Freyja – Our Lady of the Runny Mascara

Freyja, Freyja, Freyja

The last two weeks I have been soaked in you.  I have languished in your light, in your warmth, in your passion, in your love, your sex, your heat, in your ecstasy, in your trance, in your dreams, in your seidh, in your magick, in your world, in your arms, in your heart.

Years ago you told me stop lying to myself and be who I knew myself to be, and it’s been a long journey, and you didn’t come to claim me until I was well past the point of no return.  Years ago you told me that you weren’t ready to inhabit me, and yet over the last couple of weeks I’ve accepted your sacrifices on your behalf, tears on Your altar of my lips, sex on Your altar of my body, love on Your altar of my heart, vision on Your altar of my soul.

Years ago you told me to accept and find my beauty, and only lately have I begun to feel it bloom like a heat beneath my skin.  You’ve been patient and indulgent with my own self-image issues, but I can feel that patience wearing thin.  Thank you for holding out as long as you could; I’m starting to understand.

Tears and sweat and sex and laughter and life and the breathing moist Earth and the warm, welcoming sky.  Crying, screaming in the heights, passing close, wild raptors dip and plunge, keening with our pain.  Oh, the Tears, lady.  The Tears always come when you are near.  I’ve felt like a wet rag on account of the Tears lately, but I know that you love them.  Each burns through me, working its alchemy on my soul, changing me as it passes, leaving a jewel behind in the world.  I try to cry freely and unfettered for you, at whatever emotion brings them.  We’re so used to tears being a thing of sorrow in our culture, but you’ve been teaching me how tears are the drool of passion, the wetness of head, the flame of transformation, the jewels of the world.  Every passion at its height is accompanied by them, and to you I dedicate them.  I call you Our Lady of the Runny Mascara because eyes are never dry around you.

Some of those tears are pain, Lady, and you know it.  Some are brought about by things you had your hand in, Lady, and you know it.  Some of those were offered unwillingly (or at least unwittingly), Lady, and you know it.  You know it well.

Thank you for them.  Thank you for your kind cruelty.  I trusted you through the pain, through the red haze of anger, through the agonizing self-realizations, through the absolute madness.  Through the tears I offered you I was transformed and will never be the same again, may each be a shining jewel in your hoard.

Giver, what you have given and keep giving to me overwhelms, it overflows, it is a river in which I cannot stand but must lie back.  When I do, when I let go, the sun above in the form of your smile warms me, and the waters in the form of your hands carry me where I need to go.  You bring me to shining valleys and lost groves, to hidden gatherings and boisterous throngs.  You give me experiences, ones that make me feel, blood and bone and heart and head.  The more I let go in your stream and learn to swim rather than struggle the greater the gifts I find you leaving in my path, Oh Giver.  I am grateful for your generosity.

Warm and soaked I lie panting beneath your heat, tears and drool spilling from me in my abandon, having passed satiety long before and traveled to the realms of indulgence.  I give you those indulgences, Lady.  I don’t need the excess, but you can handle it and I’ve seen how it makes you smile.

Thank you, Lady.  Thank you for the heat, the heath, the heather, the blood, the tears, the tearing, the screaming, the sobbing, the wracking passion that commands me at the height of my greatest offerings to you.  Tonight I do not thank you for the little light and warmth you have given me to warm my heart on the cold days; I thank you for that every day.  Tonight I thank you for the goldenred, throbbing Life that pulses through me so much more strongly than before I knew that I was yours.

Thank you, desiring and desired, beloved and loving, Beautiful Bearer of Brisingamen, Wand-Wise Witch-Woman, amber haired, fire-hearted, jewel-lipped.  Thank you for the terror and the beauty, for the love and joy and sorrow.  Thank you for making me feel in ways that I’ve never felt before and thank you for the pain that comes of stretching myself in ways I never thought possible.  That pain also belongs to you, Lady.  I offer it to you.

Thank you, Lady.  Because of you I will never be the same.  Hail Freyja!

Wellspring 2015

I was hoping to start this post with something like, “Pagan Church Lady, reporting on location at Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring 2015!”  Sadly, I could find no wifi and neither my lovely Fraulein (that’s my laptop) nor my Kindle (I don’t have a name for her yet) were up to the task of connecting to the Grand Interwebs.  It was probably for the best – I wasn’t allowed to hide behind a screen or avoid the notice of others.

Too much went on for me to record how I felt about all of it, so I’m going to give you the highlights of what I witnessed and participated in.  I know that I won’t be able to include everything worthy of note and I’m sorry for what I missed (most notably the Warrior games and Bardic stuff). I didn’t realize how insanely busy I’d be if I decided to participate in everything that I wanted to, but I slept solidly every night (except the night where it dropped below freezing) as a result.

Getting to meet everyone was wonderful.  I often had to tell people that I was “glad to put a voice to the words” since I know so many fellow ADFers through Facebook and their writing.  It was an honor and a privilege to be in good company like that.

So, highlights:

Opening Ritual:

We processed from the crossroads to the ADF Nemeton, and singing, filed in.  The rite was warm and welcoming.  It kind of felt like it was the “Initiating the Rite” “Purification”, “Establishing Group Mind”, and “Statement of Purpose” for the whole festival (for those of you familiar with the ADF Core Order of Ritual).  With the rite’s focus on the Earth Mother and the spirits of the land at Brushwood (which was a theme in many of the rites I attended, which made my happy) it also felt like the “Honoring the Earth Mother” – again, appropriate for an opening since it’s one of the things we do first in ritual.

I got to stand in a circle and sing the portal song with maybe thirty or forty other people while folks whose names and works I’d only read before honored the Sacred Center and helped to open the gates between the worlds.  Although I’ve attended three Groves’ rites now (and numerous large-scale public Pagan rites), there was a power in it that I’ve never experienced elsewhere, and it set a tone for the whole festival.

Stone Creed Grove’s tent

On the coldest night of the festival we were lead by the siren call of voices raised in song (yeah, Druids sing a lot apparently – fortunately there are usually enough of them that they can’t tell that I can’t sing when I join in).  On a frigid night it lead us across the campgrounds to the tent of Stone Creed Grove, where we were welcomed and waved in and joined in as a completely packed tent (I counted over twenty folks at one point) drummed, played guitar, messed with noisemakers, and sang Pagan campfire songs/ritual chants.  The faces were red with enthusiasm and joy and voices were raised in fellowship.

Some of the songs were familiar, and some were new (one of the ones that stood out in my mind out was a song about Isaac Bonewitz’ wake).  The tent was tightly packed – at one point I was sitting between a pair of swinging hips on one side and the violently jerking elbow of a drummer on the other and worried that my head might be pulped if ever the two met (there wasn’t much room to move without being even more awkward), but I came out of the tent later unscathed and refreshed.  The brief time I had in Stone Creed’s tent that night did as much to make me feel at home and part of the fellowship as much as any of the grand rites did.

Hecate Rite

We went to the crossroads, because that’s where we assumed that a rite for Hecate would begin processing.  We were wrong, but one of the clergy came and found us and lead us to where it was beginning.  We trailed through the assembled Druids, picking people up and waving them in for a spectacular twilight rite to Hecate Soteira.  It was interesting timing, as I had just completed a term of devotional service to her, and I felt far more comfortable at the rite than I would have before this past year.

I’ve never been to an Hellenic rite before, and while I don’t feel a pull in that direction it had a beauty and power that I appreciated.  I have a deep respect for Hecate and for the clergy who performed the rite and I’ll never forget the depths and clarity of the sky as we called to Ouranous nor the fading/lingering daylight as it slowly slipped away through the rite.

Norse Kin Meeting

It was wonderful to meet other members of the Norse Hearth Kin and discuss updates and future plans with them.  We discussed the dearth of information available on mainland Germanic mythology (as opposed to Norse, something that we’re still working to track down more sources for), increasing discussion of trance/seidh, magic, runework, and other esoteric practices, Rodney Cox’s Order of the Raven and Falcon (a magical order within ADF dedicated to Odhinn and Freyja) and other things that are slipping my mind (but I’m sure we’ll catch up on).

We also did a blot and trance right after the Unity rite.  It involved working with the places that ADF imagery and Norse imagery overlap particularly well (Flame, Well, and Tree, the Hallows).  I’m used to using Yggdrasil for journey work, but this was the first time for some folks.  It was a private journey for each of us that bore some surprising fruit for me (those who were there will understand).  It was also good to just be doing esoteric work with other Norsey people, Heathen or otherwise.

Seidh Lecture

I had mentioned that I was excited that Patricia Lafayllve was going to be there, and she surely didn’t dissapoint.  She did a presentation on the aspects of seidh that are rarely discussed nowadays (including all of the cursey and negative stuff) – a lot of it read like a list of things that witches and shamans the world over claim to be able to do, which I appreciated.

Another interesting aspect of the lecture was the connection between the Finns/Saami people and seidh.  She discussed places where the Saami were mentioned in Sagas and how their practices, appearance, and how the Northmen felt about them may have influenced both modern and old Northern Pagan faiths.  I can’t wait to read and hear more about it – my roomate Jim and I geeked out about references to the Finns in the Sagas once I returned to Buffalo and I’m sure that there will be more discussions and inquiry sparked by it.

Oracular Seidh

Patty also did an oracular seidh rite.  I always appreciate seeing different styles of trance and variations within traditions.  It was certainly different from the seidh/oracular work that I’ve witnessed, participated in, and trained in myself.  There was no bringing the entire group with her to where she went (she actually asked us very specifically not to follow her), nor were there lots of songs (other than when she called to Freyja at the beginning of the rite).

The answers that I received from my own questions were heavy and have left me pondering and “puzzling ’till my puzzler was sore”, and I’m grateful for them.  I appreciate being able to be there for what I consider an important form of “magical community service” and to witness a skilled seeress in action.

I did walk away with serious amber envy.  I thought I was all Freyja-blinged out with my amber earrings and ring and sunstone bracelet… nope.  Patty had enough amber strung on her apron dress (there we go again with the apron dresses!  One of these days…) to practically form armor, and every other woman with an association with the Lady came with ropes of the stuff (or so it seemed).  I felt very small when the observation was made that amber was a sign of a woman’s wealth in the old days – but then again, most of what I find of it goes to Freyja’s horde anyway (and given my current financial situation, it wasn’t entirely inappropriate).  Maybe I should let myself keep some occasionally, too.

Freyja’s Ve

It’s always threes, or at least it should be – Patricia also brought her travelling ve (basically a shrine) to Freyja.  While I’ve been aware of Freyja since my childhood the serious devotional relationship and dedication to her that I’ve developed lately started the first summer that I encountered that ve (which I believe was 2009(.  It was also involved in many other important wheels turning in my and others’ lives, so I have a history with it and it was good to see it and use it again.

Within the tent is a godpost for Freyja, bedecked with ropes of amber and other bright jewels.  Spread out on a cloth around the post are a wide variety of treasures that people have dedicated to her – jewelry, bottles of liquor, artwork, shiny things, and of course, amber everywhere. Soft rugs and shawls lined the corners of the tent.  I made some private offerings and had some time to commune with her in a place where she is closer than normal.  I also brought charcoal and a cauldron to light it in and offered her some small pieces of amber through the coals. That’s a scent I will never forget – the scent of a sap of a tree millions of years old, sweet and piney and pure, sacrificed to the Giver.  I could never bear to made burnt offering with it before, but like they say, if it hurts, it’s a good sacrifice.

People of the Purple Feather Ritual

The People of the Purple Feather is the LGBT special interest group within ADF.  We had a meeting where we got to introduce ourselves and discuss plans and hopes for the future, and the idea of doing a ritual for our SIG came up.  While it was too late to do something official, a few of us wanted to do something anyway, so Chris from Wild Onion Grove and I spent the next couple of days discussing and planning it and spreading the word.

We were given the stone circle right by Druid Heights to perform the rite, a very public and open place.  As a result we had people join who had just wandered in, unsure of what was going on.  Each of them ended up having something important to contribute, however.

The rite was dedicated to the LGBT dead, and was done in Norse Hearth Culture (calling to and honoring Norse deities for certain parts of the rite, specifically Bragi for inspiration and Heimdall as our gatekeeper).  The rainbow-based invocation of Heimdall was especially beautiful, and we also called to Oscar Wilde as a queer ancestor for inspiration.  When it was time to call the Beings of the Occasion, we each named LGBT Ancestors of blood, of heart (chosen family) and of spirit (those who have inspired us) and called them to join this rite in their honor.  We called to people who have been outcast and confused and hurt, to those whose lives were publicized and to those whose names we’ve never heard, to those who died of violence, of suicide, or of other causes, to those who shouldn’t have had to be alone and might have spent their entire lives feeling that way.  We called to the homosexual people, the bi and pan people, the trans people, the agendered and asexual people, and every color of the rainbow that we could think of, and we each offered water into the great offering bowl for them as part of the Key Offering.  Afterwards we made individual toasts to those who had passed.

For the return flow (the blessings that we receive when we make offering) we stuck our fingers in the Well, the Gate to the Underworld, and asked for inspiration and blessings from the LGBT Dead and sat in meditation to listen and hear if any of them bore messages for us.  It was an especially powerful experience for me as an Ancestor that I’ve been working with for a little while came forward in a big way and made herself heard to me (I’ll talk more about her at another point).

Not an eye was dry, and for an impromptu rite I think we did some powerful mojo.  It felt good to get together with another tribe that I am a part of and celebrate and honor the Dead that we share.  I’ve often wanted for queer pagan space and rites.  I pray that their inspiration and blessings pour out through us into the rest of our communities.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize it now – especially for our folk, reach out to your Ancestors.  They are grateful to be known, to be celebrated, to be heard, to be honored to be acknowledged at all, and they have so much to give us.  They want to, and they will, and all we need to do is open the way and ask.  You don’t even need to know any of them by name.

Unity Rite

The main rite on the last night was a powerful experience.  Gifts were brought from the various regions that ADFers occupy to honor the land spirits in those places, and many varieties of Ancestors and Shining Ones were called to and honored.  I was excited to see Kirk Thomas (the Archdruid)’s Gate Opening and Closing – I’ve heard that they do it differently on the west coast and that he is the origin of that style, and it was wonderful and powerful to witness in person.  The ecstatic spinning with the robe and staff was very reminiscent of Sufi dances that I’ve seen.

Drawing that connection between earth and sky, Cosmos and Chaos, between us and each other, between all of our groves and solitaries (who were mentioned first in the roll call!) was immenseley powerful, and I felt the web that we worked to reinforce radiating outward from its burning center across the world.  I’ve participating in long-distance linking rites before during my time with the Fellowship of Isis and it’s one of my favorite types of large-scale workings – I like the feeling of drawing our disparate wyrds more tightly together.

I was happy to see the Nemeton in full use.  I’ve been going to Brushwood since ’99 and before this Wellspring only saw it used once before (by Whispering Lakes Grove for Beltaine of 2010).  It’s a beautiful space, but one that is made even more so by putting it to the use that it was intended.

Chenille Canopy

So, I didn’t go. (Long term readers will know that this is something that I’ve been agonizing over).

I am a genuinely (as in diagnosed) bipolar person and those dizzying (and sometimes dangerous) heights are often accompanied with soul-crushing lows, and I was experiencing one of the latter while the Chenile Canopy meeting (ADF’s unofficial womens’ group) was happening.  I was fighting my inner demons of dypshoria and low self-esteem, coping with bad brain chemicals, and couldn’t make myself go to a space where I was afraid that I would have to justify my presence – it happens a lot for trans women in womens’ space.  When we’re not specifically made welcome we assume that we are not welcome at all, because it’s often easier than having to fight for it and be turned away because someone uses an aspect of our anatomy to define our identities.

I do, however, regret not going.

I know that others who I’ve met online have told me that it would be accepting, but it was different to hear it in person.  When I expressed my concerns later I was taken aside by one of the organizers and vigorously encouraged to attend whenever I had the chance.  She explained to me that it is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, and that trans women are never a problem there.  Having someone talk to me about it and convey it in person made all of the difference for me.

I miss womens’ space, and I especially miss Pagan/spiritual womens’ space.  It’s a wonderful and powerful thing and I’ve had far too little of it over my life.   If I ever get a chance again to go to a Chenille event I’ll be there in a heartbeat.  If you’re a trans woman and a member of ADF and have the inclination, please do so also – not only are we very specifically welcome, but our voices are needed there too.  All women, regardless of anatomy, are welcome to be a part of it.

Other notes:

Doing multiple big trance rites in a day means you should be grounding hardcore and all the time.  I thought, “It’s okay, I can take it.  I’ll be fine and it’ll be cool and trippy.”  It was indeed cool and trippy, but I had to be physically guided back to the tent when my limbs stopped listening well and just kind of wobbled in place; I could barely walk.  It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and hope to prepare better next time.

I made a small offering at Isaac Bonewitz’ memorial and felt deeply frustrated that we had been at the same camp at the same time numerous times and I never met or spoke to him.  I’m grateful to him for getting the ball rolling on this, and for a lot of his other work as well.

Sometimes doing loads of spiritual stuff makes me crave the touch of the mundane just a bit.  I found myself thinking at one point, “I need to do something left-brained.  I need to do math or something.”  It probably would have been helpful.

I don’t know if it was just the space and people used to dealing with trans people but I didn’t get misgendered once the entire weekend and I didn’t need to tell anyone what pronouns to use for me; they figured it out on their own.  I had long stretches of time where I was relaxed enough that I didn’t need to think about gender stuff at all.  May it someday be that way for everyone who wishes it so, all the time.  It certainly made me feel comfortable, at home, and not awkward in a way that I’m rarely not awkward outside of queer space (I had ninety-nine other social awkwardness factors but gender wasn’t one!)

Wellspring had so many powerful events and moments that no matter how much I write I’m going to feel like I’ve left things out.  The brewers’ competition, Emerald’s fantastic class on ritual crafting, Kirk’s impressive class on sacrifice and offerings, the fire at Druid heights, the late night, drunken, nerdy conversations, the piquancy of the closing rite and wrapup all deserve honorable mention but even so I feel like I’m not doing it justice.  I’m in love with the land at Brushwood and have been for a long time, and I feel at home with the other members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (even when we don’t agree, and even when we don’t agree very loudly and in each others’ faces) and that’s a new but welcome feeling.  It felt like an unexpected homecoming, a Wellspring of frith and community love and stories (oh so many new stories!) and new friends and family.

I also would like to give a special thanks to the readers who came up to me to chat.  Being recognized like that gave me the warm and fuzzies in a huge way, and I hope that someday soon someone does something that nice for you.


Why I Am Not An Heathen 2: What Can You Do?

I was surprised by the volume and quality of response to my previous post.  I was truly not expecting it.  Many people both on WordPress and Facebook came forward, often in agreement with some of the points I raised.  Molly Khan wrote an excellent response on Patheos Pagan.  There were no vicious comments, though there was a lot of missing the point in a lot of places, and thus there are some things that I wanted to clarify.

I’m not not calling myself a Heathen as some sort of form of rebellion.  I want to respect the doctrinal guidelines and suggestions provided by the Heathens that I’ve spoken to, both on line and in person.  Some of those guidelines for what is considered Heathen versus what is not include several of the points I raised and more: Havamal must be the origin of your morality or at least considered in every situation, UPG is not to be trusted or given voice or attention, honoring the Gods outside of community functions and community rites runs counter to the spirit of Heathenry, innovation in ritual (i.e. performing religious practices that we are not sure were performed by the ancestors), honoring beings that are considered questionable (including Loki), in some cases honoring the Gods at all rather than the wights and Ancestors as some believe the Gods to be distant, troublesome and non-traditional focuses for veneration, etc.

These are things that Heathens who I’ve interacted with since the early 2000’s (again, both in person and online) have included among the boundaries of Heathen practice, in other words, if you want to call yourself Heathen you can not stray outside of them.  Call yourself Pagan if you wish, but according to some you cannot claim the mantle of Heathenry without adhering to the above and further strictures.

Obviously, not everyone agrees.  I do feel that Heathens have a right to define Heathenry, though.  Of course, it gets sticky when there are self-identified Heathens who don’t agree with all or most of these principles, but by and large the Heathens that I’ve met and discussed it with agree with some of the above.  I’m personally not going to try and join a faith and then tell people that are already practicing it that they’re doing it incorrectly when they have already established guidelines and boundaries for it.

The misogyny, racism, and multiple ‘phobias are things that are definitely worth working against in modern Heathenry.  I’m glad that there are more and more voices speaking up against them, because whether I wear the label or not I’m still going to be coming to your rites and share in mead and offerings for as long as I’m welcome, and would like not to have to deal with that.  Those are the things that I spoke of that “insulted my soul” the most.

So at the end of my last post I said that I would discuss the options that I’ve found, considered, and in some cases embraced.   What’s a wooey, non-doctrinarian, solitary, non-racist, lover of the Norse Gods call them selves?  Under what banners can they come together?  How can they reconcile their beliefs and practices with larger Heathen culture?

Being Heathen Anyway

This by far seems to be most people’s answer.  Unswayed by the insistence that their practice, beliefs, ancestry, virtues, or favorite brand of toothpaste renders them mere pagans or heathens rather than actual Heathens(tm), these bold individuals choose to identify as Heathens, and to Jotunheim with anyone who disagrees.  I’ve heard a lot of people express some variation of this sentiment, including Molly Khan in her response to my original post (linked above).

I appreciate this approach because the culture of a faith can’t change without people who feel differently standing up and speaking out.  The main reason that I haven’t embraced this path myself is that I feel Heathens have a right to decide the boundaries of their identity, faith, and doctrine, and I honestly respect it enough not to appropriate the name if it’s not… appropriate.

Is it?  Who decides who can use that title?  As many are fond of saying, there is no Asapope.  As of now there’s been no High Moot of All Heathens that’s decided what the exact boundaries of that term are.  If this movement lasts more than a few hundred years, there will be.  There might even be one sooner than that.  It might be good for all those to whom it matters to make sure that their voices are heard at yonder hypothetical HMAH.

Just “Polytheist”, Thank You

The other day I was thinking while I was out on a walk.  “Huh.  I wonder if there’s a word for being specifically devoted to multiple Gods.  Kind of like polyamory but for devotional worship.  What would you call it though… poly..theistry?…wait…”

I hate it when what I think is a stroke of brilliance ends in a facepalm.

A fair number of responses to my posts included folks who identified that way.  There’s a growing movement of polytheists who eschew (or at least de-emphasize) a particular cultural focus and respond to the Powers that call to them.  To be fair, I fit that well myself.  I try to commune with the Powers that I do through rites that have some of the appropriate cultural trappings sometimes (I’m generally speaking about European or Egyptian deities here; part of the reason that I rarely work with Gods of living cultures is a desire to try and avoid blatant appropriation when I don’t have proper cultural immersion) – but was there ever a culture where folks simply didn’t call out to their Gods in times of need or thanksgiving?  I know that there are few cultures and faiths where there are no forms of offerings or sacrifice.  Often my prayers and offerings are less umpty-ump alliterative poetry and a mead horn than they are simple gestures of adoration, pleas for help, or offering of gifts.  I don’t don an apron dress every time I want to honor Freyja and Freyr (I don’t even own one, sadly) and in ancient Rome I would not have any right to offer to Jove (as I understand their practices).  That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it anyway.  A lot of these trappings are artifacts of the time and culture that they were in, and the materials and concepts were more accessible to the people who used them.

The Gods seem to appreciate it when you do try to recreate the old stuff, or maybe that just puts us into a better framework to interact with them, or maybe they’re waxing nostalgic (“It’s been over a millennium since I’ve seen a Volva with a proper staff and catskin gloves.  Good girl!”).  Whatever the reason, those touches do seem to help on some level with signal clarity and reception.  However, if our devotion to communion with the Powers is going to be part of our day-to-day life, we need to either wear apron dresses all the time (Which would be totally fine by me.  Yes, I’ve been obsessing over them lately.  Hush.) or we need to adapt our polytheism to fit our culture.  At least for Pagans in the US, that means a culture that accepts that there are many kinds of people with many kinds of Gods and thus no one pantheon (in theory, at least).  For Pagans in the modern world in general, if you’re not part of the dominant cultural faith anyway (which is likely some brand of Christianity or Islam, depending on your neck of the woods) there’s no reason that you should be limited to one pantheon or one form of cultural expression.  There, I’ve said it.  I warned you that I could be pretty darned eclectic.

So just Polytheist works for quite a few folks, many of whom accompany it with “Pagan”.

Other Groups

For purposes of community (and I’m a pretty social person; even when I’m solitary in practice I like having community) I’ve found a couple of groups that work well, and heard of others that I haven’t approached.

I’m a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin or ADF.  ADF was started in the distant mists of the past probably around the time I still thought that the Goonies was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.  It’s been a good community for a Norsey non-Heathen like me.  Individual members and Groves are encouraged to embrace “Hearth Cultures” which are cultural applications to the general framework of ADF rite and practice.  The community for the Norse Health Culture is large, diverse, and well-educated, while generally taking what I’d consider a pragmatic stance towards UPG.   Lore is emphasized as the basis of understanding but no there are no official rules or restrictions on UPG other than it’s not usable for the reading material for coursework.

It’s great for a heretic like myself because there is no policing of private practice, either: official ADF rites have to be public, but what you do outside of official ADF rites has no bearing on whether or not you can perform or participate in them.  It tries hard to emphasize orthopraxy (we all perform the same rites or in a similar fashion) over orthodoxy (we all believe the same thing) and while I don’t feel that it’s possible to be entirely one without the other it does a good job at keeping the policing of belief to a minimum.  ADF does have its own brand of sacred tech that I’ve incorporated into my own work, and its focus on scholarship and excellence make it an organization that I’m proud to be a part of.  Plus, I can be in it, worship the Vanir and Aesir, and not have to conform to Heathen culture.

Pardon me while I put on these goggles and duck behind this blast shield.  Can you still hear me?  Ahem…

Northern Tradition Paganism is what seems to be a loose affiliation of solitary practitioners and a few Kindreds of Norsey Pagan people.  They make the distinction of being “reconstruction derived” rather than strictly reconstructionist, meaning that they start with what they can find and work from there rather than sticking with the basics of what can be reconstructed, which pretty well matches what I’ve seen in ADF Norse Hearth culture, too.  They have an emphasis on personal devotion, shamanism and spirit working.  They also don’t restrict which Gods people worship – they are fine with people worshiping the Jotnar and their kin (though that’s not a requirement – it’s been explained to me that there are NTP people who don’t, but anyone who calls themselves NTP is required to drink when they’re honored at someone elses’ rite, which is just good hospitality/ghosti as far as I’m concerned.)

Throw in that they have a pretty queer membership overall, that their founders/leaders are super-controversial in the Heathen community primarily because of Jotun worship, wild rumors, and not putting up with Havamalier-Than-Thou talk from Heathen Elders, and they make the perfect Heathen boogeyman.  There is no better way to throw a monkey wrench into an Asatru conversation than to bring up Raven Kaldera or Galina Krasskova!

So no one should be surprised that I consider myself Northern Tradtion as well.  Although the idea of making offering to Fenris or Surt or Thrym or Jormugandr gives me the altogether willies, they’re Powers too, and even if they don’t particularly care about humanity, there are humans who care about them, and if I’m at someone’s table and they drink to them I will too to honor my host and be a good guest.  I’ve felt very comfortable with the NTP folks that I’ve met and interacted with and hope that I hear more NTP voices in the future.

Norse Wicca is a thing, also.  I don’t have a lot of exposure to it or a history with it, except insofar as I honored the Norse Gods while still considering myself Wiccan.  If there is an organized tradition of it in any way I’m unaware of it, although I’d be happy to learn and share more.  I don’t connect well to some aspects of Wicca anymore (especially the painful – to me – emphasis on binary gender) so I haven’t considered it an option myself, but I’m sure that there are people who find fulfillment in it.

I don’t know what else is out here, but I’d love it if in the comments here or on Facebook, or on your own blogs or articles discuss the paths that you’ve taken to negotiate this quandary.  The conversation has begun, and I’d like to encourage it to continue, because from the responses that I’ve had it feels like there is a real need.

 Why is all of this even important?  Why put so much thought into it?  Well, I’ve been trying to find community that I resonate with, that I can join, that I can be a part of and that I can be a voice in.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found a couple of labels that stick after a few days’ wear-and-tear.  I do feel that Heathenry is often a bit exclusionary, but again, I’m in favor of people setting their own boundaries.  I want to know where I fit in, and it seems now like a lot of other people feel the same.

We need the community builders.  We need the legalists.  We need the loremasters.  We need the Godhis and Gydhjas.  We need the craftspeople.  We need the seidhkon, the volvas, the vitkis, the mad and the touched and the inspired.  We need the people that just want to go to the rites, connect with the Powers, and go home and not think about it.  We need the poets and taletellers.  We need the passionate speakers and activists.  We need the people sitting outside the ring around the fire, occasionally getting passed the mead and acting as the peanut gallery (which is kind of where I’m sitting right now).  When I refer to “we” I don’t just mean self-identified Heathens and their many subsects – I mean all of us who honor the Norse and Germanic powers and/or embrace the richness of Northern European Paganism in all of its contexts and aspects.  If “Heathen” doesn’t apply to all of us, we need a term that does form a proper umbrella, because there are things that we all share, and things that we can all teach each other and it will help us remember that on some level we’re all in this together, Heathen and heretic alike.

That’s that for now.  I’m going to Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring tomorrow, one of ADF’s primary annual gatherings.  The inimitable Patricia Lafayllve will be there with her ve to Freya and performing a seidh rite, and the Norse kin have a lunch at some point when the schedule settles.  I also hope to explore my conflicts regarding queer space vs. gendered space, and come back with more answers and questions on that and many other things.  If there’s wifi there I’ll be trying to make blog updates and report on location.  I’m excited – I’ve never been to Wellspring before!

Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

This (long) post has been a long time coming.  I’ve referenced my feelings about personal background and development in some other articles and have been spending a lot of time trying to explore myself in relation to the modern Pagan movement and Heathenry.  Although the title was inspired by Bertrand Russel’s piece “Why I am Not A Christian” I won’t, as he does, seek to deconstruct the idea of a particular deity.  I will, as he does, explain why the values expressed in the religion in question do not fit mine, and why that leaves me in a difficult place.

Let me begin by explaining that I’ve had a love for the Aesir and Vanir since childhood.  I first read of them in children’s fiction when I was four or five and rapidly advanced to reading more adult storybooks about them.  Later on I discovered source material like the Eddas and Sagas and buried myself in them.  I love the tales and I love the Gods.  However, I cannot love the Gods within the same framework that so many others do as in many ways it (in the words of Walt Whitman) insults my soul.


When speaking to Heathens about where they derive the virtues that they form their community on, Havamal inevitably arises as the primary source.  While I cannot (and do not) argue with the value of the Nine Noble Virtues, I have irreconcilable differences with some of the source material.

It starts with the misogyny.  Hearing Har proclaim that “The speech of a maiden should no man trust, nor the words which a woman says, for their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel and falsehood fixed in their breasts.” (83), and having “women’s bed-talk” and “witch’s flattery” being included in the list of things that none should trust scored me sorely.  I’m a woman of integrity and honor, and sweeping statements about my sex do no credit to my many sisters that stand by their words and honor their oaths and debts.

While we’re on the matter of integrity, allow me to raise this verse: “But hast thou one whom thou trustest ill
yet from whom thou cravest good?  Thou shalt speak him fair, but falsely think, and leasing pay for a lie.”  For some, this may be honor.  The other has breached honor and integrity, after all, both should be allowed to do it.

I can’t sit by this myself.  Whether or not another has been untrustworthy with you, I still consider if false to be false to them.  I know that the Allfather isn’t always known for fair dealings himself, and I take that into account when I read this.  However, I cannot use a philosophy like that as a basis for my own ethical beliefs.

Likewise, there are many verses that caution people against being too trusting.  While I understand them (having been a person who has trusted the wrong sorts of people in the past) they also feel paranoid.  I can’t base my behavior around a document that tells me not to trust people; trust builds trust and integrity builds integrity.

I love Havamal, and much of the advice found within is timeless and sound.  The tale of Odhinn and the runes makes my hair stand on end whenever it is recited (especially when recited in Norse).  However, I feel that that advice should be considered on a case-by-base basis, and not necessarily used as a be-all-end-all guide to human behavior and social interaction.  I think that that emphasis helps to account for the undercurrents of misogyny and xenophobia that I have encountered in Asatru and Heathenry – if devotion to Har’s sayings is unquestioned, the environment that is created will attract many sorts of people that I find questionable.

Dismissal of UPG

There are several problems that can arise from lack of grounding in lore in any polytheist tradition.  It is possible to think that you are honoring the Gods with ancient practices that turn out to be not so ancient.  It’s possible to be mislead by spirits and entities that may claim the identity or name of a deity to gain your attention or trust, and a grounding in the lore helps with discernment in the identification of wights that you deal with.  It’s even possible to look like a complete idiot in the face of scholars (Pagan and otherwise) who know better than you and can fill in the blanks while you trip over words trying to explain or discuss aspects of your faith.

I never met Snorri Sturluson (at least, not that I remember).  I can say that the window that he has provided us into the beliefs and poems of his time are invaluable.  I know that without him countless deities and tales would be forgotten, and as a storyteller and a Pagan I suppose that that makes him something of a hero of mine.

However, I don’t know him.  I don’t know the measure of his worth as a person, I haven’t seen his integrity in action, and I don’t know entirely why he did what he did.  What I do know is that even as a teenager reading the Eddas I recognized Christian influence in the tales, occasionally in a rather heavy-handed way.  I do know that Snorri made some odd claims about the ancestry of the Gods, and I do not agree with his suggestion that all deities were once human heroes.

The fact is, his work, and the Sagas we’ve kept in other ways, and hearsay are all we have to inform us of how people at the time when they were first written down felt about the Gods, and what they knew about the Gods, and what they did about those feelings.  Without this work reconstructionists wouldn’t have made it as far as they have.

I believe that the Eddas and the Sagas should be the first word, but not necessarily the last, and certainly not the most important.  The world that we live in is radically different from the world that those who recorded these things lived in.  We see it through different eyes, hear it through different ears, and filter it through different brains.

Yet some of us feel the call of the Gods and spirits from across whatever barrier of perception or dimension or both separates us.  Among those there are folks like myself, who find that the practices that have been reconstructed do not work as well for us as other techniques that we’ve learned or practiced, or who wish to supplement their practices.

Heathenry involves a degree of cultural reconstruction as well, and the awesomeness of Viking apron dresses aside, there are aspects to reconstructed Heathen culture that don’t fit with every person who honors the Aesir and Vanir.  There are those who don’t feel that we need to revisit age-old mores to create good relationships with the Gods.  There are even those like myself that feel that Gods might be okay with not being honored within a certain cultural context; that they might even care far less about human culture than we do.

I have been and perhaps still am a witch and a seeress and a priestess.  I know many others who fit into those and similar categories.  If I trust the person as a person I will tend to trust their words when speaking about their experiences with the Gods, the Wights, and the Ancestors.  I know that sometimes even honorable people lie, and that sometimes everyone is wrong, especially when feeling for signals from the spirits.

At the same time, if I am to truly believe in the Gods as real beings who really can communicate with us, I cannot ignore the gnosis of my fellow priestesses, seeresses, and spirit workers.  “UPG” or “Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” is often used interchangeably with “MUS” or “Made Up Shit” in modern Heathen discussion and dismissed out of hand.  Even when it is not it is treated with quite a bit of suspicion.

Like the layers of a pearl that form around an irritant, so do religions form around spiritual experiences.  Somewhere along the line, someone called that redgold Goddess “Freyja” for the first time.  Someone heard her voice, felt her presence, and decided to name her “Lady.”  Without that time-lost incident we also would not have the faith we had today, nor would Snorri and others have been able to write record what they had.

All religion starts with gnosis, both personal and shared.  Though the lore states nowhere that Freyja likes chocolate, I’ll challenge you to find a Freyjaswoman or Freyjasman who would argue that it’s not a worthy offering for her.  If someone said something confusing like “Freyja likes being offered bug spray.” I might be skeptical, but if many voices devoted to her spoke up for her love of pesticides I’d have to practice my own discernment and divination on the matter and see if that was part of my relationship with her.

At what point does “UPG” pass the threshold into accepted belief?   In a community where personal spiritual experiences of living worshipers are never considered to be of equal worth to the writings of those long gone, how can our understanding of the Gods evolve?  As our understanding of the physical universe and social realities of humankind evolve, so should our spiritual understanding and awareness.  Chaining this to modern interpretations of static words will put us into the same trap of stagnancy, corruption, and materialism as many other religions.

Rejection of Neopaganism

This takes many flavors and comes about for many reasons, but the majority of Heathens that I’ve spoken with do not consider Heathenry to be part of neopaganism.  Some claim that it is not a new religion, that it is an unbroken tradition (which I cannot answer to but I am always suspicious of those claims).  Some feel that the Gods and Ancestors are dishonored by association with deities and practices of other pantheons and cultures (regular readers know how I feel about that one).  Some claim that Heathenry is different enough in values and practice that Heathens don’t fit in to big umbrella Paganism.

I could take on any one of these individual points, and I understand the arguments both for and against them.  Personally, however, I do identify with the Neopagan community, because there are a great many within it that love the Aesir and the Vanir, the Landwights, Elves and Ancestors.  Our practices may be different, and our individual -theism or lack thereof may cause disagreements, but we all seek to revere the Gods dear to our hearts.  I would rather be exposed to a wide variety of practices and experiences with the Gods that I love, than to be in a strictly formulaic practice that allows no deviation.

The vitriol I’ve seen directed at those who identify as Pagan by those who identify as Heathen is excessive and shows a lack of willingness to assume good will or intent.  The fact that being called “Wiccatru” (a label I’ve seen applied to modern Heathen leaders and scholars who have a mystical or spiritual bent in practice) is considered an acceptable way to dismiss someone’s scholarship and practice brings me sorrow, as the many Pagan paths have quite a bit to teach one another.

Disregard for the Spiritual

As one of the God-bothered, a person who has always had experiences with spirits, I can’t reject or turn away from spiritual realities.  I’ve always lurked about and taken part in religions to help me find useful frameworks and techniques to deal with and make good use of my experiences.  Many of those experiences happen to be with the Aesir and Vanir and associated wights.

Thus it always baffles me when I encounter people who seem very devoted to religion or at least to religious identity but who mock spiritual experiences.  You know, the folks who claim that the runes were never used for magic (haven’t you read Sigridfumal?) or feel that the Gods don’t care about us or wish to interact with us personally (Ottar in the Lay of Hyndla?).  I’ve seen this in the Episcopalianism and Islam of my youth, and I’ve seen it in the Heathenry of my adulthood.  It’s a cultural attitude whose origins I am uncertain of but seems uncharacteristic of the people whose faith we’re trying to reconstruct or build on.  The sagas are full of tales of magick and seers and vitki and ghosts and spirits and Gods.  Why is it acceptable in our tales but not in our lives?

I’ve been told by at least one Heathen that Heathenry is an excuse to get drunk and dress like Vikings (and had pretty much the same words said by others).  If I wanted to get drunk and dress like a Viking I would not come up with such an elaborate excuse; I would have a Get Drunk And Dress Like A Viking Party.  I wouldn’t put work into reading lore.  I sure as anything wouldn’t be making offerings if I didn’t believe that anyone was on the receiving end.  I want a living faith that honors and builds relationships with the Gods and Spirits that I love dearly, not a frat party.

Community Focus (or Solitary Exclusionary)

Time and time again, it has been emphasized to me that Heathenry is community oriented, that without a community there is no purpose to it, that’s it’s not genuine, that’s it’s not right.

How nice for you.

Really, though, it’s nice to have community.  It’s affirming and validating and helpful when you have other people going through the same things with you.  It’s good to have people to be there for you through all of life’s transitions and vicissitudes.

However, not everyone can find communities that they fit into.  I struggle with both the Pagan and larger world community because of my trans status.  I struggle with the trans community because I have a religion that isn’t watered down non-spiritual Christianity or nihilistic modern American Buddhism.  I have to carve niches for myself wherever I go, and sometimes I don’t have that option.  I’m not alone in that, either.  There are a lot of people who, for reasons above or others (including the paucity of available Heathen communities in general) can’t find a Kindred or Hearth to belong to.

So when you don’t have a Kindred should you stop honoring the Ancestors and the wights and the Gods?  Should you just give them the shove and stop calling yourself Heathen because you don’t have a community?  “Well, I was Heathen but my Kindred broke up, so I’m an atheist until I can find another one.  No, following another religious tradition would be ‘drinking from someone elses’ well’, so I can’t do that either.  Just have to wait for another Kindred to form or form a new one before I can be a Heathen again.”

Which brings me to:

Folkish, Tribalist, Racialist, and other words that are used to say, “I’m not racist but…”

You know the story – your spiritual ancestry is carried in your DNA.  Only those whose blood is pure will receive blessing from the Norse Gods.  Only those of Pure European Heritage With Ancestors Who Were Never From Anywhere Else Ever Can Venerate Them.  Also, if you’re from Northern Europe, you shouldn’t pay any attention to any Gods or Spirits that aren’t in the Eddas or Sagas, because that’s “drinking from anothers’ well”.  You have different DNA, and that means that you are totally spiritually incompatible.  They either aren’t reaching out to you, or they are because they want to corrupt you, because foreign things are evil.

After all, the many races of the world are like instruments in an orchestra.  Each musician plays their own instruments; if you try and play the wrong instrument for you, all that will come out is a horrible sound and it will totally screw up the orchestra.  Also, unlike in the orchestra analogy, you can never learn to use an instrument that you are not designated to play at birth by skin color and last name on your birth certificate.

Godhi, please.

The concept of race is a dead one and should stay that way.  The idea that humans have distinct and pure bloodlines breaks down really quickly once you study any one person’s genealogy going back more than a century or so.  Throughout history, people have traveled, met other people, made war or trade with them, and whether it was war or trade also made babies with them.

There are ethnic enclaves that have been geographically isolated for long periods of time (like Tibet was up til around the 1950’s) where it could be argued that “pure” lineages developed.  Their ancestors still came from elsewhere, though.  As a Voudoun priestess once said to me, “It’s okay if you’re white; we all come from Africa, baby.”

I’ve studied my family genealogy.  This fat white girl from suburban America has black and native ancestors within the last two hundred years, and was raised by an Egyptian stepfather in an ethnically-mixed household.  I tan dark enough to look Italian in the summer (if you’re going to go by something as lame as skin color) – I know people from North Africa and the Levant who are paler than me.  I was raised on a combination of hummus, ta’amayah and the Qur’an on one side and white guilt, Tolkein, and liberal Episcopalianism on the other side.  Tell me, what faith do my genes or upbringing want me to follow?

I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.  I think that they favor who they choose to favor, regardless of their ethnic or genetic background.  These beliefs come from observation and experience, both mine and those of folks who I know.  I’ve had a Kemetic Goddess (who I worship mostly in Her Greco-Roman aspects) tell me in a Norse oracular rite to join an organization that bills itself as Druidic.

As such, I can’t be okay with “racialism”, “folkishness” or “tribalism”.  I’m an educated person of my time who knows that no blood is unmixed, who knows that no “race” is pure or even really exists, and who has enough of a mixed background that were I to limit my spiritual practices only to one tradition I would be leaving out other, important things.

When I formally approached The Ancestors, my Ancestors, as a whole for the first time and asked them what they wanted me to know, I was taken out of myself, or rather back through myself.  I followed and spread out through endless lives like branching worm casts, spreading more and more until I couldn’t count or even pay attention to the details that were passing by me.  All life is my ancestry, every being who has lived has contributed to who I am today.  It’s the same for you, dear reader.  They are all part of you.

However, taking issue with folkishness (aka Heathen racism) is somehow naughty because Frith.  Because we should all be peaceful and safe with one another and trust one another.  Because we need to reach across the aisle and embrace all Heathens, regardless of what they believe.

This mutt, this mud-blooded, racially mixed lover of the Vanir and Aesir has no inclination to do so.  I’ll not share a space with those who discount me, or would discount my sisters or any of my family or loved ones because of their ancestry.  I’ll not drink with those who wouldn’t drink with me (or would because my skin is pale, but wouldn’t with my little sisters because theirs is not).  I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t have a problem with it, or that I think that pandering to folkish beliefs is in any way acceptable to me.  But, because people are afraid to stand up to their own beliefs and cover cowardice with Frith and make peace with people who would take our Gods away because of our ancestry (if they could) I don’t fit with any but the most stringently liberal of the Universalist/Folkish divide.

Not to mention the queer and trans thing.  That doesn’t go over too well either.

So where do I go from here?  What options does this non-Heathen have?  What space is there for a polytheist who wants to honor the Vanir and Aesir (and maybe a couple of the friendlier Jotnar like Gerda and Skadhi) but can’t abide many things that grate upon her in popular Heathen culture?  Stay tuned; my next post is going to explore all of the options that I’ve found and considered.