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Happy Thor’s Day – July 29, 2021

I’ve been trying to deepen my prayer practice lately. I feel like somewhere in the rush of grad school, I fell away from some of my regular practices and that’s not where I’d like to be. I plan on writing more about how and when I pray, sharing prayers, quotes, and other ideas that have helped me and maybe might help my readers. 

I don’t think there’s anything more important than prayer. It’s one of *the* most basic, most foundational practices we have in building a solid, personally sustainable spiritual life. It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially if one wasn’t raised in a devout household (I realize more and more that I was so incredibly lucky to have good devotional models growing up). There are formal, “set” prayers, extempore praying, and quiet contemplation, the type of daily engagement that roots one deeply in awareness that we are surrounded by Gods and spirits and this is good and holy. We move through a world graced with the sacred. Having grown up praying (which doesn’t mean I have a good prayer practice. I don’t think I do.), I never thought of this as a potential problem, but more and more, folks have been asking me about prayer, how to do it, and what is right or wrong in the process. I’m happy to answer questions to the best of my ability to send your questions along and I’ll do my best. In the meantime, I’m going to talk about my Thursday routine. 

Firstly, the moment I open my eyes, I usually try to mutter out Sigdrifa’s prayer (from the Sigdrifumal, the translation I use reads: Hail to the Day, and Day’s sons; Hail to Night and Her daughters. With loving eyes look upon us here and bring victory. Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses! Hail to the mighty fecund earth! Eloquence and native wit bestow upon us here, and healing hands while we live.).  Because this prayer really sort of reifies our entire cosmology (I read “Hail to the mighty fecund earth” as including our ancestors, whose bones rest in the earth. Also, we are formed in part from the minerals our parents and their parents, and so forth back generation by generation have eaten courtesy of the food and water taken from the land) I usually say it multiple times a day as the mood strikes. 

I’m not a morning person, but once I’m mobile, I start the Mundilfari adorations, which you can find here.  These are brief prayers for waking, noon, sundown, midnight. I usually manage them all and what I miss, my assistant catches. 

I have a huge set of prayer beads that I use and I often find myself going through these when I exercise. I don’t use the beads themselves at the gym, but keep count in my head – I try to get to the gym a couple times a week. Often I will dedicate the workout to Hermes, Thor, or one of our Healing Deities. 

I try to pray before meals. This is the one I forget quite often because with my work schedule, I tend to graze rather than have sit-down meals at a set time. I’m working on this one though, to be more mindful.  I think it’s important and I’ve gotten into a bad habit of not being mindful about this here that’s proving harder than I’d like to break. 

I also offer a prayer to various Gods (usually Odin, Mani, Loki, et Al) before I begin my work. Sometimes I’ll pray to other Deities (Hermes, Apollo) if I’m feeling more pulled to the Roman part of m practice that day. It depends on what I’m doing, what I’m teaching, etc. I also read quite a bit of early Christian material for (academic) work and there is quite a bit of good information there, so I parse that out when I find it and tuck it away. Why reinvent the wheel? So I’ll try to also read something polytheistic to cleanse my mind just in case, and center myself in our Gods. When I find a good piece of Christian writing though, I will add it to the florilegia I typically keep. Likewise any other writing including secular. If it helps, it helps. I try to read or meditate on something like this a little each day. I ask myself what this can teach me about my own practice. What can I learn? How will this deepen my relationship devotionally to my Gods? Lately, also, I’ve been spending a great deal of time contemplating our [Norse] creation story. I think this is maybe the most important part of our lore and every time I meditate on it, I go more deeply into it and come up with greater insight. It refreshes my practice and it’s this that taught me that when we do ritual or prayer, we’re reifying the moment the Gods came together and set the architecture of the worlds in motion. It taught me the deep need to align our wills and our hearts and our souls with our Gods too in every possible way (even if we have to keep plugging away at it for the rest of our lives to get it right). 

Sometimes in the morning there is a small ritual I do as a spirit worker, but that is a simple greeting to all the Powers with some minor offerings. I also tend our household Lararium and make offerings (usually candles, water, coffee, or liquor) to our ancestors. 

In the evening, on most days (we miss here and there), we gather as a household and pray. There’s no set time for this: we pray as long as we feel like praying and often conclude with prayers for those in our families and household who are sick or struggling, or the well-being of those we love. There are also certain prayers of protection we do regularly. 

Lately, and I’ve just gone back to this after a fairly long absence, I’ve been trying to make special offerings and prayers to whatever Deity rules the day. For Heathens, Monday is Mani’s Day, Tuesday Tyr’s, Wednesday Woden’s, Thursday Thor’s, Friday Freya or Frigga’s (we honor Them both), Saturday a day for cleansing. Originally in Latin it was Saturn’s day. Personally, I tend to give special offerings to Loki and Sigyn on this day, and then Sunday of course, is Sunna’s. 

Thor is just amazing. I’ve written about Him before here here

Because today is His day, I intend to pay special focus to Him all day, turning my mind to His stories, His nature, the feel of His presence when He is invoked, and the incredible way that He cleanses away pollution and evil as though it were nothing at all. He truly is the great Protector of humankind. I want to center my day, each day, around gratitude to the Powers remembering always how deeply blessed I have been in my life. It changes the way we move in the world to think of these things, to consciously choose devotion, faith, and gratitude, to choose to cultivate that which most benefits our devotion to cultivate. I pray to this God of strength and fortitude, that I shall always have the strength to make the appropriate choices in these things, especially when it is most difficult. Here is a prayer that I have written for Him today:

Today, I want to call You by Your English Name: 
Thunor, God of Thunder, Mighty Hammer Wielder, 
Friend of Humanity, and Protector of all the worlds. 
You protect our sacred places, our groves and sanctuaries 
and most of all the shrines and holy spaces of our hearts 
that we may lay ourselves down before our Gods 
in adoration, in love, in deepest gratitude without fear, 
without hesitation knowing that You, 
Great-Hearted Husband of Sif, 
Generous beyond measure, 
will always guard our comings and goings. 
You are a loving Father to three joyful children 
and just as You would no more allow Them to come to harm, 
so we too may rest securely in Your watchful care. 

Oh God of the oak, God of holy places, 
God of the mound, I shall never for sake You. 
Please, I pray, watch over my ancestors, 
those of blood and those of spirit. 
Grant that our dead may rest in peace, 
strengthened by Your care, 
the vitality only You, son of Odin bring. 

That is my prayer for today. 
I am so grateful for the chance to honor You, 
so grateful for the chance to pay You homage. 
Hail Thunor, Thor, Thunder-riding God of Asgard. 

In Praise of Thor

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thor lately. In the Himiskviða and, I believe the Voluspa, He is given the epithet Vèurr, which means “Hallower,” i.e. One who hallows, One who makes something holy. A variant of this epithet, with roughly the same meaning is Víurðr (Defender of the shrine).Thor is also the Defender (or by some translations, Keeper or Protector – all are correct) of Midgard. He girds our world against destruction and dissolution. I’ve been pondering these particular heiti since someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, which of our Gods I would invoke should I ever need to perform an exorcism. Since then, I’ve also been working prayers to Thor specifically calling upon Him as Vèurr into our near-nightly prayer regimen. It’s been enlightening. 

I will speak first to the way my sensorium interprets His presence when He is called thusly. When He comes there is a force, a fullness, a weight, a Power, a Presence. At the same time, if there was pollution and/or miasma present, it dissipates and the room visually lightens (it seems to grow cleaner and above all else brighter and sharper). In tandem with this, His presence is a comfort and while there is an enormity and sometimes even a ferocity to it, that is never – that I have yet encountered—directed toward us, but toward that which threatens, toward malignancy and pollution. Like all our Gods, His Presence carries with it its own rhythm and vibrancy too and a in Thor’s case, a sense of deep groundedness.

Thor has a number of heiti, and I’m sure that modern devotees have added even more to the traditional list. When Thor comes as Vèurr though, what specifically does that mean? I mentioned in my creation article part 2 that epithets are important. They are lenses through which the Gods reveal something of Themselves, lenses through which They may act in our lives and in the world. To use a particular epithet is to petition the Deity in question to reveal Him or Herself in a particular way, to petition Them to act by means of a particular role – to come wielding this type of power and not that type (to come as one Who hallows for instance with all that may entail, and not as God of fertility or storm God or God of X.). It’s never meant to limit a Deity – we do not have that power nor should we seek it – but it allows us a cognitive lens by which we are better able to connect devotionally, to seek understanding, and to engage in effective veneration. 

What does it mean for something to be holy? Our modern English word comes from the Old English word halig– to be whole. It’s also related to the Old norse heilagr (1). This word has a rich meaning not only of holy, but of ‘invulnerable, belonging or destined for the Gods (and therefore treated with proper reverence), sacred (2). So for our ancestors, holiness was directly connected to health, well-being, good luck, and integrity (in the sense of wholeness, proper integrity of a being or thing) (3). 

To be holy is to be, again according to its etymology, godly (4). What does this mean? I interpret this as a call to reify and align ourselves with the divine order of creation. To be holy is about integrity of the spirit, heart, and mind, and in this context, that integrity means being properly aligned with the architecture the Gods have created, an architecture of which we are a part. To be “godly” for us as human beings (who have been carefully crafted by our Gods and imbued with certain inherent gifts that enable us to move in, experience, and effect the world), is to behave in a way that reflects our connection to the Gods, to reflect to the best of our ability, the connection via Their creation of us and the gifts given therein. Moreover, and more importantly: the Gods created the scaffolding of creation. They set it in order and continually work to maintain it (5). If we are “godly,” then recognizing that order and doing our own part to maintain it (through our devotion, through the way we move in the world, through piety, through cultivating formation of our spirits, through cultivating virtue congruent with how our Gods would have us move in the world) is part of that too. 

To hallow then, means to restore a person, place, or thing to a state of holiness, i.e. to drive out any pollution and restore the ontological integrity of the person/place/thing vis-à-vis the unfolding of that divinely crafted architecture. With these specific praise names for Thor, (Vèurr and Víurðr), what is this work of hallowing? It is the work of rendering something congruent with that original, primordial order that our creator Gods established, bringing it into the attention of a God, and determining its proper place (6). I think this ties in, partly, to all the stories we have of Thor fighting forces of chaos, or various Jötnar because this highlights that it’s not always engaging with something because it is malignant or evil – I don’t believe the Jötnar are evil – but rather preventing disruption of divine order. Thor restores that order by restoring the proper place of things. He rebalances. Of course with what is malignant or evil, well, then He may choose to eradicate and cleanse, rendering holiness by removing its opposite (7). 

I think it’s worth asking too when He is hailed as “Guardian of the shrine,” what does that specifically entail? What is a shrine and what happens there? It is the heart of community or personal worship. A shrine is a doorway for the Gods, a place to honor Them, a place to experience Them. It is a seat of honor, property, real-estate belonging to the God or Gods in question for Whom the shrine has been made. It is a visual representation not only of devotion and veneration but also of liturgy and tradition, especially tradition. Just as one consciously aligns oneself with divine order to become holy (deepening that ever as we are able), so too a shrine makes that statement externally, visually. It becomes a place of full sensory experience of that from which holiness comes: i.e. the Reginn (8). It becomes a mediator for our experience and for the history, the present experience, and the future of our traditions, particularly the individual cultic traditions of a particular God or Goddess. Thor preserves that. This tells us that these things are crucial and worth preserving. 

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Thor in the future but in the meantime, here are two briefer pieces that I’ve written over the last couple of years on this wondrous God. You can read those here and here. They mostly discuss the meaning behind His most well-known attribute: Mjölnir. 

Notes:

  1. See entry for ‘holy’ here https://www.etymonline.com/word/holy
  2. See p. 92 and the definition of heilagr in A Glossary to the Poetic Edda (translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Worterburch by students at the University of Victoria), 1987. Personally, I think that a difference could and maybe even should be parsed out between ‘holy’ and ‘sacred,’ but that is a bit beyond the scope of this post. 
  3. We could, of course, argue that this would include being properly ordered ethically and morally in a way that articulates and advances the divine order and architecture that the Gods have set into motion, in addition of course to physical and perhaps even cognitive integrity. 
  4. See footnote 1. 
  5. Hence Odin’s constant search for knowledge, or Thor and Loki’s various journeys throughout the worlds. Hence, Their engagement with us via the conduit of ongoing devotion. By engaging with us, They are engaging with the world, and that engagement presupposes to my mind, the obligation for us to reflect in our own lives, work, interiority of faith, and exteriority of praxis, what the Gods Themselves give, reveal, and pour forth into our world through our cognition of and veneration of Them and moreover, how we can assist in Their project. 
  6. Of course, when we are talking about sacred things or holy things, there is also an element of imbuing spaces, places, people, and things with the positive contagion of divine awareness…though as I write this, more and more, I think making something holy is really about restoring its full place in the divine architecture, waking it up to its place and everything that naturally flows from that. It’s a shift in awareness, and in the construction of being. 
  7. Part of this process is also making a person, place, or thing inhospitable to the unholy, the malignant, the wicked. What is imbued with the force of a God, what is in proper ordered alignment with the divine architecture is not a place where evil can be present. That is not to say it will not try to find purchase, or to induce us to move out of that holy alignment. I think evil in whatever capacity it presents itself will do all those things and more. Here’s the thing though, and it’s a crucial thing. As John Cassian said in his Conferences, particularly in Conference VII, evil spirits, wicked spirits, and other malignant things have only the access we give them. The necessary component to devotional integrity is learning how to avoid providing that access. 
  8. Reginn is an Old Norse term for Holy Powers. 
Thor Fighting Giants by Martin Winge