In the beginning, when materiality had been ground into existence by the conflicting forces of Niflheim and Helheim, when the great cow, born from that primal ooze had nourished the proto-giant Ymir and the first race of what would eventually evolve into our holy Beings was crawling from out of His mass, there arose three Brothers: Odin, Hoenir, and Lóðurr (or to use Their other heiti, Odin, Vili, and Vé). These three Brothers slaughtered Ymir, Their eldest ancestor and set the worlds and the cosmological order that binds us all into being. It was a defining moment in our theogony, the moment when those proto-beings, from Whom our Gods evolve, stepped up, looked far ahead, made choices that shaped and defined Their existence and everything that would come after it, and took necessary, decisive action. It was at that moment that existence truly began.
Of course, we know Who Odin and Hoenir are from the surviving lore, but the identity of that third brother, the one that gave us our rushing blood, and goodness of hue (healthy, living color i.e. vitality and life force), has been a bone of contention for years. Yet it shouldn’t be. It’s quite clear from [albeit later] sources that Lóðurr is in fact Loki.
Dagulf Loptson discusses the relevant passages in his article here and I encourage everyone to read this marvelous piece. He notes that the Eddic reference to Lóðurr helping to forge the worlds occurs in Völuspá 18. There is, however, a later c. 14th century ballad, Þrymlur, most likely drawn from earlier oral sources, that have Loki clearly addressed as Lóðurr (the relevant sections are Þrymlur I-III 21). We know that our Gods have many heiti. Odin, for instance, has hundreds. He may be called Yggr, Hangagod, Runatyr, Sigtyr, Oski, Gangleri, and so on and so forth (pun probably intended lol). Freya may be called Syr, Mardoll, Vanadis, etc. Likewise Loki has His bynames too. With regard to the name Lóðurr, one thing that we do know is that He is a figure strongly associated, as Hoenir is, with Odin. That in itself is telling, given that of all the Gods with Whom He dallies (take that word as you will), it is Loki that is recognized as Odin’s blood brother. Perhaps there is more to that tale than has come down to us.(1) What we take as ‘lore’ after all, is hardly a complete record of what our ancestors believed and the stories they told about our Gods. It’s reflection of their worldview is partial at best and while a good starting point, it is not a complete map.
As Loptson suggests in his article, Loki as Lóðurr is Loki as a creator God, but as with His brothers, that moment of creation is born of blood and violence a theme which recurs throughout our cosmology. It is through these Gods, Loki included that such conflict is transformed into something fruitful.
Our Gods have so many different facets. It is easy to say, when one has only known a playful or gentle aspect of Loki, that the hungry, violent, driven nature that shows forth in Lóðurr could not possibly be Loki, just as one might opine that the kindly gift giving Oski could not possibly be Odin, but we should be cautious in doing so. The Gods have histories of which we cannot conceive and are far, far greater than anything we can imagine. My mother used to say a prayer to Loki almost daily, one that sums up how to approach the Gods without attempting to bind them to the limitations of either our experience or awareness. I’ll end with that prayer now:
“For the life that brought me to You, I thank You.
For the rapture of knowing You, I thank You.
For the heartbreaks that open me to You, I thank You.
For the hunger that goads me to You, I thank You.
For Your kindness and Your harshness,
For all You give and all You take away from me,
I thank You.
For the death that will legitimate my life, I thank You.
For all You were, are, and shall be, I thank you.
My beloved God.”
- See here for an article by Þorgeirsson that discusses the debate around this name and Loki, as well as the reasons for giving credence to the attribution.
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I saw someone on Facebook today opining that the tattoo they’d gotten so proudly to honor their Gods was now being taken over by a neo-Nazi group. No. Many things can be corrupted and coopted but it doesn’t change the inherent nature of those things. It may alter our perceptions, yes, but othala remains othala, a conduit to a rune spirit of tremendous power, one that has nothing to do with our contemporary politics. It is only lost to hate groups if we allow it to be.
This rune is the rune of lineage and tribe, of tradition, of connection to our forebears, of right order. By that latter, I mean sacred covenants (with Gods, ancestors, land) in place and active. It is a rune of protection, of nurturing and nourishing the family, community, and all tribal bonds. It is that which keeps a community healthy, hale, and whole. Those are all good things. We should be working to keep our families, our communities, our tribes if we had them anymore, safe and secure, healthy, we should be maintaining healthy boundaries and working for overall abundance and well-being. Othala is the transmission of knowledge and in a sacred context mysteries from one generation to another. It is one’s active connection to one’s ancestors and lineage, complete with all the obligations that entails made manifest. I think this is perhaps why it is a favored rune for white supremacist groups. It speaks to tribe and culture, tradition and lineage but what they miss when they co-opt it, is that it speaks to that for each group of people. It doesn’t just speak to that for those with white skin. It speaks to the goodness and necessity of connection to one’s forebears, and protection of one’s family for every tribe and people. That is contained in its nature, encoded in its DNA so to speak. This is what it holds, what it is. How do you make a people strong? How do you ensure that the next generation will be healthy and hale? How do you ensure clean transmission of tradition from generation to generation and what does it mean to do so? All of this is contained within this rune.
Generally, when I work Othala, I find that it connects very strongly first to the ancestors and then to Odin. For the former, it is very much about the active relationship with one’s honored dead, the give and take now as it immediately impacts one’s daily life. It’s about healthy transmission of knowledge, and daily maintenance of those sacred covenants. When it is more Odinic in its manifestation, it speaks to the obligations of sacred hierarchy, of kingship, of sovereignty, and the give and take between king and vassal, or in modern parlance, the necessary work to keep those covenants healthy and functioning properly. It speaks to the need for good boundaries, for self-knowledge, and for being able to look ahead – like Odin on Hlidskjalf— beyond the morass of daily emotions and Sturm and Drang of living to the problems that may face a family or community or tribe down the road, it speaks to the necessity of preparation, and of conscious piety being part of the best prep.
Most importantly of all, Othala is our connection to our folk. I hate that term ‘folk’ because of how it’s so often used, but it is our connection to those ancestors who were functioning polytheists. It is the bridge between what we have now as we work to restore, and what once was and as such it is a reminder of our obligations to be vigilant and strong in our work toward restoration. It reminds us that our ancestors hold the wisdom we need and with their help we can bridge the gap between what was, what is, and what we very much wish to create. Othala is the citadel, under protection of the Gods and dead that has never fallen and will never fall so long as we continue fostering right relationship with the Powers, including our own communities.
I too grow angry when I see hate groups mis-using our sacred symbols, all the more so when it is people who clearly have no devotion to or veneration of the Gods and spirits in question. It angers me greatly. It is not theirs by right. It is not theirs to corrupt. It is not theirs to smear their pollution upon. (I feel the same way when I see Wiccans or Pagans handling the runes without any thought to the Mysteries behind them. I feel the same way when I see Marvel misusing the Valknot or other symbols. It’s appropriation. It’s disgusting. I do understand very much the anger and disgust such misappropriation can evoke). But that they do this does not change the inherent nature of the rune or the rune spirit itself and I think it’s important to not let people’s mis use cause us to abandon these things that are in fact the right of all those steeped in the Northern Ways, or bound to its Gods, or called by its spirits. To abandon that which is ours by right is as great an error as to claim that which is not. We simply have to be louder in proclaiming our traditions, in showing the rune in the proper context, in working as we have each been called to work for the restoration of our traditions. In the end, if the Gods will and our work is successful, those traditions will stand and their ignorant usurpers will be nothing more than a pathetic blip in the march of history. Othala is about preserving and building, not tearing down and not hate.
by C. King
Brooding hostage, silent God
Muddy throne, Your hall of reeds-
Sway and twist like feathers falling
Mossy hued, those slender spears-
Chime and shudder from Your spirit.
Wordless, primal prayers sung
That ripple and tug the vault of heaven.
There amidst the marshy bank,
With Ymir’s blood smeared as mark-
The dappled Crane nests and watches
Before the countenance of Man becomes it.
You that roused urge and longing,
With rune-song sang up and awakened.
Wise He who saw the first and sees the last, what will be the after?
Gray Song, may the riverbanks ever be Your treasure.
Demure Council, may wisdom ever consider all avenues.
Knowing Maker-strengthen our people against those coarse to the Holy Powers.
Long Foot, ward us against the profane and arrogant. Where our clumsy feet trail Midgard-strengthen our resolve to be worthy of the Gods that shine brightly.
Clever God, of mist and wing-
That briny fog your cloak and down.
Whom appears at will to mortals few-
And whispers wisely second thoughts.
I thank You, Vanir Captive.
I praise You, Vili of Odr
May Your name ever live on the tongues of Ash and Embla’s progeny.
by Dr. E. Kelly
(the birds pictured are sandhill cranes)
In Praise of the Marsh King
By Victoria Morelli
Swift You come, Helper to All,
Gods and men alike.
Silent yet sharp,
Sharp as a knife’s keen edge,
from You we gained the gifts
of wit and wonder.
High and Holy, the Marsh King walks,
strong of will and wisdom.
Storks and swans, cranes and ducks,
Your sacred messengers all,
and they herald the numen of Your passing.
Where You step, there is enchantment.
Where you wander, there is power.
The eldritch things that live in the mist
whisper fairy tales to hapless mortals
of red gold and blue fire and the pale God
weaving magic in the misty fen.
The strength of Your mind,
helped carve worlds into being.
The implacability of Your will,
helped drive the spear deep
into old Ymir’s guts.
Liminal places, bogs and marshland,
foggy groves, and dank swamps
are Your favored doorways,
and what comes out of them is hallowed.
You I praise, and I seek Your blessing,
Who ended a war with His uncle’s head
because He knew:
some sacred places are hungry.
Hail to the Marsh King.
I make my students and apprentices study the lore and this sometimes seems rather ironic given how I feel about the way ‘the lore’ is utilized in mainstream Heathenry. Here is the thing though: the lore is not in and of itself holy. It contains clues and keys to that which is holy. It’s a bit more than a map, but far, far less than revelation. I think this is an important distinction. Those texts that we consider ‘lore’ were never intended to be used in any religious capacity. They were not, for the most part, written by polytheists. They were not intended to be used as scripture and many of them, having been recorded by Christians, are in fact, somewhat problematic. However, they contain keys to the holy. We study lore to learn about our cosmology, to learn how our ancestors ordered their world, to gain a glimpse into the paths that lead to mystery. it’s a tool, nothing more.
All of this has made me ponder the damage that having a reified ‘scripture’ can do to a tradition. I think it turns “god” into an idea instead of a living, terrifying Presence. It makes religion an intellectual exercise, especially if one culls out the experiential, mystical, or embodied devotional practices as the Protestant Reformation did to Christianity. Religion isn’t an intellectual exercise. There are protocols and practices to be learned because it is necessary to meet the Holy on properly prepared ground, especially the ‘ground’ of our hearts and minds. At its core though, religion encompasses all those things, those structures and practices, patterns that pattern and infuse us with the experience of our Gods. It is a thing that reaches into our guts, tears open our hearts, brings us to our knees before the Powers and changes everything. It is not neat and sanitized. It is dark and bloody, terrifying, and glorious. It is not a thing of civilization, it is a thing that connects us back to our earliest ancestors and the Gods that brought them the gifts to create civilization. It is a thing the practice of which reaffirms and recreates our cosmology every single time we engage. It is that through which our world and experiences are properly filtered.
When ‘god’ is an idea and not an experienced, shattering Presence, the mystery is stripped from one’s religion and it becomes a game, an intellectual exercise, it becomes a brittle carapace. With so many of us having converted from monotheisms, from religions centered around a deeply reified sacred text or texts, it’s important to challenge and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We prioritize the written word in a way that our ancestors never, ever did. We look to the written word to define our experiences instead of allowing our experiences to inspire our written word.
Moreover, we should be getting the interpretation of our lore not from scholars but from our shamans, spirit workers, clergy, and specialists, from those stepped in the deepest mysteries of our traditions, not from those who would analyze the holy out of those traditions. Doing the latter damages not only the community and those devoted to their Gods, but sterilizes the tradition as a whole. If one is properly stepped in one’s tradition, there are numerous illusions that the lore can lead one to. For instance the story of Thor killing his goats so a peasant family that was offering the gods hospitality might eat well, and then restoring those goats the next day provides a trail that can be followed when one is contemplating how to do proper sacrifice. The story of Odin hanging on the tree and winning the runes provides a blueprint for one of our esoteric traditions. The story of Freya winning brisingamen points to connections, deep and powerful, between the Duergar and the Vanir and the connection between creativity and abundance only otherwise hinted at in our stories. It’s not enough to read the lore or to memorize it. One must steep oneself deeply and fully in the cosmology so that one has the necessary keys to decode and interpret. General lore thumping is all the more frustrating because it’s a further corruption of the holy. To be blunt, these people don’t know what the fuck those stories are about. Yes, the stories are fundamental but *not* the text itself, rather what is important is what the text alludes to.
Story is always alive. Reifying lore is no different than Christians mistaking the Bible for the Word. It’s the Word that creates not the book. Of course, this is also a symptom of our converts having been raised in a monotheistic, modern culture that wants quick, carefully organized, boxed in, rigid answers. Mystery is never, ever easy and simple. It’s painful, often bloody, confusing, messy and bigger than we can ever imagine. Most importantly of all, it has to be experienced to be understood, otherwise it’s just useless trivia. I think there’s a difficulty in Heathenry, and in our world in general with mistaking the knowledge of the lore for experience. I also think wanting those rigid categories becomes a dangerous crutch. It further conditions the mind to keep the holy terror at bay but the holy terror is what mystery is made of. It is the essential conduit to our Gods. Keeping it at bay, sanitizing it as I wrote above, keeps Them at bay too. Essentially, the lore are accounts of the holy so they contain the holy even if in imperfect form. They’re doors into that world that underlies this one. Truly comprehending our sacred stories prepares one for being dropped into Mystery.
As an example of how important that mental lens is, a spirit-working colleague told me he has a new taboo: he can’t talk about mystery stuff in his tradition, not even with initiates unless he is in the proper headspace. This trumps even being in clean, unpolluted space for him. Now I don’t have that, but it’s an interesting example for me at least, of why understanding cosmology and headspace is so important and so, as much as I shake my head to say it, because I never thought I would, all of us need to be steeped in our cosmology, starting with he Poetic Edda. This means, not just having read them, but having meditated upon, discussed, and analyzed them. That cosmology needs to shape the fabric of our minds.
Now, to reiterate, the Eddas were written down two hundred years after conversion by a Christian. They’re not in themselves sacred writ, but they are what we have of the stories of our Gods and they invite us into the cosmology and contain within themselves even such as they are, hints at our mysteries. This all came up when I was teaching my apprentices the basics of our fire mysteries. In my tradition (and this much I can say publicly), that starts with learning how to make fire from flint and steel. Part of this connects us to our ancestors, but part of being a good fire worker isn’t just being able to pull off the technique, but rather consciously reenacting the cosmological moment of creation, when the world of fire and ice met. One reaffirms and recreates that via the headspace the one is in while doing the technique. Everything started with fire and ice.
Everything before everything came from the interplay of the world of fire and the world of ice. Then there is the breath of Odin that brought us to life, the fire given by Lodur (Loki), the spark of intelligence by Hoenir. everything resolves back to fire, ice, breath, and force. When you’re making fire with flint and steel, you’re bringing together opposing forces. It perfectly recreates that moment of creation. Flint hits steel and sparks and BOOM it’s the action not either of the tools themselves. It is what you are doing and the headspace and mindfulness in which you do it. In Anfang wer der tot…I think of the beginning of Goethe’s Faust : in the beginning was the deed.” (if I have my German right) So much repeated in our cosmology as a theme is the interplay of opposing forces. This in turn is a necessary consequence of polytheism: multiple Forces with different desires,, agendas, preferences and They’re going to be in conflict and crash into each other and that’s not a bad thing but on the contrary, a tremendously, terrifyingly creative thing. These are in many ways, mysteries. Our whole cosmology is contained in starting a fire, which is why it’s the first mystery.
Going into our spiritual work, our devotion, our practices with an awareness that unites the stories we have read, with an understanding of the sacral interplay of forces (and Forces) in our world, is the point of the lore. I always suggest to my students that they think of the “lore” as Cliff notes, bullet points, truncated thoughts but that they never, ever mistake it for experience of the Mysteries, nor for the Gods Themselves.
Wisdom of the Fool Prayer
Flame haired Trickster
Silver tongued God
Please hear my prayer.
Please teach me the wisdom of the Fool,
Teach me to laugh at myself when I …
Fall on my ass both literally and figuratively
Smile at my current infatuation while I have spinach stuck between my teeth
Get drunk and disorderly at the company Christmas party (hey! Someone had to do it!)
For only Fools know true wisdom
Because they have lived life to the fullest.
Since they have been laughed at and mocked,
Fools are more compassionate and tolerant towards others.
And only Fools may speak the truth to Kings (oh, how well You know this!)
Please teach me to love life like You do
To laugh out loud without wondering what others think
To love passionately without fearing a broken heart
To embrace others and life with a furiousness that matches Your own fire.
Hail to you Loki! You who are the patron God of Fools!
(remember, folks, the agon ends 9pm EST tonight).
by Amanda Forrester
My head is on fire.
I can see it all –
The threads of destiny, of wyrd, coming together,
I see the ghastly fate of my sons,
I feel the bindings tying me to the boulder
I see the red, weeping eyes of my loyal wife
Holding the bowl above me.
And I see all the worlds consumed in fire and ice
When I (at last!) make my escape.
My head is on fire.
I can feel the venom even now.
Still, I do not try to avoid that future, but do what must be done.
And so a dart of mistletoe seals my fate
As surely as it did Balder’s.
My head is on fire.
I saw it all, knew it’s coming,
But also that it must be done.
I told my blood-brother so.
My lips were sewn shut not because I lie,
But because I tell the truth,
(at least, when it matters)
And even the Gods cannot bear to hear it.
He is so many things to me… words are weak in His presence and weak on this page as I struggle to shape them into something approximating His power.
He is a maw. That’s what started all of this, another poet calling Him a maw. And He is and we are ever being devoured in it. The whole initiation process into Him is a crushcrunching down between His predator’s jaws. It’s a good way to live, soaring within the storm. It sets a certain stage and we can run with that for now.
Endless shrieking hunger. Cold, calculating, yet searingly passionate in His focus. I hear it all the time, when He is near, that roaring in the brain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool
Or has not learned how to listen.
He sees farther than we can ever conceive. He sees us too and our potential.
I know what it is like to be hunted down like prey. I know what it is like to fight a killer but I don’t know what it is like to walk away. Some knowledge isn’t worth having.
A vicious, beautiful Bastard and I love Him for it and sometimes I hate Him too but I never, ever forget the stench of my own fear in the woods when that first Hunt began or when His corpse creaked high in the Tree above me. I’ll never forget how He treasures my viciousness either.
a frenzied ravening Beast who has learned to wear a pretty mask to court the ladies (and some men too). He is brutal and wondrous and the ironsharp tang of His presence a joy my heart can barely hold.
the sovereign Power that has drenched the earth in blood and glory, the wailing wisdom of poets, the shivering terror of bards, and the enchantments that hold it all together swallowed and spat about by His flock of charmed women with razor tongues.
The Force that will use those women up until they seek any crevice in this world to avoid seeing into His.
Ho, ho, ho,
Who, Who, Who
But a God who knows the secrets found only in madness would do that? Let’s see which of us will be the last one standing, oh my darlings. Go ahead. Run.
the Architect of Worlds who loves His people and the pristine symmetry of the cosmos and will spit us all on a spear to see that it does not burn.
While we bicker and scramble and piss away our charms where the grass is green and blood runs blackest in the streets, He snakes His way ahead to keep it all from curling back into the Gap.
Devastation. Another poet warned about things like this: “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question” and so it is and so it was and if I’m lucky, so it shall ever be.
He is the frenzy that drives me and His the calloused hands that pick me up when His work drives me to my knees and I kiss the ground in exhaustion. He is the frenzy that inspires me, and with Him at my side I have seen I have seen the birthing of worlds and wonder. He is a monstrous Glory and He is my Salvation.
It is enough that He is.
Someone asked me once
if i could sense by scent
when You are near.
They wanted to know,
what the musk and aroma of a God
I had to stop.
How to put these things into words?
The vocabulary has not been invented yet.
You are so many things:
the smell of a place where many have died
the darkness of mystery – dank and bloodwarm,
the tang of the sky at the peak of a storm
and the howling of its winds if such sound
could carry with it keen-sharp scent.
You are steel in the cold,
the silent winter’s night
when not even the fiercest of beasts
but all watch
with glittering eyes from their lairs:
They too are wary of Your passing.
Yours is the smell of savagery
cunning, and an ecstasy
worlds were born
in the wake of its devastation.
I cannot hold it,
not even to craft a drop of its essence
You are the presence
on the battlefield
a century after the last man fell,
the savor of remembrance
the shattering laughter,
a roar in the void,
and the echo of its silence.
You are fury,
oh that monk was right:
you indeed are fury
the glorious, joyous savagery
at the moment two armies meet in battle
at the moment you penetrate hidden power
at the moment you seize the trail of your prey
at the moment, every moment
when that which is in you bubbles over
and burns into those who raise their lips
in adoration to You
and we drink
You are Master of the Hunt
and we are all Your prey
if we are fool enough
to stumble in the path
of Your desires.
As to scent,
forget what I have written here.
You will know when He comes
how poorly the senses translate
the vast joy-terror of His passing.
You will know
when you too
are marked with His scent.
You will know
when it is far, far too late
(by G. Krasskova)