Usually I do major sacrifice for the Gods around the two solstices, but this year a windfall came unexpectedly into my lap: one of my colleagues had the opportunity to acquire two four-legged animals (what we tend to call sheep, goats, pigs, etc. -- any large farm animal with --you guessed it--four legs) for half the price they usually would cost. I jumped at it and arranged with that colleague--my friend A.T-- to do the actual offering.
Normally I would do my own sacrificing, but I'm recovering from a shoulder injury (which is seriously problematic when working with larger livestock) and my colleague A.T. is a *much* better sacrificial priest than I. I'm good but I have little to no rapport with animals. He has the gift of serious animal mojo. He can lull the most contentious or frightened animal to calm serenity. His ability to communicate with them is pure magic. For anything larger than a chicken, i am more than happy to cede to him the role of knife-carrier. It's more important to me that the animal not suffer, that the sacrifice be done cleanly, respectfully, and with all necessary protocol than that *I* be the one doing it. A.T. graciously agreed to do both sacrifices asking only that I provide the appropriate prayers and ritual structure, which I gladly did.
So over the past two days, House Sankofa gave one animal to Odin (it was sacrificed Wednesday night with all appropriate prayers and ritual, butchered properly and some of the meat given to the one on whose property the rite occurred. Usually He gets full immolation and nothing is shared, but He didn't require that this time) and today one animal was give to Dionysos.
Both rituals went beautifully (in fact, the one to Odin proceeded with what A.T. termed "almost mathematical efficiency") and the little four legged given to Dionysos today, all on his own accord, decided to nosh on a grape vine on the way to being sacrificed. I took this as a rather good omen given that he was being given to the God of the vine.
Sacrifice is important. It's one of the holiest and most sacred of our rituals. When we engage in sacrifice for our Gods, we are entering into the flow of a very ancient, very, very profound contract We are entering into something tremendously powerful, something that reaches to the very core of our traditions. This is what brings renewal. This is what brings grace and blessing to the community. This is one of the things that nourishes our Gods and in turn nourishes us. It completes a sacred cycle and there is very little if anything that may serve as a truly adequate substitute.
For this reason, I give thanks for those clergy, of all our various traditions who have dedicated themselves to the task of learning and restoring these rituals and protocols. I give thanks to the Gods and ancestors for those who teach and those who do, for those who take up the knife so that our Gods may have the offerings best suited to Their glory. I give thanks for our sacrificial priests (and yes, I am one, but I give thanks to those who taught me, to those from whom I continue to learn, and to the Gods for Their continued patience). I give thanks to the farmers who provide the feast for the Powers. I give thanks to the fire that carries the fullness of the sacrifice away via immolation and I give thanks to those who dress and prepare the sacrifices for feasting, when that is appropriate. I give thanks to the knife and the ones who craft it. I give thanks for the animals and I give thanks for the land that catches the blood as it is spilled. These things are sacred. The hands of the sacrificial priest are sacred, and the process and cycle itself. For these things, I am grateful. I know how they nourish wyrd. I know what it means to restore these rites after two thousand years of our ritual places lying fallow.
So yesterday and today were good days. They were blessed days and that is my wish: that Odin and Dionysos may each be pleased, each be nourished, each be reverenced and that through the process of sacrifice and veneration, Their blessings may flow.
I have been meaning to write up a recap of our most recent ritual, but I'm afraid it was so incredibly intense for me personally, that I haven't had the brain power to force the experience into the linear cage of words. I held the space so that others could throw themselves completely into His energy, and I was able to taste that Bacchic frenzy myself and honor Him with chant, dance, drumming, and raw abandon. Best of all, Dionysos was present and it was amazing, awe-inspiring, and an incredible celebration all around.
Fortunately, House Sankofa is full of incredibly talented people - far more talented than I--and incredibly devotionally aware people. One of our number, Langston K. graciously gave me permission to share his account of the ritual, which you can read below. Thank you, Langston.
He is great this God, Who comes with the scent of wine, and mad, laughing frenzy, Who guards all wild things well, and welcomes the stranger as cherished guest. Hail Dionysos. Praise Him.
We started out busily making greek alphabet divination tools, then Sannion taught us all 3 systems of divination, one with dice that used lines from the homeric hymns, one with 3 coins that drew on the wisdom of Hermes and one with the greek alphabet where you drew one letter, often to seal a reading. He also gave each of us readings to demonstrate the systems as well as demonstrating his own exquisite Oracle of the Leaves. (We often have useful workshops before or after House events. --GK).
He once gave me a very valuable dream interpretation using this Oracle and it's always a privilege to watch him divine with it. In Ecstatic, Sannion writes, "…there is a great density of meaning behind each of the leaves, things only that a devout Dionysian who has worked very closely with the god for a great length of time and is well versed in his myths and lore could ever fully hope to comprehend." It's hard for me to put into words, but watching Sannion divine with this tool is to simultaneously get a glimpse into the depth of his cosmology as well as getting a glimpse of your life through the eyes of Dionysus. You come away not just with insight into your current situation, but also with a new story, a mythic framework for your life. I guess this is what all good diviner's do to an extent, give their clients a new story, but the poetry and myths and history of Dionysus and Friends™ that Sannion has woven together are so rich they take it to another level.
Shortly after the divination class, I noticed that I was feeling Dionysus' energy intensely in the house. It was an odd feeling for me, because it was familiar, but I had changed so much since I last experienced it. Unconsciously, I had a fear of this energy because in the past I would resist until it built up and burst through me overtaking me which usually led to a string of bad decisions, but this time I felt it coursing through me gradually and was able to choose to step into the flow. I experienced it, perhaps for the first time, as wholly a blessing. It's hard to describe (that's what poetry is for I guess) but it was a feeling of simultaneous mischief and darkness, sensuality, good humor, relaxation, virility and a total lack of self consciousness. I guess really what I'm describing is intoxication.
We purified with kernips (water that had burning bay leaves doused in it) and then in usual House Sankofa fashion Galina sang a powerful fire blessing. One guest commented that he had never felt a space purification work so quickly and completely before. This is where it gets harder to track for me.
I remember ringing a bell 9 times to start the ritual for Dionysus, invoking Hermes and pouring out libations to him. I remember libations were poured by J for the Dionysian Dead, for Spider and of course for Dionysus. C gave a fantastic reading of an invocation to Spider. We donned masks and His dead were honored with dancing, drumming, chanting, singing and prayers. We each drew the names of martyrs of Dionysus to pay cultus to for the month of October. I pulled Skyles who was beheaded by his own people for adopting the Raving God as his own. Then, we toasted Dionysus, hailing his many guises and drinking wine with each hail. We read an incredible prayer written for Dionysus by E as well as the gorgeous communal House Sankofa hymn to Dionysus and Dionysus' portion of the ritual began. We drummed and stamped and danced furiously, instruments breaking open. We ululated and screamed and prayed. I read a prose poem I had written for Dionysus and tears streamed down my face as I felt His love pour through me. Here's a small excerpt:
"Dionysus demands touch. The God who Comes. The God Who Connects. The God Who Leads the stars in their dance. Iakhos! How would Dionysus deal with this isolation, disconnection, living in artificial space and time, angel headed hipsters with their fires gone cold not burning for anything anymore.
He would join people's hands. He would demand a band of maenads be formed. He would demand we voyage to the forest and light a fire. Feel the cold earth, eat grapes and honey and delicious breads soaked in the finest of olive oil and we eat only from the fingers of others. Massage and stretch and care for our bodies. Share stories that make us laugh and cry and hold each other weeping and laughing until we aren't sure which is which there would be love and sex and violence-- Pinatasas. And bold declarations and manifestos and art making. Io Dionysus. Io Evohe.
What would he tell those hipsters? look at your brothers and sisters. In times past my children have hidden, only free to dance on mountain tops, but look at you, gathering with the ease of a text and yet you are all so unhappy and fearful? Why? You carry the persecutor within you. Drop him. Drop your mask of cool casual numbness and don the mask of naked mad ecstasy, the mask of satyrs and maenads unabashed of their thirst for cock and cunt and everything in between full of the hunger that must be satisfied immediately. And they do. Tearing and ripping and grabbing and dancing and leaping. Join them my secret children, secret no longer. Look your brothers and sisters in the eye and say I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you. Say Im afraid. I don't know what my hands might do you're so beautiful drink with me and dance. Taste my lips first and my words later. Annihilate yourself in me if only for a moment. The annihilation of union, drink from it deep and escape the labyrinth."
More prayers were said, hearts bared, much laughter and seething and more screaming. Sannion and I read from Arthur Evans' translation of the Bacchae, the scene where Dionysus first convinces Pentheus the only way for him to come out on top is to dress up in women's clothing and spy on the maenads. Sannion of course, was Dionysus. Galina led us in a wild howling hymn to Him.
At some point Dionysus seated himself fully in Sannion. (Dionysos seated Himself during the howling hymn and stalked through the gathered people for some time, encouraging their frenzy. --GK) The ritual ended and He went out onto the porch where people received guidance from him. I usually am incredibly cautious and particular about what I eat, but after the ritual I was ravenous and devoured without thought the delicious food that Galina and House member G. made for us, a roast turkey and a mung bean salad with bacon, His undiscerning ravenous hunger and delight in the sensual was still with me.
Still whirling, I ran down to the river and sang all the water songs I knew. A huge golden carp the size of my arm swam over to me and slowly moved in circles through the water as I sang.
I went back into the house and lay down, the room spinning even though I hadn't had very much to drink and it had been hours since my last drink.
Thank you, Langston. Hail Dionysos indeed! The next day, I realized that we had gone through, during the course of the ritual, four *cases* of wine. No one was drunk after the ritual. No one was hung over. Dionysos took it all for us.
A few things I wish to note:
* E. and G. set up a gorgeous altar for us.
*G. cooked a whole turkey for the after ritual pot-luck.
* E.P. sent us a Dionysos painting from the Uk and it arrived the morning of the ritual to be used in the rite.
* I also painted an icon, the first representational Deity image I have ever painted that was used in the rite.
*the House graciously cleaned up everything a couple of hours after the ritual while I was tending to Sannion. That intense work is difficult and the one who carries the Deity is quite often laid out for at least a day.
*there was sharing and laughter and so much devotional joy.
*E. sent in a prayer, and so did S. the latter of which formed the basis for the howling hymn, the former of which reduced many of us to tears. K.C. sent in a lovely prayer that closed out the communal hymn.
*C. and J. stepped up to take parts in the ritual without prior preparation and did beautiful jobs.
*Langston and our visitor K. held and carried Dionysos' energy beautifully.
It was an amazing day of celebration. Thank you all.
My newest "Heathen Heretic" post is now available. In it I answer another reader's question on devotion.
this is part of my devotion 101 series that I"m running. If you have any questions, no matter how basic about devotion or polytheism, send them to me and I will add them to my queue of questions currently accrued and answer one or two each week until I've answered them all. Anyway, check out my article here.
My newest "Heathen Heretic" column is now available here. In it, I make good on my promise to answer reader questions about devotion, devotional work, and polytheism. Keep those questions coming, folks.
(This is one of my photos of the Hudson Valley from Boscobel. West Point is to the far right of the photo nestled in the mountain.)
In response to this post here: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/08/08/polytheism-without-borders/
, and as a result of several recent conversations that I've been having with various folks, I've decided that once a week (provided I get enough questions), I"ll be posting a 'Devotion 101' series at my Heathen Heretic
blog. What does this mean?
Well, I will answer questions, no matter how simple they may be, on devotion: how to do it, why we do it, how to get started. Readers can ask me "am i doing X right?" or "how can I honor Deity X better' and I'll do my best to answer. So long as I get questions from people, I'll keep this series running, maybe not every week (my academic term is starting soon after all) but as close to it as possible.
It's become glaringly apparent recently that people are hungry for basic knowledge. One of the things that a good priest, a good spiritworker can be is a resource for this type of thing. So ask away. Post your questions here or send to krasskova at gmail.com and I'll do my best to answer them.
Be well, folks.
I belong to a savage God. i don't think anyone Who has had any in depth experiences with Odin would argue with me on that count. Even those who merely know HIs nature from reading the lore, often know enough to understand that He is ruthless and capable of great savagery in His causes. I don't think anyone would question that.
This morning, Sannion posted an article about Dionysos as savage God, the impossibility of fully knowing a God, and the inadvisability of trying to fit Them into narrow mental boxes:
When I read this, I was struck that anyone would question whether or not Dionysos could be savage or militarily adept. I'm not a Dionysian, but I am training as a Classicist and while, as Sannion notes, one ought not depend on single sources, for me reading "the Bakchai" in the original Greek was the alpha and the omega for things Dionysian. If i ever questioned whether or not Dionysos had the potential to terrify, to dominate, to bring the scent of tremendous (justified, i might add too) violence, this play -- a mystery play if ever there was one---put those questions to rest.
One passage stands out for me particularly, a section of the opening wherein Dionysos says that first He is going to come to Thebes (where a mad and impious king, Pentheus, rules and where those who honor Dionysos are persecuted) and show the people there that He is indeed a God, but then He adds:
ἢν δὲ Θηβαίων πόλις ὀργῇ σὺν ὅπλοις ἐξ ὄρους βάκχας ἄγειν ζητῇ, ξυνάψω μαινάσι στρατηλατῶν.
(but if the city of Thebes should, in anger, seek to drive my Bacchae out of the mountains by force of arms, I shall rise up against them, a general at the head of my army--literally "being a general with His army of maenads"). Eur. "Bakchai" lines 50-52.
Later in the play, we see Dionysos take a swift, cunning, and bloody (very bloody) vengeance on Pentheus. I look at this, as someone belonging to Odin, and three things stand out:
1. The God in this play refers to Himself as a general. Euripides was the product of His culture, a culture in which Dionysos was venerated. He didn't pull this attribute out of thin air. I don't know, maybe it's simply that belonging to Odin as I do, I know the scent and smell of savagery when it shows its face in Divine guise. I can smell a God drenched in blood and wine and recognize what that scent means. But I digress...
2. No God Who has the power to bring that much bloodshed, lacks comprehension of the arts of war. I'm going out on a limb here, but the level of violence, the associations in other sources with Maenads being given the strength to drive back soldiers in battle (it happens in "The Bakchai" too, where their ivy wrapped wands turn to spears), where they are blessed with frenzied passion and violence…these things are kin to that which is found in battle. Do moderns dismiss His battle-face because His army is one of women? that would be stupid, people, really, really stupid. READ "The Bakchai" again and pay attention to what some of those enchanted women can do. Also, I think we need to be very careful not to project our modern ethical sensibilities onto the Powers. Just as They cannot and will not be bound by our limited and narrow preconceptions, so too They may not choose to be bound by the narrowness of our ethics, particularly our knee jerk unexamined ethics. Gods like this are Gods that carry within Themselves the fullness of every possible hunger and passion, not just those with which we moderns are comfortable. It is not for us to dictate which ought to be given expression.
3. most importantly, I believe we can tell much about the nature of a God by the gifts that God bestows on His or Her devotees. Look at the Maenads and tell me Dionysos isn't a God of violence. Just look. Go. read a book, read a classical source and think about it.
I note this, because I occasionally do see the same type of thing coming up with Odin. A couple of years ago I was castigated by a fellow spirit worker for calling Odin the God of the ordeal (because you know, hanging oneself in a tree, plucking out an eye, getting strung up between who raging fires, gender-play, and all the other things Odin habitually does couldn't possibly be ordeal, it couldn't possibly have meaning). I was accused of calling Him a sadist and psychopath, I suspect because the idea of ordeal was deeply triggering to the person in question.
Then of course, there was the fact that He wasn't coming to this person in that guise. Newsflash folks: just because a Deity doesn't behave in a specific way with you, does not mean that He or She treats all supplicants and devotees the same way. They are *individuals* as are we. There are no cookie-cutter templates here. More to the point though, i think that in acknowledging Odin as a ruthless, vicious, savage God, a God of the ordeal, a God who would embrace sadism without a second thought if it brought Him closer to what He wanted, if it furthered His agenda was a terrifying thought for spiritworker X. It should be. It doesn't fill the heart with warm fuzzies. Why? Because if Odin is showing those parts of His nature to me, if He is demanding ordeal of me, when at one point our (mine and spiritworker X's) experiences of the Old Man were very similar, then what's to stop Him from suddenly turning around to her and showing that face as well? What's to stop Him from suddenly demanding that which she was afraid to give (the answer, by the way, is not a damned thing except Odin Himself)?
Our gods can't BE that. They can't be cruel. They can't be mean. They can't be harsh, or brutal or savage. They can't demand things of us. They can't violate consent. Those things frighten us, they terrify us and they should because oh indeed the Gods can be all of those things and more. It's easy to ignore …until you have living examples of spirit workers who embody this truism walking around right in front of your eyes, "flaunting" it in ways that can't be easily hidden or dismissed.
In "the Bakchai," Dionysos is a dread and savage God. He is not so, however, without provocation and justification. There are reasons for the extremity of His anger. He does not unleash Himself until Pentheus has been given multiple opportunities to adjust himself and his attitudes. It is only when the women who belong to Dionysos are threatened, and His mother's name impugned, that He goes on the warpath. For me, upon first reading, the whole play was a charge against impiety.
Likewise, i would say that Odin is not a cruel and savage God without reason. When He chooses to show those sides of Himself --and make no mistake, they do exist--there are reasons. Those reasons may be His alone to know but they are there. There is nothing arbitrary about it.
still, it's frightening. It drives home how little control we have over the experience of the Gods when we actually engage. Liberation and freedom seem to always be frightening--why so few people seek them out, i suspect. Falling into Gods like Odin, and like Dionysos too I would posit (though I am hesitant to speak for one owned by Him) carries with it the potential for finding those elements of the Gods' nature in ourselves, for becoming in however small or large a way, transformed by Them, by the contact, transformed into becoming a bit more like Them in outlook…i've seen it happen with spiritworkers. It happened with me. And then it's possible to see in our Gods aspects of Being that terrify us to our core, that make us question everything we've been taught to view as 'good,' to drive home that in the Presence of the Holy there is no safety here.
What it should also bring home is the need to question the paradigms with which we've been raised. Rather than wailing and thrashing and calling on the power of lore to compel you, instead of denying that these dangerous elements exist in our Gods, maybe we should instead ask why they exist and what that means for us as devotees. Maybe we should ask how we can better and more productively embody everything our Gods bring to the devotional table, not just those aspects that comfort us, or with which we are content. Maybe we should stop trying to define our Gods and what They can do, and how They can be and instead throw ourselves into honoring Them. Maybe we should gnaw on the fear and the terror They bring and let it eat us up. Maybe we should remember that these Beings are *Gods*.
I'll tell you something too: i'm glad Odin has those sides to His nature. It means there is nothing in me that I need fear to acknowledge in His presence. There is no part of me that is too intense, too harsh, too awkward, too violent, too passionate, too…anything that I need feel shame over it in His presence. It frees me to stand in a place of tremendous openness, tremendous vulnerability, tremendous liberation. I am grateful that my God has these dark and bloody complexities about His nature. In the microcosm of my heart, I do too. It is yet another thing we share and in the end, that doesn't terrify so much at all. It brings spice. Edit: Sannion has written a follow up post here: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/03/11/the-inability-to-accept-savage-and-wrathful-gods/ that is pure brilliance.
Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.
I have noticed an alarming trend in certain devotional communities and certainly amongst up and coming spirit-workers of late. Oh I suspect it's probably been an issue for awhile, but from my perspective it's now reaching such a critical mass that I and other spirit-workers are slowly being pushed to address it. I've watched this become more and more of an issue over the past few years and I just shake my head in utter incomprehension. What is this issue? It's the overwhelming need I see in so many spirit workers coming into the work now for external (and ongoing) validation. It's the constant attention seeking. It's the endless quest for a pat on the head.
Firstly, go and read this article by Sannion: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/02/11/you-do-not-need-external-validation/. He lays it out for the reader. There is no way one can constantly give a god damn about external validation and still live a life of anything approaching integrity, and that goes a thousand times more for spiritual work. Go. Read his article. I"ll wait.
Have you read it? Good, let's continue. While that article about sums it up I'm going to add my two cents too, because I've been really concerned about this of late. Spiritual work is hard. it's the hardest thing that a person will ever commit to doing. It's ongoing too from the moment we're born, the only choice we have is how well we choose to step up and actively, consciously, willingly engage. Doing that takes courage. It takes sacrifice; and sometimes it takes some very hard, frighteningly hard choices. I have had to do things, say things, stand up and buck the herd for Odin, for my Gods, in order to remain in right service to Them that terrified me at the time. Hell, it happened quite recently with a task that I was set by Odin. But you know what? I'm still here. The world didn't end. The work went on and so did I. Even when I've had to pick myself up after making an error, the world didn't cease to be. So I know how agonizing some of what the Gods ask can be and how terrifying.
What I don't know is what it's like to be A) bereft of a sense of Their presence, B) head-blind, and C) lacking warrior medicine/orientation. I fully admit, when I slip into the headspace of a priest instead of a cranky spirit-worker, that having a constant sense of Them makes it easier to know if I'm on the right track. Likewise being strongly psi-gifted. Having a shit-ton of warrior medicine makes me able to stand my ground, hold a line, and maintain my duty regardless of how I might feel about it. Those things have really served me well. But, they're also why ten years ago, for a solid year, Odin blocked me from any sense whatsoever of His presence. That was the most horrific year of my life. It wasn't until i was over and I was given to know why it was necessary (even the constant validation of presence is validation and we need to be sure and committed to our path, to walk in way that nourishes our faith rather than dependent on *any* external "you did good, honey" pat on the head. Otherwise, it's not devotion, it's sycophancy; and you know what? The Gods don't want sycophants). Every so often I think though, about what it was like to do the work (because while He may have blinded me to His presence, the work and personal spiritual challenges didn't stop-- in fact, they increased) without that sense of completion deep in my heart. I thought about the grief, the constant aching hunger for some type of connection --anything, the barest wisp--the guilt (what did i do wrong?), and the confusion. This was all with me still being able to sense other Deities, and still being able to divine (so long as I didn't ask anything about my own situation). I am not completely blind to the fear and the sense of desolation that is so often a part of finding one's footing in this work. No one starts out with a fully open set of gifts and talents. We earn them. We develop them. Sometimes we suffer for them. That's part of the work too.
Even for the best spirit workers and devotees out there, there will be fallow periods. There are times where one is just not feeling as deeply connected. There are times, where the Gods and spirits seem very far away. There are times where you have no sense of internal 'course correction' when the question arises "am I doing this right?" Christian mystics referred to this as the 'dark night of the soul' and mystical tradition considers it an essential part of any authentic spiritual crafting (a word i like ever so much better than 'seeking', because this is our life's masterwork, whether one is a spirit worker, a mystic or just a regular joe trying to get by). Having period of disconnection, having a fallow time does not mean you did anything wrong. It is a normal part of the spiritual cycle. I've often found that it means you've done quite a bit right and your spirit is in the process of integrating all the changes, epiphanies, and effects contact with (hell, even plain old seeking) the sacred brings.
How can you ever find your way, or center yourself fully in the road of devotion if you're endlessly willing to change your path on the whim of a random person's say so? How an there ever be integrity in what you do if you're constantly worried about how others are going to respond? I come from a tradition that puts great stock in elders and having elders as maintainers of the lineage, guardians of the tradition. This is well and good and, I believe, necessary. Certainly none of us is evolving and working in a vacuum. We're interconnected whether we want to be or not. We can draw great nourishment from one another --one of the reasons I like talking to colleagues and friends, and other spirit workers and devotees. There are times where it is right and proper, in moments of spiritual crisis, to go to one's elders to get oneself sorted out. That is a far different cry from posting on tumblr after every meditation "I got this when I prayed. Is it right? Does Loki like me? am i doing this right? huh? huh? huh? huh? " just stop it. For fuck sake, stop. Are you doing this out of love of the Gods and a desire to serve or are you doing this because you want to be part of what you think is some cool club?" Just. Stop. Spirituality makes a really bad hobby.
Furthermore, if your Gods and ancestors are satisfied with your work, then my opinion "don't mean a thing." If they're not satisfied, then I can be telling you you're doing everything fine and that also doesn't mean anything. In fact, I"d be wrong and I"d be responsible on a wyrd level for potentially causing spiritual harm. If you can't figure out if your Gods and ancestors are satisfied, then maybe consult a diviner but do so to find out what you must do and do so asking also how you can learn to communicate with Them better. You don't have to be highly psi-gifted to do this work. The work will teach you how to do it and the results will, in time, be apparent. You will gain a sense of whether or not you are in right relationship with your Powers. You'll gain a sense of when you need a 'course correct.' You'll also learn when it's time to consult an elder or diviner. Part of this means developing a backbone.
I began this article with a quote by Clemetine Paddleford. It's something that I actually learned at my adopted mother's knee. She used to keep a copy of this saying--written in her extraordinary calligraphy, which I might add, was her every day handwriting---hanging in her home. She would refer to it often, and it proved inspiring. She lived it's message too every day of her life. Anyone wanting to do this work well, should take note. There's a reason that the first precept at the oracle of Delphi was 'know thyself.' There's no getting around this requirement. Know yourself and who the Gods and ancestors want you to be. Know who you want to be…not who your friends, parents, neighbors, or boyfriend might want you to be. For Gods' sake, give over the need to have everyone like you. Spiritual work isn't a social event. When those of us doing this work come together as colleagues, it's to share knowledge, exchange ideas, to enjoy the company of others who walk similar roads, who have been taken up by Gods and spirits and in so many ineffable (and some quite obvious) ways been rendered "other" in the sad and disjointed world in which we live, a world many of us have been tasked with transforming. We're not coming together to be told we're doing it right.
Recently I was reading a book on women in business. It was mildly interesting but what struck me was a comment the author made about those just entering the workforce (Gen-Y? i can never keep them straight). She commented that this generation has been used to getting a lot of attention from adults, and they don't really grasp necessary hierarchies or the need for hard, solitary work so well so they can make faux pas in interviewing situations that take them right out of the running. Putting all the interview advice aside as irrelevant here, I was struck by the generational comment because I do think that's a large part of what we're dealing with in the community. I see this predominantly with younger spirit workers and devotees…those just reaching adulthood, or in their early to mid twenties. I"m not saying us older folk can't have the same type of nonsense going on, but I've mostly seen it with twenty-somethings. I believe that at least a large part of this is a generational thing. A lot of attention from adults means a lot of constant feedback and external validation. Add that to a generation that went through a school system that tended to give kids a prize just for showing up (forget about excellence), and who have been raised so coddled and medicated as to have the emotional resiliency of soap bubbles and you have a generation ripe for disaster. There's a learning curve, and for y'all, it can be a big one. Good. Challenges met make success all the sweeter. Learning to forego external validation and attention is a good first offering and challenge, one that will put you in good stead throughout the rest of your spiritual life…i.e. your life.
I also think the fact that most of us are converts to polytheism is coming into play. There's a certain psychology of conversion: one converts and then, in a need to distance him or herself from the birth faith, tries to be "more Pagan than other Pagans". While i'm not seeing that so much here (though I do see a pathetic amount of attempted one-upmanship) what can also happen is a really desperate need to make sure one is doing it 'right.' Monotheism teaches one to look for validation in a book or from a priest, or in gospel or orthodoxy…all external sources. So we default to what is known. Then part of me, a very cynical part, thinks that sometimes the person constantly seeking attention and validation really just wants to foist responsibility for his or her own spiritual life off on someone else. After all, if you don't have to make any choices, if you don't have to live with occasionally making the wrong choices and then having to go back and make it right (or live with the consequences) then it's not so bad after all, is it? Problem is, it doesn't work that way and trying to dump your spiritual shit on random spirit workers really pisses us off. I'll go to the wall for someone working as hard as he or she can to get right with the Gods and ancestors. No matter how hard that person struggles or screws up, I'll go to the wall for him or her. Many spirit workers I know feel the same. Working hard and still dropping a few balls is a far cry from abrogating all responsibility for one's spiritual life into one big "just tell me i'm doing good."
We must be bold in loving our Gods. Sufi mystic Rumi once wrote that 'love comes with a knife, not some shy question.' That is devotion. That is what falling headfirst into the sacred brings and when it does, it changes everything. First though, there must be courage and a willingness to throw oneself headlong into that abyss. Don't worry, the Gods and ancestors will catch you; and if they don't, it's not such a bad way to go after all.
Just for Gods sake, don't post about it on tumblr.
Saturday is weird. It's the one day wherein the name that's come down to us pulls not from Heathen traditions but from Rome. Saturday really means Saturn's Day and obviously Saturn was not a Norse Deity! To the Norse tribes, as far as I've been able to tell, Saturday was a day for cleaning. Specifically, it was a day to do your laundry and take a bath. This amuses me. It didn't amuse Viking age Christians though. Complaints have come down to us from Viking Age English chronicles of Christians whining that the Vikings got all the ladies---because they bathed once a week, combed their hair, and washed their clothes. Heaven forfend!
Rest assured, I bathe everyday not just on Saturday. LOL. Instead, I use Saturday partly to clean my altars and shrines. When you have a lot of them it's painfully easy to let them go a bit too long between cleanings. I make it a point to clean at least five or six of them each Saturday and then I just rotate out Saturday by Saturday until they're all clean. Then the cycle starts again.
I also use Saturday as a day specifically to honor Loki and Sigyn. Long ago when I started following this weekly cycle of offerings, I decided that since Saturday was a 'free' day insofar as offerings went, I was free to ascribe it to any Deity I wanted. It made sense to me, since I love Them dearly, to add Loki and Sigyn to my weekly rotation. Besides, the grace notes of domesticity are something that I very strongly associate with Sigyn. She knows how to maintain a space, how to keep it so clean that nothing negative or malignant can find any purchase at all. On a spiritual level, being clean in one's motivations and free of miasma are essential qualities.
So on Saturdays, I pour out offerings to Sigyn and Her Husband. I maintain several shrines to Them both in my home: the first is downstairs in my foyer, just as one enters my home and this is where I leave offerings to Them. This a shared shrine: both Loki and Sigyn have Their space there and there's a framed image of Them plus Their sons Narvi and Vali hanging right above -- an icon created by artist Grace Palmer that hung over my adopted mom's altar for several years. I leave glasses of wine, whiskey, and often milk and bread for Sigyn. If i have any chocolate or candy in the House, I'll usually give some of that as well. I put out offerings to these two Deities quite frequently, not just on Saturdays because I have an ongoing devotional practice to both of Them, but even so I make it a special point to put offerings out on Saturdays too, regardless of what I have given Them the rest of the week.
i like that there is a day worked into the Norse week devoted to cleansing. Of course we want to be clean physically but it's also fundamental on an energetic and spiritual level. it's important. It sets the stage for doing authentic work with integrity. That's no small thing.
Goddess of the Staying Power.
Goddess of small things
that in the end aren't so small.
Help me to love You
rightly and well.
Help me to be clean
in my work.
Husband of Sigyn.
Let me never lose sight
of the joy that can be found
in the intricacies
Hail Loki, Hail Sigyn.
My Lithuanian ancestors honored fire. They revered it, sacrificed to it, crafted rituals both of breathtaking beauty and enduring practicality around it. For generations upon generations the women in my paternal line served fire, maintaining its integrity in their homes, celebrating its holy power in community rites. They knew it was alive. They knew it was holy. They were its clergy.
I don't have much connection with the Gods of my father's line. I have been called elsewhere, to other Gods. I don't practice any of the rituals of Romuva, for all that I am half Lithuanian. I have been given other ceremonies. I do, however, reverence fire. It speaks to me. It spoke for me. I am nourished by its voice. Over the past few years as I've learned more and more about my ancestors' connections to this Elemental Power, I've slowly started taking upon myself the obligations and service of those ancestral fire-tenders, those priestesses whose people were the last in Europe to bend their necks to the yoke of Christianity and some of the first to shake it off.
I am a fire-worker, a fire-priest. Those words sound strange in my mouth when I speak them aloud, yet strangely satisfying like the savor of fine whiskey on the palate or (and oh, i wish you could see me smiling) the warmth of a well-made hearth fire on a cold, stormy, winter's night. Fire calls to me and I have answered and I feel in the marrow of my bones, the core of my being, that my ancestors rejoice.
So I share this with you, as we approach Samhain, as I'm sitting here (when I should be doing Greek translation homework) wondering if Hurricane Sandy will cause schools to be closed on Monday, and thinking about my dead and how tremendously happy I am, and tremendously grateful to have been taught how to consciously nourish my connection to them. It is amazing the places they can lead one, and the mysteries and wisdoms they can share. Nothing is ever truly lost. I remind myself of that as I contemplate this process of restoration in which so many of us are engaged. Our ancestors are such an important piece of that restoration. They're more important than any lore. They're more important than any ritual. They are the caretakers of the very practices we're seeking to restore. They lived them, they faced down worse things than slander and back biting, worse things than being tired or having too much work, and you know what else, they know things. Sometimes, if we are very diligent, if we come to them consistently and well, they'll share some of what they know and oh, the results are joyous.
So I praise the blessings of fire. I pour out offerings. I tend it with food and drink, and a happy heart…this is a mystery restored, a blessing given. Fire is magnanimous. It is right to greet it with celebration. It is right to lay offerings at its crimson crackling feet. It's a dance my ancestors knew well and I am happy to learn--with whatever fumbling grace I may possess--those self-same steps anew.
Hail to the ancestors: my own, and to those of my readers. May we learn, dear Gods may we always learn and may we find joy in the connection and the process. Hail to our dead, and hail to fire.
Well, y'all knew this was coming. Since i dedicated the month of July to daily devotions for Loki, it's only right and fitting that I give November to the God I love above all others: Odin.
So, for the month of November, I'll be running an 'Odin project.' Just like with the Loki Project, I encourage folks to send me prayers, poems, articles, etc. to post (I will properly credit everything) and I'll be doing my absolute best to post something for the Old Man every day, starting Nov. 1.
This will be a particular satisfying and fitting lead up to Yule and the Days (and Nights) when the Hunt is especially said to ride at His command. May Odin be hailed, now and always, and may we rejoice in His presence during the season most especially His.