A Very Merry Ragnarök

We’re the rhythm of the darkest nights
We’re the truth that’s been left unspoken
We’re the shadows far beyond the lights
We’re waking, waking, waking up the giants

– “Waking Up the Giants” by Grizfolk

I’ve been relatively outspoken in the past about my views on the event of Ragnarök. I see it as a necessary event that is spurred by the hubris of the Æsir. It is a just and completely deserved uprising by the jötnar against entities who have unfairly oppressed and otherwise cruelly treated them. It is about freedom, justice, and equal treatment. It is also about the cyclical nature of, well, nature that follows a massive volcanic eruption. The land is laid waste but in time regenerates. Research I’ve done shows that biological succession happens on the scale of a human’s lifetime so it’s very feasible that the strong parallel between Ragnarök and a volcanic disaster aren’t coincidence. In any case, because of the way I view the event, I decided near the beginning of my practice that I would make myself a holiday based off of it. And when better for a ritual holiday tied to renewal and rebirth to take place than New Year’s?

At first I had been unsure of how I would properly celebrate my ritual of Ragnarök. It wasn’t until I read The Sacred and Profane by Mircea Eliade that the concept fully came to me. In his book, Eliade wrote about how many rituals were done to re-enact mythic events in an attempt to recreate the mythic world. Considering that Ragnarök was completely about the destruction and re-creation of the world this option appealed strongly to me. For this though, I felt the need to have a stand in for Yggdrasil to be shaken, removed, and replaced eventually. So this further postponed me from performing the ritual in full until I got what I felt was most appropriate: an elk (moose) antler. When I finally obtained one earlier this year, I knew I was prepared for this year’s ceremony.

I began the ceremony by lighting an e-candle per designated realm on my all-jötnar shrine in the order of Járnvidr, Múspellheim, Jötunheim, Ægir’s Realm, and Niflheim. I then proceeded to destroy the shrine, removing every single object on it, violently shaking the moose antler until it was freed form the putty stabilizing it. I then cleansed all the objects and replaced them in a new order, effectively recreating the world. Once replaced, I lit three wicked candles. Two were mainly for better illumination etc. but the third was an offering to Ymir specifically to herald his body’s renewal.

Once this was done, I proceeded to to perform a ritual the jötnar had nudged me to do for myself and friends to free us form the chains that bind and oppress us. Earlier in the day I wrote each name on a piece of paper and then rolled the name up and tied it with red ribbon. Tonight, I prayed to the jötnar to listen to me and free us from the bindings I named. I then picked up a bound paper and ripped through the binding with a knife I dedicated to a member of the Múspellheim royal guard. I then unrolled the name, read it off, and prayed for that specific person’s fetters to be broken. I proceeded in this fashion until each name had been cut free of its ribbon bindings. With that, the ritual was completed and I felt a sense of energy around me, making me shiver a bit.

A happy Ragnarök to all. May you find release from that which seeks to oppress you.

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Múspellstrú Yule: Day 1

12211723011222170007 First night of Múspellstrú Yule dinner and dessert.

Dinner was mustard glazed pork chops with a pan gravy and herb roasted potatoes accompanied by a traditional mead. Dessert was a slice of Möndlukaka, an Icelandic almond cake and was served with milk.

What we call shadow work is a big thing in Múspellheim for Yule it seems. It ties into the Yule boasts as both are used for self improvement. Seems to be tied to the volcanic concept of destroying and rebuilding the self again and again. So I did two rounds of shadow work already in the past twenty-four hours and have plenty more to go. With everything that’s gone on in my life just this past week though, the shadow work is sorely needed so I’m not complaining too much.

As far as the boasts go I’m waiting for the final day to make them. I’m trying to craft them carefully as Yule boasts are actually binding as they’re a form of oath. Unlike a New Year’s resolution a Yule boast must be kept. So careful wording is a must.

I’m saving gift giving for today’s celebrations. Well, technically two gifts were already given: the drinking horn for the shrine as well the big candle on the shrine being lit. It was bought with Yule festivities in mind for the main purpose. So today I have more gifts to give namely to Surtr, Ymir, and one of Surtr’s daughters who has adopted me as her mother.

So today is more festivities and hopefully I can spend more time in the astral than I did last night.

God Jól!

Hel Rundown

Someone on tumblr requested a rundown on Hel based on the scholarly sources I had and the direct lore. I meant to post it here and link there but did not. Putting the post here for my own records.

So, first the very basics.

Hel is stated to be the daughter of Loki and Angrboda along with her siblings Jormungandr and Fenrir. Her parentage makes her a jotun. According to Snorri’s Prose Edda in Gylfaginning Odin is foretold of the danger Loki’s offspring will cause and he places them all in locations that will minimize their damage. Hel is thrown into Niflheim (Fog-Home/World) to take charge of the dead who don’t die in battle and go to Valhalla aka the old and sick. Hel the being is difficult to distinguish from Hel the realm at times.

According to Snorri, “Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger; Famine is her knife; Idler, her thrall; Sloven, her maidservant; Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease, her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed-hangings. She is half blue-black and half flesh-color (by which she is easily recognized), and very lowering and fierce.” In many sources, you see mention of the Helveg (Hel-road) and her hall is commonly described as being surrounded by a wall sometimes called Helgrind (Hell-gate), Nágrind(Corpse-gate), and Valgrind (Carrion-gate).

Also according to Gylfaginning, once Baldr is killed Frigga sends Hermodr on Sleipnir to traverse the Helroad and ask Hel is she would release Baldr. Hel refuses unless “all things in the world weep for him.” Frigga goes around asking all things to weep and is successful until she encounters a gygr (giantess) named Thakk who refuses to weep saying let Hel keep what she has. Many believe this to be Loki in disguise.

So that’s the basic rundown. I’ll examine these points for further information to be gleaned about Hel:

Hel is the only one of her siblings stated to be a woman. This is likely due to the fact that death is strongly hinted at as being a feminine realm of power. Afterall, it is feminine entities (the Norns and valkrjur who weave the fate of humanity), women who can sway the strings of fate, and Odin and Freyja who take in the slain dead (with Odin as a practitioner of seidr being firmly in the “feminine” category by Old norse views.

Gender isn’t the only thing that makes her standout among them. Unlike her brothers, Hel does not take an active role at Ragnarok. Her role is passive. In this vein, unlike her brothers Hel is not a big Monstrous Other Who Will Destroy. Rather, she is a keeper of balance. Her role is to take care of the dead and to keep them from roaming the earth. In this way, she is of two worlds like her father. This liminality and precarious balance is visually represented in her appearance of being half foul, half fair. She embodies both world of life and death in not just function but also physicality.

It’s notable that the realm that Hel is placed in charge of is is the fog-laden land of Niflheim. You see, both have strong connections to plague and sickness. This Danish legend says:

Her var en flok unge mennesker samlet i en lade, hvor de forn0jede sig hele natten med spil og dans. Da kom der pludselig et ildhjul ind i laden, og da man sa nxmere til, var det en buk pa tre ben, der hoppede omkring, og de kaldte den Hel. Men den naeste morgen var en del afgaesterne syge og herfra bredte sygdommen sig videre over hele landet, og da denne dod ogsa lod sig se i skikkelse afen hvid hest, kunne man folge dens vej fra den ene by til den anden. [Thiele 1968:II, 50]

Here a group of young people were gathered in a barn, where they enjoyed themselves the whole night with game and dance. Suddenly, a fire wheel came into the barn, and when one looked closer at it, it was a three-legged goat which hopped around, and they called it Hel. But the next morning, a number of the guests were ill and from here the disease spread over the entire country, and as this death also let itself be seen in the shape of a white horse, one could follow its path from one town to another.

(The horse noted is the helhest of Danish legend.)

While there isn’t a specific legend provided, Tangherlin provides a table of data showing that a common way that the plague was believed to travel was by fog or mist. It’s likely not coincidence then that Hel, being the entity who takes in those who die of sickness, lives in and rules a realm full of the substance that spreads disease. It’s also highly notable then that sickness was unable to travel over water and that in many beliefs about the realm of death, it too lay over the water.

You see, Norse beliefs about the dead were not consistent in the slightest. Without even getting into the whole “Valhalla maybe didn’t really exist or likely at least not in the way we think of it” discourse, there’s a huge amount of diversity in the way that the afterlife was conceived of. This is made clear in the variety and inconsistency of Old Norse burial practices.The variety is truly astounding but that’s another topic. What’s relevant to this one is the huge popularity of ships in burials. Now this didn’t just include being buried in a ship but also having ships engraved upon headstones. Additionally, the kings in Yngling saga were frequently buried next to a river as if to make their departure to the afterlife via water more feasible. Also, according to Snorri, the ashes of the deceased were commonly thrown to sea. Even Baldr was sent off to Hel’s realm in a ship. Clearly, ships were likely at least one way for one to traverse to the realm of the dead.

Thus, going back to Hel ruling over the land of plague like the dead she kept she possibly was to control the plagues and keep them away from mankind like she kept the dead away as well. This is speculation but it would make sense, making her a further liminal figure bridging life and death in one being.

Ships were clearly not the only way to get to Hel’s realm as Hermodr was able to get there on the back of Sleipnir. I have written prior here and here on how horses were liminal animals able to traverse boundaries other beings couldn’t. Considering that Hel is a liminal being herself and the horse can access her realm , it’s not shocking to see then that the helhest (hel-horse) was a symbol of hers. And as the legend above showed, it was a spreader of plague.

Last, I want to examine Snorri’s portrayal of Hel. He portrays her realm and by association Hel the being as merciless and cold-hearted. This seems to be definitively at odds with how she was actually viewed. In the
eleventh-century poem lausavísa by Þórbjörn Brúnason, the line is stated that a woman “wishes the apples of Hel” for the poet. While this is a deathwish, in order for it to make sense Larrington notes, it is dependent upon Hel being viewed as a gracious hostess. Additionally, in Baldrs draumar, it is noted that Odin asks the seeress “For whom are the benches bright with rings, and the platforms gay bedecked with gold?“ This portrays Hel’s hall as a bright and welcoming place starkly in contrast with Snorri’s foreboding almost certainly Christian Hell-inspired depiction. Therefore, it is almost certainly more correct to see Hel as a welcoming and kindly figure with a warm hall as opposed to a cruel goddess.

Sources referenced:

Poetic Edda

Prose Edda

Norse Mythology by John Lindow

Ships, Fogs, and Traveling Pairs: Plague Legend Migration in Scandinavia by Timothy R. Tangherlin

The Road to Hel by Hilda Ellis Davidson

HOLY ISLANDS AND THE OTHERWORLD: PLACES BEYOND WATER by Eldar Heide

Loki’s Children by Carolyne Larrington

Sleipnir and his Siblings: Some Thoughts on Loki’s Monstrous Offspring by Anne Monikander

The Gendering of Death in Eddic Cosmology Judy Quinn

Mythic Acts: Material Narratives of the Dead in Viking Age Scandinavia by Neil Price

How to tell Deities “No”

In today’s neopagan culture there’s a tremendous amount of taboo around telling a deity “no” whether this is no to a request of one you already are worshiping to working with a brand new deity. There’s a certain vein of thought that those of us who worship the gods have little to no rights and that we must obey the whims of the gods without question. Despite being someone who is godowned by not one but three entities, I vehemently disagree with this point of view. (In fact, I literally angrily told two of these three entities to fuck off when they first appeared to me. So I /really/ vehemently disagree.) I believe that unless you’ve set up a consensual relationship with a deity wherein you have no power to disobey – like in a godslave situation – you have every right to stand up for yourself and deny their request.  This is rooted in my experience and beliefs that the gods, contrary to popular neopagan teachings,  do not always have our best interest in mind and frequently have their own agendas. As such, not only will I discuss how to say no to a deity I’ll also discuss what to do when you say no and the deity doesn’t listen.

How to Say “No”

This can be done in a variety of ways. I uh, highly recommend being polite and not using my tactic of angrily yelling “fuck off” at your divination tools when you realize the entity you least wanted to ever approach is trying to get your attention. Not a smart move and it’s prone to getting deities pissed off at you and/or make them take you as a “challenge” to be won over for some reason. (I’m a pain in the ass if it’s not already apparent.) So yeah, politeness and respect are number one even if you don’t feel the deity in question deserves said respect.

Keep an even head and calm temper until it becomes apparent they’re not taking you seriously. Even when it’s clear they’re being a jerk and not listening, you can maintain a polite demeanor while displaying anger. I recommend keeping to this polite demeanor until every other alternative fails simply because gods don’t always take well to disrespect, real or perceived. So for safety’s sake, don’t be me.

In my experience, if you explain your situation and why it’s completely reasonable for you to decline what is being asked of you, deities tend to understand and say “okay.” For instance “my financial situation prevents me from buying this for you right now as it will make it hard for me to pay for necessities for my life” or “I have a lot of deities on my plate already and taking on another would only mean worse devotion for all of you” are both explanations I’ve given and they’ve resulted in understanding responses from the deities in question.

If you want to sweeten the deal, I recommend an offering with your denial of their request. It tends to make things go over more smoothly.

Personally, my godslave relationships are set up in the format of Sacred D/S relationships where just like in a mundane D/S relationship there is respect of the sub’s comfort levels and the sub has some say in what is too much for them. If my request to stop is born solely of fear or the like, the deities that own me can and will override the “safeword” and I have to do it. But if I have a serious point, they will relent. I say all this to point out that even with a godslave type relationship, one can have rights to deny a deity’s orders. If you’re in a godslave type relationship it’s really worth it to ask what ability you have to say “no this is beyond my comfort zone and/or means.” If your deity hasn’t decided on this aspect of your relationship, I personally recommend asking for a similar set up because it allows you some insurance you won’t get totally screwed over but also makes it so that you can get called out on your own bullshit and made to push past it. Of course, ymmv.

In any case, saying no is doable in a wide variety of contexts and is often a totally reasonable thing to do. Most of the time if you’re polite and give a reasonable explanation you’ll be in the clear and things will be all good.

What Happens if the Deity Ignores Your No?

Sadly, not every deity is content taking “no” for an answer even if you provide a valid reason for having said so. In this case, things can turn nasty quickly if not handled correctly. (This is again, speaking from experience. And no, this time I started out completely polite. It was this experience that led to me caring less and less about telling deities to fuck off however.)

If your initial explanation fails, repeat it a few times to make it clear you’re not budging. If that doesn’t work, allow some anger to seep in but as said above, still keep things polite. Sometimes you need to “prove you’re serious” and emotion might do that. If in the end even anger isn’t working, your best option is to involve other deities. Give an offering (unless you’re super close and this doesn’t feel necessary) and explain to them “hey, I’ve been totally reasonable with so-and-so about my situation and they’re being really rude and unrelenting on this issue despite it. Here’s what I said and this was their reaction. Could you please help get them to stop bothering me?” Most of the time, this is all you need to do, call in literal divine intervention on the matter. Sadly, as a “mere human” your words won’t always weigh as heavily as another deity’s will and this is the only recourse.

In rare (but more common than believed) occasions, this still won’t be enough and a deity will continue to pester you into full on abuse territory. In this case, you’re sadly usually left with making yourself as hard to get as possible often by enlisting another deity’s assistance to help protect you from the nuisance that this deity has become. True, it may be a malevolent entity wearing said deity’s face but I think that’s far less common than we want to believe. Regardless of whether you believe me on this or not,  the exact methodology of defense against a deity one takes is going to vary as each deity has their own deterrents.  In any case, the warding one must set up will be incredibly complex and multi-tiered to have any chance of successfully deterring a god for long much less at all.

That said, this is generally a worst case scenario that won’t be reached. Most deities tend to be reasonable and understanding (mostly) benevolent beings that will understand a fair and polite denial of their request.

Tips on Discerning When an Entity Has Romantic or Sexual Feelings for you

(as requested by a friend on tumblr)

Godspousery/ being a non corporeal consort is one of the more hotly contested topics within the greater polytheist community. Most prominently the argument is over whether it’s fundamentally possible for a god to love a human. As someone who is married to one jötun, mated to another, and committed though not formally bonded in such a way to a third, I’m obviously in the camp that it’s quite possible. That said, even if one believes it’s possible, it’s often still incredibly hard to wrap one’s head around the idea of a deity actually loving them or even just wanting to bang. This causes people to ignore and therefore miss signs that a deity is sending on this topic. I know I’m incredibly guilty of this myself. (After all, I was oblivious to Angrboða’s attempts to get my attention for a month until I cracked a joke about how she was acting like she had a crush on me and she practically screamed “yes that’s the point!!!!” at me. And then I spent well over a year flipflopping on whether or not I believed the constant signs.) So I’m well-versed in the struggles this topic poses to people. However, that means I also have a wealth of signs to draw from to illustrate what sort of things one might expect to see if a deity or spirit is trying to hint “hey, I wanna be more than friends.”

Note: Obviously each entity is going to have their own style of trying to get your attention and express feelings just like humans do, so this is in no way a definitive guide. Signs are a personal thing and not up for me to interpret. This is just kind of a “hey, if this sorta stuff is going on you might want to ask yourself if this is what’s happening.”

Music

I use shufflemancy as a form of divination a lot for a variety of reasons which I won’t get into here. But it was and remains a favored tool of mine and was the way Angrboða got my attention first. I was absolutely bombarded with love songs for a month. And these weren’t just popular current “Top 40 you’re bound to hear regardless” love songs. I got pelted with everything from jazz to rock to indie to pop. If it was a love song she was playing it any time we interacted. And this wasn’t just interactions directly between us this also came from interactions I got from outside divination. Constant. Love. Songs. She was the spitting image of the guy with a boombox blaring outside your window.

Obviously, if your shufflemancy playlist if full of love songs this will sort of bias your findings but if you’re drawing from a wide variety of sources and still finding yourself absolutely bombarded with love songs, especially ones with a recurring theme or image, well, chances are someone’s trying to make a point. As always, use discernment for if this message is actually romantic or not but this has been a pretty common strategy I’ve noticed from gods.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t have to come solely through shufflemancy. You might find a song or image through song stalking you through other sources. Like every time you turn on the radio a specific song comes on and that’s weird because it’s not even that popular, yet here it is again and again. It’s also worth noting that you might also pay attention for songs relevant or reminiscent of said entity occurring right after or right before love songs. The linking them together can be a strategy used to say “yes this is me sending this pay attention!!!”

Dashomancy

For people who make use of tumblr or similar sites where a dashboard is made up of everything you follow, this tip is for you. Entities are well known for using the dashboard for sending messages. Of course, it’s important to pay attention to sources of the messages and imagery to ensure it’s not just one person but from a variety of sources. But if romantic imagery is coming from all over the place and especially if it’s thematically or visually consistent, it’s worth asking yourself if someone’s trying to send you a message.

A recent example that people on tumblr got to giggle over for me was the sudden appearance of rosegold wedding rings on my etsy recommended list. I have never looked up anything remotely close to this and the closest most recent search I’d done had been for talon pendants but that had produced recommendations of more claw-themed necklaces. There was literally no reason for the sudden explosion of specifically rosegold rings. Except for a certain entity the day before saying she wanted to get married. Then sudden rings. And continued rings. (She is persistent.)

Tarot Card Patterns

For those who are experienced with tarot you likely know all of this but for those who aren’t and are asking for readings from others about a deity, certain cards constantly appearing might key you off to a possible attraction. The 2 of Cups and The Lovers are the main “love” cards that you’ll see pointed to. However, the Ace of Cups and Knight of Cups are also big ones for “hey, wanna start something new?” The Knight of Cups in particular represents a charmer. The suit of cups cards largely represent emotional connections and the like when looking at a relationship. An entity pointing at something casual and more physical is likely to use Wands cards, namely the Ace of Wands, 8 of Wands, and Knight of Wands. Depending you might also see the Queen of Wands but the Knight is more suggestive for casual sex in my experiences. The Swords will point towards intellectual connections not just strife in a relationship. Disks/Pentacles is more indicative of familial relationships than romantic.

Dreams

Obviously, dreams can just be dreams. However, dreams are also the way for the subconscious to speak to us. Obviously, some discernment needs to be applied to ensure that it isn’t merely our own attraction to an entity causing them. However, spirits are more than capable of speaking to us in daydream imagery, night time dreams, and just evoking feelings in us in an attempt to communicate various things. If you’re finding yourself constantly drawn to an entity you work with or worship it’s worth it to ask “is this just me? Or is this something more?”

For instance, before Gullveig showed up in my life explicitly she showed up in idle daydreams in romantic and sexual settings. Before I figured out Angrboða was indeed trying to get my attention I had a lot of uh, risque daydreams involving her which I felt guilty about but wouldn’t cease. Both were cases of each trying to say “yo, you’ve got feelings for meeeeeeeeeee and I do for youuuuuuuu.”

 

Misc.

Entities can get your attention in so many other ways. You can see their animal(s) or other symbols all of a sudden in odd places or all over the place. You can hear their names name-dropped in places they shouldn’t be. You can have an entity deliver a message to you through a person you interact with. The ways are endless.

While an entity suddenly requesting more of your time is in no way a definitive “they like you” it’s definitely a way for them to say they like you or gauge their interest in you. Some entities are the subtle type and won’t tell you outright like in the ways above. Some will be blatantly in your face about it. The ways are truly as varied as there are entities. But these are some ways that entities have reached out to me in order to get my attention and say they wanted an intimate romantic and sexual relationship. Hopefully the examples provided help clarify for others.

List of Wintry Jötnar

Tis (almost) the season and there’s a dearth of information on the jötnar that’s easily accessible. Wikipedia’s list of jötnar is incredibly lacking and so here’s a list of every jötun I know of with explicit ties to winter be it snow or wintry landscapes or winter sports or holiday traditions.

(Might get updated in case I find more jötnar to add to the list.)

Skaði – skiinng, bowhunting, winter (daughter of Þjazi)

Þjazi – noted as “loving to shoot” in Hyndluljóð links him to sport of bowhunting which might indicate he taught his daughter that and other skills, ruled the snowy land of Þrymheimr

Jólasveinarnir – Yule lads, thirteen sons of Grýla and Leppalúði, whole family and pet tied to Icelandic Yule traditions even today

Grýla – mother of the jólasveinarnir (Yule Lads), helps punish naughty children in the winter months

Leppalúði – latest husband to Grýla

Jólaköttur – Yule Cat, monstrous feline that would punish farmers for laziness in the harvest, pet of Grýla and Leppalúði

Vindsvalr – stated in Vafþrúðnismál to be father of Vetrar (Winter)

Vetrar – son of Vinsvalr, jötun who embodies the season of winter

Frosti – son of the jötun Kari (wind), name clearly linked to frost and cold, he and rest of family are noted in Hversu Noregr byggðisk

Jǫkull – icicle, sometimes the son of Kari in place of Frosti

Snærr – son of Frosti or Jǫkull, name means snow

Fõnn – daughter of Snærr, name means snowdrift

Drífa – daughter of Snærr, driving snow, snowstorm

Mjõll – daughter of Snærr, fresh powdery snow

Þorri – son of Snærr, frozen snow, king of a section of Norway who grants snow good for skiing upon

Gói – daughter of Þorri, name of a winter month that comes after the month Þorri

Norr and Gorr – Norr’s name likely means north but etymology is uncertain, listed due to being sons of Þorri’s

 

How to Get Started as an Adult With a Job

(requested by an anon on tumblr)

Getting into a new religion or spirituality is intimidating enough without facing a ton of mundane responsibilities but when you pile those on top, it can be quite prohibitive to really diving into and exploring. Part of this is the time and energy mundane responsibilities take up. Part of it is when you’re just starting out, it can be harder to integrate new actions like prayer and offerings into one’s thoughts and daily life.  Furthermore, it can take time to start adjusting one’s mindset to seeing the world as full of spiritually significant interactions and opportunities; it just appears to be the same mundane world you’re toiling in day in and day out. It’s just hard to see the spiritual significance of your actions and environment. So with that said, how can one get started in all of this?

#1) Identify What Makes You Feel Spiritual etc.

Before even beginning to research a potential path, it’s important to stop and ask yourself the following: what makes me feel spiritual/religious/magical? Is it meditation? Is it prayers? Is it reading up on my path or gods? Is it wearing special ritual clothes? etc. The reason this is important to ask is when you’re just getting started, the mindset is important to establish. When you first start out, it’s almost inevitably /not/ going to feel special and exciting. You’re going to feel like you’re talking to air when you pray. Or you’re giving food to a statue on a shelf not a divine being. That’s okay and perfectly normal. And this is why it’s important to figure out what actions will put you in the mindset that you’re doing something right, to help counteract the feelings of awkwardness and silliness that the beginning brings. So take some time to think on this question first and make sure that when you are starting out you make time to include what makes you feel in the right mindset.

#2) Research

Now before you get concerned, I’m not saying you need to read the entire corpus of texts that make up a religion’s mythology or go out and read academic papers. But you do need to do /some/ research whether that’s just reading posts on tumblr. If you have the spoons and time, I recommend reading the original stories at least in part and getting a good introductory text to the religion and stories. However, especially when one has a job, this isn’t always feasible and tumblr style bulletpoint lists are much quicker to read and easier to digest. If this is what you can manage, then do it.

The problem with reading anything not directly from the source, though, is bias and misinformation. People interpret things differently and have an angle. Heck, even translations of the source often have bias to them in the form of the words chosen. Therefore, it’s very important to read around and get a well-rounded view of a topic, especially if you’re relying on tumblr posts or even random internet sites. You don’t want to accidentally absorb misinformation just because you relied entirely on one highly flawed site. (This is especially important in heathenry where racism and other bigotry abounds. One has to tread carefully.)  So don’t just do the work but do it smart too.

If you’re lucky, your chosen path will have a blog or website that’s highly renowned as a resource. If so, use that as a starting place and go from there. Even with a resource like this it’s still important to peer around as chances are they are more general information than specific. But it’s still a good starting point to begin with.

(what follows after isn’t really in any order of importance hence the lack of numbers)

Make Space

This applies to both your schedule and to physical space. Make some space in your schedule whenever works best for you that you can do some small act of devotion or spirituality. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time to begin with. Just a couple minutes will do. The main thing is being consistent with it so that it gets integrated into your schedule fully, becoming a natural part of it rather than a chore.

Additionally, making physical space is important. Whether this is a working space for a magical practitioner or a sacred space for offerings, the space is important as something set aside to be special and spiritual. It helps with the mindset mentioned above. It also gives you a concrete reminder of your growing spirituality. I know for me, having something concrete is important at least. It doesn’t need to be a large or a decorated space (especially if one has to do things on the downlow due to family or roommates). It just should be a space where one has enough room for the purpose the space is intended for. Over time you can grow it and decorate as you feel fit. Part of the decorating will come most naturally in time after interacting and growing in your path as you begin to feel out what is right for you and your deities/spirits if you work with any.

In any case, space is important to carve out if you can.

Introducing Oneself to Deities and to Prayers

Introducing oneself to a deity is a good strategy for newcomers to break the ice with a deity a bit. It doesn’t need to be formal or long. It’s simply a quick prayer to say “hello, I am new to this and new to you but I think you’re neat so I’m going to follow you.” And introductions don’t have to be done all in one go. You can spread them out, doing a quick hello one day, a who you are over a few days, and some why you’re interested in this entity over some more. I recommend introductions simply because in addition to introducing yourself to an entity, you also introduce yourself to prayer.

For some, this will be a reintroduction to prayer which makes it all the more important because many have complex relationships to prayer styles from past religions. But prayer is necessary to acquaint oneself with because communication with the gods is important. And prayers don’t need to be super formal and elegant. They can be conversational. They can be almost like quick texts “hey Sobek this rock made me think of you it’s yours now k bye”. Prayers can be written and burned rather than spoken or written and left on the shrine as a letter. Sometimes a prayer is a grin shot at the shrine statue, acknowledging its and therefore the divine’s presence with joy. There’s any number of forms a prayer can take, and  the style and format of prayer you use is personal and not for others to judge. What is important is finding a way of communication that resonates with you and makes you feel comfortable.

Learning To See the Sacred

I mentioned this before in my post on being spiritual while one’s life is ass but it bears repeating here. As I mentioned above, our view of what is spiritual tends to be very narrow when we first begin. It can be very hard to see the sacred in our daily routines and interactions with the world. But the mundane isn’t always profane and while it takes time to begin to feel the sacred nature in these everyday occurrences, it is worth taking the time to expand our view of the sacred. As I stated in the other blog post

“our lives are abounding with small sacred rituals whether we realize it or not. Cooking, cleaning, even getting prepared in the morning – all of these are rituals in a sense as we do them in very specific ways with intended purposes and we feel off if we alter them. When we start to see them as ritual actions we can begin to understand how they’re actually spiritual in nature. Furthermore, many gods reign over domains that these small rituals fall under. Do you worship Aphrodite? Combing your hair is now an act of devotion since it’s a beauty ritual. Buy locally grown produce from the farmers market? Offer that as an act of devotion to the Vanir. These are small but significant actions we can take to further the realms the gods hold domain over.”

Not everyone is going to be able to find examples or places of sacred rituals taking place in their mundane lives and some may not want to associate their jobs with the spiritual part of their life. For others, this sort of opening up can be the key they need to begin really getting into things. Regardless of which you are, this aspect of changing how one views what is sacred and what is profane is important for beginning to truly immerse in one’s practice. Things we once took as boring or ordinary can come alive with a special energy when we realize their potential and meaning. We can gain a new appreciation for these things rather than taking them for granted.

Start Small, Then Build + Moderation aka Remember That Religion Isn’t a Race

It’s important to not overwhelm yourself at first. It’s easy to get burnt out as a beginner and it’s also easy to fall into a trap of seeing how nicely built up others have their practices and shrines and feeling like you’re failing or falling short. Remember: religion is not a competition. Also remember: most of these people took a bit of time to build up these nice practices and shrines. Also also remember: most people share what they’re proud of so what you tend to see shared is naturally going to be nice. You don’t tend to see the awkward growing stages of the shrines or the messy bits of someone’s practice. The standards you’re holding yourself up to are the result of time and effort you haven’t even had a chance to put in yet.

That said, now that you are starting out, it’s okay and recommended to start out small. If you’re waiting constantly on perfect additions to a nice shrine you’ll be held back from doing anything at all. Start with a cheap set up and get the practice going rather than stalling because things aren’t nice enough yet. You will get there in time. Allow yourself to be imperfect and messy. It’s a learning curve and the gods are understanding.

It’s also important to, like I mentioned in the same post as above, that every single religion I’ve read on emphasizes the value of moderation. We are to give within our means not bankrupt ourselves over a beautiful chalice that would look oh-so great on a shrine or an expensive bottle of scotch. (Sure the gods might be salivating over them but they’re not going to really be mad that you didn’t shell out for them.) Yes, it’s normal to want to give the gods nice things and it’s nice to be able to afford something for them every now and then but don’t be thinking you’re supposed to be giving everything you have to the gods.

Remember, religion is a journey not a race. While it’s tempting to rush ahead towards some ideal we hold, it’s really about the steps we take getting their more than it is about the destination. Stop and smell the metaphorical roses, learn from your trip ups, and allow yourself to grow. Chances are the ideal you hold in a few months won’t be the one you hold now so rushing ahead will only put you back further. In the end, we’re all tortoises when it comes to spirituality, plodding towards unique and everchanging goal posts.

Doing Spiritual Stuff When Your Life is Ass

Most of us will encounter times in our spiritual path where mundane life is so overwhelmingly awful it interferes with the spiritual. This is different from fallow times where for one reason or another, the gods and/or spirits in your life step back and force you to take a time out (although the two can be connected or similar.) When your mundane life is – as the person who asked for this topic so eloquently put it – ass, it raises a whole host of obstacles to spiritual practices from lack of energy to even full-blown spiritual crises such as “why bother? what is the point of spirituality when my life is atrocious?” While the answers to dealing with these problems will ultimately be unique to the individual in question, there are some general things that help me that might be of use to others grappling with these obstacles.

Allowing Oneself Permission to Fall Into a Fallow Period

Sometimes, the answer is simply it’s time to take a step back. Unfortunately, there’s a somewhat competitive more-pious-than-thou current that tends to run through neopagan circles. Unless you’re running yourself into the ground and giving 110% of yourself to your deities or spirits you’re not good enough. This reinforces the feelings of “they stepped back because I’m not good enough” that tends to come with fallow times. The truth of the matter is that fallow times are not bad and they’re incredibly important for spiritual growth. Fallow times as a name comes from letting a field lie fallow for a time. This is incredibly important for the field to rest between plantings so that it can remain fertile and arable.  Therefore within the very name fallow times is reassuring us this rest is for our spiritual benefit. For those who are familiar with tarot, this concept is written into the major arcana with The Hanged Man preceding Death, a period of self-sacrificial rest and patience preceding new beginnings and metamorphosis.

Therefore, sometimes the answer is simply giving ourselves the permission to step back and rest. We can’t always feasibly juggle life and spiritual shenanigans or at least not in ways that will satisfy us. Thus, sometimes we just need to tell the gods or spirits “I need to put this aside for now because I cannot give you the time and effort I want to or that you deserve with what is going on. This not farewell, only a goodbye for now while I get my shit together.” Contrary to the piety posse’s preaching, the gods generally do not insist on running us ragged into the dirt and appreciate us standing up for our health.

Changing One’s Definition of “Spiritual” and “Mundane”

This can be very important as we have a tendency to have a very strict and narrow view of what counts as a spiritual or sacred act. We tend to define it spiritual or sacred acts as being profound and esoteric in nature. The problem with this is that our lives are abounding with small sacred rituals whether we realize it or not. Cooking, cleaning, even getting prepared in the morning – all of these are rituals in a sense as we do them in very specific ways with intended purposes and we feel off if we alter them. When we start to see them as ritual actions we can begin to understand how they’re actually spiritual in nature. Furthermore, many gods reign over domains that these small rituals fall under. Do you worship Aphrodite? Combing your hair is now an act of devotion since it’s a beauty ritual. Buy locally grown produce from the farmers market? Offer that as an act of devotion to the Vanir. These are small but significant actions we can take to further the realms the gods hold domain over.

Think of it this way: in our lives we’re often given small gifts that someone saw that although small they’d known we’d like. Or people do things in our honor or because they thought of us. Despite being small actions, these small acts of love are the most concrete proof we’re always in our loved one’s hearts and on their minds and therefore can often mean so much.

Furthermore, almost every single religion I’ve read up on explicitly states or strongly implies that moderation is valued, which includes in offerings. We are not expected to give grandiose offerings every time. We are expected to give within our means and if our life is ass then we our means will be smaller than if we were in a better spot. This is expected and therefore the gods will not be angry if what we’re able to give is small. Thus, allowing ourselves to see the significance of the otherwise “mundane” is incredibly important and opens up a world of small but important possibilities. Once these opportunities are realized, it becomes a lot easier to work them into one’s daily life such as small offerings of water with medications in the morning or night or self care rituals.

Doing The Big Thing Despite It All

I’m putting this option last because a) it’s not a popular option and goes against a lot of today’s popular mental health rhetoric but b) it’s often the most important thing we can do. A huge part of recovery is getting oneself uncomfortable. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s painful and it’s misery-making and you hate every step of it. Until five months down the line and you realize you’re breathing easier and you’ve somehow unlocked some spoons depression had hidden from you.  (This is speaking from personal experience.) Sometimes, the only way to get better is to buckle down and do what you view as impossible.

(Note: If you know your limits and know something is truly beyond you physically or mentally, don’t do it. This bit is not meant to encourage recklessness or truly harmful actions to oneself. It is to encourage one to push beyond self-imposed limitations – namely ones like anxiety – that prevent us from making positive improvements in our life and growing beyond our current limitations.)

Maybe anxiety prevents you from making offerings because you’re worried they won’t like the food or the artwork you made or your words aren’t eloquent enough. Maybe you’re worried about trying to cast spells because “what if they don’t succeed, I’m such a loser it’s bound to fail anyway”. Maybe you don’t divine every day like you mean to because it’s hard still and your answers aren’t reliable yet. These are all valid worries, do not get me wrong. But while valid, they are things you can overcome. Maybe you need help for it but you can’t even begin to get help with them if you don’t personally make the decision to do it despite the discomfort it will cause and commit to facing that discomfort. If you turn away at the first bit of pain, you’re not going to get anywhere. And when your life is ass, this particular option is all the more intimidating because the rest of your life is discomfort, why make the spiritual stuff into discomfort as well? And this is where you have to ask yourself the following:

a) what do I actually want to get out of spirituality? how do I get that out of my path?

and b) is a small amount of discomfort now worth the lack of discomfort that will come later from facing this pain and fear now? If yes, can I and will I commit to facing it?

Obviously, depending on how much ass one’s life is at the moment, this won’t be the most viable option and that’s alright. But for some, it will be the only option in dealing with the problem no matter how unappealing and therefore needs to be mentioned because a lot of the time, the walls we see aren’t nearly as insurmountable as we think, they just look that way from anxiety lying to us.

I’m sure there are other ways in pursuing spiritual practices while one’s life is ass but to be honest, these are the big three options I’ve found useful in my path and anything I’ve done is just a version of one of these.

Jól and Jötnar – the jólasveinarnir

Someone on tumblr asked me to elaborate on my statement that the jötnar were traditionally involved in Yule according to folklore. The folkloric belief I was referencing was that of the jólasveinarnir or “Yule Lads” of Icelandic belief.

While today the jólasveinarnir are largely benevolent and are basically the Icelandic version of Santa Clause (leaving gifts or rotting potatoes depending on a kid’s behavior), they began as trickster and mischievous figures who punished naught kids. Some were even quite malicious and were known for devouring children. They are the thirteen sons of the jötnar Grýla and Leppalúði. Grýla herself is a figure who dates back at least to Snorri’s time and is often used as a figure to threaten children into behaving or else Grýla will sense their mischief and come and devour them. This household also had a monstrous housepet known as the Jólaköttur (Yule Cat) which would also devour those who misbehaved or farmers who didn’t work hard enough to harvest before the snows came.

So there you have it kiddies. Be good and the jötnar will give you gifties. Be bad and rotting potatoes will be the least of your worries.

Adapting Old Norse Practices to be Non Æsir-Centric

Someone on tumblr asked me for advice on how to adapt things to be not so Æsir-centered in nature. The main tips I keep in mind for this are asking and answering the following questions:

  • What is the heart of the thing I’m trying to adapt? What is its purpose or the intention in doing/celebrating it? aka What am I trying to preserve about this ritual?
  • What is the role of the Æsir in this thing? aka What do I want to change?
  • How can I replace the Æsir bits while preserving the feeling of the thing?

If you can answer these three things then you can generally pretty easily adapt Old Norse rituals or celebrations to something more the way you want. For instance, if you replace Æsir with “out of date practice” you can easily use these same questions to modernize a thing as well. With that said, here’s a breakdown of how I’d approach this using Yule as an example.

What is the heart of the thing I’m trying to adapt? What is its purpose or the intention in doing/celebrating it? aka What am I trying to preserve about this ritual?

We don’t know a lot about Yule in the time of the vikings in actuality.  We know it was mid-winter celebration that lasted for supposedly three days where there was a huge amount of food and drink consumed. Horsemeat and blood seemed to be especially ritually significant though this isn’t necessarily specific to Yule alone. Yule is often used in kennings to simply mean “feast” indicating it was largely known for being a big important feast, so important it was just known essentially as “THE Feast.” The Æsir are referred to as “Yule-beings” and one of Oðinn’s names was Jólnir which indicates that the gods had incredibly strong ties to the feats of Yule. We know that toasts were held to the gods notably Oðinn, Freyr, and Njordr. Oðinn’s toast was for the sake of the king and Freyr and Njordr’s were for good harvests. Toasts were also held for the assembled people as well as for the ancestors.  Oath-taking, especially over cups of alcohol, was also an important part of Yule. (The magic of the hallowed drink made these oaths particularly special when oaths were already special in this society.) Oaths, as those familiar with Old Norse society know, were absolutely binding and failing to follow through resulted in major repercussions. (However, it’s interesting to note that in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar one of the characters speaks the following lines “Grieve not, Hethin, for true shall hold The words we both by the beer have sworn” indicating that the Yule oaths might be believed to come true hence why Yule boasts were such a big thing?)

The above doesn’t leave us with a lot of knowledge about the purpose of Yule. Scholars like Simek speculate that Yule is connected to an increase in supernatural activity due to the timing of the Wild Hunt as well as the increased activity of draugar in the winter months. This might be backed up by the presence of the Yule ancestor toasts as well as the Dísablót occurring soon before Yule as well as the increased activity of supernatural beings such as elves and jötnar that persist in Yule beliefs today.

With all that said, the aspect of feasting and toasting to good health, good luck, and good rest to the ancestors is the most definite bit to take out of this. The toasts are done to the appropriately important deities for the toast. This means the deities toasted to can be swapped out for the ones important to the toaster. The toastee toasts to themself and their community and then there’s the aspects of oaths.

What is the role of the Æsir in this thing? aka What do I want to change?

The Æsir, as far as what we know from what remains, largely seem to just be recipients of offerings – namely meat and alcohol from the Yule feast and toasting – and in turn the givers of blessings. This means what you want to change is the recipients of the offerings and basically who you’re partying with.

Fun fact: the jötnar celebrated Yule and were also important Yule beings in folklore, some receiving offerings and in some traditions being the giver of gifts. So it’s totally historically normal to include them in Yule offerings. (Not that it matters if it’s historically accurate or normal to many but hey, some might like to know!)

How can I replace the Æsir bits while preserving the feeling of the thing?

With Yule it’s simple: replace with the appropriate entities you’re honoring. As far as we know  – at least during the time period we mainly draw from –  Yule was a time for partying with your fellow people, giving offerings to the gods, receiving blessings from the gods, and overall just having a damn good time. (I mean, people got absolutely wasted on Yule nights it was literally a requirement in Norway thanks to Haakon.) It also bears some likely ancestor reverence but the main focus seems to be on the living and the future. If anything, it’s also a time for the Old Norse where they were closest to their gods as the supernatural’s presence seemed to be more powerfully felt and noticed.

Yule was a simple example since it really doesn’t require much alteration to be in keeping with traditional practice and not being Æsir-centric but I hope the walk through and breakdown was helpful nonetheless.