I’ve been trying to deepen my prayer practice lately. I feel like somewhere in the rush of grad school, I fell away from some of my regular practices and that’s not where I’d like to be. I plan on writing more about how and when I pray, sharing prayers, quotes, and other ideas that have helped me and maybe might help my readers.
I don’t think there’s anything more important than prayer. It’s one of *the* most basic, most foundational practices we have in building a solid, personally sustainable spiritual life. It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially if one wasn’t raised in a devout household (I realize more and more that I was so incredibly lucky to have good devotional models growing up). There are formal, “set” prayers, extempore praying, and quiet contemplation, the type of daily engagement that roots one deeply in awareness that we are surrounded by Gods and spirits and this is good and holy. We move through a world graced with the sacred. Having grown up praying (which doesn’t mean I have a good prayer practice. I don’t think I do.), I never thought of this as a potential problem, but more and more, folks have been asking me about prayer, how to do it, and what is right or wrong in the process. I’m happy to answer questions to the best of my ability to send your questions along and I’ll do my best. In the meantime, I’m going to talk about my Thursday routine.
Firstly, the moment I open my eyes, I usually try to mutter out Sigdrifa’s prayer (from the Sigdrifumal, the translation I use reads: Hail to the Day, and Day’s sons; Hail to Night and Her daughters. With loving eyes look upon us here and bring victory. Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses! Hail to the mighty fecund earth! Eloquence and native wit bestow upon us here, and healing hands while we live.). Because this prayer really sort of reifies our entire cosmology (I read “Hail to the mighty fecund earth” as including our ancestors, whose bones rest in the earth. Also, we are formed in part from the minerals our parents and their parents, and so forth back generation by generation have eaten courtesy of the food and water taken from the land) I usually say it multiple times a day as the mood strikes.
I’m not a morning person, but once I’m mobile, I start the Mundilfari adorations, which you can find here. These are brief prayers for waking, noon, sundown, midnight. I usually manage them all and what I miss, my assistant catches.
I have a huge set of prayer beads that I use and I often find myself going through these when I exercise. I don’t use the beads themselves at the gym, but keep count in my head – I try to get to the gym a couple times a week. Often I will dedicate the workout to Hermes, Thor, or one of our Healing Deities.
I try to pray before meals. This is the one I forget quite often because with my work schedule, I tend to graze rather than have sit-down meals at a set time. I’m working on this one though, to be more mindful. I think it’s important and I’ve gotten into a bad habit of not being mindful about this here that’s proving harder than I’d like to break.
I also offer a prayer to various Gods (usually Odin, Mani, Loki, et Al) before I begin my work. Sometimes I’ll pray to other Deities (Hermes, Apollo) if I’m feeling more pulled to the Roman part of m practice that day. It depends on what I’m doing, what I’m teaching, etc. I also read quite a bit of early Christian material for (academic) work and there is quite a bit of good information there, so I parse that out when I find it and tuck it away. Why reinvent the wheel? So I’ll try to also read something polytheistic to cleanse my mind just in case, and center myself in our Gods. When I find a good piece of Christian writing though, I will add it to the florilegia I typically keep. Likewise any other writing including secular. If it helps, it helps. I try to read or meditate on something like this a little each day. I ask myself what this can teach me about my own practice. What can I learn? How will this deepen my relationship devotionally to my Gods? Lately, also, I’ve been spending a great deal of time contemplating our [Norse] creation story. I think this is maybe the most important part of our lore and every time I meditate on it, I go more deeply into it and come up with greater insight. It refreshes my practice and it’s this that taught me that when we do ritual or prayer, we’re reifying the moment the Gods came together and set the architecture of the worlds in motion. It taught me the deep need to align our wills and our hearts and our souls with our Gods too in every possible way (even if we have to keep plugging away at it for the rest of our lives to get it right).
Sometimes in the morning there is a small ritual I do as a spirit worker, but that is a simple greeting to all the Powers with some minor offerings. I also tend our household Lararium and make offerings (usually candles, water, coffee, or liquor) to our ancestors.
In the evening, on most days (we miss here and there), we gather as a household and pray. There’s no set time for this: we pray as long as we feel like praying and often conclude with prayers for those in our families and household who are sick or struggling, or the well-being of those we love. There are also certain prayers of protection we do regularly.
Lately, and I’ve just gone back to this after a fairly long absence, I’ve been trying to make special offerings and prayers to whatever Deity rules the day. For Heathens, Monday is Mani’s Day, Tuesday Tyr’s, Wednesday Woden’s, Thursday Thor’s, Friday Freya or Frigga’s (we honor Them both), Saturday a day for cleansing. Originally in Latin it was Saturn’s day. Personally, I tend to give special offerings to Loki and Sigyn on this day, and then Sunday of course, is Sunna’s.
Thor is just amazing. I’ve written about Him before here here.
Because today is His day, I intend to pay special focus to Him all day, turning my mind to His stories, His nature, the feel of His presence when He is invoked, and the incredible way that He cleanses away pollution and evil as though it were nothing at all. He truly is the great Protector of humankind. I want to center my day, each day, around gratitude to the Powers remembering always how deeply blessed I have been in my life. It changes the way we move in the world to think of these things, to consciously choose devotion, faith, and gratitude, to choose to cultivate that which most benefits our devotion to cultivate. I pray to this God of strength and fortitude, that I shall always have the strength to make the appropriate choices in these things, especially when it is most difficult. Here is a prayer that I have written for Him today:
Today, I want to call You by Your English Name: Thunor, God of Thunder, Mighty Hammer Wielder, Friend of Humanity, and Protector of all the worlds. You protect our sacred places, our groves and sanctuaries and most of all the shrines and holy spaces of our hearts that we may lay ourselves down before our Gods in adoration, in love, in deepest gratitude without fear, without hesitation knowing that You, Great-Hearted Husband of Sif, Generous beyond measure, will always guard our comings and goings. You are a loving Father to three joyful children and just as You would no more allow Them to come to harm, so we too may rest securely in Your watchful care. Oh God of the oak, God of holy places, God of the mound, I shall never for sake You. Please, I pray, watch over my ancestors, those of blood and those of spirit. Grant that our dead may rest in peace, strengthened by Your care, the vitality only You, son of Odin bring. That is my prayer for today. I am so grateful for the chance to honor You, so grateful for the chance to pay You homage. Hail Thunor, Thor, Thunder-riding God of Asgard.
If I were a kinder person, a better theologian, a more patient priest I would probably approach this less bluntly, but today is not that day. I have a wonderful apprentice now of sterling character and deep piety and she asked me recently (now that she herself is getting close to the point where she will likely take a student or two under supervision) what to look for when deciding to take on this responsibility. While the sarcastic bitch in me wanted to respond, “Xanax,” her question is a necessary one and not a conversation that my own teachers ever had with me. This is not to their discredit. It simply wasn’t the way things were done then. We were all young and some lessons are hard, very hard learned. So, speaking to the question of apprentices and students within one’s religious community (1), here we go.
Cowardice is pandemic in our communities. When someone asks me what to look for in a group, a teacher, or when a teacher/priest asks me how to vet potential apprentices and students, this is the first thing I tell them: look first for virtue and character. Over and above anything else, that has to be there. If it’s not, do your best Usain Bolt imitation and run as fast as you can the other way. Also, if there’s not a willingness to prioritize devotion and the Gods, even when it’s uncomfortable, or arouses hostility in the community, or causes inconvenience: run. You cannot fix this in a person. It doesn’t matter how much you may personally like that person or how otherwise gifted he or she is: run.
One thing that I have learned in over thirty years of teaching, writing, leading rituals, etc. is that when taking an apprentice one must look first and foremost at innate character. If character is lacking, that is terminal spiritual damage. It cannot be fixed. I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, a young man became my apprentice. I did not particularly want to take him on. He had, with almost no training, been engaging in deity possession and using that to engage in sexual improprieties bordering on coercion with at least one woman to whom he was attracted. In conversation with my own elders we took his word that he hadn’t realized what he was doing, or how great a blasphemy it was. We assumed on good faith that he was redeemable with a little teaching, with strict mentorship, with a chance to learn and cultivate virtue and values, to build character, to devote himself to the Gods without having to worry about being called upon, far before he was ready, to step into a leadership role in his community (which had been part of the pressure and problem, or so we figured). We were all wrong and bad character remained bad character, egotism and vainglory (the need to be liked and to receive accolades, to be held up as top of the class, so to speak) only now hidden behind a façade of piety. This was compounded by the fact that the work of necessity was done long distance where it was difficult to accurately gauge progress. Just don’t. If even once this type of behavior is noted, shun that person one thousand percent (2). Also, with very rare exceptions, I do not think I would ever take a long distance apprentice again. The work is intense, demands such deep, often painful and challenging internal processing, that I just don’t think it can be effectively done (or monitored for problems) at a distance.
Here’s a second example. Many years ago, farther back than the case of the man I mentioned above, I took as a student an incredibly gifted young woman (one of the most gifted students I have ever had). She was also utterly without character, which I didn’t realize until much later. She was actually my first serious student and thanks to her, I know some of the things to look for in gauging potential students from here on out. What we took as vivid exaggeration and a gift for story telling was really an addiction to chronic lying. What we took as struggling piety, was really a desire to garner all the attention in the room by pretense of ecstatic revelation. Had we looked harder (I and the fellow priest who helped train her), we would have seen lack of responsibility in her life, constant disorder in every area, endless making of excuses, dangerous promiscuity, poor decision after poor decision, and vanity. There was extraordinary giftedness but a character dependent on those around her. When she was with us, she was fine. She mirrored what was dominant in those around her. When she was not with us, her character did not hold. Instability on every level surrounded her life. Eventually it led to a psychotic break and a descent into trouble. We mandated psychotherapy. She agreed and then lied about going. She was a parasite. So, for those of you intending to start a spiritual house, a kindred, a coven, an Iseum, a Thiasos, or other group, look deeply into those you allow into your spiritual world. If there isn’t base line character, you will fail in aiding in their spiritual formation. That’s what the work of a spiritual teacher and priest is: spiritual formation and that takes cooperation and hard work on both sides.
Also, you’re a priest or teacher, not a psychologist. We can do so much with those who come to us, but we’re not psychotherapists. Learn where that boundary is and don’t allow a disordered student to push you past it. Also, the teacher-student/teacher-apprentice relationship should be one of loyalty and respect, commitment and support mutually for life. I would go to the wall for many of my students and my current apprentice. When that relationship is violated it affects the luck and wyrd of each party on a grossly violent level. It is polluting in a way that is very difficult to cleanse. The obligations on both sides are enormous. Likewise the curse on those that take what they have learned, half-assedly usually, and set themselves up as competent spirit-workers is a stain on the soul that will taint and corrupt every bit of the work such nithlings do.
I hear a lot of complaints in the community about lack of elders and teachers. Well, folks, they’re there. They just get sick and tired of being shat on by students, neophytes, and apprentices who don’t want to step up and prioritize devotion and do the work. We are not great cosmic tits that you can drain dry with your mommy and daddy issues, your authority issues, your unwillingness to address character flaws or develop virtue. We’re not there to hand over the mysteries of our tradition to the untested and untried. You want an elder or a teacher to guide you, show some fucking respect.
Then there’s the cowardice. It is, as I have said, pandemic in our communities. I have a number of readers and twitter followers and those on facebook who smile to my face and then turn around and support those who slander me and (more importantly) my work. You’re cowards. Pick a fucking side.
I’ll also add, that when you meet someone who wants to drag the Gods down into morass and pollution of human politics, in an effort usually to garner praise, and in ways that exclude devout men and women from worship, step back and take a hard look at why. What pat on the head is that person getting? Whom do they serve? What do they actually value and where do the Gods and devotion and piety figure in that value system?
Veneration to the Holy Power is the thing that should be lifting us up beyond all our human shit. It should be the thing that encourages and incites us to elevate our souls, to throw ourselves into devotion, to transform our internal world and sometimes our external world to through the power of that adoration. When that is twisted out of true by ungrateful apprentices who lacked the spiritual fortitude, commitment, and virtue to stay the course, it’s an ugly, ugly thing. So beware.
- This does not apply to academic teaching at all. This is a totally different animal. The work we do in training apprentices and students within our religious communities is emotionally and spiritually intimate and steeped in a shared cosmology and hierarchy that would not in any way be appropriate to transfer over to secular teaching.
- Now don’t accept gossip. Of all the evil spirits, that of gossip is THE most dangerous and destructive (see the book “Osogbo” by Ochani Lele). There should be clear proof and/or witnessed offense. Spectral evidence my friends, ain’t evidence at all.
This is a beautiful and powerful example of animism in action. For those of us who are polytheists, this relationship with the land is the third support of the theological scaffolding in which we work: Gods, ancestors, land. It’s a little stunning to see it so powerfully in action here, as Dver notes.
Land is powerful. It’s not just that it is alive, full of spirits large and small, but that we are formed from it. The minerals found in the dirt, in the food we eat, the water we drink, moreover, in the food our mothers and fathers ate form our very bones. We carry our ancestral soils within us. At the end of our lives, it’s the earth that receives our bodies, that takes the Likr, our physical bodies (which in the Northern tradition are part of our souls, the part that we slough off each time we die, giving back to the earth in return for all that we have received. It is our payment for life, and a tangible connection between Midgard and Helheim). The spirits of the land welcome and cradle the bodies or ashes of our dead. The spirits of the land engage with us all the time whether we’re aware of it or not. They’re all around us, and can guide us in living sustainably in our world. It is right and proper to honor them.
So, when I see a place as devastated as Chernobyl and see that elderly women returned, because it was *their land,* it moves me tremendously and encourages me to consider and better my own relationship with the spirits of the world I inhabit.
Anyway, take a look at Dver’s piece and see where it takes you.
From my household prayer book, a prayer for those who feel the strain of the times, who feel the weight of spiritual pollution, or who feel themselves under spiritual attack.
Prayer against Malefica
Odin, You Who are known as Bolverk, Galdrfaðr, Runatyr, and many other names; You Who are expert at working every type of woe and weal, every type of sorcery or magic, Whose whispered will alone can shatter any malefica launched into the worlds, I call to You now. I petition You, Mighty One, Sigtyr, Whose ferocious and unyielding will created the very architecture of the worlds within which we live, Who hung for power, sacrificed to Himself on the boughs of the Ancient Tree, to win the power of creation, hear my plea I pray.
You are the best of healers, the best of magicians, and the best preservation of our souls. You are the restoration of all those devotees who turn to You in prayer, devotion, and ecstatic adoration. I beseech You now, Goðjaðarr, (God-Protector), to render powerless the evil arrayed against me. Banish and drive out every diabolic power, presence, and machination. Crush and dismiss every evil influence, every servant of the enemy – whether they realize their infernal alliance or not. Oh, Ítreker (Splendid Ruler), drive back and destroy all malefica, all envy, and all evil aimed against me and those of my household. Where there is envy, malefica, and degeneracy, grant that my soul may be sustained and infused by an abundance of Your oðr, Your blessings, Your ferocious joy. Grant me victory in the face of my enemies. Grant me victory in the face of infernal assault. May Your cloak and spear shield me and mine, Your hungry, ravening wolves rend and tear that which assaults us, Your ravens show us the way forward in faith, piety, and devotion. Oh Sigmundr (Victory-Protection), Sigrhöfundr (Victory-author), Siggautr (Victory-Lord), from the glorious heights of Asgard, reach out Your powerful will, extend over me, Your unyielding beneficence, and come, Great God, to my aid.
Send Your wolves, send Your ravens, send Your valiant and vicious Valkyries to protect my body and soul. May they vanquish every evil power, every poison or malice invoked against me by wicked, degenerate, shallow, corrupt, and envious people.
Oh Vakr, Ever Vigilant, I place myself under Your authority and Your protection, confident in Your power, and ever shall I proclaim, gratefully that YOU are my protection, YOU my restoration. Odin, whom should I fear? My God is mighty, Hagvirkr, Hangaguð, more powerful than any wickedness that dares to stand against me. You are more powerful than any opponent. I have zero cause for fear. Ever shall I praise You, Aldaföðr, my strength, every hour in every age. ALU.
Each month I send out a newsletter to my subscribers. In that newsletter, I usually give sneak peaks at new prayer cards, updates on my work, recipes, reviews, and occasionally special prayers. (Y’all can subscribe at the link provided here).
In last week’s newsletter, I included the following prayer and I decided to share it here for everyone, because I think prayer is important, and this particular type of prayer incredibly helpful.
We are living in some very troubled times, and above all else, we’re living in spiritually troubled times. Evil exists and as people devoted to our Gods, we are called upon to stand against it. What that means is that we co-create. We stand with our Gods in maintaining right order and alignment in our world, in the cosmic architecture the Gods have created. How we do that may vary – some of you are parents committed to raising devout children, some have intense prayer practices, some love the Gods and carry that into everything you do – and everything we do can be infused with that consciousness whether you’re a mechanic or artist, homemaker, teacher or doctor, or anything else.
Each of us has the power to transform our world for the better and whatever we may be doing day to day, a key component of that is prayer. It has the potential to change the world. It also nourishes us and keeps us from being beaten down and crushed by the vitriol and hate, by the pollution and poison, by the misery and sheer wickedness that all too often seems to shape the modern world. I want to share a prayer that we use in my House and home to maintain balance, to restore harmony, to help (along with other prayers and cleansings) banish pollution. This prayer was written by H. Jeremiah Lewis (Sannion).
We have an entire panoply of prayers that we do to consciously align ourselves with that sacred architectural order. This is the first in that assembly and one that anyone, layperson or specialist, may do. I share it with you now because Heimdallr is a God of purification and consecration, a God Whose presence drives back pollution and evil in a very special way. He will restore harmony to a person, place, or thing that has experienced spiritual attack or disorder. I urge you to use this prayer as needed (though please don’t share it without attribution) and call upon Heimdallr and our other Gods regularly for blessings, for care, and for protection.
If you are feeling shaky and uncertain and scared, you’re not alone. Don’t give in though, because I firmly believe that there is evil that will feed on these things, amp them up, in an attempt to drive a wedge between us and all that’s holy. The thing is, whatever evil is out there can only do this if we give it the opening. Prayer helps us prevent that. Prayer is our guard, our armor, the weapon in our hand, and our guide. So I urge you all to pray regularly and know that our Gods are there and They are bigger and more powerful than anything that might attempt to stand against Them. There is no need to ever fear.
To Heimdallr Heimdallr who hears all, hear my prayer from the turrets of Himinbjörg where shimmering Bifröst meets the sky and leads to numerous other realms like a second mighty World Tree. You see all that transpires in these far-off places, scanning the horizon for signs of Ragnarök’s arrival when you will sound Gjallarhorn and rouse the Gods to battle against that which would threaten the divine order established by the three brothers from the remnants of their Giant ancestor long, long ago. You hold in your mind an image of how things should be, and act to bring things into alignment with their ideal pattern, creating order and harmony, hale and concord where there was chaos, violent disagreement, defect and disease. I beseech you, Heimdallr, drive out these negative influences and anything else that might cause me to stray from my destined path of devotion to the Holy Powers, and restore what is missing or damaged within me so that I might better fulfill the will of my Gods and Spirits. This I ask, Heimdallr, you who traveled about in secret, propagating the lines of humanity, and all their distinct crafts and customs, and so know what it is for us to strive and through great focus and direction of will attain our particular glory. Hail to you, most radiant God, strong and stubborn as a ram on his mountain, whether it pleases you to be called Heimdallr, Rig, Hallinskiði, Gullintanni, Vindhlér or any of the many other names you have adopted during your travels with Loki, Þórr and the Alföðr; may your praises always be upon my lips and your shrine piled with plentiful offerings. (prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis)
I promised that after the Solstice, I’d share a picture of our household shrine to Ask and Embla. Here it is. It’s small — we have numerous household shrines and we’re running out of room!–but potent. We started seriously paying cultus to them during this past year’s Sunwait and realized what a powerful thing it was, and how it added a foundation to our practice hitherto lacking. I had initially thought to put their shrine with the rest of our ancestors, but that didn’t seem right. They are the first and thus special. So, they have their own place as you see. It will grow as our understanding of and devotion to them also grows.
I always have to begin these posts with reminders that lore alone is too easy, a low bar. When I began in Heathenry in the early nineties, the only thing that people valued—even over integrity in one’s devotional relationship with the Gods or indeed any devotional relationship at all – was how much lore one could quote. No one really cared to interrogate how mediated that lore was by Christian authors either. Coming predominantly from Protestantism as the majority of converts of that time did, all most Heathens cared about was replicating the relationship with the Bible with which they’d grown up (and despite the fact that pre-Christian Heathens were living in a predominantly oral culture – no one wanted to examine the implications of that very much either). To that end, anything devotional, anything mystical, anything that might accidentally take the Gods off the pages of a book and allow for actual, complicated, inconvenient engagement was strongly and doggedly edited out. Can’t have pesky piety or actual gnosis now can we? Unless that piety is bound between the pages of a book. Fortunately, we’re growing past this bullshit (which really, was just an excuse for unwarranted vanity and bullying, and had very little to do with actual piety at all in way too many cases) and it can’t happen quickly enough (1).
I’m a firm believer that we grow spiritually by allowing the Gods into our lives, developing a devotional praxis, allowing Them to crack us open spiritually, forcing our souls to expand and evolve into that which allows us to become better retainers to Them. While I think the lore may be useful as a scaffolding for that process, it’s a map, one of many. It’s not the territory. It’s especially not territory when one’s worldview is still that of a modern Protestant (all respect to my Protestant friends. Rock on in your own sandboxes. It’s a problem though when someone converts but stays religion X, Y, or Z in their minds. One can’t just replace one God with Many in theory and assume nothing else has to change).
As I said to a good friend yesterday, when we were discussing the Sonnatorek (part of Egil’s Saga): yeah sure, it might be useful under certain circumstances, but what is really useful is having a devotional relationship with the Gods. That is what truly sustains, and if someone is against that, or hostile to it, then why waste time with them? Nothing will help them or assuage them in a lasting way, because their souls are empty. I don’t think we should fill that space with lore (2) when doing so only reinforces lack of devotion and impiety. It’s a simple rubric: don’t do that which nurtures impiety. Of course one could argue that using the lore like that is a steppingstone, except I’ve not seen many Heathens stepping past that point so I guess I’m less than sanguine about the whole thing (3). I suppose I digress…
Either way, it’s odd to find myself returning to the lore for lectio divina. It is useful though, when it’s kept to its place and we don’t, as a Victorian mater or pater familias might say, allow it to rise above its station. One of the things that I like about the lore is that it gives us hints about the core competencies or what the Greeks would term τιμαι of our Gods. Since I’ve been slowly cultivating a devotion to Heimdallr over the last couple of months, I thought I would focus on a verse about Him for this post.
27. Veit hon Heimdallar hljóð um fólgit undir heiðvönum helgum baðmi; á sér hon ausask aurgum forsi af veði Valföðrs. Vituð ér enn eða hvat?´ 27. I know of the horn | of Heimdall, hidden Under the high-reaching | holy tree; On it there pours | from Valfather's pledge A mighty stream: | would you know yet more?
Right away, this stanza makes a connection between Heimdallr and Yggdrasil, the World Tree that sustains and supports the nine worlds, a key point of the sacred architecture of creation. If the Tree sustains, and Heimdallr’s key attribute (His horn- hljóð – and more on this word in a bit) is hidden beneath the Tree, then does He play some role in protecting and sustaining it and by extension all creation as well? Further, in this passage, while we already know the Tree is holy, that is emphasized here again. It’s not just that the horn is hidden under the high-reaching Tree (a spatial terminology that should already have our mental bells ringing), but it is specifically “holy” (helgum). This word isn’t just holy, but it may also imply that a place is appropriate for sacred rites and even inviolable (see Zoega).
This makes me think about Heimdallr’s heiti or epithets/by-names. I haven’t found many:
- Rígr : ‘king’
- Hallinskiði: ‘the one with the lop-sided horns’ or ‘the inclining rod (which may mean ‘beam of sunlight’)’ or ‘axis of the world’ (4). If we take this latter meaning, then we have yet another reference to Yggdrasil.
- Gullintanni : ‘golden tooth’
- Hvitastr Ása -the whitest God (though in this sense it’s not white skin but white in the sense of brilliant, blinding light).
He’s associated to some degree with the Ram, which might account for the second by-name. I have no idea what “Golden Tooth” refers to – perhaps a story that hasn’t come down to us, perhaps one of His mysteries? Rígr of course, refers to His actions in the Rigsthula, where He establishes social order across Midgard (generally with his penis, but sometimes that’s just the way our Gods roll).
Hljóð raises some questions. It’s a slippery word and might not refer to Heimdallr’s horn at all. It could be a poetic gloss for his hearing or even (and probably more likely of the two) His ear/s). This latter would make sense, given that a strong parallel is being drawn in this passage between Heimdallr and Odin, one of Whose bynames is Valfather. Odin’s eye, which He ripped out in exchange for a draught from the Well of Mimir is His pledge, and lies in Mimir’s Well, which itself is situated at the foot of the Tree. The spatiality of this passage seems to imply that Heimdallr made a similar sacrifice.
When I first learned about Heimdallr, I was taught that He had sacrificed an ear in much the same fashion that Odin sacrificed an eye, and that the Gjallarhorn was representative of both that sacrifice and His power. Once I got to the point where I had enough familiarity with Old Norse to look at the original passages myself, I realized it’s not quite so concrete and while I still lean in that direction, the word hljóð here is ambiguous and, I think, points to something far larger than just a concrete ear or horn. A sacrifice was made and where for Odin, that sacrifice involved sight, for Heimdallr, it was a different sense, hearing. What that means on an esoteric level, I don’t know (yes, yes, writer of the Voluspa, I would know more).
Not having a concrete answer doesn’t mean that one can’t engage in fruitful speculation. After all, when it comes to our Gods, that’s pretty much what we have even where lore is extant. Our knowledge, if one can call it that, of our Gods is always tempered by and through our experience and that is limited as our human insight is limited in comparison to the Holy Powers. The two thoughts that really jump out for me came from a student, who once asked me if Heimdallr, like the Hindu Agni hears all our prayers, or like Lukumi’s Ellegua stands at the crossroads of the worlds keeping bad things at bay and allowing blessings to flow. To be honest, my own personal opinion is yes, pretty much. I think that He is a God of holiness, One Who ensures the purity and inviolability of holy spaces. I further think His nature and power is such that nothing unholy may exist in His presence. In our House we invoke Him before every ritual we do, to ensure that our ritual container (i.e. the space in which we’re celebrating the Gods) might be clean and free of all interference and pollution. We ask that He turn His attention to us and open the way across Bifrost for our prayers to reach the Gods clearly and without impediment. We entrust to Him our safety from any external pollution. We pray to Him also to restore harmony to our home and our hearts, minds, and souls, after any contact with negative spirits, malefica, or pollution.
If, as this verse hints, Heimdallr is mythically associated with Yggdrasil and also made sacrifice at Mimir’s well, then this underscores His essential role in maintaining the integrity of the worlds and their architecture. That’s no small thing. Perhaps this is why it is said in lore that He has nine mothers: each one a doorway to and root within one of the worlds.
As always, if there’s a particular stanza from the Eddas or other lore that you’d like me to discuss, just shoot me an email.
- When you have a community that would take as a priest the atheist who can quote a ton of lore over the devotee with a deep, ongoing devotional relationship to one or more of the Gods, there’s a problem. Now yes, I think clergy and other specialists should know their lore. Why? Because it instills a particular cosmology that echoes throughout our tradition and shows various doorways to mysteries of our Gods. It’s important to know Their stories but the end is never lore in and of itself and that acquisition should never be bereft of the knowledge that it is, at best, a spotty map with multiple lacunae.
- Or only with lore – if I thought Sonnatorek would be helpful, I’d recommend it to someone without hesitation.
- What I’ve seen is recitation of lore taken to mean one is a “better” Heathen and used to gain ego points. It’s pure vanity and also pure bullshit. Their devotional relationships may be absolute trash fires, or non-existent but Heathen X can quote the lore backwards and forwards so let’s all bow down. Sorry (not) but I do not think so.
- I forgot where I found these. I keep spreadsheets with any heiti I find for the Gods. I can’t recall where I came across the second by-name here.
This, to me, might be a game changer. Yesterday Wyrd Dottir sent me this article. A human skull fragment dating from the early 8th century was found during an archaeological excavation in Ribe, Denmark. The fragment was found in 1973 but apparently we’re just hearing about it now. I’m certainly just hearing about it now and it rather blows my mind.
One theory is that the bone was worn as an amulet. Scholarly opinion on the inscription differs. Either Ulfr, quite possibly Fenrir is invoked (i.e. the Wolf), Odin and Tyr, or a threefold name for Odin.
Here is the inscription, in Danish and then English (taken from the article linked above):
Ulf/ulv og Odin og Høj-Tyr. Hullet/Buri er hjælp mod dette værk (denne smerte). Og dværgen overvundet. Bourr.
Ulfr/ Wolf and Óðinn and HótiwR/High-Týr. The hole/Buri is help against this ache (pain). And the dwarf overcome. Bourr.
Bourr is most likely the name of the person the amulet is intended to help. Buri is most likely the name of Odin’s Father…
Thank you, Wyrd Dottir! I’m drowning in exam preparations and would never have seen this had you not sent it my way.
I have been meditating quite a bit on Mundilfari, our God of time. He is the Father of Mani, Sunna, and Sinthgunt. He governs the flow of time. That is pretty much all we know about Him. While the lack of concrete information is frustrating, it’s also an opportunity to throw oneself into the experience of devotion in a way we may not when there is substantial lore.
With our crazy schedules, we’ve been talking about time a lot in my house lately. Is it oppressive or is it a guard and guide? I tend to fall into the latter category – nothing makes me happier than a watch, a day planner, and a nice calendar. As we were discussing these things, I had an epiphany about Mundilfari with respect to time. What follows is my own experience of Him. There’s almost nothing surviving in the lore.
Firstly, I think a clock is a perfect reliquary for this God, likewise a pocket watch. They have something of His understated elegance and also, well, time. My impression of Mundilfari is that He rides the flow of time as though He were surfing a wave. He wraps us up in it, protecting our boundaries, allowing us space to do what we need to do–if we recognize and utilize the gift. Far from being a harsh taskmaster, His gift is one that makes Midgard habitable.
I think about what time means in our tradition and how it is the thing that makes it possible for us to be yoked to wyrd. It’s a container for the unfolding of the material world and as such, a container for the unfolding of our hopes and dreams. It guards our day, supporting us and allowing us some control over the expenditure of our energies. It also allows and even helps us in the unfolding and nurturing of our wyrd. That is a grace and a gift.
I know there are problems with time and time management, but I think those are of our making. The three creator Gods crafted Midgard and indeed all the worlds, gave us this magnificent infrastructure and the first thing that happened after that, was that Mundilfari and His children established cyclical time, allowing us to orient ourselves in our world. This flow of Their power : day into night into day again, the turning of the seasons, the cycle of years is a sacred thing, something that sustains that divinely crafted multi-world infrastructure, allowing it the flexibility it needs (to rest and refresh itself) to be self-sustaining. I am coming to think that Mundilfari’s blessings do the same for us too and hopefully, over the next couple of years, I will learn to honor Him more fully and well.
If any of my readers pay cultus to Him, I would love to hear about what y’all do.
The Astronomical Clock in Prague
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Every so often this topic rears its head again, because you know, it goes against our modern sensibilities that our religion should be occasionally inconvenient. I’ve heard people opining that “miasma” and “pollution” are Greek terms and have no purchase in Heathenry, a pathetic piece of sophistry that ignores the concept in favor of pedantically parsing terms. These are usually the same people who feel that offering so much as a teaspoon of water is so inconvenient as to be oppressive (cue hand to brow and vaporous gasping) and triggering. I could say more on that, but I’ll digress. What I will emphasize is that pollution and purification are absolutely terms of play in Old Norse.
There are numerous terms that might be translated as ‘purification,’ ‘pollution,’ or ‘miasma’ in Old Norse. This is because like most traditions, our ancestors had a sense of what was correct and safe in holy places. Any time you have a sense of sacred space (which we know just from the Sagas that the Norse had), the corollary is – whether written or not—a sense of what constitutes proper behavior within those sacred areas. This implies not only an understanding of spiritual pollution but also of the contagion of the holy. So, I’m going to get right to the point. Pollution and miasma were far, far from alien concepts to pre-Christian Heathens and the language itself bears this out.
Since Heathen Field Guide is talking about his here, and mentioned that he was having difficulty finding appropriate ON terms, I thought I would repost the ones that I have collected (and much thanks to D. Loptson for helping to compile this list). Most of the terms are laid out in footnote one of my book on miasma: “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands.”
I’ll add a final note. When we talk about pollution in this sense, it’s not a commentary on anyone’s worth. It is not equivalent to “sin.” Even with miasma, in most cases it’s a matter of certain situations having natural consequences and that’s neutral. For instance, I may go to the cemetery to put flowers on my grandmother’s grave. It is, within our traditions a moral good to care for the dead and visit graves. It also puts me in a state of miasma because of the contact with the dead. The solution is to do a cleansing when I return home before I engage with any other sacred thing. Easy enough to manage. This is all about being aware that Gods and spirits are real and that engaging with them affects us in ways we may not be able to see, but ways that nonetheless matter. Likewise, in relation to the Holy Powers, our actions matter too and we should, if we are rightly ordered in our minds, hearts, and spirits, want to be spiritually and energetically clean when we approach Them, or just in general, particularly since miasma and spiritual pollution can attract more pollution, up to and including illness and calamity depending on how much accumulates. It can also block our spiritual discernment. So do a fucking cleansing once in awhile you filthy animals. And don’t forget to wash behind your ears.