The Politics of Rökkatru

Now that we have established at least some of the core values of Rökkatru, it is time to turn to the politics of Rökkatru. Though it may not be immediately obvious why it is necessary to discuss the politics of a budding minority religion, given the sociopolitical environment Rökkatru was born into and has been growing into, and the degree to which politics and religion have become muddled and intertwined in America, it is not something to be glossed over. Given that Heathenry as a whole is plagued with white supremacy and other forms of bigotry, it seems especially important to establish the politics of this new branch of Heathenry.

Though Rökkatru is not a unified or organized religion by any means, and there is wide diversity in the views and opinions held by those who practice Rökkatru, there has been some movement in online communities to firmly establish Rökkatru as anti-bigotry. In particular, some Rökkatru communities online have declared themselves in open opposition to the Asatru Folk Assembly, a Heathen organization widely known for espousing white supremacist, transphobic, and homophobic rhetoric.

The desire to form a visibly inclusive, anti-bigotry Heathenry has been voiced commonly enough within Rökkatru communities online that it seems safe to say that this is the most commonly shared sociopolitical outlook of Rökkatru. Considering that the values of Rökkatru include such values as diversity, acceptance, and community, and that the Rökkr themselves often represent the strength of nature’s diversity, it does follow that Rökkatru’s politics would be inclusive.

Furthermore, alongside the Lokean community, it is Rökkatru which boasts the highest degree of diversity among its ranks, in particular with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. As the Rökkr are associated with shape shifting, in particular Loki who is known to shape shift not only into other animal forms but also into different genders, many Rökkatru see representations of their own fluidity in gender and sexuality reflected in their gods. Nothing within Rökkatru is strictly binary or easily confined to a box, which permits its followers a level of self-acceptance many were unable to find in other spiritual paths that adhere more closely to traditional, hetero- and cisnormative binaries.

In part because of the strength in diversity that the gods themselves represent, as well as the fact that many who might call themselves “misfits” have found spiritual home within Rökkatru, it is a path which has grown in the direction of inclusion and acceptance. Though within the ranks of adherents the most prominent form of diversity is in gender and sexuality, inclusivity and acceptance are extended to all those who fall outside of mainstream society’s hegemony. As a result, Rökkatru has not only been developing as a religious movement which values acceptance, it has been increasingly priding itself on being an anti-bigotry spiritual movement.

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Original design available for purchase on tee shirts at Mind-art Passion

Not only is Rökkatru anti-bigotry, it also deeply values environmentalism. Again we see this in the values of Rökkatru, especially in those represented by Jord and Gerd. Caring for nature, especially in the age of climate change, is a key element of Rökkatru sociopolitical identity, and not just because of what Jord and Gerd represent. All of the Rökkatru deities are generally considered to be closely associated with nature. Some may have direct and explicit connections to natural forces, such as Surt (wildfires or volcanoes) or Aegir and Ran (the ocean). Others seem to mirror more vague natural energies, such as Hela (death), Fenrir (destruction), or even Angrboda (who is closely associated with wolves and generally associated with wild things).

With a couple of deities that specifically highlight the importance of caring for and working closely with nature and the earth, as well as how interwoven the Rökkr are with natural forces as a whole, it is clear that this is a path which reveres the natural world. Because of this, environmentalism has become a core element of Rökkatru political values. It is not unheard of, in fact, for people to make donations to environmentalist nonprofits in the name of a particular deity as a way of making an offering to that deity. For example, some people might donate to organizations that are dedicated to cleaning our oceans in the name of Jörmungandr (who is known in the lore to occupy the seas surrounding Midgard) whereas others have donated to wolf sanctuaries or other organizations that protect wolves in Fenrir’s name.

In an increasingly polarized sociopolitical climate, and staring down climate change and rising fascism along with an increase in visible violence towards marginalized communities, all of these political values boil down to a deep value of activism. Rökkatru as a whole does not seem to look well on inaction in the face of injustice, though there is an understanding of the limited abilities of some members of this immensely diverse group (limitations in time and finances, in physical, emotional, or intellectual ability, etc).

Activism in the name of Rökkatru spiritual practice can take many forms. We’ve already discussed the concept of donating to relevant nonprofits in the name of a god/dess as a form of offering. I have extensive experience volunteering with disadvantaged and marginalized youth in part as a form of devotional service to Sigyn, which you can read more about here. Those who are able have in the past shown up at counter-protests to represent this inclusive Heathenry in the face of white supremacist and Neo-Nazi appropriation of sacred symbols as rallies. Some have even shown up as part of the black bloc or with Antifa protesters to disrupt rallies of bigotry.

Ultimately, Rökkatru is made up of individuals who all hold different values and political views. Not all of these views are necessarily complimentary, and not all Rökkatru practitioners would even consider themselves political. The most commonly represented political views within Rökkatru communities, however, have repeatedly proven to prioritize acceptable and inclusion, environmental care and well-being, and active action on these fronts.

Skål.

P.S. If you enjoyed this you might enjoy Is It Any Wonder, a narrative piece I wrote for Gods & Radicals that imagines what Rökkr deities might look and act like living in the modern world.

The Values of Rökkatru: Part 2

Before I get too far into this, check it out! I did an interview on Rökkatru for Talking My Path by Rebecca Buchanan, who happens to have been the first person to have ever given me a shot at this publication thing. Pretty neat!

Now, to get back to it! In my last post on the values of Rökkatru, I introduced some of the values as embodied by the gods and interpretations of them and their stories. I’ll do the same here, but without the preamble — let’s jump right in.

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My vision of Sigyn

 

Sigyn is best known for being the wife of Loki and the mother of his children Narvi (also rendered “Narfi”) and Vali. She lost her sons when one was turned into a wolf to kill the other. After, she stayed by her imprisoned husband’s side, holding a simple bowl above his head to capture the venom that dripped from a snake tied above him.

This minimal suriving lore leads to the most common interpretation of Sigyn as being a goddess of loyalty and fidelty. As a result, Sigyn’s value or lesson is most often attributed as loyalty, and is expanded upon to highlight the importance of standing by those you love when they are cast out or pushed out.

However, other scraps of lost lore, such as the meaning of her name (alternately interpreted as “victory woman” or “friend of victory”) and the kenning “Incantation Fetter,” we can clearly see that there was so much more to this goddess than has survived into the modern era. Looking to kennings she has received from modern practicioners, including such names as “Balm for the Broken,” “Safe Harbor for the Heart,” and “Lady of Unyielding Gentleness,” we can see a very common theme of how she is understood among her adherents. According to the UPG/PVPG of many in the Rökkatru community, Sigyn offers en encompassing comfort to those who have been wounded and/or ostracized. For this reason I would propose that she additionally embodies the values of compassion and empathy.

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Surt is a fire jötunn from Muspelheim, who is fated to kill Freyr during Ragnarok. The historian Rudolf Simek has proposed that Surt is an embodiment of eruptive volcanic force, something which doevtails well with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature spirits as well with the fact that Eddas were written in Iceland, which hosts quite a lot of volcanic activity.

Surt is yet another for whom not much has been recorded, but according to Gylfaginning, Vafþrúðnismál, and Völuspá, Surt will lay waste to the earth with a flaming sword before the whole mess is swallowed by the sea. For this reason he has also been associated in the Rökkatru community with wildfires.

Volcanoes, wildfires, and the spirit of fire generally is nothing if not overbearingly intense. Surt’s actions in Ragnarok certainly mirror this intensity, and it is for this reason that the value attributed to him is simply that of intensity—pouring your whole heart and soul into what you are doing, and never half-assing a thing.

 

Jord is a jötunn woman who embodies the earth. She is the mother of Thor and is referred to in Gylfaginning as the daughter of Nótt and Anarr. Because she plays no role in the myths and we have no surviving lore about her outside of these tiny scraps, some scholars think she likely wasn’t honored or considered literal and personified in her own right. Some scholars believe it is very unlikely that Jord was recipient of worship in the past, but more represented the general concept of the earth.

Nonetheless, this has not prevented modern practicioners from honoring her and learning from her. As the embodiment of the earth upon which we live, many Rökkatru have come to see her as representing the value of nature or the value of reverence for nature. For Rökkatru, many of whom are keenly in tune with the damage that humanity has done to the planet, this value is of the utmost importance in the age of climate change.

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Nidhogg is best known for being the dragon coiled among the roots of Yggdrasil, ever gnawing upon its roots. Though this is recounted in Grímnismál as a terrible evil suffered by Yggdrasil, along with the rotting of its trunk and eating of its leaves by a group of harts, it is often interupted more as form of therapuetic exfoliation by Rökkatru—in essence, Nidhogg is seen as that which consumes the dead substances which erode from the surface of the world tree.

In Völuspá Nidhogg is also noted as presiding over an underworld called Náströnd, but due to the nature of this underworld as being overtly concerned with moral reprecussion, especially for crimes such as adultry and falsehood, scholars have highlighted this as a possible Christian revision. Nonetheless, this has, in addition to the aforementioned interpretation of Nidhogg’s chewing on the roots of Yggdrasil, has contributed to Nidhogg’s value being understood as recycling.

I might pose a rephrasing of this value to better reflect the nature of Nidhogg in these interpretations of the dragon, and to accommodate our cultural understanding of the word “recycling.” Rather than recycling I might rather describe Nidhogg’s value as the value of decay. All things must decay, even stone which is eroded from mountain ranges into sand. Leaves which fall in autumn decay back into earth, returning nutrients to the soil and providing habitat for insects in the meantime. All creatures which die are consumed by bacteria, fungi, insects, and scavengers of all variteies. Entire ecosystems have decay at their foundation, and though it may not always be pretty to look at, it is important to remember its value.

 

Gerd is best known for being the jötunn wife of the Vanir god Freyr, and is often called the Lady of the Walled Garden. She’s only known from the story of Freyr’s pursuit of her, in which he sends his friend and servant Skírnir to woo Gerd on his behalf. Though she resists repeatedly, she eventually succumbs to Skírnir’s threats and agrees to marry Freyr.

Because Gerd eventually married Freyr, effectively making peace with him and by extension his people, her value has sometime been attributed as that of frithmaking, essentially the concept of making peace and “building bridges” rather than making war.

Based on the UPG/PVPG many have experienced with her, however, she may represent different values to different people. Somewhat ironically I’ve heard multiple women report having good luck seeking counsil and aid from Gerd with regards to stalkers and abusers. Many others associate her more strongly with the walled garden of her name than with the story of her marriage to Frey (myself being among them). Given this her values could just as easily be that of farming and permaculture, especially as a goddess associated with fertile soil (according to commonly accepted scholarly interpretations of the story of her marriage to Freyr) and through this potentially connected to Jord (community gardens and farms which focus on sustainability are one avenue for communities and individuals to address climate change). She could also easily embody the value of survival—sometimes frithmaking is less about building bridges and more about living to fight another day.

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Skadi is one goddess who not all Rökkatru agree upon. Because she is known for having made peace with the Æsir, marrying (and eventually divorcing) Njordr and taking up a hall in Asgard. It is often assumed that this means she has sided with the Æsir during Ragnarok, though this is not attested to in any surviving lore.

Some Rökkatru reject Skadi for these reasons, while others still accept her due to her jötunn nature. Nonetheless, she is still sometimes has the value of self reliance attributed to her as a Rökkatru value, and certainly this is something many in the community value deeply.

Self reliance is attrributed to Skadi as a value due to the nature of her story: when her father was killed by the Æsir she marched into Asgard to challenge them for the loss, taking control of the situation and her life in doing so, and winning a place for herself among the Æsir in the process, thereby exercising absolute autonomy over the direction of her life from thereon out.

Cultural Context, and Why It’s Helpful

For many followers of minority religions in America, we are converts who likely didn’t grow up in a similar culture to that from which these religions originated. For this reason, when desiring to have an effective and smooth relationship with a spirit from another part of the world (and often another time), it is going to be very helpful to study the culture they’re originating from and the practices they are accustomed to for communicating with their devotees.

This topic came to my attention again recently when I was looking for a better statue to use for Dà Yé, only to find that many people were confusing him with Tù’er Yé. You see, “Dà Yé” is an endearing title modernly given to the spirit often known as Tù’er Shén, a name that translates as “Rabbit God”. As you can guess, the name Tù’er Yé translates similarly. Now, this is where cultural and historical knowledge would have made the difference between these two spirits glaringly obvious. Tù’er Yé is named such because he is actually a rabbit; he lives on the moon with the goddess Cháng’é and is often depicted as a somewhat anthropomorphic rabbit riding a tiger or other mount. Tù’er Shén is not literally a rabbit god, god of rabbits, or anything like that; “rabbit” was once a slang term in China for a gay man, and this is what Tù’er Shén truly refers to. Because this slang term means that “Tù’er Shén” would be comparable to saying “Fag God” in America, he is often more respectfully addressed as Dà Yé instead. Accordingly, he is also represented as a man.

And this is what cultural context is, and how it’s applied.

Iconography usually cannot be taken at face value; imagery found in Hinduism or Buddhism are great examples, as the representations and items/symbols present often tell a spirit’s entire story or relate their area of focus, if you know how to read it. More importantly, if a potential devotee can be thrown off this easily with just a glance, then reading myths or trying to understand practices is of course going to seem nonsensical without any cultural understanding for all the things written between the lines. For instance, if you come across common hoodoo practices involving using gator paws for luck or holding onto your money, but you personally come from a place where gators are just a foreign danger, you may be wondering what gators have to do with money; part of this is because, in the cultures where these practices (and the gators in question) can commonly be found, a gator is good eating and leather.

In short, do your homework. It’ll come in handy.

On Taking Things One Step at a Time

Want to have all of the fun, with none of the work? Then magic likely isn’t for you. If you do interact with other magical practitioners, you’ve probably seen someone try to do something that left you with many questions–foremost among them often being, probably on multiple levels, “Why?”

Across magical traditions, I’ve watched people attempt feats for which they were ill-prepared. It seems to elude some practitioners, especially newer ones, that magic is a skill like any other and requires practice to progress. I’ve played Operation a few times, but I highly doubt you’d want me rummaging around in your giblets with that as my only practicing qualification. Perhaps the tendency of many modern authors to water down practices or draw rocky cross-culture parallels is partially to blame. After all, you don’t go to a pediatrician for neurosurgery just because it’s “technically all medicine, so it’s close enough”.

My preferred illustration of all-enthusiasm, no-preparation endeavors is many peoples’ use of the spirit board, if only for its sheer frequency and modern infamy. Now ubiquitously recognized as the ouija board (“ouija” originally having been a particularly successful brand of the board), this tool is understood by many modern spiritualists to work by channeling the energy of spirits. (Skeptics insist the spirit board and similar divinatory methods work via the ideomotor phenomenon, but that is irrelevant to our discussion.) Due to their modern notoriety, I doubt I need to list any examples of possible problems that can arise when the uninformed use them, and I’ve met plenty of practitioners who refuse to touch a spirit board out of fear, despite the fact that they can be used just as safely as any other divinatory device, should you take the time to learn how. Yet, while many tools have consequences associated with misuse, it seems that these consequences are overlooked entirely in most cases; for example, almost any method of divination opens spiritual contact, which means that even tarot cards likewise have a small chance of welcoming an undesirable spirit.

There also seems to be a notion that everything should just be available to everyone, all the time. This makes for a dangerous mindset, for what should be obvious reasons; similar reasons for which we wouldn’t want dangerous weapons to be constantly and freely available to all. In some traditions, the serving of certain spirits or participation in certain practices is withheld until necessary or a certain level of training/initiation has been reached, not for the purpose of being exclusionary (as often seems to be the assumption), but for the purpose of protecting people from attempting to handle spirits or practices that they are unprepared for and that could backfire badly on themselves or others. I know a metaphysical shop owner who, when asked by a customer what Goofer Dust even was, simply advised against the woman buying it; this is because, if not used carefully, Goofer Dust can have more severe effects than intended on the target or cross the practitioner using it. (Also, I’ve seen a few people online talk about using Goofer Dust for protection; this is decidedly inadvisable, and not the purpose of it.)

If you find yourself taken with the idea that you should do something for which you’ve lacking or nonexistent training, think carefully about why you’re doing it and the potential ramifications if there’s a problem that you lack the knowledge to remedy. Why do you want to perform this practice? If it’s just to feel cool, then it may not be worth the potential consequences of the practice backfiring. Do you really need to perform this practice, and do you need to perform it now? There are situations for which you might have an urgent need of magical assistance, perhaps in the case of a health crisis, wherein you would simply be left to make a sincere try using your best judgment. Do you need to be the one to perform this practice, rather than seeking a trained professional? I understand that, for many within pagan and other minority faiths, finding a local clergy member or such is simply impossible. However, thanks to the internet, you may be able to find an online contact who could at least advise you on the matter; even finding a good literary source to review will help.

Keep in mind, none of this is in any way an attempt to discourage any particular person or practice, but simply an appeal to practicality. There are many useful magical skills that can be acquired and shared, but they take time to master. Everything in life is a process. There’s no race in magic, or need to compare to others. Take your time. Understand the tools and practices, and understand how they work and how to spot a problem, before diving into the deep end.

In the ever-wise words of Professor Oak, “There’s a time and place for everything.”

To Book or Not To Book…

One thing I’ve noticed about spiritual paths today is the huge focus on studying. There are dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of books about almost every topic imaginable now. If you want information about something, chances are, someone else has written about it.

If you want to follow a path, you HAVE to read about it….  Right???

Wait, what? What happened to experiencing a faith? To actually doing the work? Did I miss something?

In a world that is increasingly about knowledge, we’ve found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we read, read, read, absorbing as much information as we can, hoping that one day we might know enough that we can actually do something in our practice?

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero issues with book learning. I’ve just noticed a trend in modern practices where a person is expected to know their respective myths and lore inside and out. It makes it super intimidating to newbies coming in, who are expected to have at least read them well enough to have memorized the basics before announcing themselves as (insert practice name here).

Have we really come so far that the emphasis is on the written word, rather than experiencing the joy of a faith? The devotion? The very experiences that give us our faith in the first place?

I’m saying this as a writer. As someone who consumes every word put in front of me, and never forgets anything I read. Oh, I may mess up a few details here and there, just like anyone, but that’s not the point. I’m supposed to come into a practice with this ingrained knowledge before I announce to the world that I follow X gods…  Why?

Why can we not get to know our gods in a personal way first? Why can we not experience them and hear their call first, leading us to want to learn more? I find it insulting that there are some faiths now that expect you to study like your life depends on it, simply because you “can’t be a true believer in X if you don’t know all their stories…” Yeah, I’ve heard it before.

Not only is it intimidating, but it drives people away from pagan paths. Yes, I agree that the newbies need to learn, but isn’t that what elders are for? Not to direct you to this book, and then that one, and then that one, ad nauseum, but rather to pass on the teachings? To embrace new followers of our Gods and lead them? Why does it all have to be so based on independent learning?

I’m not condemning independent learning, but I think we need to focus more on building a true community as well. One where those who have been around for a while might take a newbie under their wing, so to speak. Mentor each other. Everyone brings value to us as a group.

Instead of answering a question with “go read so-and-so,” we need to be taking the time to answer personally. To really get in there. Who cares if it starts a debate? Why do we fear that? Debate can be healthy and lead to growth. It prevents us from becoming stagnant.

I’m not thinking of, or directing this to any one path or practice. As a multi-tradition practitioner, I’ve seen it way too many times. It seems to be endemic at this point. By sending the newbies to books to learn, we miss the opportunity to teach, to share, to learn ourselves, and to build strong communities. We miss the chance to pass on our faith in the Old Ways. Many of the paths we follow as pagans are based upon ancient practices…  Oral practices…  Why do we not value that as a way of teaching now?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…  I don’t think so though. I don’t believe I am the only person who thinks we’re missing the point here. Our faiths are living, almost breathing. By constantly sending people to study, we suffocate it. The debates become about the validity of a source, instead of taking what we can from it and discarding the rest…

So I beg you, the next time someone asks a question of you, try to answer it. give them your opinion, or your experience. Then, if you still feel it’s necessary, then you can send them to the library stacks…

 

©Lauren Michelle 2019