I teach early Christian theology. That means that I teach texts and happenings prior to 1054 when the Roman and Constantinopolitan Churches split into what we now know as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches respectively (1). I don’t really delve into liturgy overmuch (save for filioque disagreements—a mild term for this if ever there was one– and then only when I’m teaching Byzantine theology), but I do have an interest in it for more personal reasons. When I began my studies as a baby-polytheist, and especially when I was trained for initiation and ordination within Fellowship of Isis (where I got my start), I had extremely good ritual training. I am grateful for that every single time I lead a rite. The style of my rites may have changed as I became Heathen but understanding the rhythm and function and all the constituent parts of a good, solid, effective religious ritual has served me well for thirty years. It’s always educational and helpful to occasionally see how other people do things. Because of this, I occasionally attend services of other traditions – also, I think it’s important to experience the rites of the traditions whose history I end up teaching about (so yes, eventually I need to go to an Orthodox rite too. I’ll be hitting up my Orthodox friends later lol). It makes me more religiously literate about what I teach, and also, it really makes me consider ritual as a process and all the requisite structures therein, why various parts exist, and how to be a more effective ritual technician – all of which are good and necessary things for any clergyperson. These things are also easy to ignore in one’s own rites because we are so used to doing things a particular way (and we learn where we can cut corners and be less formal. There’s hopefully, an instinctive understanding of the constituent whole that allows for this).
Now, I am always respectful. I participate as much as the tradition I’m visiting allows and more importantly, as much as my Gods allow, and I pay attention to the structure and rhythm of the rite. I do this because it’s rude to treat any religious tradition or person like they’re a bug under a microscope there for one’s own examination. So, while I certainly can’t do everything, I don’t just sit in the back taking notes! I don’t want to be rude to the Holy Powers involved or the people.
This past Epiphany (Jan. 6) I had the opportunity to attend a Latin mass and oh was it ever educational! I was already familiar with the Novus Ordo, i.e. vernacular mass. I attend a Jesuit college; it’d be a little hard not to be. I’d never had the opportunity to attend a proper Latin mass though, and I should note, I’m pretty sure this was the low version of the Latin mass, not the whole nine yards of tridentine goodness.
Ok. Insofar as aesthetic differences go, in a regular vernacular mass, the priest faces the congregation. In the Latin one, he faces the eucharist, which Catholics hold to be their incarnate God, at least after a certain part of the mass is performed. There’s more focus on the bible as an object of veneration in the vernacular mass, and much, much more focus on the eucharist as God in the Latin. There are a lot more altar servers in the Latin mass – more on that in a bit – and the music is better (this church at least had a choir loft and an organ, though I do wish they’d stop letting female sopranos lead the choir. Either put a counter tenor in charge so it sounds nice, or get a tenor or high baritone so people can actually sing with him at a decent pitch. The female sopranos tend to screech and dominate the other singers. Also, they purposely pitch too high for the congregation to follow even when the congregation is invited to do so. That screeching is still preferable to the abomination of a guitar or ukulele mass, unhappy innovations to which one can still be subjected within the novus ordo rite).
I had gone in thinking that the only significant difference between the two versions of the Catholic rite would be the language and the direction the priest was facing. I was really wrong about that and it kind of blew me away. The language doesn’t really matter (though Latin is beautiful, precise, and I think it was a mistake for Vatican II to take the mass out of its primary liturgical and –for the Roman church at least – historical language). The real shocker was how intensely the Latin mass brought the entire congregation to focus on the host and what for Catholics, is the mystery of transubstantiation –their supreme liturgical mystery (2). There was also a palpable piety in the congregation.
In every novus ordo mass I’ve had to attend (I sometimes take a local woman to mass when she can’t get a ride and just wait for her, so I’ve seen a lot of them), there’s chattering, shuffling, and lack of focus beforehand. Very few congregants pray. In the mass I attended, women covered their heads and almost everyone was praying the rosary beforehand. Though I can understand the Latin, there was an usher who gave out programs with Latin-English text for the service (3). Many congregants had their own Latin-English mass books. The focus of the congregation, because of the set -up of the altar, I think, which had an altar rail separating it from the pews, and a raised altar farther back from the congregation than anything I’d seen in other more modern churches, seems to have increased the sense of reverence amongst the people gathered. It was impossible to take the religious rite and its mysteries for granted and that equation is established from the moment one walks in and smells the incense. It’s not just a matter of the language being different but of many other changes that completely shift the focus of the rite.
Most important was the direction the priest faced. Instead of focusing on the congregation and being the point of their focus, the priest focused almost exclusively on the Eucharist, preparing for it, performing the rite of transubstantiation, and leading adoration and communion. This is what really got me: at all times he was surrounded by an army of altar servers. They kept him surrounded by prayers and incense. At the holiest point in the service, when he was consecrating the host, the flat cracker that becomes the communion wafer, there was the host before him, and an altar server on either side and behind him (4). He was completely spiritually protected during this most holy moment in the rite—and I saw its effectiveness in warding off evil. This really highlighted the importance of having a team of ritual assistants, who, as they participated, where likewise learning and imbibing on an instinctual level, all the important parts and processes, the rhythms of the ritual itself.
With the surrounding smoke and assistants, the congregation could only get the barest of glimpses of the motions of the actual mystery of transubstantiation effected as the priest made certain gestures and prayers with his back to the pews. This was good. Let mysteries remain mysteries. That is the heart of traditions.
So, I learned that the transition from Latin to vernacular mass isn’t just a matter of a change in language. The entire structure of the service changed, and with it, the focus of the congregation during worship. I felt the space on Epiphany was filled with numen. It was holy space. I have never felt that in a vernacular mass, but I no longer think it’s the language. So, what did I learn, what was really emphasized? Three things: 1. Don’t break with 1500 years of tradition to please outsiders or cater to modernity; 2. Little things matter more than we might think in effective ritual practice. Know what every piece of a ritual does before you change it, and if you don’t know that, leave it alone; 3. Finally, having a well-trained team is crucial and aids the ritual technician in proper performance of the public rites in ways that we may not realize at first. These smaller roles are crucially important and cannot and should not be overlooked. That priest was at least a decade older than I, possibly more and he made it through that rite without difficulty. I damn near keeled over just from the standing alone. He may have been the worst homilist I have ever seen (I gave better homilies in seminary) but he knew how to do this ritual well, and it’s one that takes serious stamina. Also, Latin is cool. That is all.
- Actually, my research areas don’t go much beyond the sixth century, but I have taught both basic Intro to theology courses and Byzantine theology. Yes, it’s weird for me sometimes but yes, I enjoy it very much and it makes me more mindful of and reflective upon how my own religious tradition approaches things. I’d also note that there were earlier splits after the 451 C. E. Council of Chalcedon, where several regional churches refused to accept the Chalcedonian decision and broke with Constantinople and Rome.
- This is where the bread and wine is transformed into the flesh and blood of their crucified and risen God. In Orthodoxy, the bread is leavened, in Catholicism, it is not. Look up the Azyme Controversy, which is one of my favorites.
- Downside, the church was freezing. I didn’t realize that this was going to be a 2 ½ hour service: it began with adoration of the host, continued with a special 40+ minute blessing of epiphany holy water, and then the mass. There was a lot more standing than I was used to – and kudos to the priest for his stamina. I was in pain after an hour. I woke up the next day barely able to walk – but I think that was a matter of me having been too stupid to take a coat on a cold, rainy day, when my back was already hurting and likewise too in a rush to take proper pain medication.
- I went with two nominally Protestant friends. At one point in the service, when the priest is about to consecrate the communion wafers, one of the altar servers lifts his tabard and smokes beneath it (the priest is wearing a white cassock underneath an elaborately embroidered tabard) Others are smoking with censors on either side of him. Later –as in as soon as we hit the car, before it was even started, one of my friends asked, “why’d they smudge his butt?” lol.
We are in the process of preparing for our New Year’s ritual tonight, which y’all can read here. I want to take just a moment, however, to share with you something I consider of tremendous importance for January 1: setting one’s intentions for the year. In my House, we do this ritually by making sure that the first actions that one takes, once the clock has moved past midnight and into 2023, symbolically reflect what we want the year to hold. New Year hits a powerful groove magically and we can take advantage of that by using the same ritual i.e. symbolic language of action and focused intent.
So, what do we do? After doing our traditional religious ritual (and there are a couple of things at the end of the ritual that we incorporate as a matter of course as part of the tail end of the rite), we do a couple of things consciously to set the tone for the new year. Nothing that we choose is random – we discuss it beforehand as a household—and nothing is difficult. Whatever things we choose are all symbolically charged though in our minds, and we approach this as a household with a unified intent.
Normally I wouldn’t mention this because the first rule of magic is to shut the fuck up about it. We A). chip away at our workings by talking about them and B). give enemies an opportunity to work directly against us by showing them precisely where to focus. A magus of any sense does neither, so I’m not going to give specifics of what we are going to do tonight. Instead, I’ll give you options:
- Make an offering at one of your shrines (beyond what is noted in the aforementioned rite).
- Offer a prayer to your primary Deity or Deities.
- Clean something: either a mundane or a religious space.
- Make sure that the first person to enter your house in the New Year precedes his or her entry by tossing a handful of coins across the threshold (I learned this one from a Jewish friend, who said it was a common bit of folk-custom when he was growing up).
- Cook bread or something nourishing.
- Eat something sweet.
- Cook and/or share a family meal.
- Exchange small gifts.
- Go visit ancestral graves (ok, I’m an ancestor worker and a genealogist. For me, this is a good day out ,and my husband learned early on this qualifies as a date for me lol).
- Have a party.
- Kiss your romantic interest. Hug your friends (pet your pets too – they qualify as friends) and family members or express your appreciation of them in an appropriate way if they don’t want to be hugged. Have sex with your partner/spouse. Or just tell that person that you love him/her.
- Deposit a check or do something else that speaks of savings and financial stability for you.
- Start an art project.
- Finish a craft or art project (and yes, I hear all my crafting friends LAUGH as I write this. I too have the huge basket of unfinished but in progress craft projects. Lol. Let’s not even discuss the fabric stash).
- Do something that brings you joy.
- Do something that in some way represents what you want this year to be like – here, I’ve been assuming love, prosperity, and joy as primary goals because these things tend to be universally desired states of being but, don’t necessarily feel stifled by this. Carefully think about it and select something that represents what YOU want to personally manifest in the coming year.
There are literally thousands of things you could do. These that I’ve listed here are what come immediately to mind in the half hour I’ve set aside to write this. The important thing is to curate carefully the first things you do immediately after the clock tolls 2023. Choose carefully what you do, and do it with intent so that you set a positive track for yourself in the soon-to-be-here New Year.
Happy 2023, folks. For my readers abroad, some of y’all are already in 2023. May this coming year be one of health, abundance, prosperity, and joy for us all.
Today I received the following question from one of my readers. It’s a good question and while I answered privately, I also asked permission to write about it here, which my interlocutor gladly gave. This is something that I think needs to be discussed more, and it’s something my generation of spirit-worker learned the hard way.
Reader Question: How do you handle multiple rituals in a row? I’m exhausted and so glad tonight is the last for a bit or else I’d have to be carried around just for the joint pain management.
This is a hugely important question, especially for those of us with chronic pain. I should point out though that even if someone is in perfect physical health, multiple rituals in a row can also be quite physically grueling. Learning good self-care and management early on in one’s practice can be tremendously helpful and can also ensure that one doesn’t get burnt out or hurt. It’s a longevity practice and that’s important (1).
It goes without saying that as much as possible, getting proper rest, eating healthily (I don’t know any spirit worker who does, but we should lol), and getting moderate exercise forms the foundation for a healthy mind and healthy body in any practice. I won’t belabor this (2). The better physical health we’re in, the easier the work can be (3).
Develop a solid prayer practice – not just a devotional practice (though this is equally important) but specifically a practice of prayer. Ideally it is the first thing we do on awakening, the last thing we do at night, and something to which our hearts and minds turn throughout the day. If we are praying all the time, that’s a start. Now, obviously that’s not just prayer before one’s shrines, but also personal prayer, sometimes set prayers, sometimes recitation of our Gods’ names, etc. There are many, many different ways to pray but learn to do it consistently and well. It is the first and last line of defense, the best of foundations, and a lifeline in times of crises (4). If this is too much trouble, then don’t do the work, don’t expect results, don’t even worry about longevity because you simply won’t have it. This is beyond essential.
Learn the basics: grounding, centering, shielding, cleansing and do them daily. Keep yourself spiritually clean. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to develop and maintain purification protocols but you will be grateful that you did as you progress. Moreover, be aware of what you allow to take up space in your mind, memory, and thoughts. Yes, this includes popular media. What you do, watch, read, expose yourself to, etc. shapes you. It’s fine (and healthy) to have hobbies and avocations but choose them wisely. They should enhance your practice, reinforce good habits, character, and virtue, and make you a better person, not the opposite. What values are you instilling in yourself accidentally? It’s important to understand that, and I’m sure there’s a gentler way of phrasing this, but that isn’t my strong suite: discipline and courage are key and need to be cultivated, just like you would carefully nurture a seedling into a strong and mighty tree.
Cleanse before and after your workings in whatever way you typically do in your tradition. I tend to use khernips and also to recan (smoke/smudge) with juniper. Do whatever is congruent with your Gods and tradition. This isn’t new. It’s not restricted to my practice. This has been pretty much the standard in ancient polytheisms the world over, especially for ritual practitioners. We’re not inventing the wheel here. Christianity did not invent the wheel either. Prayer and purification do not belong solely to them. Every religion and culture had and has their purification and prayer practices.
Ok, now onto the practical aspects of doing multiple days of ritual. Firstly, in addition to everything I’ve already said, I recommend the following (with the caveat that I am not a doctor. Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your health regimen and/or before incorporating any of the suggestions I give below):
- Stay hydrated. I actually keep rehydration salts in my kit (there are several brands on the market. I personally prefer Liquid IV) for just this reason. Water won’t rebalance your electrolytes as well and sports drinks have a ton of sugar. Rehydration salts are my go-to even if I haven’t been outside. Spirit-work and/or ritual work is WORK. It has an effect on the body. It’s very easy to get dehydrated. I usually drink this twice a day if I’m doing intense periods of ritual.
- Stretch gently before and after rituals – whatever your body can manage. Don’t just jump into it. Prepare yourself physically, which means warming up the muscles and joints. (If there are joint problems, don’t skip your meds. Take your pain killer, take your anti-inflammatory before and especially afterwards. If your joints really get inflamed, take an ice bath – I soak my ankles and wrists in ice water even now when they get bad, or just in buckets of ice). Then wrap up warmly, as warmly as you can stand (5).
- Begin your day with a healthy multi-vitamin. I also recommend Vitamin D, B Complex, Magnesium (and if you get a lot of migraines, Chromium), and quite possibly a natural serotonin supplement. Again, I am not a doctor. Discuss all this with your health care professional. I’m telling you what my experience has been, what I’ve found helpful, and what I suggest to my own students. Yes, I also send their butts to the doctor more often than they would like. Maintenance is essential (6).
- When you’re doing a lot of Work, I also recommend taking Airborne (thank the Gods they make gummies now. The powder or tablets are god-awful) and Emergen-C. Don’t overdue either. Too much vitamin C can give you diarrhea. But when you’ve done an excessive amount of work and you feel like a dried-up shit-stain on the pavement, this can be helpful. It’s my default on heavy ritual days, or if I’m generally feeling run down from the Work.
- If you exhaust your energy channels, psi gifts, etc., if you take in too much energy and overload your ground, if you just overdue it way too much, you can get what I was taught is called a ‘reaction headache.’ This is a headache, often of migraine intensity that nothing will help. Nothing. It’s a horrible, nauseating experience. I was given the following recipe by my very first herbal teacher, a lovely, gnome-like woman named Arcus who used to run an herbal shop in the village in the early nineties and teach on the side, to help both with regular migraines but also with reaction headaches. It’s not the best tasting thing, but it’s not terrible either. Make a tea nightly of equal parts feverfew (for headache), skullcap (for muscle tightness), and oatstraw (for general anxiety) and drink a cup a day. I find it works best when it’s had time to build up in the system. I just gave this recipe to my assistant a couple of days ago, and it occurred to me that it’s not restricted or initiatory material, so I share it here. Again, run this by your doctor.
- Finally, if you can, have an assistant, or some sort of ground crew. You want someone to make sure you eat – and don’t skip this unless fasting is part of your ritual cycle. Make sure you get protein too. You may not want to eat when you’re exhausted from intense ritual cycles but you need to. Have someone make sure you eat, have them monitor your medication – this is especially the case if you take pain medication as it can be terrifyingly easy to take it, forget you’ve taken it – because the pain may not subside for awhile, and double dose. This is how overdose happens. I keep careful note of what I take and when for just this reason. It is also very, very important if you take a medication like insulin where you have to take it regularly AND eat. Also, having someone there as an assistant helps take a tremendous amount of stress off the spirit-worker, magus, ritual worker, priest, etc. They can monitor you, protect the space, make sure you have what you need, etc. You may find your motor-coordination is not the best after seriously intense work. Obviously, your assistant/ground crew person has to be someone sensible, trustworthy, and it should be someone you’ve worked with extensively, so they know how you’re likely to respond. They do not have to be a spirit-worker or even particularly psi-sensitive (and in some cases, beyond the scope of this piece, it’s actually helpful if they’re NOT) but they do have to know how to follow instructions, be mindful of what’s happening, and be willing to forcibly take care of you if necessary, which means he or she has to have a good, focused mind in a crisis (and of course consent for such care is discussed and given before the work begins so everyone knows one’s role, boundaries, and limitations).
To be honest, sometimes just knowing that a particular ritual cycle is going to be exhausting, that you’ll have x, y, z response and then preparing for that as best you can helps. Be gentle with yourself afterwards as intense ritual work, intense spirit, or Deity contact, etc. can leave one feeling raw, frail, and friable. It’s always good to keep a record of your work and how you felt afterwards. Like building a muscle, it does get somewhat easier.
- I think this is why monastic manuals, like John Cassian’s “Conferences” counsel a certain degree of moderation in ascetic practices (of course their idea of moderation is, to modern readers at least, more intense than we might label “moderate.” I think that’s as it should be though. We shouldn’t be lukewarm in our devotion). The idea is that these are tools in a lifelong spiritual, intellectual, and emotional formation. The goal is ongoing and ultimately eternal life with one’s God. This is why I think it’s so important to really know why one is doing an ordeal or a particular ascetic practice: it should be to bring one closer to one’s God, not for any other reason.
- And I myself am hardly an exemplar of it. I would rather push myself until I drop than stop and work in a measured capacity – it’s how I was trained, how my generation of ballet dancer trained, and I’ve carried that over into my spiritual and spirit work.
- If you are a spirit-worker/shaman/orpheoteleste or other specialist, good fucking luck. The work itself, particularly with the levels of pollution and evil that we deal with and fight on a regular basis can cause damage.
- I should note that we ought to pray because it is the right thing to do, but in doing this there will be benefit to us on every level too.
- All of this presupposes that you know your body and the difference between good pain (i.e. a hard work out) and bad pain (i.e. injury). I used to take this for granted having been a ballet dancer, but not everyone has a background where they would have learned this. It is actually part of being a good spirit worker: know your inner landscape mentally, emotionally and learn your body’s limits good and bad.
- Not everyone will find a serotonin supplement helpful and this one definitely has to be discussed with your health care provider. I have found, however, that certain aspects of spirit-work damage the immune system and mess with serotonin levels. I have no idea why. If you have a lot of trouble sleeping, staying asleep, falling asleep, if you have cravings for foods high in serotonin after Working then maybe discuss this with your doc.
This past weekend (April 30/May 1) saw my Household celebrating a major holy tide (as we call our key holy days), one of the eight major ones that make up our year: Walpurgisnacht and Beltane. It’s the final transition from the dark enclosure of winter into the growth and fecundity of summer. It’s also the same holy day, it’s just that part of the celebration takes place the night before. I had to explain this to one of my students—not an academic student but a woman that I’m training for the clergy. Within my religious tradition, we train our clergy one on one and this year she is focusing on following the cycle of holy days and really learning what they’re about (yes, I have major seminary envy of all my Jesuit friends lol). Little by little, I’ve been giving her a larger role in each liturgy and the Deity to Whom she is dedicated, Freya, has a particular association with this holiday.
Anyway, on Walpurgis, we usually start our religious revels at twilight. First divination is done to make sure we are doing what is desired and correct in the eyes of our Gods. Then, if that looks good, we get to work. I’ll go out before everyone else, make offerings to all the local spirits of land, mountain, tree, and town. I’ll light a fire. We have two ritual spaces in our home, the first our indoor ritual room and the second, a space behind my house with a huge fire pit. All safety precautions, like fire extinguisher and hose are set up earlier in the day and checked before I begin ritual prep. Walpurgisnacht is a day for shamanizing, for meeting the Gods and spirits joyously on Their own ground. In larger groups who are fortunate enough to have a spirit-worker, vitki, or “shaman,” this spiritual technician garbs in sacred garb and takes his or her drum, mask, and staff and begins calling the spirits. We invoke our Gods, we call to the spirits, we make offerings into the fire but most of all, we dance and pray moving into a deep and potent altered state. We dance and pray to shake the threads of our communal wyrd free of stagnation, free of malefica, free of anything out of alignment with the order of the Gods. We restore and realign ourselves and our community so that we may move into the time of growth and planting cleanly. We dance so that nothing may remain embedded in our community’s wyrd (threads of fate) that might twist us out of true, or cause us to grow wrongly with respect to our Gods in the coming season. We dance in praise of our Gods and all the spirits that serve Them. The shaman works that drum while others keep the fire burning until there are no more prayers left to be said, no more praise songs left to be sung, and any spiritual brambles and trash occluding the way forward in the sacred cycle of the year has been burned away.
The next day is a community celebration. The Gods and spirits are honored and there is (in larger communities – we try, but we are a small House) mumming and a maypole. Beltane is about the land coming back to green and bursting life. It’s about fertility and pleasure, joy, and growth and the blessings these things bring to the community. We don’t have enough people in our House to do a proper Maypole but there are other rites we do and there is always a ritual and then a communal feast. In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I also note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”
So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy. Here is one of the prayers to Freya that I really like (and Freya is not the only Deity invoked. It varies from House to House, and I tend to emphasize Her when writing about Beltane because my key apprentice at the moment is a Freya’s woman).
To the Boar-Rider
(prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis*)
Hail victory-bringing Goddess
with braids of electrum, eyes like ice
and a countenance even colder,
clever Freyja of snaring schemes
and snaky stratagems
whose beauty is stern,
and utterly Hyperborean
when you stand firm
in the war-council of the Gods
with your Giant-dispatching ash-spear,
your handsome boar tusk helm,
and your gleaming sun-bedecked linden shield as well.
You speak far-seeing words,
hard words and brutal,
which the Gallow’s God, Borr’s son,
the High One approves of.
Oft have you sparred and oft fought as allies;
of the two, Óðinn much prefers the latter. You won his respect, O Freyja;
he knows your worth,
and will never again underestimate
the one who is mighty with mead.
For once you roared out onto the field
astride your gold-bristled charger
and there appeared nothing cool,
calm or collected about you.
No, your eyes rolled back
and your body seethed and shuddered
as violent cantrips tore themselves
from your lovely throat
like the call of crows or wolf’s howl,
and fearful frenzies lashed your foes,
driving them shrieking
before you and your violent kin.
Glad is Sigþrór and Glapsviðr
to have one so heiðr to fight beside
with the dire day of doom,
darkness, damnation and desolation
drawing ever nearer.
Help me to meet my own
trials, obstacles and antagonists
with will unwavering and mind unfettered as your own, O Mistress of the Battle Din and Delight of Soldiers.
( * Used with permission – he’s my husband. I looked over and asked him if I could share these lol. This isn’t a regular Walpurgis prayer, but comes from our household prayer book. I like it because it focuses on Freya as a protector of soldiers and Goddess of war).
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Happy Perchta’s Day, Everyone. If you haven’t already read it, head on over to Masks and Monsters to read Dver’s account of her Perchtenlauf. They tramped through their town in Oregon and even invaded a hotel in full mumming garb and it was wonderful. Rites like this, whether small or large, restore the wyrd, cleansing it and driving out malefica and evil. They open and close the doorways into powerful ritual times, and they spread just a touch of the holy, of the numen of the Gods, the holy terror They carry, and the magic of this dark and powerful time to all who see or participate. This is a good thing, a blessing thing.
As I sit writing this now, we have concluded our Yuletime just within the last hour. We’d intended to use our firepit and have a bonfire, but I was not feeling particularly well today (migraine – it’s going to snow tomorrow, and I’m excited about that but oooh my body is complaining!) so instead, we built our fire in a large cauldron that I have at the front of the house. It’s easier to control and maintain the fire there than in a large firepit and when I do firework of any sort, I put safety first. I was worried that the rite would be disjointed because of the last-minute change of venue, so to speak, but it wasn’t. The moment we called Perchta we palpably felt Her presence, and felt Her clean and reset our land, home, and space.
First, we garbed and masked ourselves. One traditionally masks one’s face for these rites. Tove (pictured below after the ritual with her drum) painted her face instead. It counts as a mask. We took up our drums and headed outside with offerings and fuel for the fire. I called to Thor to protect and ward our space and then to Heimdallr to consecrate it. Then, I quickly kindled the fire in the cauldron (it’s about two feet in diameter, so a goodly but portable size and cast iron). We honored the fire and called Perchta and Her retinue and passed a horn of Lithuanian mead. We drummed, calling the spirits, calling to our Gods, asking Their blessings on our land, our home, our work, our House, our family. We felt the way Perchta effortlessly banishes darkness. We gave thanks to Her and Her retinue, to the House of Mundilfari, to Odin, Frey, Thor, Freya, Frigga, to the Bacchic hoarde and all the Gods and spirits we love and venerate. We danced and in the dark of the night one of our neighbors walked by and tentatively peeked over our fence—he thought we didn’t see him lol– and the hemlock trees we have planted there, curious as to what the bear-masked shaman and her painted, garbed, and reveling colleagues were doing. May his glimpse of this sacred rite bring him luck and plenty in the year to come.
We concluded with thanks to all our Gods and spirits and then made sure the fire was completely out. That was that. For the first time, in the entire time I’ve been Heathen (nearly thirty years), my House has kept the entire Yule liturgical cycle, starting with Sunwait, through Oski’s Day, Lussanatre, Modranacht, Yule proper, and now Perchta’s Day. It’s been a wild ride but well worth it. I wish all of you, my readers, a happy and healthy 2022.
Tonight was our Modranacht rite and it was beautiful. Every time we step into sacred space, every time we enter ritual we renew our commitment to restore the sacred covenants between us and the Holy Powers. Modranacht honors our Mother Goddesses, like Frigga, Sigyn, Sif, Freya, Hela (Mother of all the dead), Loki (Mother of Sleipnir), and many, many more. We also honor the Matronae, and our female ancestors and Disir. I wish the rite tonight had gone on forever. It was just beautiful.
Here is a picture of our altar to the night (it’s not complete — I took this as we were setting up. Our sacred images of Hela and Sif still need to be added. We did that shortly after I took this shot).
Here is a close up of one of my Frigga statues. It just arrived today (a good omen, I think, that it arrived on Mother-night). It’s not usually how I see Her, but represents Frigga as magician, as a shaman, in the process of shapeshifting.
For those of you who keep this holy night, I would love to hear how your rites and rituals went. Feel free t post in the comments.
I realized today that I had forgotten to post about week five of Sunwait. It’s gone quickly this year — I can hardly believe we’re less than two weeks away from Modranacht. So, before I let this go any longer, here is the prayer we used in Friday night’s ritual. We spent a great deal of time sitting in the ritual space during this rite, sharing a horn, and praising our Gods and ancestors and reaped the fruit of that, I think, in the beautiful Lussanatr rite in which we participated last night. Truly our Gods are so incredibly good to us and never cease bestowing Their blessings.
Prayer to Sunna coming in Raido (By G. Krasskova) Hail to You, Glorious Goddess of the Sun, Coming with fiery momentum, Driving back darkness Driving back entropy Driving back fear. We praise You, And Your shining retinue. Hail to You, Sunna, A mighty force, Against which no malefic power may stand. You are our pace setter, And under Your guidance, we shall not falter. You sustain us, Great One, When all hope seems lost. You open the way for us, When we cannot move forward. In love and praise we bow our heads before You, For You sustained our people age after age. May Your blessings fall upon all right minded people, Blessings of protection, ferocious love, abundance, and health. May we never doubt that we live nestled in Your protection, For Your skills are mighty, and the equal of many a battle god. Hail to Sunna, riding and unstoppable, in raido. Hai Goddess of the Sun.
We had our ritual for the second week of Sunwait last night and it was beautiful. Here is a picture of the shrine and here is the prayer we used to call Sunna in all Her glory.
Prayer to Sunna in Uruz By Galina Krasskova The night after Your Brother’s magic, after His glory, His beauty shown forth in a magnificent eclipse You come. Sweeping graciously through our world, swathed in glory of Your own, You come. Bringing healing, strength, and restoration, You come, and our world is made new again. Oh Goddess of Glory, Brightest Power in the heavenly firmament, Smile down upon us and extend Your healing hands. Bless us in body and soul that we may stand rightly before our Gods. Oh Goddess of Glory, Whose power is enormous, unyielding, endlessly energizing, Whose power fills every vein of every leaf with vitality, Whose glance ensures life and bounty, Whose Mysteries are those of renewal and health, Fill our hearts with Your incandescence, we pray. Oh Goddess of Blazing Glory, Yours is the Strength of ordering the worlds, Always within their cosmic courses. Do not turn Your face away from us. Whether near or far You ride across Midgard, always shall we venerate You. Hail to You, Gracious Glory. Hail to You, Sunna.
Today, I posted this picture on Instagram and twitter of part of my preparation for our equinox ritual today (which we will be doing in about an hour). I noted that I have pulled out the mineral oil and have happily been oiling the wooden statues, the wooden blót bowl, and my ritual horn. Someone pinged me back on Instagram and asked about using oil on one’s horn, and also wanted to know whether olive oil could be used. Care for one’s ritual tools is part of good practice and this is an important question if one wants to keep one’s tools in good working order.
Firstly, do not use olive oil. It can go rancid – at least that’s what I was taught. Use mineral oil and preferably food-grade mineral oil. The bottle will list whether it’s food grade or not. On statues it doesn’t really matter, but for bowls and horns, food-grade is definitely the way to go.
Wooden statues and bowls need a little loving care every now and again. Wood can dry out and become brittle. The natural oils of one’s hands will help condition the wood, but usually, something of any significant size like a statue needs more. If wood dries out it can crack and even break. I recommend food-grade mineral oil applied every couple of months to statues. Just take a clean cloth, put a bit of the oil on the cloth, and apply it to the statue. Usually, the wood will soak it right up.
With ritual bowls, it’s even more important to keep them conditioned. Never, ever let a wooden bowl (or any wooden implement) soak in water. Wash them properly of course, but don’t leave them soaking in water. It can completely ruin them. I once had a friend take two of my ritual knives and, completely well meaning, leave them soaking overnight in soapy water. The handles were hand carved wood. They were ruined. There was no coming back from that damage. It was a hard lesson to learn but one I never forgot. (I couldn’t even be angry with my friend – she was just being helpful and doing the dishes). Wash and dry your wooden bowls right away. With wood, I don’t even suggest leaving it air dry. I manually dry even wooden cooking implements. Then, spread a thin layer of mineral oil on, again, working it in with a clean cloth.
The same goes for one’s drinking horn. Horn can become dry and brittle too. I usually wash my drinking horns right after ritual (never let them sit overnight without first cleaning them), dry them thoroughly and then, before putting them away, I will give them a rub down with mineral oil (always food-grade oil). This time, I washed and oiled the horn first because I had taken it to show a group of students a couple of weeks ago. I figured a little extra loving care wouldn’t hurt.
Mineral oil can be used to oil knives too. So, that’s my practicum post for the day. Have a lovely equinox everyone and a good rest of the weekend.
Distrust anyone who doesn’t take spiritual and ritual cleansing/purification seriously. That’s my general rule of thumb, largely because it shows that, for whatever reason, they either aren’t taking what they’re doing seriously, or they haven’t been fully or properly trained. I cannot emphasize the importance of cleansing too much. It is one of THE single most important things you can do, right up there with regularly honoring your dead.
As I said recently on twitter, the only people I’ve ever had whine and bitch about cleansing, purification, and the need to avoid miasma are those too polluted to be able to stand to be in spiritually clean space with integrity. That’s actually a thing too. I think some people are so mired in the shit of this world, so miasmic, so polluted, so disconnected from the holy that clean, ordered, holy space feels bad to them. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve seen.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned about spiritual pollution and it’s incredibly easy to wash it away.
- Firstly, it can really cloud and clutter one’s spiritual discernment.
- It can affect one’s health and well-being.
- It can exacerbate depression and anxiety.
- It can damage one’s luck.
- It can cause disharmony and arguments between friends, family, etc.
- It slowly occludes the devotional connections that we share with our Holy Powers.
- It can open one up to the influence of evil spirits and malefica.
- It makes it more difficult to connect when in sacred space and actually pollutes that sacred space.
- It is contagious and can affect others.
I probably missed a few things but at the moment, these are the primary dangers that come to mind. Why, in the name of all that’s holy would you NOT want to deal with this? Miasma and spiritual pollution isn’t difficult to remove (there are exceptions to this but since most of us aren’t behaving like Pelops or Pentheus usually it’s not that hard!).
Now, if you’re a spirit worker, priest, or other spiritual specialist, the requirements for cleansing might be a bit more intense, but still, it’s not rocket science. All it requires is a bit of mindfulness and consistency.
Here are some things we do in my house to keep ourselves clean (this is not a comprehensive list).
- We take regular cleansing baths. There are any number of things that can be added to a cleansing bath to remove miasma. I usually combine salt (I like pink Himalayan salt, but any salt will do. Black salt is particularly strong for cleansings), beer (beer baths are awesome), milk, and khernips. I make the entire bath khernips. I might also add other things like a scented oil, Epsom salts (not for removing miasma but to help my old and aching joints), bubble bath, etc. So I combine cleansing pollution with regular bathing.
- I put a cup of khernips in every load of wash (yes, I also use detergent!).
- Every morning we cleanse our head, heart, and hands with khernips.
- I wear protective charms and sometimes cover my head when I feel pollution is particularly bad. I also routinely cover my head when I pray. For the lay person, this can be as simple as wearing an evil eye charm or a Thor’s Hammer or other religious symbol. Cleanse it regularly and if you can, bless it.
- I vacuum and clean my house weekly (though it is cluttered), and khernips the hell out of it.
- We light candles, do fire blessings, and pray almost every night as a family.
- I pray regularly throughout the day.
- I khernips my bed whenever I make it.
- If I have been in a potentially problematic situation, I’ll change my clothes and asperse with khernips when I come home immediately.
- Then of course, before prayer and ritual, we again asperse with khernips or do some other cleansing. It’s simple and fairly easy.
- I try, but often fail, to make sure there are no dirty dishes left before I go to bed. There’s an ATR tradition about warding off a particular type of evil spirit if the sink is completely devoid of dishes.
- I bless the salt in the house and keep it in one large container in the kitchen and this is used for all our cooking and food.
- We regularly bless our food and drink.
- Before any divination or spiritwork, we do special prayers, offerings, and cleansings.
There are a few other things too that we do to protect our home.
If we take our Gods seriously and understand that every time we step into ritual space we have the opportunity to reify Their creative process, then this isn’t too much. With the exception of what we do as specialists, which admittedly is more than the average lay person need worry about, cleansing away pollution and miasma is no more problematic than brushing our teeth, washing our face, and dressing in clean underwear every morning. Anyone who makes it more than that, who goes on and on about how problematic it is, how it’s a red flag, etc. etc., well, take a step back and look at why they’re saying that. Perhaps they themselves are so polluted that such cleansing rites are painful to them. Perhaps they have no desire to be truly clean before the Powers. Perhaps they have no respect for those Powers. Perhaps they are so mired in pollution and foulness that cleanliness seems aberrant to them. Or, perhaps they’re just assholes.