A few days ago, my friend Lykeia posted a brief guide to setting up a Hellenic altar for the fledgeling polytheist, demonstrating how easy it can be to start practicing even for the brand new devotee on a budget. For the new heathen, whether devoted to Odin or another god in the pantheon, it's even easier: because of the simplicity of heathen ritual, we have even less essential paraphernalia for you to collect. (Which leaves more money for tattoos, valknut and Thor's hammer jewelry, and homebrewed mead!) Because people often ask me how they should start out with worshiping Odin, what offerings they should make, and what the structure of heathen ritual is, I thought it might be useful to post this beginner's guide. This will consist of a series of three posts, the first one dealing with the basic assumptions and underpinnings of Heathen ritual. More advanced readers, please keep in mind that this is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment, but a very simple and accessible starting place for beginners.
People seem to be enjoying the Odin questions that I"ve been answering here. I'm happy to keep this Q&A series going as long as folks have questions. Many of these things, while I've thought about them and internalized them, I've never actually broken down and analyzed for anyone else, so this is making me look at my experience and my practices and the way i interact with the Gods in new ways too and that's useful to praxis.
On that note, Liza asks:...
I''m so glad readers are taking the time to post or email me their questions. I enjoy writing about Odin, and each question that i've received has given me a great deal of food for thought. I like that; I like engaging with anything that makes me think. Perhaps it's an Odinic trait, hmmm?
Over on my personal blog, http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html, Visons from Afar recently asked a question that caused me to sit back and really think for quite awhile before sitting down to type this out. Visons asks about pride, and how to differentiate between good and bad pride in one's engagement with the Holy Powers and this is a good question, not only because Heathenry puts a tremendous cachet on expressing pride for one's worthy deeds, but also because this is something that I'm willing to bet most of us have wrestled with at some point or another. I'm going to take a stab at answering it here and I encourage my readers to offer your own advice and insights here as well.
Visions from Afar asks: "Where is the line between pride (we're Norse, and we're expected to have pride in accomplishments and ourselves, right?), and disrespectful arrogance/impiety? I ask because more than once He's called me "quite rude"."...
On Walpurgisnacht, May Day Eve, the special ceremony I had been planning for nearly two months, and thinking about for years, took place: Odin and I renewed our Marriage vows.
I had been thinking about doing something like this for years because when I initially married Him in December 2002, it was more of an elopement than anything else. The ritual I had been planning at that time was supposed to (or so I thought) be a simple year-and-a-day dedication to a god Whom I had (or so I thought) only recently begun working with. But I thought wrongly. That's right, folks: as much as I've written here and elsewhere about the need for careful consideration and deliberation before entering into a god-marriage, as many times as I've stressed that it is an action to be taken only after years of devotion and not entered into on impulse, this is totally a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because my own Marriage was very sudden. Or, so it seemed to me at the time. It turns out, Odin had been hanging around me my entire life in various guises: there was the episode with the Wild Hunt when I was eight, my sense that I had an invisible dark companion all through my teens, and my marriage to an “underworld spirit”, a dark, shamanic warrior king who I now know fits Odin's description to a tee, in my early twenties. There was the unexpected playing of “Ride of the Valkyries” as I started down the aisle at my wedding to my mortal ex, and the time a Ouija board spelled out “Priya” (proto-Indo-European for “beloved,” and the root on which Frigga's name is based) when I asked for a “pagan name.” So many signs and clues I've enumerated in other blog posts in various places, and yet (since I can, frankly, be a bit thick when it comes to this kind of thing) I still thought it was sudden when I impulsively called on Him in my mid-thirties and He not only answered but almost immediately said, “Come be My wife.” But it was Him, so regardless of the things that seemed to stand in the way, how could I refuse?
(Crossposted from my personal blog, Wytch of the North)
Back when I first married Odin, I did so solely because I was in love and wanted to be loved by Him. I wanted to be His wife, His helpmeet, His home, to make a home for Him in my heart and in my immediate surroundings (wherever those might be). I wanted to be His sanctuary, His refuge, to greet Him at the door with His slippers and a drink when He returned home from work, to listen attentively to the details of His day, to fix dinner for Him. In fact, all of the old-fashioned, traditional marital roles and oaths apply here: I wanted to love, honor and obey, to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board (as the medieval English version of the wedding vows puts it). Insofar as I was able to be, I wanted to be a traditional wife, Odin's little woman. Ten years later, all of the above is still true, and this is still the foundation of our relationship.
Despite being heterosexual, cisgendered, and an ultra-femme female at that, I had never before in my life had these particular wants and desires concerning any male. I certainly didn't have them when I was with my ex, who had castigated me almost daily for my lack of attention to housework, for something that was just not quite right about every meal I cooked, for the money I spent, for how I spoke to his relatives, for anything he could think of that was a fault of mine, as he saw it. I had certainly never envisioned myself being in a relationship wherein I wanted to serve a man—albeit in my case it turned out to be a Man who is not mortal, nor even remotely human. Odin can be many things to many people: Muse, Ordeal Master, Initiator into the Mysteries, Shamanic Teacher, Journey Companion, Seducer, Tormentor. He has been these things for me as well; I have walked down many dark paths with Him, my hand in His, with only His voice to guide me. Yet overwhelmingly, He has been the King—of Asgard, of the slain, of the wild spirits of the Hunt. And the path He has guided me towards, as His wife, is that of Sacred Queenship, of Royal Consort, which is, at its core, a traditionally feminine path, a path of being a helpmeet and support to my King and a resource and conduit for my people, the group of spirits that have chosen me as their queen. Along the way on this path I have been fortunate enough to gain the friendship and guidance of the group of spirits (and a few goddesses) I call the Queens, my adopted Disir, my lineage ancestors who have walked this path before me: Bestla, Frigga, Kleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Woodville, and the others whom I venerate.
However, this is my path, and as I have said, Odin can be many things to many people, as can all of the gods. I do not deny that He can have as many relationships as He pleases, nor that He can do so with people of either sex or gender identification, nor that He need only do so in male form, even; He is a god, and His limits—if He even has any, in the sense we would understand them—are vast. I don't deny anyone else—regardless of gender, gender identification, or sexual orientation--their right to their own relationship, their own journey with Him (or with other gods), their own unique path. But their paths are not mine, and I cannot speak to them, or speak for them, beyond stating that they have this right.
This past Sunday, the History Channel debuted its first scripted drama series, VIKINGS. (If you missed it, or if, like me, you don't actually have a television, iTunes had the first episode available for free, at least at the time of writing.)
VIKINGS follows the exploits of a de-mythologized Ragnar Lodbrok, a hero of Viking myths and sagas. Going by the first episode, the show hardly appears to be a straight adaptation of Ragnar's Saga; little about the show's hero remains the same as either the sagas or, as best as I can tell, the best guesses at the historical life of Ragnar. (I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's a strange choice - nobody in America except serious Viking buffs will even recognize the name, and the people who recognize it will be confused as to why the character doesn't resemble the Ragnar of the sagas. Who knows.)
In the first episode, "Rites of Passage," Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his twelve-year-old son set out to their tribe's Thing, where, after a few matters of law and punishment are settled, the tribe's leader, Jarl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) will announce their destination for the summer's raids. Haraldson announces they will strike east, into Russia, as they have for several years; unfortunately, while it is known territory, it's also a poor place to make a profit, as the Slavs aren't any richer than the Scandinavians. Ragnar, with the help of a few new technologies, believes they should strike west, instead, but Haraldson won't have any of it. In secret, Ragnar hires a half-crazed shipwright, Floki, to build him a vessel so he and a crew can go exploring, putting him into direct conflict with Haraldson, who doesn't want one of his subjects making him look weak by defying his orders....
The other day, on my own blog, I published a blueprint of what a typical weekday looks like for me, in terms of my regular devotions for my god-Husband Odin. This rundown did not include any of the little rituals I do for the other gods and spirits I deal with, nor any of the more involved things I do for Odin on special occasions, weekends, or just because I want to do something extra for Him. It was only a bare bones outline, without any details as to words said or precise gestures involved, but no sooner had I posted it than I really wished I could delete it.Why is that? I wondered (once it had been established that no deleting would be allowed). I think it's because the post at once felt so personal and at the same time didn't seem to accurately depict what my devotional time with Odin really feels like, since any type of schedule, written up like this, is going to read more or less like a "laundry list" of actions. I also doubted whether it would prove helpful to anyone else.
But then one of my friends commented that it helped her to see how a devotional life can be composed of a series of small actions which, taken together, add up over time to so much more than the sum of their parts. I think that's a really good way of expressing it. A bunch of little actions which may not seem so significant on their own—such as brewing coffee or pouring a drink, sweeping around the altar, or taking out your prayer beads on a bus ride—can, over time, feed and nourish the growth of a deep and intense connection. Devotion is the art of training the mind towards focus on the gods, and just as with athletic training, this does not happen quickly or overnight. Bearing this idea in mind, I thought a more general follow-up post, on some things to keep in mind when setting up your own "training" routine or developing it further, might be in order.
Better alive (than lifeless be):
to the quick fall aye the cattle;
the hearth burned for the happy heir –
outdoors a dead man lay.
May the halt ride a horse, and the handless be herdsman,
the deaf man may doughtily fight,
a blind man is better than a burned one, ay:
of what gain is a good man dead?
– “Havamal” 70 & 71
These words warrant our reflection. They articulate, baldy and unambiguously, the high worth placed on human life among the Norse Heathens – for these sentiments are attributed to Odin himself.
We might say that they provide strong evidence for a kind of Heathen humanism. At the very least, they suggest that in premodern times folk were hesitant to dismiss any individual’s worth out of hand....
As if seen through the wrong end of a telescope, blurred and dimmed around the edges, the darkness of December beckons as November draws to its end. For the general non-pagan public in America, December is the brightest month of the year, a gleeful blending of commercialism, family ties, and food comas. For many (if not most) pagans, it is a conundrum of sorts, a season when non-pagan family obligations directly or indirectly conflict with the allure of like-minded spiritual gatherings. Historically, for Europeans throughout the middle ages, especially in northern Europe, it was a time of gathering the family tightly together against the outer cold, of taking in travelers and guests with generosity but caution (for who knew what--or Who--might be wandering out there in the freezing gusts, hobnobbing with the trolls), for lavishly feasting the gods--pagan or Christian, depending on the time and the setting--and the dead, but at a careful distance, ever mindful that the next hand on one's doorknob might not be a human one, that the skeletal scraping against windows might not be the branches of dead trees, that the dead walk this time of year, and that things and People far more dire walk alongside them--or worse, fly through the stormy night skies--keeping careful count of debts accrued throughout the year passed, and demanding Their due.
For me, as for my spiritual ancestors, December is the darkest month of the year, with the traditional twelve days of Yule--the "smudging nights," so called in folklore because you had better be smudging your home with protective herbs against the wild spirits that roamed the long nights--beckoning at its black heart. It is the most precious month of the year for me--for it was in this month that I took sacred marriage vows to my Husband, Odin, that darkest of gods, at this darkest of times. But it is also the most dreadful month. It is a time when the air is filled with ghosts and the trolls spill upwards through the cracks in the earth, freed from their underground lairs to walk among humans.
For me it is, beyond all else, Odin's month--although that is certainly not limited to December. Although I feel and honor Him equally, yet somewhat differently, throughout the other seasons of the year, during the period of late September through the beginning of January we see His darkest face, the face of Yggr (the Terrible One) who sacrificed Himself on the World Tree, the face of Wilde Jaeger (the Wild Hunter) who rides His flame-eyed steed at the head of the Furious Host. Perhaps I am biased, but although I do have special festival days throughout the year for Him, and especially in late September through November, for me December is all about Odin, from beginning to end, even though several of the actual festival days within it are goddess-focused.
I've written before here about how, in our household, Samhain starts early. For us it begins at the end of September, during the week when we've repeatedly lost beloved pets and on the day when, two years ago, I pledged my service to the Wild Hunt. This year, that day was marked with an inadvertent bloodletting when the Hunt, not satisfied with the efforts I had made thus far on their behalf, aided me in slicing open the knuckle of my right index finger almost to the bone with a pair of sewing shears. (Followed, of course, with a expensive trip to the emergency room and several weeks of limited ability to do anything--including typing and crafting--with that hand. The Hunt does not play.)
It continued the following week when I made a trip to one of the city's oldest cemeteries (and bear in mind that here on the west coast, "oldest" means the 1800s, and the most ancient looking monuments, crumbling with apparent age, are not truly ancient at all but merely rain-damaged). I brought with me home-brewed mead and bone meal, to feed the dead, and locally harvested apples for Sleipnir, Odin's giant eight-legged steed. (Eight legs, by the way; have you ever thought about that? Why does He--the horse, that is--have eight legs? Spiders have eight legs. So does a casket, when borne aloft by four mourners. Sleipnir is, indisputably, a horse of death, a steed to carry one to the land of the dead--which, throughout the Norse myths, is exactly what He does.) I discovered an area devoted to the Civil War dead, which startled me because it seemed the wrong coast for that, but the monument statue of a soldier in uniform and the plots of the military dead exuded an aura of welcome for me, a kinship with the "once human" contingent of the Hunt, with Odin's fallen heroes. Here was succor and support, and so it was here that I marked the stones with my blood, freshly drawn from my finger (not the one with stitches!) using a lancet. (The dead were especially interested in and enthusiastic about the mead, by the way!)
It has come as a surprise to me, considering my relationship with Odin (the Wanderer and hedge-crosser extraordinaire), but I have been discovering lately that I am far more of a hearth witch than a hedge witch. Don't get me wrong; I do love wandering through the dark woods at night, threading my way through cemeteries, or exploring the Eugene wetlands. I love to explore these liminal places in a light trance state, letting the already-fragile boundaries between the worlds blur so that I can commune with the spirits there. This is part of my practice, and it always will be. (And in the case of the wetlands, I do this every morning on my walk to work, in the early hours when the human world is still barely stirring but the land wights--or land spirits--are awake and going about their day.) But at the heart of my practice, I am a Doorway for my gods and spirits, and to fulfill that function I must be anchored in this world, even as I work at blurring its edges.
I just had an entire week off from my day job, for the first time in years, and found myself spending much of it at my spinning wheel, or gathering supplies to make prayer beads, or in my kitchen learning to make salted caramels, or planning what I will need to begin producing candles and other non-yarn goodies for my Etsy shop. When given a choice between wandering outdoors and busying myself with activities at home, I nearly always choose the latter. Perhaps my physical condition pays a part in this (I have moderate to severe fibromyalgia, and at this point I still work full time so that saps a lot of my energy), but most of the time I find that I would rather be at home, tending a hearth for my gods and for the spirits I honor, rather than out in the world. My trips out in the world fortify and help to shape my hearth; they feed it and strengthen my center. In this I am like Frigga, who puts Her apron aside and rides with Her Husband in the Hunt during the dark half of the year, but the rest of the time concentrates Her efforts on creating a welcoming home for Him to return to after His wanderings.
To get back to the topic of setting up a hearth in your own home if you do not already have one, despite my previous definition of the hearth as a place of fire, there is always the option of interpreting "fire" symbolically. Along these lines, your hearth can be that place that anchors and nourishes your home, that feeds what you love most about it, the "flame" that makes your home a welcoming place. For some people, it would clearly be the kitchen table where the family gathers for dinner to share stories of their day. For some, it might be a place of literal fire, such as the woodburning stove (and do I ever wish I had one!) where herbal oils and brews are prepared.
Ear (Ground) is loathsome to all men,
yet certainly the body will be set upon there,
the corpse grows cold, the soil accepts its pale bedfellow;
leaves fall, pleasures depart, men cease to be.
- Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
I will be posting a follow-up to my thoughts on establishing a hearth, as promised, but in the meantime life has intervened and supplied a subject matter that has to take precedence, since it's all I can spare any degree of deep thought for right now. That subject, of course, is (as my title indicates) the one that naturally trumps all others: death....
Finally, autumn has come to the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. I say "finally," although summer is brief enough here and most Oregonians would probably wish for a few more weeks of it. Autumn, however, is my favorite time of year and I look forward to it year-round. The early morning crispness has changed to a genuine chill that lingers through more of the day, the acorns have started to fall and the squirrels scamper after them, eager to begin fortifying their nests against the winter. The leaves have begun to turn color and soon their branches will become a canopy of gold, scarlet and pumpkin orange. It is September, and my thoughts turn to my home, my own nest, and to what fortifications I might make now to make it a welcoming and nourishing place in the months to come.
What is the center of your home, its heart? For most Americans, the answer would probably be "the television." However, hopefully that is not the case with the average pagan, and a few of you have probably guessed where I'm going with this: in traditional European pagan cultures from Greece to Scandinavia, the center of a household was the hearth. However, there is room for a little interpretation in what constitutes the hearth for you.
One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.
Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.
The Judgement of Paris (Classical)