One-Eyed Cat: Slavic Paganism / Heathenry

Exploring the wider Eurasian influences on central and northern European religion, including Norse, Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, Siberian, Mediterranean and ancient Indo-European beliefs and applying them to contemporary practice.

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Heathen Gods and Sacrifice (and Transformation)

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.

While humans certainly benefit, the scars that Heathen Gods and Goddesses bear are not necessarily made for humans, but for the Gods to become more themselves. They excel or prove themselves worthy of their Godhood in the act of sacrifice, inexorably transforming in the act of giving of themselves. They are what they are because they've toiled and suffered and earned it, becoming more holy in the process.

Like Nobel-prize winning scientists, artists par excellence and Olympic athletes, they understand hard work, and they fully know the worth, the ecstasy and the awe-inspiring beauty of greatness achieved through it. They are their own salvation and that of their community. That salvation isn't free. The Gods give their all to gain, be and work wonders.

It's an important distinction from the idea of grace. And it carries a wonderful, empowering dignity to it.

The Norse ethos functions on a strong concept of reciprocity: in a fair and just world, good should never be taken for granted, but repaid, allowing the peace, health and bounty of a community to keep flowing.

It runs on deeds. Deeds require work and the time to develop the accompanying reputation.

In a world of transient sound-bites devouring our mental space and rampant over-consumption raging through the environment, it's important to remember the longevity of certain concepts-- like the lasting worth of our actions and reciprocity. For nothing in the universe is free. Whether taken, earned, found or given, someone has always worked for what we have. Everything comes from somewhere or was made by someone— whether that's in the slow, inexorable tectonic grind and molten heart of the earth's core yielding mineral deposits, or the labor of our ancestors who founded the civilizations we live in, to the factory workers and farmers who provide our goods and food. We take from the earth in our modern societies, but rarely do we give back to it. We take, and in taking and taking and taking again, instead of giving, we weaken ourselves and leave a broken legacy for our civilizations' inheritors.

Norse Gods do not grant grace, nor ask your personal gratitude for their sufferings, but in their preserved tales provide models of working with limited resources and overcoming the bad cards you've been dealt through grit, wit, and spirit. Sometimes that requires sacrifice.

Sacrifice is often seen, in modern times, as hardship endured for the greater good, while ancient sacrifices are stereotyped as some kind of Gods-mollifying bribe or payment. It's rarely thought of as an exchange between your present self and your potential for greatness. Odin's sacrifice "of himself, to himself" during a nine-night ordeal while hanging on the world tree brought forth insight in the form of runes. Runes are not only a magical system in which incantations were inscribed, but the Norse system of writing! (Using all the letters of the alphabet for charms, rather than a few of special significance, or certain magical words and names or pictographic symbols, seems to be fairly unique to Heathenry). As Odin is both a God of magic and communication, this tale shows his worthiness, through deeds to hold that honor-- and a connection to the value of preserving the stories and records of deeds through writing.

I'm glad I didn't have to invent writing. I'm grateful to the ancient humans who gave of their time to create a form of communication which never before existed. It can't have been easy to either formulate the first systems that weren't purely mathematical or to teach them. ("Look, this picture stands for this!" "Say what? That looks like— wait, is that squiggle an ibis?" "Yes! You know, 'cause ibis sounds like [insert fancy word concept]!" "Girl, have you been huffing the temple incense again?! How do you get [fancywordconcept] from IBIS?")

I stand in awe of those first writers and teachers, and I honor their toil by the joys of reading and writing. I'm also glad that generations after them sacrificed their time to preserve that wisdom and pass it on. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this.

Images by the talented Mary Evans and John Bauer. I highly suggest you search for more illustrations by both of them. Also, I like the idea that Odin was not always the old man, and much younger when he won the runes. Gods change and have lives, too! And I love Bauer's linework!

For an in-depth essay on the God Freyr's sacrifice for love, see Love & (male) vulnerability in Norse myth: Freyr and the wooing of Gerda in Skirnismal.
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Shirl Sazynski was trained by the Gods and has been practicing the Norse shamanic art of seidhr for over a decade. A wife of Odin, oracle, icon painter and author, her work has appeared in several popular and pagan media outlets for the last fifteen years.

She teaches workshops in core spiritual practices and seidhr, and performs divination, consulting the Gods at staffandcup.com.

Comments

  • Jessica Valentine
    Jessica Valentine Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    Wonderful piece. Nice work!
    This in particular, "Norse Gods do not grant grace, nor ask your personal gratitude for their sufferings, but in their preserved tales provide models of working with limited resources and overcoming the bad cards you've been dealt through grit, wit, and spirit. Sometimes that requires sacrifice." Made me realize how strong I am as a Heathen woman and where my personal ideals lay. What my ancestors had to go through to survive and still uphold their Heathen traditions, even through their sacrifices. How amazing that those traits and ideals they had and shared, truly passes down through the ages imprinting in our hearts and souls what is clearly true to ourselves, our paths and our beliefs. Hail to the WRITER!!

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    Terrific essay. :) It is very timely, at least in my case.

    Also, thanks for the image credits. It can be hard to find good images of the Heathen Gods and Goddesses -- though, for my money, Willy Pogany is the best. :)

  • Shirl Sazynski
    Shirl Sazynski Sunday, 25 August 2013

    Thank you both, Jessica and Rebecca. Pogany is amazing. I am also fond of Ivan Bilibin and there are hordes of unknown Slavic artists. Something was in the waters around that period for amazing illustration (perhaps the reaction to abstract "fine" art, which I have always found a silly distinction, anyway. The earliest cave paintings and carvings tell stories.)

  • Alfar
    Alfar Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Great work. I am an Asatru Gothi and work with prison ministry / education. There are a great number of fine heathen men and women incarcerated in this country (and many not so sincere as well). I would like to ask your permission to share this article / blog with a number of incarcerated inmates in several states (with full credits of course). I know that the women of Norns Wyrd Kindred in Oregon would find it of particular interest.... Hoping you grant this permission. Thank you.

  • Shirl Sazynski
    Shirl Sazynski Friday, 20 September 2013

    Thank you, Alfar. I am happy that my writings can make a difference in other peoples' lives, including those who are trying to make amends for their past and turn to an honorable path for their lives. Please feel free to share this and anything else from this blog.

    Did you know that the Troth is also providing prison in-reach materials and other resources for incarcerated people? There's a great need, I've heard-- and so far little available to people who do not wish to be associated with some of the unsavory, racist groups more widely distributing literature.

    Here are some links:

    http://thetroth.blogspot.com/p/in-reach-program.html

    http://thetroth.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-troth-and-in-reach-upcoming-events.html

    Frith to you and those your are helping!

  • Alfar
    Alfar Friday, 20 September 2013

    Thank you.... I know the ladies will enjoy this... the fellas as well... but the ladies especially. They love when another female has such insight.

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