Mabon with a Rökkatru Flair

As we cycle our way through the harvest season, we move on to Mabon, the holiday marking the middle of the harvest cycle. Traditionally this is a feasting, reaping, and thanking mother earth, and often include foods such as apples, root vegetables, squash, and pomegranates.

Last time we celebrated Jord as the Fertile Earth and Angrboda as the Mother of Monsters. Now, as we move through the harvest season, it seems only fit to turn our eyes to Gerd, wife of Freyr and goddess of the Walled Garden.

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Much like Jord, Gerd is closely associated with the earth. She is theorized by many scholars to represent the frozen soil in the myth of her “courtship” by Freyr (which looks a lot more like a coercion to our eyes, of course) while Freyr is theorized to here symbolize the return of the summer sun’s fertility. The heat of the sun, therefore, warms the frozen earth and brings her back to a state of fertility.
Gerd is associated with the earth and soil in a much different way than Jord, however. While Jord represents a more generalized version of Earth — in her fullness, roundness, and original wild state — Gerd is more closely associated with the soil of farms and gardens. She has been called the Lady of the Walled Garden, and for many has a strong association with cultivated herbs in particular. I myself had a lovely altar set up to her in my garden at my old residence, where she oversaw my strawberry patch, huckleberries, kale, tomatoes, green onions, and a fig tree.
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Given this background, it seems only appropriate to honor Gerd this Mabon day. As with the other holidays, I recommend doing a small ritual or blot to go with whatever other traditions you might hold. Additionally, if you have the space and ability to do so, dedicating a small patch of earth or even some windowsill planting pots to Gerd makes a good devotional gift.
If you are able, holding your ritual or blot in a place where you touch the earth is ideal. Bringing Gerd an offering of a share of the day’s feast as well as a serving of mead or wine can serve as the central focus of this ritual. If possible, sourcing this meal from local farmers via a farmer’s market is ideal — not only does it support independent, local agriculture, these farms are often more sustainable than those that produce the food bought in your average grocery store. Both of these elements are good and viable ways of honoring Gerd. And, because Gerd is wed to Freyr but not often seen as having aligned with either Æsir or the Vanir yet isn’t often paid much heed by those honoring the jötnar either, taking this time to acknowledge her jötunn nature and blood might be especially courteous and powerful.
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Even those of us who honor the old, primal gods of nature have come a long, long ways away from the the wilderness and the close relationship with nature that our ancestors had. Meditating on Gerd’s jötunn nature as a goddess of gardens and horticulture can provide an interesting look into the transitional areas between the primeval and society: how and where the wild can be tamed or befriended for mutual benefit, and ways in which “darker” and wilder forces creep in and encroach upon spaces we might otherwise think of as light and tame. Perhaps this is one of Gerd’s mysteries — the value and necessity of this mingling, something I think many Rökkatru can attest to and appreciate.
As always, I am interested to hear how your Mabon goes, especially if you try out these ideas for centering your celebrations around Gerd. If you try something else or have other ideas for how to adapt Mabon to Rökkatru, feel free to comment and let me know.
Skål.

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.

Lammas — Rökkatru Style

Traditionally Lammas or Lughnassad are celebrations of the beginning of harvest. In Norse paganism there is a correlation to the holiday Freyfaxi or Freyr’s Feast, similarly associated with the fertility of the earth and its bounty.

For those of us walking the Rökkatru path, however, Freyfaxi isn’t quite our flavor. We may want to celebrate Lammas/Lughnassad, but how can we celebrate this traditionally Anglo-Saxon/Celtic holiday in a way which honors our particular path?

My initial thought was to honor deities of death during this season of reaping—Hela who gathers the dead or Skadi who fells her prey. But, though it may seem a bit cliché, I couldn’t help but think that Samhain, the final of the harvest festivals and the holiday most directly and clearly associated with death and the dead, is a more appropriate holiday to honor Hela. Meanwhile Skadi is a distinctly winter goddess.

One important aspect of Lammas which underlies the celebration of the beginning harvest is the fertility of the earth itself, something often associated with mother goddesses. When thinking of mother goddesses within Rökkatru or who align with Rökkatru, two primary deities come to mind:

Jord and Angrboda.

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. As is written over at Norse Mythology for Smart People, “’Earth’ here seems to be more of a general concept than a discrete figure.” (1) These are the only hard facts that we know about her. Anything else is conjecture or unverified personal gnosis/peer verified personal gnosis.

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Statue titled Moder Jord (Mother Earth) photographed by Alexander Henning Drachmann.

Because there isn’t much known about Jord, and because she could well have been considered a general concept rather than a specific entity (though as a hard-core animist I would argue that even “Earth” as a general idea or concept still has a spirit to be honored) we have a lot of room to get creative in how to honor her. There are many symbolic associations which already exist to draw from in creating a small Lammas blót in honor of Jord: salt is often associated with earth, as in “salt of the earth,” as are the colors green, brown, black, and yellow.

A small blót for Jord on Lammas can be quite simple—with as much or as little extravagance as you desire, you can set up a ritual place incorporating earth symbolism picked up from other places or that is personal to you to create a space in which to make an offering. If you are lucky enough to have the space put offerings directly on the earth, fantastic! Given the spirit of the season, if you are able to get yours hands on a sheath of wheat, or even just a few stalks, giving this to the earth as well as sliced apples and a healthy pour of wine or mead would make a perfect offering to Jord this Lammas.

In honoring the fertility of mother deities during this season of harvest and plenty, now would also be a prime opportunity to honor the mother aspect of Angrboda.

The Unlucky Family featuring Angrboda, Loki, and their children by Hellanim

Though she is most often known as a dangerous feminine figure, associated with prophecy, witchcraft, and wolves, she is a notably fertile figure in the Jotunheim: by Loki she is the mother of Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hela. In many ways she is the mother of the Rökkatru pantheon, so honoring the wild and unbridled fertility of the Mother of Monsters on this day celebrating fertility seems only fitting.

Given that Angrboda is such a prominent, important figure among the Rökkr, a larger or more focused ritual in her honor seems worth investing the time and energy in. Offerings to her on this day don’t necessarily need to be so different from those offered to Jord—in the spirit of the season a sheath of wheat, apples (perhaps spiced and baked or otherwise prepared and endowed with your focus and energy), and wine, beer, or mead are suitable offerings. In addition, however, meat is always a worthy offering for Angrboda of the Wolves.

Lammas is a time for doing astrology, and because Angrboda is a goddess associated with prophecy (often the völva in Voluspa is believed to be Angrboda) this could be something that you work into a ritual for Her on this day. Feasibly astrology could be used as a framework for designing a ritual for Angrboda—offerings could be made, candles or a fire lit in her honor, her names ritually spoken, perhaps even a divination session could be held. Whatever shape your ritual takes is up to you, but in my experience with Angrboda it is good to make sure you are being deliberate, thoughtful, reflective, and checking your baggage at the door.

I would be delighted to hear of any Rökkatru rituals any of you lovelies undertake this season! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any alternate ideas about how to celebrate this holiday in an especially Rökkatru fashion, or any alterations or inspirations you may have based on the ideas shared here.

And most importantly, have a blessed Lammas.

Skål.

(1) McCoy, D. (n.d.). Jord – Norse Mythology for Smart People. [online] Norse Mythology for Smart People. Available at: https://norse-mythology.org/jord/

Some Fields – aka Lenses – for Studying Polytheistic Religions

Polytheistic religions are, by design, multifaceted. There is no single model that encompasses every polytheistic religion. There are, however, several different fields that can be used to explore polytheistic religions, just as there are different fields in every subject. History, for example, can be broken down into many different fields – environmental history, labor history, queer history, women’s history, race history, statistical history, microhistory, etc. In the same vein, polytheistic religions can each individually be explored through certain fields of study.

I try to utilize the twelve fields that follow when I am studying a polytheistic religion. I’ll go more in-depth with each one in regard to the Heathen religion in my future posts, but for now, I am just going to introduce the fields themselves.

The first field is cosmogony, which is the study of the creation of the universe. Every religion has an origin story for the cosmos – some have several. Understanding those creation myths are vital to understanding the religion they underpin. In Heathenry, the creation myth revolves around the collision of fire and ice giving rise to the spark of life in the middle of the Ginnungagap, or yawning void, which then gave rise to everything else.

The second field is cosmology, which is the study of the universe itself. This differs from cosmogony because cosmology looks at the structure of the universe after its creation. Said a different way, the creation myth/s of religion are so integral that they require a separate, in-depth study. In Heathenry, the cosmology centers around the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Nine Worlds that rest in its branches, and the Three Wells that lay at its roots.

The third field is theogony, which refers to the lineage of the gods. This gives us information about the family of the gods, how the gods structure and arrange themselves, and what the relationships are between different gods. Within Heathenry, there are two or three families of gods, depending on your perspective. Traditional Heathens only acknowledge the Aesir and Vanir families, but others acknowledge the Jotuns (Rokkr) as a third family.

The fourth field centers around sacred calendars, rites, and practices. This includes the calendars that the religion historically used, the days considered sacred, the rituals practiced and the method of practice, and the daily way of life. Many people approach polytheistic religions through this field, as most polytheistic religions are centered on right practice (orthopraxy). Polytheistic religions are lived religions, so practice is a necessity – it is the only requirement. While there are many ways to study a religion, there is only one way to follow a religion, and, in polytheistic religions, that means through practice.

The fifth field is eschatology, which is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. It is the study of the afterlife. Every religion views death differently. Considering the fact death is the most intriguing and terrifying phenomena in the universe, it makes sense that there are so many different ideas of what happens when you die. Within Heathenry, there are several different afterlives, but there are also several conflicting views as to who goes to which life. Most polytheistic religions are life-affirming, so they are rooted in a this-world mentality. Heathenry is no different, as the afterlife you receive is considered to be one based entirely on the deeds you perform in this life.

The sixth field is axiology, or the study of values and ethics. It is the moral creed that underpins religion. Many polytheistic religions do not have creeds that are explicitly stated; instead, the moral codes are culturally embedded and learned through the myths themselves. Within Modern Heathenry, the moral codes are often found in the Poetic lay known as the Havamal. This is a set of maxims supposedly given by Odin himself, as the translation of Havamal is “Words of the High One.”

The seventh field is pneumatology, or the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. This deals with the types of spiritual creatures a person would be expected to encounter and/or honor. This can include the gods but is typically focused on other classes of spirits. Within Heathenry, that includes elves, wights, and trolls – Kvedulf Gunndarson has a wonderful book on the topic called “Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry” that really explores the pneumatology of Heathenry.

The eighth field is soulology, or the study of the soul or soul-complex. Soulology itself is a modern term, as the traditional word here would have been psychology. Psychology was once understood to be the study of the soul, but in its modern iteration, it is known as the study of the human psyche. These aren’t identical concepts, so it is important to differentiate them. Within Heathenry, the soul is considered a soul-complex with many parts to it. It is not unusual, in polytheistic religions, to see soul-complexes that describe five or more souls or soul parts.

The ninth field is semiotics & symbology, which is the study of signs & symbols and their interpretation and uses. Within Heathenry, there are many signs and symbols, all of which mean vastly different things. Runes are the mainstay of Heathen symbology, but there is also the Helm of Awe, Mjolnir, the Runic Compass, the Valknut, and the Irminsul (to name a few).

The tenth field is sophology, or the study of wisdom. In this sense, wisdom comes from reading the myths, applying appropriate cultural interpretations to those myths, and using the myths as guidelines for experiential living. It also requires utilizing knowledge gained from other fields of study and/or life experience and synthesizing that knowledge into a composite whole. Wisdom does not operate in a vacuum nor can it be found in a single place. Ethics are a part of wisdom, but morality changes depending on the culture. Due to its nature, wisdom is virtually impossible to pin down or describe, as it has a variety of forms. Within Heathenry, wisdom is highly valued, as Odin, the chief god of the pantheon, is a god of wisdom who always seeks more of it.

The eleventh field is sexology, or the study of sex. This includes the act of sex itself and how it was viewed, as well as gender and how that is construed within the religion. Different religions view nonbinary identities as incredibly sacred; others view them as perverse. In some religions, there are gods that require practitioners to be of one sex or another, and some practices are restricted to certain sexes. In the modern world, people often find it offensive when religious restrictions prevent them from accessing certain gods or certain rituals. Not all people need access to all things. That is why there are still closed religions, and it is important to respect the closed nature of those religions.

The twelfth field is occultology, or the study of the occult (meaning secret). Within polytheistic religions, this refers to magic derived from religious practices. Within Heathenry, there are three specific branches of magic. There is seidhr, which is a type of trance/oracular magic, traditionally only performed by women (there were and are exceptions). There is galdr, which is runic vibrational magic, that was traditionally magic done by men (again, exceptions exist). Lastly, there is spaecraft, and in today’s terms translates to herbalism and/or cunning.

The fields can, and do, overlap each other. That said, it is sometimes easier to use a narrow lens to look at a complex subject to better understand it. Though each of these fields can be used as narrow lenses to explore polytheistic religions, it is important to keep in mind that every religion is far more than the twelve fields listed here – i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am the farthest removed you can get from being a reductionist, and I highly discourage anyone from trying to use these fields in a manner that suggests that they are the only parts of a religion. They are not – these are simply the ones that I have found useful in my own studies. I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of other techniques to use to approach the study of religion. These are just the ones that I have developed for myself. If they help you, great, but do not go out and try to tell people that they are the “only way to study religion.” That is a mindset born from living in a monotheistic culture, and, if you are practicing a polytheistic religion, it is one I highly encourage you to divest yourself of as soon as possible.

Going forward, I will be examining Heathenry through these fields. Some will require more discussion than others, some will require less – in any case, it won’t be as simple as a 12-part series. Moreover, the views I express are mine alone, and they do not represent the views of the entire Heathen community.

Everyday rituals

Hindus are big on rituals. They have a tradition for every occasion in life – and I mean it! From the day of a baby’s birth, he or she will have a naming ceremony, a ceremony at one year when they get their hair shaved off – same thing again when they are three so don’t get frightened when you see little girls going around with a bald head, hopefully it’s just her ‘mundan’ been done. Then, a ritual for when they got to school, for when they start writing, for when girls get their first period (yes, really!), for first job, first car, first house; in fact for anything valuable you buy or build there’s a ritual. Then there’s life’s big milestones; birth, marriage, death… and of course all the religious festivals have their own special traditions – and these change from state to state! 

But what about day to day life? Even in India, there are days when there aren’t any festivals or religious occasions going on! (I will have to fact-check this sentence though, I am not completely sure I’m telling the truth!)

In any case, here’s how to do a basic Hindu morning and evening ritual – what I do, anyway. There are people who do less, there are people who do more. These rituals – pooja – are highly customisable so don’t feel any pressure. 

Here’s what you need on your altar:
1. A statue of the god of your choice – or anything to represent them. 
2. Candles – they can be simple tea lights or diyas. Diya is a kind of oil lamp, I make them for special occasions.
3. Incense sticks or cones
4. Some water
5. Some food offering. Make sure it’s vegetarian and hasn’t been tasted by anyone before you offer it. 
What to do:
After taking shower/bath and brushing teeth and hair in the morning you put on fresh clothes and you are ready to do pooja. It’s important to be as clean as possible, as a show of respect to the gods. It also helps you get tuned into the pooja. If you just come home from work and do it without anything beforehand, you are likely to rush it along so you can get on with other stuff. Do it when you have 10 minutes of peace for the gods. 
So now that you are ready, you go to your altar and light the candle. There are hundreds of mantras out there but I will share the two most popular ones: the Gayatri and the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. When lighting the candle people often chant the Gayatri Mantra (see below). On the candle you light your incense stick, and  do three circles around your altar with it, consecrating it and offering the fragrance to the gods. 
Now, many people use little bells to get the gods’ attention. If you have one, you could ring it while doing your rounds with the incense. Any ordinary bell will do if you like the sound of it, but traditionally it should be made of brass. Brass has a special vibration that is said to clear the mind of any other thoughts and help us concentrate on the pooja. Don’t worry if you don’t have one though. I don’t use mine because it irritates the devotion out of me. 
After the incense, you go and change the water you have on your altar. I do this daily once, in the morning. If by chance you have chosen a Shiva lingam to worship, pour some water over it to keep its energies calm. Shivlings are said to multiply whatever emotions are present in the house, and too much is not good of anything so we try and keep the lingam nice and calm by offering it water daily. You could do this to any statue, just make sure it is waterproof and you have a dish under it to catch the water. 
This is optional, I do it only on special occasions but some people do it daily: now offer the food. It can be any fruit – peal it and/or cut it like you would for children. It could be something you cooked (but don’t taste it before offering!) or a bar of chocolate. Whatever you think the gods would appreciate. Now, there is a rule at certain states of India that this offering should be vegetarian and may not contain onions or garlic. This isn’t applicable everywhere but it is good to keep in mind, just in case. Try what suits your belief and do that. 
While offering the water and food you can chant the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. If you like, you could just talk to the gods and ask them to accept your offerings, or tell them you love them and are happy to have them around… or pour your heart out to them. In my experience they love heartfelt interaction, so whatever you do, do it from the heart. 
Many people blow conch shells at the end of the pooja. It is great fun and its vibrations clear the energy in the house and blowing it is good for your organs – heart and lungs especially – so I do recommend getting one and learning how to blow it. 

When you are done with this, bow down and touch your forehead to the ground. Then put your hands together and say bye to them. You are free to go. 

A few notes more: 
Whatever you use on your altar, belongs to the altar. You don’t use the candles anywhere else, you don’t light those incenses just for the smell, and you don’t use the oil you’re making the oil lamps with for cooking. 
Food and drink offerings must be eaten or drank after the pooja. You can leave them on the altar for some time but throwing them out would be a big insult. These are called prashadam, sacred food/drink that have been blessed by the gods.
So to sum it all up, a basic pooja is:
1. Light candle (ring bell if you have one)
2. Gayatri Mantra
3. Light incense
4. Change water
5. Give food
6. Chant Maha Mrityunjaya mantra
(Blow conch if you have one)
7. Bow
Some people sing bhajans, some stay silent and meditate… there are many things you can add to your ritual. Whatever feels right, probably is. The most important thing is:

IT SHOULD COME FROM THE HEART!

Link to the Gayatri mantra.

Link to the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra.