If you haven’t picked up my books “A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations, and Mysteries of the Northern Traditions” or “Living Runes: Theory and Practice” you can currently enjoy 30% OFF through December 31, 2020 using discount code FORT at checkout direct from the publisher’s website: redwheelweiser.com. Please note that this deal only applies for orders being shipped for delivery to the United States.
As a reminder, my book A Modern Guide to Heathenry (2019) takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions (2005) as a foundation and significantly expands upon it with more than 70,000 words of new material especially on devotional work, honoring the ancestors, and theological exegesis. It’s basically twice the word heft of its predecessor! Living Runes: Theory & Practice, however is a re-publication under a new title of my earlier work Runes: Theory and Practice book.
I feel like we’re getting into a nice rhythm with our Sunwait rituals. I’m really loving this gentle and ritualized progression toward Yule, and as I said the other night to a friend, I’m really, really glad that we decided to incorporate Sunwait into our hearth cultus this year. Since we decided to do our rites on Fridays, it’s also a lovely way to cap off the week (a particularly significant transition since we tend to immerse ourselves in ritual and devotional work over the weekends).
So, last night, as is our norm, we began by bearing fire around our space, chanting the fire cleansing song that I learned more than twenty years ago, and asking Thor to cleanse, purify, and bless our space. I wrote about Thor before here. He may specifically be invoked as “Guardian of the Shrine” before rituals to consecrate the space and rite. Thor is awesome. Then, I explained the purpose of the ritual – we all knew, as we’d agreed as a household to do this, but stating that intention was one more way to center our minds and allow for a smooth transition into the appropriate headspace for reverent veneration. After that, I offered the following prayer to Sunna and lit the three candles (the candles for weeks one and two are only about half way burned down):
Prayer to Sunna Force and fire, that is what You are, Swift precision as You plough across the sky, Driving back pollution, and cleansing the path that Day must tread. Force and fire, bringing the light that restores our souls, bringing Your glorious brightness to our world. You are force and fire, gleaming and fierce. Battle ready, You are indomitable. There is no obstacle You cannot surmount, No enemy You cannot conquer. You drive forward the rhythms of the world. You smite malefica, wickedness, evil, and all that stands against the order created by our Gods. These things You obliterate with the force and fire of Your passing. That order is Your order, blessed and structured by Your holy hands, and always will You defend it. Teach us, oh Sunna, to stand courageously no matter how afraid we might be, in defense of that order too. Hail to You, Glorious Goddess of the Sun, May You grant us bravery in our devotions, as You move across our world leading us to Yule.
After this, I galdred thurisaz which came so joyously (there’s really no other word for it). It was like the force of a storm wind hitting the house. That’s how it felt to galdr this rune. He came immediately and with such a tremendous kinetic energy that it left me wired for hours afterwards. We passed a horn filled with sparkling apple cider and hailed Sunna, Her family, Thor, Odin and the runes, our ancestors, and more. After this, we sat down in sacred space, in holy space, and brought out our divination materials. We had been talking earlier about the small asteroid orbiting the moon, and had wondered if it was a physical representation that Mani had had a child. We meant no impiety by divining, but if He had, we wanted to know how or even if we should include that child in our veneration of the House of Mundilfari. We stumbled into epiphany and mystery and I am still shaken by it.
Sunna wanted this story told or I would not speak it. The holy order of the heavens will not fall. She and Mani were joyous and the rune that fell was wunjo: Joy, perfection, a blessed gift. They had a child, star of heaven, Himinstjarna,* A glorious daughter (fehu tells us how to honor Her: Song and beauty, art that elevates the soul, Land and life and glory, freeing the world of its disorder). I thought it lovely and we were moved to tears, Then I realized what a terrible omen it was, but what a powerful hope too. The sun and moon will not fall: Their continuity is ensured by Their child. She will bring Them back from the darkness. A magical gift, hope for our world. Mani prepares to go to war. Taking up His scimitars again, For He was a warrior in days of old. But the holy order of the Gods will endure. Himinstjarna: praise Her.
We closed the div session and then sang Sigdrifa’s Prayer, which is our way of closing almost every ritual. After that, we staggered off to get food, because after the spiritual work that was done, we were ravenous. So, that’s where we are and I think the House of Mundilfari will play a far larger role in our devotions from here on out.
*this is Her name to the best that we could translate with divination, and an ON grammar.
This will be short, because today is a very full day of rituals. We honor the Aventine Triad every full moon, various vaettirand the fair folk receive offerings, and we’re also going to be going our ancestor ritual tonight AND making special offerings to Mani (separately). Today will be hopping and I’m just starting to get myself ready to go out to make the first of the offerings.
To give a quick recap, on Thursday, we did a rite to honor our Disir, our female dead. That was unexpectedly moving. It’s funny, because I always find the Disir to be somewhat more protocol heavy than male ancestors, yet despite wanting us to “dot our I’s and cross our t’s,” as the saying goes, they always seem to dig deeply down into our hearts and wrench out raw emotion. Also, there are things the male dead wanted, certain prayers, in which the women had almost no interest. It was interesting to note the flow of things. Yesterday, we made offerings outside to the wandering dead, those who have no one to honor them, and also to our Gods of the dead and the Underworld. Tonight, we’re doing a ritual to honor our collective dead. Tomorrow, we honor our sanctiand martyrs, and then the day after, we visit cemeteries and then that marks the end of our ancestor days. Tuesday after I go vote, I’ll be taking down the offrenda. (As an aside, this year I decided to use a ton of battery operated candles and I love it. While it doesn’t do anything for cleansing and purifying a space – for that one needs actual fire – it does allow me to keep memorial light going throughout this entire week and that has been lovely. I may keep one on my ancestor shrine always lit from here on out).
One of the ways that I often prepare before ancestor rites is to listen to certain songs that have the ancestor rhythms. Certain rhythms call the dead like nothing else and that music will take me down into an altered state very, very quickly. It makes for a particularly nice transition out of mundane headspace and into ritual space for me. Here are two of my favorite. It’s nearly the same rhythm, but the second is harder, more driving and gives one a much harder drop into altered headspace. Anyway, I’m off to prep for rituals. See y’all on the other side.
One of my students is slowly learning to lead rituals on her own – an intimidating prospect for most people (of any faith tradition, I’d warrant). I remember how nervous I was the first time I was tasked with this, during my clergy training. It took a very long time for that nervousness to go away (of course the opposite, doing it all on autopilot isn’t good either – a little nervousness can be helpful!). I was very blessed to have received extraordinarily rich and really, really good ritual training through Fellowship of Isis and the Iseum of the Nine Muses/Lyceum Urania Celeste. Throughout my entire working life as a priest and spirit worker, even well after I became Heathen, I have remained tremendously grateful to the gifted women who set my feet rightly on the path of ritual. It was years before I realized that this isn’t something everyone is taught, and boy does it sometimes show! So, as I work with my student, as she learns more and more about ritual, edging toward taking her vows as a priest of Freya, I’ll share tidbits here too, for those who may find them helpful.
A ritual is a formalized series of actions done with sacral intent. It’s a ceremony, a performance of actions, prayers, etc. by which one is able not only to reverence the Powers, but to enter into a more receptive headspace vis-à-vis the Holy. A priest may lead a ritual because there are certain ceremonies the Gods request, he or she may lead rituals as part of his or her obligation to a community (however large or small) to help them maintain right relationship with the Powers, or it may be more personal, a devotional rite to honor a Deity, or performed in a desire to establish a devotional relationship with a Power, or a thousand other reasons.
A good ritual is like a well written essay (as an aside to students, please dispense with the five paragraph essay you were taught in high school. It is the bane, the absolute bane of college professors everywhere! This has been your public service announcement. Read academic articles. Read essays you like. READ. That is all, but no five-paragraph essay. They suck.): it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is organized. No matter how free flowing it may seem, a good ritual is organized with a clearly defined scaffolding. Within that scaffolding, one may include many different things – the toolbox of useful techniques and practices available to a ritual facilitator is huge and often crosses religious traditions (chant, meditation, prayer for instance are used by numerous religious traditions the world over and always have been) but the supportive architecture is still there, creating continuity and holding it all together. A ritual need not be complicated either. It can be incredibly simple, but there is still structure.
The purpose of the ritual leader, usually a priest, sometimes a spiritworker but not always, is to A. create sacred space. For those worshippers, this is the point where the priest performs actions that create a palpable change in the cognition of those attending, perhaps from a performance perspective, an ontological change in the space in which they are all gathered itself. You’re almost pathwalking: moving into a different time, a different space, a different headspace. It’s what I’ve heard ritual specialists call Kairos – ritual time, the righttime, as opposed to Kronos chronological time (and I never spell these right * sigh *. My apologies if they’re wrong here. I can’t spell in any of the languages I read). The space becomes its own world in which the process of the ritual is allowed to cleanly unfold. Then, B. the ritual facilitator is there to guide those attending into that sacred space, hold that space while the ritual happens so that those attending can have the possibility of experience, and then bring them back to mundane headspace again. There are transitions into and out of that must occur for which the ritual specialist is responsible.
After the actual act of creating sacred space, I might go so far as to say that facilitating those transitions smoothly is the number one responsibility of the ritual leader. How one goes about that will change, depending on whether one is leading ritual for a small group (2-6 people), a middling size group (7-20), or more. For instance, I might hold a ritual where I pass a horn around to the participants, allowing each person to individually pray and honor the Deity or Deities of their choice. This is a standard part of a Heathen rite. I would only do this however, if I had less than ten people present. To utilize this type of practice with more people than say ten would slow down the TEMPO of the rite far too much, which in turn would negatively impact those points of transition. In ritual, tempo and rhythm are everything. This is how the facilitator manages those transitions and, essentially, manages to create an altered state in those present (the purpose of which is experience of the Holy in some way), finally, it’s how the facilitator will bring everyone back to grounded, mundane headspace again when the ritual is concluded.
This is also something that is very, very difficult for someone just learning to lead rituals to pick up on intuitively. When one prays or performs a ritual alone, tempo and rhythm don’t matter so much; or rather, a conscious awareness of tempo and rhythm don’t matter. The devotee is able to work at his or her own pace and doesn’t need worry about anyone else. That’s not the case for a ritual facilitator. When one is leading the ritual it’s no longer about one’s own experience of the Holy. In fact, the ritual facilitator’s personal experience of the Holy during the ritual is THE least important part of the entire process.
What this means in practice is that the ritual leader cannot go into as deep an altered state as he or she facilitates in the others attending the rite. (This also means, that if a person is planning on carrying a Deity via possession, there really should be a second priest present to facilitate the ritual, at least from the point of Deity possession onward). This was a huge surprise to my student, and she reminded me as I was writing this to be sure to include it here. I’m grateful for that reminder, because it isn’t something I would have thought to point out otherwise. The ritual leader must be observant and keyed into the headspace of every single attendee: that’s a matter of paying attention to energy levels, rhythm, and tempo. There are also physical cues when someone is struggling to get into a receptive headspace, when they’re deeply attuned to the Gods in ritual, and when they are coming back up out of an altered experience. A good ritual facilitator learns to observe all of this and learning to recognize and track all of that just takes time and experience.
Sometimes I think the hardest thing is just not rushing. Because one is on the outside of the experience of the attendees, it’s easy to think one is taking too long in establishing the groundwork for the ritual experience, or in guiding the attendees down into ritual space. Err on the side of more, not less. Ideally, the ritual facilitator will have training and more experience than the laity in attendance, and he or she may find it very, very easy to drop into an altered state (which is really what ritual headspace is) quickly. I know this is the case for me because I’ve just been doing this for so long. It’s a professional competency developed over a couple of decades. That’s not the case for the average lay person. Don’t assume those in attendance will move through those transitional states as quickly as you yourself might. This is where an established protocol really comes in handy and I’ll write more about this in the future as I continue these practicum posts.
Of course, learning to speak up, to project one’s voice, to chant or sing without shyness or hesitation is a sizeable learning curve for many. The only advice there is that one has to grab that bull by the horns and just do it. It gets easier eventually but even after all these years, I still get a tad nervous before leading a ritual and I think that’s good. One shouldn’t ever be complacent about the Gods.
Finally, make sure that the rite has a clear purpose. For most polytheistic services, that purpose is first and foremost honoring the Gods, or a specific Deity or group of Deities. Everything in the rite in some way, shape, or form refers back to that purpose. Nothing is extraneous. Keep the dilly dallying and chatter to a minimum (not just out of simple respect, but again, because such things will negatively affect tempo and rhythm, which in turn will negatively impact those transitions into and out of ritual headspace). What happens then in the body of the ritual should, if at all possible, appeal to the entire sensorium: taste, sound, sight, smell, and feeling. We’re corporeal creatures and the more that something engages our sensorium, the greater the impact it is likely to have on us, and the easier it will be to engage.
For those of you who are just starting out learning how to lead rituals, or who have fumbled and wonder why, what questions do you have about this process? Hit the comments section and let me know.
Earlier this year at the start of the pandemic, JR, one of my readers contacted me with a thought, “What if a bunch of us polytheists started a sort of Novena to Apollo to combat this virus?”
Recognizing a great idea, the seed for the Apollo novena was born. Not only is Apollo a God associated with healing, but because he was well known in ancient Greece as deeply multifaceted–with connections to the sun, knowledge, the arts, protection of the young, averter of evil, and so much more–a novena seemed long overdue.
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While some content in this novena has been published before in my Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheistic Household, there is also quite a bit of new material including a new divination system.
A few days ago, someone asked me about the New Year’s Eve ritual that I typically do for the House. I promised I’d post it here, so here it is. I alter this a little every year, but the barebones scaffolding remains intact:
New Year’s Eve Ritual
I don’t usually share House rituals, but I’m moved to share our New Year’s Eve ritual. This is one that many of us will be doing in our own homes as the year turns. I share it with you here, for those who may be wishing for some idea of what type of ritual to do, but who might be coming up short. This New Year’s, my cultus deorum practice took the lead with defining the ritual.
(Do this so that you begin on the 31st and end on the 1st. 🙂 Adapt it as you need and wish. Five Deities are invoked: Cardea, the Goddess of the door hinge, Limentius, the God of the threshold, Forculus, God of the doorway, Janus, God of beginnings, doorways, passages, etc. –January is named after Him, and Hermes.) (The image above is Cardea by L. Perkins)
Take a ritual bath to prepare yourself and dress in clean clothing.
I. Begin by cleaning all your shrines, both to the Gods and the ancestors.
II. Make an offering to your ancestors, thanking them for all their help and protection in the previous year and asking for their continued blessings.
III. Make an equal offering to the house spirits.
IV. If you have a mask, don it now and take up a noise-maker (drum, rattle, even a can filled with some coins) and open a couple of windows. Go through every room in the house making as much noise as you can, cleansing it via sound of any stagnant or unhelpful or malignant energy. Sweep your house, every room if possible and sweet out the door. Then vacuum. (I’m practical. My mother was Swiss lol).
Take off the mask and put away the noisemaker.
V. Light four candles and ask the blessing of fire on your home.
VI. Go to the front door. wipe it, the threshold , and the lintels down with an infusion of juniper or verbena, or some other sweet and cleansing herb (I think Florida water is a good substitute). Hang colored streamers from your door (colored wool would have been traditional), anoint the hinges with a dab of olive oil. Asperse the door three times with verbena water, florida water, rose water or some other sweet smelling infusion.
Offer the following prayers After each prayer, set or pour out an offering glass of wine:
Prayer to Hermes
I sing of Hermes, the favorite of Bakcheios,
the wily one with mischief and wisdom in his heart.
He stands at the cross-roads, a pillar connecting the worlds,
whose foundation is in the underworld
and whose eyes survey all that transpires in heaven.
He is the lord of magic, the inventor of words and religious rites, the trustworthy one who knows the secrets of the gods
and interprets their will for mankind. (The image here is Forculus and LImentius by G. Palmer).
Praise for Hermes:
In gratitude let my lips pour forth praise
for Hermes, the wily one, the master of many guises
clever in his plotting, who wanders over wide ways
with feet so light they never leave a track
for the huntsman to follow. Ghost-like, shifting,
who flits through our thoughts and knows how
to carry off our deepest, most well-guarded secrets,
King of the land of Sleep who guides the
dreams like sheep through one of the two gates
to find their way to us while our bodies rest,
and with the same staff he uses to check
their step he can conjure illusions and
shape reality to his will, he can cause poisonous
roots to spring up from the earth and brew
strange philters to protect against the witch’s charms,
for Hermes is great in magic and the inventor of
powerful words. Those words he knows how to use,
to bend the rules of society and trick the canny
businessman out of his money. Hermes wants for
nothing for through hard work, cleverness, the
weaving of fine tales and simple treachery or theft
he can get whatever it is he wants and even
managed to sneak his way into the bed of the lovely
Aphrodite whose soft, warm flesh delighted him so.
Hail Hermes, is there anything you cannot
accomplish? If so I am ignorant of it.
(prayers by sannion)
(Hermes by G. Palmer)
Prayer to Cardea
I call to You,
Guardian of all passageways.
Without your leave no blessings may flow.
You are guardian and keeper of the earth:
You open that which has been closed,
and close that which has been opened.
Bless us this night and in the year to come
with an abundance of all good things.
To You, gracious Goddess
(prayer by Galina)
(Cardea by G. Palmer)
Prayer to Forculus
I hail You, Forculus,
Gracious Guardian of the door.
I ask Your blessings and protection
on my home and in my life
in the year to come;
and I thank you for
for watching over me
in the year now past.
doorkeeper of the earth,
(prayer by Galina)
Prayer to Limentius
I pray to You, LImentius,
God of the threshold.
I thank You for the grace
of Your protection and care
in the year now past.
I ask that You watch over
and protect me
in the year to come.
To You, keeper of the threshold,
(prayer by Galina)
Prayer to Janus
Sing I Ianus,
lord with two faces,
who opens the door,
and causes unexpected things to occur.
To those who have your favor,
no obstacle blocks their path.
You create the way where none appeared before,
and bring helpful spirits through to aid us in our work.
No great task is begun without first invoking you,
gatekeeper of Olympos who holds the keys
to all the temples of the gods.
O Ianus, unlock the door of my mind
to let powerful verse spill forth,
like the Nile in flood season.
O Ianus, unblock the gates of the underworld,
so that Demeter’s rich bounty can fill the land.
O Ianus, make smooth the way so that men’s prayers may travel up
and reach the ears of the Blessed Immortals.
Ianus I sing!
(prayer by sannion)
(Janus by G. Palmer)
Make the following offerings:
*refried beans (seriously, a traditional dish for Cardea lol. She likes the ancient Roman equivalent of re-fried beans)
*a bowl of milk and honey
*bread and butter
*anything else you feel moved to give.
light a little incense
Hang a wreath on the door and ask for the Gods’ protection (if you have hawthorn, this is particularly associated with Cardea and is very protective. Laurel would have also been traditional for these wreaths but don’t sweat it).
Say: “joy to this house” three times.
VII. Go back inside and give an offering of grain and salt or salt and bread to the fire.
VIII. eat something sweet, symbolic of welcoming sweetness in the new year.
It’s also nice if, at this point, you can share a meal – however simple–with those you love
IX. if you have the skill, sit and do divination for the rest of the year. (This is a good time as head of your house to do household divination. You can always follow up with a professional diviner if anything comes up that’s troubling or you feel needs to be further addressed.)
X. When you are next out, give food to the poor/homeless/hungry.
(the prayer cards above, unless otherwise noted, are by Grace Palmer. All may be found here.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately. Yule is approaching and that is a time where I often give appropriate sacrifices to Odin and it’s time to start thinking about what the winter will entail, and to start making the necessary preparations should animal sacrifice be part of that.
I take the necessity and goodness of sacrifice for granted but obviously not everyone does. I recently had an issue with a neighbor over my practice. She didn’t see anything (I’m not rude to my neighbors and I have a secluded area and shed in which I do this type of work), but simply knowing that this was part of my practice bothered her extensively, to the point of her lightly interfering and interrupting a non-sacrificial religious rite. It’s easy when surrounded only by people who share one’s worldview, to forget how disconnected our society is from its food cycles, from offertory traditions, from life and death, and from the ways of our ancestors. Think about, people don’t die in the home anymore. They get shipped off to hospitals and hospice to make that passage which denies us contact with them in their last days, and with the process surrounding their dying, something, I might add, that I believe ratchets up the grief afterwards. Unlike with our ancestors, we buy our food neatly pasteurized, sanitized, sterilized, geneticized (yes, i’m making up a word? ) and sealed. There are kids today that don’t know hamburgers come from cows. Disconnection seems at times too mild a word.
Even for those of us engaging in these practices there can be one hell of a learning curve, but so much good can come of facing that head on because sacrifice is essential to polytheistic religions. To paraphrase Ken Dowden, noted scholar of Roman religion “without sacrifice there is no piety.” (1) Period. End of story and this is not rocket science. Except in fact, for those of us raised in our modern, spiritually oblivious culture, apparently it is. This is, sadly, understandable. How many of us after all have grown up slaughtering our own food? That separation from the origins of what nourishes us creates, I believe, an inability to position the act of slaughtering an animal in one’s world either practically or sacrally. There is a level of disconnect present with which our ancestors never had to deal. Take for example, that neighbor who recently wanted to know why I had to be so “mean” to the chickens I was about to ritually offer, why couldn’t I get my meat at the grocery store?” –(factory farming obviously not a moral issue for the woman). Why indeed and if you could see me now, you’d see the exasperated rolling of my eyes. It can be a really shocking and frightening thing though, for those who have never been exposed to it sacrally, except maybe in media stupidity and sensationalism.
I get really passionate about this subject too. I’m passionate about a lot of things, but fiercely so where sacrifice is concerned, partly because I believe it’s incredibly dangerous and unhelpful to carry unexamined modern attitudes into our practice, and partly because sacrifice is so, so important. I’m really glad that it’s come up recently in discussion again, because it is a much needed impetus for me to write more about this. We talk much about restoring our ancestral traditions but this particular tradition can make some of us cringe: without butchery, i.e. the slaughter of animals, there is no piety. There is no religion. There is no being in right relationship with one’s Gods. Pretty much, to one degree or another, across the board this was the accepted view of our ancestors, and of religious traditions that sustained their people for generations upon generations. Even Judaism, Islam, and some forms of Christianity allow for it in many cases. Our railing against the necessity of sacrifice is just one more way that we assume that we know better than our ancestors. It’s one more way that we assume the death of our traditions was some sort of moral ‘progress.’ It’s what my colleague Raven Kaldera, in our book “Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner,” called “Urdummheit,” the idea that our ancestors were stupid.
I have found over the past couple of years, that in some sections of modern polytheism, even the idea of giving appropriate offerings is problematic. After all, it does highlight that we and our feelings are not the central point of the religious equation, doesn’t it? When Sannion and I were on the air, discussing this (among other things) on our show Wyrd Ways Radio, we had an unexpected call in by a listener who told a fascinating story about Alexander the Great, which can be found here. If I could see our contemporary polytheisms nurture any attitude in its followers, it would be this: we cannot give too much to our Gods. But in a culture, permeated with Protestant values, the values that say “don’t waste that” (or if one is Heathen “Don’t give too much!!!” – as if one *could*) when one is about to lay out an offering of food or drink, as if giving tangibly to one’s Gods and ancestors is a waste, it’s no wonder that we think ourselves kinder and gentler and –let’s be honest–above offering an animal. We as a culture think ourselves better than our pious ancestors.(2) It’s an arrogance unthinkable to the ancient mind.
Sacrifice is one of the holiest of offerings. It is the most solemn and sacred of all rituals. It renews, restores, nourishes in a way that no other offering can. Not every Deity requires this granted, but many, many do. The role of the sacrificial priest, one that I have fulfilled since 1995, is an awesome responsibility. One must learn the mechanics of slaughter adeptly, so that the animal in no ways suffers. One must develop (or have an assistant with this skill) the ability to communicate with and soothe the animal. It is important that the animal suffer neither pain nor terror. They are fulfilling a tremendously sacred role, the apex of what their own wyrd may be, and participating in this communicatory cycle in a way denied us as people. It is an act worthy of recognition, respect, and care. This type of priest must learn all the necessary prayers and purificatory rites required before, during, and after both for oneself and for the animal. It is necessary to develop a very strong connection with one’s ancestors and one’s lineage because the power released during a sacrifice is enormous and the broken threads of our traditions, imperfectly restored (if at all) may not be able to sustain the force of that which once would have nourished a living community. Not everyone is meant to be a sacrificial priest. It’s a specialist position. Even though, for instance, I’ve done this work for years, I still divine before each and every ritual involving sacrifice to make certain that I am cleared to serve in this capacity. Our ancestors had the option in many cases of going to a temple, purchasing an animal, and having the sacrifice done for them. One should not attempt a sacrifice without proper training and, for the first few rituals, oversight. There’s no room for error here. There’s no room either from a religious perspective or a compassionate one for getting it wrong.
I will always divine before planning a sacrifice, even if I am sure one is desired. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m wrong. I let the Gods and ancestors speak for themselves. I will divine and if there is any further question after that, I will see another diviner for absolute impartiality. I will also divine right before the sacrifice is to be performed, and immediately after to make sure that it was accepted. Well before a rite of this sort is done, I will seek the Gods’ counsel on how it should be disposed of: is it meant to be cooked up to feed and nourish a community too? Is it meant to be given in total immolation to the Gods? Is it meant to be buried or disposed of in a particular place? What do the Gods wish? This is one of the purposes of divination, to give the Gods a chance to convey Their wishes. Even if I am certain that I have heard and understood a Deity directly, I will still confirm with divination. I do this not to question the Deity, but in deference to my flawed human understanding. I do not want *my* errata of comprehension or translation to mar the process.
So I will share how I consecrated my statue of Dionysos several years ago. I first did divination to determine that such sacrifice was appropriate and then asked if He would accept two roosters. (With a shoulder and back injury, I no longer offer four-legged animals without a strong assistant present). The divination was very positive, I also asked if Hermes would require an offering and again, it was positive. After setting the date, acquiring the animals, cleansing and going through my ritual process, I first made offering to Hermes, one of the quickest, cleanest, and most beautiful of sacrifices I have ever done. The bird was field-dressed and cooked up with herbs, lemons (for some reason, it keeps coming up at every Hermes offering that He likes lemons!), and lots and lots of butter and offered to Him as a feast. The blood was used to consecrate His image, and the head and heart put at the base of His herm. Then the Dionysos offering was made and His statue likewise washed in the blood of the two birds. They were then disposed of as divination indicated (and this was long enough ago, that I don’t recall what we did with them). Divination afterwards showed both offerings to have been happily accepted. I made sure to do all requisite cleansing after to remove miasma (even though it is a sacred thing, the killing of an animal, like marriage, carries miasma) and so it was done. Not too long after, I wrote the following:
Sacrifice is important. It’s one of the holiest and most sacred of our rituals. When we engage in sacrifice for our Gods, we are entering into the flow of a very ancient, very, very profound contract We are entering into something tremendously powerful, something that reaches to the very core of our traditions. This is what brings renewal. This is what brings grace and blessing to the community. This is one of the things that nourishes our Gods and in turn nourishes us. It completes a sacred cycle and there is very little if anything that may serve as a truly adequate substitute.
For this reason, I give thanks for those clergy, of all our various traditions who have dedicated themselves to the task of learning and restoring these rituals and protocols. I give thanks to the Gods and ancestors for those who teach and those who do, for those who take up the knife so that our Gods may have the offerings best suited to Their glory. I give thanks for our sacrificial priests (and yes, I am one, but I give thanks to those who taught me, to those from whom I continue to learn, and to the Gods for Their continued patience). I give thanks to the farmers who provide the feast for the Powers. I give thanks to the fire that carries the fullness of the sacrifice away via immolation and I give thanks to those who dress and prepare the sacrifices for feasting, when that is appropriate. I give thanks to the knife and the ones who craft it. I give thanks for the animals and I give thanks for the land that catches the blood as it is spilled. These things are sacred. The hands of the sacrificial priest are sacred, and the process and cycle itself. For these things, I am grateful. I know how they nourish wyrd. I know what it means to restore these rites after two thousand years of our ritual places lying fallow.
I stand by that now. If sacrifice bothers you, consider why and understand that your discomfort does not for a moment render this act any less sacred or any less necessary. The modern lens through which we filter our faith is the problem not the corpus of sacred rites given into our care and safe-keeping. Sometimes veneration is messy.
- Ken Dowden, Religion and the Romans, Bristol Classics Press, 1992, p. 1.
- The impact of the Protestant work ethic on contemporary Polytheisms and the making of offerings is a topic I’m reserving for another post.
Continuing the conversation on miasma and purity, a reader emailed me this morning asking if I would give examples of what I do in my own practice.(1)
It would be too cumbersome (and I suspect boring) to go into detail of what I do day by day, but I can describe how I prepare myself for a ritual and hopefully that will give some idea of the practicalities of purification within a regular practice. (2)
If I know that I have a ritual coming up, about three days before the ritual, I start preparing. I’ll make sure that the shrine cloths, sacred statues, icons, etc. offering bowls and any other accouterments that I require are clean and in good working order. I’ll also make a list of what offerings I need to acquire and make sure I do that well before the day of the rite (except for flowers. Flowers I tend to buy the morning of a ritual in order to make sure that they are fresh). Once all that is done, I turn to getting myself into the right headspace.
The whole point of avoiding miasma, (and taking care of it quickly when it occurs) is to avoid being in a state that isn’t conducive to the presence of the Gods. Miasma can impact our headspace, our attitude, our energy, our discernment and shift us ever so slightly (or depending on the level of miasma greatly) out of true. We avoid miasma to maintain the best relationship possible with our Holy Powers. When we can’t avoid miasma (and we can’t – it happens as natural side effect to certain things. (3)), it’s important to cleanse it quickly.
So about three days before a ritual, I start taking care with what I read and watch on tv. I’m easily affected by what I take in visually. Under normal circumstances I read and watch what I want (within reason. I don’t want to pollute my mind so I tend to avoid exposing myself to certain things, particularly things that are really really violent. I don’t want the images in my brain) but since I know that I can be affected by media, I’ll limit myself for a couple days approaching ritual. This helps me to get into and maintain a good headspace for approaching the Gods.
I clean my house and make sure I have clean clothes for the ritual. All energetic cleaning begins first with physical cleaning, at least insofar as I was taught. So I’ll take cleansing baths for three days approaching the ritual. While I take regular cleansing baths anyway, usually with white salt or pink Himalayan salt (I find that different salts tend to be more or less intense in their esoteric cleansing properties) before a ritual, I’ll use black lava salt (which I find very strong). Sometimes I’ll also take beer baths – pouring a bottle of dark beer into my bath. It’s a German folk custom that really works like a charm (no pun intended) for cleansing or do some other type of cleansing bath recipe.
I don’t isolate myself during this time. I go about my normal day, work, school, art classes, whatever needs to be done, but I try to do so mindfully. When I get home, I take a bit more care than normal over what I watch or read. I aim to eat healthily and get enough sleep (not doing the latter is one of my migraine triggers and I don’t want to get sick the day of a ritual). I also increase prayers and personal offerings to whatever Deity or Deities for Whom we’re doing the ritual. I may also read Their stories and prayers to Them if I have any.
The day of a ritual, I get up early and set up the altar for the ritual. I go get flowers and whatever last minute items I decide I need and then I sequester myself for a little bit. I take a cleansing bath, dress in clean clothes (usually, if it doesn’t violate any of my taboos, in colors significant to the Deity or Deities involved). Then I take a half hour or so to ground and center myself, pray, and get into proper ritual headspace. Before the ritual begins, I’ll cleanse myself (usually with mugwort recaning or a fire blessing if it’s a Heathen rite, khernips if it’s cultus deorum) and partake of the rite. The only unusual thing that I sometimes find myself doing is covering my head in the days leading up to the rite, and especially the day of – all the more so if it’s a heavy ancestor rite. I find this helps my focus.
Afterwards, I usually have to have time by myself again. I find the transition out of ritual space and back into regular quotidian space difficult sometimes. I’ll often take a cleansing bath again almost immediately afterwards, wrap up in soft, warm, and comfy clothes (the rattier the better LOl, you know, the ones you wear all the time) and get something to eat and drink.
For regular daily veneration and devotional work, I am not at all as diligent. I’ll usually lay out all my preparations (offerings, etc.), do a ritual cleansing (often just head and hands), meditate for a time, and then get on with things. But it depends. I do tend to avoid television, computer, and other media for an hour or so before any type of devotional work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but doing so helps me get into the appropriate focus.
Of course if I do anything to put myself in significant miasma (and this can happen during good and right things. For instance, when I visit a cemetery and make offerings I’m doing right by the dead, but because I’ve entered a place of the dead, I’m in a state of miasma. I need to do a special cleansing when I return), then I do special cleansings (and I’ll divine if I don’t know what the best type of cleansing to do might be). Otherwise, this is pretty much it. The only other thing that I do is divination before the rituals to see if anything special is required, and afterwards to make sure all offerings were accepted. I also have divination done for myself quarterly to make sure I’m not missing anything in my devotional life.
So I hope that answers my reader’s question. Feel free to shoot me any further questions if you have them, and let me know what you all do. I’d be very interesting in learning new ways to handle miasma and pollution.
- I use the term miasma for spiritual pollution. It is a neutral term (i.e. miasma is not sin, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, etc.) but it is Hellenic. Most of our traditions have some concept of purification but I find the term ‘miasma’ to be the most comprehensive (granted, this may be due to familiarity given my training as a Classicist). I would very much encourage people to see what the working terminology is or might be (we might have to do some linguistic research) within your own traditions. I plan to do this as soon as I have a spare moment with Heathenry. We know that pre-Christians Heathens had these concepts of purity and pollution (why sanctify a space with fire if it is already clean? Likewise, we have alternate names for two of our creator Gods (Vili, and Ve) that speak to inherent holiness and integrity. These are concepts that point in some way to the idea of miasma/pollution. We’re not as blessed as the Hellenics and cultus deorum folks out there in having a plethora of surviving material written by Heathens—a significant portion of our lore was written after conversion and little of it deals with religious praxis—but we can still infer a great deal from what we do have extant.
- Of course, purification isn’t something to worry about only when we are about to do a ritual. It’s important on a day by day too, for spiritual, emotional, and even physical health and well being.
- This doesn’t mean we’re bad or tainted, but it does mean that we’re miasmic and need to do the requisite cleansings.
Today my husband held a rite to honor Athena, specifically as Protector of the dead. I didn’t know about this aspect of Her cultus until we were prepping for this rite, but I think the ritual was quite powerful. I had never honored Athena before this, being Heathen, but I am immensely moved by this soldier’s Goddess.
We had a full house: nine people attending. It was difficult to get good photos of the altar that we set up and then later of Her shrine, mostly because we didn’t think about it at the time, and the angles and space required for a good, full-on shot were problematic. Still, I thought some of you might like to see what we did. Several people sent in prayers or requests prior to the rite and I made those prayers/requests as promised before the ritual ended.
Here is the altar with all the offerings laid out before it. Some are really obscured in this photo. For instance, in the lower left wrapped in a grey cloth are two loaves of home made bread. the cloth is just visible here. The papers in the lower right are prayers that others who could not attend asked me to say. There had been more offerings, including two bottles of olive oil on the altar itself, but we poured them into the bowls and the empty bottles are outside of the shot. There is a spear, which now graces Her shrine laid in front of the woven mat, and more offering bowls that I just couldn’t get into the shot.
Here is Athena’s shrine after I put Her images back after deconstructing the ritual altar, several hours after the ritual.
You can see the little yarn dolls to represent the dead that were made as part of the ritual. Again, a ton of food offerings are on the ground in front of the flowers but i couldn’t get a decent shot because I couldn’t back up far enough.
Here is a playlist Sannion made to get one in the proper headspace for honoring Athena. I’m fascinated by play lists. I don’t relate Gods to music that way (I wish I did!) so this is like some strange, fascinating, and shiny thing for me. I don’t quite get it for myself, but I know it’ll be useful to others and think it very cool, so I’m sharing that here too.
I also did a new prayer card for Athena in honor of this ritual. I want Her to have nice things, as I want all our Gods to have nice things, images, and devotion.
I was thinking about Mani tonight and it inspired me to hunt up this example of a nice Monday night ritual that can be done for Him.
Monday: Honoring Mani, the Moon God
(excerpted from “Devotional Polytheism” by G. Krasskova)
For Heathens and Norse Pagans, the moon Deity is male. He is a glorious, gentle, and deeply compelling God named Mani, the son of Time, nephew of Night, brother to the Sun and the Cosmos. He rides across the fabric of night, followed by the wolf Hati, who, it is said, either keeps Him on His course, or chases Him with the intent of devouring Him and bringing on Ragnarok. Only Mani knows the truth of the matter, and perhaps, the wolf. What is attested to in the surviving sources, and in the experience of those devoted to Him, is how deeply Mani cares for humanity, especially children. Some say that it is for this reason that the wolf must follow Him, for otherwise He might easily be swayed off His course out of curiosity or caring for those humans who scurry about beneath the waxing and waning of the orb He bears.
Here is a little something I wrote a couple of years ago about the moon, Mani, and Monday:
Today is Mani’s day. Monday actually means “moon-day” and in our tradition the moon belongs to a lovely God named Mani. Monday is His day and a good day to make offerings to Him. I try to do a little something for Him every Monday. Sometimes I forget–i’m human and I make mistakes. My mindfulness occasionally has its lapses–but I do my best to be as consistent as possible. Fortunately, even when I slip up, Monday will always come round again.
I like to give Him little things whenever i can. Usually, I make my offerings in the evening, because I like to do so when the moon is visible in the night sky. Sometimes though ,He rides high and proud, winking at us from the lightening hues wrought by His sister’s passage and for me, there’s a special delight in that and then I will honor Him when I rise, making my offerings with the brightening day. Offerings like this need not be enormous. I usually give Him a glass of either sambuca or, more recently, Smirnoff’s marshmallow flavored vodka. He seems to like it. I spend a few moments in prayer and that’s that until the next Monday. It’s a stabilizing consistency to the crazy roller coaster of my life.
Some of you might find it strange that we honor a moon God and not a Goddess (our Sun Deity is a Sun Goddess as well –and Mani’s sister– to complete the juxtaposition) but we are not unique in this: Japanese and Egyptian religions also have moon Gods and if i went looking, I suspect there are a few more as well, but I’m feeling lazy today so I’ll leave that research to you, my readers.. One wonders though if all the moon Gods are companions….
When my adopted mom was small she used to call the moon Luna Lunera and would watch as She (my mom of course as a small child thought the moon female) showered the earth with the blessings of her gentle light. She said her father would stand on a balcony of their home while she played in the garden –oh she must have been very small—and throw candies down and she thought they came from the moon. Maybe, in a way, they did.
I never thought about it one way or another until I encountered Mani and then I knew what it was to love the moon. He is beautiful and compelling in His ways. Even I am not immune, though it amuses many and probably Mani too should He ever catch wind of it.
Evening Rite for Mani
Begin by setting up a small altar to Him. It need not be elaborate, but should include a candle and incense burner with incense. Moon images and anything else associated with the moon are quite appropriate. Many of us have found that Mani likes beaded necklaces, jangles, time pieces, even bits of clock and watch innards, abacuses, calendars, night blooming flowers, and music. Anything of this ilk, and anything else that one personally feels called to associate with or give to Him is appropriate to place on the altar. You should also have something to offer Him: a glass of alcohol, cookies, flowers….anything that you are moved to give. (If you are including your children in this ritual, have them help you prepare the altar).
Once you have created the altar, which is, in effect, an invocation in and of itself, sit quietly for a few moments centering yourself. This may easily be accomplished by a simple exercise that I call the ‘four-fold breath:’ inhale four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, hold four counts. Then repeat for five minutes continually.
Once you feel that you are adequately centered and focused, turn your attention to Mani. Envision the moon in the sky. Think about all that He must have seen as human civilization progressed, all that He must have witnessed. Imagine that you are reaching out to him with heart and hand and spirit. Imagine that, as you breathe, you are breathing in His silver, soothing light. You are filling yourself with the blessed touch of the moon. When you feel ready, light the candle with the words, “with this light, I kindle the light of the moon in my heart, in my mind, in my spirit.”
Light a stick of incense and offer it with the words, “I offer this incense, that I might be blessed by Mani, son of time, keeper of the roads of night.”
Invocation to Mani
Hail to Mani,
Hail to the God of the Moon.
Hail to the Sweet Light in the darkness,
and Sweet Darkness in the light.
Son of Time, be with me here tonight.
Turn Your gentle gaze in my direction.
Wash me in the sweet caress of Your light.
Allow me to thank You for Your blessings-
especially for the grace of my day.
I know each day is a gift.
Thank you for seeing me through
and thank you for watching over me each night.
By Your grace, may I never lose my awareness of Your blessings.
Ride swiftly across the darkness, Sweet God of the Moon.
May You always outpace the wolf who nips at Your heels.
I hail You Mani with gratitude.
I hail You with love.
I shall hail You always,
Hail best loved son of Mundilfari.
Please accept these offerings, Mani. (Set out any offerings that you wish to give to Him. This can be as simple as a single glass of alcohol, or a cookie).
Spend a few moments in contemplation. As you sit in silence, imagine that with each breath you are drinking in the presence and blessings of the moon. With each inhalation you are inhaling Mani’s soothing, healing light. Feel or imagine that this light flows through you cleansing away all stress and tension, and any miasma you may have picked up throughout your day.
Continue for as long as you like praying or meditating upon the blessings of the Moon.
Thank you, Mani, for holding me in Your light.
May my comings and goings on this day be pleasing to You.
Hail Mani, always.
The rite is now completed. You can either allow the candle to burn down, or save it for your next Mani ritual. I usually find it best to leave the altar out for awhile, but there is nothing amiss if you must, of necessity, deconstruct it right after the rite.
I think that this ritual is best done before bed, but this is a very personal matter. Some people are simply more alert in the morning. Being a night owl, I tend to prefer doing all my ritual work late in the day or early evening. Use your own judgment in this. Do this rite whenever you feel you can best connect to Mani.
Suggestions for Mani
(In each of the rituals for the days of the week, I provide a small section of similar suggestions. These suggestions have been drawn from my own experience with the God or Goddess in question, and discussions with many others who honor Him. They are suggestions and you should not feel limited by them. If you want to offer something not on this list, or feel a strong association go with it).
Colors Associated with Mani: blues, silvers, black, purple/lavender, pale white
Symbols: anything moon shaped, hour glasses, old watches, clocks, and their component parts, knots, calendars, musical scores, flutes, beads, mirrors, mathematical equations, abacuses and other time keepers, astrolabes and other nautical equipment for plotting directions.
Stones: moonstone, labradorite, selenite, quartz, and amethyst.
Flowers: Camellias, jasmine, night blooming flowers.
Food and drink: sambuca, cookies (especially ones with marshmallows or odd shapes. A nice way to incorporate children into the above ritual, is to have them make moon shaped cookies in honor of Him), angel food cake, peppermint flavored sweets.
Other offerings: any volunteer work or donations that benefit abused children or the mentally ill.
Contra-indicated: harming or abusing children in any way; mocking the mentally ill.