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.

RR

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.