The Abundance of Misinformation

When it comes to spiritwork and magic, there is a lot of misinformation. Misinformation on both spiritwork and magic abounds in both published books and online platforms. It takes experienced spiritworkers and magic workers to discern what is good and bad information within books, which is really unfortunate for those starting down spiritworking and magical paths.

Spiritwork and magic both adhere to certain rules, just like the physical world adheres to certain rules. The fact that many authors and online influencers promote methods of spiritwork and magic that often ignore the rules of the spirit world and magical workings is problematic on many levels and has a range of harmful effects.

At the least harmful level, ignoring those rules leads to a failure to connect to spirit or prevents magic from working altogether. In situations where some rules are followed but others ignored, there may be limited results that then unfortunately encourage the practitioner to continue using methods that leave holes that spirits may eventually notice and take advantage of. At the most harmful level, it is possible for someone to do spiritwork or magic using techniques that draw the attention of malignant spirits or work in ways other than those intended by the practitioner.

There is danger in assuming that any/every approach to spiritwork and magic will work perfectly. Even chaos magicians use a system that adheres to certain rules, and the two fundamental rules of magic applies to all magicians. The laws of sympathetic magic – that of contagion and similarity – are in operation at all levels of magic.

The law of contagion, simply expressed, is “once connected, always connected,” while the law of similarity is “the image equals the object.” Taken together, these are the unbreakable laws of magic; they are as unyielding as the physical reality of gravity. At a deeper level, these two laws of magic explain why magical correspondences are vital to magical workings.

It is easy for a beginner to pick up a book or go to a website that discusses magical correspondences and assume that the author knows what they are talking about – we live in a world that privileges the written word and there is an unspoken assumption that books with bad information won’t be published. The reality is that misinformation abounds both in published books and on online platforms within all spheres of life, magical and mundane.

That is why discernment is such a critical tool to develop, and to develop discernment requires a commitment to critical analysis. With my background as a historian, I can say with confidence that there are even published history books that are factually inaccurate and misleading. Assessing books for accuracy requires a commitment to fact-checking information across several sources, and it can be a time-consuming process.

The same is true when it comes to fact-checking information found in books about spiritwork and magic. There are tons of books on spiritwork that ignore the importance of developing relationships with spirits, which is critical in spiritwork. There are a handful of books on spiritwork that are incredibly well-researched and accurate, but finding them can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The same is true for work on magic. It is well-known by experienced practitioners that books published by Llewellyn are hit-and-miss, with the majority of books being huge misses. There are authors like Silver Ravenwolf who still have huge following, even though any experienced practitioner worth their weight will tell you that none of her magical techniques make much sense.

Just like there are authors like Ravenwolf whose works are full of inaccuracies, there are online platforms that cause misinformation to circulate. There are people who use TikTok as a platform whose magical teachings confuse basic correspondences, and confusing those correspondences is a blatant disregard of the two fundamental rules of sympathetic magic.

As an example, there are many TikTok performers who suggest adding salt to any type of bottle spell, regardless of the intention behind the spell. This is an example of a harmless type of misinformation because the worst thing that adding salt to a spell is going to do is neutralize the spell. Salt is a purifying and protective substance – there is documentation for this that goes back centuries, and it is a well-known fact in the larger magical community.

Adding salt to protection or purification spells makes sense. Adding salt to spells for love or attracting wealth does not. Salt purifies and protects. It does not attract. To use it in a spell that has attraction as its core purpose makes no logical sense. Magic is unfailingly logical, and the correspondences of the components used in any spell or ritual is incredibly important.

While certain types of magicians, particularly chaos magicians, are able to develop their own systems of magic replete with their own correspondences, they do so most adeptly by learning the traditional systems and adapting what works for them into their own approaches. Chaos magicians operate on a “use what works, discard what doesn’t,” basis, and I have met only a handful of truly capable chaos magicians. Those few always operate within systems that acknowledge and use the two fundamental laws of sympathetic magic.

A lot of people on online platforms, especially TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter, are beginners attempting to teach other beginners. That is why so much of the information on those platforms tends to be misinformation. Most experienced practitioners will not teach through social media platforms. Some magical and spiritworking information is inherently dangerous, and online platforms do not allow experienced practitioners to determine who views/uses their teachings.

The misuse of magic and the abuse of spirits are difficult problems that circulate within the magical community at large, and few experienced practitioners are going to engage in any action that may potentially increase those problems.

I have seen these problems both online and in-person. I have read stories about people working with spirits who do so in abusive and exploitative ways. I have seen people form relationships with malignant spirits out of ignorance and pay a heavy price for their mistakes. Spirits have their own agency; they are capable of being both benign and malignant. Even benign spirits can turn malignant if they are abused or exploited. Attempting to coerce or control spirits can easily backfire. Approaching spirits carelessly, especially gods, can lead to deadly phenomena.

The spirit world is diverse, full of a plethora of beings. Many are benign but many are malignant. There are certain spirits that all traditions and religions have agreed are malignant towards humans, such as the succubi, incubi, and nightmare spirits. Some spirits are assumed to be malignant but may not be depending on the tradition followed. The entities considered to be demonic and malignant by Abrahamic religions may be benign spirits to those who work in the Goetic or demonaltry traditions. How spirits are approached and whether they act in a benign or malignant manner often depends on a specific tradition’s approach to those spirits. Traditions create spiritual patterns that echo throughout generations; rituals tap into collective remembering.

That is why so many experienced practitioners tell newcomers to find a magical or spiritual tradition and steep themselves in it for at least a year. Learn the patterns, the rituals, the approaches taken by one specific tradition. Magical approaches differ depending on the tradition. Ceremonial magicians do rituals differently than Druids who do rituals differently than Wiccans who do rituals differently than Conjure workers. Each system is complete in itself, and mixing/matching magical techniques is not something that can be done with ease.

Perhaps the most pressing issue caused by the proliferation of misinformation is the growing impression newcomers seem to have that magic and spiritwork is easy, when that is far from the truth. The people who are strongest in magic and spiritwork draw their strength from the years – usually in terms of decades – of experience they have working in their respective fields.

While I work closely with spirits today, that did not happen overnight. I did not wake up one day and decide to become a spiritworker and have everything immediately go well. I spent the first decade of my magical journey wishing I could communicate with spirits because I couldn’t easily connect with them. I had to reshape my entire way of thinking about the world, let go of patterns of monotheistic thought shaped by the environment I grew up in, and learn to sit and listen with intent. It took a decade of work for me to even get started on my path as a spiritworker, despite being raised in a tradition that acknowledged the existence and prevalence of spirits.

Spirit work is not easy. Neither is magic. Magic is willpower made manifest. A person must learn to understand themselves and their own will to create strong magic. They must also make the commitment to learn magic at a serious level and dedicate themselves to the process.

Unfortunately, social media platforms have beginners posing as experts and spreading misinformation about magic, and the younger generations are so used to getting information through social media that they rarely stop to question the validity of the information they are receiving.

It isn’t easy to find experienced teachers, since the majority of us only teach in person for reasons I’ve already explained, so many people have to become self-taught practitioners. That is possible to do, but taking that path requires more dedication because it requires more experimentation and more guesswork than learning from someone directly entails.

There are good resources out there, but most of them aren’t going to be found on social media. Some of the best resources may be hidden in local or university libraries. Often, popular books contain the least accurate information (though that is not always true). There are certain authors that can be trusted and others that can be ignored. It takes dedication to discernment and critical analysis to determine which books are good resources and which ones aren’t, and learning to do that is in and of itself a way to create a solid foundation for discernment in both magic and spiritwork.

Odin, Loki, and Elohim

I have a friend who came back into my life recently and approached me asking for advice on how to connect to the divine. Like most people in the United States, he was raised with a Christian worldview. Unlike most Christians, however, he told me that he had gotten in several arguments with other Christians about the evidence of multiplicity and plurality within the Bible. He also told me that he had never managed to really connect with the Divine because of the skepticism he has always held towards religion in a general sense.

That conversation led to introducing him to a Christian friend who does ritual work with Elohim and many angels. She did a ritual that my friend attended and he met Michael through that ritual, and he has been able to connect to the Divine ever since. He has also started to learn more about energy work and magic, and it seems that he has been called to the path of the mage. He may eventually become a Christian high magician.

Throughout all of this, I saw Loki’s touch on my life because the work that I do for Loki often consists of helping people and the gods connect to each other. I don’t always help Loki and those meant to walk his path connect with each other – it is often other gods. I’m not entirely sure why I am called to connect gods with their intended devotees, but I have no problem doing the work. Some of my greatest joy in life comes from seeing someone connect deeply with the Divine, no matter who the gods are that they form a connection with. There is something indescribably beautiful about seeing gods and their devotees come together.

To be honest, though, I found the whole series of events a little frustrating because while my friend was able to connect to Michael and Elohim, he was having trouble conceptualizing the other gods as being just as real as Elohim. He told me that because he hadn’t experienced them as real, he couldn’t really conceptualize them in the same way. I personally found that frustrating because I understood that him coming to me about wanting to connect to the Divine came from my gods pushing me to help someone connect to the Divine.

Interestingly enough, Odin helped with that. I did a midsummer ritual to Odin the other night to reaffirm my oath to him. My two Christian friends, ironically, were the only ones there to witness the oath. The night after that, both of them came over to discuss the ritual they had done and to continue with energy work lessons. When he was centered, I had him just open himself up to feel the energy in the apartment. At first, his immediate reaction was “I feel negative energy.” And then he caught himself and said, “No. Not negative. Foreign. Unfamiliar.”

Then Odin stepped forward and asked for a drink. And Loki stepped forward and asked for chocolate. I provided the drink and chocolate – the intent wasn’t to try and get him working with Norse gods! – and I basically got confirmation through his experience that Odin had heard and accepted the reaffirmation of my oath to him. I was kind of amused at Odin’s attempt to get my friend to give him an offering (that did NOT happen; I poured out the offering myself) and found myself reminded that Odin is just as much (if not more so) a trickster than Loki himself.

For me, it was just evidence that the Gods do what they need to do to connect to the devotees they choose. Odin and Loki made themselves known to a Christian practitioner to demonstrate to him that they are just as real as Elohim, and the politics of the Gods are not the politics of humans.

Odin and Autosacrifice

About 10 years ago, I found myself reading Norse mythology and all the books considered part of the Heathen lexicon of lore. The whole reason I started reading books dealing with Norse mythology, history, and lore – I saw an unsettling picture of Odin on a website. The picture displayed him as an elder man with an eye-patch, but the look in his other eye came across like a leader offering a rebuke while simultaneously extending his hand.

The way that picture unsettled me actually prevented me from doing research into Heathenry for about six months. I was not sure I was ready to deal with another god after I had spent the majority of my life feeling betrayed by the Christian god; I certainly wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with a god that had the kind of unsettling presence I felt in that picture. I wrestled with the desire of wanting nothing to do with another god and wanting nothing more but to follow one. Internally, I waged a war against myself for half a year before I made a decision. I would brave the unknown.

I found the site that had housed the picture of Odin that I had originally seen, and I used the picture as a tool to imagine myself beside Odin in a place where we could safely talk. I didn’t struggle to figure out how to talk to him; I’d been raised in a tradition of spirit work. Actually, I tend to feel more comfortable and confident around spirits because of that – especially non-human spirits – than around people. Initiating conversation with Odin wasn’t difficult. The hard part for me was deciding to respond to the invitation he had offered through the way he had illuminated an image of himself that I happened to see.

Within the space of a few months of communicating and working with him, I learned a lot about both him and myself. I saw parts of me in him, like the willingness to break a promise to one person to ensure the safety and health of a community. I read forums where people openly railed against Odin for breaking oaths in the myths. He does break oaths in the stories, but the only time that happens is when the risk that would follow keeping the oath would prove higher than breaking it.

In all the stories I read, I started seeing Odin as a strategist and tactician, a war genius that was always several thousand steps ahead of everyone around him. I saw how he took in everything around him, even though he did not always voice it. I saw a god who was not afraid to experience new things, who knew when to be humble and when to be bold, and who treasured his friends and his community above the sanctity of everything else.

I also saw what others consider a darkness in him – the bloodlust, the thirst for war, the frenzy and ecstasy of magic at its finest. I have come to think of Odin’s thirst for war less as a desire to see people kill each other and more as a necessity in a grim battle against the cycle that eventually causes the destruction of the universe. I don’t think Odin cares about the causes of war that people invoke him for because the war he is waging against cosmic forces is of much more consequence. In some ways, he is the ultimate utilitarian strategist.

He is also a trickster. So much so, in fact, that people often forget that he is a trickster. People who shy away from Loki because of his trickster aspect often turn towards Odin, forgetting that Odin is just as much of a trickster as Loki is. Their trickster aspects seem to come from different places and serve different purposes, but there is a reason they are blood brothers. Odin’s trickster aspect seems to originate from his ability to disguise and deceive everyone around him; he almost always has an agenda to further his own cause. He weaves illusions and snares others in traps that they rarely see coming.

While Loki is also capable of shape-shifting and disguise, he also shatters illusions and uses the truth to confound people into doing what he wants. He sets up situations so that his enemies think that they have outsmarted and captured him; he turns the tides at the last moment and proves that his cunning is far superior. His strategy seems to rely on making plans on the spur of the moment; he is not a strategist that indulges in a lot of planning. He seems more like the type to trust his ability to get him out of tight spots, no matter the odds.

Together, the two of them are unstoppable. It is thus not surprising that the tale of Ragnarok shows them pitted against each other. Odin’s main goal is to keep the death of the universe at bay; his main aim seems to be to halt the progress of death. Loki’s main goal is to keep the cycle in motion; he is the embodiment of change. It thus makes sense that Odin and Loki would be incredible friends at the beginning of every cycle because everything is growing and expanding and changing in beautiful ways. At some point, though, a peak is reached and the universe begins to spiral more quickly towards decay. It is at that point the two of them must turn from the other because their goals clash horribly.

I learned this about Odin and Loki by reading the myths and the Eddas, and I learned by listening to them as they told me their stories in the astral realm. At some point, I learned enough to realize that I would be willing to commit myself to both of them in very different ways. I swore an oath to Odin, to be part of his army as a strategist and mage, an oath that keeps me bound to him as long as my soul continues to exist in any energetic form. I took this oath knowing exactly how deeply I was committing myself – I did not take it lightly.

Part of that oath, ten years ago, was that I would avoid the Christian god and Christianity to the best of my ability – a difficult thing to do in the middle of a Bible Belt. I threw out all of my old Bibles and Christian books. I stopped listening to Christian music, including Christian rock – a feat made more difficult by the fact that many alternative rock bands turn out to be Christian rock bands in disguise. I stopped letting friends drag me with them to church services. I did everything I could to rid my life of Christianity in all its guises.

Part of the reason I added that stipulation to the oath was that I knew how easy it would be for me to fall back into old patterns of letting friends/family take me to church with them, even though it made me miserable. I also knew how badly I yearned for a community, and the Christian church provides that for people. I did not want the temptation to be part of a community to tempt me away from one of the only gods who I had encountered who seemed to understand me at all. It was a stipulation, in other words, that I forced onto myself – it was not one that Odin required of me.

Still, for ten years, I avoided all things Christian. I refused to engage with the Golden Dawn system of ceremonial magic because it was rife with Christian symbolism. I couldn’t work with angels, even after encountering one, because of the stipulation I had placed on myself in the oath I took to Odin. I couldn’t really engage in relationships with people who weren’t atheist or polytheistic (and didn’t include the Christian god in their devotional practice). There was a lot I couldn’t do, which was fine for many years.

About three months ago, it started to really bother me that I couldn’t learn the systems of magic I was the most interested in because of that stipulation. It bothered me so much that I sat down one night and had a very long conversation with Odin about potentially renegotiating my original oath with him to have that stipulation removed. I purposefully approached him with a suggested alternative; I did not ask him to simply release me from that portion of the oath. After all, I had spent ten years offering him my refusal to engage with Christianity – I thus had to come prepared with something to offer in lieu of that.

So, I offered him blood. My own blood, to be exact. We discussed what that would entail, how often it would be, and we reached an agreement. Odin agreed to release me, and we renewed the oath with a new stipulation in place of the old one. The new oath was simply that I would continue to remain bound to his service as a strategist and mage, and I would offer him my blood once a month. In exchange for my oath, I gain access to a lot of places within the astral realm and can work with any/all spirits regardless of the religion that house them.

I try to do the autosacrifice on a Wednesday, since Wednesday is named for Odin. After I sterilize my hand with rubbing alcohol, I use a lancing device to prick my finger and place at least three drops (never more than nine) in a small offering dish that I then place on Odin’s altar. It’s a very small amount of blood, but blood magic is very, very potent. It is also incredibly important to ensure the environment is sterile before purposefully making yourself bleed.

While some may see using a lancing device as a “weak” method of offering blood, the reality is that blood carries a lot of potent magic regardless of the manner in which it is obtained. As long as Odin is satisfied with the offering (which he has been fine with so far), then I am less concerned about how other people view my methods. After all, it’s not like I’m making an offering to them. 

In any case, autosacrifice is not a path meant for everyone, and I have met few gods who would approach a devotee and ask for such an offering. Among those I know who do offer their own blood to their gods have done so after discussing it with their gods. It is never appropriate to assume that any/all gods will accept blood offerings. Some gods can and will find it offensive, especially if you offer it to them without discussing it first. As with any offering, it is imperative to talk to the gods first about an offering you are considering giving them rather than assume that something you haven’t given them before will automatically be accepted. Gods can/do reject offerings, which is why developing a strong relational practice with the gods is so important.

 

When the Gods Seem Distant

Sometimes, it becomes hard to hear the gods. Sometimes, it feels like the gods are no longer present. In reality, what has happened is that we have lost touch with our ability to communicate with the gods. We have stopped reaching out, stopped turning inward. In those moments, we have become too focused on the realities of our physical lives. 

Our lives are full of noise. In Western society, everyone is always busy. Being productive is a way of life – to the point that not doing something productive causes anxiety and induces shame. Because time is considered valuable, and not producing something is often viewed as wasteful. That means to tune-in to society we have to tune-in to the noise and we end up tapping into that need to produce more. To constantly create something, constantly be on the move. Just never slowing down. 

To hear the gods, though, we have to slow down. We have to breathe. We have to take the moments that come to us in-between the chaotic reality of our lives and just breathe. It is in those spaces that the gods are heard most clearly – is it any wonder that most people miss those moments? 

It’s very easy to tune-in to the stress caused by a busy schedule. I understand it myself – I’m a graduate student in my last semester of my Master’s program. In the next 6 weeks, I need to write somewhere between 50-70 pages to complete my thesis. In the next 8 weeks, I have to also write two 8-10 page book reviews for my African Politics class. In the next 14 weeks, I also have to write a 25-30 page paper on how development plans often fail in Africa for that same class. On top of that, I am the President of my school’s Pagan Student Association and the secretary for the Graduate History Student Association. I’m also a graduate teaching assistant who has to attend lectures, take attendance, and grade essay-based exams. On top of all of that, I have responsibilities as one of Loki’s priest, the founder of Loki’s Wyrdlings, and the Director of Loki University. I understand first-hand what it is like to be busy – my life might as well be the poster for what a fast-paced American life looks like. 

Some people will look at that list and say “wow, no way could I do that much.” I understand that – sometimes I don’t know how I do that much. And then I remember that I have ADHD and PTSD and that staying busy for me is literally a lifesaver. It keeps me from getting too caught up in the trauma of my past (research has shown that exposure therapy is actually incredibly damaging for people with PTSD though it is good for anxiety disorders and phobias). It also keeps me from getting bored. 

So how, in a life so busy, do I manage to find the time to speak with the gods? To communicate with them, to ensure that I don’t feel abandoned by them and that they are present? I make the time. I take the moments in-between the crazy pace of my life and I force them into a slower tempo. I listen as hard as I can, and I do the best I can to give the gods the same kind of attention I give to my friends when they are talking to me. Most importantly, I do the best I can to make consistent offerings to the gods. 

It is through offerings that the connections we have to the divine realm are maintained. It is through sacrifice that we enable the gods to communicate with us most clearly. Our offerings feed and nourish them – they are the subsistence the gods need. While we need physical food and drink to live physical lives, the gods need spiritual food. The gods are heavily present in my life because I make a point to make sure they are fed. I do the best I can to take the hints I am given. 

As an example, I attended a lecture from a guest speaker yesterday. He ended up discussing how he converted to Christianity near the end, which was a bit of a surprise twist considering the topic had nothing to do with Christianity. He talked about how he held no belief in healing, and then he found that the Christian god healed him of his addictions. He asked for healing and promised to tell the story in exchange for that healing – he has kept his end of the bargain, and his addictions have never returned. 

That story reminded me of the importance of sacrifice – of the exchanges we make with the gods. A lot of Christians will say that you should never make deals or bargains or try to broker with a god, but most Christians do not understand that the reason their deals/bargains tend to fail is because they do not keep their end of the bargain. They do not follow through with what they say they are going to do, so of course the god does not provide. That’s incredibly disrespectful. 

Sacrifice works on a very deep level – it is a reciprocal exchange. The gods provide me with a great deal, including the opportunity to experience them on a very personal level. In exchange, I provide them with offerings. Some of the things the gods give to me require larger sacrifices than others. That’s okay – I don’t mind giving the gods what they need. What I get from them, largely, is their presence. I love the gods, and I love having them around. 

Because of that, I do what I can to make sure that I take the moments I can find to take a breath and listen when they have something to tell me. I am not perfect at it – none of us are. But I do my best, and that’s all I can ask of myself. That’s all the gods ever ask of me, and it seems silly to require more of myself than the gods themselves ask. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to give more – sometimes I try to give so much that the gods tell me to take a break. I actually once had Loki tell me to stop obsessing over making sure I had given him an offering during the week – that happened when I was sick with a virus that made it hard to get out of the bed. I was determined to give him an offering, and Loki basically told me to stop being ridiculous and go back to bed. 

I have a hard time turning off the working mode that our society has indoctrinated into me – that carries over to my work with the gods to a greater extent than is necessarily healthy. At the end of the day, though, I enjoy having the gods around. Because I am secure in the knowledge the gods are always there, even when I don’t always hear them perfectly, I can stay secure in the relationships I hold with them. I am of the mind that they value their relationship with me the way I value my relationship with them. In that way, I don’t fall into the trap of feeling abandoned. Why would someone who cares for me the way I care for them abandon me? When the gods do seem distant, I remind myself that I am the one creating that distance and to reduce it, I have to tune out of the noise of the world. Once I do that, the distance disappears and the gods are as close as they have always been. 

Ascendant II: Theology for Modern Polytheists

The newest title from Bibliotheca Alexandrina is Ascendant II, edited by Michael Hardy. It contains essays from several different authors, including John Beckett, Wayne Keysor, John Michael Greer, Brandon Hensley, and myself.

My article “Applying Cross-Cultural Methods of Myth Interpretation to the Myth of Baldr’s Death” is featured about halfway through the book. For anyone curious about why Loki’s involvement in Baldr’s death is actually essential to the maintenance of the cosmological order, I highly suggest reading that essay.

I actually highly suggest buying a copy of Ascendant II (and its precursor, Ascendant I) because it features polytheists discussing theology in the modern world. Theology is not often something discussed in Pagan and Polytheist circles, despite all the work we do with and for the gods.

You can learn more about the contents of Ascendant II here and you can purchase your own copy of Amazon for $11 here. 

Frith

While frith directly translates to “peace,” it is a word that holds so much meaning inside it that “peace” does not do it justice. Frith and pax are not synonymous. Vilhelm Grønbech states in Culture of the Teutons,

A word such as the Latin pax suggests first and foremost…a laying down of arms, a state of equipoise due to the absence of disturbing elements; frith, on the other hand, indicates something armed, protection defense – or else a power for peace which keeps men amicably inclined (Grønbech 35).

Frith, then, is an actively defensive and protective type of peace. Frith, for the ancient Germanic people, formed the very foundation of the soul itself. Frith was such a vital part of life that it was considered a base necessity and not referred to as a virtue. Because of that, the society formulated around frith became one “based upon general unity, mutual self-sacrifice and self-denial, and the social spirit. A society, in which every individual, from birth to death, was bound by consideration for his neighbor” (Grønbech 13).

Frith was the power that made people friendly towards one other; it was the glue that bound society together. According to Grønbech, “Frith is the state of things which exists between friends. And it means, first and foremost, reciprocal inviolability” (Grønbech 18). That means everyone was expected to act from a place of frith; frith was more important than any disputes that arose.

Disputes could arise; arguments did occur. Frith did not prevent arguments. Instead, frith required that all arguments be held in such a way that people worked toward a settlement that satisfied the nature of frith. The active force of frith guaranteed a solution that resulted in communal peace. As Grønbech states,

Frith is something active, not merely leading kinsmen to spare each other, but forcing them to support one another’s cause, help and stand sponsor for one another, trust one another….the responsibility is absolute, because kinsmen are literally the doers of one another’s deeds (Grønbech 24).

Frith rested on the Germanic concept of unity. In the Western world, the way we are taught the idea of unity today is the same method that was used when Grønbech lived. Children are taught that a stick by itself is weak but a bundle of sticks together are strong – unity is thus conveyed as the addition of individuals to a collective.

The Germanic people did not understand unity in this way; for them, unity was the natural state of existence. Grønbech explains:

The Germanic attitude or mind starts from a different side altogether. Here, unity is not regarded as originating in addition; unity is first in existence. The thought of mutual support plays no leading part among these men; they do not see it in the light of one man after another coming with his strength and the whole then added together; but rather as if the force lay in that which unites them (Grønbech 33).

Frith is the uniting force; it is what creates the cohesive whole. It is because the Germanic people thought of unity in this way that frith became the most inviolable social reality. It is why the family clan was conceptualized as a fence, each member a stave set in the ground and enclosing a sacred ground.

That is where the Heathen concepts of innangard and utangard originate. Innangard is the inner circle; it is the family, the clan, the communities we build. It is where we owe our loyalties. Utangard is everything outside of those structures; it is everything external to our communities that threaten to destroy frith.

Frith is always accompanied by joy or glad-feeling. As Grønbech states,

Gladness or joy is not a pleasure derived from social intercourse, it draws its exhilarating strength from being identical with frith…Joy is a thing essential to humanity. It is inseparably attached to frith; a sum and an inheritance. But this joy, then, contained something in itself…What were the ideas attaching to this joy? The answer is contained in the old world honor (Grønbech 37-38).

Frith and joy are the foundation of honor, and it is the power of frith that makes communities cohesive and joyful.


Sources

Vilhelm Grønbech. Culture of the Teutons, Volume 1. Trans. W. Worster. London: Oxford University Press, 1931.

 

 

Some Fields – aka Lenses – for Studying Polytheistic Religions

Polytheistic religions are, by design, multifaceted. There is no single model that encompasses every polytheistic religion. There are, however, several different fields that can be used to explore polytheistic religions, just as there are different fields in every subject. History, for example, can be broken down into many different fields – environmental history, labor history, queer history, women’s history, race history, statistical history, microhistory, etc. In the same vein, polytheistic religions can each individually be explored through certain fields of study.

I try to utilize the twelve fields that follow when I am studying a polytheistic religion. I’ll go more in-depth with each one in regard to the Heathen religion in my future posts, but for now, I am just going to introduce the fields themselves.

The first field is cosmogony, which is the study of the creation of the universe. Every religion has an origin story for the cosmos – some have several. Understanding those creation myths are vital to understanding the religion they underpin. In Heathenry, the creation myth revolves around the collision of fire and ice giving rise to the spark of life in the middle of the Ginnungagap, or yawning void, which then gave rise to everything else.

The second field is cosmology, which is the study of the universe itself. This differs from cosmogony because cosmology looks at the structure of the universe after its creation. Said a different way, the creation myth/s of religion are so integral that they require a separate, in-depth study. In Heathenry, the cosmology centers around the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Nine Worlds that rest in its branches, and the Three Wells that lay at its roots.

The third field is theogony, which refers to the lineage of the gods. This gives us information about the family of the gods, how the gods structure and arrange themselves, and what the relationships are between different gods. Within Heathenry, there are two or three families of gods, depending on your perspective. Traditional Heathens only acknowledge the Aesir and Vanir families, but others acknowledge the Jotuns (Rokkr) as a third family.

The fourth field centers around sacred calendars, rites, and practices. This includes the calendars that the religion historically used, the days considered sacred, the rituals practiced and the method of practice, and the daily way of life. Many people approach polytheistic religions through this field, as most polytheistic religions are centered on right practice (orthopraxy). Polytheistic religions are lived religions, so practice is a necessity – it is the only requirement. While there are many ways to study a religion, there is only one way to follow a religion, and, in polytheistic religions, that means through practice.

The fifth field is eschatology, which is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. It is the study of the afterlife. Every religion views death differently. Considering the fact death is the most intriguing and terrifying phenomena in the universe, it makes sense that there are so many different ideas of what happens when you die. Within Heathenry, there are several different afterlives, but there are also several conflicting views as to who goes to which life. Most polytheistic religions are life-affirming, so they are rooted in a this-world mentality. Heathenry is no different, as the afterlife you receive is considered to be one based entirely on the deeds you perform in this life.

The sixth field is axiology, or the study of values and ethics. It is the moral creed that underpins religion. Many polytheistic religions do not have creeds that are explicitly stated; instead, the moral codes are culturally embedded and learned through the myths themselves. Within Modern Heathenry, the moral codes are often found in the Poetic lay known as the Havamal. This is a set of maxims supposedly given by Odin himself, as the translation of Havamal is “Words of the High One.”

The seventh field is pneumatology, or the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. This deals with the types of spiritual creatures a person would be expected to encounter and/or honor. This can include the gods but is typically focused on other classes of spirits. Within Heathenry, that includes elves, wights, and trolls – Kvedulf Gunndarson has a wonderful book on the topic called “Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry” that really explores the pneumatology of Heathenry.

The eighth field is soulology, or the study of the soul or soul-complex. Soulology itself is a modern term, as the traditional word here would have been psychology. Psychology was once understood to be the study of the soul, but in its modern iteration, it is known as the study of the human psyche. These aren’t identical concepts, so it is important to differentiate them. Within Heathenry, the soul is considered a soul-complex with many parts to it. It is not unusual, in polytheistic religions, to see soul-complexes that describe five or more souls or soul parts.

The ninth field is semiotics & symbology, which is the study of signs & symbols and their interpretation and uses. Within Heathenry, there are many signs and symbols, all of which mean vastly different things. Runes are the mainstay of Heathen symbology, but there is also the Helm of Awe, Mjolnir, the Runic Compass, the Valknut, and the Irminsul (to name a few).

The tenth field is sophology, or the study of wisdom. In this sense, wisdom comes from reading the myths, applying appropriate cultural interpretations to those myths, and using the myths as guidelines for experiential living. It also requires utilizing knowledge gained from other fields of study and/or life experience and synthesizing that knowledge into a composite whole. Wisdom does not operate in a vacuum nor can it be found in a single place. Ethics are a part of wisdom, but morality changes depending on the culture. Due to its nature, wisdom is virtually impossible to pin down or describe, as it has a variety of forms. Within Heathenry, wisdom is highly valued, as Odin, the chief god of the pantheon, is a god of wisdom who always seeks more of it.

The eleventh field is sexology, or the study of sex. This includes the act of sex itself and how it was viewed, as well as gender and how that is construed within the religion. Different religions view nonbinary identities as incredibly sacred; others view them as perverse. In some religions, there are gods that require practitioners to be of one sex or another, and some practices are restricted to certain sexes. In the modern world, people often find it offensive when religious restrictions prevent them from accessing certain gods or certain rituals. Not all people need access to all things. That is why there are still closed religions, and it is important to respect the closed nature of those religions.

The twelfth field is occultology, or the study of the occult (meaning secret). Within polytheistic religions, this refers to magic derived from religious practices. Within Heathenry, there are three specific branches of magic. There is seidhr, which is a type of trance/oracular magic, traditionally only performed by women (there were and are exceptions). There is galdr, which is runic vibrational magic, that was traditionally magic done by men (again, exceptions exist). Lastly, there is spaecraft, and in today’s terms translates to herbalism and/or cunning.

The fields can, and do, overlap each other. That said, it is sometimes easier to use a narrow lens to look at a complex subject to better understand it. Though each of these fields can be used as narrow lenses to explore polytheistic religions, it is important to keep in mind that every religion is far more than the twelve fields listed here – i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am the farthest removed you can get from being a reductionist, and I highly discourage anyone from trying to use these fields in a manner that suggests that they are the only parts of a religion. They are not – these are simply the ones that I have found useful in my own studies. I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of other techniques to use to approach the study of religion. These are just the ones that I have developed for myself. If they help you, great, but do not go out and try to tell people that they are the “only way to study religion.” That is a mindset born from living in a monotheistic culture, and, if you are practicing a polytheistic religion, it is one I highly encourage you to divest yourself of as soon as possible.

Going forward, I will be examining Heathenry through these fields. Some will require more discussion than others, some will require less – in any case, it won’t be as simple as a 12-part series. Moreover, the views I express are mine alone, and they do not represent the views of the entire Heathen community.

Why I Work With Deity-Class Spirits

Within the American Heathen community, there seems to be a consensus that the gods are the ones that you go to last. First, you are supposed to develop a relationship with your ancestors, then with the wights of the land and the wights of the home, and then, finally – if necessary – with the gods themselves.

I’ve always found this a bit problematic, as I don’t easily connect with spirits that aren’t deity-class spirits. I actually find it a bit depressing, sometimes, since I have such a difficult time connecting with ancestral spirits and with the wights around me. Then I feel bad about getting depressed. After all, I have what so many other people seem to want – the ability to communicate fairly easily with the gods.

I did not start out with that ability – it is one that I eventually developed as I grew more and more into the Pagan world and mindset and left the monotheistic worldview behind. It took a lot of work for me, as I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt, and I had a lot of trauma associated with the Christian god – namely, that despite my avid belief and worship of him as a young child wasn’t enough for him to ever step forward into my world and answer the prayers I leveled at him for the situation I had to deal with at home. He was yet another example of someone who abandoned me for no discernible reason.

That took a few years to unravel in my mind, and then I also had to start reading up on polytheism itself to begin to comprehend how the universe could be structured if there wasn’t a single god at its helm. That was rather difficult for me, as my mind kept coming back to this realization that there had to be something at the source, something that generated everything.

Reading mythology really helped me come to understand that the “something” I was perceiving was the Primordial Ocean, that which existed before creation. It is, in different religions, also referred to as the Abyss, the Ginnungap, Chaos, or the Void. No matter which religion’s mythology I examined, I always found the First Principle to be the same – life emerged from the Primordial Ocean, the Universal Matrix that existed before creation itself occurred.

That helped resolve the fact that things always seemed to go back to one, but that one gave rise to a plurality, and the gods were a part of that plurality. That, to me, doesn’t make the gods simply one being, as they were generated by the Primordial Ocean. Like children who are born to parents are not, in fact, just their parents with a different face on, I do not view the gods as being the Primordial Ocean personified in an infinite number of guises.

I see the gods as holding the powers of creation that gave rise to them, but not as that which created them. That means I can view the gods as separate, individual entities who have agency and plans of their own, rather than stepping back into a monotheistic worldview that sees the gods as nothing more than a divided part of the Primordial Ocean.

Once I was able to perceive the gods as separate entities of their own, with their own desires and goals, then I started to hear and see them around me. It was like, just reaching the realization that the gods themselves were individual beings opened the doorway for me to be able to communicate with them. Once that happened, the Norse gods were the first to show up in my life, and they are the ones who have been with me ever since.

I think it’s important, however, to note that as a child, when I still firmly believed in the Christian god, I had no trouble communicating with him. I very much knew he was real, and I talked to him regularly. I have never, in my entire life, doubted that the divine exists, because I’ve always known that it does – it is hard to deny the existence of someone who has communicated with you.

I think that was another reason it took me as long as it did to pull away from the monotheistic worldview – I knew that I was pulling away from someone who had once been a friend, a friend that had hurt me in a way that I could not forgive. I had to figure out a way to be okay with creating that separation, and that took some time. I am not a person who easily gives up on others, even to my own detriment.

Once I managed to severe that relationship and embrace the polytheistic mindset, I found friends in the gods that I knew would never betray or hurt me the way that the Christian god had. They helped heal the hurt that had been done to me by a one-sided spiritual relationship, and they taught me how to trust them. That is why the Norse gods will always be the gods that I turn to first – it was them who showed me that the worth I had was merely in my existence, not in what I could do for them. They showed up, wanting nothing but to make their presence known to me, and I learned to love them in a way I cannot adequately express.

The work I do for them now is work I do for them out of gratitude for all they have already done for me, not out of a sense of obligation or requirement. I continue to serve the gods in the capacities I hold because I know that I could walk away from all the responsibilities I have taken upon myself, and they would let me. They would be sad, but they would understand. They give me the freedom I need to be the person I am, and that, in turn, induces the deepest sense of loyalty in me that I can gift to anyone. I never feel trapped by the gods, as the chains of responsibility I wear are the ones that I wrapped around myself.

It is the gods, however, that engendered my ability to learn to trust in the spirit world after being hurt by it. There is still a level of mistrust that I hold towards the wights of the land and home, as I grew up in a home that was full of spirits. I have started to work on healing those relationships, as I have grown to the realization that those spirits in my childhood home did what they could to help me, but they couldn’t do much due to the limited power they hold. I did not understand how limited that power was as a child, but I do now. I may never be incredibly close to the wights, but I do view them with reverence and treat them with the respect they deserve.

It is much more difficult for me to connect with my ancestral spirits, not because they ever did anything to harm me but because of something my mother did to me as a child. In the familial tradition I practice, it is possible to prevent someone – to lock them – from being able to access certain parts of the spirit world. This is generally only done when someone is being threatened by spirits and is removed when they have learned enough to defend themselves, but it is weird that my mother prevented me from accessing my ancestral spirits. I didn’t learn about this until a couple of years ago, and it took the intervention of a god before that particular lock on my spiritual abilities was broken.

There is a lot there for me to process, and it will take time for me to approach the ancestors I wish to work with. I have been hurt by many, many people close to me, and generally, the people who have hurt me have been family members. That makes it hard for me to want to open myself up to the potential of pain that some of my ancestors might cause, as I still struggle to trust other people – alive or not.

I work well with the gods because I have learned to trust them, and I understand that the foreignness they hold to humanity causes any misunderstandings I have. I do not try to hold them to human standards, and it is probably because of their non-human qualities that I find it easier to trust in them. I trust that I will not ever fully understand the actions they take, as they cannot be simply explained by human morals or concepts. I work best with the gods because they are the spirits that I find myself most capable of trusting.

I also understand, now that I’m older, that the gods have preferences for the humans they interact with. The gods choose their followers as much as we choose the gods. Sometimes, we are not compatible with the gods we choose, and those gods never step forward into our lives. I realized, a few years back, that the Christian God never betrayed me or abandoned me  – he just wasn’t interested in me.

Once I realized and accepted that the gods are choosy, I realized that it is basically impossible for the gods to betray anyone. It is, however, possible for the gods to reject someone. That is why it is so important that when you approach a god you have never honored before, to be okay if that god tells you no. We just aren’t compatible with all the gods, and even some we wish would work with us will turn us down. There are millions upon millions of gods out there, however, so the chances that you can find a god who will step forward into a relationship with you are pretty solid – I’d say almost guaranteed.

©Kyaza 2019

Taking a Responsible Approach to Spirit Work

Recently, someone in the Loki’s Wyrdlings group started to claim that he was Loki, that Loki horsed him all the time – even to the point that the cops in the area knew him as Loki. He posted pictures and did his best to entice people into believing what was obviously false information.

There are people out there who are like this, who claim to speak for the gods and other spirits as if they are able to know the minds of the gods. We cannot do that, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and our communities not to run around claiming that the gods are always horsing and/or communicating through us.

Yes, everyone has religious experiences. Many people do communicate directly with the gods in a way that is almost telepathic. That does not give those people the right to repeat the gods’ words as if they are the gospel truth for that deity. That is an abuse of the privilege of being able to communicate well with the gods. On top of that, the louder a person is about their ability to communicate with spirits, the more aware all spirits become – good and bad – about that person’s ability to communicate. That can potentially open a person up to dangerous situations with malignant spirits.

That is why discernment is such an important part of polytheistic practice. We all deal with very real entities with their own ideas and agencies. Not all spirits are benign. The gods are not safe, and we are not entitled to whatever we want from the spirit world. Bragging about deity communication or deity possession is also a good way to alert the less benign spirits that hey, there’s someone around capable of hearing them and holding their power. It’s a dangerous game to play, and a lot of people would benefit from exercising a little more caution.

I can give you plenty of examples of what not to do, but I think I’ll provide an example of what to do instead – there are plenty of people out there making spiritual mistakes, and far too few approaching spirit work with the right amount of caution.

One of my friends had an intense experience during meditation, and she was almost certain that the spirit that had communicated with her during that meditation was Yemaya. Instead of automatically going “oh yeah, totally her,” she discussed the experience with me and another experienced practitioner who already works with Yemaya to determine whether or not the spirit that had come to her in her meditation was actually Yemaya. It was only after the three of us discussed it and came to the conclusion that yes, it probably was Yemaya, that my friend gave an offering to Yemaya. The way in which the offering was accepted pretty much confirmed that it was Yemaya, so that promises to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

When my friend asked me about her experience during meditation, I had a responsibility to her not to give her information that could potentially put her in harm’s way. Even then, my strongest piece of advice was, “It sounds like it is probably Yemaya.” It wasn’t an “it is 100% without a doubt this one particular spirit” because I cannot give someone that kind of guarantee when it comes to spirit work.

Now, I am aware that not everyone has access to experienced practitioners, especially when it comes to deity and spirit-work. Even among contemporary Pagans, it is rarer to find devoted polytheists than people who solely practice some form of magic.

That lack of experienced practitioners seems to have created this idea that people can do whatever they want with spirit work and everything be fine. I have read horror stories about people going to “shamans” for “soul retrieval” who end up plagued with horrendous nightmares for years afterward. (As an aside, the whole “soul retrieval” technique was contrived by a scam artist looking to capitalize on the guru movement. Anyone trained in “core shamanism” has been duped).

I have also witnessed some terribly horrendous decisions made by those who refuse to listen to more experienced practitioners. I witnessed one woman make a blood contract with an incubus utilizing a ritual she pulled off of the first page of Google search results. I’ve also had people tell me of the spirits that attacked them in their sleep because they failed to ward their space – even after I told them they needed to ward their space.

Spirit work is inherently dangerous. Engaging with spirits means engaging with beings that you can never fully comprehend. Their motives and your motives may align on occasion, but there is never any guarantee that they want what you want. Acting as if the gods and spirits exist only to serve your purpose is a good way to put yourself in harm’s way.

When I warn people about this kind of danger, and I hear “oh, but you cannot judge another person’s religious experience,” it makes me want to scream in frustration. Because it’s not their religious experience I’m judging – it’s their inability to make wise decisions and approach spirit work with the respect it deserves.

As a note, experienced practitioners don’t give idle advice. That’s why I always highly recommend looking for someone with at least a decade of experience for advice. That’s what I mean by experienced. 

© Kyaza 2019