(Imagine if we had devotees like these!)
Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings III. 3. ext. 1:
By the ancient custom of Macedonia boys of the highest birth attended king Alexander when he offered sacrifice. One of these stood in front of him with a censer in his hands, and a hot coal dropped onto his arm. It so burned him that the smell of his scorched body reached the nostrils of the bystanders, but he suppressed his pain in silence and held his arm still lest he should either disturb Alexander’s sacrifice by shaking the censer or put a religious scruple upon it by uttering a groan.
I’ve been sitting on this for a while. Around the autumnal equinox, I started to see gross postings in various places (tumblr, facebook, twitter, etc.) mostly about Persephone and Hades, putting in crude terms Her cyclical return to the Underworld. I don’t have cultus to either of those Deities but nonetheless, reading the trashy memes and comments really disturbed me. I think it says something about the paucity of our culture that we so blithely speak not just of sacred things, but of Holy Powers and Their mysteries with such casual disrespect (and I don’t think this is just a polytheistic problem either). Nor am I condemning all memes -– I’ve seen some that are lovely and some that are humorous without crossing the line into disrespect. I think that’s fine. I think that’s healthy and it’s really wonderful to see art and cartoons and prayers and imaginative renderings of our Gods. This is the way we develop iconography and build religious cultus and culture. It’s a good thing. It can be done without disrespect though. In fact, it can and should come from a place of love, adoration, and deep, deep devotion to the Holy Powers. That devotion is the core of every healthy tradition.
Of course, there are some (usually Hellenics but occasionally Heathens will chime in too) who will argue that Homer wrote stories that presented the Gods in less than salutatory manner. Yeah, whoever (and it may be more than one author—but we’ll stick with “Homer” for convenience here) actually put together the Iliad and the Odyssey and other Homeric works did, but A) this corpus was criticized for that very potentially impious presentation by later philosophers; and B) there are also beautiful and deeply pious prayers and hymns within the Homeric corpus. I rarely see that latter coming from the same people who post garbage about the Gods. Often, I want to shake these individuals, and just flat out ask, “if you feel so deeply disgusted with our traditions, traditions you too claim to practice, if you want to erase all mystery and actual cultus, if you hate our Gods so very much why are you here?” I’d be very interested in the answer. When your entire blog or online world is devoted to tearing down and spitting on our traditions and the Holy Powers from which we received those traditions, why are you here?
To put it bluntly, we should speak of our Gods with respect. That shouldn’t be a difficult or contentious thing. These are GODS. These are our Holy Powers. These are the Bestowers of mystery, the Givers of blessings, the Immortal Ones Whose will, and kindness crafted the worlds. These are the Powers from which our souls proceed and to which we will one day return. These are the Good and Gracious Gods from which all our blessings flow. When we speak of Them or render Them into art, we can do so with love and respect. If we have no respect for sacred things and for our Holy Powers and Their Mysteries, I ask again: WHY are we here?
(I completely agree with the comment to this video that says, “This dude should mobilize and bring his healing slaps to the general public.” LOL. Please come to contemporary polytheisms. Please. We need those healing slaps. A lot of them. Repeatedly and with alacrity. Slap the hubris out of us. A-fucking-men).
We must never in any way neglect the Gods, neither by day nor night, in public or in private, neither in word nor deed; in working and in repose let the soul be continually directed to God.
Today I discovered that if you go to google and type in “Thor’s Mother” google will tell you that it’s Frigga – at least it did for me and my household. This is not correct. Thor’s Mother is the Earth Goddess Jörd. We have Marvel to thank for Google’s inaccuracy and oh does it piss me off (1). Pop culture, amusing though it may be, is all too often so polluting. It also inevitably caters to the lowest common denominator. It’s bad enough that one can’t do a search for “Odin” or “Loki” without Marvel images coming up. It makes me wish that our pop culture had just a little more piety, or even accuracy (2). Granted, this was a problem even in the ancient world. Even the Homeric corpus came under fire by certain philosophers for the impious way it treated the Gods. I think the difference is that then the dominant worldview was polytheistic and so piety was reinforced elsewhere. In our world, it’s attacked on every side (3). This makes the influence of pop culture far more significant than it otherwise would be.
I’ll admit, I like some aspects of pop culture. I just don’t base my personality and reason for being around it and I certainly don’t put it ahead of my devotion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying a movie or game though. I think we just have to consider carefully what we want to give space to in our minds. What are we going to allow to take up mental and emotional space? What furthers our respect and reverence for the Gods and what doesn’t? What makes us better people and better devotees, and what chips away little by little at our piety? Every person has to make those determinations for him or herself and individuals will find that these things affect them each differently. The important point is to consider the media we take in, and to make conscious choices about it, because these things have long term consequences. They build habits of mind.
One of the problems with Marvel Thor is that we’re getting people coming into our traditions thinking that this nonsense is canon (and they are usually unwilling to self-correct) (4). There are Mysteries inherent in the relationships between our Gods, and that is all muddled and lost if one has the nature of those relationships awry. Secondly, it’s a matter of proper devotional respect. I don’t think we should encourage the erasure of any of our Holy Powers, which is what errata like this do, especially when we have people taking this as truth. Finally, how long until Marvel/Disney attempts to copyright or impose royalties on any use of “Thor,” even when that usage is devotional and not part of their shit franchise? Think I’m overexaggerating? I know several polytheistic artists who are also devotees of the God Hermes who have had to fight various professional art/sales platforms because the handbag company Hermes has laid exclusionary claim to the term, that term being the name of one of our Gods. This is when I start wanting to burn it all down.
Most disturbingly of all, a fellow-traveler on twitter commented that he’d seen the same type of thing with pop culture and newcomers to Hellenic polytheism and noted – quite accurately, I think – that it almost always goes hand in hand with a certain misotheism, hatred of the Gods. That’s the real and pressing problem, one already found throughout our communities far, far more than it ought to be.
So what to do? Horn and Hearth had THE best answer and it’s one that I will cherish: loud piety. On our blogs, in books, in song, in offerings, in the stories we tell, in videos, in shrine making, everywhere. Loud piety. I can be loud.
- Why can’t google note the disambiguation: Thor’s Mother- Norse Myths: Jord; Marvel movies: Frigga. I wouldn’t complain about that and this is standard practice in most other cases of disambiguation on google. Why wasn’t it done here?
- I’ll stop complaining about this when Marvel includes Jesus and Mohammed in the list of sacred figures they appropriate. Oh, but that won’t happen. Christians would complain and doing this with Mohammed might get people killed. Our community doesn’t care enough about its Gods in general to recognize the disrespect and long-term disadvantages inherent in such depictions. They’d rather pollute their minds unthinkingly in the name of fun. (Have fun but recognize that these things aren’t innocent. Approaching them and engaging consciously makes it much less likely that there will be any lasting negative imprint in our minds and hearts. I personally may not choose to watch Marvel movies but I acknowledge that they can be enjoyable. Just realize that consuming anything uncritically is dangerous to the integrity of our devotion.
- This is the case not just for polytheists but for monotheistic traditions too. The modern world is very hostile to any but the most negligible of devotions.
- I cannot tell you how many hits I get on my article “Freya is NOT Queen of the Valkyries.” I’m not sure where this fallacy started, but it has endured far beyond what it ought to have done.
Today is the feast day for one of our most beloved Sanctae, most beloved to me at least, because she was my adopted mom. She was also the most devout and pious person I have ever known. As her daughter, I can say that she centered me in reverence and piety, helped me to be a better devotee of my Gods, and helped me to become a better person, and she taught me a renewed joy in the grace of sacred service to Them. I know she helped others too and has continued to do so, as is the way of a saint, after her death. I usually write something about her on this day and on her birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a great deal over the last few weeks especially, though every day I ache for the loss of her.
As is my custom, this evening I made offerings at her shrine. There are prayers that I said, and prayers that I wished to make, many too personal to be shared here. Love and reverence, piety, and a very quiet discipline, that of doing what needs to be done even when it is inconvenient…those are the gifts I feel she poured into my heart and hands and I am deeply grateful. To be loved in this way, and to be challenged is a very precious gift. I know that the Gods placed me into her care and were They to do nothing else for the rest of my life, that gift, that tremendous gift would be enough. That They do more, always is a blessing beyond measure. She taught me to recognize the blessings of the Gods as they come, large, small, or in-between.
On this, her feast day, I offer this prayer:
May Fuensanta and all our sancti and sanctae be honored. May they be remembered. May we ever learn reverence at their feet. May we cultivate the discipline of piety. May we wrap ourselves in veneration, until our love of the Holy Ones becomes a fire that nothing may quench. Hail to Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza, devoted servant of Sigyn and Loki, and Hail to all our Gods. What is remembered, lives.
In a recent patheos article, John Beckett opined that he wasn’t seeing much devotion from polytheists online. Well, John, maybe we got sick and tired of anti-theistic, humanist and/or Marxist trash coming into our online spaces attempting to pollute them (1). Maybe, sweetheart, we took the bulk of our devotion offline, where that contamination isn’t happening. Maybe we’re just not sharing it with you. No one, after all, is entitled to a bird’s eye view of our devotional lives. Some of us are still blogging, because it’s part of our spiritual Work, but you won’t mention that, will you?
For years now, I’ve taken the high road when it comes to the bullshit thrown my way in the community, thrown not just at me, but at devotional polytheists across the board who won’t bend the knee to the current pollution du jour. Expect that to stop as of now. There is not a single Pagan news outlet that accurately reports Heathen and/or polytheistic news (2). There are only scared, weak, pathetic people who can’t stand the fact that some communities are doing just fine without them.
I am frankly tired of the arrogance of people like Beckett, who assume just because they aren’t seeing something or haven’t been invited in, that “something” isn’t happening. Just because you’re not seeing people discussing their devotion on twitter or facebook, don’t assume it’s not happening. Maybe they’re on different social media sites (I personally have been using slack-chat quite a bit), or maybe, as I said above, some have just stopped publicly blogging.
Moreover, our traditions aren’t trends or fads. Fuck you, Beckett. We aren’t here to entertain or validate you and we are under no obligation to put our relationships with the Holy Powers out there for assholes like you to gawk and mock.
- I have no problem with atheists. Rock on. I have a tremendous problem with anti-theists who come into our community demanding leadership positions.
- And by the way, John, well before I came along, the majority of Heathens did not generally like the “Pagan” label. I really don’t think that has changed, unless you’re only counting as Heathen those who agree with your politics. We, after all have both Gods and ethics, something I see very little of in the generic Pagan community.
Over the last two days, in addition to the valknot and the Mjolnir, I’ve seen Yggdrasil (the world tree) being discussed quite a bit. It is one of the most fundamental parts of our cosmology, and in this, we are not too different from many other Indo-European religions that have cosmologies revolving (literally) around some sort of axis mundi or world tree. We don’t know from our lore when the World Tree came into being, or how, or why. We do know that it sustains and supports the nine worlds, including the human world of Midgard. It is the scaffolding upon which all creation is arranged and ordered. It has mysteries that not even the Gods fully know, something hinted at strongly in the Runatal section of the Havamal.
The Tree is a terrifying place too, a liminal place of initiation, magic, and transformation. Its name means steed of the Terrible One, i.e. Odin because Odin chose to hang Himself for nine nights and days in personal ordeal, seeking power. That is one of the His most sacred mysteries, and indeed, one of the deepest mysteries of our tradition. Yggdrasil is connected to wyrd – causality and consequence, fate, ancestral debt, and the sacred law of memory-being-choice and obligation that governs our lives. There is nothing more sacred, more holy in Heathenry than Yggdrasil, the Well of memory, and the wyrd that is laid by the Nornir therein.
For me as an Odin’s woman, the Tree is a place of deep, deep reverence and mystery. It’s the site of my God’s most self-defining moment, the place of His most significant sacrifice. I often feel as though everything I have been taught by the Gods and spirits, everything that I need to know, every tool or technique that I have been given, every mystery I hold in some way rests in its gnarled and knotted boughs. There is no escaping the World Tree for me, nor, I think, for any Heathen. It is quite literally at the heart of our cosmology, our tradition, and the work we do as devotees of the Gods. As the Tree sustains all creation, we are called through our devotion and piety, to sustain and nourish the Tree. In doing so, we instantiate the sacred order of all the worlds, we reify the very act of creation that brought us all into being and we do that again and again with each prayer spoken, each offering given, each moment of contemplation wherein we reach out to our Gods. That is the heart and soul of our traditions. It is from those acts of devotion, from devotion cultivated deep in the heart, mind, and spirit of every Heathen, that our traditions grow. It is devotion and mindfulness that nourishes the Tree and we in turn are sustained by it – a very simple equation with far, far reaching consequences.
The Tree echoes throughout our cosmology in our anthropology too. The first human beings were created from trees found on the shore – a liminal place, a threshold, a place of possibility and magic. An elm was crafted into the shape and likeness of a woman, an ash into that of a man. Then our three creator Gods, Odin, Hoenir, and Loður gave soul, cognition, sense and warmth and color. The Gods bestowed names on these beings and taught them the arts of civilization. We are not, therefore, separate from the natural world, but created from it, part of it, because at our core, we are part of Yggdrasil too.
That is a profound yet humbling thing. So the Tree remains for us a touchstone of what it means to move in a world designed, created, and carefully brought into being by our Gods, to live in the span of divine breath, to live piously and mindfully. It shapes us and is the shadow lurking behind all our lore. The Tree connects the worlds, and as such it defines our ability to communicate with our Gods, our ancestors, and numerous other Holy Powers. It is a conduit of all that is holy. It is alive and sentient as all holy things are sentient. There is a passage in part of the Lore (I forget precisely where and I am too tired to look it up) that refers to Freya as Blotgyðia of the Gods. To Whom do They pray? To Whom do the Gods make offerings? In writing this, I find myself wondering if it isn’t to the Tree, ancient and eternal, that sustains us all.
This is a valknot. It is recognized and sacred across all denominations of Heathenry as a significator to all who see that the bearer is devoted to the God Odin. Odin is a God of prophets and shamans, poets and bards, warriors and kings. He is a creator God Who wrought the architecture of creation with His brothers Loður and Hoenir, weaving from the bones of His own ancestor, the scaffolding upon which the worlds were hung. He is a God of wisdom, knowledge, and sacrifice and the valknot signifies His victory over Himself in that quest for knowledge. He is a God of magic and shapeshifting, of runes and sorcery, of power and passion. Those who love and serve Him are fervent in their devotion because we recognize what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to pour ourselves out in adoration before this fiercest of Gods.
These are the ways in which we mark our flesh, ourselves, our souls as belonging to Them. These are the symbols by which we declare our devotion to the Holy Powers far and wide to all who see and most of all to ourselves in the deepest, most secret places of our hearts. These symbols are our shield and vambrace as we fare forth in a world hostile to our Gods and struggle to find our way therein. We will not give them up.
This is the hammer of Thor, Mjolnir. It is a sacred symbol across all denominations of Heathenry. It represents this God’s love and care for humankind, His willingness to protect us against chaos and evil, His ability to gird the world against dissolution and destruction. It means one venerates Gods Whose cultic practices predate Christianity by thousands of years.
Wearing this hammer is a sign that the wearer has aligned him or herself with the holy order of the Gods, that we live our lives in a way that cultivates reverence and piety, respect, and veneration. We honor the Gods Who made our world, we honor our ancestors – all of our ancestors regardless of ethnicity or race—because we are, quite literally, our ancestral lines walking. We are here because of them. We honor the land, because it is alive with spirits, because it nourishes us, because it is right and good to do so. We honor our families, striving to live ethically, sustainably, and in a way that pours riches and wisdom into the hands of the next generation and beyond. We work hard to build community and to contribute to the communities in which we live, cultivating civic awareness, engagement, and patriotism because that it what it means to be a pious, right-living adult.
Thor is a God Who protects the world. He is the God of everyman, everywoman. He hallows. That is His blessing: He hallows all He touches driving out that which is evil, wicked, or polluted. He is a God that nourishes and with the Goddess Sif, brings abundance to our world. How could we not praise Him? It is an honor, no, a privilege to wear His hammer. It is an honor to root oneself in reverence for this Holy Power and all His kin.