Autumn Hymn to Freyr
Hail Freyr, golden King
Lord of green and growing things!
He who gives us rain and sun,
life and peace for everyone
Son of Njordh and Nerthus, too
Gerda's love, we welcome you!
Hail Freyr, golden King
Lord of green and growing things!
He who gives us rain and sun,
life and peace for everyone
Son of Njordh and Nerthus, too
Gerda's love, we welcome you!
The Huffington Post recently got the chance to compare Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Oprah Winfrey, which already lets you know that things have gone off the rails. The short of it is that each of these people took someone and projected their own religion upon them; Dawkins and Maher projected Atheism upon President Obama and Pope Francis (I wish I was kidding) respectively, while Winfrey projected a vague sort of theism onto her guest, Diana Nyad (an Atheist). The article goes on to elaborate upon how crude such presumptions are, no matter their intention. Assurances of “no really, you're the same as me!” may be spoken with a mindset that is complimentary, but the reality is that it just ends up as a subtle insult. It leaves their religious viewpoint up to consensus rather than the dictates of their own soul.
Respect for the religions of others is, like many things, easy to talk about but much more complicated in practice. It's easy to stumble without meaning to, and modern Paganism has a pretty unique stumbling block that seems to effect people on all sides.
An interview with Larisa Hunter over at Northern Runes Radio revealed that she has just started her own publishing company (Saga Press). Part of her reason to start this venture, she said, was that that their was a few issues in communicating concepts with her previous publisher. “Working with a Pagan publisher, I did find it difficult to convey that Heathenry was different and it had to be expressed in different ways.” she said, “”A lot of the terminology is not the same, so putting generic terms in a Heathen book doesn't work. So that was my frustration; it was butting heads [because] they didn't understand that Heathenry had specific terms for specific reasons and we like those terms.” (This part of the interview occurs between 5:10 and 5:40, though the entire video is worth watching.)
I suspect the disconnect that Larisa is referring to is quite common. It certainly finds a level of comparison when contrasted against the actions of Dawkins, Maher, and Winfrey, though it comes from a much more benign place in my opinion. The modern Pagan revival really came into it's own in the 1990s partly because it was good at finding similarities and common ground. Many historical and modern Pagan paths had a strong tradition of syncretism. It is true that some less scrupulous authors used the zeitgeist of the time to publish poorly researched works and turn them into a paycheck, the desire to find similarities and build connections was still a noble one. They learned to take a look at the spiritual actions of many separate cultures, compare the commonalities between those actions, and than make something new from the complementary elements.
This makes it easy and sensiable for some people to look at the Heathen practices of Spae-work and go, “Oh! That's just like our techniques for ritual magic!”. If you know someone who practices Spae, have them read the previous sentence. Watch the expression that they make. I'll bet you a dollar it isn't a pleasant or pleased one.
Yes, it is a form of magic, but it's not the same as yours. Some of the conceits of Spae are much different from the baseline of ritualistic magic work that exists today. This is the point where I suspect those who specialize in the mystical practices involved in chaos magic, Kabbalistic techniques, Gardenerian Wicca, and other traditions are nodding their head. The things which drew some of us to these particular practices were their unique structure and beauty. For those passionately drawn to such work, seeing those sacred and ineffable differences disregarded can be painful if not downright insulting.
This is not a judgment of Eclectic Paganism, but rather highlighting a diplomatic pitfall that can occur easily. Looking for a commonality to use as a bridge between the paths of two very different people is not a weakness; it's an act of unity. The problem isn't with the comparison itself, but rather in how such a comparison is made and presented. To provide another Heathen example, Galdr could be compared to many different forms of ritualistic chanting and/or singing. Galdr certainly is a form of such practices, but it follows it's own rules, it's done for specific purposes, and is performed in it's own ways. The differences have equal value to the similarities, because those differences are what have created our traditions and paths. Recognizing the similarities is wonderful, but discarding the differences in the process is throwing out whole chunks of what some of us have spent our lives trying to understand and embrace. This isn't a one way street either, as I suspect that those of more reconstructionist based methodology are equally guilty of actions that are equally crass and marginalizing.
What is at work here is no mystery, as it represents a huge part of how humans develop socially. Both as individuals and as cultures, we are dawn to seek the ties that bind. Finding similarities and connections is not wrong, so long as we go about it in an intelligent and respectful way. That's the good news here; the mistake is easy to make, but it's even easier to avoid.
Don't say “Oh! That thing you do sounds exactly like this thing that I do. They must be the same!” Your never going to know if it's “exactly like” your own practices, so don't presume. Instead, use it as a doorway to a better understanding. “That sounds similar to my own practices. Are you familiar with them?” or “In my tradition, such things are called “X”...what else can you tell me about your methods?” Instead of whitewashing those meaningful differences away, you've given a chance to give them the attention and recognition they deserve. At the same time, you've built that same bridge through commonalities and reinforced it with respect. Lastly, you've opened yourself to learning about the ways of another. You've lost nothing, and gained much.
Tolerance of religion isn't as easy as it sounds. To be truly tolerant you don't need to grasp only your own concept of acceptance, but the concepts of others. There are no easy answers, and most rules of thumb will find a way to bite you in the rump more often than not. The only guideline I've found that hasn't let me down is, fittingly enough, the simplest one of all.
If you want to know more, simply ask a question. It's surprising how much further we get with questions than with statements.
My name is Harrison Hall. You might know my writing from the work I at "Kvasir Amongst the Gods" over at Wordpress. A few months ago, one of my fellow bloggers suggested that I apply to write over here at Witches and Pagans, as she thought my writing style would be a good fit. I did so, and I was graciously and somewhat surprisingly accepted. This process took about a month. That neatly brings us up to the present.
That's not very interesting. Feel free to pretend that the month of processing was actually a cover so I could go forth and battle an army of genetically enhanced velociraptors that were trying to take over the world. You're welcome.
My blog at Wordpress is about my religious views, but the scope of such writing tends to be all over the place. That's not accidental, as I enjoy having the ability to just let loose with whatever thoughts or ideas I feel needed to be shared the most. When I was asked to select an area for my W&P blog to focus on, I decided to write about something that is close to my heart and has been coming up more and more over the last few weeks. The various denominations and interpretations of devotional, polytheistic, Paganism have always struggled with getting along with one another. This seems to be especially true when it comes to Heathenry and Norse Polytheism. I don't like that....
I arrived in Afghanistan in the last week of August, just as many other members of the American armed forces do- a long flight, a refueling stop, a processing station in the former Soviet bloc, and then to one of the main airbases from which we are all parsed out to our respective assignments. I ended up in the city of Kabul, with the mountains a short trip from the city and a lot of unpleasant flatlands in every direction.
Before I left for Afghanistan, I knew that I would want to connect with the pagan/heathen minority when I arrived- as I have said, I am not much for ceremony and ritual, but it is good to have someone to talk to when you're staring down the barrel of several months in a foreign land. I began by reaching out to a great organization called Open Halls Project, a Facebook group owned and operated by Josh and Cat Heath with the goal of supporting heathens in the military. The result was connection with one heathen on the exact camp I was going to- a relatively unlikely event given the size of our faith and the number of possible camps across Afghanistan.
By pure serendipity, I ran across another heathen assigned to the same location, who introduced me to a third. For the first few weeks, even with our intense work schedules and commitments to the lives we suspended back home, we managed to cross paths twice and converse....
The Lord is not my shepherd.
He teaches not submission but resilience.
In the face of the impossible, there are no guarantees. Not even for Him.
But victory was never born without valor. Even love has a sacred price:
nothing worth striving for is easily won.
Trickster, sage, lover, father, brother, husband, nephew, son;
warrior and peace-maker, hunter and grower, slayer and slain:
Wise-one, show me the way
Not to follow but to be inspired
To both grow in worthiness and to recognize the abundant worth in others.
I am not a sheep, nor was I bred for docility:
I am a falcon, a hart, a wolf.
Freyr is literally one of the words for 'Lord' in old Norse. In other words, it's not just a well-known God's name but his title. One of Odin's many heiti (by-names and titles) is Herran-- also another word for 'Lord' with a warrior connotation. While both Gods are associated with kingship in Scandinavia, Freyr is mythically attributed inYnglinga Saga as the ancestor of the royal house of Sweden (much as Egyptian pharoahs claimed descent from or symbolic right to rule as inherited from Osiris-- which also means 'Sire')....
Norse Gods bear famous wounds: an eye traded for wisdom, an ear given to hear the approach of danger, a hand to bind and slow the dire wolf of ultimate destruction. Each sacrifice is an emblem of their power: mighty Odin, who sees all in his high seat, is half-blinded; Heimdall the guardian of Asgard, the Gods' realm, left half-deaf; Tyr the God of justice unable, forevermore, to swear by his severed right hand in court....
I love the Norse Gods, and I love stories. Whether you think they are people or think they are characters in stories, I'd like to share that sense of wonder with you, exploring ethics in the thorny places where beauty and brutality interweave to speak eloquently about the human condition in all its flaws and grandeur.
As an artist and writer, my work is steeped in mythology and ancient literature which I find surprisingly relevant to modern life. Human nature does not change much, but the way we explain it— through stories and the shifting values of our cultures— does.
Like the Gods I worship, I travel frequently. It's made me keenly aware of how similar people are beneath the surface differences, wherever (or whenever) you go. It's also shown me how much we influence one another, through our ideas and relationships, and of the value of face-to-face relationships and community during a time in which both our wilderness and connection to other life is rapidly eroding....
Greetings, gentle readers, I’m Heather Freysdottir and I’ll be your Lokean Swamp Witch. I’m a Godspouse, which is a type of mysticism that involves sharing day to day life with a Deity, Loki in my case. I know that some would consider that odd, but for me, it’s an extension of my understanding of the sacred. Yes, Loki is holy. I am holy. You are holy. The goal and desire in this Union is to acknowledge the sacredness of this World and Elsewhere, and to bring them together, and be present and aware of both.
When we cast a circle, it’s often said that we create sacred space, but in truth, every space is sacred, and by casting we acknowledge and create awareness of its holiness, and our own, and create a bond of kinship with the humans and Spirits participating in the ritual. A godspouse’s relationship is much the same. We come together with our Beloveds and go out into our communities and create awareness of the bonds that unite us to the Gods and the Land. We are a circle.
We are many other things too – friends, lovers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, parents, or teachers. In many ways I’m the witch-next-door. I have a teenager at home, and I write and edit for a living. Going back to Loki, as most things in my life lead back to Him, in some twisting, turning way, He was my Muse for many years, though I didn’t know who He was, or that He was a God. And what writer doesn’t adore their Muse? But I’m not the only one to have Him as a Muse, or as a spouse – He enjoys the attention from many....
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
þykkir þat í ókunnum stað;
slíkt er válaðs vera.
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
vegr-a hann velli at
en sé ofdrykkja öls.
Er-a svá gótt
sem gótt kveða
öl alda sona,
því at færa veit,
er fleira drekkr
síns til geðs gumi.
sá er yfir ölðrum þrumir,
hann stelr geði guma;
þess fugls fjöðrum
ek fjötraðr vark
í garði Gunnlaðar.
Ölr ek varð,
at ins fróða Fjalars;
því er ölðr bazt,
at aftr of heimtir
hverr sitt geð gumi.
10. A better burden can no man carry along the way than great common sense; better than riches in the unknown place for the wretched man....
This is a bit of a chestnut, but like the holly evergreen: the longest night of the year has already begun here in Scotland. If you need some ideas for tomorrow's celebrations to welcome the return of the light, here you go:
The Anglo-Saxons settled Britain in the early fifth century, giving their name to the land now known as England. Very little remains of the native culture of the Anglo-Saxons. We learn from the Venerable Bede, a seventh century Christian historian, that the months we now call December and January were considered “Giuli” or Yule by the Anglo-Saxons. According to the historian, his Anglo-Saxon ancestors celebrated the beginning of the year on December 25th, referred to as “Modranect”— that is, Mothers’ Night. This celebration most likely acknowledged the rebirth of Mother Earth in order to ensure fertility in the coming spring season. An Anglo-Saxon charm for crop fertility, recorded in the eleventh-century and known as “Aecerbot,” refers to the Earth as “Erce, [the] Earthen Mother” and contains the following praise poem for her:
Hale be you, earth,...
These words warrant our reflection. They articulate, baldy and unambiguously, the high worth placed on human life among the Norse Heathens – for these sentiments are attributed to Odin himself.
We might say that they provide strong evidence for a kind of Heathen humanism. At the very least, they suggest that in premodern times folk were hesitant to dismiss any individual’s worth out of hand....
This weekend was an interesting working weekend for me. My colleague U. came down and we both presented at a local interfaith seminary. I taught on polytheism, ancestor work, and indigeny in the morning, and he gave an afternoon full of deep meditation and trance work focusing on honoring the earth and connecting with animal and elemental spirits. We come from two different traditions: mine Norse and his Dagara and seeing us working together and reinforcing each other's teaching was, I think, very enlightening for the students. It really highlighted certain commonalities found across the board in indigenous traditions (like honoring the ancestors). The students themselves were amazing: they were engaged, enthusiastic and very brave given how ready they were to join in the work we were doing never having met either one of us before. I was honored and humbled to be amongst them. Obviously though, since I’m writing this article, something went awry during the course of the day and as my title suggests, that something had to do with ritual protocol. Actually, I think it had to do with common respect or lack thereof, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Vits er þörf,
þeim er víða ratar;
dælt er heima hvat;
at augabragði verðr,
sá er ekki kann
ok með snotrum sitr.
At hyggjandi sinni
skylit maðr hræsinn vera,
heldr gætinn at geði;
þá er horskr ok þögull
kemr heimisgarða til,
sjaldan verðr víti vörum,
því at óbrigðra vin
fær maðr aldregi
en mannvit mikit.
Inn vari gestr,
er til verðar kemr,
þunnu hljóði þegir,
en augum skoðar;
svá nýsisk fróðra hverr fyrir.
Hinn er sæll,
er sér of getr
lof ok líknstafi;
ódælla er við þat,
er maðr eiga skal
annars brjóstum í.
Sá er sæll,
er sjalfr of á
lof ok vit, meðan lifir;
því at ill ráð
hefr maðr oft þegit
annars brjóstum ór.
As if seen through the wrong end of a telescope, blurred and dimmed around the edges, the darkness of December beckons as November draws to its end. For the general non-pagan public in America, December is the brightest month of the year, a gleeful blending of commercialism, family ties, and food comas. For many (if not most) pagans, it is a conundrum of sorts, a season when non-pagan family obligations directly or indirectly conflict with the allure of like-minded spiritual gatherings. Historically, for Europeans throughout the middle ages, especially in northern Europe, it was a time of gathering the family tightly together against the outer cold, of taking in travelers and guests with generosity but caution (for who knew what--or Who--might be wandering out there in the freezing gusts, hobnobbing with the trolls), for lavishly feasting the gods--pagan or Christian, depending on the time and the setting--and the dead, but at a careful distance, ever mindful that the next hand on one's doorknob might not be a human one, that the skeletal scraping against windows might not be the branches of dead trees, that the dead walk this time of year, and that things and People far more dire walk alongside them--or worse, fly through the stormy night skies--keeping careful count of debts accrued throughout the year passed, and demanding Their due.
For me, as for my spiritual ancestors, December is the darkest month of the year, with the traditional twelve days of Yule--the "smudging nights," so called in folklore because you had better be smudging your home with protective herbs against the wild spirits that roamed the long nights--beckoning at its black heart. It is the most precious month of the year for me--for it was in this month that I took sacred marriage vows to my Husband, Odin, that darkest of gods, at this darkest of times. But it is also the most dreadful month. It is a time when the air is filled with ghosts and the trolls spill upwards through the cracks in the earth, freed from their underground lairs to walk among humans.
For me it is, beyond all else, Odin's month--although that is certainly not limited to December. Although I feel and honor Him equally, yet somewhat differently, throughout the other seasons of the year, during the period of late September through the beginning of January we see His darkest face, the face of Yggr (the Terrible One) who sacrificed Himself on the World Tree, the face of Wilde Jaeger (the Wild Hunter) who rides His flame-eyed steed at the head of the Furious Host. Perhaps I am biased, but although I do have special festival days throughout the year for Him, and especially in late September through November, for me December is all about Odin, from beginning to end, even though several of the actual festival days within it are goddess-focused.
Hávamál offers us a glimpse of a past that had already become somewhat nostalgic when a single hand transcribed the poem around 1270 CE. As David A. H. Evans writes in the Viking Society for Northern Research’s edition of the verses, this second poem of the Elder Edda “is deservedly one of the most celebrated works to have survived from the early Norse world.” It’s full of gnomic advice that continues to be of interest—and application—to us in the modern world. Old Norse text via the Heimskringla Project.
áðr gangi fram,
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því at óvíst er at vita,
sitja á fleti fyrir.
Gestr er inn kominn,
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjök er bráðr,
sá er á bröndum skal
síns of freista frama.
Elds er þörf,
þeims inn er kominn
ok á kné kalinn;
matar ok váða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefr um fjall farit.
Vatns er þörf,
þeim er til verðar kemr,
þerru ok þjóðlaðar,
góðs of æðis,
ef sér geta mætti,
orðs ok endrþögu.
Like most people, I have moments of feeling out of my depth, unable to contain myself in the face of frustration, disappointed expectation, physical or emotional pain, financial stress, or even just overwhelm at the onslaught of suffering and cruelty that floods this world. This tends to dismantle my ability to function effectively.
I am grateful for this flaw, this tendency to feel out of control, unable to cope with daily challenges, making epic drama out of what are in truth mostly very modest problems. Although this tendency has caused me pain, misfortune, lost opportunities, and so forth (and at times made me into a hypocrite), it has also made life into a creative challenge for me. And this leads me onto a path of growth, exploration, dedication to transformation....
I am a Latin teacher currently (and laboriously) working my way toward a PhD in Classics. I read a lot of Latin texts (in Latin and usually with quite a bit of cussing along the way as I attempt to untangle classical Latin syntax). Fortunately, for the most part, I enjoy this and one of the tangential elements that I find particularly satisfying in my studies is occasionally coming across an interesting reference to ancient Roman [polytheistic] religion along the way. It happens a lot and for all that I am Heathen, not a practitioner of Religio Romana, I find that every time I read about how a man or woman, raised in Roman culture, steeped in its religion honored his or her Gods, I find my own practices enriched.
When I started in Classics I was told (by a PhD candidate) that no one really understands Roman religion. I admit to being a bit taken aback. It always made perfect sense to me: honor your ancestors, honor the living spirit of your city, its genus loci, maintain the proper household and public rituals, and live in a world where everything has its spirit, everything is alive. It made perfect sense to me and I’ll tell you why: for all of their diversity, polytheistic religions – which are indigenous religions-- seem, in my opinion, to share a common thread, one quite alien to monotheistic thought; that common thread is rooted not just in a polytheistic and by extension pluralistic worldview, but in one that is, to greater or lesser degree, animist....
It has come as a surprise to me, considering my relationship with Odin (the Wanderer and hedge-crosser extraordinaire), but I have been discovering lately that I am far more of a hearth witch than a hedge witch. Don't get me wrong; I do love wandering through the dark woods at night, threading my way through cemeteries, or exploring the Eugene wetlands. I love to explore these liminal places in a light trance state, letting the already-fragile boundaries between the worlds blur so that I can commune with the spirits there. This is part of my practice, and it always will be. (And in the case of the wetlands, I do this every morning on my walk to work, in the early hours when the human world is still barely stirring but the land wights--or land spirits--are awake and going about their day.) But at the heart of my practice, I am a Doorway for my gods and spirits, and to fulfill that function I must be anchored in this world, even as I work at blurring its edges.
I just had an entire week off from my day job, for the first time in years, and found myself spending much of it at my spinning wheel, or gathering supplies to make prayer beads, or in my kitchen learning to make salted caramels, or planning what I will need to begin producing candles and other non-yarn goodies for my Etsy shop. When given a choice between wandering outdoors and busying myself with activities at home, I nearly always choose the latter. Perhaps my physical condition pays a part in this (I have moderate to severe fibromyalgia, and at this point I still work full time so that saps a lot of my energy), but most of the time I find that I would rather be at home, tending a hearth for my gods and for the spirits I honor, rather than out in the world. My trips out in the world fortify and help to shape my hearth; they feed it and strengthen my center. In this I am like Frigga, who puts Her apron aside and rides with Her Husband in the Hunt during the dark half of the year, but the rest of the time concentrates Her efforts on creating a welcoming home for Him to return to after His wanderings.
To get back to the topic of setting up a hearth in your own home if you do not already have one, despite my previous definition of the hearth as a place of fire, there is always the option of interpreting "fire" symbolically. Along these lines, your hearth can be that place that anchors and nourishes your home, that feeds what you love most about it, the "flame" that makes your home a welcoming place. For some people, it would clearly be the kitchen table where the family gathers for dinner to share stories of their day. For some, it might be a place of literal fire, such as the woodburning stove (and do I ever wish I had one!) where herbal oils and brews are prepared.
In my last article I proposed to discuss an expression of Loki which tries to avoid the pitfall of declaring to be either for or against this complex and provocative figure. Unfortunately this will entail a bit of self-promotion on my part, because I intend to present and discuss the lyrics to a musical release called Loki Bound, which was released by Milam Records earlier in 2012. Loki Bound was performed by Greed & Rapacity, a band of which I am one half.
Loki Bound is a one-song 30-minute funeral doom metal descent into Loki’s stream of consciousness during his imprisonment by the Aesir, the primary Norse pantheon, for misdeeds real and (possibly) imagined. He lies chained by his son’s intestines to a deeply buried boulder, while a serpent drips venom upon him. His loyal wife, Sigyn, catches the poison in a cup, but when she goes to empty the cup, the poison falls on Loki’s skin. His agonized convulsions are the root of earthquakes, and it is fair to say that Loki is a deity of psychological tectonics.
Loki Bound is not easy listening. Yet the project was born out of a spirit of empathy – not, it must be said, sympathy. Empathy....