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)
This is actually a multi-part question, so I’ll take each one in turn. Here we go:
Question 1A: “I was reading your article on prayer but and a question came to mind…”How do you determine who to pray to?” Say for example a person wishes to do so in reference to a research paper they have been working on. What determines whether they should pray to Thoth, or Athena, or Hermes or Saga, or any God or Goddess of Knowledge/Wisdom?”
You know, it seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t. This is definitely a “polytheist problem!” I have my set of household Deities, Gods to Whom I’ve been dedicated to for years and I pray to Them regularly – I aim for nightly but I’ll admit I do miss days. Sometimes I or my household are just too tired to do it properly. Then the morning prayers, which are brief, have to suffice. Sometimes though, I’ll just get a feeling that I’m entering into another Deity’s house, sphere of influence, so to speak. Then, as a matter of what used to be called “guestliness” (the hospitality and grace owed by guest to host) in some of the Heathen groups in which I worked, I will reach out to that Deity. Sometimes, it will come up in our regular household divination that one of us should approach a particular Deity. Sometimes one prayer just leads to another. There’s no formula or rule for it. If one has a fulltrui, a patron, a particular Deity or family of Deities to Whom one pays regular devotion, I would always start there. You can always ask the Gods to Whom you usually pray, ask for insight and be patient.
Question 1B: “Another question I have is…does a particular place affect one’s connection to the Gods? I have read a few articles where people have moved to different places due to work or personal relationships (significant others), and in their original place they had a good communication with the Gods, but in the new place, it’s like the communication seems to be cut off. Does the “God Phone” tend to get bad reception in different places? I wonder if there is something to it because I felt more receptive to the Gods when I was in [state redacted] but since moving to [state redacted] I’ve had difficulties…”
Yes, (though it’s not that the the ability to sense or hear the Gods is cut off, but something else). This is why regional cultus is such a powerful thing. We see the same Gods being venerated in different ways, manifesting in different ways, carrying different bynames in different areas. For instance, my primary God is Woden in Old English territories, Odin in Scandinavia. Sometimes He is Gangleri, sometimes Oski, sometimes Wotan, sometimes Allfather, and so on and so forth. Not all of these heiti depend on the land, but there are reginal manifestations of His power. To give a second example, there is Dionysos of Mount Beacon – how we honor Him here– and Dionysos of Nysos and a thousand more iterations of this God. The Gods have Their own business, I think, with all the spirits of these places completely unrelated to us and our relationships and They wear different…”clothing” so to speak, accordingly). I’ve often said that the polytheistic triad is Gods-Ancestors-Land and it may be, and this is my speculation here, that some sort of conversation between the Gods and the spirits of the land is occurring. After all, They have relationships not just with us, but with multiple families of spirits (like land spirits) too. This applies to Gods and ancestors too – those are unique relationships. To get back to your question, there are definitely regional expressions or currents through which our Gods work.
I would suggest making offerings to the land spirits in your new home and also to your Gods (and ancestors too –never hurts). When you move to a new place, or even if you’re visiting for an extended time, greet the land and make offerings. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn to see your Gods through new eyes. It’s not that They can’t hear your prayers, or aren’t present, rather I think that it’s a matter of us sometimes struggling to catch the… “frequency” for lack of a better term, of one’s Gods in a new place, and of one’s Gods in conversation with new land spirits. Also, we do like our preconceptions and those can be a powerful block to new experiences of our Gods, all without us ever really being fully aware of how much this is the case.
It really takes time (and sometimes, it becomes easier after moving to a new place – this is not always a problematic thing). Just be patient and continue your practices. I asked my friend who is a land worker and she said she thinks there’s some kind of negotiation between the Gods and the land that happens and how they come to you is different because of that. Also, you need to get to know the spirits in your new place. Sometimes the Gods will even step back a bit in Their presence because it can overwhelm the sense of the land spirits or one’s ancestors in a new territory. There’s important work rooting oneself there that should be done first, grounding yourself in this land and developing those relationships, that all needs to happen before the Gods express the fullness of Their presence again.
You have to acclimate. You can’t really do clean work of any sort, including devotional until you acclimate. The space needs to be met, greeted, honored. Then it needs to be cleaned, ordered, blessed, and protected. Otherwise, there will be interference, distractions…and some of this can simply be the interference of chattering spirits who are curious about the new person. Even if we can’t hear or sense this (no one is in the state of perfect receptivity all the time no matter how good their general abilities are!), on some level it gets registered as interference or blockage. It’s not though. The process of moving, involves acclimating on both sides: you, your Gods, the land…sometimes rituals of formal introductions for all parties can help. But in the end, just give it time. It’s always easier when you make friends with the land.
Finally, here is Question 1C: “Also I can point out with these articles I glanced at, no mention was made of cleansing practices so perhaps that’s an important way to “boost the signal”. Are there other ways?”
Well, the first and most important thing you can do is establish a regimen for cleansing and purification. That is rule one when it comes to discernment. Rule two is to be consistent in your prayers and devotions. If you’re not cleansing regularly, of course your discernment and ability to accurately engage with your Gods will be severely impinged.
Hope this helped. There’s nothing worse than moving to a new place. My land worker friend said moving is one of THE most traumatic things for her personally! Psychological studies that I’ve read, put it right up there with the death of a loved one and divorce. So, be kind to yourself and soldier on.
I’ve decided to share a nightly prayer that we do in my House. I hate only posting aggravating material. it’s not good for the soul. I try to balance each and every polluted thing about which I feel the need to write (like my previous post), with something spiritually nourishing. While it’s good to be aware of the negative, it’s so much more important to cultivate that which is good and holy. Prayer, among those things, is the most crucial of all.
Prayer to Niorun to be said before bed Niorun of the fire, Niorun of dreams, Protector of home and hearth, Warder against evil, Please hear my prayer. Your sanctuaries are beneath the earth, in places hidden and filled with power. The duergar and Svartalfar know them well. Please, I pray, make my home a sanctuary too. Fill it with Your holy fire, the fire that destroys evil, the fire that hallows and renders us spiritually clean. Drive out all pernicious, malicious wickedness, every evil spirit large and small, every bottom feeding creature that might prey upon me as I sleep and dream, and at other times too. Drive out all wicked powers seeking to do me harm, Wise and unyielding Goddess, I pray, protect me from the malice of others. You, great One, Who roams the night, Please guard the boundary of my world: my home, my body, my sleeping consciousness, my hame should I travel as I sleep. Let me dream good and prosperous dreams. Let me return to wakefulness safely, that I may serve the Gods well, and thoughtfully all the days of my life. Gracious Niorun, let me sleep restfully. Let me wake refreshed. Surround me in the dark and soothing cloak of Your protection. This I humbly pray, oh Goddess. Hail to You, Niorun, Goddess of dreams and darkness. (by G. Krasskova)
Question: I have a copy of your little booklet of polytheistic prayers, several of which, you say, come from your personal prayerbook. I was hoping that one of these days you might write about the process of creating that prayerbook. Is it a handwritten book, a Word file, printouts and clippings, organized, disorganized? How did you start and how did it evolve over time? Anything you’d be willing and allowed to share.”
I do have a handwritten prayer book that I illustrated myself. It’s pocket sized and I made it when I was traveling quite a bit. I’ve since typed up most of those prayers, added quite a bit more to make it useful for all the rites and rituals that we customarily do as a House, and printed that up in larger format for myself and other members of the House. It contains all the prayers in the two small prayer books I sell on etsy, other prayers that we use for protection, exorcism, and cleansing, prayers and rituals for the holy days, funeral prayers, birth/blessing prayers, daily prayers like a couple that I’ve posted here (like the four-fold Adorations to the House of Mundilfari) and so forth. For awhile, I was printing up each set and stapling it as it became something we began to use more and more, but I got tired of having multiple print outs all over the place. So, once I collected everything in a single file, I had it printed in a little book with 25 blank pages at the back so we can all add personal prayers we like or make notes. Every six mos or so I reprint it with new material added as well. It’s a work in progress. I’ve shared some of the prayers on my blog but that book is not something I’m willing to share publicly.
We use this book and then Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheistic Household for our regular day to day, as well as any prayers we might say extempore. Then I have a separate book with all my divination systems and prayers for those.
I DO recommend creating your own handmade prayer book if you can. It’s a lovely devotional offering. It doesn’t have to have every single thing in it. You can make small, very focused prayer books. I made one with just a few prayers as an offering to Mani. You don’t have to learn bookbinding either! You can stitch the pages together and stitch fabric covered squares of cardboard onto that as a cover. Decorate it as you will. There are many, many tutorials on youtube or just online in general that will give you plenty of suggestions. If you do know bookbinding, go to town. It’s on my list of things I want to learn but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
My prayer practice has certainly evolved over time. I was really lucky to have grown up in a religious family. I think for those who didn’t have good devotional models when they were small, this whole thing of prayer, devotion, and praxis can be really difficult. One’s default isn’t piety if one wasn’t raised in a household – be that religious upbringing good or bad – where piety was practiced (again, however well or poorly; though if it was a religiously abusive household, that causes problems all its own beyond the scope of discussion in this particular blog post). It’s like working a muscle: if the muscle wasn’t worked as a child, it atrophies. This isn’t insurmountable. It just means that one has to be aware of one’s default state-of-being a little more than someone raised religious. Don’t worry, those raised religious have other issues that they have to guard against. No none gets any type of free ride with this stuff.
So, I was lucky to have grown up in a religious household and also to have had really good devotional models available to me from the time I was small. I was surrounded by people who prayed in some form or another. I didn’t give that up when I became a polytheist. In fact, if anything, my prayer practice became stronger. I’ve seen the results of that in my own devotional life. I think prayer is crucial. It’s the single best starting point one can have and I often suggest shrine and prayer work simultaneously when one is starting out as a good place from which to begin. I would go so far as to say there isn’t a more important tool in our arsenal than prayer. By that I mean set prayers, formal prayers, extempore prayers, informal prayers and everything in between. One of my former students once brought me a quote (I don’t recall at this late juncture where she found it): “Pray as though your hair were on fire.” I like that image. Of course my more literalist readers had to point out how illogical the saying was, but it’s the intensity, the need, the frenzy of the thing that appeals to my Odinic heart. Pray as though it’s the most important thing you will ever do, because it is.
It never occurred to me until quite recently that not everyone grows up learning to pray. I’ve taught within my religious community for over two decades and usually, during that time, I would be meeting quite regularly with students and holding regular rituals and they’d be seeing prayer in action all the time they were around me or others in the House. It’s only recently, when I acquired an apprentice who was raised atheist (in a communist country to boot), one who wasn’t shy about saying, “how do you do that?” (because she wanted to know and learn!) that I realized I can’t take this as a given. Should it be? Yes. I think ideally we should all be raised in communities where we pray to the Holy Powers as easily as we breathe, but we’re not there yet. In fact, in our society these days, prayer is actually quite often viewed as something negative. At least if it’s treated with indifference, you can start with a clean heart, a clean/blank slate. Many coming into our religions don’t even have that these days.
I realized that if one didn’t grow up doing this, prayer of any sort can be anxiety-inducing (one wants to do it correctly!), embarrassing (one never sees others praying in the mundane world), confusing (am I doing it right?) and a plethora of other things. I tell people that prayer is talking to the Gods and giving Them space to answer (maybe not in words, but in ways that fill and transform a life). It’s communication and just like communication is key to building strong human relationships, so too it is key to building strong devotional ones. I usually recommend time spent extempore in front of one’s shrine, but balanced with a few simple set prayers (like, for instance, “Sigdrifa’s Prayer”). I also give a handful of meditational exercises to help still the mind and begin teaching discernment in one’s practice.
Over the years, there have been certain books that have reinforced or helped to shape my prayer practice today. Most of them are Christian since I study early Christian theology academically. That’s ok. Prayer is the thing that crosses all religious boundaries. The earliest known recorded prayers were, I believe, by a Sumerian priestess Enhenduanna. This is a practice that belongs to neither polytheism nor monotheism but fills every religious tradition with life. Recently, I read “Courage to Pray” by Metropolitan A. Bloom and George Lefebvre and I recommend it without reservation. Yes, eventually you have to filter out the specifically Christian scriptural material but so what? Do it. The information on prayer in this book is extraordinarily helpful. Likewise Evagrius “On Prayer” and Cassian’s “Conferences.” The latter is much more monastic in its focus so read it and take what you can use. I have cannibalized libraries like this in order to learn to love my Gods better.
Prayer is also the thing that provides the best and most essential protection from the gaping entropic evil that pits itself against all that is holy. If you don’t pray, if you can’t pray, if you refuse to pray, you are a weak link, and a danger to pious people around you. You’re also a danger to yourself and you can fix it so easily by actively reaching out to the Gods. It doesn’t matter how falteringly you pray. Just do it, fumble through it. We all fumble. We all feel awkward sometimes with it. But prayer shapes and forms the mind, the heart, the soul in ways that make us receptive to the Gods, the Good, and the Holy. It’s essential. It is a spiritual vaccination. Take the shot.
Formal prayers often trip people up. By formal, I’m thinking set prayers like the Catholic “Hail Mary.” There’s a set text that doesn’t vary and one says that text whenever one says the prayer. It’s very, very easy for these set prayers to become stale or even worse: mindless repetition rattled off at the speed of light. This isn’t their purpose. Rather, they serve three purposes (and maybe more, but three come to mind at the moment I’m writing this). Firstly, they’re a good baseline. When you can do nothing else, when your exhausted, your brain is fried, you’re pissed off at the Gods, you’re having a bad pain day or any other reason that might make it hard to pray freely, you can reach for one of these prayers (hopefully committed to memory through regular use) and it’s *something*. There is that. Secondly, in a ritual setting, a set prayer allows everyone there to participate, hitting the same devotional groove. Songs are like this too, which is why we should all probably envy the Catholics for their hymnals! We really should be upping our game there. Thirdly, set prayers allow the mind to constantly be filled with prayer, which keeps the whispers of evil out. It allows one to contemplate the Gods’ mysteries, Their sacred stories, to wander off in the heart of a word, a byname that opens up an entire devotional universe. Each word is a window, each whispered syllable the turning of a key in a lock opening wide the gates of this world, our world, our interior world to our Gods. Informal, extempore prayers can do this too but there’s something really helpful in having a verbal scaffolding, rooted in our cosmology, already prepared within which the contemplations of our minds might unfold.
I find there can be a great deal of push back against the idea of prayer in Heathenry. This is partly because too many Heathens allow atheists to take up space in their kindreds, and worse, to take up leadership positions. Get your Houses in order.
This is partly because some have been raised in abusively fundamentalist households. This is sad. This type of religious abuse doesn’t just damage heart and soul, but it also makes it very, very difficult to develop a loving devotional relationship with any holy Power. I wish for those in this situation compassion and that they find teachers, mentors, elders, and therapists who know how to help them through the pain and into the joy of clean, healthy devotion.
Sometimes, though, this is partly because people claim to be Heathen but just don’t want to deal with the Gods or ancestors. These things make nice abstractions, nice stories in a book but the reality scares the hell out of them (or for many does what’s worse: inconveniences them) and they just don’t want to be bothered. Shun these people like the plague. We choose devotion every day. It’s a conscious choice. It is a willing, often difficult choice that has to be made again and again and again and if someone isn’t willing to make that choice, or is consistently hostile toward the even the idea of making that choice, they’re not Heathen, they’re not devout, and they’re sure as hell not spiritually healthy. In fact, they are spiritually ill in a way that is polluting and contagious to everyone around them. We make spiritual choices about everything we do, everything with which we fill our minds, and everyone with whom we associate. They count. Part of developing devotionally is learning to make healthy choices. We need to have the courage to do that even with the small things.
Someone asked me once if we’re really meant to be praying 24/7. Um…yeah. I think so. That is the goal. What does that mean? Well, for me, part of my mind and heart is always reaching out to the Gods in devotion. I may not be murmuring prayers, but part of me is always thinking about Them, engaging in some way devotionally. When I’m not doing that, I try to center everything I do, even the small tasks through the lens of my devotional world. I fail at this a lot but it is the goal and when I fail, I pick myself up, center myself, and start again. When I can pray more obviously (say I’m sitting a home or on the train) I’ll use prayer beads or sometimes just do so extempore. I’m nowhere near 24/7 but I hold it up as a goal. It reminds me to strive. I may not reach that goal, but by aiming for it, I’ll go far more deeply into devotion than I otherwise might have done. That’s the thing with devotion: aim high and just plug away consistently at it. It’s the consistency that matters, not whether we reach the goal (and as an Odin’s woman who is very results oriented, that just about kills me to say, though it’s true). Some days will be better than others but the one thing that costs nothing, that is fully within our power no matter where we are or what we’re doing is prayer. We need only the will or maybe the courage to do it, the desire to reach out. Beyond that, there’s a lovely Baltic proverb with which I’ll end this piece: “The work will teach you how to do it.” One could say, as the Havamal does, “one word leads to another word, one deed to another deed.” The best starting point is prayer.
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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)
Whenever I pick up our House prayer book, my personal devotional florilegia, or a copy of the Eddas to read for devotional purposes, several things run through my mind at once, almost as soon as my hand touches the book. Foremost is that I often feel like I’m slacking when it comes to cultivating my own devotional world. Devotion can be the easiest and most natural thing in one’s life and at the same time it can be hard, hard work. Sometimes it’s frustrating and confusing – not because of the devotion part of it, but because of my own faltering, fumbling awkwardness with the process. So many questions come up:
- How do we properly pray? How do I pray? Am I just phoning it in? How do I make sure that I remain engaged?
- What the hell is contemplation and how am I supposed to do it?
- How do we read? What and how do we read and how does this bring us to our Gods?
- What is devotion and how can I go more deeply into it?
I used to take all these things for granted but as I teach students and apprentices within our tradition, as I reevaluate my own spiritual work, as I engage with clients who come to me with all sorts of questions about their devotional lives, I realize that nothing here should ever be taken for granted. I also realize I had really, really good devotional models within my family. It’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve truly come to understand how precious a gift (and maybe even a grace) that has been. Of course, the downside to all that is that I tend to be very action oriented: “what do You need me to do, oh my Gods” which often leaves me feeling in retrospect as though I got the work part down but somehow am giving perilously short shrift to the devotional/contemplative (they’re not always the same, mind you) part of things. The more frenetic my life becomes, especially with school, the more I find myself examining these lacuna and wanting to ground myself more securely in solid veneration of the Holy Powers.
It’s odd too because I don’t think a text is necessary. Ours prior to Christianity, was an oral tradition. One learned by experience, by growing up in pious households, seeing the community engaging in rituals and seasonal festivals, and being surrounded by examples of this living tradition. Our ancestors had stories yes, but they didn’t depend on the written word, nor did we ever have anything like “scripture.” Still, we today live in a world that privileges the written word perhaps excessively. I once had a fellow theology student ask me about our “scriptures” and when I said we don’t have anything like your bible, he was floored. He kept asking, “but how do you teach your children your religion?” um…we live it. But I get what he was saying. We depend far more in proper inter-generational transmission of the tradition, directly and via devotional, ritual, and venerative experience. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Still, I like my books and there is value in being able to extract insight from a text. I think so long as we remember that our Eddas and other parts of the lore are not “scripture” as monotheistic traditions would comprehend, but maps to the holy (and maps with gaping holes, tatters, and graffiti sometimes too!), we’ll be ok. So, enough of my blather. Let’s get into the stanzas that I chose for today.
The Voluspa contains part of our creation narrative and I think that creation narratives are particularly important for any religious tradition. They contain all the themes and patterns that we will see repeated again and again throughout our cosmology and in this way provide key insights into how our tradition views the world. Here are the passages, first in English and then Old Norse.
6. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held; Names then gave they | to noon and twilight, Morning they named, | and the waning moon, Night and evening, | the years to number. 7. At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods, Shrines and temples | they timbered high; Forges they set, and | they smithed ore, Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned. 6. Þá gengu regin öll á rökstóla, ginnheilug goð, ok um þat gættusk; nátt ok niðjum nöfn um gáfu, morgin hétu ok miðjan dag, undorn ok aptan, árum at telja. 7. Hittusk æsir á Iðavelli, þeir er hörg ok hof hátimbruðu, afla lögðu, auð smíðuðu, tangir skópu ok tól görðu. Immediately in the Old Norse the words Regin and Ginnheilug goð jump out at me. I usually translate Regin as “holy Powers,” but it may also be rendered as “the Rulers,” “the Gods” and may even refer to Their decrees. This word turns up in the lore at various points always referring in some way to the Gods, thus we have regin-braut – the way of the Gods, regin-dórmr – the judgement of the Gods, regin-kuðr/kunnr – descended from the Gods, and regin-þing – holy thing-place to name but a few of its iterations. Because it is so associated with judgement and holy decretals, it reads as a much more formal term for the collective Gods and when I see it, I perk up and pay special attention. It brings me back to the story of the creation of the worlds, and the ways in which the Gods set everything in its proper place, balance, and order. Goð, obviously also a word for Gods, is nearly always collective and inclusive of both Gods and Goddesses. It turns up in compound words having to do with things and people belonging to the Gods and its cognate góð carries the moral force of ‘good,’ or ‘worthy’ such as góðr maðr (good man). One can be goð-borinn, descended from the Gods, goð-málugr, knowledgeable in the lore of the Gods, or goð-árr, messenger of the Gods, for instance (1). The most significant term there, however, is Ginnheilug: most sacred. Combinations with the prefix ginn—almost always imply great holiness or sanctity. Sometimes Regin will occur as Gin-regin, which I would translate as „the most holy Gods.“ It is not one-hundred-percent clear if this is related to Ginnungagap, the great and yawning void from which all creation came into being with the collision of the Niflheim and Muspelheim, but theologically I would (and do) certainly draw this parallel (2). It is the most holy chasm from which this process of creation began; and They are the most-holy Gods Who oversaw this process. All of this runs through my mind and is the background against which I read this text (or at least against which I was reading the text when I wrote this!). Were I teaching this text, the first question I would ask my students (and this is likewise what I myself zero in on for contemplation) is „what did the Gods do first?“ What was the first collective priority after the three Brothers created the scaffolding and architecture of the worlds? First having come together in counsel, They ordered day and night, the course of the planets, and by extension the seasons. This is all temporal. Materiality has already happened when the two primal worlds ground together, but here we have temporal and one may assume spatial ordering. They gave materiality structure, partitioned it out into a healthy and harmonious rhythm. They created seasons and put planets in rotation. Day and night are the most important divisions for us as human beings, particularly when our lives were – like so many of our ancestors—predominantly agricultural. This division of time was meant as a guide and to nourish us: when do we work? When do we rest? When do we plant? When do we harvest? How does the world work? Moreover, such binary division (day/night, light/dark) reflects the productive exchange of opposites embedded in Niflheim and Muspelheim – ice and fire. I also think this emphasizes how cosmologically important the House of Mundilfari is. Farmers would have looked to the sun and the moon, and the Gods thereof to ensure their wellbeing. It‘s easy for those of us living more urban lifestyles to forget how crucial Mani and Sunna‘s blessings would have been for our ancestors. They literally insured continued sustenance and life. Plus, one could gaze up into the sky and see a symbol of Their presence. So after celestial cycles were established, the next thing the Gods did was build temples – for Themselves or for each Other the text does not say. We know though that Freya has the epithet of blotgyðja for the Gods, and there is precedent in other IE traditions for Gods recognizing and participating in each Other’s divine process. Even in what remains of our sacred stories, what has been filtered down to us through Christian voices and hands, we have a sharing of attributes: Thor borrows Brisingamen, Loki borrows Freya’s falcon cloak, and so forth. When this is done licitly it adds power to the Gods in question (3). So the Gods acknowledged the divinity of each other and by extension we can assume, Their individual spheres of influence and power. After this, the third thing They do is to create art. Craft is sacred, it’s a conduit for the holy. Here, smithcraft is particularly mentioned and in many IE cultures including the Norse, smiths were considered magical figures, magicians, shamans, and such. This is because they wielded the elemental powers of creation, especially fire, and drew from the earth that which was later transformed into objects of beauty. Beauty and art empower the worlds and in good Platonic fashion lift us up to the Gods, in awareness, in understanding, and in devotional longing. This is a process that didn’t just happen once. In setting up the temporal division of night and day, we are opened up to the possibility of change. You can’t have change unless you have time. So each new day is a reification anew of that initial creation. Each day we can remake and restore ourselves within that holy architecture. At this point in my reading, I would most likely take stock of what I have done throughout the day (or if I’m reading in the morning, what I wish to do), always keeping the Gods in mind – how am I affecting that ongoing reification in my world?—and then I”d make offerings and prayers. I’m going to stop at this point. I still have a few things to do for the semester’s end, but if there’s a particular passage from the Eddas that you’d like me to discuss, shoot me a comment and let me know. Notes: 1. See “A Glossary to the Poetic Edda” translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Wörterbuch by Students at the University of Victoria, 1987. 2. You’ll notice that unlike the previous Lectio Divina article that I posted, this time I did not employ any significant level of philological engagement. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t and it depends what first strikes me in a reading. It’s different every time I meet a text anew. 3. When it is done illicitly it’s more complicated. I’m thinking specifically of Freyr sneaking into Odin’s high seat and spying Gerda…it ended well but it was…complicated.
My housemate was watching the new series “The Stand” this afternoon on her lunch break, and I sat down to watch with her. Without giving away plot points for people who may not have read the book but are watching the series, the story is about a confrontation between good and evil, the latter embodied in a terrible being that wears the shape of a man. At one point, four characters aligned with good are journeying to make their stand against this creature and there is a moment where they have to decide whether to continue as a divinely inspired prophet told them to do, or whether to stay with an injured comrade. The fallen comrade invokes the 23rd Psalm and watching this scene, I had a moment of such intense clarity that it was painful.
There is evil and pollution out there, everywhere we walk in this world. Sometimes it is small but sometimes it is massive and terrifying. Sometimes we are called to step up and come face to face with that evil. Do not fear. Wherever we go, our Gods are with us. Our ancestors walk at our backs sustaining us. The land itself reflects the power of the Holy. Why the hell should I fear anything when my God stands at my back, surrounds me with His protection, when He fills me with His glory as I stand encircled by enemies. None of the evil which rises against us matters. It is nothing in comparison to the Power of our Gods and when we choose, really choose to align ourselves with the Holy, we no longer have any need to fear. What is there in this world, what force, what wickedness that is as great as those Gods that we love and serve?
So yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – places polluted and filled with wickedness, places of foulness and danger, and though I am forced to sometimes engage with people who are also filled with pollution, I will never fear. I will not give evil that to feed upon. I am surrounded by my Gods. They have poured Themselves out around me, through me, through every pore, every molecule of my being. They stand between me and every unholy thing that I must face down. They are with me, filling me with Their protection and Their glory. What is the banality of wickedness in the face of such might? What is evil in the face of such power? I will be a conduit for my Gods until my soul itself is dust glittering in Their hands. Why the hell should I EVER fear that which stands against Them?
I was also thinking about what actors do when they tell these stories of evil. Those stories are important. They aren’t just stories of evil, but stories of human courage and virtue and valor in the most unexpected of places. Just as those that are the most evil are often boring and banal, the man or woman next door, so too are those who might rise up against that evil. We need those stories. We need to see that we too can have courage. At the same time, actors are vessels for forces far greater than they themselves. I was a performer for the first part of my life, granted a ballet dancer not an actor but the same thing holds: those who take up that work empty themselves out and take on the mask of other beings. That is dangerous. I know if I were playing a role now that was supposed to be the embodiment of evil, I would be bracketing every actual performance with offerings and prayers, cleansings and there would be a shrine to my Gods and probably also to Dionysos especially – even if I weren’t devoted to Him, because is the patron of the theatre, in my dressing room. This is why, I firmly believe, that in the ancient world, theatre wasn’t just a good time. It was bracketed by days of rituals and prayers and offerings to Dionysos. The stage is a liminal place and those who work upon it open themselves up in ways that can be very dangerous to the self. The stories told on the stage are important. They have the power to make us better, to elevate us to virtue and help us cultivate the best parts of ourselves. They give us a language to understand what is happening when evil comes calling. Evil feeds on fear. The power of Story, a Power in and of itself, shows us how to move beyond that fear.
May those who do this sacred work remain clean. May they be protected as they open themselves up on stage, before a camera, to forces beyond themselves. May they feel the grace of Dionysos and their own Gods too. May they be safe and nourished in their work. May we ourselves rest secure in the knowledge that the Gods are with us always, That we need not fear. That we are Theirs and They are ours, and in the alchemy of that equation evil is nothing at all.
They are so incredibly good to us in ways large and small! Sometimes it really does take my breath away, and it is so incredibly humbling to know how keenly we are held in Their sight. This was really driven home to me yesterday in the most prosaic of ways. Let me set the stage for my tale.
My husband injured his back not too long ago and I’m disabled (in part due to spinal damage accrued when I was dancing professionally. Ballet is brutal). Our housemate recently tore her rotator cuff gardening. (Nature is brutal too). We had close to eighteen inches of snow dumped on us very late Wednesday night, so when I woke on Thursday, there was a beautiful, glittering blanket of white all across our yard. Usually Sannion would shovel, but while he heals up, that’s not possible (not without the risk of reinjury). I’m not supposed to shovel (doctor’s orders, due to my own back issues) but I figured, well, someone has to do it, and I’m a tough bitch, so I thought I’d give it a shot. That was quickly a no go as I realized if I continued, I was going to seriously hurt myself. I know my body and I know when it’s sensible to push ahead and when I need to back the fuck off and sit down and at my age, I’m smart enough to listen.
So, I spent about an hour calling around town and posting on local groups to find someone who could shovel our drive, but that was a completely fruitless endeavor. In the meantime, we’d had groceries delivered quite early, or at least we were supposed to have had them delivered. The delivery woman hadn’t bothered to let us know she was at our door, though I provided my number, and rather than wear boots like a sensible person and bring the groceries to our door as we’d paid her to do, she shoved them under my car. Yes, you read that correctly. She put three bags of groceries in the snow *under* my car and left. (She told her supervisor that she put them on top of my white van. Mind you, I don’t have a white van). We thought that they’d not been delivered (even going out and looking around, we weren’t able to see them – she put them under the car on the street side of the car) so the part of my morning that wasn’t spent trying to find someone to shovel was spent on the computer with the delivery company getting a refund and filing a complaint about the delivery person. (If you take a delivery job the day after a blizzard and don’t have the sense to wear boots, I have zero sympathy for you). They were good about making restitution – more on that in a bit.
I had awakened in a good deal of pain (I’d pulled a muscle badly the day before) and none of this helped. It was shaping up to be a really awful day. We gave up, did a few informal prayers (I have started doing a brief morning ritual, but that didn’t happen yesterday), ending with an unspecified plea for help. Things immediately turned around. It was really kind of stunning.
Our lovely mailman, who is just an angel, came two hours earlier than usual, found the groceries and carried them up to the house for us. He didn’t have to do that, and the kindness almost made me cry. (I contacted the delivery service to cancel my refund since I had my groceries). We had pretty much given up getting our drive shoveled (and ok, it’s not like we are going anywhere, but I’d still like to be able to take my garbage down to the street and get to my mailbox, plus, if there’s any type of emergency, we need that mobility) when the doorbell rang. It was a young man whom I’d never seen before. He told us, a little dazedly, and he repeated this several times, that a voice told him to come to our house, and he asked if we’d like him to shovel. He did a marvelous job and we told him quite frankly that he was literally the answer to our prayers.
The rest of the day was quiet and uneventful. The bad energy and unpleasantness of the morning was completely gone.
All of this reminds me of something that happened to me seven or eight years ago. I had promised to make steak and offer to it Hermes. The day I owed the meal, we had another blizzard. I’m an uncertain driver in such weather (it was really bad), so I went to Hermes’ shrine and prayed and told him, “I’m sorry but I don’t think I can safely drive to get your steak.” (There were no grocery delivery services in our area then). “I’ll go out as soon as the weather clears up.” I made a liquid offering and went about my business and less than ten minutes later – no joke—a dude rings my bell. He’s a traveling salesman selling…steak. I’d never seen him before and haven’t seen him since. He wanted to get one more sale before calling it a day and heading home before the weather got worse. I bought a ton of steak and Hermes had His offering.
The moral of this story, my friends, is that the Gods do listen to our prayers, large and small, and sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes it’s a yes so loud and unsubtle that we can’t help but be knocked on our butts. Hail to Them all.
With this week, we move into the week of Ansuz, thank every God that is. The week of thurisaz was rough, even though it brought many productive and fruitful epiphanies. It was really, really rough though and while I work very well with the rune thurisaz, and consider him one of my primary runic allies, I must admit with all respect, that I am breathing a sigh of significant relief as we move into ansuz. I will say though, with thurisaz at the helm, I got quite a lot of work done! He really helps to focus one’s energy and intellectual might. I’m grateful for that.
We began our rite as we always do, with an Anglo-Saxon fire cleansing, then offered the following prayer (which I wrote –Tatyana and I have been trading off, but thurisaz and ansuz were my weeks).
Prayer to Sunna Havamal verse 148. A fourth I know: if men make fast in chains the joints of my limbs, when I sing that song which shall set me free, spring the fetters from hands and feet. And so it is. You Sunna, come with ansuz. You wield it like a mighty spear, a battle cry, a flight of ravens in Your brilliant light. It is the incantation with which You open all roads before You. This then, is my prayer: Come with the power to loosen the fetters that bind us. Come with the power to open the way before us. Come with the power that causes all roads yield to Your command. Obliterate all obstacles that keep us from clean devotion. Your words have power. Speak the runes that restore creation, and teach us the prayers to support You in this work. Hail to You, Sunna, Shining Glory of the sky, Blessed Power of the House of Mundilfari.
After the prayer, I galdred ansuz, and while this is a rune that I consider a particular ally, it was difficult to find the rhythm appropriate to ansuz and Sunna. It came through – I asked the rune to show me – and the galdr was very productive. We shared a horn of a lovely grapefruit flavored rose (I usually have much more high brow taste in wine but damn the rose was good! I’ve never seen the horn empty quite so quickly lol), offered more prayers and finally concluded with pouring out offerings and Sigdrifa’s Prayer. Yule is one more week closer!