Dec 22, 2011

Yuletide: Honoring Balder

This morning--the morning after the longest night--I began the Yuletide by honoring the Gods and Goddesses of the night and day, followed by a ritual to Balder. There is some overlap to be found here. Etymologically, Balder's name is connected with the Slavic God of Light, Belobog. Both are associated with the color white and with daytime and goodness.

Yule gives us a chance to slow down and look within for what resonates. While the secular holiday may involve scurrying about, attempting to fulfill an ever-shifting list of external demands, I believe that Heathens have a quieter, far more profound gift before us. Nature turns in, to the healing and peace of the night. Our hearts too may still, as we gather around our own hearths, whatever those may be. One hearth of mine is Kevin Crossley-Holland's book of the tales of our Gods. I am finding re-reading the Norse stories to be very much like coming home and resting by the fire. What matters, though, is that one is honest and looks to what truly warms one's heart. This is our chance to know calm, to come inside after the year's journey. I very much agree with this poster's insight about making Yule one's own. I also note, with a touch of humor, that I am of course celebrating the holiday in an entirely different way. Every home is different. The warmest homes are welcoming precisely because they reflect the true soul of whoever lives within them.

A few thoughts on Balder, with whom I began this Yuletide. In some ways, I experience Him as the God of spiritually coming Home. Interestingly, it is usually not the sword or the spear that kills our spirit. It is not the heavy, obvious threat that smothers the soul. Rather, it is the small things that end up cutting most deeply: something we thought insignificant, too weak to do us any harm. One tiny dart extinguishes all light. I believe that part of Balder's story is that this light can be returned, that home (or Home) can be found again. He crosses the water and--having been sent away on His burning ship, the greatest of all ships--journeys into the realm of the dead. At risk of getting especially mystical here, I will note that He is as present as any other God or Goddess. We can speak with our ancestors: death does not tear them from us. So too with the Gods.

Naturally, being Forseti's, I can't help but note another connection, one going toward His son. Both of these Gods--Balder and Forseti--cross the waters of the ocean in a ship to bring about order. In a sense, both found a new land, a new home. Balder's is associated with the world after Ragnarok; Forseti's with a people secured by good laws. Both Gods are known for Their wisdom and judgment, for Their ability to bring peace.

May your Yule be blessed and joyous. Hail the Gods and Goddesses!

Dec 1, 2011

Golden Axe

Forseti - God of the Golden Axe
Another piece of photo art, this time of Forseti's golden axe, going back to the tale of how He gave the Frisians their law. 

Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).

Attributions: Wikimedia Commons axe, Jutland beach, stream, knotwork from the Sutton Hoo belt buckle, and knotwork from the Sutton Hoo mask replica. The photo of the waves is my own. The picture was created with software from Paint.net.

Nov 21, 2011

Receiving And Giving

The title of this post might well seem backwards at first. Discordant, even. It should read "giving and receiving," shouldn't it?

It's a good time of year to think of gifts and gratitude. Naturally, these concepts tie in to celebration, to life and to joy. Only, they so often don't. The holidays can quickly become burdensome, as our old, very natural sense of wonder is buried under a clogging mire of obligations and to-do lists. Good cheer gives way to less desirable emotions.  

There's a simple problem here, but this problem has deep roots. Our order is reversed. This may seem like a small thing, but it is not. The presentation of evidence absolutely must come before a verdict. When the verdict is established first, we no longer have anything resembling due process. Fairness is turned on its head.

Timing matters. The order of thoughts and events matter.

The idea of "giving and receiving" is deeply ingrained in our culture and psyches. That phrase exists as it does for a reason, and twisting it around 180-degrees can be rather jarring at first.

Whether we care for the idea or not, we are all the heirs of a Protestant-influenced culture. Not all of this is detrimental, by any means. Our passion for individual growth, commitment to social justice, and valuing of merit over birth owe a great deal to Protestant philosophies. However, the words we use--the very way ways in which we think--are saturated with certain presumptions. It is up to us to bring these core assumptions forward for examination and to chose or reject them on a more conscious level. In law, even a strong presumption may be open to rebuttal.

Culturally as well as linguistically, giving comes before receiving. We are to work for what we receive. It is the rare employer indeed who pays employees in advance, before they have put in their time. Some of the more predominant forms of monotheism emphasize having faith before anything is proven. You absolutely must commit to the verdict before the evidence is offered, otherwise you are in breach of the terms mandated by that religious community. Other forms of monotheism might be less strict about this, but there is often an underlying sense that one should do certain things now to reap rewards later. You shall give, that you may receive.

Nature does not work this way. Not at all.

Think of breathing, of the exhaling as giving. The plants will certainly make use of your offering of carbon. So, go ahead: try to exhale first. Try to give before receiving.

It can't be done. We quickly see how the inhale has to come first.

Likewise, the trees cannot glow with the sun's rays, nor transform carbon into oxygen, without first receiving. Soil, water, and light: the trees must have gifts in order to give gifts. And they must have these things more or less constantly, in a flow of exchanges. No thoughtful person expects a tree to keep giving of itself if it receives no sunlight. Likewise, no tree can thrive if torn out by its roots. At best, it may survive--but it will need new soil quickly, and there are no guarantees it will do particularly well after such a violent transfer.

The sad irony is that we sometimes tend to expect ourselves (or others) to keep right on giving where we might show more compassion for the tree.  

It is no mistake that breath is the first gift and that it is given by Odin Himself--the Veratyr, the very God of Being.

Receive to give. Receive to give, and then receive to give again. This flow, this dance never ceases.

Only dead things seem static, and even that's an illusion. As you receive, so do you give.

Gebo and Ansuz: A Traditional Bindrune for "Gift of the Gods" or "Gift for the Gods"

Nov 13, 2011

Sigyn Artwork

Sigyn

More devotional art, this time of a young Sigyn. I've been wanting to create a piece for Her for a while now. This is a composite picture made from a photograph I took of a girl selling flowers and of a Wikimedia Commons photograph of a bonfire. Layering, modifications, and balancing were done via my preferred art software.

Licensing remains Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).

Oct 17, 2011

Thrud, Daughter Of Thor And Sif

Today's post is about Thrud, the daughter of Thor and Sif. She is not a particularly well-known Goddess: even "Our Troth," Second Edition, Volume One has only a short piece on Her. What follows below are personal experiences with Her. While I am not Hers in the same way I am Forseti's, She has been a steady and extremely wise presence in my life. She is very much worth getting to know.

Thrud's name literally means "strength." This is very appropriate for the daughter of Thor Himself. However, the sort of strength She's shared with me has not been that of a strong-armed warrior Goddess rushing into battle. Rather, in Her, there is the strength of the rock outcropping or the fortress, rooted down to the very core. Her strength is the sort that comes from the very heart. It allows for deep emotion and feeling; indeed, insists upon it. Her gift is a true and genuine strength, not an adopted pretense that we assume to force our way through. Like all the Norse Gods and Goddesses, she calls us toward authenticity.

I've found that Thrud has a quiet, gentle demeanor. She is compassionate and is usually soft-spoken: there is a sense about Her that this is because She does not need to raise Her voice. Underneath, there are currents of iron resolve and an absolute willingness to stand strong for those whom She loves. Home and the bonds of family are very important to Her. For those who work in a protective role, She reminds us of why we do what we do. She has been kind enough share with me some of the warmth of Her hearth and home: through Her, I've become closer to Thor and to Sif. They are a beautiful, open-hearted, and loving family. Because of Them, I've felt more of what it means to come Home to our Gods.

Thrud is very much a Goddess of clear thoughts and speech. This makes sense in light of Her associations with chieftains. Muddled understandings and miscommunications are harmful to good leadership. In meditations, I've sometimes found Her one of the easiest Gods or Goddesses to "see." It is worth noting that clarity and strength really do go together: when we speak of a strong color, for example, we mean that it is clear and undiluted. A strong coffee is uncompromising in its own essence; it is not watered down. Thrud encourages strength by being true to what is core in oneself. Her strength comes from a rightful inward focus, like that of a walled fortress buffered from inside, able to withstand gales and attacks. She is gently wise and gives beautiful advice, with Her own feel about it.

A personal story about Thrud: after connecting with Her for a time, She asked me to get Her a gift. She wanted an amber heart and would politely mention this periodically. I kept an eye open for one, but did not look for the piece online, as that approach felt off to me. I was reasonably certain I'd know Her gift when I saw it. Finally, I did find Her heart: it was being sold by a person who is dedicated to Her father. I thought that this was very appropriate, given Her love of Her family.

Associated colors: Red and gold, per "Our Troth." In my experience, She also seems to like warm amber and honey tones.  
Offerings: Mead and flowers, especially flowers in the above colors. There is something very down-to-earth and natural about Thrud. I've found that She very much appreciates lit beeswax candles. She may enjoy oak leaves and trees too, not unlike Her father.

Sep 23, 2011

Excerpt From A Dream

This post very much caught my interest. I feel that it raises a cogent point: there comes a time when we have to take a stand. Those of us who identify with the progressive side of Heathenism cannot always afford to maintain a "polite" silence.

A few weeks ago, I actually had my first dream of encountering my God, Forseti, face-to-face. In the dream, I knew I was supposed to meet Him, and then heard His voice telling me where to look for Him. I went where I was supposed to go and was able to pick Him out from within a crowd: He appeared to be a professionally dressed older man with short, curly gray hair and creamy brown skin. He had hazel eyes--light brown with other colors mixed in. All in all, He looked Latino, or perhaps Middle Eastern. I won't go into the entire dream, but throughout, there was a deep sense of connection, love, and the possibility of real hope for those who had been victimized in brutal ways. My dream ended with these words: "justice is for everyone."

Sep 10, 2011

A Dedicant's Experiences With Forseti

One of the reasons I enjoy being a judicial officer is because the work culture plays to my natural inclinations. While I take a great deal of pleasure in conversation and sharing an honest laugh, and value my friendships deeply, I keep much of who I am private. This is not an unusual trait for people in my line of work.

Lies? Lies are in the air we breathe--though we get honest folks in front of us too, and it is absolutely critical to remember that. Many judicial officers develop certain instincts: that little whisper in the ear that something "feels" off. Asking the right questions and getting as much information as possible are vital. We often find out that our instincts were correct, when the fingerprints come back or when the facts are finally corroborated. But we live in an imperfect world and operate within an imperfect system. Sometimes, there is simply no way to know what really happened.

Today's post is about my personal experiences as a dedicant of Forseti. I can't say that I'm finding this to be the easiest post to write, but He seems to want it done, and not from an academic perspective. Since we bring so much of ourselves into the experiences and relationships that are the most meaningful to us, I thought it fair to begin with some of what I'm bringing into this topic. No one else can speak to your relationship with a God or Goddess. Each relationship is different. All of my thoughts here are offered in that spirit.

Forseti

Forseti is not one of the most well-known Gods in our pantheon. He is associated with justice, lawgiving, and decision-making. Some links to the left provide overviews of His surviving lore. For more detailed information, Richard Culver's article, "The Stiller of Strife," is an excellent resource.

Forseti is an incredibly compassionate, loving, and warm God (however, like all the Norse Gods, He does have a harder side to Him when necessary). He tends to like a certain level of decorum, even from those who belong to Him. Casual turns of phrase and flippant expressions generally do not go over well with Him. However, He very much recognizes that our minds soak up what surrounds us, and that it can be very hard for us to still or ground our thoughts. I've never known Him to hold unwanted digressions against a person who approaches Him in good faith. Indeed, over time, I've found Him to be adept at stilling internal strife. The world of the mind and clarity of thought are extremely important to Him. He is a highly intellectual God.

As Mr. Culver notes in his article, Forseti isn't exactly known as the most "hands-on" of the Norse Gods. Indeed, he can be rather reserved. Getting purely in the realm of personal opinion, I do think that this is actually for our protection: He is very literally the "Presiding One." If a matter is brought to Him and He has jurisdiction over it, it becomes His--as in, deviating from what is asked can and will upset an important balance, and result in decidedly unpleasant fallout. A court analogy is appropriate here: judgments must be obeyed, and judges do have ways to enforce them, as many a fugitive arrested on a capias has discovered. Fortunately, our Gods are good Gods. They don't stand about, waiting for us to make a mistake so They can spring some sort of trap on us. I've found that Forseti tends to be very straightforward about what will be expected, often--if not always--before any final agreements are made. He is honest about what He can and cannot do for you, but is also very caring and may be willing to offer advice on matters that are not, as such, His. His decisions may very well go toward what is right in the higher sense. While He will listen to personal concerns and wishes, and might take these into account, these may or may not prove determinative of the outcome.

As indicated earlier, language is very important to Forseti. He has a profound understanding of what is unspoken as well as spoken. Never attempt to lie to Him--or to any other God or Goddess, for that matter. If He asks a question, take the time to think your answer through. Respectful deliberation is always a good way to honor Him. Artifice is anathema to Him, as is sarcasm, and He does not like verbal trickery or showmanship. With Him, language is to be used as tool to build bridges, uplift the individual and the community, and to bring the truth to the light. This does not mean that one is obliged to tell the whole truth at all times. Confidentiality and privacy have sacred aspects in law and in life, and not everyone is entitled to every bit of information. Silence is valuable--indeed, sometimes silence is holy.

Continuing in this vein, He is also a God of respect and protecting healthy boundaries. Respect is especially crucial to Him, for it lifts up the person who gives it and the person who receives it, as well as all those around them. Respect very much includes respect for the self. I've noticed that my God does not particularly like words such as "humility" or "supplication" (another worshiper's experience may differ; for me, these words do have certain strong connotations). Much like Heimdall, Forseti is associated with guarding boundaries and setting aside a space for what is holy. This can be seen in the surviving legend about Him. It is my belief that He would be a good God to consult for psychological concerns regarding internal respect and keeping healthy boundaries.

A few more thoughts on Forseti: while He can be reserved, he is a very warm, dedicated, and loving God. If He shows you something of His private side, it is a great honor indeed. Do not take this trust lightly. He is very intelligent and curious, but tends not to like analysis without heart. Fairness, order, and open legal processes are all of great significance to Him. The words engraved over the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building, "Equal Justice Under Law," could well have been His.

Symbols: Single-headed axe, hawks, clear springs, the ocean, ships, scales and other legal symbols.
Colors: Red, per many who have interacted with Him. Gold and silver. On a personal level, I have had a positive response to using white, going toward holiness and purity.
Offerings: A lit candle works well. Unlike some Gods and Goddesses, I have not found Him to be particularly interested in food offerings. Mead seems to be appreciated, though. Obviously, offerings should be directed toward Him personally and not "given" as some sort of attempt to change the outcome of a legal proceeding. Praying for a just and right outcome would be appropriate, so long as this is the true intent of the prayer, regardless of individual interests.

Aug 19, 2011

How Do We Know When The Gods Are Really Talking To Us?

It seems to me that certain parts of the human mind deeply resist true connection to the Gods. I would like to share some thoughts and experiences that have helped me in finding the gold interspersed amidst the pyrite. As usual, I write from my own "jurisdiction": what works for me may or may not work so well for someone else.

I very much believe that it is possible to have direct, personal communication with the Gods. For me, this usually involves mental imagery and internal conversation. Though we can receive astounding impressions, I think our minds by necessity filter what we're able to perceive. I've had more than a few spiritual insights presented to me in the form of legal analogies; an astrophysics analogy would not work so well in my case.

How do we know when the Gods are talking to us? I've actually found that this question becomes more difficult with the Gods and Goddesses I'm closest to. A Divinity who is a fulltrui or fulltrua can be especially challenging. We have a lot riding on these communications (which is an invitation for subconscious interference in itself). That intense, understandable desire to really connect can lead to the mind creating its own "filler." Better an illusion than the risk of a perceived rejection through silence--or so says this one part of the brain. And then, I've also run into a particularly dark and clever part of the mind that is very good at faking a familiar interaction: its agenda is actually to drive a wedge into the relationship. This might manifest as a conversation that seems like something a God of Goddess would say, but that has a "pulling down" effect to it.

I'll start with the second mental exchange, for I've found it the most devious. While our Gods and Goddesses can and do show anger, you'll know what's going on when They do. Our Norse Gods are not subtle, and They don't get into a lot of spiraling rumination and guilt-tripping. A genuine conversation with an angry Deity can be frightening and heart-wrenching, but it will not push your entire spirit down into an abyss. The "construct conversation," on the other hand, will leave you with a subtle, generalized feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness. Again, I'll emphasize that the part of the mind that creates these "dialogues" is extremely insidious. I suspect it's "motivation," so to speak, is achieving independence at any cost. In some contexts, this might be adaptive. In others, this part of the brain becomes a tyrant: it will eagerly condemn you to your own personal hell for the sake of its erroneous conceptions of "survival." It most emphatically does not want you to joyously bond with a God or Goddess--or perhaps with anyone else, for that matter.

"Filler" is probably less damaging, but can be exceedingly annoying. It's hard enough to begin stilling your day-to-day thoughts without throwing cheery, pseudo-Divine chatter into the mix. In my case, I've found that a conversation that is utterly unattached to some sort of mental imagery might well be filler (I'll note that my visuals are sometimes quite hazy, especially if I'm speaking with a God in my work environment or when otherwise "out and about"). Emotions can be very telling here, for there often aren't any. In my experience, at least, a real communication usually involves some sort of feeling: these are our Gods we're talking to, after all. With attention and practice, filler can be isolated: it may have the overtones of memory or of regular internal dialogue. It resonates with the head, but not with the heart.

A few other thoughts:

Conversations--especially important conversations--can be given time. We need not rush into every last thing. It can also be very helpful to check in with other Gods or Goddesses. The mind is harder pressed to create a false echo when it is interacting with a less familiar Deity. Finally, as discussed in the earlier post on Presence, a touch--e.g., a God or Goddess taking your hand--can be a confirmation that you are truly connecting. While I have not gone into dreams or divination here, these may also be of great value.

Aug 1, 2011

The "Making" Of Gods

I've found another rather contradictory article claiming that humans create Gods. This one is written by a purported hard polytheist. In any case, the basic view seems to be common. I've seen variations of the same argument in some of Diana Paxson's writings as well: i.e., she'll sometimes maintain that the Gods and Goddesses depend on us to exist, and that They somehow fade away without human attention.
 
I very much disagree with this take. We can and do bring a lot to the Gods. The relationships that enrich us also enrich Them. This is a beautiful thing. Profound connections and uplifting bonds do not go one way; the exchange is part of the power and the wonder of it all.

Fundamental existence is another question entirely. We are far less likely to see a claim that humans are dependent on another being's belief to exist. We die, all of us, but many of us have faith in some sort of continuity, in some sort of transcendent integrity of consciousness. Rarely will someone propose that you must be observed or interacted with to exist--even if you happen to be in a non-corporeal spiritual state. When it comes to our fellow men and women, we tend to presume a kind of immortality. Culture and timelines have little impact on this belief. We still send off the dead, for we are convinced that there is something to send off.

Why would the Gods be different? On what basis can we assume that if They are forgotten on Midgard, They cease to be? The idea seems so untenable to me as to be almost laughable. My own experience has been one of going from a vague, impersonal sort pantheism to being introduced to very real Gods and Goddesses. My closest God, Forseti, has not been actively worshiped in at least 1,300 years. His name is still rarely hailed. And yet He's had no trouble whatsoever in making His presence, personality, and--yes--His strength and power known to me. The word "God" does mean something. Divinity means something. 

Perhaps this hints at the underlying problem. The Gods as archetypes allow us a certain degree of comfort... an escape clause, if you will. An archetype arises from the human mind and is ultimately dependent on us to exist. With sufficient understanding, it can be circumvented or controlled--used, even. If we acknowledge that the Gods are at least as real as we are, we lose our tidy illusions of being in charge. We have to deal with Them as individuals, and we no longer have the final say. The Gods and Goddesses are suddenly no longer "safe." If we chose to approach Them, we begin to realize that we would be wise to do so with... a basic measure of respect.

Power is not an easy concept; less so when so many people have been on the receiving end of abuses of power. We discover that we have to trust the Gods--and ourselves--in ways we've never had to trust anyone before. Therein, I think, lies some of the aversion to the sort of hard polytheism that insists on the enduring reality of the Divine. It's "easier" to deal with constructs and archetypes. But if we're honest with ourselves, we begin to realize that the "easy" answer can feel incredibly empty.

Even in the context of real Gods, our surviving myths are of incredible importance: the earth-bound human mind needs to have a few stepping-stones in place before it can begin to build a bridge. But if everything had been lost? No, our Gods and Goddesses would not have ceased to exist. Fortunately for all sides, we do have what we have: enough to strike off on the most amazing of journeys, in the most amazing of company.

Jul 25, 2011

Color Drawing Of Forseti

Forseti

A remarkably slow night-shift brings us a more colorful portrait of Forseti giving the law. This is based off a somewhat different version of my original pencil drawing. He looks a good deal more cheerful here.

As usual, licensing is Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).

Jul 4, 2011

Drawing Of Loki

Loki
This is a devotional drawing of Loki I created this morning. I used pastels on black paper, but I had to balance out the colors with my art software, as they were far too muted at first. Licensing is Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA). If you wish to print out a copy, you may have to lighten the picture up beforehand. My printer definitely had some trouble with it.

Pastels seemed very appropriate for a Loki piece. They're not the most precise medium and can blur in unpredictable ways. Pastels were also a childhood favorite--I got all sorts of joy and amusement from them, which is exactly the sort of thing Loki approves of. In any case, the earlier strokes felt like starting off with a mask, a blank and inhumane visage. This gradually gave way to human features and skin tones. I didn't plan this piece out ahead and had some tense moments with it here and there, but I'm very happy with the results.

Jun 14, 2011

On "Perfection"

When I was a kid, I had this idea I had to be "perfect." At least part of this was a reaction to a very chaotic home environment. If I were perfect, I'd have control. Of course, defining perfection was a problem. One determination I made at the emboldened age of eight or nine was that perfect people don't cry. Fortunately, I was also philosophical. When I did invariably end up crying over something--at the emboldened age of eight or nine--I put it in perspective and determined that I would try to do better next year.

As polytheists, we acknowledge that our Gods are not perfect. They are amazingly good, awesome, loving, huge, powerful, healing, etc. They fill the deepest recesses of the heart, then surprise you all over again, just when you thought you'd reached the pinnacle of spiritual experience. But They're not perfect.

I think there's a good reason for this. Perfection, when you get down to it, is a static ideal. If you try to picture a "perfect" heaven, you're more likely to envision perfect boredom. We need to learn, to grow. Nothing in nature is truly static. Even the emptiest corner of the Cosmos must surely know the brush of a new quark every ten thousand years or so. The seemingly permanent mountains change. The hardest of stones all have their own stories.

There may be such a thing as temporary perfection. Perhaps I could write the perfect brief: my case citations would be impeccable, my arguments air-tight. Every word would sing off the page, and the judge would of course find in my favor. Yes, I'd have the perfect brief.

And the next day, a case "just like" the one I'd just won would come up. Only, it could never quite be the same case, could it? At least one or two facts would have to be different. Yesterday's brief would no longer be perfect. Not for that case. But you could still use it as a template for the new perfect brief, right? For a while, maybe. Nonetheless, my one true masterpiece of legal writing would become less and less relevant over time. It's a frozen victory, a gnat trapped in amber. Meanwhile, new laws would be enacted, new precedents established.

So much for perfection.

We're blessed in that we don't have perfect Gods. We're blessed in that we cannot be perfect ourselves. This doesn't mean we're not called to high standards and to high ideals. But we move. We grow. And in doing so, we thrive.

Jun 9, 2011

Transcending Gods

I recently had an experience of my God that I have the go-ahead to share. I'll do my best with it, but words are by nature going to be inadequate. Ultimately, this is one person's mystical experience. If a reader takes something away from it, wonderful. If this post doesn't resonate at all, that's fine too. Reasonable minds differ, and individual experiences differ. No one walks the exact same path.

I recently had a meditation change over into something new for me: everything went silent, mentally, and my perceptions became very impersonal. There was a quick flow of images, starting off with the more personal feel of my God and the end of His worship as Christianity spread... then the sense of His presence shifted, and I found I was "following"--for lack of another way to put it--the law (or, The Law) as a sentient, transcendent power, with preferences and opinions. This "felt" something like my God, but was not the same. Not the way I'm used to, at any rate. Perhaps one could describe this as a different aspect?

The flow ended in my familiar work environment. I could perceive a very caring side to this... consciousness. There was a sense of acute, seething frustration with people who use to the law to cheat others or to deny others access to justice. There was also a jubilant, very personal sense of affection for those who try to serve the law and put it ahead of their own convenience, biases, and interests. This power simply wanted what It wanted (and here I hesitate over the appropriate pronoun, as It still seemed quite masculine to me): It did not mind if the people It cared deeply for ever acknowledged It at all.

Toward the very end, I got swept up in a sense of transcendence. The impressions were astonishing, but also terrifying. Words are doomed to fail here. Law is no small thing; it is a real force in our world.

I very much like the idea that our Gods could have stayed with us in other ways, that They could have been with us all along, even when we weren't actively worshiping Them. However, I'll again emphasize that this is just a possibility that now makes some sense to me. It is offered here as nothing more or less than that.  

Afterwards, a rather amused Loki decided to stop by. He pointed out that, hey, at least I didn't get hit over the head with transcendent Justice.

Jun 4, 2011

Altar Piece



This is a wood-burnt piece I made for my general altar to the Gods and Goddesses. Something about wood-burning really appeals to me. The smoky scents, the uncertainty of the results--there's a real mix of planning, chaos, and improvisation involved. Then, there's a deep satisfaction to the staining finally drying and being able to see your completed work.

May 17, 2011

Fulltruis And Fulltruas

I recently bought and finished reading Fulltrui: Patrons In Asatru. I'd rather let the book speak for itself than attempt to provide to any sort of detailed review. It has some poignant insights, and I am very glad to see that the subject of patron Gods--of having a fulltrui or fulltrua, being a dedicant, or however one might attempt to quantify these amazingly intense relationships with a Divinity--is getting the wider attention it so richly deserves. I do wish that the discussion of giants had been saved for another volume, as that can be a rather specific and polarizing interest.

The book is very clear about the serious nature of having a lifetime bond with a God or Goddess. That said, a connection can happen very quickly, and you still might be entirely certain that you've met your God. For me, I felt like a had a choice at the beginning: Loki seemed quite willing to be my closest God. But at the same time, I found that I kept on returning to something as simple as a Wikipedia article on a God with hardly any lore to His name. Every time I reread it, something else seemed to click. And then, talking to that God....

I'll always remember the first time my God, Forseti, asked for a formal offering. It was a simple enough interaction, and didn't last very long, but I felt His presence. Looking back, I think some of these experiences start off short for a reason: there's no small amount of acclimation involved when you've never been in the company of a God or Goddess before. Over time--with patience and shared experiences--the process becomes much easier.

Early on, I made the natural enough inference that the connection was about "service." From other blogs, it seems other Heathens with a fulltrui or fulltrua have run into this as well. But no, this is about truly relating to the divine. It's about the heart, about--quite simply and most profoundly--love. I haven't experienced anything indicating that our Norse Gods want servants. New family, new friends, and the deepest and most meaningful connections you can imagine, yes. And, certainly, They will sometimes ask tough things of you once you are Theirs. But approaching our Gods in terms of "service" was a false path, one I was quickly redirected off of. Dedicating yourself to a God or Goddess, on the other hand... that is an entirely different matter, with an entirely different meaning.  
 
As mentioned above, in the beginning, I seemed to have a choice. And then--I'm not sure exactly when--I passed a sort of subtle point where there was only the joyful inevitability of it all. There was a sense of this is right... this is home. I've met other Gods and Goddesses and been thoroughly charmed by Them, but I know Whom I belong to. It's not even a question. That verdict's been delightfully rendered.

Being close to one God will bring you closer to others. Having a fulltrui or fulltrua does not mean you become a proxy monotheist, though at first it can feel that way, when you're caught up in getting to know your God or Goddess. Being a dedicant opens surprising doors: to grow closer to one God or Goddess is to grow closer to Asgard. However, this bond can and does change how you relate to other divinities, for it goes to where loyalties lie. Much as I'm a friend of Loki's, I can't put certain of his interests first; not the way a dedicant of His might.

Ultimately, though, I don't think the Gods work against each other. They have different priorities--sometimes strikingly different priorities!--but, in my opinion, They don't go about trying to undermine each other. Our Gods are good Gods, and all that this means. We can always look for the very best in Them. Likewise, we can trust Them to bring out the very best in us.

May 7, 2011

On Spirituality

This paragraph from a recent ScienceDaily article about spirituality among Atheist scientists really caught my attention:

"In their analysis of the 275 interviews, they discovered that the terms scientists most used to describe religion included 'organized, communal, unified and collective.' The set of terms used to describe spirituality include 'individual, personal and personally constructed.' All of the respondents who used collective or individual terms attributed the collective terms to religion and the individual terms to spirituality."

For me, being Heathen is about spirituality. I'm a "progressive Heathen" (to borrow Uncle Thor's term) and a mystic. Frankly, I'll go so far as to say that I'm actually grateful to be in a faith that does not have a more formalized religious structure.

When it comes to the online world, you do not have to look far to find varying approaches to being Heathen that are distinctly religious. Some of these writings have a brittle, desperate tone to them. With spirituality, you have to be mentally prepared for deep-seated disagreements: someone's take on a God or Goddess or any other aspect of faith may really set your teeth on edge! With religion, there's a certain expectation of consensus: for example, the recitation of the Nicene Creed is a vital part of many Christian services. The spiritual Christian with personal experiences outside the majority-defined religious paradigm is in a position where he or she might be accused by others of not even being Christian.

What about people who are, well, "wrong?" You know, that hypothetical individual who offers up Thor a Shirley Temple, lovingly embellished with one of those little frilly cocktail umbrellas, when the rest of us all know He'd prefer a nice dark stout?

We can trust the Gods to speak for Themselves. Probably quite loudly, where the Shirley Temple is involved. The spiritual approach is to allow the individual that freedom to potentially stumble quite badly: the responsibility is on the worshiper. What comes of this is between him or her and the Gods. The freedom--the openness, the growth, the real connections--that can result are the most worthwhile of trades, even when measured against such a grievous "breach." We need not stand stiffly in front of an altar someone else designed, reading from a dusty liturgical book and nervously glancing over our shoulders, self-consciously wondering if we're doing things "right." That's religion.

Me, I'll take what's joyous, what's strong, what's of the heart and free. I'll take spirituality.

May 1, 2011

Amicus Brief In Support Of Loki

In law school, you'll hear a saying: "reasonable minds can--and often do--differ." If there were ever a case of reasonable minds being in disagreement, it would certainly be over Loki.

I present for consideration a few thoughts on Loki. They are by necessity incomplete--Loki has so many aspects and faces. All of the Gods and Goddess are delightfully, upliftingly complex--complex enough to nourish a worshiper through a lifetime and beyond--but Loki carries this especially far.

I'm not, strictly speaking, a dedicant of His (or whatever word might best apply). However, He's unquestionably the God I'm second-closest to. He is very much a friend. The Christian-influenced Prose Edda aside, we do have some positive sources on Loki, e.g., the Lincolnshire Hammer Charm and the Lokka Tattur Ballad.

The Lokka Tattur is a good place to start. In it, Loki goes out of His way to save a child from being devoured by a giant when two other Gods had given up on the task. One of the strong personal impressions I have of Loki is as a real protector of the innocent, especially children and animals. He's a prankster--very much so--but not a God of wanton cruelty.

Another way I've experienced Loki is as a God of the Shadows--or of the "Shadow," in the Jungian sense of the word (and here I'll quickly recommend "Why Good People Do Bad Things" by James Hollis. It's an excellent read, and the author quite forthrightly acknowledges the advantages of polytheism). If you're willing to set aside fear, to make the attempt to get to know and trust Loki, the rewards are immense. On so many levels, He is a God that brings great treasures.

On a similar note, He is a God for the outsider, for the ones who don't fit in and aren't willing to "fake it" to do so. Loki crosses boundaries of every sort (even stepping outside His own pantheon... I've met at least one genuine Lokean who does not worship any other Norse Gods).

He's a very honest God. Be careful with your expectations around Him: He might well oblige them. He's the God of  "don't be an idiot" and He reserves the right to prank you if you do insist on being one. But He's also very understanding and compassionate in His way. He gets the hardest parts of being human. Knowing Him can be profoundly healing, sometimes when you didn't even consciously realize something was wrong. My closest God refers me to Him periodically. There's no conflict there. Our Gods are grander than preconceptions.

On the subject of healing, Loki is the God of heartfelt laughter and a good story. What restores the spirit like a good tale? What brightens up the day like an honest laugh? He's the center--the catalyst--of so many of our very best stories.

Like Odin, Loki is also a God of shamanism. The introduction to Kevin Crossley-Holland's "The Norse Myths" has a great discussion on this. Dreams, shapeshifting, and meditation are all things that He is very good with. This is how I met Him--first, in a dream. Later, He introduced me to His friends.

I owe Loki in the most profound way. He's the God who guided me Home. While being respectful of the fact that everyone's experiences vary--that reasonable minds can and do differ--I feel that it is important to be honest about what He has done for me and to gently state the other side of His case when the circumstances are conducive to doing so.

Apr 26, 2011

Sketch of Forseti

Forseti - Giver of Law

A sketch I drew (with, er, some help now and again) of Forseti giving the law. The Wikipedia article on Him describes the scene. Truth be told, this wasn't exactly how I had originally pictured the God I'm closest to, but it seemed to be what He wanted drawn.

Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA).

Symbolism:

The arm tattoo is a bindrune of Tiwaz (justice, honor, rationality, analysis) and Othala (inheritance, group order, property, safety, inherited values).

There may be some blurring, as I did some softening and balancing with my art software, but the bracelet says "Glitnir" in runes. The oath-ring necklace has three inscriptions: helgi ("holiness," discussed below), lagu ("law"), and a traditional bindrune of Gebo and Ansuz, for "gift of the Gods."

The cliffs in the back represent Frisia.

Mar 28, 2011

The Power Of Life And Death

This is more in the nature of a random thought--one that comes to mind as Spring seems to war with the clinging vestiges of Winter: cherry blossoms and snow, new buds and frost.

Odin is very much a God of life and death, and He has power over both. He is the All-Father, Who goes by so many names and Who has so many aspects. The God of War and of the Hanging is also the One who gave humans an immortal spirit... complexities and seeming contradictions, all part of a deeper, unutterable wholeness and transcendence.

It seems to me that there is--must be--much of this power in other Gods and Goddesses as well. In the stories, the Goddess associated heavily with the life-affirming gift of love gets half the slain. And then we have a God like Freyr, Who is connected to fertility, nature, and warmth: He has His own rune, and is it any coincidence it looks so much like a seed--a seemingly dead and dormant thing that gets buried, then springs into life only when the time is finally right?

Loki, Odin's blood-brother, is another God to consider here. He brings the greatest gifts, but He also wields some of the greatest powers of destruction. One of the ways I tend to see Him is as a "Lord of the Dance": a deity of creative forces spiraling into being, ever joined with the forces of their own destruction. Think of the life-cycle of stars and galaxies, perhaps of the Universe itself. Again, we have a God of life and death.

I've seen this, too, with Forseti, the God I'm closest to. With the authority to speak the law--to pass the final judgment--comes the authority to either grant life or to execute. In legend at least, He gave the Frisians their legal code. Its punishment for profaning a holy site was quite vicious, and involved losing certain delicate body parts before you're finally killed. Yet again, a force of life (in this case, holiness/sanctification to the divine) and the ending of life fall under the purview of the same God.

I'm sure there is more to this with other Gods and Goddesses: our deities encompass the whole.

Mar 19, 2011

Communicating With The Gods II - Presence

This is not an easy topic. I'm going to do my best with it, but there are many things that are either personal or private to my experience with a God or Gods: things I might share one-on-one with a friend, but not on a public blog. I do think the topic is a vital one, regardless. What could be more worthy of consideration than the very experience of the Divine? The usual caveat (see Communicating With The Gods - Part I) applies with this post: I am writing from my own "jurisdiction," from my own "precedents," and can speak only to my own experiences.

Presence

Our society is pervaded by certain underlying, almost subconscious approaches toward Holiness that can be absolutely useless in a Heathen context. For example, one of the subtle influences of monotheism is the "thou shalt not test thy god" attitude: that is to say, asking for a regular confirmation of a divine presence(s) is a "bad" thing in some other faiths--or at least it is perceived as a bad thing. Mystics of all faiths step outside this view, of course.

It was brought home to me that such "testing" is not an issue with our Gods. Not with certain Ones, at least.

I'll give a real-life example of just how contrary to our preconceptions the experience of a Divine presence can be. However, first I need to back up a bit. Long story short, I've been comfortable with sensing energy for about a decade (a Neo-Pagan coworker once suddenly handed me off a ball of energy during a commute home--"here, catch!"--and thus jolted me out of my Atheism). I gather some folks can "see" this energy; I just sense it as a sort of invisible tension or pressure in the air. Since then, I've played around with the natural sort of energy one can call up in one's hands. It was an interesting sensation, but I didn't see much use for it overall. That kind of energy only has so much strength to it. It comes from within and seems to reach a plateau much like any other sort of human energy. But being sensitive to it has been invaluable in other ways....

Holding Out A Hand

One way I experience the presence of a God or Goddess is by, quite literally, holding out a hand or hands and feeling the responding touch. This can be interesting, giving you a new, very immediate sense of the God or Goddess that goes outside the realm of meditation. But how does one do this?

I tend to start with meditation, i.e., I attempt to visualize the God or Goddess to in the mind's eye, mentally call Him or Her by name, and see if the God or Goddess wants to chat. Some responses are highly enthusiastic; others might give you a polite, distant nod, if that much. Sometimes, the timing simply isn't right with a God or Goddess you may connect with deeply later on, or maybe your personalities might not be the best match. There are many levels of friendship and connection.

If you get a welcoming response, you might try holding out a hand. Actually, this started off for me at the request of one of the Gods. You might get a brushing of the fingertips... a soft touch from a Goddess or a firmer grip. I found Loki's touch to be a rather initially disconcerting, but strange and fascinating experience, the first time. Not unlike the God Himself.

Light
 
Another way I've experienced the Presence of a God or Goddess is through meditation, but the meditation ascends into a flowing sense of "light and height." Since Odin is the God of Wisdom, I don't think He will mind me sharing an impression received of Him in this way: I began to feel "lifted up," like being a thousand feet tall, with a sort of powerful gray-white light in the mind's eye. Somewhat amusingly, I also started to feel like picking a fight with Him, for no sane reason whatsoever: Odin is also the God of War.

A few final notes. Presence can't be forced--it is Their gift to us--but it can be helpful to mentally offer more "formal" worship to a God or Goddess who wants to connect with you while They are attempting to do so, e.g., titles, attributes, deeds, etc.--whatever comes from the heart. Physical offerings can also be helpful at times; it is nice to bring a present on a visit, especially if you don't know someone very well yet. But, getting back to what was written above, it is very possible to have a daily or even more constant sense of presence where one has a friendly relationship. Some of the Gods, at least, are only a thought away, if not closer.

I've noticed there can be misunderstandings at times, as discussed in Part I. Patience and a willingness to try again are important. There are also natural human limitations that can and do interfere with connection. Falling asleep is a real problem for me; I work bizarre shifts. Fortunately, the Gods seem to very much understand. They have a great deal of patience--so long as one tries to be halfway respectful, at least--and quite a sense of humor.

Feb 2, 2011

Communicating With The Gods I - Meditation

Only the Gods--and you--can speak to your individual relationship with Them. I can, however, speak on a personal level to some "procedures" that have proven effective for me in interacting with Them. Your experiences may vary widely, of course; I could very well be operating in an entirely separate "jurisdiction" than yours, with very different "controlling precedents."

Every day is a new experience, with new growth. Our Gods are very real and are the very best of teachers.

Meditation

Imagination and visualization have always been important to me. Sights and internal thoughts of beauty are a true connection to the divine. And so, mental imagery--a sort of traveling in the mind, if you will--is vital to my faith. If this is not so familiar, Diana Paxson's article at http://www.hrafnar.org/norse/worship.html may prove insightful (especially the "Worshipping The Gods Today" section).

I've found that emotional tones are of great importance: if you are getting a "cut-off," sinking, or churning and unhappy undertone, this is very, very likely not the Gods. Midgard is, well, in the middle. It's reasonable to suppose that we get interference sometimes in this realm, especially when we are starting out and learning our way, and learning what Voices to listen for. My experience has been one of encountering elements of humor, great power, and pervasive joy: of awesomeness, in the more uplifted and reverent connotation of that word. Each God and Goddess is unique, of course, and there are Ones I've felt a real connection to, and others who--so far--I seem to only have exchanged nods with in passing, if that. I hardly need add that Odin is Odin and has a particularly unique... Presence.

For meditation, I find it helpful to initially approach the Gods in terms of lifting one's mind and heart up. Here, though, things can start diverging greatly. One God may often prefer silence within and without--a steadier, measured approach--while another may be more easily reached with music playing. It does help to give the mind a bit of pause, I believe. The human consciousness keeps up its own pervasive chatter when given the chance. The mental "stilling" and "lifting up" aspect can be very useful here.

I find that I get some sort of emotional presence of the God, even if distantly, within the meditation itself. As Diana Paxton writes above, however, this can certainly start carrying over outside of meditation and can become very intense.

Though I believe that the positive emotional component is extremely important in navigating meditation, this is not to say that a worshiper will not, on occasion, manage to annoy a God. A great way to do so is to be close to One who cherishes you and to fail to take care of yourself in a real way. But the key point is you can ask for an explanation for what's wrong and get it. You can also ask for help: the results can be swift and surprising. Core honesty and whatever respect you can muster at the time seem to go a long, long way.

Jan 25, 2011

Preliminaries: About The Blog

The Author:  I am a Heathen and a dedicant of Forseti.

My First And Last Word On Racism:  Any "linking" of the ancient Gods and faith in Them to modern materialistic concepts like racism and nationalism is the most vile and disgusting sort of perjury.

On a spiritual level, three Gods created humankind (the first man and woman) from two trees. Unlike the account we're given in certain monotheistic creation stories, equal gifts were given to man and woman at the same time: spirit (breath) from Odin, mind (will) from Honir, and warmth/fire (flesh) from Lothurr. See Voluspa 18. No mention is made of a certain race or an enumerated ethnicity being involved. When the gift of flesh is given, no note is made of its color. This is a general creation tale applicable to any child of Midgard who finds it compelling.

 

Sexism and racism have nothing to do with the Gods. They can call whomever They wish, through spirit, mind, and heart, Their gifts to us all.


Speaking Of Lothurr...  Even distinctively non-Lokian sources acknowledge that Lothurr might be another name for Loki. My personal experiences with Loki have been positive: I would not be Heathen if it had not been for Him. I think that the Prose Edda, for all the wonderful stories it preserves, needs to be approached with a certain reserve. It is ultimately the writing of a Christian--one who cheerfully drags Troy into his discussions of Odin and so on.