For the last two months we’ve had a possum visiting us in the evenings. I had left a pizza box outside on our freezer – it was just too icy and cold to go to the trash cans and I planned to do so in the morning—and there was a bit of pizza left. I opened the door later that night to check the temperature and saw a possum noshing on the remains of the meat-lovers special. Lol. It took me a minute for my brain to process. My first thought was “how did piety possum get on the freezer,” since it looked exactly like a stuffed toy possum that we displayed at the PLC conference years ago, mostly to mock those who mock piety. Then, I realized it was a real-life possum! I gave it some cat food and have been doing this nightly, though the last few days it hasn’t been around.
Possums are awesome creatures. They eat ticks, thousands of ticks per year and this is important where I live, since the Hudson Valley is practically ground zero for Lyme disease. They’re not really very aggressive (though I wouldn’t just go petting any random possum). They’ll play possum and emit a really gross smell to ward off predators and they don’t get rabies. They are good for your garden and will eat bugs and such that damage your plants. They also are immune to most snake bites. Also, the little guys are seriously smart.
On a spirit work level, the power of the possum is that of transmuting poison, pollution, and contamination. This is no small gift and I am grateful for the presence of Possum right now in our lives.
It’s a delicious zero degrees outside and I am loving it. Every morning, when I get up (after I have tea and sort myself into a grumbling consciousness), I go outside and greet the Gods and spirits. Because it was so cold today (and because I’d started the laundry, so all my warm pants were being washed), I put on (over thin leggings so I’m not breaking my taboo against dresses) a thick woolen skirt. It’s actually period clothing, made in the style of the 18th century, so in truth, it was a woolen petticoat. I only put one on (women would often layer them), and then warm woolen socks and Lobben boots (what my god-daughter once called my “troll shoes” – she’s fascinating by the slightly upturned toes lol), a flannel shirt, and a hat. I gathered my gear (incense, lighter, cup of water, and drum) and went out to work. The whole rite takes about 15 minutes, and I was perfectly warm. I could have stayed out there with no trouble for hours.
All of this got me thinking about the way we dress. My ancestors, and certain ancestral groups that I honor, often ask me to incorporate aspects of how they dressed during their lives, into my daily garb. It’s comfortable and not an issue for me for the most part, plus, it allows a means by which I can better connect to my dead. It’s like I’m wrapping myself in their attention and blessings. But I’ve learned some very practical things through this as well.
My usual at-home gear tends to be very, very simple: black pants of a light, synthetic fabric (1), a ratty camisole top or t-shirt, and felted wool house slippers. That’s it. I’d live in it if I could. When I teach of course, I dress professionally (but I’ve started trying to replace any clothing made of synthetics with bespoke clothing of natural fabrics – it’s expensive but it lasts so much longer). One thing that I realized is that it’s only due to central heating and air that we can dress as we do (2). I don’t think it ever really hit home before that so much of how both men and women dressed was a matter of keeping the body’s core warm when, even inside, temperatures were much, much colder than what we are generally used to today. Here’s a fascinating video that shows all the parts to an upper-class Dutch woman’s dress circa 1665 (working class women would wear most of the same underwear bits and stays, but the quality of fabric and the number of layers would be less than what we see here).
Up through the turn of the 20th century, there was no central heating. I spent a very cold and snowy January in a house without central heating a few years ago, getting up in the morning to light the huge wood stove, the only source of heating in the place. I’m going to be very blunt: it sucked (though not as much as having to trek through knee high snow to the outhouse or haul water). The way one managed was by layering one’s clothing and of course, there were chores to be done throughout the day (including cutting wood and keeping the fire going) that helped to keep one warm. It was a really good lesson in physically comprehending a tiny bit of how our ancestors lived. These experiences build—at least for me– respect for how our ancestors lived, survived, and even thrived. I always through the way early modern women dressed – in multiple petticoats and stays– was foolish but you know what? Those petticoats keep one perfectly warm (probably warmer than the men, given that the style, at least in the 18th century, was for men’s pants to stop at the knee. Calves on a dude were viewed as sexy. Lol. So, they wore white stockings and showed that shit off) and the stays, and later corsets that women wore protect the core, adding a significant layer of warmth. What I’d dismissed as frippery and foolishness had a very practical purpose. This is also the case with head coverings. Yes, modesty for women was one of the reasons hair and head were covered, but there was also the question of warmth. Both men and women tended to keep their heads covered and both wore nightcaps. I’d always thought this absolutely ridiculous but when there’s no central heading, and the weather can drop to zero or below, covering the head makes perfect sense for keeping body heat in.
It reminded me yet again that our ancestors knew things. They were smart. They engaged with their world in practical and insightful ways. They understood their world and how to make the technology and crafts to which they had access work for them. In some ways, they understood better than we do today (3). They moved in their world in ways that made sense to them, and that took into account the available technology, the climate, and the work that they had to do. I think there’s a tendency to think that we are better than our ancestors, that they were somehow less sophisticated than we are now. This is a mistake, and this is where living history (in ways large and small) can teach us to reconsider how we treat our dead, how we approach them, and how beneficial it can be to approach our ancestors with a willingness to learn all the lessons they have to teach.
- I’m moving away from wearing any synthetics. Most of them are made of plastic and they are terrible for the environment, pick up body odor much faster than natural fabrics, and don’t last. They’re garbage fabrics. I have a colleague who, like many spirit-workers, has clothing taboos. In her case, she’s not permitted to wear synthetic fabrics. While that’s not one of my taboos (I have certain color taboos, and I’m also not generally permitted to wear skirts or dresses – unless it counts as ritual garb), I’ve started copying her because the fabric is just so much better. Silks, cottons, woolens, even rayon (which is made from plant fibers), linens, hemp, bamboo all allow for a broad choice of clothing.
- This was further brought home to me when my assistant and I were traveling back from a funeral at which I’d officiated. I was dressed in an 18th century men’s suit (but with long pants), and she was in a sun dress and sweater, since this happened in the spring. I’m not usually sympathetic when women complain about office temperatures and such being too cold. My attitude, since I tend to run hot – my ideal house temp is 68 F—is put on a sweater. I’ve never worked in an office or classroom that I didn’t find swelteringly hot. My friend had a sweater on though but still begged me to turn down the ac in the car (I did). I was perfectly comfortable though – in three layers around my core: linen shirt, wool vest, wool jacket. It really got me thinking about male versus female garb – it’s not all bad though, as I note above in my article.
- As a complete aside, I have a theory about why women’s clothing today tends to lack pockets. I don’t think it’s simple female vanity (I know some of the problem is concern over the line of more form fitting dresses, but I don’t think that’s the only thing happening here). Until the early 19th century (??) women would wear pockets as a separate part of their attire. You could have huge pockets, but you tied them around your waist, underneath your petticoats. They were accessible via openings in the sides of the petticoats. They could be as large or small as you wished. You were in charge of your pockets. In the 18th century, panniers were …. ginormous pockets. I seriously wonder if the dearth of pockets in modern female clothing isn’t some unconscious holdover from this earlier, multi-century trend. Here’s an article on decorating pockets. Here’s a site that shows traditional pockets on a mannequin.
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.
This Yule, one of my best friends gave me a book about ballet: Being a Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life” by Gavin Larsen. The author had been a principle dancer for close to 18 years with various companies, she even danced in Suzanne Farrell’s company – a respectable career for any dancer. The book was very, very good and in fact described the physical realities of being a professional dancer better than anything I have thus far read. It opened with a discussion of what it’s like upon first awakening in the morning, how the first thing—while still lying mostly in bed— one does is carefully test every muscle, unkinking the back, stretching the Achilles, opening up the body gently and carefully before even setting foot on the ground. Every breathing moment is a test, determining the state of one’s body and how one is going to physically work later in the day. That careful evaluation is something I do even now, because the alternative is pain, sometimes crippling pain, and further injury. The book details the process from first opening one’s eyes, to daily [ballet] class, to rehearsals and post-performance care. I became tremendously emotional reading it, because my body remembered both the good and the bad of that life. Shortly on the heels of reading this book, I watched a movie, “White Crow” about the defection of Rudolf Nureyev and again, it brought me back emotionally into the middle of the world that shaped me: ballet.
There is a saying in the ballet world: “A dancer dies twice.” The first time is when he or she has to stop dancing and the second is actual, physical death. This is truth. It took me at least a decade to recover emotionally and mentally from my retirement (I retired in my early twenties), and I still carry injuries and chronic pain from my career. Somehow, in some strange way, perhaps through a desperate clutching at the memory of being able to create, through the sweat, blood, and pain of my body, a beauty that elevates the soul, perhaps through the desperate longing (to touch the Gods?) that drove me into dance and didn’t leave me even after I was spat out by the daimon of that art, a bridge was crafted that spanned the fractured, abyssal space between my life as a dancer and becoming a devotee of the Gods, a priest, and finally a spirit worker. One led directly to the other and without the first, I would not have survived the transformation into the second.
Long ago, I learned that there were two paths to becoming what many might term a ‘shaman’(1): madness road or death road. The idea is that you are cast down from your world, shattered and in the process of rebuilding and restoration, one comes back stronger and more resilient than before. There is a third way though, and that is the road of art. What is that? It is living a life where you are fully given over to the daimon of an art – in my case dance. Every inch of your identity, everything inside and out by which you exist and define yourself as a human being, centers around, relies upon, and is defined by one’s art. Then…usually at a terrible and critical juncture, that is stripped away and the result is a psychic shattering of the self. You rebuild (or not, but “not” involves consequences that are a luxury for a spirit worker. “Not” involves destruction, devolution, sometimes madness, drug addiction, and death). You claw your way back into some semblance of existence. You learn to live again and eventually, if you’re lucky, to find some measure of joy. If this is part of a spirit-worker’s journey, then this is when the Gods begin the process of direct formation. (In the end, I think every spirit worker or shaman ends up traipsing painfully down every one of the roads at some point in their life as we are remade again and again in service to our Gods. It is the way of things – formation never ends). The easiest and most productive thing to do is to embrace the process.
There are so many things that I brought with me out of the crucible of ballet training that helped me when I became Odin’s, that helped me center myself as a priest, that helped me embrace my formation as a spirit worker. I am so immensely grateful that I was allowed to foster under that terrible and hungry daimon of the arts. Ballet prepared me for spirit work, but also for regular devotion and I cherish the lessons that I learned as though they were jewels poured into my hands. Some of these things are contained in words that young people today find very difficult to swallow, triggering if you will, but they are utterly essential to the Work.
The first is discipline. In ballet, there is the understanding that discipline brings freedom. It was ingrained in us from the beginning of our training. This isn’t discipline that someone is forcing onto us, but a process that we enter into willingly. The discipline comes from within, must be summoned from within, and it is a gift we give first and foremost to ourselves. We train and train, submitting to a series of exercises that have been done by ballet dancers from beginner to professional, in largely the same order, the same way, all across the world for at least four hundred years. The moment we place our hands on the barre and will our bodies into position, we enter into a lineage that began in the mime and theatre of the ancient world, and that came to fruition as ballet specifically in the court of the Sun King, and then reached its perfection in 19th century Russia (2). We stand with our ancestors within that lineage, moving as they did, putting our bodies into the same steps and rhythms that they honed and passed down, dancer to dancer, body to body – because that is the way that memories are passed in this art—and in so doing, we ourselves are shaped in accordance with the dictates the tradition requires. It is a beautiful yet terrible thing. The discipline required in ballet is brutal. One engages in a constant battle against nature. With that discipline comes a tremendous endurance to pain, a knowledge that one can persevere, and a potent resiliency in the face of physical pain and even failure. Those things all transfer well, not just to spirit work but pretty much to any other field.
The second jewel in that hoard this art gave me is that of obedience. I think this is perhaps THE most difficult idea to accept. It comes into play more often in devotion than one might think though. We learn to willingly curb our will so that we might learn the necessary techniques, and so that we might develop the aforementioned discipline. In devotion, the idea of obedience to one’s Holy Powers isn’t so much a matter of unthinking, blind obedience but of choosing to trust when we may not have all the information or answers. This obedience is a personal choice, not something imposed to destroy one’s autonomy, but rather something one consciously chooses each and every day in order to help in one’s spiritual formation. It helps us to better develop as devotionally pious people of iron strong faith, and it helps us to carry more fully and well the Mysteries of our Holy Ones that we are meant to carry. Ultimately, it brings freedom. There’s a lovely saying by Seneca that comes to mind as I write this: deo parere libertus est. To serve a God is freedom.
Finally, if one is very focused and very lucky, ballet brings with it an awareness, palpable and almost physical, of the Holy. I don’t know how to explain this to someone who hasn’t experienced it in this particular way, but ballet opened me up to a sense of the sacred, to the Presence, to Numen. It was how I first learned to pray. It was my first direct experience with the Holy Powers. In Larsen’s book, toward the end (p. 224), she quotes Choura, (3) the autobiography of Alexandra Danilova.
Danilova, who trained at the Maryinsky, was a ballerina with the Ballet Russe, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and also both professionally and personally involved with George Balanchine. She also taught at the School of American Ballet, shaping a whole generation of professional dancers. In her autobiography, she writes about the tradition of bowing (female dancers curtsey) at the end of each performance. Like the respect shown at the beginning and end of each ballet class, this is a ritualized act, and an acknowledgement of one’s place in the lineage and hierarchy of the art itself. Danilova writes, “In Russia, we were taught never to touch our knees to the floor when taking a bow unless there was royalty in the house; we were to go to our knees only to royalty or to God. (Larsen, 224)” It’s a lesson many polytheists in general and spirit -workers in particular would do well to take to heart. The humility and respect, bound together like the circling chains of our DNA, that this awareness engenders, an awareness deeply embedded in the body on a visceral, almost primal level, cannot be under-estimated. It is one of the greatest gifts my ballet career left me, and in all ways, it prepared me for encountering the Gods later in my life.
Recently, one of my undergrad students asked how I went from being a ballet dancer to a theologian. The answer is painfully, but doggedly and the line from one to the other is straighter than one might think. I am grateful, deeply, deeply grateful for each of the many teachers I have had in my life on the way. (I was thinking of this today when I was doing the dishes. My assistant made her first cake the other day and I was washing up one of the cake pans. Whenever we bake in our home, the first piece is given to our house spirits and domovoi. I learned that from another Heathen woman. I visited her once, many years ago in NC for what turned into an incredibly fruitful weekend of hearth cultus and spirit work and though we’ve long fallen out of touch (she was Theodish and I left Theodism behind close to twenty years ago), I am grateful for what I learned in the moment we baked together in her kitchen. There are Teachers from whom one consciously studies and by whom one enters into a tradition, and teachers who often inadvertently open us up to greater understanding of our Gods. I am grateful for them all. Every teacher is a treasure to be cherished, respected, and their lessons honed and passed on.
This brings me to the conclusion of this rather rambling meditation on my life and work: gratitude. Last year, instead of making any New Year’s resolutions, I chose a word that was going to be my touchstone throughout the year. That word was devotion, and it was certainly a tremendously fruitful year devotionally, often in graceful and unexpected ways. This year, my touchstone is gratitude.
- I have no issue with using the term “shaman.” The difference between a “shaman” and a “spiritworker” is that death (or madness, or art induced psychic shattering). I’ve found, however, that for myself over the years, the word “shaman” fits less and less for what I do. There are Norse terms I prefer, particularly vitki, because it aligns me in mind and heart more fully with Odin as Gangleri and Galdrafaðr. Ever and always, the work remains much the same though. Spirit worker is an umbrella term for a specialist who works with or for spirits and the Holy Powers. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but for the purposes of this article, that definition will do. Likewise, I use the word “daimon” in the classical sense, that is as a divinely connected and powerful spirit.
- I have opinions on this. While ballet obviously continues across the world, I think the artistry and glory of the imperial ballet is yet to be equaled.
- This is a female nickname for Alexandra. It’s spelled шурa. The other common nickname, used for either Alexandra or Alexander, is Sasha.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
This is less a post and more random thoughts and insights as I work yet again through the first runic aett. Each time I approach a rune spirit, I discover new things. Each time I approach a rune spirit, I’m taken more deeply into that rune’s mysteries. Each time I approach a rune spirit, new worlds open – at least a little – to my understanding, or at least to my awe.
They are such potent gifts of Odin and it is Odin and Loki Who have inspired me in their use. It’s not just that they are powerful forces in and of themselves, forces that can provide glimpses into the wyrd and the architecture of the worlds, but the runes reflect the mysteries of our Gods and working with them, if one is called to such work, has the potential to open up pathways to the Gods as well, especially Odin.
Writing this, with a blistering migraine so bad that focusing my eyes on words hurts and makes me nauseous (we’re being buffeted by Tropical Storm Henri right now as I write this, and with my migraine issues and chronic pain I’ve spent most of the day in agony), I can’t help but reflect that this is one of the key differences between working in the esoteric traditions of the Northern Tradition, and something like ceremonial magic. Working with the runes reinforces our understanding of divine hierarchy (1). I am grateful, so immensely grateful to be steeped in these mysteries, and this tradition. I am grateful to know about our Gods, to be able to honor Them, to touch – for however long or short a time – the echo of Their presence. Every moment of rune working is a reification of Their glory, Their power, the architecture of creation that They set carefully into place – every single moment.
I am, more and more, coming to think that the runes themselves are worked into that architecture, moving, living pieces of it brought forth from the Gap. They move and flow along its threads and angles and keep creation alive, vital, ever changing. They provide keyholes through which we can tap into that vital creative power. They provide doorways to all that lies behind creation. For this reason alone, the way they interact with each other is an important thing to consider in one’s work with them.
That first aett: fehu, uruz, thurisaz, ansuz, raido, kenaz, gebo, wunjo is filled with life. It’s force and fire, the raw force of vitality that in Greek, I’d term Βιος. It bubbles up and fills every world with wonder and more importantly with luck and power. It’s a bright aett in many ways, the energy of it is bright but it ends in the darkness of mystery just as it began with the promise of a luck drenched hamingja. It’s probably my favorite aett with which to work. I find it surprisingly accessible on the surface (though wunjo can be problematic to access at first) just as I find the third aett, more concerned as it is with concrete manifestation, to be the most difficult (and of course, any definitive statement made about these aetts needs to be viewed as a part of the whole, not definitive, but reflective of my own experience with them. They’re complex, multi-layered beings and what they choose to show is dependent on the relationship the runester has with them, and *that* is a very individual thing).
The runes pair off in interesting ways. This is particularly evident with that first aett. This aett is sometimes called “Freya’s aett” by rune workers of the generation preceding mine and while the runes are part of the Odinic retinue (2), that appellation makes sense to me. It’s not just that I think this generation latched onto the phonetic use of Fehu as the first letter in Freya’s name, but that this entire aett contains the kind of life and vitality so strongly part of the mysteries of the Vanir (3).
Fehu and uruz work extremely well together. I never really thought about this until recently. I’ve just started going through this aett with one of my students and doing it in a systematic order has been very revealing in terms of patterns and relationships that might otherwise not stand out or that might be taken for granted. Thurisaz and ansuz do the same, likewise raido and kenaz, and the sacrifice of gebo leads to the mystery and power of wunjo. Kenaz pairs well with all of them, elevating and opening the way. Raido I haven’t quite figured out yet in this capacity. It contains such an intense forward focused momentum that I feel like it aids the other runes in moving over and past (or through) blockages. It and kenaz are the outliers in these pairings for me in a way that bears further exploration. I’d add that when I say pairings, these are special relationships within this aett. They don’t preclude other working partnerships (thurisaz works extremely well with uruz for instance, or wunjo with fehu, and so forth), but I think these are particularly important in teasing out the overall power and mystery of this particular aett. The order of the runes is important on some level. How do these runes choose to interact with each other and what does that accomplish?
Working through the aett this time, I’ve realized how much Wunjo is a bitch of a rune. All the rune books talk about how it means joy or perfection (and it can). That is only on its surface. It’s also raw, ecstatic inspiration, frenzy, ekstasis. This is the rune of Bolverk when He won Óðrœrir. It’s crafty, clever, and sometimes cruel. Sometimes the force of inspiration really, really hurts. Sometimes, it demands a sacrifice of one’s preconceptions of morality, of right/wrong, one’s comfort. Sometimes it fills the space left by those sacrifices with glory. It’s the wand-rune of a God that doesn’t mind a body count, that doesn’t mind the consequences of necessary sacrifice. It’s far, far more vicious than thurisaz, which is clean and upfront in its hungers. The two of them have … a perplexing relationship that I’ve only begun exploring. Wunjo and dagaz have a similar working relationship with each other.
- It’s not that ceremonial magic can’t do that too, it’s that the way it’s so often taught is unbalanced by lack of attention devotion. Then you get ceremonial magicians who think they are God instead of competent practitioners rooted in the divine hierarchy from which the structures they are wielding flow.
- The Runes are Odin’s mysteries. Other Gods may use them (and DO!) but they are specifically Odinic mysteries and thus part of Odin’s retinue of spirits, just like the Valkyries.
- This just briefly discusses the relationship between the runes of the first aett with each other – and even there, only in brief. It should not be taken to imply that the runes of this aett don’t interact with the runes of the other aettir. They do.
Dver has a brilliant post about the nature of devotional relationships here. I have found the same rubric holds with the elemental powers too. Fire, for instance, will always act according to its nature, regardless of the relationship you have cultivated. Anyway, go, read, learn, ponder. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Head on over to Numen Arts and read this powerful post on glamourbombing by Dver. This has been part of my practice for a couple of years now on and off and I’ve see how powerful it can be. It’s a way of opening doors, just a little, slipping through and bringing something of the Other back, then leaving a key, a tag, a marker that draws others into similar experience. Reset and course correct as I like to say. Anyway, the piece is really good and I recommend giving it a read.
Once every quarter, I and my assistant (and any students or apprentices that I may have at the time) do a head cleansing. I learned this from my time working in ATR houses, and also in spiritualism. It’s a way of cleansing and then nourishing or “feeding” the Ori, the spirit of one’s head, that part of us which in my tradition is called the gythia or godhi(grammatically feminine and masculine respectively, after the ON word for priest) and which represents our soul’s connection to the Gods (1). Give how much pollution we deal with on a regular basis, and the press of our secular work, and just work-life balance, plus the struggles inherent in any active spiritual life, it’s a nice time to clear away the dreck and reset ourselves. It’s also messy as hell.
Without going into too much detail, I combine white substances (2) like coconut milk, regular milk, honey or honey powder, white fruits, white flowers. I sometimes add certain herbs. I mash it all up and ask for Heimdallr’s blessings on it. Then I smear a healthy cup of the goo on a slice of bread, slap it on my crown, i.e. the top of my head, tie on a headwrap securely (3), and usually put a towel around my shoulders in case of leakage. Then I sit in prayer for a couple of hours, after which, I wash it off and go about my business (traditionally, I was taught it’s best to leave it on for twenty-four hours, which means sleeping with it on my head, but I have never done that). Usually we do this on the equinoxes and the solstices, but with everything going on, we forgot to do it this past March.
So, I’ll share with you a moment of hilarity that ensued today as we did this. Because of how drippy this mixture can be, it’s easiest to have someone else put it on your head and assist with tying the headwrap to keep it all secure. So, I was helping my assistant Tatyana. Unlike my head, which I shave to honor the dead, she has thick, waist-length hair. As a result, she needed a bit more preparation than I for this cleansing. I helped her pin her hair back and poured a cup of the cleansing mixture on a slice of bread. She was trying to position herself so that I could most easily put it on her crown. She leaned back and I, being a woman of action ha ha, slapped it right down on the top of her head. There was only one problem. She moved just as I was putting it down, and I, in my exuberance, used way too much momentum. She came within a quarter of an inch of getting a face full of cleansing mash. It didn’t help that we were laughing our asses off through the whole thing. She had it not just on her head, but all down one side of her face and in her ear too. (I just read this out loud to her and she said, “I am very clean.” with a grin and a double thumbs up). The saving grace of this practice (other than that it really does effect a spiritual restoration of the head) is that the mixture smells really nice.
You know, it’s been a hell of a year all around and I think we could all use a good laugh now and again. Laughter itself can be apotropaic. So, I hope y’all had at least a chuckle reading this. I know that spirit work can seem strange, weird, sometimes a little frightening, sometimes wonderful and filled with ecstatic devotion. It can be all of that and more. But you know, sometimes it’s nothing more than the absurdity of coconut milk and other assorted ingredients dripping out of one’s ear.
Enjoy your weekend, folks.
- This is the part of our souls always in connection with the Gods, as opposed to Vè, which means holiness or holy place and is also the name of a soul-part that represents our reservoir of holiness, something that may be cultivated and strengthened by prayer, devotion, and aligning ourselves properly with the Gods. My assistant today said, “so the gythia/godhi part is like PVC tubing that leads to the Gods and through which They can pour holiness?” and…yes, as a description that’s good enough for government work, as the saying goes.
- White dress is sort of like a spiritual biohazard suit and using white substances carries the same associations of purification. Plus (and this is my personal theory), using different types of milk represents nourishment, milk being one of the first substances a child takes. It’s nourishment on the most primal level. The honey, fruit, and flowers represent sweetness. Nature abhors a vacuum so after cleansing, it’s important to fill that space with something good.
- I usually cut a length of white linen and use that, discarding it after. I’m not generally one for wasting cloth, but this is my one exception to that rubric.
Dver has written an excellent post on working with plant spirits, which I highly recommend here. I find this particularly intriguing since I rarely consume any plant ally and yet work with them in various ways as a matter of course. I never thought that consumption was required, though I know that far too many books on the matter will suggest this (or warn categorically against it. Take your pick. I don’t think absolutes in work like this are ever helpful). Anyway, if your spiritual work involves plant path, give this a read.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
One of the key mysteries of our tradition is that of the runes. The word itself, rún, rúnar (1) means just that: ‘secret’ or ‘mystery.’ Our high God Odin (Oðinn) hung on Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days in agony, pierced by His own spear, a sacrifice to Himself. The result of this ordeal was acquisition of the runes and the knowledge and ability to wield them. There is much the story doesn’t tell us, starting with where the runes originate, what they are, and what their connection to the fabric of creation might be.
I talk about all of these things in my book Living Runes, so I won’t focus on that too much in this post. In short, I think they originate in the Ginnungagap, are a family of living, sentient spirits, and are worked into the architecture of existence in numerous ways, creating loopholes through which the holy can seep (or work) again and again. When I think about this, they’re so often in motion, coursing through creation the way platelets, plasma, and blood cells course through our veins. They may rivet the more liminal parts of creation in place, or they may whirl and dance through the world working His will and their own. I think it varies and it’s something I’m still exploring in my own practice.
What I wanted to discuss today is one of the techniques that I employed when I was first learning how to really engage with the runes. This is also something that I give to my apprentices when they are learning the runes for themselves. Usually, this is done after one has initially met the runes through offerings and galdr – a round 1 of ‘getting to know you,’ shall we say. Once a student has passing familiarity with the runes, knows what they are, has maybe galdred a bit, or meditated with them, once he or she has his or her own devotional relationships to Gods and ancestors securely established (2), when that student is ready for the second round of in-depth engagement, this is what I have each of my apprentices do (and no, this isn’t in my book). I do this myself every now and again myself. One never stop learning after all!
Before I describe this, I want to offer one caveat. If you are going to do this, begin with Odin. He is Master of the Runes (Rúnatýr – God of the runes) and they are first and foremost His mysteries. Afterwards, next approach the Deity or Deities in turn to whom you are dedicated, Whom you would consider your fulltrui, Who hold the most significant place in your personal devotions. This is simply a matter of both protocol, and courtesy and respect.
Now, onto the exercise.
A). Make a list of the various Deities that you venerate or Whose insight you might be interested in gaining with respect to the runes. For instance, Odin, Frigga, Freya, Loki, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Heimdall, Mani, Sunna, Sinthgunt, Eir. (Make your own list, starting with Odin. This is just an example, though it’s close to the list one of my apprentices recently employed).
B). Each night, meditate upon and galdr the same rune, first making offerings to one of these Deities, and then to the rune itself. So, start with Fehu. Set up a working altar or shrine, some place where you can make offerings to the rune of the night and to whatever Deity you’re approaching. If you have a personal household shrine (and if you’re doing this, you should (3)), you can go ahead and use that. The first night, make an offering to Odin. Offer prayers to Him and ask Him if He would be willing to teach you something about fehu. Make an offering to fehu itself, asking it if it would work with Odin and teach you something about itself. Then galdr the rune, meditate on it, write down your insights. Thank the two powers, Deity and rune invoked, and you are done for the night. Work through your list of Deities meditating on the *same* rune. When you’re done, move on to the next rune and go through the list again in the same order.
What you’re essentially doing is building your own book of correspondences as you engage in this process. I would also repeat this, either approaching the same Deities or perhaps with a new list (though always begin with Odin. He is the doorway to the runes in many respects), every few months. Be polite when you approach both Powers. You are not after all, entitled to Their wisdom. As with anything, the more polite you are, the more productive this is likely to be. Even having worked with the runes for close to thirty years, I still keep this in mind every time I approach them. At the end of your list, or even somewhere in the middle of it, do one night where you do NOT approach a Deity, but work only through the rune itself.
I stumbled on this process of approaching various Deities like this accidentally. I was having a bit of trouble with something and struggling to figure out how to work the rune I had decided to call upon. Completely unexpectedly, Sigyn sorted it out giving me an unexpected bit of insight. I thought, ‘wait. You know runes?’ Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised – She is a Deity after all –but when we have deeply personal devotional relationships with our individual Gods, it can be easy to forget that They are well, Gods. It can be easy to think that we know Them as we might know a friend down the way. We may indeed know a little given that relationships are mutual processes, but no matter how much experience we have in devotion to a Deity, THEY are always so much more.
One of the things that I really like about this particular exercise also, is that it allows the one doing it the opportunity to approach Deities he or she may not have previously considered approaching. It allows for a potential devotional relationship to bloom. It gets one out of one’s comfort zone, away from the regular way of doing things and allows room for unexpected insights to occur.
There are things to consider when you are engaging in this process: how does the rune feel? When you galdr, do you get any images running through your mind, any words popping up wanting to be worked into the galdr, any other sensory expressions of its presence (and that may include taste and smell too)? How do you feel before, during, and after? Has your impression of the rune changed at all? Do your best to keep a good record of this. It is helpful when you’re going back to check your progress. Be sure to stay hydrated and maybe eat a little protein after your nightly sessions. I would also be sure to center and ground well afterwards.
Finally, the futhark tells a story. Each Aett (4) contains its own mysteries. It is normal that some runes will prove harder and more difficult to access than others. That’s ok, and the reverse is also true. Most will have one or two runes stepping forward as a guide through the futhark and through one’s work therein. When you encounter a rune that just won’t open, that’s ok. Be respectful, do your best, make your offerings and come back to it later. There are runes (for me, mostly in the third aett) that have taken years before they allowed me to so much as dip a toe into their mysteries. Again, as with so much spirit-work, you’re building a relationship. Part of the process of learning to work with runes is that they are learning your mental patterns, internal language, internal symbol set and you are learning something of theirs and the two of you are building this pidgin (is that the correct linguistic term?) by which you can communicate. You’re learning each other’s language and building a shared syllabary through which you can productively communicate. That’s going to take time. Some things cannot be rushed.
Before I close, I want to take a moment’s focus on the first aett. As with our sacred texts, there are numerous ways that one can approach and interpret the narratives that we’re given. Since there are numerous patterns in the way the runes relate to each other, one can tell many stories. While these stories are not direct engagement with the runic powers, they are a means of conceptualizing and learning from them. They are doorways into each rune’s power. Here is a very brief way of reading through the first aett connectively. Fehu is the luck that flows through our blood (ancestral luck, hamingja), vitality, wealth, abundance, power. Like a sap through a tree or chlorophyll through a leaf, it flows through our veins and the veins of our soul body giving it life – just like Loður gave us sense-awareness and color, and the roaring pulse of our heart’s blood when the Gods created humanity. Uruz is raw power, maegen, the ability to tap into, access, and use one’s luck. It is initiation that awakens us to the Powers, challenge by which we earn the right to use what we have been given. Thurisaz is a challenge to focus, to discipline, to hone and temper our power. It’s the hard work we do to strengthen our spiritual and ethical muscles. It is the force that shatters our illusions, clears us out, devours what no longer serves, frees one – sometimes violently – from constraints, burns like napalm in the soul until we order ourselves rightly and leave our bullshit behind. (Edited 3/7 to include ansuz, as I was writing with a migraine and accidentally left one of my favorite runes out). Ansuz is divine inspiration, ecstasy (in the classical religious sense), surety and confidence in the Work. It is the touch of the Gods, grace that allows us to persevere in our spiritual becoming even when it is hard. It is the opener of the way, that, if we are working to become rightly ordered, will show us the way forward. Raido is movement, momentum, overcoming of obstacles, the progress made when we accomplish the first three runic lessons and are rightly ordered with the Powers, and the power by which we may find our way through any obstacles in the way of that. Kenaz is the torch, the hearth fire, the offering fire, a candle on a shrine, the light of knowledge, piety, and devotion. It is that which we have been given to tend, to keep fed and bright and warm (our devotion, our traditions). Gebo is the process of exchange between us and the Holy powers, the law by which we are called to live our lives, the pious sensibility underlying every positively ordered engagement with the Powers, and with each other. Wunjo is the fulfillment of fehu, pleasure and ecstatic awareness of the powers, perfection and glory, joy and transformative power. It is the sum total of the other seven runes in this aett. One cannot access the fullness of wunjo, without first accessing and understanding these preceding runes. Wunjo is also the mead of inspiration, of frenzy, of magic, of inspiration on every possible level. How will you drink of it, how will it shape itself to your mind and talents? It will enliven you for the work to come with the next aett, which takes us down immediately into the place of the dead. This is the foundational work one must do in order to access the Mysteries, in order to be of use to our Gods, in order to become functionally realized human beings. It is ongoing work, and the runes can reflect that, though they are also so much more (5). I would also stress that this is only one way of lightly tapping into their insights.
I’ll wrap this up for now. As all rune work begins with Odin, so too should it end with praises to this God Who had the will to win them.
Hail to the God of the gallows,
Terrible and unrelenting.
Hail to the Wyrd-riven Wonder-worker,
Who leaves ecstasy in His wake.
Hail to the Bale-eyed Beguiler,
with His whispered charms
and savage conjurings.
Hail to the Lord of Asgard,
Architect of the Worlds
Who breathed us into Being,
Eternally let us praise Him.
- These are the nominative and genitive singular forms respectively.
- It goes without saying that the runes are a specialty, as well as being a Mystery all their own, and not only does one not have to work with the runes to be a good Heathen, but those who don’t already have their spiritual houses, i.e. their devotional world, in some semblance of order, should not work with them. They are tools of magic and divination and it becomes very complicated, very quickly.
- Really, if you don’t have the most basic devotional space set up and active in your home, you’re not ready to work with the runes no matter how far along you think you are.
- This word just refers to a set of eight. There are three sets of eight that make up the elder futhark.
- They are sentient, amoral, non-human spirits. They have their own agendas and are allied to the All-Father Who also has His agenda. It’s healthy to never forget that.