Kemetic Body Positivity: Beautiful Bellies

Today’s self love reminder: Ancient Egyptian’s thought rolls were lovely and painstakingly drew and carved them.

In some ancient cultures being heavier was a symbol of power because it meant you could afford to eat.

Egypt was a little unusual in that regard. Being well fed was definitely a status symbol for higher class people. The pharaoh Akhenaten had a very large stomach and he flaunted it as a sign of the prosperity his reign would bring to Egypt. We know from physical remains that a large number of pharaohs were quite heavy.

That being said, the relative calm and predictable nature of the Nile’s flood meant that agriculture was fairly easy compared to what other cultures had to go through. We even have surviving art that shows farmers just chucking seeds behind them in a field.

Droughts and famine did happen and could be severe but they were the exception rather than the rule. Egyptians ate a diet mostly consisting of bread, beer, root vegetables, fish and fruit. They loved to drink and party and ate lots of red meat and waterfowl during festivals. They also made junk food sweetened with honey. Pharaohs ate lots of candy.

Because food and drink was plentiful compared to other societies you didn’t have to be upper class to eat well. We actually have art of heavyset peasants.

It’s fascinating because they would be so confused by our culture’s obsession with thinness. To them, rolls and plump stomachs were good things. There’s a reason that in hymns to Hapi He’s referred to as “fattening the land of Egypt” and that “every belly is made glad”.

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.

Body Positivity And The Gods

We’ve probably all heard the expression “So-and-so has the body of a god”. But with so many traditions and pantheons full of deities what does that mean and why does it matter? This is my take, one that has helped bring me comfort in the face of an increasingly harsh, shallow society.

Most people in the Western World are familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. At least in terms of Their names and how They are depicted. Male gods shown with muscled frames, defined abs and legs that appear to be carved from steel. Goddesses have a bit more body diversity but still tend to conform to a certain “ideal” type.

This is what most people have in mind when they think about what gods “look like”. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This isn’t a slam or argument against any particular depiction of deity but rather an appeal to explore others.

Modern artwork showing deities is often characterized by this concept that all gods are muscle bound and all goddesses are slender with big breasts and tiny waists. I remember coming across a lovely work of photo art from a modern Hellenic temple showing the smith god Hephaestus as a slightly heavyset man. The comments on the work were extremely disheartening. “Gods are supposed to look perfect!” “He wouldn’t be able to do His job like that!”

One commenter explained in detail that he was unable to connect with deities not depicted as “physically perfect”. I remember being completely taken aback not only by people’s complete disregard for the fact that the model was an actual human being but also the association between a specific body type and “perfect”. Perfect by who’s terms? Are you saying that despite His noticeably strong muscles He wouldn’t be able to perform His work because His stomach isn’t flat? Absolute absurdity.

“Physical perfection” is a demonstrably artificial concept anyone. Perfect for what? A sprinter isn’t built like a football player, a strongman doesn’t have the body of a swimmer, etc. Outside of our shallow, image obsessed media it has no actual definition. We have been collectively trained to strive for a “perfection” that simply doesn’t exist so that companies can sell more products.

Cultures across the world have carved, drawn and imagined their gods in a wide variety of different ways. The Egyptian god Hapi is shown with a large chest and big belly, representing His associations with abundance.

Another god Bes, (also Egyptian) is envisioned as short and plump. Despite these features (which would be labeled as “flaws” by our modern society) Bes was beloved in ancient times an in the modern day by Kemetics.

Fertility and mother goddesses the world over are given the image of a curved woman with a large, round body emphasizing Their creative powers. These ample goddesses are beloved and venerated in nearly every tradition. Their images adorn jewelry, altars, artwork and books.

Another much loved god Who doesn’t match the image of a deity so many have in their head is Hotei, Japanese (as well as Chinese) god of happiness and contentment. His image can be found not only in temples but also outside of bars and restaurants, of which He is considered the patron god.

Yet another of the “Seven Lucky Gods” of Japan can be included here. Ebisu, patron god of fishermen, luck and wealth. Ebisu is described as a “full-figured” man dressed as a fisherman. To this day He plays an important role in Japanese culture, appearing in many mediums.

One of the most popularly worshiped Hindu gods of all time is Ganesh or Ganesha. Considered by some branches of the Hindu faith to be the Supreme Being, Ganesha is shown in images as an elephant headed man, sometimes with multiple arms and a large protruding stomach. Depending on the tradition this can represent everything from satisfaction to the infinite number of worlds existing within Him.

These aren’t the only body types that are left out when we view gods through the lense of modern ideas of “physical perfection”. As I don’t have infinite room here however I’ll have to discuss them next time!

What does all of this mean thing? It means that the images we create of our gods reflects ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with buff gods but there is also nothing wrong with heavyset or even fat ones either. People aren’t meant to look alike or have the same builds and neither are our gods.

Netjeri: The Divine Spirits

We just love “Net” words in Kemeticism.


For the average ancient Egyptian the world was filled with gods and spirits. Spiritual entities and creatures lived alongside the physical world and could be interacted with.

These creatures were often considered spiritual manifestations of physical phenomenon with medical treatments combining medicine with prayers and rituals aimed at influencing these creatures.

Amulets were worn to encourage protection of the person by the gods but also by these spirits. Or to keep them away entirely. Some of these beings are identified as serving specific deities while others do not.

Accounts of the ancient Egyptian underworld also populate it with a vast array of different spirit beings and creatures. While they seem to be less popular subjects in modern media Egyptian religion and mythology is not far behind that of the Greeks in terms of exotic, amazing mythological beings.

Such spirits include Sha beasts, Bennu birds (Phoenixes), griffins, sphinxes, serpopards, stas and more. The Sha is a sleek canine with large, square ears, a forked tail and long snout.

The Bennu is a heronlike bird with connections to the Phoenix myth. Serpopards are beings with the body of a leopard and the long neck and head of a snake. Finally, Stas are described as having the head and neck of an asp (a venomous snake) and a large, catlike body.

So we know these spirits were considered important in ancient times but what about nowadays? Working with various spiritual entities is common in many religious and/or spiritual traditions. In the Kemetic Orthodox tradition the name netjeri is given to any and all nonhuman, non god spirits.

Because the ancient Egyptians would often incorporate aspects of other religions into their own faith many modern Kemetics have no issue calling upon spirits from other cultures (angels and fae are common examples) in addition to traditional Kemetic spirits.

Certain gods such as Sekhmet (though certainly not limited to Her) are known to have spirits who serve as emissaries. These emissaries are often referred to as Arrows or as members of a deity’s retinue. It’s highly likely that all Netjeru have these emissaries in Their service.

Pysanky and Egg Healing

Image From: kinderart.com

This post is extremely belated, but the environment we are currently living in has made it difficult to keep up with a lot of things for many of us, and induced a lot of stress. Now, I hope many of you have been able to take some time to rest and recoup. But, regardless of if you have, or haven’t, I really wanted to add to the healing process. Which is why I wanted to talk about a wonderful Slavic shamanic practice—egg healing.

Egg healing is a huge part Slavic shamanism, which is a “branch” of shamanism that puts heavy emphasis on healing. Now, while it’s hard to find a lot of information on a lot of Slavic traditions, egg healing is more widely known, as it’s extended its reach into other practices. That’s not to say it’s easy to find proper information on it, though. Even when you can find someone well versed in Slavic shamanism (a Znakharka, or healer), there still tends to be an air of mystery they maintain around their techniques. But there are indeed some basics out there that make this something you can practice yourself and on others when you need a bit of cleansing.

Traditionally, Shamans will instill within decorated eggs (called pysanky) blessings, healing powers, and protection charms. The egg will then be used in these healing ceremonies or as a talisman. Sometimes the eggs are rolled over the body and used to pull out fears and other dark energies from within the body.

For a bit more detail on why egg healing is so powerful, I think Itzhak Beery puts it best when he says: “Eggs are excellent tools for healing…[t]he egg absorbs energy though the seven thousand pores of its mostly calcium shell…[a]ll life begins with an egg. Bird eggs are the largest single living cells in nature and are a metaphor for the universal life structure” (Shamanic Healing: Traditional Medicine for the Modern World). In short, the egg is the perfect symbol to represent the life force that started us all, and, because of its physical structure, it becomes an absorbent force for different energies.

One problem that one might run into when wanting to do egg healing is that, traditionally, a fertilized egg with life forming inside it is use, as that egg is actively absorbing energy to keep that life alive. But this doesn’t mean you can’t use regular eggs to perform a healing—like I think in any practice, it’s the process and intention that matters the most.

These eggs also aren’t just used to help the body. They’re used to protect one’s home and family as well. Pysanky are truly powerful and full of magic, and there is so much more that can be said about them, their meaning, how they’re used, and even how they’re decorated. However, there is just too much to dig into for one blog post.

This divine feminine symbol has layers upon layers that can be unpacked, and maybe I’ll write more about them in the future. For now though, I’ll leave you with this to say: If you’re in need of some healing, I hope I have opened you up to looking deeper into the amazing power of egg healing.

***

Works Referenced:

Beery, Itzhak. Shamanic Healing: Traditional Medicine for the Modern World. Destiny Books, 2017.

Lynn, Christa. “Slavic Shamanism – Egg Healing Ceremony (Pysanky).” Shamanic Spirit, Shamanic Spirit, 6 Aug. 2013, http://www.shamanicspirit.ca/blog/articles/slavic-shamanism-egg-healing-ceremony-pysanky.

“Springs Rebirth: Slavic and Balkan Pysanka.” Elder Mountain Dreaming, eldermountaindreaming.com/2018/03/18/springs-rebirth-slavic-and-balkan-pysanka/.

Marduk and Tiamat (“Enuma Elish”: The Babylonian Epic of Creation)

At first glance the story of Marduk and Tiamat in the “Enuma Elish” seems to be a creation story of Mesopotamia as told by the Babylonians. However, the subtext tells how humans mastered the volatile environment of Mesopotamia. Also, the myth grapples with understanding and accepting the cosmos as they understood it.

Layered below this creation myth is the rise of Babylon to become the principal power of the region. The “Enuma Elish” (Note 1) describes the lives of the succeeding generations of Gods, their conflicts with the Gods before Them, and ends with Marduk as their ruler. Each generation of Gods probably represents a prior group of peoples who lived the region. Since Marduk is the major God of the Babylonians, this myth then becomes the story of how Babylon came to rule Mesopotamia.

The myth starts by describing the ancient landscape of Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago. Apsu, the sweet water, mixes with Tiamat of the salt water. The symbol of their union is the mingling of the Tigris and Euphrates with the sea to produce the salt marshes. The sea was much farther inland then, and tides had more effect on the people living there. The landscape of the area is one of river bottoms, tidal marshes, swamps, and wetlands. Even the names of their first children, Lahamu (female) and Lahmu (male) which means “silt,” reflect this as well.

Into this watery beginning, Anshar (male) and Kishar (female) – the Gods of the Horizon and of the Rim of the Earth – are born. These two Gods are the parents of Anu, the Father of the Gods. Anu, the Ancestor of the Elder Gods, is the parent of Nudimmud, Marduk’s father. (Note 2). (Note 3).

The next generation of Gods were Enlil and Enki of the Sumerians. Unlike the first group, these Gods focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine laws. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. (In a similar story to Apsu and the noisy Gods is Enlil and the noisy humans. In both cases, the Gods tried to destroy the noisemakers, since the activities of farming disturbed them.)

In Tiamat’s case, the noisy ones were the next generation of Gods, who were replacing the original ones. They were draining the swamps, digging the canals, and irrigating the fields. These Gods were taming the “sweet water”, thereby killing Apsu as a God. The efforts of the new Gods threatened Tiamat, since They were transforming the salt marshes into farmland.

The “Emuma Elish” relates it as following: The noise was so great that Tiamat wanted those Gods gone. Apsu, Her Consort, tried to convince Her otherwise, but failed. When Enlil discovered Tiamat’s intent, He killed Apsu. Enlil’s reasoning was to allow the original waters of Apsu to become many forms of being such as canals.

Furious, Tiamat raises an army, which metaphorically reflects the violence of the times. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Sumerians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering Sumerians wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke. Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture, and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia.

This creation myth, the “Enuma Elish,” relates how the Babylonians came to power and recreated the world, making order out of chaos. Their principal God, Marduk, assumes power over the other Gods and defeats Tiamat. Unable to defeat Tiamat, the Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk by granting “Enlil-ship” to Him. Meanwhile, the other Gods confer “Anu-power” on Him. Hence, several generations of Gods pass from importance. The “Enuma Elish” says, “We gave You (Marduk) Kingship, power over all and everything.”

After adopting the myths from the Sumerians, the Babylonians rewrote the creation myth to include the rise and rulership of Marduk. After Tiamat came Anu, who was the original head of the pantheon. With each succeeding generation, Anu shared his power first with Enlil and then with Enki. While They ceded their power to Marduk, Anu remained in the titular rule. In the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonians acknowledge their predecessors, the Sumerians and the others. But they end the myth with Marduk recreating the world and establishing his reign. He does this by building the world on the bones of Tiamat, one of the Gods of the original peoples living there. Marduk remakes the world as the Babylonians remade Mesopotamia.

Note 1: The Mesopotamians have several creation myths. This is an analysis of one of them.
Note 2: An alternative interpretation has Ashar and Kishar be the children of Lahamu and Lahmu.
Note 3: The Sumerian myths have Ki, as the wife of Anu, help to create the heavens and the earth. Their children, Enlil and Ninlil create the world, and Enki sets the order of everything in the new world.

Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

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.

 

Common Misunderstandings About Rökkatru

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about Rökkatru. A lot of those misconceptions begin with one big one: the idea that Rökkatru are unfamiliar with and/or have never studied the lore.

Rökkatru is an incredibly diverse group of Norse neopagan practitioners, so it is important to remember that every individual within Rökkatru will have varying views on these things. Not every follower of the Rökkr has read the lore or studied it in depth. In fact, it has been pointed out that there are Lokeans—who are not necessarily Rökkatru, though many might also identify as Rökkatru, just as not all pagans are Wiccan—have indeed chosen to turn away from and reject the primary lore sources due to the Christianized nature of those sources. Many of the Rökkatru I spoke to for the writing of this, however, and the majority of the Rökkatru in the communities I have frequented, are quite well versed in the lore.

The_twilight_of_the_gods_by_Willy_Pogany

The Twilight of the Gods by Willy Pogany

Out of this context we can better understand the assumption that many, many Rökkatru come up against, which is that Rökkatru is the same/interchangeable with the practices of Raven Kaldera. This is despite the fact that Kaldera himself has gone out of his way to call his spiritual path something else entirely (“Northern Tradition Shamanism”) and doesn’t claim any label under the umbrella of heathenry. The assumption here is that Rökkatru use the writings of Raven Kaldera as primary sources for their practice in place of the lore.

While many Rökkatru do have a fraught relationship with the lore (that whole having been written post-conversion and by Christian authors thing is a bit of a sticking point, to put it mildly) and the writings of Kaldera and his ilk are common sources for Rökkatru, Kaldera can be just as much of a contentious figure within Rökkatru as without. Kaldera does associate with Abby Helasdottir, the woman credited with coining the term Rökkatru, and often references her writing or features it in his books. Given this background it is understandable that some would make the assumption that Rökkatru practitioners are followers of Kaldera’s, but this simply isn’t true.

Within the Rökkatru community there are those who are just as concerned about some of Kaldera’s seemingly questionable ethics as there are without the community. I’ve seen concerns within the community about the depth and breadth of the role UPG plays in Kaldera’s work just as frequently as I’ve seen people praise it. Kaldera himself never calls what he represents in his writings Rökkatru, but rather Norse Tradition Shamanism.

800px-Vidar_by_Collingwood

An illustration of Víðarr stabbing Fenrir while holding his jaws apart by W.G. Collingwood

The unfortunate truth is that there simply aren’t many people who write openly about the Rökkr like Kaldera does, and of those of us who do write openly about honoring and working with the Rökkr, even fewer of us have as wide of an audience as Kaldera does. Our developing “canon” is incredibly limited, so new practitioners don’t have a whole lot of choice in terms of pursuing further knowledge about the Rökkr and practices related to them. Far more than indicating that we’re all “fanboys” of Kaldera, this indicates rather that we need more vocal voices in the Rökkatru community, writing for and about the community and for and about our gods.

In speaking with community members for this post, that was actually something that was brought up by a couple of people: the desire for books written by people other than Kaldera and his associates that are more directly and specifically written about and for Rökkatru. There was even a desire expressed for books that aren’t turned out by Kaldera’s publishing company—more independent authors publishing through other companies or on their own. Plenty of people within Rökkatru like Kaldera’s work, but it is clear that there are also those within the community who would like something more.

Despite that common misconception, it is from the perspective of having studied the lore that most Rökkatru will push back against perhaps an even more prominent misunderstanding: that the jötnar are inherently evil. This is something that I will go into further depth with in a later post, but suffice to say that there is very little (if any at all) textual evidence to suggest that the jötnar are anymore amoral or “bad” than the Æsir. Many Rökkatru (myself included) will be quick to point out that for every “wicked” deed committed by a jötunn in the lore, there is an example of the Æsir behaving duplicitously: committing a murder that so offended the Vanir as to initiate a war between the two tribes, using trickery, dishonesty, and thievery to make off with artifacts from the jötnar, etc. One of the many examples that could be offered up to illustrate this point is the framing within the lore of Ymir as evil—without offering any examples of what the primordial jötunn who was sacrificed to create the world might have done to warrant such a label. Rather, deeming him “evil” seems to primarily serve as a means to justify his murder.

800px-Ymir_gets_killed_by_Froelich

Ymir is attacked by the brothers Odin, Vili, and Vé in an illustration by Lorenz Frølich

Many Rökkatru will further point out that there are many characteristics of the jötnar which mirror the Titans of Greek mythology—which have been speculated to be primordial nature deities. This is another subject I’ll dive deeper into at a later date, but the characteristics of the jötnar more closely align to animistic nature deities or spirits than they do with demons. Regardless, it is sadly common within other branches of heathenry to talk about the jötnar like the “demons” or “devils” of Norse paganism, a sentiment clearly rooted in the highly Christianized nature both of the lore and of modern western cultures. Many neopagans additionally come from a Christian background, so this outlook also seems like to be a carried over bias from that Christian background. It is through study not only of our own lore, but of other pagan and animism practices which leads Rökkatru to honor the jötnar and step up to defend them.

More commonly than seeing the jötnar as forces of darkness and chaos, Rökkatru tend to see the jötnar as embodying the power and divinity of nature—entities to be revered with respectful fear. One person used fire as an example of her meaning: fire can both keep us warm at night, heat our food, boil our water, but it can also consume whole forests and leave houses ravaged. Any natural power is a double edged sword, coming with certain benefits while also posing threats. This, most Rökkatru will argue, is the nature of the jötnar.

One might point to Ragnarök as evidence of the evil of the jötnar—and a Rökkatru practitioner might quickly respond that the story of Ragnarök is written to favor the perspective of the Æsir over the jötnar. They might also point out that the framing of the Ragnarök story within the primary source, Völuspá, indicates it is likely heavily Christianized if not an outright Christian fabrication that doesn’t fit into a broader pagan narratives from a values standpoint. (1) They might also note that, having been compiled with the other poems in the Poetic Edda in the 13th century, the story itself could easily have functioned as propaganda during the conversion of Northern Europe. Most Rökkatru will not completely disavow Ragnarök, however, so they might also point to the cyclical nature of the universe and the suggestions within Völuspá of Ragnarök being part of a cycle of destruction and creation. (2)

Beginn_des_Weltunterganges

Loki breaks free at the onset of Ragnarök by Ernst H. Walther

Whatever one’s individual takeaway on the subject of Ragnarök, most Rökkatru are likely to argue that it is not a clear cut indicator of the evilness of the jötnar. As with all things religious or spiritual, it remains up to interpretation.

As a result of many of these misconceptions about Rökkatru, there is a general impression that the core of Rökkatru is chaos for the sake of chaos or darkness for the sake of darkness; that revering chaos and darkness is an excuse to act in bad faith or in a way which is harmful to others. Far from this, Rökkatru is rather much more about the balance between light and darkness.

As has been pointed out, the etymology of the word Rökkatru is connected not just with the darkness of night, but rather with twilight—that cool, shadowed point between night and day, the pivot-point upon which light and darkness balances. “The night is dark and full of terrors,” but that doesn’t mean that we turn fully away from the darkness to seek comfort in the light, and conversely we do not turn fully away from the light to seek the oblivion of the darkness. Rather, Rökkatru is about recognizing the value and necessity of both poles, and seeking to honor both the light and dark aspects of nature, of the universe, and of our gods—as well as all the gray area in between.

 

Skål

How do Norse neopagans typically view Rökkatru?

This is a slightly edited version of an essay originally posted on Huginn’s Heathen Hoff.

In Snorri Sturulson’s Prose Edda, the jötnar are often portrayed as amoral, dangerous, and destructive. In texts which are more blatantly Christianized, they may be more depicted as outright evil.

In our decidedly Christianized modern society, these things feel very bad and frightening. The knee-jerk reaction is to recoil from and demonize them. This is what has happened with the jötnar, despite their integral role in the Norse pantheon—including the lineage of most of the gods including jötnar, and their frequent romantic interludes with the Vanir and Æsir.

The Æsir, in particular, frequently include jötnar among their ranks; like Mímir or Skaði. The effect in the community of demonizing an entire tribe of spirits or deities in the Norse pantheon is palpable: people who honor or worship the jötunn are often just as demonized as the entities they work with. Often this results in outright dismissing them as either evil or stupid and barring them from certain Norse pagan events and spaces.

Unfortunately, due to the widespread destruction and suppression of pagan religions and traditions by the Christian conversion, modern paganism is by its nature separated from its roots. No evidence exists of a continuous line of Norse pagan practice, and if there does exist today someone who is practicing a version of Norse paganism which was handed down to them in an unbroken chain, they are quite good at hiding. What this means is that Norse neopaganism is largely an effort to reconstruct an old religion lifted from its context, based on texts which were written well after the conversion by Christians who grew up in a Christian culture. The subsequent effect of Christianity on those texts is often overlooked. Furthermore, Scandinavia had long-standing religious traditions prior to the much-glorified Viking age, which culminated in the religious practices of the Viking age, and with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar.

Lacking in that context and desperate for source material upon which to rebuild the old Norse religion, many modern pagans latch onto the Eddas and Sagas, treating them as though they are absolute: the last word on the gods and their stories. This is understandable, but the result of clinging to a text without also thinking critically about it is, at its base, a lack of academic accountability. Such a lack of academic accountability has not only failed to offer anything productive to neopaganism as a movement, it has very real, very negative effects on the Norse neopagan community.

hel_by_nicowanderer_damx24h-fullview

I recently came across a forum thread where, amid a very legitimate discussion of troubling things some neopagan leaders have done and said, another note was struck which somewhat undermined otherwise very real concerns: dislike for those who honor the jötnar. One commenter quoted the following from Goði Rod Landreth:

“She [Galina Krasskova] and her Etin-lover1 kin want to muddy the waters on all sorts of theological point in and around heathenry…I do not advise any Tru heathen to read her or her Etin-lover kin.”(1) It should be noted that I was unable to track down this quote to corroborate.

The quote shows clear derision for “Etin-lovers,” or those who honor/worship the jötnar, and seems to focus on their desire to “muddy the waters,” presumably by introducing jötunn worship into their practice and promoting this. The quote was presented in the context of evidence that Kaldera, Krasskova, and others are niþing, defined in the same quote as a person who “nobody is allowed to protect, house, or feed…The outlaw is not only expelled from the kinship, he is also regarded henceforth as an enemy to mankind.”
Ehsha Apple of Witchcraft from Scratch notes:

“According to Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: ‘a villain, one who commits a vile action.’ Contemporary use translates to ‘a coward, a villain; a person who breaks the law or a code of honour; an outlaw.’ …A nīþing or nīþgæst (denoting the ‘spirit’ of the person) is perpetually considered lower (as in ‘’neath’—beneath) than those around him.”(2)

Its citation in a discussion grounded very much in the real-world harm done by cultural appropriation and malpractice seems very out of place—though very much in line with more common criticisms leveled at public figures like Kaldera and Krasskova. In many other respects I actually agreed with the criticisms being laid against these authors, who I have have increasingly moved away from over the years due both to the very valid ethical concerns brought up in relation to Kaldera and the outing of Krasskova as a xenophobe.

Doing research on the worship of jötnar can unearth many similar attitudes. One such example is a short piece titled “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship” by Hauk Heimdallsman. In this, Heimdallsman states that he is “violently opposed to the concept” of worshiping or honoring jötnar. Many of the comments that follow fall in line with the expressed sentiment that jötnar are not worthy of worship, but that they are explicitly and solely “destructive” forces, and the question abounds why anyone might worship forces of destruction. Heimdallsman states: “Jotnar are not our Kin. They have shown time and again they are not aligned with us, have attacked the Gods, and show no concern for the lives of us here on Midgard.” In the comments, he does acknowledge the jötunn blood of many Aesir gods and others do acknowledge the lineage of gods being drawn back to the primordial jötunn Ymir, but this is largely dismissed as inconsequential. Heimdallsman goes as far as to say that those worshiping or honoring the jötunn “May as well be a Christian if you want to worship massive destructive forces.”3

This neglects the history of the surviving lore as modern practitioners know it today—lore that was recorded after the conversion of Scandinavia by Christians. Furthermore, the attitude of a good vs. evil paradigm—in this instance framed as a “destructive vs. beneficial”—is itself emblematic of Abrahamic religions, and is likely a holdover of such, considering the extreme Christianization of modern western societies, especially the United States.

One commenter, whose screen-name is Wyrd Dottir, highlighted some of the historical and literary oversights in the original post, saying:

“The Lokasenna doesn’t appear to be derived from a pre-Christian tale, but rather appears to be an example of contemporary Christian Medieval Literature that mimics Lucian’s Assembly of the Gods, in much the way that Snorri uses other elements common of Chrisitian Europe’s Medieval Literature by alluding to other great works (those Western “classics” from Greece and Rome), this is afterall [sic] why he attests that the God Thor is descended from the Greek Agamemnon featured in Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, and later mentioned in Virgil’s The Aeneid. It appears that the Lokasenna followed the formula set by Lucian, and just dropped in Norse Gods instead… Let us not forget that the lore as we know it was penned almost exclusively of Christian scholars, and it’s not some sacred holy text written by believers, but rather is a text written as ‘entertainment’. If everything was rainbow and sparkles, the stories would be boring. The sheer amount of feud you see in Icelandic literature I think screams of the fact this was entertainment. War and blood makes for a far better story than ‘the crops grew, the people were blessed with abudance, [sic] and the Gods were honored’ to the original audience of the lore, Medieval Christians.” (4)

The fact of the matter is that the history of Scandinavia itself is being roundly overlooked and disregarded when it comes to the discussion of jötunn worship, meaning that the birthplace of Norse paganism is being overlooked, or worse, cherry-picked. To begin with, the religion of the Vikings was not born in a vacuum—it, like many other religions, evolved with the people and culture which practiced it, and there is a plethora of evidence of religious practice across Scandinavia long before the time identifiable as the Viking period or even their immediate predecessor, the Vendals. Shortly, we’ll dive into this historical and cultural context, but first we’ll look at some of the most common misconceptions/misunderstandings about Rökkatru.

Until next time

Skål

(1) Re: Raven Kaldera “Northern Tradition Shaman.” Reply #5. Phillip63. http://www.newagefraud.org/smf/index.php?topic=3819.0
(2) Ehsha Apple (A. “Niþing and Holmgang.” Witchcraft From Scratch, WordPress.com, 4 July 2013, ehshaapple.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/nithing-and-holmgang/.
(3) Heimdallsman, Hauk. “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship.” Post shared to Temple of Our Heathen Gods by Mark, September 14, 2010.
(4) Wyrd Dottir. Facebook Comment, Re: “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship.” Temple of Our Heathen Gods. September 14, 2010.

A Belated Ostara

We’ve talked about honoring goddesses like Gerdr and Jord to honor the fertility of the earth when celebrating holidays that are classically associated with fertility. It would be perfectly acceptable to follow this trend for Ostara as well, but there are definitely other Rökkr and jötnar that would be good to honor during the times we want to acknowledge the fertility that comes with the turning of the seasons.

One versatile Rökkr who could be honored both in seasons of death and in seasons of fertility is Nidhogg. The dragon coiled amid the roots of Yggdrasil but is also said to consume the dead upon Náströnd or “The Shore of Corpses.” The virtue or value most strongly associated with Nidhogg is that of recycling, or alternatively “the value of decay.”

the_roots_of_yggdrasil_by_faqy_dd3hdop-pre

This all would seem to indicate that Nidhogg might be best honored during Samhain—and indeed, I would encourage it—but I would argue that roles such as those occupied by Nidhogg play an important part with regards to fertility. Life without death isn’t a possibility—life is dependent upon death in one way or another to flourish, and this is a truth that Rökkatru seek to honor.

So for Ostara—a holiday which honors the return of spring and all of the fertility and life that that brings—perhaps it might be time to hold a blot for Nidhogg, honoring the vital role that decay (the “recycling” of organic material) plays in the life cycle.

Though we don’t have a great idea of what kinds of offerings might be appropriate for Nidhogg, safe offerings typically include some variety of food and drink—especially mead or goat’s milk. Dedicating time performing some variety of cleaning service might also make a good offering for the dragon so closely associated with “recycling” and cleaning up: I am partial to cleaning up parks or joining/organizing community clean up events, something which could easily be dedicated to Nidhogg’s honor.

As always, I would be happy to hear of any ideas you might have for celebrating a Rökkatru Ostara, or any ideas/practices you have for honoring Nidhogg!

Skål