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)

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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

A Very Belated Imbolc

Imbolc comes on the first of February—which, as you have probably noticed, has come and gone. Again this is rather belated due to mental health troubles, but hey! Now that we’ve received a stay at home order, I have plenty of time to play catch-up, so let’s begin:

Imbolc is traditionally associated with ewes, in particular the pregnant ones who are getting ready to bear their lambs in the spring, as well as cleansing. The mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, it is very much a celebration in the anticipation of the budding fertility of spring. For this reason, though I made the argument that Yule could be a time to honor Gerdr, it only seems appropriate that Imbolc may also be an excuse to hold a blót for Gerdr.

1200px-Skirnir's_message_to_Gerd

Skirnir’s Message to Gerd (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

 

To interweave the more traditional elements of Imbolc, milk could be offered to Gerdr. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, it would be particularly appropriate to pour out an offering of milk onto the soil. If you don’t have the privilege of having a full-blown garden but have planters in which you might grow a small herb garden or other such plants, pouring a small amount of milk into the soil of your planters in honor of Gerdr’s waking and the thawing of winter would certainly suffice (just be careful to not pour too much lest you end up having to deal with a sour milk smell coming out of your planters).

Another good way to pass the time on Imbolc is starting seeds for your garden or planters. The growing of your own food and herbs, even if you’re only able to grow a small amount, is additionally a really good way to exercise a degree of self reliance, which we have previously discussed as being one of the primary values of Rökkatru. So starting seeds on this day both aligns well with the traditional significance of this day, as well as offering an opportunity to start a practice, even a small an humble one, of self reliance.

As always, if you did anything special this Imbolc or have any other ideas how to color this holiday for a Rökkatru practice, I would love to hear them!

Skål.

Time According to the Babylonians

In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Anu, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Enlil, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted.

In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s (Inanna) Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz (Dumuzi) to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Belit-seri (Geshtinanna). After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Belit-seri reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

In contrast, the Autumn Equinox was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after. Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

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 .
Cohen, Mark, “Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East Calendar,” PDF. 2015.
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.

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. 

Roman Polytheism and Spiritual Pollution

Mention “miasma,” “pollution,” or “purity” in regards to Polytheism, and many Pagans will take umbrage with these terms. Impurity is usually equated with sin and evil. Impurity carries a sense of a demonic quality. Therefore purity becomes a part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. One reason is that Christianity has redefined these Polytheistic terms to match its theology. Since many Pagans are converts from Christianity, they will often think of these concepts in those terms. However, “miasma,” “pollution,” and “purity” have different meanings in Polytheism.

Paganism does have its version of “pollution” and “purity.” Pagans discuss “positive” and “negative” energies. People will cleanse themselves and their spaces routinely to clear out negative energy. For example, crystals are often cleansed before using them. Also, before rituals, many Pagans will smudge themselves to purify themselves and to clean out their ritual spaces.

Miasma and spiritual pollution are different from both negative energy and Christian sin. Negative energy powers destruction, sickness, and other such things. It can be removed by laughter or positive thinking. Sin is removed by baptism and confession. Miasma, which is specific to Greek Polytheism, is a “spiritual pollution that prevails over all, it is not an ‘evil thing.’” Continuing in his essay, Markos Gage says “Miasma is therefore something we incur in life, everyday life.” (Note 1) Public cleansing of communities is a regular part of the Hellenic and Roman calendars.

In Roman Polytheism, castus (the adjective) means being morally pure, pious, or ritually pure. Piety (pietas) is maintaining the right relations between people, their Gods, their families, and their communities. Castitas (the noun) is the purity of the ritual and the participants. (Note 2) That means everyone must be physically and mentally cleansed before conducting a ritual. Before a ritual, people perform ablutions by washing their hands and asking that the water purify them.

An error conducted in a ritual is a spiritual pollutant. It negates the ritual and risks the anger of the Gods. It is not that a God will smite someone, but is to maintain the Pax Deorum, the Peace of the Gods. Religious negligence leads to divine disharmony and the turning away of the Gods. This leads to the loss of protection for the family, community, and the individual.

The closest thing that Roman Polytheism has to Christian sin is nefas. This can be defined as anything which is contrary to divine law. Nefas is a failure to fulfill a religious duty. Nefas is a willful act of religious violation. In that case, the person is separated from the community.

Impurity can be thought of in terms to avoid contamination. This can include gossip, body fluids and disease. The most common is disease and corpse contamination. However, impurity is a state that can be remedied. A wide variety of purifications rituals were available, the simplest was bathing with water.

Polytheists regard the world to be neutral, which differs from Christian theology. St. Augustine stated that the world is both corrupt and corrupting. Therefore, humanity lives in a Fallen World. To Polytheists, the world is both clean and dirty. Kenaz Filan explains, “The world is a clean flowing stream, and miasma the sewage dumped into the water. We clean the stream by filtering that sewage or by redirecting it…to where it can be properly contained.” (Note 3)

Why focus on purity and pollution? When a person prays, divine, or perform any other sacred act, they are engaging with the Holy Powers. There is a doctrine in U.S. law called, “Clean Hands” (also called “Dirty Hands”). (Note 4) The plaintiff cannot have the judge participate in an illegal act. One example is a drug dealer cannot sue to have his stolen drugs be returned. Another is suing the hit man you hired to kill someone for failure to do their job. As Judge Judy says on her TV show, “the courts will not help anyone with dirty hands.” I believe that in our relations with the Gods, we can think of purity and pollution in those terms. By being “pure,” we continue to have the protection of the Gods.

Notes:
Note 1. Markos Gage, “Answers About Miasma,” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 51. Markos Gage is a devotee of Dionysius and an artist.

Note 2. The Romans have a Goddess – Lua – who protects all things purified by rituals and for rituals.

Note 3. Kenez Filan, “Miasma” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 69. Filan is the author of several books including “Drawing Down the Spirits (with Raven Kaldera)”. He is an initiated Houngan Si Pwen.

Note 4. Clean hands: “Under the clean hands doctrine, a person who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally – that is, who has ‘unclean hands’ – will not be helped by a court when complaining about the actions of someone else.” From The ‘Lectric Law Library, http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c202.htm

Works Used:
Thomas Kazen, “Purification” from “Ritual in the Ancient Mediterranean World.
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands”
Martin Lang, “On Purity — Private and Public (in Polytheism).” Academic paper.
L. Vitellius Triarius, “Religio Romana Handbook.”

Morana and the Underworld

Artist: Unknown

As the winter months stretch on, many of us will continue to stare longingly at bare tree branches in the hopes that we will see green shoots sprouting. We look for this as a sign that the chill in the air is going to subside and that new life is coming. However, we should still take this time to appreciate the dead—not push it away. And, with that in mind, I wish to take you on a short journey to Nav, the Slavic world of the dead, and introduce you to Morana, goddess of winter and death.

 Morana is often seen carrying a scythe or sickle that she uses to cut the threads of life. In physical appearance, Morana, upon first glance, is terrifying; her skin is pale, she has long dark, stringy hair, her nails are long and sharp, and, sometimes, she’s even said to have fangs. However, this is not her only form, as Morana also is described as a young maiden. Yet, when she first appears to you, most often times you’ll get the ugly, old crone; it isn’t until you show an appreciation for her and a lack of fear for all she stands for that you will see the beautiful, maiden side to her.

Winter is considered to be the time of Morana. She brings the snow, hail, and cold winds with her. The thought of winter coming from Morana is mostly attributed to her relationship with Dazbog, the sun god. As it’s told, Morana seduces Dazbog, and pulls him down into her embrace. With Dazbog distracted, daylight lessens, and we are thrown into the darker, colder winter months. Unfortunately, in later parts to the myth, it is said that when Dazbog moved on from Morana, she poisoned him. As punishment for this, she was then banished to Nav.

Nav isn’t a dark or evil place, though. While it does contain its demons and dark parts, there is much good surrounding it as well. Remember Lada? The goddess of love (who also happens to be Morana’s mother) whom I’ve talked about in a prior post? She also resides in the underworld. And, while this might be shocking to hear, it’s important to know this for one key reason—new life comes from within; be it flowers coming up from the cold earth connected to the below underworld, or a new view on yourself through introspection. So, with that in the forefront of your mind, hopefully it eases some of the internalized fears you might have about the underworld. However, if you still wish for spring to just get here already, there is one more concept imbedded within these beliefs that I know you will appreciate—reincarnation. Reincarnation is something widely believed in in Slavic tradition. It’s thought that your soul could indeed return as anything from a descendant to even an animal. However, it’s still important to remember that, without death, there will be no rebirth.