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Retiring a Drinking Horn

My very first drinking horn has finally cracked and chipped around the rim (despite the fact that I use food grade mineral oil and/or beeswax to regularly condition all my horns). It is old and has taken a beating. It’s the horn that I would use whenever I had to travel for any liturgical work or workshops. I fear it’s time to retire the poor thing (though I have the option of keeping it tucked away to use as a didactic tool – I always bring a ton of “material culture” from various religious traditions into my classes when I teach intro to theology –a drinking horn, shaman drum, icons, prayer shawls, medieval manuscript pages, statues, prayer beads, music, you name it). I have several other horns, including a few that are much more elaborately carved and decorated but this one, which has a simple etching of Odin on it, was the first I ever owned and holds a rather sentimental place in my heart. 

So, it’s currently sitting on my main shrine and I’m contemplating what to do with it, and I realized that we don’t really have any standard protocol or rites for disposing of sacred objects. I don’t recall ever reading anything in the surviving lore pointing to what one might do either, though I vaguely remember one of the sagas talking about gently committing statues and items to deep and running water so that they won’t be destroyed now that the community was Christian. I read a lot though, so it’s entirely possible I’m mixing up my sources. At any rate, that seems like it might be respectful, and I suppose I could do that. It just doesn’t quite feel correct to me though (and I have to admit, that might simply be my own attachment to my tools. I save up and put a lot of care into choosing the best I can within my budget for my shrines, so an awful lot of thought goes into each piece). 

Do any of you know of any Heathen rites for putting a tool to rest? Do any of you have any particular rituals or prayers that you employ for such things—even if you’re not Heathen, I’d be very interested in hearing what you do? It seems…incorrect to just toss out a tool that has been used in liturgy and personal devotion for the better part of thirty years. If it were ritual garb, I would burn it in a sacred fire, but I’m actually not sure if a horn will burn. So…thoughts, anyone? 

Beautiful Things for Our Gods and Dead

My housemate Tatyana is working on a beautiful project for both her ancestors and her Gods, particularly the Goddess Freya. She’s Ukrainian and if you look at traditional Ukrainian garb, you may notice beautiful, multi-tiered necklaces, often with pendants attached (1). Traditionally, these beaded strands were given to girls at key moments in their lives, a strand being added for each significant point of transition.  They are then passed down the generations. She told me that while most of the necklaces were made of red beads, white necklaces could be given at marriage and then passed down from mother to daughter (2). Tatyana is a spirit worker and a gyðja (priest) in training and almost two years ago, via divination, Freya directed her to make two necklaces, one white and one red. She‘s almost finished with the white one, and it is stunning. When I saw it today, I asked her permission to write about it here, which she graciously gave. 

Tatyana’s necklace, not quite, but nearly done.

The beads are Siberian reindeer bone. Each pendant represents a particular Deity, ancestor, or group thereof, to whom she pays homage. A great deal of divination went into determining which Deities should be included, and what type of pendant Each of Them wanted, and whether each particular God or spirit should be on the white necklace or the red (this latter is not pictured here). There was divination throughout every single step and then some—I know, becuase I was the diviner for some of it! Each pendant has been carefully chosen and most of them have been handmade just for Tatyana, often from amber, sometimes from gold. It‘s been an expensive project and she has made a lot of personal sacrifices in order to be able to afford it, stretching it out over months and months for the same reason, and it has taken a very long time to get it just right. All of this is in love and devotion to Freyja. All of this is a pouring out of her love for her Gods into this piece that will be a useful tool in her work for the rest of her life. 

In our particular tradition, one of the first serious tools that spiritworkers receive are necklaces marking their committment to their sacred Work, and delineating that work. For me, that happened when I was midway through my ordeal cycle years and years ago. I received three, one marking my job as a diviner, one marking my ordeal cycle and my work as a vitki, and one for my work – which I didn‘t know i‘d be doing at the time—as an ancestor worker. Like Tatyana, I made them myself. 

In my father‘s Lithuanian culture, instead of necklaces, it‘s woven sashes (3). I don‘t know how to weave them, but I‘ve contacted several artists in Lithuania who make them and I have several that I use in my own spiritual work. They were traditionally made by young women and given as gifts at moments of transition. For instance, when Tatyana joined our religious House, I gave her one to welcome her and to mark the occasion. 

Lithuanian woven sash — this one is actually the one I gifted to Tatyana upon her moving into the House.

It doesn’t matter where you come from. Anyone may honor the Gods. Anyone, provided they are willing to be respectful and pious, may venerate our Gods. Likewise, we all have ancestors and it doesn’t matter from where those ancestors come. The important thing is to honor them because they are our foundation and strength. One thing I’ve learned through my own work, through seeing Tatyana’s work is that the practices that come from our ancestral cultures might just weave their way into our spiritual work, bridging the space between living and dead, past and present, ancestors, Gods, and us too.  I see it as a microcosm of Brisingamen, enfolding us in Their protection, and of Bifrost connecting us now and always throughout the Worlds. 

Notes: 

  1. Called дукачь – dukach’, which I think is etymologically related to the 14th century French word for particular type of coin: ducat.
  2. She told me that often you’ll see a young woman wearing one white strand and then the rest of the necklace is red. I wonder if it was a case of a mother having more than one daughter and parceling out the gift of her own wedding necklace, one strand to each daughter. 
  3. I’m a mutt. My dad is 99% Lithuanian with a bit of Russian in there. My maternal side is Swiss, German, Scots-Irish (Hannay Clan! ^_^), Huguenot, and English – mostly Swiss and German. My adopted mom was Swiss and Venezuelan, with a bit of Spanish. My sister is half-Korean. My husband is Italian with a smidge of Welsh and fully half Blackfoot Native. I include all of these lines on my ancestor shrine because they too are my family. It’s a beautiful mix and I love it all. Because I grew up around my maternal family, that has had the largest influence on me, but the past couple of years I’ve been drawn more closely to my Lithuanian line. I write more about my genealogy at my other blog, though be warned, I don’t update it often. 

Greeting New Spirits- There is a Protocol

And oh how I wish I’d remembered that tonight!

It has been a very, very fruitful Yule season. As part of that, there is an ongoing cycle of gift exchange and my family gifted me with several ongon, spirit infused ritual pieces. They are beautiful and the first two were welcomed into the house with all the decorum new spirit allies should receive. The second two …um…not so much. There is a lesson here and one I am both grateful for but should really know by now. 

Two of them sat in a box for a week, maybe a little more. They’d arrived right before our solstice ritual proper, and we were only expecting one. They were big spirits and I knew that it would be very important to place them properly but we don’t really do divination during the ember days, at least not from Modranacht till the New Year, and we all knew that div would be required to determine the proper place for them to live. All of that would have been fine, but we didn’t properly explain it when we packed them away, and then new problems arose tonight when we did our first divination of the year. 

We got it sorted out, but at first it was really aggravating. They wouldn’t respond to any of the divination systems we use. I kept getting “go to divination” but they weren’t familiar with our systems and we didn’t know theirs. It took much, much longer than it should have done and it wasn’t until the whole thing was over and done with, and I was placing one of the spirits that he explained to me what we should have done. I’m sharing that here for any of you who might find yourself in the same boat. Let me just say, I’m grateful for the patience of these two new spirits, tremendously so. 

Firstly, we should have greeted them and made small offerings right away. It was fine not to divine for a week or so, but rather than keep them in a box, we should have welcomed them and incorporated them into the household rituals. That way, they would learn about us, we about them, the household spirits would get to know them and vice versa, and it would be easier to figure out how to forge a functional relationship. They’re not things. These are living spirits. It was like I kept a super genius cat locked in a box for a week because I wasn’t sure where to put his food! Or like grandma came to visit and you kept her locked in the bathroom for a week! Both working with spirits and divination involving spirits is a matter of learning each other’s languages, symbol systems, mental metaphor and image maps, of figuring out how to most efficiently communicate with each other. We lost out on an opportunity to do that early on and we were unintentionally rude too.  What’s more, had we let our house spirits get to know the new spirits and vice versa, our own spirits could have better facilitated this whole process. 

Secondly, when we sat down to divine tonight, we should have started by inviting the new spirits in, welcoming them again, making offerings and most importantly of all, explaining the systems we use, how they work, etc. THAT is what made the whole thing so aggravating. They had to figure that out on their own because it never in a million years occurred to us to make that explanation before we started. 

Everything worked out well in the end, there were apologies and offerings made and the situation was properly sorted but we made it a lot harder on ourselves by not having a set protocol instituted as a matter of course when welcoming new spirits into the cadre. I have a set protocol for divination from which I never deviate and I instituted that after a horrible experience where I was tricked by an unhappy and sick spirit, a recently deceased ancestor of the client who was jealous and angry that my client had a life while the spirit, who had died of a drug overdose, no longer did. It was nasty, messy, and never would have been so had we stuck to our protocols. That time, I was convinced to skip them. Never again. Now, I have learned another valuable lesson about first contact protocol (lol) and it’s not one that anyone in my house will neglect from here on out. 

One caveat: because we are so familiar with the Gods and spirits that form such a strong and beloved part of our Household cadre, we tend to forget to be properly formal (and hospitable, because that is what these protocols are, in part) with new spirits. 

I hope this is helpful to those of you reading this who likewise have spiritwork concerns. I receive a lot of questions about how to engage properly with Gods and spirits, about my own protocols, and I find that sometimes pointing out where one falls short, and the lessons learned from that can be tremendously valuable. We learn, by Gods we learn. It sure as hell isn’t always pretty though. 

Katharmoi

So within NT shamanism we have a specific divination system to determine what type of purification will work best, in the event that we or our clients require purification. (Of course this isn’t the only thing we use but if all other types of div and discernment have failed, there is a specific system for this). That is more or less lineaged material but I happened to show it to my husband. His eyes gleamed and he got all excited and asked if he could use it as the basis for one of his own systems. Since while it technically is part of the lineaged material, it’s part that can be shared with non-initiates, I explained the extremely simple system to him. He nodded and disappeared into his office and emailed me the following about a half hour later.

It is an awesome system based on the Greek theory of the four humours. He gave me permission to share it here. This in turn has inspired a friend and colleague to do yet another riff on the system and I love the interconnectedness and mutually inspiring nature of this work. A Heathen makes up a system and it’s down, dirty, and simple. A Bacchic, southern Italian, Hellenic inspired Orpheotelest tries it and he gets all fancy. ^_^.

Here it is.

elements Katharmoi

(by Sannion)

This is the method of prescribing cleansings.

You will need four stones, a die, and a pouch to keep them in.

 

The four stones represent the rizomata panton, the “roots of all things” or primordial elements which Empedokles described as follows:

Now hear the fourfold roots of everything:
shining Zeus, enlivening Hera, Aidoneus,
and Nestis, moistening mortal springs with her tears.

The stones should either have their Greek name inscribed on them or be of an appropriate color, as derived from the Galenic humours.

Fire = (πῦρ pur) = hot and dry = yellow
Air = (ἀήρ aer) = hot and wet = red
Earth = (γῆ ge) = cold and dry = black
Water = (ὕδωρ hudor) = cold and wet = white

Draw the stone out to determine where the root cause of the problem lies and then roll the die to determine the nature of the cleansing that needs to be prescribed.

FIRE
1. Pass fire over the body.
2. Walk on coals.
3. Write your afflictions down on scraps of paper and then give them to the fire.
4. Burn an effigy of your enemy.
5. Keep a flame burning for a month.
6. Wear red clothing for a week and work on cultivating the fire within.

AIR
1. Fumigate with bay or other purifying herbs.
2. Cleanse using music.
3. Cleanse through prayer, singing or intoning words of power.
4. Burn incense every day for a month.
5. Devote yourself to intellectual study and practice mindfulness and meditation.
6. Cover your head, especially when you’re outside the home.

EARTH
1. Apply sacred ash.
2. Cover with mud and sit upon the bare earth for three hours.
3. Make offerings to the ancestors.
4. Make offerings to the land-spirits.
5. Ground and center.
6. Thoroughly clean and put your home in order.

WATER
1. Fast.
2. Cleanse with chernips.
3. Take a cleansing bath, with milk and appropriate herbs.
4. Bathe in a river.
5. Cleanse through tears.
6. Wear all white for a week.