Christian Bias in the Surviving Lore 1

I’ve touched on the fact that the surviving lore is heavily influenced by Christian forces that had already began to shape the Nordic world and the world at large by the time the lore was recorded. There is much to be said on this topic, but it is worth acknowledging first and foremost that many if not most of those practicing Rökkatru were raised in a dominantly Judeo-Christian culture. Much of the “western” world (read: Europe and the Americas) have been heavily shaped by Christian imperialism, be that Protestant or Catholic (or both at different points in history).

However much many American and European pagans seek to distance themselves from their own Christian pasts and the Christian legacy of their national identities, it is not possible for anyone to completely divorce themselves from the effects of the culture that they were raised and socialized in. It is for this reason that many neopagan practices mirror Christian and Catholic practices, especially with regards to theologies hinging on the idea of “good” and “evil.”

It is worth noting that there is nothing inherently wrong in having been subject to this influence—again, we all have to some extent. Just as it is impossible to grow up in an inherently white supremacist culture without internalizing some degree of racial bias, so it is similarly impossible to grow up in a culture so shaped by Christian theology and not internalize that values system to some degree. The best anyone can do is educate themselves about those influences and reflect on the way those cultural and societal pressures are effecting their own patterns of thought, belief, and practice.

The purpose of the following sections is to provide some rudimentary historical education on the Christianization of the lore. With that educational basis it becomes a lot easier to reflect on the way these forces have shaped our own belief structures and worldviews, but that work (and whatever conclusions you come to in that process) will be yours alone.

Adam of Bremen

adam-of-bremen

There are two major players in the way Christianity shaped our knowledge of old Nordic religious beliefs and practices. I’m going to start with an analysis of the writings of Adam of Bremen, whose writings predate Snorri Sturluson’s by approximately 125 years. His are among the most important writings regarding the religion of the Vikings and includes an account of the temple in Uppsala written c. 1075 A.D.

In his famous description of the temple of Uppsala and the rituals that occurred there, Adam describes a temple which housed pagan idols where, every nine years, the kings of the land gathered to pay homage to the gods. All their people were to send gifts of offering and sacrifice. No one, he noted, was exempt from this duty.

During this time a sacrifice was made consisting of nine “of every living thing which is male…with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathens that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims.” He does, however, go on to relate how this information was passed on to him second hand, namely by “a Christian seventy-two years old” who had witnessed the sacrifice, a detail which reminds us that Adam of Bremen never himself witnessed these rituals or laid eyes upon the temple. Furthermore, we are made to understand that some portion of what was related back to him was not, in fact, preserved in his writings, as he states: “…the incantations customarily chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore, it is better to keep silence about them.” (1)

1200px-Olaus_Magnus_-_On_the_Glorious_Temple_Devoted_to_the_Nordic_Gods

Woodcutting print of the Temple at Uppsala from Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus by Olaus Magnus. Image based on Adam of Bremen’s descriptions.

Of course, by the time of Adam of Bremen’s writing, Christianity had a solid presence in Scandinavia. In fact, a great number of the stories he writes in regards to paganism in Scandinavia are stories about Christians fighting the evils of paganism either by attempting to convert the people, destroying idols and places of worship, or simply plotting to do so. It is reasonable to assume that “the temple, priests and statues may all have been influenced by Christian worship, for they are not known from earlier sources” (2) and evidence of the existence of temples in pagan Scandinavia remains scant to nonexistent.

Nonetheless, aside from place-names, which can point us to cult places and locations where certain gods were popular among the locals, (3) we have little evidence outside of Adam of Bremen’s account about what religious ceremonies and rituals in the Viking era looked like. This makes his account incredibly valuable though we must read it with approximately a quarter pound of salt because 1) Adam of Bremen never himself visited or laid eyes on the temple at Uppsala. His account is based on the stories of those who had. Furthermore, 2) his bias as a member of the Christian clergy undoubtedly colored his perception of these ceremonies and rituals and therefore colored his descriptions of them (as is evident where he chooses to omit details about the rituals).

What kinds of conclusions can we then draw from Adam of Bremen’s account? It seems reasonable to assume that the pagan religion of the people of Scandinavia was relatively malleable and capable of adaption if, as scholar Else Roesdahl suggests, the building of the temple and the incorporating of priests was the result of contact with Christianity. Likely because the pagan religion was a polytheistic one there was little perceived threat from the appearance of the Christian god, as the existence of this god and the fact that he was worshiped by these newcomers would not have drastically altered their view of the world in terms of religion and their own relationship to the divine—if there are a plethora of gods, after all, why should one more be so surprising?

From Adam of Bremen’s account we further know that the use of idols was practiced by the pagans of Scandinavia—something which can be corroborated by archaeological evidence—and that sacrifices of life and blood were performed in the presence of these idols to pay homage to the gods they represented. Archaeological evidence of various kinds of sacrifice in the pagan religion of Scandinavia has been found throughout the land, including the so-called “Bog People” in Denmark, which “appear to reveal…the presence of a religion devoted to fertility, in which humans were sacrificed to secure an abundant harvest.” (4) Though very little if any evidence has been found at Gamla Uppsala to support Adam of Bremen’s assertions of sacrifices which included humans, this cannot be discounted entirely given the incontrovertible evidence that human sacrifice was practiced elsewhere in pagan Scandinavia.

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One of the most famous of the “Bog Bodies” is known as Tollund Man. He is famous for the heightened degree of preservation, including preservation of his clothing and the noose around his neck.

In addition to offering up blood to the gods, we also know that practitioners offered up incantations to accompany their sacrifice, though once again what those incantations are must be relegated to the realm of theory, imagination, and possibly UPG/PVPG. Because of Adam of Bremen’s refusal to record them due to their “unseemly” nature, we know these incantations run counter to his own Christian faith. This doesn’t, however, tell us overly much as this could simply be a reflection of the unseemliness of the worship of “false gods” in his eyes, or it could allude to incantations relevant to fertility, and perhaps the sexuality inevitably involved in matters of fertility. Adam of Bremen could have chosen to exclude these “unseemly” incantations for any number of affronts to the Christian religion, and it is impossible to know which of Christianity’s laws were broken or in what way those laws were being broken in these incantations without having access to them.

Depictions on various rune stones together with Adam of Bremen’s account of the activities at the temple of Uppsala give us an idea of what religious practice may have looked like in Scandinavia both during the time of conversion and the time shortly preceding conversion. Aside from telling us that the people engaging in these practices believed that they could please the gods to achieve some worldly purpose, the practices themselves don’t shed much light on the beliefs. To learn more about the beliefs themselves, we will turn in the next post to records of the myths of pagan Scandinavia, the most important of which being Snorri Sturluson’s 13th century The Prose Edda (5) along with the works upon which Sturluson based his Edda. These are the most known and most heavily relied upon sources for the majority of modern heathen practitioners, so stay tuned for a close reading of them.

Skål

(1) Adam of Bremen. History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. Trans. Francis J. Tschan. Columbia University Press: New York. 2002. Pps 207-208.

(2) Roesdahl. pp 152

(3) Roesdahl, pp 18

(4) Nordstrom. Pp 9

(5) Roesdahl. Pp 148

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.

Ascendant II: Theology for Modern Polytheists

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

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

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

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

Frith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sources

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

 

 

A-Lada Love: A look at Lada, Slavic Goddess of Beauty

Maximilian Presnyakov: “Lada” (“Slav cycle”), 1998.

It is an unfortunate fact that we have lost much of our Slavic practices. When I set out on my journey to learn more about my ancestors and their pagan practices, it was a hard hit to take to know so little is known about it all, especially their use of deities. Mikołaj Gliński put this sad fact best when he says:

Slavs surely had their deities. While many of them can reflect a more ancient shared Indo-European past, it remains disputable whether these gods were worshiped on the whole vast expanses of Slavic Europe (which ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea) or rather varied depending on the locale and specific Slavic tribe.

However, the deeper you dig in, the more we seem to be uncovering (and recreating).

Thankfully, what we do know about the gods and folktales has given us the knowledge we needed to open up this door that lead to revitalizing the traditional Slavic religion. So, in order to introduce you to the basics, I want to start with a focus piece on the main goddess we focus on in today’s practices: Lada.

Lada is a stunning goddess who truly deserves more credit than she is given. She is not only a goddess of beauty, love, joy, and youth, but also a creation goddess and mother to all the gods. She provides a safe home to many and guards over marriage (many folk songs about marriage mention her in some capacity). 

Many times, if she has a message for you, she comes in the form of a lark. Her connection to all things jovial brings their beautiful song to you, to lift up your spirts when you’re feeling low. When this messenger of hers appears to you, she’s also asking you to look within yourself and go on a journey of self-discovery. Additionally, the lark’s mimicking of other songs and sounds also makes their appearance signal a message from the other realms; listen to how they sound. What are they mimicking…what else is Lada trying to tell you?

Some also connect her with plants with two of the biggest being cherries and peonies. Cherries are considered to be a plant of immortality and combine nicely with Lada’s goddess of beauty and youth aspect. Peonies are for prosperity and good luck, linking it to her side of joy.

The time of the year associated with Lada is spring and summer. Spring brings that rebirth that helps one look within themselves and transform into something greater. Something that I also associate Lada with is the Summer Solstice and Slavic Valentine’s day, which is the day after Solstice. The Slavic Valentine’s day connects to Lada’s love goddess aspect. There is dancing and singing around a fire. One ritual that takes place around this fire is leaping across (carefully!). This is meant to ensure purification and protect against bad energy as well as radiate healing powers. 

If you would like to leave an offering to Lada, she is particularly fond of receiving honey (a symbol of fertility and prosperity) and also responds well to songs sung or played in her honor.

Sources:

Gliński, Mikołaj. “What Is Known About Slavic Mythology.” Culture.pl, 29 Mar. 2016, culture.pl/en/article/what-is-known-about-slavic-mythology.

Warnke, Agnieszka. “9 Slavic Rituals & Customs of Ye Olden Days.” Culture.pl , 9 Nov. 2015, culture.pl/en/article/9-slavic-rituals-customs-of-ye-olden-days.

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.

Responding to the Crisis in the Amazon

As we hopefully all know right now, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. The vast majority of the fires have been set intentionally. Some of them were set legally, others illegally. All of the fires were made easier, if not possible, by the regressive environmental policies of Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. The fires are not only a serious threat to our already deeply imperiled environment, they are a direct threat to the indigenous populations who call the Amazon home and who have been fighting for so long to protect that home. These fires are being set with the full knowledge of the threat they pose to the people who live there, and is nothing short of a genocidal tactic being used against populations who have been struggling to defend their rights against colonization and capitalistic greed for so long.

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Within pagan and witchcraft communities, people who are distraught and feel powerless to help have been creating and sharing spells designed to send healing to the Amazon. I am not a huge believer in the power of magic on its own, though I believe that magic can be a powerful tool for reinforcing or strengthening some other action you are taking in the world.

For myself, I have started a monthly donation to both the Rainforest Action Network and  the Rainforest Trust. Another wonderful organization to support is Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous people to protect the rainforest. I made my donations in Jord’s name, a earth jötunn mother of Thor. I also evoked her in the small ritual spell I did tonight, and will do for the following two nights, and invite you to join me in doing.

My spell is a modification of one I saw drifting around Facebook. The original called for a bowl of water, a candle, and a piece of agate, quartz, or palo santo. Though I happened to have a piece of palo santo given to me by a friend, I strongly recommend against buying palo santo due to its endangered status, which is directly linked to over-harvesting. I also brought along with me a sterile lancet and biodegradable tissue, a bottle of wine, some fancy salt, and a beer — to make offerings to those I called on.

My spell goes as follows, but feel free to make any modifications that will help you perform the spell successfully:

Sit on the earth. Light the candle before you, and dig a hole between you and the candle. As you begin to speak, hold the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the flame.

“I call on Angrboda, whose spirit is wild, to oversee and lend power to these workings.”

Pour offering of wine into the hole.

“I call on Jord, who is the fertile earth herself, to accept and manifest this healing.”

Sprinkle offering of salt into the hole.

“I call on Freyr of the Vanir, the god who wields the rains, to bring his gift of rain, to the Amazon that burns.”

Use sterile lancet to draw blood from a finger, dab it up with the tissue and drop this into the hole followed by a healthy pour of beer.

As you speak the next bit, douse the burnt end of the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the bowl of water.

“I implore these powers, hear our cries.”

Pick up the bowl, and as you speak the next bit, dip your finger in the water and sprinkle it on the candle.

“Bring down the rains to drown the flames burning through our lungs.”

If the candle was not spattered out, blow it out now.

Offer gratitude and bid farewell to those you have evoked, in whatever way works best for your practice.

Deity-Human Relationship Patterns

All relationships with the gods are founded on mutual respect, reciprocity, and hospitality. Generally, we can say yes or no to the gods when they approach us, but the same is also true for when we approach them. The gods are not obligated to accept our offerings. We are not obligated to serve the gods against our will (except in rare cases, which I’ll discuss later).

In general, there are four types of devotional relationship patterns for working with the gods.

The first relationship pattern is that of a devotee. Usually, a devotee makes offerings to the gods with whom they have relationships to sustain those relationships. When these offerings are made, how they are made, and what offerings are used depends on the tradition. This is the type of relationship that most practitioners have.

This is the level where most of my relationships with the gods I honor are at. This includes Thor, Tyr, Niorun, Freyja, Sigyn, Quetzalcoatl, Hermes Trismegistus, Bast, and Mani. This is the level that most deity-human relationships will always exist at, and that is perfectly acceptable and commendable.

Moving on, the second relationship pattern is that of an oathsworn devotee. This is generally a devotional relationship taken to the next level. Different commitments are required – essentially, a contract is entered into with a deity at this point. In exchange for doing X for said deity, Y is received.

That said, oathsworn relationships are dangerous, and you should not enter into them lightly, if at all. This is not a path for everyone – it is not safe at all. Because the gods have agency, they have their own plans, their own agenda, and they are not obligated to share it with us. Even if we are part of those plans, they do not have an obligation to share – we do not have a right to know their overall agenda. Their ways are not ours, and they will hold us to our oaths.

When an oathsworn relationship exists, that deity has a right to your time where and whenever they show up. They are priority #1 over everything else. The work they demand is hard, exacting, and often downright exhausting. This is not for the faint of heart. Do not swear an oath unless you know, with absolute certainty, that it’s the relationship that you’re meant to have with that god.

This is the type of relationship I have with one god, and one god only, and that is Odin. In exchange for the insight and wisdom his path offers, I do a very specific type of work for him. Generally, it is in the form of providing people with information about him and his path whenever the subject comes up in conversation or through other mediums of communication, like emails or comments on blog posts. In addition to that, though, he has told me before that the work I do for Loki is also the work I do for him. More on that later.

Moving on, the third type of relationship pattern is that of a godspouse, which may or may not be as demanding as an oathsworn relationship. It requires a strong commitment, as it is essentially the marriage to a god. The easiest example to demonstrate this is the commitment undertaken by Catholic nuns – they are the closest equivalent to godspouses in the Christian world. In this type of relationship, the god is your #1 priority, and devotions matter almost more (or more) than those to other gods. These are exceptionally rare relationships, and few people will ever have a chance to enter into one. The requirements of these relationships are often secret, as the work a person does in a godspouse relationship is highly personal, highly intimate, and, in general, no one else’s business.

The fourth type of relationship pattern is that of clergy. A priest serves a god in a ritual and/or communal capacity in the ways that the gods make clear. Clergy are devotees and generally don’t swear oaths to enter into the service of a god – some do, so there are exceptions to this.

There are different ways to be initiated as clergy. You can be trained through an official program, you can be called directly by a god, or you can be elected by your community to fulfill that role.

Most clergy members of polytheistic religions are willing and able to take on the role of priest for gods other than the one/s they primarily serve.

When it comes to this type of relationship, I hold it with two gods – Loki and Freyr. The way I became Loki’s priest was through a conversation I had with him one night where he asked if I was interested in a godpsouse relationship. I declined, as I did not feel that was the correct relationship for me, as I have always viewed him more as a big brother/best friend (sorta father figure) than as anything else. When I declined that relationship, he suggested I become his priest instead, and I agreed to that.

The work I do for him is varied and dynamic. I talk about him and his path via blog posts and in face-to-face conversations. I also established the Facebook group Loki’s Wyrdlings at his request that I build a community where Lokeans could feel safe to discuss their practices without being immediately harmed by the Heathens who still view Loki as an evil god and his devotees as evil. Adding to that, I established Loki University, which is an online school where people can learn about Loki and his path. Most recently, I established (alongside some other awesome Lokeans) a book collection called Loki’s Torch, and the first edition of that will be releasing in August. As you can tell, the work I do for Loki is not a light load. Being a priest rarely is.

In terms of my relationship with Freyr and serving as his priest, I actually approached him and asked him if he would be interested in me filling that role for him. If he had said no, I would have accepted it and moved on. He did not. My responsibilities to him are more ritually based than about community building, and all of the rituals I have facilitated for Freyr have been some of the most rewarding rituals I have ever done.

One of the requirements he has for rituals is that no one brings a weapon of any sort into the ritual space – from what I understand, this is fairly common among the Vanir deities. This is something I ensure when I facilitate rituals for him, and I am fairly certain this is why the rituals end up being so strong. The other work that I do for him involves astral work, which I am not comfortable discussing over the internet, as astral work is very dangerous for the untrained.

Now, when it comes to establishing relationships with the gods, there are specific types of people, and it is important to understand this in order to understand how relationships with the gods develop.

There are people who are god-touched, which means they are very attuned to the spirit world (or astral plane, whichever you prefer), and they are able to easily communicate with the gods and other spirits. Because of this, gods often seek these people out, as it is easier to form a relationship with someone you don’t have to scream at to get to pay attention.

There are also those who are god-called. Generally, these are the people who have had gods watching over them for their entire lives, just waiting for the moment when the person finally notices the god’s presence. At that point, a strong devotional relationship spontaneously develops.

I watched this happen with someone I had a conversation with about polytheistic practices and how polytheistic religions answers the question of why good things happen to bad people. About two days after that conversation, which lasted about six hours, the man came back to me and told me that the goddess Morana had come to him and he was working with her – after essentially telling me during the original conversation that he was an atheist. Basically, once he was made aware of the fact that there were religions outside of Abrahamic ones, Morana came forward and made her presence clear to him.

There are also people who are god-claimed. This can happen in a ritual, but it can also happen if someone dedicates a child to a god when they are born. This isn’t always an ethical practice by human standards (although the Christian rite of baptism suggests otherwise), but the gods do not ascribe to our morality. If you were dedicated to them, they have a right to you.

Undoing that kind of ritual dedication is extremely difficult, dangerous, and not recommended unless absolutely necessary. A claim can also be held by a god if you dedicate yourself to them as a thrall (or a slave). Few people do this, but some do, and they generally walk a fine line between sanity and madness. This is not a path I would recommend to anyone, and if you are considering it, I would suggest an alternative path unless there is no other choice.

As a note, because so many of us are raised in Christian environments and usually baptized against our will (as we are too young to properly give consent), it is almost always necessary to do a severance ritual once we have chosen a different religion. I was lucky that I was never baptized, as my parents believed that I needed to make that decision when I was old enough to make it for myself.

I did, however, see a friend struggle with their baptism into Christianity interfering with their ability to properly work with the Celtic gods that they had chosen to honor. She had to have a severance ritual performed so that the Celtic gods could more easily communicate with her without the Christian god’s claim on her interfering with those relationships.

So, if you are someone who has been baptized and find it difficult to communicate with the gods of the path that you have chosen, I highly suggest finding someone trained who can perform the severance ritual for you. While it is is possible to do such a ritual on your own, the cut is likely to be cleaner if you have someone else perform it for you, as they are outside the claim that the god holds on you. Like I said before, severance rituals are dangerous, and they should not be undertaken lightly.

Lastly, you have the type of people that I call god-stalked. Like the god-touched, these people can be sensitive to the spirit world – sometimes they aren’t. This is generally a person that a god has taken such a vested interest in that the god will absolutely not take no for an answer. That means there is no ritual, no request, no anything that will get this god to leave the person alone. It is an adapt or go insane scenario and, thankfully, exceedingly rare.

Most gods honor a yes or no, but, again, gods do not ascribe to human morality. They do not have to honor consent because there is no such concept for them. Relationships are generally more productive when they do honor our concept of consent, but the god-stalked do not have the luxury of saying no. The only real way to deal with being god-stalked is to give in and accept that the god will not take no for an answer.

I have seen this happen to a grand total of one person in the nearly 20 years I have been practicing, and the deity was the Morrigan. This was a pretty unique situation, however, as we did a large group ritual to the Morrigan, and the person opened the door to allow the Morrigan access to them. Once the Morrigan had that door opened, she did not allow it to close, despite the fact that the person on the other side of it was trying to slam it shut.

This is why it is incredibly important that you do not participate in rituals if you are not potentially okay with the deity being honored coming into your life on a more permanent basis. Our gods are not safe, and it is imperative that if you are walking a polytheistic path, that you acknowledge and accept the dangers that come with honoring gods that have their own agency and their own agendas.

We can have amazing relationships with our gods. They provide us with an astonishing wealth of gifts in our lives. The gods, however, are not unfeeling forces or archetypes, content to do nothing except what we wish they would do. No, they are hugely powerful forces and sentient beings with their own desires, their own emotions, and their own ideas. Relationships with the gods are almost aways intense, unique, and gratifying. That said, however, relationships with the gods are never safe.

©Kyaza 2019