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 Clergy, Credentials and Credibility

 

I live about an hour from Buffalo. As I pen these words, the local media is dutifully exposing yet another Catholic Church sex scandal and alleged coverup that occurred within the diocese. I relay this information not to report local news, but to establish a tone for this article.  Of all the vocations out there, few are so imbued with expectations from the public as clergy. As the depressing news from mainstream society so aptly demonstrates, when clergy are indicted with moral and legal malfeasance, credibility in the wider religion itself suffers.

I doubt Heathenry will ever have to grapple with the scandal currently assailing the Catholic clergy (I certainly hope not).  But nonetheless, a wider question presents itself. What do we in this organization expect of our clergy, and how do we ensure their qualifications?

For purposes of this article, the question of expectations of clergy will be asked on two fronts – or, rather, the question will be viewed from two different though related audiences. The first shall be the High Rede of the Troth, acting as board of directors for their organization, and viewing the question from the standpoint of institutional memory and liability.  The second audience shall be what we refer to as “the folk,” the assembled body of laity and fellow practitioners whom clergy ultimately serve.

 

Terminology

In Asatru and other Scandinavian based Heathen venues, clergy are usually referred to as Godhi (male) or Gythia (female).  In Anglo-Saxon, other terms such as weofodthegn (altar priest/ess) might be in use.  Other religious or occult groups within the Heathen spectrum may yet employ other terms.

The Troth uses the terms “godsperson” as a general term for its clergy.  For the rest of this article, however, I will simply use the generic term “clergy” as a neutral catch-all.

 

The View from the Board Room

Upon election to the High Rede in spring of 2018, I as a clergy trainee was asked by the Clergy Coordinator to serve as liaison to the Rede, a position later confirmed by the Rede. In the autumn 2018 Rede session, I began working with the Rede and Clergy Coordinator to bring some guidelines to a clergy training program that had begun experiencing a Renaissance of activity after a protracted period of abeyance.

With the advice of the Clergy Coordinator and input from the Rede, three initiatives were passed for the clergy program (55.03.01: Active Clergy, 55.03.02: Clergy Trainees, 55.03.00.01: Becoming Clergy). Thematically they dealt with the areas of activity, communication, and internalization of core values. Both active clergy as well as trainees are required to report at least once a year and communicate evidence of ongoing commitment to their vocation or studies; those that do not shall be removed. Active clergy will be required to furnish relevant contact information to be listed on our website, thus facilitating communication with inquiring laity. Finally, all trainees and clergy are required to sign the Troth’s oath of service (if they have not already done so), reflecting the organization’s commitment to inclusive Heathenry.

The ordination process has been updated. In addition to the usual studies expected of clergy students, the Rede now requires both a background check and letters of recommendation from the laity.  Both measures are designed, in their own way, to filter out any candidate whose character or background would render them unsuitable for the vocation.

To summarize, the concerns addressed in these initiatives are that those who call themselves clergy are active members of the organization, are in frequent contact with the organization’s laity and governing structures, and are competent not only from an academic standpoint but from moral and interpersonal standpoints as well.  For the organization to prosper, we should expect no less from those who pursue this vocation.

It serves to mention that many current members of the Rede are themselves clergy trainees. We are not demanding anything of any clergy candidate that we would not demand of ourselves.

 

The View from the Laity

While governing structures appraise matters from an institutional standpoint, at the level of the folk we often find more personal concerns.  Indeed, at this level we encounter a spectrum of viewpoints and desired criteria.

In June of 2018 I initiated a conversation on the e-list, asking the membership what they required of their clergy.  The participation was not as broad as I had hoped, but those that answered gave insightful views, and posed some intriguing questions. I will try to address these all topically.

 

Historical vs Modern?

A question (or argument) that frames all responses to the subject is: to what degree is our conception of clergy influenced by modern times, and to what degree should it retain a more historical paradigm?

Conceptions of clergy and other religious officials varied throughout the greater Indo-European world.  They even varied within Heathenry (sacral kings versus Icelandic Gothi, for instance). The details are already well known to those who have done some basic reading, and I need not replicate the minutiae of the topic here.  Let it be said broadly the ancient priest or priestess, whatever other circumstances defined their role and status, was essentially a person who performed the proscribed rituals at the correct times and locations on behalf of their community.

In broader polytheism one does at times see arguments that this essentially liturgical role of historical priesthood is what should define modern conceptions of clergy.  However, this view ignores the fact that a millennia or two have passed since the historical era.  The world has changed.  Like or not, conceptions of clergy in the modern West are influenced by the roles of clergy from the major world religions, particularly Christianity. 

The vast majority of respondents in my e-list discussion seemed to feel that some accommodation to the modern world was necessary, though details differed.  Should the modern Heathen clergy model himself or herself on the Christian priest, or was the Jewish Rabbi or Islamic Iman a better model?  To what extent is the modern Heathen clergy a “professional” or separate caste, and to what extent is he or she merely an educated member who has been granted religious leadership by the membership because of some extra training?

Regardless of how one defines it, the preponderance of respondents felt that any Heathen clergy worthy of the name should be invested with a spectrum of skill sets. This leads us to the topics below.

 

Liturgy

Religion is often a matter of ritual, and thus those entrusted with officiating the religion must be endowed with competent liturgical knowledge.  Nearly everyone agreed this was among the main, and perhaps the most important, requirement of clergy.  While clergyhood has evolved beyond the purely liturgical, nonetheless liturgical acumen remains a foundational skill.

A pithy phrase that was new to me, but which expertly encapsulated the spirit of the topic, was “hatch, match and dispatch” – rituals of birth, marriage and funerals. Of course, other rites of life could and should be included, as well as run-of-the-mill blots and sumbels.   The Heathen clergyperson should be well versed in the ritual mechanics of whatever occasion is needed to unite members of the community to each other, or to their various supernatural benefactors. 

 

Esoterica

Existing somewhere within the religion were the nebulous set of practices and understandings we loosely lump under the term “magic.”   Broadly, within the Heathen religion, we might classify these magical practices as runes-galdr, seidhr, and various folk magic practices. 

Magic incorporates within itself a certain liturgical paradigm, but often subsumes that liturgical role within a contemplative or ecstatic framework.  It is also important to note that while religion was often communal in nature (comprised usually of families, or clans and tribes, and occasionally inter-regional festivals), esoteric work was usually conducted by individuals or small groups in private.

It was felt that any clergy should have familiarity with these esoteric venues in order to answer basic questions and provide rudimentary help to laity where such need arises.  However, from a practical standpoint, clergy need not necessarily be experts in these areas. Esoteric experts need not be (and often are not) licensed clergy, but people who may exist in a less official capacity within their religious scene. A clergy should nonetheless know enough about said practices to make an informed referral of an inquiring laity to said expert.

It is my own opinion that, beyond a basic foundation, the level of esoteric skill expected of an individual clergy member depends largely on whatever patron deities or spirits (if any) they hail.  For instance, a self-described priest or priestess of Odin should probably know a fair bit about runes, while those devoted to Freyja should be expected to be reasonably conversant in seidhr and witchcraft. Different deities presumably have different prerogatives for their devotees.

 

Pastoral Services

The most modern influence from the world religions on Heathen clergy, and not coincidentally the most controversial, is the expectation of “pastoral” counseling.  There is an expectation that someone licensed as clergy can provide not only spiritual counseling but personal counseling as well.

Should a Heathen clergy provide a sympathetic ear to listen to, or a shoulder to cry on?  There was some debate on the matter. At least one person objected to the very term “pastoral,” evoking as it does a “shepherd-sheep” power dynamic from Christianity that is not quite applicable to Heathenry clergy-laity relations. And yet, the lonely or desperate individual often has nowhere else to turn in moments of crisis.  Despite the conspicuous notes of macho, rugged individualism one at times sees from Asatru, even the strongest individuals sometimes still need help. Clergy are there to help. 

The Heathen clergy member is most often not a licensed social worker, therapist or psychologist. But they should have enough training and empathy to stabilize a desperate individual long enough to refer them to an appropriate expert or social service to receive further help.  They should understand the psychology of group dynamics as well, for often a troubled individual comes entwined with a troubled family or social unit.

In some US states, “pastoral counseling” is a specific skill set which is licensed by the state after a requisite period of training or education.  Therefore, this particular term may be problematic in reference to a range of expected abilities from our clergy.  It should be understood, however, that regardless of whatever semantics we employ, the idea of clergy as a frontline counselor is generally agreed upon.

 

Scholarship and Theology

To what degree should a clergy member have mastered the academic material of Heathen religion and history (commonly referred to as “the Lore”), and to what degree should they be able to use it to furnish exegesis to a querant?

A founding and former member of the organization seemed to feel the priests (or at least the Elder priests, in his hierarchical designation) should have the equivalent of a Ph.D program in Germanic studies.  That idea was jettisoned at some point in the organization’s history. But the Troth clergy program does require a certain number of courses in the Lore program to be satisfactorily completed before one can apply to be clergy.

If we have esoteric experts who are not necessarily clergy, we have plenty of Lore experts who are not necessarily clergy. But there is a widespread sentiment the clergy person must be conversant with the basic primary texts that elucidate a Heathen religion and worldview.  They must be able to not only understand it themselves, but to explain it to Heathens and non-Heathens alike who may ask questions and seek information. 

 

Administration

Those who become clergy are often go-getters who take important communal tasks upon themselves – else it is doubtful they would have heard and answered a call to clergy.  If many kindred leaders are not necessarily clergy, many clergy are nonetheless in leadership roles. This begs a basic understanding of managerial sciences and leadership development. How we in the Troth can better provide that leadership training is a discussion we plan to revisit in the foreseeable future.

 

The Laugh Test

It if often said in Heathenry that one is a clergy member if one can say in public that one is clergy, and no one in proximity explodes in paroxysms of derisive laughter.  This is true to a degree.  However, the wide and wonderful world of Heathenry contains many individuals and groups who internalize different values and viewpoints.  What is the source of laughter to one does not hold true across the board.  There most likely will always be someone, somewhere, that may laugh.

My perspective on the matter is as a member and leader of the Troth.  The question is: are we in the Troth producing quality clergy candidates whom our membership (if not necessarily all of Heathenry) can respect? If a clergy candidate passes the requisite training as deemed by the clergy officers, can find two members of the laity to vouch for them, and can pass a background check to the satisfaction of the Rede, then they deserve not the laughter of naysayers but the praise of the folk for successfully assuming their vocation. 

But with that praise comes the sobering humility that theirs a sacred call to serve the folk and the gods under the mandate of the organization.  And that truly is no laughing matter.

 

 Conclusion

It would seem our ideal clergy member has received substantial training in the fields of liturgy, esoterica, counseling services, scholarship and administration.   The folk feel these areas are crucial.  The successful candidate has also been filtered through a background examination to make sure no faults in legal history or character would render them unsuitable to their calling. Once in place the clergy person is active with the community, reports updates, and keeps in communication with the organization.

This article was meant to provide a snapshot of view points on the matter from different perspectives.  It is not meant to end the discussion, but rather to further it.  As Heathenry matures, as our own organization evolves, no doubt we will revisit this conversation periodically to assess the need for updates or revisions.  And that is as it should be.

 

Jeremy Baer

Redesman, Clergy Laision and clergy trainee

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“If Hitler invaded Hell I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”  - Sir Winston Churchill

Our halls resound with the usual litany of arguments concerning Laufeyson, pro and con.  At this point, proffering the usual theological divides (real or imagined) serves no purpose. Respective minds are largely set in their established vantage points:  those so inclined hail him, and those that aren’t, don’t.  Simple.

 I instead seek to approach the subject from another angle, one I feel that beggars attention.

Let us forget for a second the main thrust of e-list polemics and Facebook fisticuffs regarding the issue.  Let us for a moment cast aside our Ivory Tower debates about the Lore. Instead, let us ask a simple question or two.  Who, at this moment, is our real enemy? Whom do we face as our immediate threat?

The question is largely obvious.  If the “we” of whom I speak are Troth members and other inclusive Heathens, then the enemy before us is an insidious “they,” those who sully our faith with racist adulteration.  Nazi scum.  From my observations, the membership largely agrees.  Trothmoot 2018 saw a strategic visioning session facilitated by Redeswoman Laura “Snow” Fuller.  In assessing potential threats to our organization, those present decreed the probable danger came not from the Son of Laufey but the ghost of Hitler.

All of this is meant to say the Great Loki Debate (The Lugubrious Lokean Loggerheads?), hashed out ad nauseum is at best a distraction from our true enemy.  At worse, it proves an impediment.

The arithmetic of alliance concerns itself with addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division. The art of diplomacy is forged upon shared interests, not on differences.  Churchill and Stalin, hardly predisposed to be friends, learned to find common ground in the face of the Wehrmacht’s advance. Allies don’t need to share the same practices; nor do they necessarily need to even like each other.  They merely need to be invested in fighting a mutual foe.  Therein lays a lesson.

Whether it is on the domestic front in North America, or courting potential allies in Europe, the Troth does itself a strategic disadvantage in actively alienating devotees of Laufeyson. Most Lokeans I have met, because of who they are and Who called them, are natural anti-fascists who would stand against the racialist scourge.  More people means more membership funding for the good work the Troth does.  More people means more hands to staff our departments, more drive and energy to see them to task. Many Lokeans also seem to be inclined to the esoteric: if Loki brings chaos, then having a cadre of skilled magicians and tranceworkers to throw chaos in the face of the enemy would seem to have a certain tactical utility…

I don’t personally hail Loki.  He does not fall within my spiritual proclivities or cultural viewpoints.  But I have begun to see a bigger picture, and whether or not I entreat Laufeyson is not the most salient point.  Our organization offers a big enough tent that different factions should learn to give one another space, to agree to disagree.  Compromises on ritual grounds could and should be forged. At the end of the day we should derive succor from what unites us.  We believe in our gods, and we believe our gods are for anyone who approaches them in good faith.  Ours is a vision of inclusiveness and a song of hope.  We stand a bulwark against the flames of bigotry.

What are we really trying to accomplish, who can be our allies in our agenda, and who truly opposes us?  As the Rede debates policy, as the membership fills out a forthcoming survey, let us keep an eye on the long game. 

 -- Jeremy Baer
Redesman, The Troth

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 1.    Do you consider Rede members to be religious leaders who decide theological issues or administrators who focus on organizational issues?

 

In its quotidian affairs the Rede should function as a board of administrators of a non-profit group, exercising normal duties such as budgetary issues and enforcing bylaws. However, the Troth is a religious organization and as such religious matters are sometimes to be decided, albeit in concert with its broader membership and clergy.  If there is no grand strategy for the organization, which necessarily touches on religious matters, then the daily affairs of administration are not tethered to anything worthwhile.

 
2.    Should Rede members shut down discussions in the Troth Facebook group when controversial topics related to Heathenry are discussed?

 

Moderation is a thankless job.  On the whole, discussion of matters should continue so long as discourse is civil.  However, the nature of controversial topics in general, and online discourse in particular, is such that there is always significant potential for discussions to veer into abusive and incessant polemics.  Certain individuals in particular seem to delight in blowing on embers that were best left to cool off.   Trusted moderators should be in place to ensure proper bounds of conversation exist – and if need to be, to respectfully enforce those boundaries.  Members who continually abuse boundaries should be warned and then eventually removed.  This is unfortunately the reality of online discourse.

 

 

 3.    Should Rede members advocate for changes to Troth policy and public positions based on their own particular religious beliefs, or should they defer to member consensus?

 

This question might presume a dichotomy between the Rede and the general membership. I would like to think there is a dynamic where Rede members and the general membership can have a dialogue where there is mutual discussion and learning.  In the recent past the Rede has solicited wider membership response on the Loki issue to assess that particular situation.  I think the wider membership’s opinions should be solicited so the Rede may take into consideration the majority opinion.  This of course incurs a responsibility on the wider membership to vote when such surveys are solicited.

 

 
4.    Should rule or policy changes that grant new powers or privileges to the Rede be determined by the Rede or by members?

 

The Rede can discuss changes to its duties, responsibilities and privileges, but such things should carry the weight of majority approval of the membership.

 

 

5.    If policy does change to allow Loki hails at official Troth blót and symbel, how will you accommodate members who hold deep religious beliefs that hailing Loki is a serious violation of right relationships with the gods and breaking of frith within the community?

 

Not enter the ritual area where such things are conducted.  Should the Loki policy change to include haling him at Troth, I myself will be sipping mead somewhere else while such rites are proffered – feel free to join me.  

 

 

 

6.    Should the Troth continue its "don't ask, don't tell" policy on dual membership in hate groups, or should the bylaws be amended to clearly forbid concurrent membership in such organizations?

 

I am not aware that there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  There is an inclusion clause that new members are expected to adhere to, and officers are not allowed to be members of the AFA. Safeguards for inclusivity are already in place, as I see it.

 

 
7.    After recent talk by Rede members about supporting organizations for those who have changed their lives and broken off relationships with white nationalist groups, should the Troth publicly reach out to and openly support Black Lives Matter, Muslim groups, Jewish organizations, and immigrant/refugee support networks?

 

 I feel we should firmly stand against racism and discrimination in our religion. But I am not certain whether social activism and social outreach with the above groups best services those ends.  I feel our primary emphasis should be to articulate a version of Heathenry whose theology and ethos is itself inclusive, and we should invest in our own inner halls to best realize that concept for anyone that cares to join.

 

 

 8. The Troth officially signed Declaration 127, which states that "We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do. We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frið, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity." Given the strength of this formal public statement (which clearly says "will no longer associate with," not "will hope they eventually change their beliefs" or "will focus on what we have in common"), what action should the Rede take when a member makes in-group or publicly viewable statements showing prejudice based on race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity?

 

Matters should be referred to the Ombudsan, and appropriate action taken on a  case-by-case basis consistent with the severity of the charges and the evidence for such charges.

Loki.

9/4/18 21:43
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What is your opinion on Loki?

 

Let me say that within my Anglo-Saxon kindred structure, Loki is not part of our cultural worldview and we simply don’t honor him.   He is not simply not pertinent to our worldview. I view these incessant debates from the perspective of an outsider.

That being said, I realize for those of a Norse persuasion, this seems to be a critical matter.

Loki is a certainly not a devil figure.  If there are Heathens that feel that way, they certainly need to take a step back and deal with a reflexive Christian bias.

That being said, most Heathens I know who have qualms of Loki are thoughtful people with no Christian hang ups. They merely do not appreciate the brand of chaos that Loki engenders and do not wish to bring it within their ritual space.  I do not believe such concerns should be blithely dismissed as some kind of sublimated Christian baggage.  To do so is a disservice to some good people.

In fairness, other gods, such as Odin, have been known to make some people feel uncomfortable. As an Odinsman, I fully appreciate that.  In fairness to THAT, however, Odin and the gods are ultimately listed on the side of Midgard and humanity.  If we are to believe Lore, Loki ultimately betrays the gods. People who take the Lore at face value are quick to point this out, and I am not sure such concerns are so easily dismissed. 

My UPG from Odin, Loki’s supposed blood brother, is that Loki’s chaos sometimes provides a necessary corrective to a stale system.  He thus lets Loki operate accordingly on that level.

 But what the All-Father tacitly allows to happen, and what people should actively invite into their lives, is another matter.   I tend to stand with those who feel uncomfortable bringing Loki’s energy into a ritual area.  At the very least it depends on context.  EG, would you hail Loki at a Tyr blot when Tyr gave his hand to bind one of Loki’s progeny? 

 The Troth membership is evenly and bitterly divided on the subject. The main question is whether or not the ban should stay in place.  I feel every local group should decide for itself in their own local thew whether they want to honor Loki or not.   As far as organization wide festivals, I would not necessarily be opposed to a Troth sponsored Loki blot, as long as it was not mixed with any other deity that might be construed as offensive … and as long as people realize many of us would simply out of attending.

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How much time do you currently feel you spend on your religious practice, and how much time are you willing to commit to this service. Please be honest in your self-reflection. Serving on the Rede is a SIGNIFICANT commitment of time.

 My second overwhelming passion in life is my religion (my first happens to be my wife).  I honor All-Father every day.  I honor various other deities, wights and ancestors at least once a week. I perform various magickal workings, meditations and divinations every day.  I am often reading something related to my religion, or pagan religion in general: (recently I completed the free online saga course, and I am engaged in an ADF study course for the Northern Kin).  I am active in teaching in the online Lore Troth program. I visit my kindred once a month for rites and fellowships, and I make it to regional Heathen or Druid gatherings where I can throughout the year.

I thus consider myself a very active, serious Heathen.  In ADF I took an oath as a Dedicant to honor the old ways.  As a Heathen I took an oath to serve All-Father.  I take both oaths very seriously, and religious obligations demand a fair portion of my time.

As a member of the Rede I am willing to invest whatever time the position requires.  I take my oaths seriously, and an oath to serve on the Rede would be no different.  I am familiar with various members of the Rede, and I know exactly how stressful and time consuming the position is.  The decision to run for Rede candidate was not made lightly. 

~~~~


What experience do you have in conflict management and what skills in this area do you bring to the organization?

I have served in management for three years at a particularly hostile work environment with a bellicose manager, back stabbing colleagues, and unruly staff members.   Conflict resolution, both in public and behind closed doors, was part of the job.  

I bring the followings skills.  I have considerable patience, learned over the years.  I have excellent listening skills.  I have analytical skills and try to find the root of the problem.  Most important of all, I have a sense of commitment - to the team, to the job, to the mission, to the people I serve.   I do what it takes to find common ground and ease the situation.

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Have you ever served in an administrative capacity? If so, what capacity and for how long? 

 As stated above I have served in management within a challenging corporate environment for three years.  In my local kindred I have been a secretary and Elder for almost six years now.

 ~~~~~

 

What local responsibilities do you have, and if elected, how will you balance them with the commitments you are making?

Having only recently moved to a new area, I have few truly local responsibilities beyond my wife and job.  I do have a commitment to my kindred which is less local since the move, but most administration is handled over electronic media. 

I do not foresee any problem handling Rede business and the mundane matters of quotidian life.   In fact, I probably have room to develop local associations; I might want to get interested in the state Democratic party.

 ~~~~


The Troth is signatory to Declaration 127. What role do you see the Troth having in promotion and growing Inclusive Heathenry? What does Inclusive Heathenry mean to you.

 

Inclusive Heathenry to me is based on a very simple historical theology of Heathenry and like-minded polytheist religions.  The Romans called it do ut des – I give so that you may give.  Heathens know it better under the maxim: a gift for a gift.  The point of our religion is to build votive relations with various holy powers. Those coming with a gift to the gods are welcome.    The emphasis is on the gift, not on the ethnic make-up of those delivering the gifts.  I see no evidence that the motley Germanic tribes of ages past viewed the world with conceptions of race that were invented by Europeans within the last few centuries. White supremacists who add a racial qualification to Heathenry are being as ahistorical as they are insidious.

If our ancestors might have had qualifying thoughts about things like gender or sexual practices, I can only say that Western society has (mostly) advanced in the last 1000 years.  I fully support people of all genders and sexual orientations.  I am simply extending the concept of Heathenry as a religion of gifting – the emphasis is on the gifting, not on those certain demographics of the individual.

The Troth needs to advertise Heathenry as a religion of Gifting, and it needs to promote itself as the organization that bears this standard within the modern Heathen scene.  We can provide an inviting sanctuary for those who would gift the northern deities, free of racism, sexism or homophobia and transphobia.

The Troth needs an erudite membership that can articulate Heathenry as a religion of Gifting. The Lore program and its graduates need to educate people both within and without the Troth on Heathenry’s history, lore and theology.  Its clergy program needs to train candidates to spread that message within particular environments (such as prisons).  Its local affiliations need leaders that can ensure everyone is on board with the message, and to articulate that message to outsiders.   I think we are doing good work – but we can always keep an eye to improvement and see if our training programs could be revamped to most effectively educate our members along these lines.

We need those adroit in words and speech to be able to spread the message via social media and pamphlets.   We should look at current operations to ensure we have the necessary communication tools with the public.  

We should form strategic alliances with like minded organizations. We have allies or potential allies in Europe.  Back in America, we can conceptualize strategic partners – there is, for example, significant overlap between The Troth and the Northern Kin of ADF.  We can work together to build inclusive Heathenry and Norse paganism.

 
~~~~~~

How often are you online/check Facebook?

More often than I care to admit. I check Facebook and messenger frequently throughout the day,and will always respond quickly to any communications directed at me.  Of course, people have to understand Facebook is routinely blocked on desktop computers within the workplace, so communication may not be instantaneous.

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I came to Heatheny after hearing the call of the All-Father, to whom I am sworn.  I have been a Troth member for several years, and currently one of two people to have successfully graduated from its three-year Lore program.  I have been accepted into the Troth Clergy program. 

I am a member of Great Valley Kindred, an independent kindred in Pennsylvania, where I have served as secretary and runic seer for several years.  Through my association with Snow Fuller I also have ties to Northern Star Kindred, a Troth kindred program member group.  I am also a member of ADF, the druid organization, where I have passed a substantial number of study programs.

In secular life, I have a BA in political science and have spent the last few years gainfully employed in sales.  I live with Laura “Snow” Fuller, (a current Redeswoman) in New York.

Why am I running for the Rede?   The Troth needs a new narrative which unites us, inspires us, and elicits interest from prospective outsiders. To whit, the mandate of the previous Troth generation – “to be a resource for Heathenry” – is true enough in its own way.  But it’s vague and tepid.  What resources do we provide, and what kind of Heathenry are we promoting? 

Heathenry was, is, and should be about Gifting, “a gift for a gift.” Heathenry is not about politics, nor about Viking warrior values, certainly not about ethnicity.  It’s about devotional relationships between human supplicants and the holy powers they entreat as benefactors. 

 “Heathenry as a religion of Gifting” would be our call to arms that we articulate at a national and international level!   It is a pithy theological maxim.  It proves historical in scope, yet flexible enough for the modern era. It fosters inclusivity to the degree that the emphasis is on Gifting the gods, not the demographics of those doing the Gifting.

Our entire organization, at every level, should be structured to promote our theology. Our Lore program exists to provide erudition to the membership that they may know the gods and how to Gift them.  Our Clergy program fashions well-trained godspeople to lead the folk in the act of Gifting.  Our various media services effectively promulgate our message of Gifting.  And our Kindred program liturgically organizes the folk at the local level to Gift the gods.  Of course, within their own domiciles, every individual is priest/ess over their own rooftree practice; our Clergy and Lore graduates can guide our membership in developing viable domestic hearth practices.

We need responsive, efficacious management at all levels: from the Rede, to the various constituent parts of the Troth, to local kindred leaders.  If something or someone is not working, we need to ask honest and potentially difficult questions as to why.  We need the will and vision to fix that which is broken, or replace that which no longer functions. 

Now is the time for action.  We can no longer be complacent about what we have achieved:  rather, let us strive to exceed what we have already wrought.  It is time to venture forth with fires in our eyes and the gods at our backs.  We champion a noble direction of Heathenry, rescuing it from charlatans such as White Supremacists who would besmirch it with insidious agendas.

 
-- Jeremy Baer

thebearsden: (Default)
 

To identify oneself as a Heathen has become a bit problematic these days.  There is a confusing morass of various inimical factions that are aggregated under that umbrella.  

There are the Nazis and White Supremacists, the true bane of the pagan world.  They hid under the rocks like cockroaches, until the last election in the States emboldened them to mobilize more openly.  They are scum of the highest levels.  But they are also betraying their own “intellectual” heritage: Hitler was a Catholic who doubted the efficacy of Norse paganism for his racialist agenda.   Only Himmler and a few of his inner circle could ever be described as anything remotely pagan.  Why these Seig Heil-ing goons have decided to inundate our faith for their organized bigotry is thus beyond me.

There are those whom some of us have pejoratively termed “Brosatru.”  The Bros are the mindless, testosterone besotted lunkheads in the gym who seemingly have no inclination or talent in life beyond building and flexing their muscles. Some of these people read the Eddas and internalize superficial Viking stereotypes, and then they go onto become a particularly charmless version of Heathen.  Not racist, necessarily, but puerile and quite often misogynist.  Expect many pretentious speeches on dying gloriously in battle for Valhalla from individuals whose closest approach to combat is a LARP session.

There is another sect of Heathens who are actually quite scholarly and rarely racist, but who have all the maturity of a junior high school student, and all the class and charm of a budding young psychopath.  They are typically found on online venues aggressively mocking anyone not part of their own little group, and time was they ran a plethora of online snark communities.  Welcome to Asatru High School, where the would-be in-crowd sit at their virtual lunch table flinging paper wads and casting aspersions at everyone else.  Strangely these people tend to deny most forms of mysticism and UPG despite the fact that our chief god was a necromancer.

Finally there are those far out individuals who think the gods were ancient extraterrestrials.  They await the day when the Nordic Aliens return in their mother ship to take us home.   I don’t think I need to spend much more time on that particular line of inquiry….

Feh.  Feh and Fiddlesticks.  What a mess.  Look, dude, I just want to honor the gods, M’kay? 

Sadly, I think people like me are in the minority.  There are however two large concentrations of like-minded people, with significant overlap between them: The Troth and ADF.  I am here to talk about the latter. 

ADF Norse kin has a historic opportunity to redress some of the problems in Heathenry I listed above, and to attract those like me who have soured on mainstream Heathenry.    Why is this so?

1)      The most contentious debate in Heathenry is to what degree does ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like determine membership.   ADF settled that dispute a long time ago.  It has taken a firm stand against ingrained bigotry, and any adult of good will can join its ranks. Its Constitution clearly spells out the organization’s inclusive nature: https://www.adf.org/about/org/constitution.html

2)      The “point” of Heathenry,  its deeper theological implications, is often in dispute. The various factions I listed above have different agendas, most of them quite frankly not even spiritual.  ADF, however, knows its theology. Do ut des.  Gifting.  I give you so that you may give.  A gift for a gift.  This simple yet profound theology informs all of ADF’s liturgy.  It places ADF Norse kin theologically closer to historical Heathenry than to some of Heathenry’s modern incarnations. https://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/nature-of-sacrifice.html

3)      While ADF certainly welcomes present and past warriors within its ranks, ADF as whole does not position itself as a warrior religion based on bad stereotypes of ancient tribal societies.  Instead it reveres the land (or Mother Earth, if you wish).  This again places ADF Norse kin closer to historical Heathenry than to modern Asatru.   Most historical Heathens were farmers, after all. 

4)      ADF’s various sub-structures allow within themselves the exploration of esoteric currents.   Orders, and Initiation programs, and guilds for seers and magicians.  This is befitting a tradition where Odin and Freyja are two of the major deities so revered.   

5)      Perhaps ADF’s finest hallmarks are its study programs.  The broad mass of paganism and Heathenry is sadly in need of erudition. ADF is one of very few organizations that has a structured training program in place to provide instruction in a positive uplifting manner.

 

An inclusive, peaceful, environmentally minded, esoteric friendly faith backed by the theologically sound premise of Gifting, and supported by uplifting erudition?  This is a powerful vision indeed, a needed balm to much of the nonsense that plagues Germanic polytheism.

The problem is that I am not entirely certain that this vision is being promulgated in an entirely coherent, proactive manner.   

ADF, for all its mouth service to pan-Indo-European religion, is often seen by outsiders as a quintessentially Celtic faith.  Of course, that comes semantically presumed with the term “Druid. ” But the fact that all the Arch Druids to date have all been (more or less) of Celtic leanings only reinforces the matter. 

I am told at this point the Northern Kin is the largest kin within ADF in terms of raw numbers.   That gives it a certain critical mass.   It has the opportunity to foment a version of Germanic paganism that would appeal to disaffected Heathens like myself.  In so doing it might place the kin as a fountain head of dynamic energy that might animate the greater ADF organization with new voices, new ideas, and new directions and make it perceptibly less a club for Celts.

I think we as a kin could should articulate a vision of Germanic polytheism that speaks to our hopes and dreams, and to our strengths as an organization.

I am here to work with kin members on this goal, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish.

thebearsden: (Default)
 

What is the name of your group? 

Great Valley Kindred

 

I know not all Heathens identify their groups as Kindreds. How do you identify your group?

We say “kindred.”  We mean “family” or “tribe” or “brotherhood.”

 

How did you form your Group?

Two guys wearing Thor’s Hammers bumped into each other at a mall. Afterwards, they started conducting informal rituals in each other’s apartments.  

 

When was your group started?

Informally in 2011.  The first official ritual was Midsummer 2012.

 

How did you find people to join?

Largely by bringing in acquaintances who were known through the Heathen and Druid communities (at least half the members are current members of ADF Druidry).

 

What did you try, and how did different approaches work?

We met some seemingly unstable people who wanted to immediately pledge their eternal troth to us.  The experience made us leery.  If people want to call each other “family,” everybody must have amply demonstrated compatibility and commitment before they reach that point.  Those individuals that declare themselves “family” within a few minutes of meeting you seem to have a deep-seated need for immediate validation which is problematic.

 

We decided that there would be three stages of membership: an informal acquaintance stage, an intermediate stage, and a full membership stage.  People would have to progress through the first two stages before reaching the third.  This gives them and the kindred ample time to decide if they are right for each other.  We believe in slow, steady growth, and quality over quantity when it comes to membership.

 

How did you vet the possible members? How is the decision made?

See above.  There are three stages of membership.  For the initial stage, people who are known to use via Heathen and Druid communities (and who don’t seem contrary to our values) can be invited to join us for the first stage.  If we don’t already know them, we must meet them on neutral ground, such as a pub, for assessment.  

 We look to people who share our values (peaceful, inclusive, and more or less grounded in history and scholarship).  They must seem mature and stable.

 

How is your group governed and how are officers chosen?

Those who are full members elect among themselves the executive officers of the kindred. Briefly, the executive officers are a religious officer (clergy), a secretary, a treasurer, and an official called a Reeve who is roughly equivalent to the “Lawspeaker” office in some other kindreds. 

 

 

Does your Group require an Oath? Why? Why Not?

At the highest stage, entry requires an Oath of Frith.  GVK is a private, non-affiliated group. Rather than a “church” we see ourselves as a tribe.  The Oath of Frith seals the bonds among elder tribal members.

 

 

How does your Group settle disputes? Handle problem people?

We communicate constantly, in private, through various media.   For the most part, everyone is on the same page (our three-tiered membership process ensures no one with radically different values ever gets beyond the first gate). 

At rare times when disagreements flair, the Reeve convenes a hearing to reconcile parties.

 

 

What is your group's gender ratio and age-range?

We range from late 20s to 40, and the gender ratio is roughly half male, half female.

 

Do you have activities for children?

As we grow and expand, we are researching how to incorporate more children’s activities for members who have children.  The education of the next generation is of decided importance. 

 

Does your Group conduct any public rituals?

We hold 10 rituals a year where people who have been previously vetted may attend.  However, it is not public in the sense that we hold it outside and anyone off the street can join.

 

How often does your Group meet? What are the common purposes of your meetings?

We hold an event every month: 10 of the 12 are semi-public (see above).  

Our events have three main purposes:
1) the ritual propitiation of the holy powers through our liturgy
2) education via Lore workshops
3) comradery  

 

Is there a schedule of events that you celebrate every year?

Yes.   http://greatvalleykindred.com/events/our-holidays/

 

If you have a statement of purpose, by-laws or other organizing documents that you’d be willing to share I would love to see those too.

Our general overview is here: http://greatvalleykindred.com/about-us/gvk-fact-sheet/

Our FAQ is Here: http://greatvalleykindred.com/about-us/faq/

Our governing structure is here:  http://greatvalleykindred.com/membership/membership-levels-and-offices/

thebearsden: (Default)
 

This was an ADF-Lite ritual that dispended with the Earth Mother and Gatekeeper.

I cleaned the apartment before doing the rite.  Brighid is a hearth goddess and therefore I presume she enjoys a clean setting.

The offering was a homemade brewed beer. Saint Brighid was the matron of beer brewing; I assume the original hearth goddess doesn’t mind a good beer.

 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Initiating the Rite:

I performed a Two Powers meditation.

 

 

Purification:

Juniper being the purification scent in the Celtic tradition, I lit a candle that contained juniper scents, letting the scents wash over me and the ritual area before proceeding.

 

 

Statement of Purpose

“I am here to commune with the holy powers and offer them gifts.  I am here to honor Brighid and extract an omen.”

 

 

(Re)Creating the Cosmos and Opening the Gates

Tree: “Hail to the World Tree whose roots and limbs connect all the worlds. Sacred Tree, grow inside me.”

Fire: “Hail to the Fires whose flames consume and transform. Sacred Fire, burn inside me.”

Well: “Hail to the shallows of the deep whose waters lead to the Otherworld. Sacred Well, flow inside me.”

 

 

Inviting the Three Kindreds

Gods: “Hail to the Gods and Goddesses. Be present at this rite.”  Offered drops of beer.

Nature Spirits. “Hail to the wights of home and land. May you be present at this rite.” Offered drops of beer.

Ancestors: “Hail to the ancestors. May you be present at this rite.” Offered drops of beer.

 

 

Key Offerings

 

Brighid of the Forge, Brighid of the Poets, Brighid of the Healers, may you be present at this rite. 

Brighid, a hundred thousand welcomes!   Brighid of the hearth, be welcome at this shrine.

Birighid, may you look kindly on me. Bless my humble abode, and grant me good favor.”

Offered several drops of beer.

 

 

Prayer of Sacrifice

“Hail to the deities, hail to the wights, hail to the ancestors, and hail to Brighid.  I give so you may give.   Grant me your blessings.  Holy powers, accept my offering.”

 

 

 

Omen

I extracted three Ogham.

Willow: Flow
Hazel: Wisdom
Gose: Movement

 

 

 

Blessing

“I ask for the blessings of the holy powers. As I drink of this beer, may I commune with the deities, wights and ancestors.”  Drink.  “I have drunk of the sacred blessings!”  I offered the rest of the beer to the holy powers.

 

 

 

Workings

There was a short meditation to Brighid.

 

 

Closing:

 

The beings were thanked in the reverse order by saying “Hail and farewell.” 

The gates were closed.

“I have honored the holy beings.  May I walk with their guidance and blessings. This rite is ended.”

thebearsden: (Default)
Yeah, I rejoined ADF after 2 years, for reasons both grandiose and earthy. 

Anyway, now that I am playing at  druid again I have to reacquaint myself with their way of doing things, especially liturgy.  There are parts of the Core Order of Ritual that don't appeal to me.   

But I decided to swallow my pride and Just Do It. I performed a ritual tonight and tried adapting the COoR as best I could.  I chose an Odinic theme, because Odin is my patron.  And if any of the Heathen gods like ritual theater, it is Odin.  

Here follows an outline.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Initiating the Rite:

I performed a Two Powers meditation, though one that has been modified by my experience in various occult/pagan/druid schools over the past few years.

I galdred “Ansuz” 9 times before the altar.

Purification:

I lit a sage candle and let the scent wash over me and the area. Sage has purification properties as everyone knows, but I do personally associate it with Odin.

I performed a brief Hammer Rite with a blessed hammer from the Magic Druid. “Thor, hallow and hold this holy stead. Hail Thor”

Honoring the Earth Mother:

“Nerthus, goddess of sacred mysteries, I honor you.  Hail Nerthus!”

 

Statement of Purpose

“I am here to honor the gods, wights and ancestors.  May they show me their favor.  I am here to honor the All-Father and seek his runic wisdom.  May the All-Father guide me.”

 

(Re)Creating the Cosmos

Well: “Hail to Mimir’s Well, into which All-Father placed an eye for drink of wisdom. May the well and its wisdom flow inside of me.”

Tree: “Hail to Yggdrasil, on which All-Father hung nine nights for the runes.  May the World Tree and its mysteries grow inside of me!”

Fire: “Grimnir sat betwixt two fires for eight nights. May the fire and its challenges burn inside me.”

 

Opening the Gate(s) –

“Hail, Mighty Thor, son of Odin.  May you keep the forces of chaos at bay. Stand watch over the sacred gates with your hammer and let my words be heard. May the Gates be Open.”

 

Inviting the Three Kindreds

Gods: “Hail to the Gods and Goddesses. Be present at this rite.”  Offer drop of mead.

Nature Spirits. “Hail to the wights of home and land. May you be present at this rite.” Offer drop of mead.

Ancestors: “Hail to the ancestors. May you be present at this rite.” Offer drop of mead.

 

Key Offerings

“I call to All-Father Odin, fimbultyr and galdrfather, to be present at this rite and accept my offering.  All-Father, giver of wisdom, guide me well.” Offer a couple drops of mead.

[Hererin followed a private payer and supplication to Odin which I will not reproduce here]

Prayer of Sacrifice

“May Odin, the gods and goddesses, wights of home and land, and the ancestors accept my sacrifice.  A gift for a gift!”  

Omen

The 2 strophes from Havamal concerning the winning of the runes were read.

“Odin, what do you and the holy powers have to say to me?”

3 runes were drawn.  Jera, Uruz, and Berkano.

Blessing

“I ask for the blessings of the holy powers. As I drink of this mead, may I commune with the deities, wights and ancestors.”  Drink.  “I have drunk of the sacred blessings!”

 

Workings

I performed a solo symbel to various gods and ancestors.

I performed a private meditation, inspired by a nameless occult lodge, the details of which I will not replicate here.

 

Closing:

The beings were thanked in the reverse order by saying “Hail and farewell.” 

The gates were closed.

“I have honored the holy beings.  May I walk with their guidance and blessings. This rite is ended.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ritual went fine. I felt the presence of the holy powers.  And the runes were promising.

Ok, I am ready.  Let's do this. 


thebearsden: (Default)
 

For a comparatively small religion, Heathenry seems to drown at times from sectarian tensions between various groups who are at loggerheads with each other.  Some of these debates can seem petty and puerile, but others admittedly are matters of great importance.  The latest imbroglio falls within the latter camp – who gets to be part of the religion, or more properly, who is excluded, and by what criteria are they so excluded.   As far as internal mores among Heathens themselves, and as far as relations between Heathens and outsiders, there can be no more salient question.

There is no small amount of rhetoric on both sides of the debate.  I would like to address the issue obliquely by asking two simple questions: What exactly is the point of Heathenry, and why do (or should) people go into it in the first place? 

I understand Heathenry as an umbrella term for a set of highly related practices based on the polytheist, pre-Christian religions of the various Germanic peoples.  Heathenry itself is related, in linguistic and cultural terms, to a wider set of cultural realities that philologists collectively call the Indo-European world.

“Theology” is a grandiloquent term for what these peoples believed and practiced.  But let us say there was a central assumption that underlay all that they did spiritually.  And that assumption was one of gifting. 

The give and take, the exchange of goods and favors and good will, is typically what united individuals in these pre-modern times.  If gifting was the impetus behind social bonds, it carried over into the realm of the spiritual as well. Gods, ancestors, wights – these were not forces to be obeyed or commanded, but entreated.  Religion was votive.  A gift was given to the gods, ancestors and wights – and in return, or so it was thought, they were supplicated to return friendship and favors to the ones gifting. 

The Romans had a saying, expressed in Latin: do ut des.  I give so you may give.  If our ancestors had a similar pithy quote in their own native languages, I have yet to encounter it.  But the modern English “a gift for a gift” succinctly summarizes the sentiment.  We gift you in friendship. Be our friends. Gift back to us.

This is our religion.  Or, if you have pedantic aversion to the word “religion” as applied to Heathenry, then let us say this is our worldview.  However one wants to term it, gifting is That Thing We Do That Makes Us Heathen.

Let us return to the original two questions: what is the point of Heathenry, and why do (or should)  people go into Heathenry?   If the point of Heathenry is gifting the gods, ancestors and wights, then it follows logically people should go into Heathenry if they wish to gift the gods, ancestors and wights known to Heathenry.  They presumably seek to draw into mutually reciprocal relationships with those powers.

This may seem obvious, but apparently, it is not.  We have people who seem to think the point of Heathenry is flexing (literally or metaphorically) their muscles as great Viking warriors.  Or some such.   And so, their sine qua non is playing with axes, and swords and guns.  Or contemplating ever more sophomoric ways of getting into Valhalla without actually, you know, dying in battle.  I daresay they are in the wrong freaking religion.  Or, to employ quintessentially Heathen parlance, they are doing it wrong.

But to return to the more immediate question that prompted this whole essay, who gets to be in the religion, or who should be excluded? To my mind, anyone who brings a gift to the gods in good faith is a Heathen and should be treated as such.   If they are excluded from the community of gift-givers, it is because they have committed egregious deeds that are deemed harmful or otherwise dishonorable to the community itself.  Not because of who or what they are outwardly.

Do we say that a gift is invalid because of the ethnicity or gender-identification of the one making the gift? Those that say such things speak for themselves and their ulterior causes, not the gods.  Only the gods may proclaim if a gift is lacking. If a gift is lacking I suspect it was simply because it was a substandard gift, not because the person who made it did not live up to some ethnic or gender criteria.  

I have heard a lot of talk about “inclusive Heathenry” or “rainbow Heathenry” as a way of consciously countering bigoted Heathenry.  I find this superfluous.  We simply need to adhere to our roots.  A worldview of gifting is inclusive by its nature, insofar as the emphasis is on the act of gifting, not on the various biological designations of he or she who does the gifting.     An emphasis on gifting also has the virtue of weeding out other unsavory groups, such as the aforementioned individuals who seem to think the point of Heathenry is internalizing the most superficial martial aspects of the Viking stereotype.

Gifting. A gift for a gift!   Heathenry is enriched, enlivened and ennobled by the addition to its ranks of worthy individuals who come in good faith to gift the gods. 

 

 

 

thebearsden: (Default)
 

“Don’t work with Odin.  Don’t honor Odin. Don’t get close to Odin.  Don’t swear to Odin.  He is a big, scary god of darkness who will betray you to your death.” 

That is pretty much the sentiment in some neopagan circles, particularly in those circles who – shall we say –  have a vested interest in placing a peaceful, eco-feminist slant on pagan religions. 

But, to be fair, that is also the slant in some Heathen circles as well.  “Don’t wear the Valknut unless you are ready to die at a moment’s notice.  You are safer to look to Thor. Or your ancestors.” 

Odin (Oðinn, Woden, Wodan) can be a big scary god. And you shouldn’t get close to him unless you really mean it.  But not for the reasons that are commonly cited. 

It is theorized based on comparative philology that Tiwaz/Tyr was originally the god of battle and chief deity.  Odin (Wodan) was a deity of magic and poetry, a god of sacrifice who was connected with death in the way that a liminal deity would stand between life and death and receive his powers from both.  And his connection with battle was the fury of battle, the psychological transformation that accompanied the frenzy of war.  This – his presumed original role -  is how I tend to see him.

But at some point, the theory goes, Tiwaz/Tyr faded into the background and Odin took his place. Norse poetry gives us the picture of the war god who harvests souls for his army that will fight the fateful last battle at Ragnarok.  This is how most moderns know him, and Odin seemingly responds to this.

Fine.  Odin has connections with battle.  And that is entirely besides the point as to why he is scary

Death is easy.  It comes to us all sooner or later.  And when it comes, we know not exactly what happens afterward, but we have no more earthly worries.  Death is a release, not a burden.  The logical person does not seek death before his/her time, but neither should s/he spend all life in fear of it.    

Death is easy.  It’s life that is hard. 

And life can be doubly hard for the Odinsworn.    There is not one aspect of your soul that you can hide from All-Father. 

To be a poet or artist – to be a serious one, anyway - means to give yourself fully to the enterprise, to lose yourself completely in moments of creativity.  To live for those moments, to seek those moments, and to sacrifice many other concerns for those moments.    

Same with magic.  Magic means simultaneously controlling yourself and losing yourself.  It demands constant effort and devotion.  It demands a lot of soul searching … and soul transformation.

And the last is really the point.    Transformation.

Since swearing to All-Father I have never been asked to kill or be killed.  I have been asked to change.   I made a few lifestyle changes which, in terms of my own life, were significant.  And I thought that was doing well. 

But, no, not well enough.  Change is not enough.  Not change, but transformation.   The complete refashioning of the soul.   To find what you have lost, to embrace what you fear, to be what you have not been.  To find poetry and magic deep within you.

I have my marching orders.   And quite frankly it seems a little overwhelming.  But this is what I signed up for.  Sink or swim.   I have presumably another 30 or 40 years left in Midgard.  Let's see what I can do with them.

Odin can be scary not because he plots your death, but because he transforms your life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

thebearsden: (Default)
 

The Top Kinds of Posters on a Pagan/Occult Forum

Prayer Request:  Constantly asking prayers of everyone for personal problems.  Why they solicit the prayers of random internet strangers, we will never know.

Conspiracy Theorist:  Illuminati, shapeshifting aliens, and certain ethnic, religious and commercial groups control everything.  Beware, the conspiracy is watching you! 

Crackpot Theorist:  has developed a personal metaphysical theory on the Unification of Everything which they love discussing, even though it usually has no bearing on any topic at hand.

Spell Solicitor:  Every problem in life has a spiritual problem and thus a spiritual cure in the form of so-called spells. Floods the forums with requests for love spells, health spells, and revenge spells.

Activist:  Every problem in life has a political cause and thus a political cure.  You will and shall be converted to the correct political orthodoxy in the name of saving humanity!

Lifestyle Guru:  Everything is about music, sex and drugs.  The last two topics are usually TMI, though they seem to be oblivious to the notion.

Sexual Predator:  while they exist in both genders, more commonly a male.  Are on a forum solely for the purpose of finding sexual partners and making sexual innuendo.

Meme Spreader:  never saw a meme they didn’t like and didn’t post.  They don’t care if it is true or relevant; if it is a pretty picture, they will post it.

Drama Queen/King:  will cause any kind of disturbance as long as they are the center of attention. May be socially inept and behaviorally challenged … or may be a psychic vampire. 

Author Promotion:  “Hey, did you know I wrote a book on this very topic?  And that topic? And this topic, too?  You should buy my book.  And buy a copy for all your friends, too.” 

Weirdo:  posts incomprehensibly about nothing and everything.  No one knows what his agenda is, or whether or not he is even serious. 

thebearsden: (Default)
 

Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic

Clive Tolley

Review by JJB

For some time there has been a debate as to the nature of the Norse magical practice known as seithr.  What is it, how does it operate? In particular, is it anything like shamanism? 

The latter depends on how one defines “shamanism.”  An entire generation or two of esoteric workers have been working off studies conducted by the likes of Eliade and Harner, in a “tradition” that might be called neoshamanism.  However, there is some sensitive politics regarding the perceived cultural appropriation of indigenous spiritual practices, combined with academic wrangling over what spiritual practices can legitimately be classified as shamanism. 

The eminent archaeologist Neil Price, conducted his own study on the matter based largely on material finds.  He found some evidence of a shamanistic practice which he linked especially to military applications.  Tolley thinks Price made unwarranted assumptions which overstates his case.

Tolley, for his part, looks at the literary record, or, as he says, “the manipulation of motifs, many (but not all) deriving ultimately from folk tradition …” 

Tolley surveys shamanism from various tribes in Eurasia, using other academics’ work on the subject.  He also looks at shamanistic-like practices in the cults of Apollo and Dionysus of ancient Greece, as well as certain practices in Japan.  He even includes accounts of Medieval European witchcraft. 

From these accounts we can construe a few general traits about a shaman and shamanism.

A shaman is a spiritual specialist who works on behalf of a community for matters which are perceived to have a supernatural problem and thus a supernatural solution.  In particular, a shaman is a mediator between the world of spirits and the world of humanity.  In most core Shamanic cultures, the Shaman has the following roles:

  • Healer: The shaman heals sicknesses that are perceived to have been caused by “soul loss” or an intrusion of some spiritual element.
  • Psychopomp: The shaman soul journeys and accompanies the spirits of the departed to their afterlife destination.
  • Diviner: through a variety of means, the shaman will foretell the future.  The shaman can also reveal unknown events in the past, or find lost objects and people.
  • Hunting Magician:  where hunting plays a crucial role in non-agrarian societies, the shaman’s magical control over animals is crucial.
  • Sacrificial priest:  in cultures where certain sacrifices are crucial, the shaman plays the role of officiator for said sacrifices.

Viewed from this perspective, the seithr worker’s role does not fit in very well with core Shamanism.

  • 1) Seithr workers were not “official” magical workers of the community, like shamans.  They were consulted when needed by individuals and by families, but they did not enjoy official, full time status.  In fact, insofar as we can trust the sources, while they may have been consulted as needed, they were otherwise feared and mistrusted.    (The latter may be somewhat skewed by Christian hostility to seithr being retroactively inserted into the writings).
  • 2) Some seithr workers were thought to have the power to heal, but this was not their primary duty.
  • 3)  While seithr workers had the ability to “soul journey,” acting as a psychopomp to the recently departed was not part of their duties.
  • 4) Oracular pronouncements and divination is one of the best known aspects of seithr work; for core shamanism, however, divination is a lesser trait.    
  • 5) While some seithr workers were thought to have control over animals and weather, the largely agrarian Norse culture had no need of a “hunting magician” the way that a nomadic tribe would have understood the situation
  • 6)  Seithr workers were not priests and did not conduct official sacrifices. 

If we are to accept Tolley’s  (and the academics who informed his studies) definition of core shamanism, then seithr simply does not fit in well with that definition.  The seithr worker performed different functions, had a different status, and Norse society experienced a different cultural reality than the tribes who constituted the realm of shamanism proper.   The best we can say is that seithr might have a few shamanistic-like elements that were influenced distantly through trade and other means of contact.

Well, then, does Norse polytheism have any shamanistic-like qualities?

The Norse believed in a multivalent soul, where the parts thereof might be manipulated by a seithr worker. They also believed in human interaction with spirits, where again a seithr worker might manipulate said interaction.  But the seithr workers’ manipulation of soul and spirits seems fundamentally different than what transpires within shamanism.

Shamanism is partially defined within a layered cosmos through which the shaman operates.  The Norse shared the idea of a cosmic pillar and/or world tree with shamanism. These ideas however seem to be a reoccurring Indo-European motif rather than something specifically shamanistic.  The Norse do not share the idea of a sacred mountain or a cosmic mill that are widespread in shamanism. 

Much has been made of Odin’s trials of suffering for knowledge, and how they supposedly represent a shamanic initiation.  In a lengthy analysis, too copious to reproduce, Tolley casts doubts that the Odinic ordeals correspond to anything resembling known shamanic initiations.  That the god suffered for knowledge is beyond doubt, but the degree to which these sufferings are “shamanistic” seems tenuous.  Moreover, this discussion is about seithr in particular.  None of Odin’s sacrifices relate specifically to seithr; it is said he was taught the art by Freya but it is not specifically addressed how he was taught or how he may have been initiated.

Tolley surveys the performance of seithr and concludes that the seithr worker’s methods of operation differed substantially from shamanism proper.  Among other things, there is no evidence that the seithr worker had a soul journey to other cosmological realms; if they soul journeyed it was within the earthly realm to gather information.  

 As can be imagined from above, Tolley finds little evidence that seithr has any connection to shamanism or many shamanistic like traits. The sources left to us on seithr are not critical ethnographic records of ritual and magic, but literary creations designed to convey literary (and in many cases, Christian) themes.  While it is obvious the Norse had some type of spirit or soul magic, the sources make it difficult to determine exactly what it was.  He says that rather than comparing seithr to the spiritual practices of non-agrarian cultures like the Siberian tribes, it may be more profitable to look at spirit work in other agrarian cultures like Japan.

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Tolley' command of the details is vast - I am almost tempted to say pedantic.  This is a hugely dense academic work, and the author marshalled some vast data to underscore his point.  

I feel that perhaps he dismisses the literary sources a little too easily at times.  I also feel this study would benefit more from a dialogue with archeological remains.  Tolley merely states that he finds Price overstated his arguments and should have been more cautious in drawing his conclusions.

In the sum of things, though, I find the author convincingly argues the main point.  If shamanism is defined as a specific set of spiritual practices taking place within a specific milieu of non-agrarian cultures, then Norse seithr has little congruence with those practices.

Seithr seems to have been a lot more “earthy,” a lot more connected to this world and its mundane concerns, and less about journeys through a multilayered cosmos and soul retrievals.  Superficially at least it seems to have more in common with what is commonly described as “witchcraft” than with shamanism ...


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The average Heathen may not care whether or not modern seithr fits some academic definition of shamanism.  They may only care about what works. Does the type of neo-shamanistic “seithr” widely practiced in the US and Canada work?   Insofar as its objectives are to convey messages from gods and spirits to individuals, it does work, as can attest anyone who attended a session presided over by a skilled worker trained in that art. 

But if the historical sources on seithr were revisited with fresh eyes divorced from notions of shamanism, it might yield us with new perspectives on what our ancestors actually did. And more importantly, it might give us new tools to use for the modern age.

 

thebearsden: (Default)
I think there are, broadly speaking, a few types of people especially draw to him.
  • Wisdom seekers. Wisdom comes broadly speaking in two basic forms: academic and experiential. Both are necessary, but most people have a strong preference for one or the other. The former entices book worms, lore masters, academics, and scientists. The latter attracts explorers, adventurers, pioneers, trailblazers and wanderers.
  • Magic users. Historically, Odinic magic could be divided into three broad categories 1)runes-galdr, 2) seithr 3) various “other” practices, mostly of a folk nature. Today it is common to dabble in many different types of magic, but many people still tend to specialize in one area.
  • Artists. Historically, poetry would have been the principle Odinic art, and All-Father still has many modern skalds serving him. There is some evidence in the sagas that master craftsmen were also Odin’s own. Today there are many writers, singers and artists of all types who feel the wod of inspiration.
  • Warriors. I would submit that, originally, Odin was the god of the fury of battle, and the transformative effects of seithr-magic in battle (eg, Beserks). And also, of course, of the sacrifice of battle-deaths. By the late Viking era, according to Snorri, he does take on wider aspects of battle in his quest to gain Einherjer. It is this aspect he is probably most well-known in popular (and not always scholarly) Asatru circles. In any case, for the discipline of mind, body and soul that comes with warcraft, and the willingness to tread between life and death, Odin certainly does call some warriors his own.

Obviously individuals can and do embody several of these traits. Every magic user I know – every serious magic user, anyway – is also a wisdom seeker of some sort. Artists often seek wisdom and magic, and sometimes both. The warrior who doesn’t seek wisdom is probably a warrior not long for this earth. The warrior who seeks Odinic magic is following in the footsteps of Beserks.

What binds all these traits together is Odin’s status as a liminal god who simultaneously straddles the different worlds of life and death, of exoteric and esoteric realties, and most of all of the transformative and empowering effects of wod.

Odin has a reputation in the surviving literature of betraying his chosen to his death, that he may reap their souls for his army of Einherjer. There is also one (questionable) source that has him committing an act of rape. Because of this there is a small, but vocal, section of Heathens and pagans who see him as dark, dangerous and untrustworthy. They refuse to honor him and actively dissuade others from doing so. I find this ... short-sighted. (I would also point out that at least some of the pagans who refuse to honor Odin on the grounds that he is aggressive, dark and dangerous seemingly have no problem honoring goddesses who are aggressive, dark and dangerous!)

A wider section of people are wary of Odin, or unsure how to approach him. But they respect – sometimes from afar – his wisdom and magic. Others have no problem with him but simply find they have no great affinity for him. That is all fine and well.

But there are many within the Heathen community fully committed to him, whether they deign to employ the term “patron” or not. I can think of no other singular deity who commands such widespread devotion, though Thor certainly has followers and Loki (regardless of what you think of him) has his presence as well.

There are two reasons for this. Many people who entreat polytheism tend to be different from the mainstream because they seek wisdom, either of the academic or experiential type. As we have discussed, these are the type of people who would seek Odin. But the other reason is that Odin is widely considered the Heathen god most active in the world today at “meeting people” and recruiting them. Whether in dreams or trances, whether allegedly appearing in person, or perhaps just some vague feeling in the back of the mind, many people report that Odin actively solicits his followers.

There are those who would make a sharp distinction between the Anglo-Saxon Woden and the Norse Odin. I am fully willing to concede sources on Norse Lore have to be placed in critical context, and I don’t necessarily internalize all the finer points of the Eddas. For example, the aspect of Odin most popular with mainstream Asatru – lord of the Einherjer and Valhalla – is the one in which I have the least personal interest. Nonetheless I tend to treat Odin and Woden as the same, and I find myself unconsciously slipping between the two names depending on what group I am in at the moment.

Odin is different than other Heathen deities. Whereas many Heathen deities are content with simple rituals, I find that All-Father enjoys a little pomp and ceremony. When Heathens say they honor such-and-such a deity, it usually means they simply give offerings to that deity with a little more frequency than other deities; Odin demands more, and when someone says they are devoted to him, it usually means they have made some life-altering decisions to draw closer to him and his blessings. Finally, while most deities are fully capable of taking what is theirs, if they so wish, there is no other deity as inclined to take his geld as Odin. But very careful what you ask for, and be careful what you promise.

I approach All-Father for wisdom, for wod in writing, increasingly for the might and magic of the runes. I am not a warrior in the military or physical sense of the world, and do not claim to be. (However, one of my close Odinic friends says I have a strategic mind, and I will take that as a compliment).

More importantly, though, I see All-Father as the god of transformation, of self giving to Self. He is the Whisper in the Dark. The Shadow Pointing a Spear. An Eye of Discernment constantly bearing down. He is the voice from behind on a rough wind cajoling one onwards.

--JJB