really have to be careful of co-opting gendered language for these things. That’s immediately a category and a limitation and for those things that are beyond temporality and even materiality, it’s important to resist that urge. All the more so as those terms carry so much weight in our culture. We reduce the power of these Forces (the Gap, the worlds within the Gap before creation, even the runes) when we make them feminine or masculine. We reduce their nature, blocking it off and culling it down, parceling it out when we ascribe to it those categories that limit with respect to substance and manifestation. Sometimes it’s inevitable. We need a means to discuss these things after all, but I think with the runes, we can deal with them as they are, and the Gap as well without projecting our own gendered language onto them. (I do think that within the rune families, rune spirits will choose to appear in a variety of genders but I think it’s an assumed guise for our sake. Half of learning how to work with the runes is a matter of us learning how to communicate with them, and them learning our interior symbol system, i.e. how to communicate with us. Taking on gendered forms may improve communication). When we begin exploring our cosmogony, we’re challenged to move beyond ideas of gender as these somehow inherently meta categories of universal structure.

The first actively gendered force that we have is Audhumla, the sacred cow and that is crucial. Once materiality is yoked to temporality, once it’s out of the Gap and into Being, once there is substance, it’s filtered through Audhumla, that feminine force that brings Ymir into being and starts the process of embodied creation

I remember thinking about the creation story and thinking, “where the fuck did the cow come from?” but it’s an IE motif: the active principle of embodied creation, once things have moved into materiality, is a cow: a feminine, or rather female force. Cows were wealth, abundance – we see this in the runes too with fehu, domestic cattle and wealth (versus Uruz, initiation and the challenge of the wild aurochs). It’s potentiality for abundance, the power of manifestation (I believe even Audhumla’s name means ‘wealth.’). That’s a different level from the moments preceding creation and again from creation itself, at once removed from the Otherness of the Gap. For most of us, I think that when the runes present as gendered, that’s here, in our world/state of being, not in the Gap, not their origin point and that difference is significant. It may be that there is how the runes are there, and how they can choose to be here, or how they are filtered through here.

I think we need to step back and examine how often we contextualize based on gender. The moment you ascribe that category, you’ve put a limit on something. You’ve also humanized it. Now sometimes that happens. Our Gods taken on gender for instance…note I said ‘take on.’ I don’t’ want to limit Them by assuming They are bound in any way to it. They take it on. When we start talking about cosmogony, we’re pre-human, pre substance, pre material and categories (like gender) no longer apply. They don’t exist yet. So for this, we have to move away from how humans experience the world, and our assumed position of necessity to its order, and look instead at how things are without filtering it through humanity as a necessary lens – because these things we’re discussing here existed/came into being, well before we did.

To further complicate things, Old Norse, like many IE languages is a gendered language. This means that nouns have grammatical gender (they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. It doesn’t have anything to do with what that noun might be usually, but instead is a way of categorizing based on morphological terminations). In some respects, looking at grammatical gender can be enlightening. It’s one more level of analysis but certain concepts and ideas, certain types of being are beyond gender, beyond any human category. When we’re talking about something similar in so many ways to the Platonic Agathos, Nous, and Psykhe, we’re not dealing with something yoked by gender. Gender is a material limitation. I do with the runes, think of them as gender fluid to some degree, but largely because I ‘m not sure gender has any relevance in THEIR realm…whereas it’s part of ours, and like a costume they can put it on or take it off at will to communicate specific things in their interactions with us.

Once we start looking at cosmogonic principles, however, up until the point of material creation, the point where suddenly there is materiality and temporality, and *substance*, gender has no meaning. Once we get to substantive realms/states of being, then gender becomes a thing, because then, by virtue of being substantive, there is already limitation.

Insofar as we have substantive concepts, I think bringing gendered language into it can be interesting (both grammatically for analysis and ideologically). As noted above, it’s another level of analysis when we’re doing theological exegesis. The cosmogony, however, before the moment when materiality comes into being as a result of friction between worlds (opposing forces) doesn’t exist as we might comprehend it.

 

Upcoming Prayer Cards

These will be available after the holidays. They are all by the wonderful Wayne McMillan. 

sigyn

Sigyn

sinthgunt

Sinthgunt

sunna

Sunna

Working at the Nexus of Two Traditions

Over the past few years I’ve been moving more and more toward a more Germanic-Roman polytheism in my personal practice. I practice Heathenry and that will always be my primary tradition, but I also venerate many of the Greco-Roman Gods (especially Hermes, Apollo, and Dionysos). This all started when I began studying Classics academically in 2010 and Odin indicated I should honor the Greek God of language. Well, apparently, give Them an inch…and the rest is history. 

I’ve never worried overmuch about working in two traditions. I’ve never been one of those Heathens who gets the vapors if one mentions the words ‘dual trad.’ largely because looking at ancient polytheisms, the traditions we’re trying to restore, such a thing simply didn’t exist. The concept wouldn’t have computed to a pre-Christian polytheist. This cracks me up too. I’ve spent the better part of 15 years studying ancient religion at one level or another (both academically and theologically) and there was a flexibility, fluidity, and polyvalency to ancient polytheisms that I think we, tasked as we are with restoration, can only envy. 

If I was living in say, the first century, navigating between Rome and Germany as I do, this is largely how it would have worked: I’d have honored the Germanic Gods of my ancestors, paying special cultus to the Deity or Deities — in my case Odin– to Whom I am specially devoted. I might also honor various Roman Gods, depending on where I lived, what I did, and how strongly the Roman Gods had permeated into my region or I into Roman culture (romanitas). Perhaps there was a mystery cultus or two that caught my attention. If I were a soldier, I might initiate to the mysteries of Mithras, for instance. Then of course, if I were part of the Roman Empire, I’d pay cultus to the deified emperors (even if I were not Roman, per se. The spread of this cultus was one of the means of creating unity through disparate provinces) and on top of this there was ancestor cultus, honoring the vaettir, etc. etc. It was naturally very fluid. We’re not today, and I think that one of the reasons, perhaps the biggest reason that we’re not is that we’re restoring something that has been broken and we want to do it cleanly. 

What amuses me the most is that if we want to look solely at written sources, in some cases there’s more written evidence for the veneration of Dionysos in Germania than there is for Odin and company. It cracks me up. So when the Gods started pushing me toward cultus deorum in addition to my Heathen practice I thought it a bit strange, but well within bounds. Of course I don’t mix worship: I honor each Family as They wish to be honored, but it does mean I’m juggling two festival calendars, two offering schedules, two very different requirements for ritual purity and such, which can get a bit overwhelming at times. That’s a small price to pay though for doing right by the Gods.

Polytheism can be messy. Gods don’t always stay in Their neat little boxes and that’s ok. Our ancestors were travellers, explorers, (mercenaries * cough *, I don’t judge :P) and they brought their Gods and their practices with them wherever they went. Likewise, they occasionally picked up Gods and practices. The Roman Empire went everywhere and just as they brought the Roman Gods with them, setting up temples, engaging in veneration, making offerings, and so forth, so they too honored local Gods. We owe our knowledge of certain Germanic Goddesses (like Tamfana) to Roman votive inscriptions, for instance, so we know that they sometimes honored Germanic Deities. It was a non-issue because it sorted itself out in practice.

I think part of restoring our traditions is going to include making room for these blended strands too, because they existed in the time of our ancestors. They are part of our polytheistic inheritance. For me, doing rightly by all of the Gods means rooting myself in my ancestral tradition first and foremost. I’m Heathen and I move out from there. This may mean that in some ways I’m always on the outskirts of the mysteries of Dionysos or Hermes or Apollo, et Al and that’s ok. I do what I need to do in order to honor Them all cleanly. It’s an interesting sensation moving from “Germanic space” into “Greco-Roman space.” It affects everything even down to the way I carry myself (what anthropologist Pierre Bourdeau would have termed my ‘habitus’). That’s something I may need to watch more closely because I think it offers interesting clues as to what the Gods may want, and the type of interaction They expect. We shall see. It’s certainly been an interesting ride.