The photo is of our shrine, the three small glasses are for our ancestors.
This is the prayer we used in our rite:
Hail to Sunna rising mighty in the rune Thurisaz. Hail to this Goddess Who wards off evil, Who banishes wickedness, Who purifies with light and fire and the resonance of Her glory. Hail to Sunna, heaven's warrior blazing across the sky banishing the ichor of the outer darkness, of ignorance, of fear- raising us up by Her very brightness. There is no foe we need fear, oh Goddess, With Your shield and sword at our backs. You, blazing daughter of Mundilfari, are the best protection against peril and we bow our heads before You, Glorious One. Hail to You, oh Goddess Sunna, on this third week of Sunwait, and hail the rune thurisaz.
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We had our ritual for the second week of Sunwait last night and it was beautiful. Here is a picture of the shrine and here is the prayer we used to call Sunna in all Her glory.
Prayer to Sunna in Uruz By Galina Krasskova The night after Your Brother’s magic, after His glory, His beauty shown forth in a magnificent eclipse You come. Sweeping graciously through our world, swathed in glory of Your own, You come. Bringing healing, strength, and restoration, You come, and our world is made new again. Oh Goddess of Glory, Brightest Power in the heavenly firmament, Smile down upon us and extend Your healing hands. Bless us in body and soul that we may stand rightly before our Gods. Oh Goddess of Glory, Whose power is enormous, unyielding, endlessly energizing, Whose power fills every vein of every leaf with vitality, Whose glance ensures life and bounty, Whose Mysteries are those of renewal and health, Fill our hearts with Your incandescence, we pray. Oh Goddess of Blazing Glory, Yours is the Strength of ordering the worlds, Always within their cosmic courses. Do not turn Your face away from us. Whether near or far You ride across Midgard, always shall we venerate You. Hail to You, Gracious Glory. Hail to You, Sunna.
We held our first Sunwait ritual for this coming Jul just a couple of hours ago. It was simple but fulfilling. I know that I will be meditating on Fehu and its blessings, Sunna and Her blessings and the way that She is able to work through the lens of fehu as I move throughout this coming week. As an aside, I spent the last several months trying to get my ancestor and ritual room in order. It took a long time and a lot of labor but I completely reworked the room and now we have a really beautiful ritual space. This was the first formal rite that we held in our new space. Anyway, here is a picture of our shrine (or part of it) and the prayer that I wrote for tonight’s rite.
Sunwait Fehu Week – Prayer to Sunna (By Galina Krasskova) Life giver, beloved of the earth, of Erda, beloved of all those who work the earth, and of all those spirits inhabiting it, who depend upon Your generosity, who look up to You in hope and pleasure: oh Sunna, we praise You. Your might brings healing, and You stand with Your mighty kin maintaining balance in the world, sustaining the Tree, its holy architecture, each of the nine worlds, bringing joy and growth and protection to all who gaze upon You. Your husband Glenr delights in Your glory, parting the clouds as You make Your daily transit across the sky, allowing all to see and feel the warm bounty of Your presence. You ride, unrestrained, fierce, exhilarated, counting the circuits of Your fiery horses, and counting the days of each man, woman, and child, blessing Them with Your light. You are brilliant, and the Aesir call You All-Shining, the Jotnar, Everglowing, the Alfar, Lovely Wheel, and the Duergar, Dvalinn’s deluder. None are able to match the fleetness of Your steeds, or the ferocious glee of Your passage. You are the fire that delights both sky and air. You keep us honest, Lady Sunna, and inspire us to excellence. When we heed Your counsel and accept Your blessings, our lives are filled with joy, health, and luck. You begin Your daily journey washed in the light of the grey-clad moon, Your brother Mani, the two of You so radiant even the other Gods can hardly look upon Your glory. Day Star, Fair-Wheel, Graceful Shining, Red hued Goddess, mighty warrior, fair in Your blessings, joyful One: by all of these names and more we praise You. Bless our farmers, Great Goddess, we pray, and the food that we eat, and the lives that we lead, looking always to You as the guard and guide of our luck, our world, and our blessings. Hail to You, Sunna, on this first night of Sunwait.
I must confess. For years, when I first learned about Sunwait, I handled it about the same way that (also for years) I handled the existence in my town of Kennedy’s Fried Chicken. I was wrong (on both counts). Hear me out. LOL.
When I moved to my town in 2009, there was — and still is– a Kennedy’s Fried Chicken on our main street. I laughed about it and called it a knock-off of Kentucky Fried Chicken and thought no more about it, save that I’d snicker occasionally when I drove by. Well, a few months ago it was almost midnight, I didn’t feel like cooking, and we were hungry for chicken. The only thing open was Kennedy’s. I broke down and tried them and… OH MY GODS had I been missing out. The food was really good, and the service fantastic. Moreover, since it’s also halal, I suspect a ton more care goes into the selection of the meat than at the better-known KFC. I was forced to eat crow …and a metric ton of chicken. Ha ha. My experience with Sunwait was much the same…minus the chicken.
I poo pooed it for years as a knock-off of Advent. Then, last year, my household decided to keep the Sunwait cycle. I don’t remember now why we suddenly decided to give it a shot. I think a friend of mine had mentioned her own family preparations for it on twitter and since I respect her, I thought that maybe I’d see what it was all about too. It was amazing. It completely transformed the way we approach Yule. Once again, I was forced to (metaphorically) eat crow. All of this had been completely unexpected too.
The thing that I found so remarkable was how well it prepared us for the Yule season. We eased ever so gently through the weeks preceding Yule into the full dark wonder and mystery of this holy tide. By the time Modranacht (Mother Night, the night before Yule proper) finally arrived, we were already in the head and heart space to enter into the rites and rituals fully and with much greater understanding than in any previous year. I was just shocked.
It really made me think about how many of our holy days, feast days, ritual cycles have gotten lost in the [forced—never forget that] conversion of our ancestors, in the flow of time, in the rank secularism of modernity. For instance, I was just talking with my assistant and we were speculating on whether or not there was a similar cycle of rites leading into the summer solstice. It would make sense if there was something that allowed for the same type of mindful descent into that celebration as well. One has to prepare to enter holy space and to experience holy places, times, and rites after all. There is so much more work to do in restoring our ritual cycles.
Some people are actually starting the celebration Sunwait tonight (Wednesday), but we do ours on Friday, because it is such a lovely way to conclude the working week. To be honest, Sunday would probably be a more logical day to hold this rite, since it is Sunna’s day, but that doesn’t seem to be the trend anywhere that I’ve encountered yet.
Anyway, we’re going to have our first celebration this Friday, and I shall post mini-recaps each week, just like I did last year for our first Sunwait. Are any of you, my readers, celebrating this? Please feel free to post in the comments.
This week (especially today, tomorrow, and Nov. 1) are holy days in my tradition and my House. We honor our dead of both blood and spirit. I’m not going to be writing much, because I still have to finish cleaning the ancestor shrine room for tonight’s ritual, but I wanted to wish everyone a blessed time of the ancestors. There are a number of holy tides that fall at this time, including Samhain and Dias de los muertos. Honor your dead as your culture and tradition suggest. May you be blessed in your devotions at this time.
I did want to share one cool thing pertaining to a group of the dead that I regularly honor: the castrati. My friend E. went to Sienna, Italy and brought me dirt from the grave of Senesino (1686-1758), a contralto and one of the favorite voices of Handel. His birthday is Oct 31 and the dirt arrived just a few days ago — just in time. Now granted, his actual grave was bombed in WWII so that was that, but my friend got as close as she could to where it would have been located. I’m delighted and he’s getting extra offerings tomorrow.
Yes, I do. I think it’s important on a number of levels to bless our food and to give thanks. In my home, there are a few preparatory blessings of cooking ingredients that I do: all salt is immediately poured into a large salt jar and blessed and that is the only salt we use in the home. So, anything made from scratch, uses blessed salt. Then, as I cook, I’m usually praying over the food. For anything we order, I bless it as I’m unpacking it and usually again when I plate it. Pretty much any meal I eat, I first say grace over it, and I do this for two primary reasons.
Firstly, I think it’s important to give thanks to the Gods and spirits that nourish us, and building that habit with respect to the food we take into our bodies is a good place to start. It keeps us mindful. It connects food and nourishment with the Gods and puts us in a receptive headspace of gratitude and respect. Those are good things. This also connects the mundane task of nourishing our bodies with something holy and properly elevates it. Food is sacred after all. It is key to the connection between Midgard, Vanaheim, and Helheim. Our physical bodies too are part of our soul matrix and giving them proper nourishment then becomes a sacred task. Cooking is also a powerful connection to our ancestors. So, there’s a lot bound up in food. Plus, we are blessed to be able to nourish ourselves and our families and the Gods pour Their grace into the very food we eat always.
Secondly, as a culture we pollute our food: GMOs, pesticides, and all sorts of unnatural things. Sometimes these things damage the spirit of the food itself, and I think praying over our food restores a natural balance, inasmuch as it can be restored.
Whenever and whatever I eat, I will put my hands over and it ask for blessings. I’ll say something like, “I thank you Frey, Freya, and all Good and Gracious Gods for the food I’m about to eat. Please bless it and fill it with Your odhr that it may restore and nourish both my body and soul. Blessings on this food and the hands that prepared it.” If I’m feeling the Roman Gods more strongly, I might include Pomona and Ceres in the prayer as well. Then I’ll make the hammer sign over my food and eat up. It’s that simple and I do it whether I’m alone or eating out.
If anyone else here says grace, do you have particular prayers that you like to use? Please feel free to share in the comments.
You lurk in the marshlands, a pale and ghostly figure. It is Your treasured abode. The creatures there know You well. They heed Your will and do Your bidding, carrying Your messages far and wide. Once, before creation truly was, You stood with Your Brothers: Fury and Fire--Frenzied inspiration and Holy Power-- at the moment You all slaughtered Ymir, thus becoming Architects of creation, erecting the pristine structure of the worlds. You were the will that held it all together in those first crimson-encrusted moments. Before it was done, You saw it all unfold. Wyrd is a flicker of light on Your bone-slender hands, and You weave it as You will. You are the silent Watcher, often overlooked and under-estimated. That is fine. Nothing escapes Your notice and silence won You freedom once. You save your incantations for moon drenched nights in the fens. Then You willingly unleash Your power. You are a God of strange and liminal places, and the mind is the most liminal threshold of all. You gave us this gift, cognition, worlds unfolding within us, divine in their potentiality, imprinted the senses on our souls, when Loður gave us our physical sensorium. It is both a grace and blessing. Thanks to you, we may walk in many realms, tasting the savor of the liminal, and that is Your gift to us too. Everything is full of meaning. Three Gods made us. Three Gods loved us enough to carefully craft us into being. The persistence of Their regard holds us all together. May I ever see with the eye of my understanding, and hear with the ears of my soul, all the glories You and Your Brothers have wrought. Hail to You, Hoenir, Wili, Lord of the Marshlands. Hail Great God Who blesses the work of my mind. Ever and always will I praise You. (by G. Krasskova)
I don’t usually advocate reading our sacred stories for moral exempla. I think that in polytheistic religions the relationship between lore and living morality was complicated and polytheists tended to draw their moral code from their community and country values more than from their cosmological stories (1). In many cases, they were sensible enough to know that in no way can the Gods ever properly be submitted to human morality or authority. Our insight is too narrow, our understanding too limited. For us to drag our Gods down to our level is often gross impiety. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t examine and work out various types of exegesis for our myths. We may infer, examine, and certainly, I think we are also expected to use our reason. After all, Hoenir gave us cognition and just as we engage with our world through the corporeality of our sensorium, we also engage with it through our capacity to reason, through Hoenir’s gift; and it is by means of that engagement that we hone our characters. To submit the Gods to our morality though, is to elevate ourselves above Them in the cosmic architecture. That is something that twists that sacred architecture out of true. It is not our rightful place, and we are not equipped to hold it—no matter how arrogant we may be, we are not equal to the Gods (and that this needs to be said every so often in our communities just fills me with sadness). So, while I usually wouldn’t engage in the type of reading that is shortly to follow, every so often, there is a story that stands out, either as a positive exemplum of piety (Lay of Hyndla, where we see Ottar praised and rewarded for the incredible devotion and depth of his piety to Freya) or, to turn my attention to the Greco-Roman world, where we are given a clear warning of the dangers of impiety (the story of Hippolytus). It’s this latter that I would like to discuss today.
The lesson in Hippolytus is one that some of us take for granted, but it’s also one that I know I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s not immediately intuitive. I’d like to say that’s because of the way monotheistic religions permeate our culture, or because of the influence of modern popular culture but I don’t think that is actually the reason. If it were, we wouldn’t see this being teased out as an issue by ancient authors. I just think it’s possible to love one’s primary Deity or Deities so much, so deeply, that it can be very, very difficult to also see other Deities as equally holy—especially if those other Deities have areas of expertise diametrically opposed to our own “Patron” Gods. We are shaped and formed after all by those Gods that we love and to Whom we are especially devoted. One of the beauties of polytheism is that there is no expectation of devotional exclusivity. Moreover, often what is correct for one devotee to a particular Deity is forbidden to another devotee of that Deity. It can be confusing. It can be difficult to say: “these practices that my God encourages are holy but so are these diametrically opposite practices the devotee of God X is doing over there. Those things just aren’t holy for *me*.” This was a powerful lesson that I actually learned by reading a medieval Christian mystic.
Years and years ago I was taking a medieval studies class wherein I had to read the works of Italian mystic Angela of Foligno (1248 C.E. – 1309 C.E.). While I love my medieval mystics, I’m not a huge fan of Franciscans in general (she was a Franciscan tertiary) but that wasn’t where the lesson came in. Angela often worked with lepers. These were the lowest of the low in the society of the time. They were marginalized, forced to live away from the community, and generally treated like garbage. (This was partly because there was, at the time, no cure for leprosy and people feared contagion. For those wondering, a cure was discovered in the 1940s and 50s). Angela would go and minister to them, bringing food, treating their wounds, even bathing their wounds. At one point, while she was washing a leper’s legs and feet, she had this interior vision of Christ, and she realized that the leper was Christ, that she was never closer to her God than when she was caring for these men and women. Some of the damaged tissue had peeled off the leper and had fallen into the bowl of water she was using to bathe him. Get ready for it. In devotion to her God and in a moment of ecstatic revelation she drank the water. The first time I read that I was utterly, thoroughly, and in every possible way revolted. I think I even got physically ill from reading it. I still find it one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read. At the same time, for Angela, this was an intensely holy thing. It was sacred. It drew her closer in devotion to her God. It was not holy for me, but it didn’t have to be. This was something between Angela and her God. Learning to hold that paradox (?) in my head, to acknowledge that something like this was sacred work, a sacred act, but just maybe not for me personally with my God was a huge insight. For one thing, it’s been a tremendous help when I acquired an apprentice who was as far away in her devotional orientation from the ascetic practices I prefer as one could possibly be. I was having the same aversion and disgust that I had with Angela when the same lesson hit me like a two-by-four again: this is holy for her and her God. It isn’t for me and that’s OK. It’s that last part that I think a lot of us struggle with, the part about that difference being OK.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because one does no honor to one’s God by spitting on the mysteries of another Deity and recently I’ve been seeing a lot of that in various fora. I’ve already written before about how none of us get to speak for our Gods with impunity. If we aren’t willing to qualify our statements, to acknowledge the fallibility of our humanity, and to step back from using our relationships with our Gods (be it as devotee, mystic, godspouse, god-servant, priest, or shaman – or anything else) as a club to attack the cultus of other Deities then we are betraying those self-same Gods and our work is deeply compromised. See my previous article titled “Theological Integrity.” It’s quite easy to share one’s religious experiences and even to discuss and argue about what our own experience has taught us about our Gods provided we qualify it instead of making normative statements intended to shut down religious discourse and silence other devotees, specifically if this latter is done by calling into question the integrity of their Gods. It is never our place to assume the right to submit our Gods to our puny authority (2). This is where polytheism gets really complicated, though I suspect every religion faces this in some way, shape, or form, especially with practices labeled as falling into the ‘mystic.’
While we have plenty of positive exempla in the Norse lore exhorting piety and devotion, exhorting humility, and common sense. I’m going to look instead at a Greco-Roman story to make my point, because it is very well known and very, very obvious in its intended interpretation. I would like us to consider the story of Hippolytus.
Hippolytus was the son of Theseus. He was an ardent, passionate, deeply devout devotee of Artemis. Because She is a virgin huntress, Hippolytus wished to remain chaste and virginal for Her. He was disgusted by sex, dismissive of marriage, and deeply contemptuous of Aphrodite and Her mysteries. He was so contemptuous that Aphrodite grew angry at his hubris. She cursed him (and one may infer that She had the consent of Artemis in this matter). His stepmother Phaedra fell madly in love with him, pursuing him to the point that she was physically ill in mind, body, and spirit. Hippolytus, utterly revolted, rebuffs her so violently that in some versions of the story, she kills herself, after leaving a suicide note accusing Hippolytus of rape. Theseus, who has been granted power by Poseidon, curses Hippolytus and Poseidon sends a sea-monster to attack the young man’s horses. Hippolytus is flung out of the chariot, and tangled in the reins, is dragged to death. Artemis reveals the truth to Theseus and establishes cultus for Hippolytus so that his memory and story will not fade.
What is the lesson we ought to take from this? Well, I think it shows us that while it is right and proper to venerate and love our Gods, to have deep and specific devotion to a Deity (as Hippolytus did to Artemis), it is NOT ok, and is in fact a polluted and curse-worthy act to use that devotion to revile the mysteries of another Deity.
We should not ever diminish the relationship between Deities to petty, human relations. They are GODS. It’s not for us to ever criticize our Gods. It’s for us to look for wisdom in Their stories. To think that we are equal to the Gods, to think that one can be a God is the height of delusion. It is a moral and spiritual sickness. Avoid the impious. Avoid the contamination they put into the world like shit with every breath.
- Herodotus for example, in talking about what makes a people, clearly separates “honoring the same Gods,” from “following the same nomoi, or customs and laws.” This is picked up by multiple ancient writers and reflects a different hierarchy of understanding. Religion did not do the work of defining our morality (upbringing, paideia, philosophy did those things, albeit it in many cases likely informed by devotion). Religion was protocol for engaging with the Holy Powers, for engaging with the sacred and the holy.
- Each God or Goddess is equally holy. What is complicated for devotees is that They don’t often agree, are often at cross-purposes, and sometimes have opposite agendas for Their devotees, or opposing taboos, etc. This is messy but that’s polytheism. We don’t have a single holy book telling us precisely how to do things from which there shouldn’t be any deviation because we’re not monotheists. (Hell, they don’t even have perfect accord over how to interpret their own holy writings). Heathenry is not, as much as some people would like it to be, Protestant Christianity. Something a God gives to a person can be perfectly right and true *for that person*. There are few universals save that piety is good and we should cultivate it.