I was talking about wine the other night, and spirits of the land, and the many different ways of rooting oneself in an awareness of all the indwelling spirits of the places in which we live and move and I remembered something I learned a very long time ago.
I'm a bit of a wine snob. I was taught by my adopted mother, for whom wine was one of life's sweetest pleasures. She had a very discerning palate, and with her training, i developed a palate that, had I chosen to pursue it, would have enabled me to take a sommelier's training. This was one of the grace-notes of Midgard, a pleasure we both shared.
Until she came into my life I'd never liked wine. I hadn't been exposed to much and didn't realize that a palate is something that must be cultivated, and that as it was cultivated it would expand and perception would deepen and a whole new world of taste and flavor, aroma, and insight would open up. When I asked my mom to teach me about wine, she took to the task with a vengeance. Over the years that we were together, she gleefully exposed me to some of the best wines in the world. It was, at first, an uphill battle! I have a sweet tooth and at first, that carried over to a dismaying degree into my choice of wines. I found anything not cloyingly sweet too bitter. So she solved this by starting with the best dessert wine she knew and very slowly and very, very patiently, moving my palate away from the sweet. My taste for reds and whites opened up at different times. The latter came first and took about a year to develop. I can still remember with vivid clarity that day, many years ago, when my palate burst open to white wine. I was sitting in Tour D'Argent, overlooking Paris and drinking a glorious, absolutely glorious 1999 Puligny Montrachet. All of a sudden my taste buds were flooded with multiple notes of flavor. I remember losing myself in a complex, multi-layered smokiness that seduced the tongue and nose, unlike anything i'd ever tasted before. To this day my favorite white wines are still the ones that are rich and smoky. It took another year and a half or so for my palate to open to red wines. That was less dramatic and while I know I was in Italy (probably Rome), drinking a lot of Amarone, I can't name the exact time or place of that particular epiphany. With the opening of my palate came a growing sense of the spirit of the vine as well and I began to develop an alliance with him. My explorations of wine were grounded not only in deep and deeply sensual delight but also immense respect.
So my mom took me to Switzerland once, wanting to show me all the places that had formed the warp and weft of her world, all the places she loved. We were traveling through a small village near Montreux and stopped for lunch. The restaurant wherein we were eating offered only local wines, grown within a few miles of where we sat. these wines are, for the most part, not distributed broadly and are sold only in the immediate areas. Before I could venture an opinion, my mom cautioned me against turning up my nose up at local varietals. She told me that the spirit, wisdom, and medicine of the land upon which we stood was contained in those wines. It was a distillation of the "ashe" of the land spirit itself, and contained trace memories of everything that had ever happened in those places. It's a connection, on a very deep level, to the power of the land itself, a very particular plot of soil. It's a means, a very sacred and holy means of absorbing the power of that land spirit --freely given--into oneself. To taste the wine was to taste the land upon which it was grown. (She also had much to say about why a wine tastes better in its native locale than after it's been loaded with sulfites, agitated, and shipped to the US, but that's another tale in and of itself).
She was right of course and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this holds true for every bite of food or drop of drink we put into our mouths. For this reason if no other, homage should be given to the spirits of the land, the soil, the tilled earth, the mulch, the water table, and the entire ecosystem in which our nourishment was born. As the land is nourished so are we.
think about that: as the land is nourished, so are we. Truly grasping that one simple truism changes everything. I know for me, it transformed to a great degree the way in which I interact with the earth. I became much more conscious of what i put into my mouth, where my food comes from, how my local farmers are treated, and the megalithic horror of Monsanto and all the destruction it brings (and not in the name of science either. Hubris maybe, but not science). I found myself radicalizing on fronts that I had heretofore ignored as someone else's fight. Well it's not "someone else's fight," not unless I suddenly no longer require food to live.
It's not enough to say "i honor the earth." Tell me how. What exactly do you do? How does it translate into your everyday Midgard life? Because words are not enough.
My mother taught me that, a bird-boned firebrand, a small, delicate woman with an elegant Swiss accent, a streak of blue in her hair (for Loki--and, according to her, so no one would look at her and think she was without her edges) and a will that would put the mountains themselves to shame. She was a radical: in her devotion, in loving the Gods, and in the way that she adored the earth. That is my inheritance.
Today I honor the Goddess Snow, Grandchid of Frost,
Great-Grandchild of Kari.
I greet and hail You, well loved kin of the Northern Wind.
I honor Snaer and all His chidren: Fonn, Drifa, and Mjoll.
I set out offerings to warm Your palates.
I speak worthy prayers to adorn Your ears;
and I smile as fluffy white flakes
fat and bold
careen in their dance
pirouetting down across the land.
I'll try not to complain too loudly,
when Jokul Your kinsman comes
with His beauty
and His danger.
On Dec. 21st we had a fabulous Yule ritual. Now, in reality, Yule lasts from Dec. 20 through the New Year. I usually do something every night, and I encourage members of the House to do so as well. It's difficult for all of us to get together as a group each night though, so instead, we usually meet as close to the solstice as we possibly can for one good group rite. This year we were fortunate and the actual solstice occurred on the 21st and that day happened to be a Friday so that's when we held our House Yule rite.
In addition to House members, we had four guests --Yule being one of the open rituals that our House does throughout the year--and I think that they got a lot out of the ritual itself. Additionally, as things worked out this year, several House members who live in different states, far enough away that they're not usually able to attend, were present. That was a real gift for the holiday. This year's ritual was in honor of the ancestors (as usual) followed by a fire ritual, in honor --you guessed it--of fire (in previous years we've focused the ritual around Odin and several other of our Deities) so we told people to bring whatever they wanted to offer to the dead and to fire and then something for potluck. Before everyone arrived, I made offerings to the land, city, and mountain spirits, the house vaettir, and had a fellow House member pour offerings to Mani, Who was just too beautiful in the sky to ignore. Then I kindled a sacred fire.
We set up an altar on the floor (in front of my Yule tree lol) where we put offerings and pictures of our beloved dead. A fire pot (a huge cast iron cauldron in a stand and a second, smaller aluminum fire pit) was set up with a table of offerings outside. The ritual commenced at 8pm with a fire blessing (the Anglo-Saxon Weonde chant) to consecrate the space and then, we called to our ancestors. After I made the galdred call honoring them, people came forward to tell their stories, speak their names, and lay offerings. This whole part of the ritual took about an hour. After everyone had a chance to hail their dead, we moved outside.
I hailed fire with an extensive verbal invocation, fire spirits that succored our ancestors, allowed them to cook their food, kept them warm, kept them safe, allowed them the gifts of craft, carried their offerings to the Gods, and taught them respect and awe of the Powers. We honored their beauty, power, ferocity, and their passion. Offerings of fruit, sweets, tobacco, incense, fish (one person brought salmon), alcohol, flowers and many other things were given to the flames. We also had several items that needed to be disposed of by commitment to consecrated fires and we took time to do this as well.
This also took about an hour after which the Powers were thanked and the rite concluded. Folks proceeded to the potluck, chatted, etc. We'd taken time to explain protocol and format to our four guests prior to the ritual and afterwards they were given a chance to ask any questions they might have, having participated in the rite itself. Then, as a fire worker, I did a fire blessing and cleansing on two attendees who asked. A fellow House member, having just had her second fire initiation also assisted with the cleansings. It was a good ritual, a good evening, a good Yule.
Our next open rite is Feb. 2. This will be a day of rituals, as several festivals and feast days fall around this time. Happy Yule, folks.
So i'm sitting here at the airport getting ready to make what is probably my final trip to Zurich, a city that for many years held a very special place in my heart. The first time I ever visited, I was on my way to Berlin for a summer term of school. I wasn't a very seasoned traveller then but my adopted mom had arranged for me to spend a day in Zurich before hitting Germany. She wanted me to have a Swiss moment, to experience a place for however brief a time that had so defined her. I was so nervous! For some reason, I found Zurich immensely intimidating.
Over the years, I traveled there again and again with my mom, usually at least twice a year. We'd always stay at the same hotel and go to the same places and it became a tradition of sorts for us. The first time I had to go (on business) four months after she died it nearly broke my heart; and when the entire staff of the hotel, a hotel my mom had been staying at several times a year for over thirty years, lined up in a receiving line as I was having breakfast and came over one by one to shake my hand and express their condolences on the loss of my mother, I almost fell apart. But one does not cry in public in Zurich, not the elegant, old-world Zurich to which my mom had introduced me. It simply isn't done. So I was gracious and swallowed my pain.
Now, visiting is not so painful. In fact, it's not even bittersweet. i'm graced almost with a sense of nostalgia when I walk around this city's streets. I still go to the same shops my mom introduced me to, see the same people, eat at the same restaurants (if y'all are going to Zurich, i can hook you up! there are some wonderful restaurants including one that has the best potato salad in Europe---and I don't even *like* potato salad except here).
Because I doubt I'll have cause to return any time soon, I made sure to come prepared to get a bit of soil…part of my biological family as well as my adopted family is Swiss and I can put that soil on my ancestor shrine. Or i can put it on my shrine to the elemental power of earth. I doubt i'll have another chance. Once, years ago, i visited my ancestral town of Bubendorf--known for its production of Kirsch. It's about an hour from Zurich and I had the oddest experience that the forest and rocks, streams and gullies recognized me. I've talked about ancestral land before but to have the sense that the land recognizes the blood line was powerfully surreal. For what it's worth, I get the same experience when I travel south and hit certain parts of PA--the land there recognizes my line. Part of my soul can relax. I would like to visit Bubendorf again but won't on this trip. I't's little more than a manor house and surrounding farmland and I would have to take a car and driver and it would remind me too greatly of having done exactly that pilgrimage years ago with my mom. I can honor that place anyway and the ancestors who lived and died there without the bitter sweet pain of a return.
So now i'm sitting in an airport lounge (they have free wifi yay!) and contemplating the strange twists and turns my life has taken. I have been so terribly blessed. It awes me sometimes. It awes and humbles me all the time. Thank you, oh my Gods and spirits for taking such good care of this ragged and jagged soul.
So it's Thanksgiving Day and a I arrived, after quite a few delays at the airport, safely in Zurich. I breathed a sigh of relief as I set foot on Swiss soil. This is the land of my mothers. It is the land of my mothers' mothers' mothers. In the little time I have spent here over the past decade, I have lived an age. Zurich, though not my mother's canton, nourishes me on fragments and fleeting wisps of her memory. i enter the hotel and they greet me by name, wishing me a warm 'welcome home.' It is in a way, as much a home as any of Gangleri's get is likely to find.
There is magic in the land and the way it remembers the passage of a soul. There is magic in those ephemeral roots we set, the leavings of time and place and experiences well met under the aegis of foreign skies. They're not so foreign. This soil held the bones of my dead and as any elemental worker will tell you, one elemental spirit is connected to all the others that have ever been or will ever be. My grandmothers and grandfathers breathed their last breath here and that breath nourishes me. A mystery I think that I'm only coming to understand.
I just saw a picture on Facebook, a gorgeous stream flowing between purple covered cliffs: fairy pools at the Island of Skye the caption said. I would like to go there one day but then I thought: what does it matter. I have been there through the meanderings of my ancestors. I know that place as surely as if i walked there myself. Visiting would be but a means of gentle reacquaintance. Still, such travels do feed the soul. They have the potential to remind us who who we are, who we come from, and give us yet another chance to find the strength and nourishment to weave all those disparate threads together in the work we do now, today. I need to wash the stink of the plane off and sleep. I am weary from the journey.
How odd the places we bring our Gods. How graciously They walk with us on sundry shores.
So I went shopping today--not much but there are a few places my mom and I would always go here and for once, I allowed sentiment to rule my choices. i was shocked and saddened to find the one shop that was a touchstone on my visits here -- a little old fashioned shop that sold handkerchiefs and table linens, all hand embroidered with a skill that is slowly being lost as the elderly female artists die--was having its going out of business sale, having lost its lease after 92 years. I found myself glad that this would likely be my last visit to Zurich. I remember my mom not infrequently bemoaning how beloved places had changed since she was a child. It pained her, and left her feeling like a person out of time, more isolated and rootless than our culture already seeks to make us. I understand that now. It's never the big things that evoke that either. It's the slow wearing away of what was known, what was comfortable, visual touchstones that come to define the topography of time and place for us. i miss the Zurich I knew with her. It's still here…it recognizes me this city spirit with roots that go back to my Alemmannic ancestors. I taste them and their age in the air and soil, see vestiges of their spirits here and there. The water spirits giggle at me. But the city subtly shifts as all cities do and it different from that time and place wherein i rooted my knowledge of its blessings in the company of my mother. i understand more fully how she must have felt, seeing her beloved world,all the places that defined her passage in this life, slipping away like sand in the break of a furiously unyielding wave.
Still, Zurich has its charms. The city spirit here is like the mountains that can be seen in the distance, mountains that ward and guard the city imparting something of their strength and endurance to the people here. This is a fine, fine place. Zurich's blessings are in my skin. He…and i see the spirit of this place as a he…has insinuated himself into the hard-knit places of my soul-memory, into the topography of me. I'm glad for that. His is a strength that sustains.
I'll tell you a secret. I'm sitting here in the hotel room smoking clove cigarettes, which one is still able to buy here, enjoying the luxury of not having to huddle wrapped up in the cold to get my nicotine fix. I rarely smoke anymore outside of ancestor rituals but this whole visit is an ancestor rite of sorts, so I am allowing myself the indulgence.
Years ago, my mom took me on a whirlwind tour of Switzerland. We went to all the places that she loved including a little town in the French speaking part of the country called Glion. She told me as a small, lonely child her nurse would take her on walks when she visited here with her family and every day she would beg to go past what to her was a fairyland: on a bit of soil and green, down one side street, someone had set up a small …i don't know what to call it. it wasn't a garden. It was a small 'fairy village': little houses, and pretty stone sculptures and small pools. It sat atop a crumbling retaining wall. It was a child's dream. Being a shaman, I took her hand and led her right to this place, in a city in which I had never been down winding streets on which I'd never walked, in the shelter of mountains whose names I did not know to a place whose exact location she had forgotten. I went right to it and she nearly wept, eyes filling with the delight of a child as she saw that magic place again after almost sixty years. The vaettir remembered her too and though the little houses were in disrepair, some crumbling, the place still stood and still held a certain child's magic. These earth spirits had been her friends when she was small. It was a good reunion.
There is that in me that will endure as long as the mountains stand. There is that in me that i have rooted in the wellspring of my ancestors, who stand in the shade of those mountains and guard my back as their ancestors guard them. There is that in me that will never yield, never break, never bow to any threat. When the mountains in this, my mother's homeland bow their heads to trifles, I'll think about it.
The holiday lights went on today. It's like a fairy land outside at night. They're not brazen or obnoxious but delicate and tasteful and the curtains of lights adoring the streets and passageways between buildings seem to transform the city at night into an enchanted place. The child in me approves and the moon, blurred above wrapped in clouds looks on….a golden smudge.
My business here is concluded and I'm getting ready to head home. Turns out it won't be my last visit here as I had initially thought, though the frequency of my comings and goings to Zurich will be greatly diminished. Still, this particular trip feels like a Rubicon of sorts, one that I've just sailed less than gaily across. I'm not sure why, save that i feel as though I am about to become another person again, to slough off old skin and emerge hardly recognizable within my own mind. It's happened before.It's almost as though I store up experiences until a tipping point is reached and then I allow myself to be moved by them. I do my transformations all at once. It's easier that way, like ripping a bandaid off a wound rather than picking at it. I've a bit of shopping to do: Jelmoli department store, the local english bookstore, (I'm studiously avoiding the cashmere shop since I don't want to have to check luggage and don't need any new clothing anyway). Tonight I go to dinner with good friends of my mom and tomorrow morning it's back home, wherever that might be.
I shouldn't say that. I'm no longer an exile in my own life, a stranger to living and all the grace notes midgard brings. My mom saw to that. There is a difference between having a home and feeling at home in places. Sometimes love defines that border, as cliche as that might sound. It was true for me. I have a home that is my sanctuary. I feel at home many other places. It is not the places I travel that seem so alien to me, it is the time, he customs, the mores. It is a world so separated from its ancestral traditions, so disconnected, so unhealthy that it is very hard for anyone to find him or herself therein. I know my roots and that is all that matters. One of those roots runs deeply, oh so deeply, under very ancient, stubborn mountains, that ring with the song of a dozen dialects.
I am grateful to the Gods and ancestors for all that I have been given, for all the people who have come into my life and come to be called friends. I am grateful that You have taken me in hand. I am grateful; as i sit here listening to what I suspect are churchbells ringing the hour here in Zurich, ensconced in my smoke-scented hotel room, awaiting the arrival of friends, I am indeed very, very grateful.
i think I will honor Zurich in my work, as I do other land and mountain spirits. He has given me much and those places that shape the warp and weft of our memories are important. May this city spirit be hailed. May he be honored. May I never forget what i've been given.
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.
Adorations to Earth
by Sarenth Odinsson
I adore You, Elder Ancestor
I adore You, Mother
I adore You, Midgard
I adore You, Craggy One
I adore You, First Carbon-chain
I adore You, Last Pebble
I adore You, Bat-filled Cave
I adore You, Loamy Soil
I adore You, Grassy Knoll
I adore You, Elder Yew
I adore You, Gentle Sapling
I adore You, Sand-Swept Desert
I adore You, Ice-bound North
I adore You, Fertile Ground
I adore You, Shaking Plates
I adore You, Rolling Wheat
I adore You, Blessed Rainforest
I adore You, Sweeping Plains
I adore You, Frosted Tundra
I adore You, Teeming Jungle
I adore You, Mighty Mountains
I adore You, Silent Wood
I adore You, Cacophonous Forest
I adore You, Little Nut
I adore You, Great Tree
I adore You, Tiny Bush
I adore You, Expansive Grass
I adore You, Crawling Weed
I adore You, Whose Name is Jord
I adore You, Whose Name is Nerthus
I adore You, Whose Name is Terra
I adore You, Whose Name is Gaia
I adore You, Killing Quake
I adore You, Fertile Ground
I adore You, Sheltering Stone
I adore You, Sliding Mud
I adore You, Wrathful Volcano
I adore You, Giving Tree
I adore You, Gentle One
I adore You, Patient One
I adore You, Whose Arteries are Rivers
I adore You, Whose Kidneys are Swamps
I adore You, Whose Lungs are all the Green Life
I adore You, Whose Heart is Molten Flow
I adore You, Whose Body Sustains Us All
I adore You, Whose Eyes gaze upon the Cosmos
I adore You, Whose Hands Touch All Upon Her Skin
I adore You, Whose Skin is the Ground under our feet
I adore You, Whose Whisper echoes through Midgard
I adore You, Who Holds All We Need
I adore You, Whose Blessings are Endless
I adore You, Whose Children Heal and Kill
I adore You, Who Gave Ask and Embla form
I adore You, Whose Forms Holds Water
I adore You, Whose Forms Hold Fire
I adore You, Whose Form is Encompassed by Air
I adore You, Who is Our Mother
I adore You, Long-Changer
I adore You, Patient Grower
I adore You, Adapter
I adore You, Food-bountiful
I adore You, Root-heavy
I adore You, Sand-shifter
I adore You, Deep One
I adore You, Carved Cavern
I adore You, Mine-dotted
I adore You, Whose Offerings are Blessed
I adore You, Who Carries Us
I adore You, Seed-sower
I adore You, Whose Tone Instructs Midgard
I adore You, Whose Dance flows in Its own Time
I adore You, Who Dances in swamp, volcano, desert, and tundra
I adore You, Whose Body runs red in battle and birth
I adore You, Grower of grass and mud
I adore You, Who eats the body
I adore You, Wood-grower
I adore You, Grover-tender
I adore You, Peaceful Rest
I adore You, Whose Form is a riot of living and color
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors home
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors food
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors clothes
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors art
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors medicine
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors with treasures of the mine
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors with the first of tools and weapons
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors the means of sword and scythe
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors ways to come closer to the Gods
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors rebirth
I adore You, Who gifts me with all I need to live
I adore You, Who Brings New Growth
I adore You, Who edges the Gap
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, blessing us with tundra and Winter
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, held Auðhumbla, and Ymir
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, blessed us with the holy oceans and rainforests
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, gives Life to all things
I adore You, Who mingled with Fire, gives rise to new soil with volcanoes
I adore You, Who mingled with Fire, allows us to cook our food
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, carries the seeds to new life
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, brings the swollen clouds to farm, field, and garden
I adore You, Whose Presence lies beneath our feet and within our hearts
I adore You, Whose Presence seals corruption
I adore You, Who blesses the farmer
I adore You, Whose Body is the bard's instrument and voice
I adore You, Who gives the storyteller immortality
I adore You, Who girds the warrior
I adore You, Whose Form is part of our own
I adore You, Whose Form dances with us
I adore You, Whose Voice sings with us
I adore You, Whose Form gives us pleasure and pain
I adore You, Whose Form is holiness
I adore You, Whose Patience is Great
I adore You, Whose Temper is Fierce
I adore You, Whose Womb birthed us all
I adore You, Whose Body gives us rest
I adore You, Who digests the corpse
I adore You, Who is our home
I adore You, Whose wrath brings new land
I adore You, Who scours the unclean
I adore You, Who holds back the cold
I adore You, Who gives Form to the Worlds
I adore You, Whose Flesh is the soil and ground of Midgard
I adore You, Whose Presence grounds Creation
I adore You, Whose Threads are Woven in Wyrd,
From the Deepest Cavern to the Highest Peak,
I adore You, Earth
Adorations to Fire
by Sarenth Odinsson
I adore You, Elder Ancestor
I adore You, Heart of Muspelheim
I adore You, Blazing One
I adore You, First Light
I adore You, Last Ember
I adore You, Scorcher
I adore You, Warmer
I adore You, Who Boils the Water
I adore You, Who Melts the Ice
I adore You, Who Light the Offerings
I adore You, Who Dances in Darkness
I adore You, Opener of Seeds
I adore You, Whose Dance enlightens the Worlds
I adore You, Who Dances in wood and rot and grass and oil
I adore You, Who Dances in battle and bedchamber and wound and warrior
I adore You, Whose Touch brings Calcination
I adore You, Who Eats grass and ground
I adore You, Who obliterates the body
I adore You, Bone-searer
I adore You, Wood-scorer
I adore You, Peacekeeper
I adore You, Whose Flames blaze a riot of color
I adore You, Who revealed the First Ancestors
I adore You, Who brought my Ancestors warmth
I adore You, Who brought my Ancestors comfort
I adore You, Who made my Ancestors' food safe to eat
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors to forge tools
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors to forge weapons
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors to sweat
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors Your purity
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors art
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors with light by day and night
I adore You, Who gift me with light by day and night
I adore You, Who drives back fear
I adore You, Eater of Wood
I adore You, Feaster of Fuel
I adore You, Who Strips Bone and Flesh
I adore You, Dazzling One
I adore You, Who Brings New Growth
I adore You, Who warms the Gap
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, blessing us with Water
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, bringing Ask and Embla to the Gods
I adore You, Who, mingled with Earth, carries prayers to the Holy Ones with Your Smoke
I adore You, Who mingled with Earth, forming Midgard's continents
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, gives us precious teas and coffee
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, brings us the rain
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, gives us flame to cook our food
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, lets us shape ore and metal
I adore You, Whose Presence lies in soul and Sol alike
I adore You, Whose Presence sears corruption
I adore You, Who inspires the bard
I adore You, Who gives voice to the storyteller
I adore You, Who emboldens the warrior
I adore You, Whose sparks dance in our brains
I adore You, Whose sparks bid us to speak, our bodies to dance
I adore You, Whose sparks give us happiness, despair, pain, and pleasure
I adore You, Whose sparks bless us with bliss and fill us with holiness
I adore You, Who shows the ways in your dance
I adore You, Whose Forge fashions sword and gun
I adore You, Who Takes the Body into Helheim
I adore You, Who sanctifies the corpse
I adore You, Who consumes the offering
I adore You, Who burns the home
I adore You, Whose conflagration allows new growth
I adore You, Who Dances upon the candle
I adore You, Who drives back the cold
I adore You, Who Lights the Worlds
I adore You, Whose Flame burns in the Heart of Midgard
I adore You, Whose Power echoes from Creation
I adore You, Whose Power calls through Wyrd
From the First Spark to the Last Ash
I adore You, Fire
I hope that my readers will forgive the unfortunate brevity of this particular column. I’ve had precious little time to sit down and write this week, and only now, barely a handful of hours before it’s due, am I sitting down to write my second “F” column. This week’s column, thanks to a number of conversations that I’ve been having over the past few days with my students, deals with one of (in my opinion) the most magnificent of the Elemental Powers: fire.
In addition to honoring the Holy Powers and reverencing the ancestors, the polytheistic traditions of our pre-Christian forebears, traditions that we are working very hard to restore and renew very often had one other important component in common: honoring the elemental forces. In Western metaphysical traditions, occultism, Wicca, and many branches of Paganism, the primary Elemental tribes are Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. (My tradition would also include Ice as one of the fundamental elements, different at its very core, in its nature, and in the way that one must interact with it from water). These were the forces that sustained and continually transformed our world and to which we owed a measure of respect and gratitude. Sadly, this awareness of the importance of this ongoing, reciprocal relationship is one of the many crucial things lost during the conversation to monotheism, and we have yet to recover from that loss. It’s one thing to say that the earth is alive after all but quite another to really comprehend what that means in a way that impacts every single second and aspect of one’s life. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
When we deal with the Elemental Powers in contemporary polytheisms, unlike in the culture in which our ancestors lived and loved and worshipped, it is painfully easy to forget that these Powers are living, sentient, elder Beings. Part of the issue is that we rarely, if ever, are exposed in our lives to the full force of any of the primal elements. Very few of us live the type of life that is immediately and glaringly dependent on their regard. It’s easy in our world to take as our model for any given Elemental Power, only that to which we have direct access, to think only of the gentlest, tamest, most civilized and human-friendly facet of any given element when we engage in our ritual praxis. Thus when we honor fire, we may think only of the candle flame or hearth-fire; when we honor water, it is with a bowl or chalice of water, or we light incense for air, and so forth. There’s nothing inherently wrong about this, so long as one understands that the Elemental Powers are so much more. Fire is not just the hearth-fire that gives warmth and light, but also the raging wildfire that devours the forest and maybe your home as well. It’s the inferno that steals the lives of the brave. It’s lava and the volcano blast that has buried cities and changed the course of civilizations, it’s electricity, and lightening, and the vibrant power of the sun. It has a thousand faces of which we know only a handful, and the same holds true with water. Water isn’t just the chalice of tap water, but the tsunami. Earth isn’t just the soil that nourishes the seed but also the earthquake that destroys a city. Air isn’t just that which we breathe, but also the fury of the hurricane gale and everything in between. Nor should there be any moral judgment on any of these manifestations. They simply are part and parcel of these magnificent beings. . It’s important to keep that all in mind, in part because the Elemental Powers were not brought into existence to pander to us, or to make us comfortable, and pretending that only the civilized aspects of an element exist does not and cannot make it so. It can lead to a certain spiritual complaisance.
While this week’s article is about fire, in the greater sense, however, it’s about what it means to live as an animist, knowing that every tree, every stone, every flicker of fire, every breath of the wind is alive, sentient, and ancient. That knowledge changes everything.
First of all, fire was absolutely essential to our ancestors. Without fire we very likely would never have made it out of the Neolithic era. Partnering with fire enabled us to cook our food, develop crafts like pottery, glass-work, and metal-work and lay the foundations for building civilization. Fire governs the arts of war too, but when it is channeled and engaged with properly, it is tremendously creative and positive in the blessings it bestows. Without fire, our ancestors would have died during the last ice-age. Fire sustained us as a species.
Moreover, in my tradition at least, we did not have to steal fire. It was given to us, part and parcel of how the worlds were made. The nation of fire chose to partner with us from the very beginning. My sister works in animation and a couple of years ago she introduced me to an animated series called “The Last Airbender.” While I found the rather dogged pacifism of the main character annoying (it was a children’s series for Nickelodeon after all), I found the theory of the elements quite sound. Moreover, in the series, the writers refer to the earth nation, fire nation, air nation, and water nation. I heard that and thought “Yeah. Exactly.” So I am shamelessly stealing this, though prior to this I would often refer to them as ‘tribes.’ I like using “nation” to describe them. Why? The term ‘nation’ implies a conscious unity of force and self-identification. Moreover, it implies a cohesive culture, language, and cultural awareness. It also, perhaps most importantly, emphasizes both the independence and the sentience of these Beings. To my way of thinking, ‘nation’ is precisely the appropriate term. (For those with kids, by the way, the animated series the “Last Airbender” is very Pagan friendly. Avoid Shyamalan’s movie like the plague). But I digress.
At its metaphysical core, fire is one of our most primal conduits to our ancestors. Every fire that we light, every fire that we encounter, every fire that *is* remains part of that first fire kindled by our very oldest ancestor. It is part of every fire that was and every fire that will be. The elementals powers are always in constant communication with each other. They do not cease to exist simply because they cease to be in our world. In many respects, the Elemental Powers are our eldest ancestors, existing as they did before humanity and sustaining us as they do. From a cosmological perspective within the Northern Tradition, they definitely hold this honored position. Acknowledging that and working that knowledge into one’s practices is the first step in re-awakening to the type of animism by which our ancestors lived. It’s the first step in healing a thread long sundered, the first step in restoring an awesome and important responsibility that our ancestors so long ago understood.
I was giving a workshop recently on Northern Tradition shamanism, and, while shamanism is not accessible to everyone (it’s a vocation and calling—one is taken up and owned by Gods or spirits), there are some techniques that everyone can safely do and maybe even should be doing (ancestor veneration being a definite should, in my opinion). I had promised at the start of the class to teach a couple of these techniques so that everyone present could take something practical home with them that they would then have the option of incorporating into their personal practices. The last thing that I talked about was honoring the Elements. I didn’t give any specific techniques. Instead, I talked to the class about how the world was alive and aware. The fire, wind, water, earth, soil itself, grass, trees, mountains, and every single stone was alive and aware. Understand that and the specific techniques will follow.
Because really, once you realize, truly realize to the very core of your being that everything is alive, everything is awake, everything is sentient, your relationship with everything in your world can change. It changes the way that one chooses to engage with the world and everyone and everything in it.
Elements act according to their natures. Therefore I will praise fire for the beauty, strength, warmth, and terror it bestows. I will praise it for sustaining our ancestors. I will praise it for its brightness. I will praise it for its heat. I will praise it for carrying our offerings to the Gods. Hail to fire who consecrates. Hail to fire who renders holy all that it encircles. Hail to fire, who illuminates the way of the dead. Hail to fire who unlocks ancestral memory. I will honor fire. I will set out offerings to this glorious nation. May it always and ever be praised.