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.
Predictably Patheos Pagan is on a roll again. If you want to learn how to do any type of polytheism poorly head right on over. I’m still shaking my head at what was read to me this morning. Apparently, people are freaking out because some polytheists (iirc, the conversation is about Celtic polytheism, but Heathenry was mentioned too) choose to A) honor Gods of multiple traditions or B) NOT honor Gods of multiple traditions. If you do B, you’re a racist (and maybe acting like the Heathens do! *gasp*) and if you do A, you’re doing it wrong, or some such. The lack of logic, sense, and piety gets kind of hard to follow sometimes.
Get ready to have your minds blown, folks: either one can be proper and pious. Either one. It depends on the devotee, the Gods, their wyrd, their tradition, and any number of things. This is between the individual devotee and his or her Gods, and any sensible polytheist would get his butt to a good diviner, preferably one within his tradition (who is therefore familiar with that person’s primary Deities) to find out what his Gods want, if his can’t sort it himself. You’re not racist if you choose to only honor one particular pantheon (and unless that pantheon is Germanic, it doesn’t make you Heathen. Know what? Being Heathen is not synonymous with being racist either, and it’s just flat out hate-speech to claim otherwise). You’re not a bad polytheist if you honor more than one pantheon. Actually, the latter is probably closer to what many ancient polytheisms looked like.
Here’s the thing, and if this bunch actually read books, studied history and theology, and had one wit of sense among them, they’d know this: there was hardly ever any expectation of exclusivity in pre-Christian religion. One honored one’s household and ancestral Gods, the Gods of one’s city or town, and was free to initiate into any mystery cultus he or she wished that would take them (just because we might want initiation, doesn’t mean we are owed access after all). If one did not wish, that was fine too. There are a lot of problems we face as modern polytheists working to restore our respective traditions. This bitch ain’t one of them. It shouldn’t be one of them, and really, there are better things to do than invent problems.
My caveat, and I say this working in a blended tradition, is that each family of Deities should be honored according to Their own customs. I would not advise mixing and matching ritual styles. That’s a matter of politeness and respect. Our polytheistic ancestors crossed pantheons all the time. Here again though, if there is any confusion, an elder, priest, spirit worker, or diviner can help you sort it out. If you are called to honor only one pantheon, that doesn’t mean you’re not hearing your Gods rightly (yes, this was one of the comments made on Patheos: if you honor certain Gods exclusively, you’re not hearing Them). There could be reasons you can’t even comprehend for why They might put that restriction on you, and it’s hubris for some pissant second rate blogger over at Patheos, or anywhere else, to imply that it is hateful or wrong. Likewise honoring across pantheons.
You can find a million reasons not to do devotion but in the end it’s a choice. Every choice creates opportunities and closes off others. We have to work that out – in fear and fucking trembling – with ourselves and more importantly with and before our Gods. You know who doesn’t count in this equation? Some blogger on the internet whom you will never meet, and whose opinion matters to no one.
My household sits down together each Sunday night and does divination for the week. It gives us a guide, shows us where potential spiritual weaknesses are, where we can better focus on the Gods, where we might fall flat –which provides the opportunity to take reparative steps beforehand—and often brings up other issues that are good to know in advance. It helps us prepare and to be more functional and effective during our week. Usually, we just use a lithomancy system and then move on to various sacred sortilege systems as needed but this week, for the bulk of the divination, we were using a system devoted to Frigga. As always, we ask the God’s permission – whichever Deity Whose system we’re using –before closing out the session for the night, and we were told She had more to say. What She said, which was crystal clear through the lines that came up, was unexpectedly all about modesty.
Without going into any specific detail, we had been reading about an issue that might involve greater purity/purification taboos. So, the person in question was facing a potential uptick in their obligations and, since these can be difficult and inconvenient to navigate sometimes, there was concern (1). Frigga answered this by a discourse on modesty. I’ll recap key points here.
Like many of us, my housemate had an automatic connection in her mind between modesty, purity, and sex. I think this is part of the paucity of our language, and also the inheritance from two thousand years of Christianity that positions both modesty and purity specifically (and pretty much only) in the body and sexuality, and particularly in women’s bodies and sexual expression (2). This makes it difficult for us to discuss these things without that shadow impinging on our understanding. The first hurdle was putting aside those presumptions.
In the divination, were told that modesty and purity are essential to proper living. It’s not about sex. One could work as a prostitute and still have massive purity taboos (3). Modesty is about integrity, about reflecting our devotion to the Gods in a way that impacts everything we do in our world. To make sex alone the locus of purity or modesty puts a terrible pressure on these things, unfairly, and colors them in ways that are more damaging than not. Our job is to expand those categories again.
In ancient Rome, there was a Goddess Pudicitia, Who goes hand in hand with the Goddess Pietas. Both of these Holy Powers were so important that Their temples were central to Rome. Their names mean “Modesty” and “Piety” respectively. From Them we learn that purity is integrity of action and behavior. It may include the body, but it’s not about the body alone. Integrity is how we follow our Gods, allowing Their guidance to seep into our lives. Tying purity to the body, to sex alone renders any other outlet for it illicit. It is then granted no purchase in any other sphere. By putting too much weight on sexual purity alone, we go to one extreme or the other because we’re overburdening this one thing. Because of Christianity, purity weighs everything towards reifying sex and then denigrating it. That is not correct, certainly not for us.
Now, of course our body, our dress, our conduct will likely be impacted by our awareness of proper modesty (which will be different for everyone based on their sacred work, their Gods, their tradition, etc.), because it is through the body that we engage with our world. It’s the most obvious and apparent marker of our individuality, our physical presence, our agency. We’re corporeal beings, so of course our corporeality will come into play as we contemplate modesty and purity. It’s important, however, to remember that just because our sense of modesty may be demonstrated through the body, that the body is one of many ways this can be enacted, it’s not solely about the body nor even primarily so. The body is just one physical marker of many in which this virtue might play out. It deserves no more weight than any of the others.
In fact, putting too much emphasis on appearance and dress as markers of modesty or purity is problematic in another way too. It can lead to one appearing to be modest but not actually being so. When we focus on trifles, as a friend of mine once said, we become trifling. It is far better to actually be virtuous (however one defines that) than to seem to be so. Authenticity is crucial in our spiritual endeavors.
We had a lively discussion about these things after the divination concluded, the results of which you see here in this post. One thing I haven’t done here is clearly define either ‘modesty’ or ‘purity.’ This is, in part, because those things will always be shaded by our Gods and traditions and those devotional worlds are different for each of us. For instance, the very things that help me to maintain spiritual purity within my devotions to Odin pollute my friend who is a Freya’s woman. Likewise, the very things that help her to maintain purity, pollute me. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important – at least I think it is—to understand these concepts broadly, leaving room for the Gods to move, act upon, and inspire us in our understanding.
If I had to define it, I’d say that modesty is right conduct, living in a way that best reflects our commitments to the Gods and ancestors. Dictionary definitions often define this as ‘decency of behavior’ and I think that is correct. For us as polytheists, what is ‘decent’ is shaped by our tradition and its values, and the Gods we venerate (4). Purity is remaining free of miasma and keeping ourselves properly receptive to the Holy Powers and Their inspiration. Dictionary definitions include “careful correctness,” “freedom from evil,” and “freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes” (5). Maintaining these things, modesty and purity, means keeping ourselves as closely aligned as possible with the architecture of creation our Gods have crafted and of which we are a part, and as cleanly and closely entrained as is possible for a human to be, in devotion to our Holy Powers.
I really like the idea of “careful correctness,” in part because there is nothing nebulous about that. It puts the locus of agency on the individual both for determining what is correct and then doing it. I think there’s also something about ‘modesty’ that speaks to one’s interior life, interiority of practice but I haven’t yet parsed that out fully. I do know that it starts not with external seeming but with deep, internal compunction to do and be that which is most pleasing to our Gods – whatever that is – and that within our traditions, we have remnants of ways in which to figure that out.
This to the best of my ability, was what we received from Frigga, Sunday evening, October 25, 2020.
- Taboos happen naturally sometimes. One is told by a Deity or simply gets a powerfully strong sense that is later confirmed via divination that an action should be done or not done from here on out. These things are given by the Gods and spirits and I think part of the reason is to help us to cultivate specific aspects of our practice, or as a logical outgrowth of such cultivation. They’re not things to seek out or obsess over. When they happen, they happen. If they don’t, great.
- To be fair, at least as far as the sixth century where I tend to live academically, men are also exhorted to be modest and sexually chaste almost as much as women are. I think problems arose in places where Christian identity came into conflict with Roman identity, the latter of which put a great deal of emphasis on the generative and procreative power of the man. It’s a complicated issue beyond the scope of this brief post, and it got significantly more complicated once Christianity achieved political power with the Edict of Milan.
- I would point out that prostitution can be considered sacred and healing work and in a proper society it would be openly positioned and respected as such.
- It is likely also impacted by whether we are laity or called to specific specialist jobs like priest, diviner, or spirit-worker, etc.
- These are based on definitions proffered by each entry here.
I saw a passing question on twitter: ‘What makes a God worthy of worship?’
Here are my thoughts.
I believe it is hubris to even ask that question. As human beings, I do not believe it is for us to determine the worth or lack thereof of a God. Our portion rather is to fall on our knees and venerate.
Better that we should ask if we are worthy to approach the Holy, and what we can do to better prepare ourselves and to make ourselves so.
Epicurean Piety –I like this one, though I’m not generally a fan of epicureans.
“Therefore, I think it is especially necessary to despise those who transgress or mock the traditional rites. Furthermore, it will appear that Epicurus loyally observed all the forms of worship and enjoined upon his friends to observe them, and not just be in accordance with the laws. For as he says to pray is right and natural for man, not because the gods would be hostile if we did not pray, but the act of doing so helps us gain a better understanding of those who surpass us in their power and excellence, enabling us to fulfill our potential. He also said that every wise man holds pure and holy thoughts about the divine, namely that the nature of divinity is great and august. And it is particularly at festivals that we attain our greatest understanding of things for during a festival all that a man can think about, and all that is upon his lips, are holy matters. He didn’t just advise others to participate in the worship of the gods – indeed, he was very active in religious matters, sharing in all festivals and sacrifices, and especially the Khoes festival and the mysteries celebrated in his city and elsewhere.” – Philodemos, On Piety 25-28
A Christian author discussing Polytheistic and Pagan piety –of course by “idol” he means the Gods, or images thereof:
“Pagans, when they daily rise from their sleep, go in morning to worship and minister to their idols; and before all their works and undertakings they go first and worship their idols. Neither at their festivals and their fairs are they wanting, but are constant in assembling – not only those who live close by, but many travel from a great distance to attend such assemblies and dramatic spectacles.” – Didascalia Apostolorum 13
A Polytheist On Polytheistic Piety and Asceticism:
“Aquila to Sarapion the philosopher, greetings! I was overjoyed to receive your letter. Our friend Callinicus was testifying to the utmost about the way of life you follow even under such conditions – especially in your not abandoning your austerities. Yes, we may deservedly congratulate ourselves, not because we do these things, but because we are not diverted from them by ourselves. Courage! Carry through what remains like a man! Let not wealth distract you, nor beauty, nor anything else of the same kind: for there is no good in them, if virtue is not joined to them; no without her they are vanishing and worthless. Under the protection of the gods, I expect to see you in Antinoopolis. Send Soteris the puppy, since she now spends her time by herself in the country. Good health to you and yours! Good health!” – P. Oxy. 42.3069
Finally, another Christian complaining that piety still existed in the early medieval period.
“You must give up the names and inform me of the nature of their crime of all those in our diocese who foolishly make and observe their vows by springs, trees and stones for reasons of health, protection or as some kind of devotion.” – Ghärbald of Lüttich, Capitulary 2.12
(“all those…” implying it was not an isolated set of practices).
I’ll post more as I come across them. They’re educational and a good reminder that piety and reverence didn’t begin with monotheism, not by a long shot. We need that reminder sometimes. The inspiration is helpful.