Thursday, December 28, 2006

Death: A Journey for the Living as well as the Dead

"Baldur hath ridden over Gyoll's bridge, and yonder lieth the way he took to the abodes of death."

-The Death of Baldur

Eleven days ago, my friend Jason took his own life. Death almost always has the power to shock us, but this one was quite unexpected, and senseless. It shook the foundations of my life, and the lives of all my friends that I have in common with Jason- it shook me out of one life and sent me spinning into another.

On one hand, life was and is good- I cannot complain about my life, and its many blessings. Wyrd has spun out such wonderful circumstances for me and those closest to me, the greatest of which was the emergence of my beloved daughter from the life-giving powers of this world. All around me, the bounty of my life is evident. There is no want, no lack of food or money or shelter and most importantly, no lack of love. I feel peace with the world because of my faith and I have a great mirror- the mirror of Wyrd and the wisdom of the old times- to look into to give me guidance when I feel that I need it. I couldn't be happier.

And so, when death comes so unexpectedly, as some twists of Wyrd are wont, our faiths are tested, and we seek for the way to proceed. Like the dead, a journey is required of us.

When I heard the news of Jason's death, I was naturally bewildered and disbelieving. Few people can believe such a thing up front; I thought it was a false report or a prank- Jason wasn't past putting people on with such pranks. But the warning in my gut wouldn't go away- deep down, I knew he was dead. And oddly enough, though I have now sat through his visitation, his funeral and burial, it seems that the reality hasn't sunk in to the deepest level; I found myself walking through my home a few days ago wondering if anyone had called Jason to invite him to one of the bonfires we were holding in his honor.

It's always best to get started journeying early, and so we wake up and get ready. My awakening came with the news of Jason's death. I say "awakening" because few things can shock us out of our sleep-like lives like death can. As a Wyrd-worker, I make an effort to work with more vivid, altered states of consciousness, and I make an effort to "see" the hidden details of life that most people miss. But no amount of trance-work can awaken you like the bitter reality of what we call "death", especially when it affects you directly.

It is a common human failing- what Wulf the Seidman from Brian Bates' work "The Way of Wyrd" calls the "fungus" that grows in our minds: we assume that we all have so many years left to live, so much so that a dream-life takes over in our brains. We put off today what we assume we'll be able to do later, even though there may be no "later". Death is our constant companion, and the sorcerer, as well as the warrior, must accept that death may come for us today, any day, at any moment.

It's one thing to say it, but something else to really put your whole mind and body into it. This isn't a clever mind game; this isn't just some line of wisdom you read in a book or see on a screen. This is death, the sometimes violent destruction of our lich or our bodies; it is the end of our dearly loved and familiar routines and activities, a farewell to our friends, and the release of the fetch and the mind into the vast and mysterious reaches beyond this world of animals, growing things, and human beings. It is a forced shove into a distant, unknown shore, and we can lose our wits easily in such a radical change.

I'd like to make this totally clear, to remind myself as much as to remind you- and you can't be reminded of this enough: the time to be alive and truly aware is now. Wyrd only gives us this moment, right now. It may truly seem like it, but there is no future out there somewhere, waiting for us. What you have- what everyone has- is here and now, wherever you are, whatever you are. Do not trust in a hope for some fantasy future that you have dreamed of in your head. Do not assume that your friends and family will be there with you, one day far from now, to discuss with you about the good times you had long ago. Let the future arise as it will; we don't live there. It is impossible to live in a place that doesn't yet exist.

This is where I woke up. I woke up to my responsibility as Seidman to be here and now. I was asleep; I slept too long. Giantish powers, the seductive variety that creep through human lives, had lured me to a half-awake state where I was zoning out. Deadly knots of Wyrd took the life of someone near to me, and the shock of it has reverberated strongly, shaking open my deeper senses. Then off I went to do what I had to do, and to see what I had to see, as Wyrd kept weaving. I would like to share some of that journey with you now.

I met Jason in 1999. He was one of the baristas in the coffee shop I managed back then. I remember him vividly, as a long-haired, bright young man who knew everything about coffee and who had a penchant for Rumi poetry. He introduced me to Rumi, actually. The last thing my physical eyes saw of Jason in this world was the short-haired, wax-statue looking corpse lying in a coffin in a christian church. That was a few days ago. Somewhere in-between my first meeting and my final view of what remained of Jason's body, was the life of a man who was a radical mystic in his own right, a wild lord of the party, a scholar and a writer who finally succumbed to dark forces that drew him into destructive confusion and depression and led him to despair and death.

I foolishly always imagined that years from now, I'd hear about Jason doing this or that, or living in this place or that place, and that he and I would remember those times we were younger men and living back in LA. That future never existed, and Wyrd will never weave it. I failed Jason in a way- a way that I won't fail my friends again, to honor his death: I won't look at someone for the future I may have with them. I will look at people in the now. That is Wyrd-scrying, that is Wyrd-sight. We miss so much because we are gazing, without realizing it, into dark shadows of futures that don't exist and pasts that can no longer be seen in that way.

Death makes all true Heathens step up to the plate and say goodbye in our own way. The first steps on my journey were to plan Jason's funeral rites. I knew that I'd have to sit through the rites that Jason's family would put on for him, but those weren't his real funeral rites. Jason had left the Christianity he was born into long ago, taking up his spiritual home in the path of ecstatic mysticism and philosophical Taoism. His Christian funeral was an alien drone of noise and commotion around his body, and around his soul, that he would not have appreciated.

More than ever, I came to realize that the old saying was true: modern (read: Christian) funerals are for the living, not the dead. My Heathen rites for Jason were all for him, for the welfare of his soul on his journey. I do not begrudge Jason's family their right and need to give him the send-off that their religion called for. But I do know that Jason would have wanted something different. He was going to get it from me, and from his other friends who were more in touch with his eccentric tastes and his non-ordinary spiritual path.

Yes, the Christian rites were for the Christians. They wept, sang, prayed, and at the end, they walked away from the casket sitting on the burial ground, looking back with longing in their eyes. I wanted to yell at them all that Jason wasn't trapped in that box; he wasn't stuck in his grave. There was nothing there for them to look back at; Jason was free; he had become a part of the world in a new way, a broader way, and he was still just as much "here", just as much a part of the world as he ever was. And we are all parts of that world, meaning we are still in an intimate relationship with Jason.

I did learn something important, from being at Jason's visitation ceremony. I saw nearly every person I knew cry. I saw his parents hugging everyone and seeing hundreds of people, including many strangers, crying their eyes out for Jason. I realized that grief was easier for the family to bear if it was shared. Grief is a great weight, as I am now very aware, and when so many people grieve with you, it does seem easier to bear.

The gathering I attended the night of the visitation was awesome. I saw so many friends from "the old days", back when we all lived here in this city together, back when we were closer. I saw people that I missed, and I didn't realize how much I missed them until I saw them again. I drank and drank, and I didn't sleep. When I was dropped off at my home by 5:30 AM, I still didn't want to sleep. Instead, I went down to the woods and the trails that Jason used to love, and I watched the sun come up. Every sound of every bird was purely musical; my eyes certainly were opened in a new way. I promised myself that I'd unload all my thoughts on the first person I came across that morning- and Wyrd saw to it that a kindly old gent from the local neighborhood and his big white dog came walking down the levee.

I introduced myself, and told him what a fine prize he'd just won: to hear my sad story at the crack of dawn. This fine man took it well, like a real champ: we walked his dog together, and talked about life and death. We finally parted, and he told me that death presented everyone with a chance to make something good out of misfortune. He said a subtle, noble truth to me- he said that we all had a chance to change our relationships with one another, to look deeper into things, and to make a good thing out of the bad. It may be simple sounding, but this advice is deeper than the ocean. Every moment is already a new chance for things to change; death is the same, but with a deeper motivation to do so.

By the time the funeral and burial was over, I felt spiritually and emotionally drained- totally thin and wasted inside. A strange species of depression set in, but Thorgrimm and I still went out to the water's rim and did the first Blot for Jason's journey. That night, the water was beautiful, and the night was silent and vast. The temperature was perfect. I sang the Hagalaz-songs, opening the Helgrind, and made our single flame.

Thorgrimm used our hammer to do the Hammer-rite and I prayed to He who should be invoked to guide the dead safely through the dangers of the Hel-way: the Allfather. We lifted a horn of ale, of Jason's favorite ale, and it was made powerful by the Allfather. We drank some of it. We poured the rest into a wooden bowl, and sprinkled ourselves with it using a hlauteinn of holly-evergreen. We gave it to the ground, we prayed and spoke to Jason.

Allfather is the world-creating spirit who guides all souls down the Hel-way, to their rest. Or should I say, he once did; does he still? I believe so, but we must never forget that humans have a duty to maintain a reciprocal relationship with the Gods, and today, so few people consciously do so. When humans largely forget the Gods, it's not that the Gods forget us, but that we close our minds to their presence and to what they wish for us. The Allfather's holy kindred reach for us; how many reach back? How many of us would go down the Hel-way with the Allfather, when he appeared for us at death? Would we think of him as a figment of our dying imaginations, or would we fear him as some evil spirit, as the Christians call him?

When a person dies, I believe that the next Nine Nights that follow is especially sacred to their journey. After a few days of unconsciousness, I believe that their minds, re-clad in a subtle body, arises into a new, subtle consciousness, and is then faced by its own death-vision, and enters into the experience of the Hel-way, the transitional experience that falls between this world and whatever other world the dead may find their way to, in accordance with their own Wyrd. All of the dead must first go to the deeps of Hel, the Underworld, before they either find their way to a resting place in the deep, or move on to another world.

There's so much we don't know about the experience of the dead, and indeed, much can't be known. The death experience is highly individualistic. One thing is certain- for the Heathen faithful, to die is to "see Odin"- to meet the guide of souls, if we can or will recieve him.

In the time of the Nine Nights, at least three Blots should be done; the first for Allfather to guide the journeyer, the second for the ancestors and guardian spirit of the journeyer to help him or her, and the last for Urd, the Fate-weaver, She who is queen over the dead in Hel. All are done for a single purpose: to see that the dead be helped. To see that they be given the power to maintain their wits through the dark visions and spiritual dangers of the journey. Ill-wights and trollish powers can assault the person who wanders down the Hel-way, especially if they go unawares or without preparation. The greatest danger of the death-journey is that we will lose our wits, succumb to full unconsciousness, and be drawn into the deepest dark of Hel's halls, losing our will and motivation and the fire of our spirits.

It takes a strong, vibrant person in this life to master death, but it is not impossible. And most people need help. That's why we have the Fetch-guardians sent to us by Allfather, and the Allfather himself; this is why we have our spiritual friends and the ancestral powers that watch over us. Even in death, we get by with help from our friends, our kin, and our Gods.

But most of all, we must entreat mighty Urd, the Fate-weaver, whose noose falls on all of us when our time for death, our own doom, has come.

So Thorgrimm and I invoked first the Allfather, and rightly so, for the Allfather also lost his son. He knows what the family and friends of Jason are going through. He lost his son to the dark of Hel, but more importantly, the Allfather knows what awaits, what lies beyond; he knows the great completion of all things. He whispered this secret into his son's ear on his funeral pyre. The rite was powerful; by this time, we knew that Jason wasn't so far down the Hel-way that he couldn't hear us. I know that he could still experience so much, perhaps clearly, perhaps indistinctly. But our rites for him were effective because calling his name has the power to attract his now-released mindstream to experience our rite for him.

We prayed to the Allfather to guide Jason; Allfather is the God to whom all the wise seek to commune with at occassions of death, because He is not just all-wise, but he is a shape-shifter; he is a Turnskin; he can appear in whatever form he wants. In his great wisdom, we asked that he would appear to Jason in whatever form Jason needed to see to trust him, to follow him, to learn from him. Wisdom can spare us all from death in a very real sense of the word, and when we are on the Hel-way, Wisdom can spare us from the terrors that follow death. We asked the Allfather, who knows precisely what form to appear in for Jason, to go and help Jason. No wight could be wiser than Allfather; his wisdom is the wisdom that we all need, alive or dead.

Is praying to the Gods enough? Can it stem the tide of grief, close the doors of the suffering death inevitably brings to the living and the dead? As Heathens, we have no choice but to trust in the old wisdom. There is no room for second-guessing ourselves or our ancestors. Our ancestors are clear on this, perfectly clear: death is not the end of life, but a transition into new conscious experiences.

But how do we prepare for death? Surely we can't trust that the Gods will rush in to rescue us from death, and trust in funeral rites and the goodwill of those we leave behind. No, we need to concentrate on two things before we die: Wisdom and Right Living.

Wisdom is too great a topic to discuss here and now; in some way, I discuss it at length in nearly every post I make to this blog. Here, I need to focus on right living. Wisdom comes to most as a consequence of right living, anyway. Right living means living a noble life, following the standards of nobility set down in the holy lores of our ancestors.

I do not believe that these standards are human-serving standards that were invented by human beings for human purposes. I believe that they were taught to our ancestors by the Gods, as standards of living that reflect a greater reality, not only a human one, but a godly one. When you live a life of brave and self-sacrificing support for the community of consciousness and life, when you live a life of generosity and hospitality, and when you life a life where you don't compromise with your love and loyalty for the Gods and family and kindred, you are not just being a good human; you are being a Godly human. You are channeling and invoking the Gods, the divine power of Raidho, the mystery of right order for the Cosmos. You are unfolding the Rune or Mystery of Mannaz in its greatest form: the human being who manifests the spirit of the Gods, which is within us all.

That is how you prepare for death. A person who lives rightly invokes the Gods and the protection of the Rune of Right Order for the Cosmos, so much so that even death cannot fully dim that order. Your wits remain about you even before the darkest assaults of the giantish powers. The Gods are with you. To live a life of true god-like nobility is to bridge heaven and earth, Asgard and Midgard. And that affects this life as well as the next.

Jason died and entered into the light of spirit- the Spirit that Allfather breathed into all people. I've often chuckled at the pervasive connections we hear of with death and "seeing the light", the typical experience that so many "near death experience" people report. That light is no light from heaven; it's the light of what we are. It's the light of the spirit of the Gods that dwells in us. When we die, we experience it clearly again, without the dullness of our senses to dim it out for us. Did jason recognize it for what it was? I don't know. I hope that the Allfather appeared in Jason's death-vision and revealed that truth to him.

I hope he helped Jason to keep his wits and shared his wisdom. I hope that Jason has found rest, and indeed, in my heart, I know that Jason's journey will end in good places. Jason died right as the Twelve Nights of Yule came upon us; no time of year is more powerful, for the living or the dead. I know that this made Jason's transition easier and better. It may have added more dangers, but so many offerings and rites have now been done for him that I know the Gods protected him, along with his ancestral powers.

I'd like to share one more thing that I saw at the burial. I saw Jason's grandparents walking away from the casket, and I saw one of his grandmothers stop and turn and point to the casket, as though she wanted to be helped back to it. She appeared to need help walking. She pointed to the flowers on top of the casket, and from my angle, I could see the young man helping her reach up and take a red and a white flower off of the top, and hand them to her. This grandmotherly lady seemed very weak, but her eyes were huge and round, like my baby daughter's. She wanted flowers to remember her grandson by; she looked at the flowers like they were the most precious things in the world.

At this moment, a great understanding rushed over me; Jason had a duty that I believe he failed in. Many of us fail it in many ways, but his death's greatest failure was this: he had a duty to his family. I don't get along so well with my family at all times, but I've made it a point to realize that we have to accept our families for who they are, and try to be patient and understanding with them. This doesn't mean that we must let our families walk all over us, but that we have to recognize them for who and what they are, and try to be patient if we can. Jason had a strained relationship with his parents; everyone knew that. But he, as an open-minded, intelligent son had a duty to be open-minded and bear, within reason, what shortcomings his parents may have had in their understanding of him.

We all have that duty, if we truly want to call ourselves "open-minded". The open-minded have to take up the slack of those who are rigid and unwilling to see from a broader perspective. We have to accept our families and live our lives, being there for them if we can. To choose death now, as Jason did, only placed a terrible burden on his grandparents, as well as everyone else, and I won't ever forget that poor grandmother I saw go back for those flowers.

Let me be clear on something: I believe that my friend was killed by giantish powers, by powers of confusion and destructive behavior that overpowered his better senses. His mind was made unstable and dangerous, and he took his own life, though I do not believe that he was making sane judgments at the moment he did what he did. These are dangers that we must all struggle against, every day of our lives.

Do not let up your guard for even a moment; the best and the brightest of any generation can fall victim to these powers, because they are giantish- the urge to oblivion, the destructive forces that lead people to abuse themselves, their own minds and bodies, and the minds and bodies of others; the beastly, selfish urges that lead to the pit of loss of control and loss of consciousness, which lead us away from our humanity in the best sense of the word.

Believe in the Gods. Accept that the light of the Godly Spirit is in you and put your trust in it. Trust them, and trust the best that is in you. Do not let the messengers of Giants or Trollish forces into your life; they do not come to set up a camp and then leave the next day- they come as conquerers. They seek the same destruction now, in the cosmos of each human mind and body, that they will finally bring to the worlds at Ragnarok.

Be present, here and now, with your friends. Watch out for them. Be aware of the things they say and do, and look below the surface. Tell your friends how much you appreciate them, and how open and willing you are to speak to them, about anything they want to talk about. If you are a friend or kin to someone, be a friend, be kin. The "place" where we meet one another, and celebrate our friendship or kinship is in communication. That's how souls interact. So do it, and together, our chances are better of navigating the stormy seas of dangerous Wyrd that life will cast us into.

My journey is not yet over. Jason's death simply helped me to shake awake on my journey, and Gods willing, I'll stay more awake, until the end. Whether or not there is a true "ending" is another story altogether. Jason was a good man. He is still a good man, gone to his Fate in another valley, another hall, another world. I miss him, and I still celebrate our friendship. Perhaps he will live again, or perhaps Wyrd will see that he only rises again into the renewed world that is to come. Either way, wherever Jason is, that will certainly be a good place to be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Trollkyrka

As a student of folklore, I am always on the lookout for the genuine remains of Heathenry in the body of folklore from many European nations. Despite the great regional variations in the nature of folklore, nearly every nation's own folk-wisdom and stories contain deep and penetrating insights into the pre-Christian impulses and even practices of former times.

With great pleasure, I stumbled across a fine poem discussing the Trollkyrka, a hallowed place for the ancient Gods in the wilds of Sweden. I enjoyed what I found so much that I felt the need to share.

The Trollkyrka (Troll-Church or Troll's Church) is a rock formation in the heart of the Tiveden Forest of Sweden. This forest is 'famous for its scenery and throughout history notorious for its wilderness and dangers; historically a hiding place for outlaws'. Wikipedia says "the name (Tiveden) is very old and disputed. -Ved is cognate to English Wood and the first part of its name, Ti-, either means "god" or refers to the god Tyr. Tiveden separates Närke from Västergötland, and was formerly a frontier between the Geats and the Swedes. The national park area has never been inhabited, but there are several ancient remains of human activities such as worshipping grounds and sacrificial sites.'

The Tiveden Park site mentions more about the fact of many Pagan holy sites being present in the forest. It says 'There are several caves, the best known being Stenkälla, an old sacrificial site from pagan times. There is little animal life in Tiveden, but there is a large capercaillie population. The flora is also poor, since the biotope is stony pine forest.'

Along with the Stenkalla, the Trollkyrka stands out. It is a high butte of stone, that is reached by a long, meandering path. The local folklore surrounding it is a rich source for modern Pagans and Heathens of the Northern Tradition. The Trollkyrka, itself an ancient Horgr or sacrificial ground/site, is called so for the fact that Christianity associated the Heathen Gods with "trolls"- and by "trolls" they meant malicious spirits.

I have written extensively on Trolls in my book Helsongs, as well as on the subject of Trullskapir, the magical art of manipulating and influencing potentially dangerous spiritual powers towards ends directed by the sorcerer. As I point out in that work, the term "troll" is a very complex term, and its original meaning is far from clear. It does refer to any manner of natural powers and spiritual powers, which run the range from friendly to dangerous, depending on what segment of folklore you are reading. Even in Heathen times, it's likely that the term "troll" didn't always mean something desirably natural or good- it has been suggested that it may have always held a dangerous connotation.

Naturally, "troll" took on a far more sinister meaning with the advent of Christianity in the Northlands- an actual formal renunciation of Paganism was required of Christians baptised in Scandanavia which denounced "Odin, Thor, Tyr, and all the other Trolls worshipped by (the) people." The Trollkyrka, being a former Pagan holy site, and apparently one that was used as such up until very recent times, would be remembered in Christian folklore as the home (or church!) of Trolls.

Trollkyrka was believed to be a dangerous place for Christians to go, and for a very surprising reason: the Wikipedia article on Trollkyrka says:

"According to (the folklorist) Lidman, old people used to say: "No Christian can go there. The mountains of the troll church belong to the heathen trolls. If a Christian ventures there, he will come to grief."

In fact, local tradition relates that the mountain was used not long ago for heathen rites and that anyone who was not initiated and saw it risked either to be buried in a bog in the forest or sworn into the brotherhood. These precautions clearly indicate that the rites took place as late as the period 1604-1735, which was a time when there was a penalty of death on practising such rituals."

The folklorist Carlshult was doing research on the folk-traditions surrounding another nearby monument of the Tiveden forest, the Skaga Stave Church. A few words about this stave church are in order- according to history, the Church-body in Sweden in the 1800's decided to demolish this beautiful stave church, which was built originally in the 12th century by Skaga, the daughter of a Viking with the rather intimidating name of "Ramunder the Evil".

In a frightening twist of Fate, the Black Death (a plague widely believed in the North to be the work of angry Heathen Gods, venting their frustration on the people parting from the Old Ways) devastated the area of Tiveden, leaving it uninhabited, and the existence of the church was actually forgotten as it stood lost for a century or two before a party of bear hunters just stumbled across it.

In the 1800's, as I said before, the church leaders decided to demolish the church, and one of the reasons given was to "punish" the local people for the persistence of heathen beliefs and practices in the area. Somehow, the Church always manages to get re-built, however, and was rebuilt very recently, following its original design.

While researching these topics, Carlshult came across a poem of great power, at least from the perspective of those interested in the persistence of ritual and mystical practices from Heathen times to now. The poem, which documents a ritual observance of a Heathen holy season at the Trollkyrka, goes as so:

"The procession creeps on a meandering path
Preferably unseen to the Troll hills.
A mass shall be held for three days,
This will be the beginning of the holiday.

The frock is long, so it reaches down to the ground,
The socks are sharply pointed,
The hood is pulled down so that the holes for the eyes fit.
Everybody looks alike except for the height,
The prelate counts their number.

The password is given in a low voice,
The prelate blows three times in a horn.
The fire is kindled with nine kinds of wood,
That is the old custom.
A sacrifice is offered to the spirits,
Everyone is sprinkled with the blood.
The best part is gifted to spirits,
What remains is to be consumed by the men.

In the midnight hour
When stars glitter,
The prelate asks for silence
And this is obeyed by all the men.
They fall down onto the ground,
The prelate looks grimly at the heavens.
And incantations and summons echo in the dells
The prelate is summoning spirits.

Everyone received an answer to their question,
No one heard from another man what the answer was."

A bit of analysis is in order, though the poem speaks admirably well for itself. The "Holiday" (Holy-day) is unknown, though I like to think that this poem records a general ritual used for any season of Heathen importance. What is striking is that a procession takes place to the Horg or the Hallowed Area at the Trollkyrka (processions into and out of holy places are a common fixture in many pre-Christian religions, and even today, Catholic masses begin with the procession of priests and their attendants up to the Altar) and the attendees are dressed in a striking manner.

They apparently have long, sharply pointed socks, long frocks, and hoods with eye-holes in them. Surely some of this was for the sake of remaining anonymous if they were seen, and for a good fright factor in the same event, but there may be more to it- they would appear quite ghoulish in the right light (or should I say lack of light, or perhaps torch or moonlight) and this kind of costume could have represented a hiding of the human identity and an assuming of a visage intended to convince spirits that they belonged to the spirit-world. The notion of dressing like spirits or putting on masks and disguises at "between times" or holy seasons and rituals is not unheard of in the shamanisms of primal societies, and a yearly distant show of this same practice at Halloween is well known to us all.

Of all the parts of the ritual outlined in this poem, however, I'd be willing to bet that this part- the odd dress- is the most "modern" addition. It's hard to imagine the common people of Heathen times really dressing in this manner at every ritual sacrifice, and indeed, such a thing would have been mentioned. However, as we shall see, there is more happening here than just a ritual sacrifice. The last part of this ritual-program seems to be a genuine working of Seid or Trance-sorcery in which Spirits are summoned and questions are asked of them by the gathering. The odd dress on the parts of the participants makes a bit more sense in that light; these are not merely "the Heathen laypeople", but people performing Seid.

The next parts of the poem are pure poetry- the "prelate", or the rite-master, gives a password and blows a horn three times- very powerful, indeed! The nature of the password is not known, but it's easy to guess what was happening there; he was formally calling to the Gods or the local Spirits by their names or by-names. His horn blasts summon their attention or perhaps their full presence; no doubt one blast is sent to the heavens, the other to the corners of this world, and the last to the land of the dead below.

The sacred fire of their rite and their sacrifice is composed of "nine woods"- nine, the number again and again mentioned in all Heathen lore, is without a doubt the most sacred concept, then and now. The poem ends this portion by saying "this was the old custom". How old? I can assure you that the practices this poem is outlining are as old as the hills.

A straightforward Heathen Blot is described next, a blessing, a sacrifice and sprinkling with blood. The portions of the sacrifice are shared by men and the spirits- this portion of the poem is a marvelous and direct proof that Blots were being done at a very late date, and at sites holy to Heathenry since very ancient times.

The final and most powerful part to me is the "Seid" rite that is detailed- "in the midnight hour", the participants are sent to the ground in silence while the rite-master sings chants or invocations, and each person "received an answer to their question", though "no one heard from another man what the answer was."

In other words, Spirits told each person their answer. We can recall the Sagas here, where the Volva in Greenland receives her answers, on behalf of the questioning public, directly from spirits that she sings to summon as well.

All in all, this gem of folklore is something that every modern Heathen should pay attention to, and more than one modern Traditional Witch should look to it as well, as a pattern for genuine modern day revivalist rites. I believe that there is power in this pattern, and I well know the power of it, as it is a pattern that I have used for many years now in my own practice.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Our Truth, Part One: The Heathen Legacy, the Modern Context of Heathenry, and the Myths of the Modern World

Modern Heathenry is a very young system of religious expression. While it is true that Heathenry has deep and ancient origins, it was largely interrupted for over a thousand years, before its rebirth and recension in the modern day. After such an interregnum, there remains a lot of work to be done on the level of "reclaiming" the legacy of the old days, while still operating successfully within the modern context.

When I say "modern context", I do not mean to suggest that we have to make concessions to modernist or christian-influenced sensibilities, even though some people in the various camps of Heathenry will accuse me of doing just that. No, what I mean by "modern context" is a simple matter of recognizing the realities of the times we live in, and situating ourselves within those times.

I consider such a recognition and situation to be a religious duty. Why? Because if we believe in the worldview of Wyrd- and indeed, as a Seidman, I certainly do, along with many other Heathens- then we have a duty to clearly perceive, understand and accept the perpetual spinning and expression of Wyrd or Fate itself. Fate in the broadest sense is nothing less than "that which is" and "that which becomes"- the manifestation of the entire world around us, the realities of the worlds seen and unseen, and all the beings within them; Fate is also seen in the procession of ages, from the dawn of ages to the Wolf-age and the Ragnarok.

As regretable as it may be to admit, the simple fact is that we no longer live in a Heathen time; the world has changed. The vast majority of people no longer have a belief in the Gods. While some (including myself) believe that we have swung back into a "new Heathen era", this is not to suggest that we can transform the world or the world-Fate back into "how it was before". Such an idea is nonsense; it's quite unthinkable.

One cannot return to a former time. The world-doom is steadily approaching and Fate is spinning out as it must. What we can do is lay claim to some of the wisdom of the former times, and accept that wisdom into our daily lives here and now, and allow it to guide us to nobility and insight, both of which are somewhat rare things in these dark days. It's also what I believe our ancestors would have wanted us to do. And we do it as best we can, working to honor what they honored within the context of the modern day. An example of this "in modern context" Heathenry is seen in the fact that most of us don't have the same connection to farm animals that our ancestors once had, so we do blots with ale and mead now, instead of sacrificing a living beast and sprinkling its blood.

This is an adjustment in form- not in essence- of the rite of sacrifice, which has nothing to do with any modernist notions. The world has changed; our relationship and closeness with food animals changed; and so we do things a little differently now. There is nothing mysterious or scandalous about this, nor is this any failure on our part in these modern times. We have not made concessions to "modernist" forces or animal rights groups, nor have we abandoned some subtle truth about sacrifice that our ancestors knew. We are still consuming a consecrated substance, and then sprinkling ourselves with some of it, thus fully actualizing and experiencing the power of blot or sacrifice, as much as any people who have ever lived experienced it.

There is no command somewhere in the surviving lore that states that the consecrated and shared/sprinkled substance has to be the blood of an animal; consecrated ale is every bit as capable of carrying the power of the Gods into us as consecrated pork or blood; to believe otherwise would be to make a dim statement about the power of the Gods.

Modern Heathens no longer live in tribes or villages that depend on the meat of sacrifices to supplement their diets; what's more important for our tiny kindreds and hearths today is to re-affirm our connection with the Gods regularly, and so we use a more common substance to facilitate the blot. Fate has delivered us into these times, and we live here, now. Wisdom demands that we situate ourselves in a fitting way. To do so is to honor the living and flexible wisdom of the ancestors which helped them to cope with and adapt to the world in distant times.

When I talk of a "new Heathen era", it's not a matter of some romanticized notion of everyone casting off the trappings of the modern and going back to live in Viking longhouses, and dressing and speaking in the manner of by-gone ages. I'm discussing a mental and spiritual era of wisdom-reclamation and recognition of the ancestral power and unique experience that we are all heirs to, while living in the modern day. I'm talking about having access to generations of pre-Christian life and experience, the very essence of the experience our ancestors had of the world and the Gods, which became encoded in their holy myths and sagas and lores.

Why is this desirable? Because it is a neglected chapter of human history that has much to teach us. It is also a fair tribute that we owe to people whose voices have long been silenced in what I consider to be an unfair and unwise manner. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are wiser now than people have ever been; such a "modern myth" may comfort us, but it is a dishonorable, vain way of thinking. The early Christians are a good example of people who bought wholesale into the myth that their new ways were far wiser than the old ways that they were working so hard to replace. Modern Heathens today make it a point to distance themselves from Christian thinking and to mentally and spiritually reject the "Christianization" that spread across the North so long ago, at least with respect to our own spiritual destinies.

But if we wish to truly distance ourselves from the tendencies demonstrated by these early Christians (and to the vast majority of Christians now) then we must guard ourselves such that we do not fall into our own species of vanity, a modernist vanity that leads us to think that we are wiser than the grandmothers and grandfathers, or that our modern day and its technologies represent a full scale "improvement" of the quality of human life, despite their costs.

Our modern way of life is only an improvement if you consider things like air conditioning, jets, and miracle drugs to be the defining factors of "quality of life". If you consider physical comforts and length of life to be the defining factors of "quality", then you must believe you live in the greatest times ever. However, if you think that love, as well as honest, fruitful connections between kin-groups, and a conscious, recognized connection between humans and the Gods is the factor that defines quality, then certainly you will join me in balking at the materialistic and hedonistic trickery that practically all modern people have bought into.

Because the simple truth is that the length of human life is not the most important issue, though we in the modern day, with all of our uncertainties about life and death, have been driven to believe that it is. To live 30 or 40 years in the strength of true bonds with other humans and the Gods is preferable to living 100 years suffering from the sense of isolation and alienation that so many people feel today.

To live a short life feeling "in place", having a deep sense of connection between yourself, the Land, the Gods and your kin, is one of Fate's most precious gifts, and it is a gift that less people find today than ever before. A short life of certainty about who loves you, and whom you love in return, and certainty about who will protect you and whom it is right that you should protect, is in my opinion far preferable to a century of wandering through a world full of people who would rather look at television screens or computer screens than at one another. "Family" has become something we spend half our time trying to escape, as opposed to that group of people we should be spending our time getting to know; and "friends" too often become the people we seek to gain some personal benefit from, as opposed to fellow human beings who are experiencing the same human journey that we all have to undergo.

In the place of true human bonds, we get cheap tricks, supposed miracle cures for the things that make us suffer, without ever once considering that what will truly "cure" the modern sense of angst, the thing we really need, is a recognition- literally a re-cognition- of who and what we truly are, who the Gods are, and what life demands of us.

As an aside, be certain that I'm not suggesting we go get baseball bats and smash our toasters and throw away our bottles of tylenol; I am not against improvements in technology; I simply don't believe in the "myth of human progress" in the way that most modern people unquestioningly believe in it. I also believe that the ideal of human life would be to have wisdom, happiness, and peace alongside our modern technological miracles. But sadly, the ideal balance never seems to occur. The main reason why is because we've been led to believe that material comfort and advanced technology would equate with happiness, when it certainly does not.

If you examine our way of life today, it's pretty clear that most people in the "civilized world" know more about the lives of Hollywood celebrities, more about writing long lines of computer code, and more about making mixed drinks, than they do about what life truly offers to them. We know more about doing our taxes, what clothing styles are "in" and "out", and the rules and regulations of organized sports leagues, than we know about offering love and support to our families and friends when they need it. In the end, many people end up knowing the in's and out's of office politics more than their own children.

We've been conditioned, consciously and unconsciously, to ignore the most urgent matters of human relationship, such as our many experiences with death, and replace them with distractions that keep us feeling dazed and comfortable. This is a result of losing the connection between each other and the world around us. To go back to the death example, most everyone has found themselves in the uncomfortable situation of being around someone who has recently lost a child or husband or family member, and finding themselves unable to approach the subject; at most we can cough out a fine "I'm sorry" to them, and then immediately look for an exit from the situation, or just wait in silence for the person to react and spare us having to talk further about the dead. Maybe you've said the name of a person who just died to one of their loved ones, quite without thinking about it, and found yourself suddenly shocked and embarrased that you said it, afraid that you may have hurt or awoken grief in the person.

On the flip side, maybe you've watched the "nightly news body count" happen all your life, and saw night after night of news reports about the 150 people killed in this mudslide or that tidal wave, saw the 80 people killed in this or that civil war, or the soldiers killed in this or that battle, and become numb to it. It's so hard to feel concern when it's people dying far away, even though most of us feel that we should react in some manner. But our reactions to death tend to fall into two camps: either extreme discomfort, a shock that smothers us in silence, or a lack of concern, a sense of disconnection, for the numbers flashing across the screen every day and every night.

And this is what I think most people's lives are like- numbers and images flashing on a screen, just an insubstantial light show, flipping from channel to channel in a disjointed manner, one distraction to another and finally getting turned off, with the programming and its information mostly rapidly forgotten. Do I sound over-critical of mankind? The only reason I make this comparison with most people's lives and television is because I once lived that way myself, though I hardly consider it "life" in any real sense of the word. I was fortunate to be approached by spirits and to have been shaken awake a bit from my slumber by circumstances of Wyrd.

As a result of my own vision, I know that there is a better way to live, but it requires something of us that we have to be willing to give; it requires genuine effort and it requires a willingness to admit that our modern day, and all its technologies, may not have all the answers. This is where Heathenry steps in and says "look back to the wisdom of our grandmothers and grandfathers- they have things to say to us that can help us see through some of the modern myths and spells that have trapped our senses."

For it is true that primal peoples had less of our distractions. The conscious experience of nature was far more immediate to them than it is to us today, for many reasons. Did they have problems, flaws, drawbacks? Sure, because they were humans like us. But most people who are realistic will admit that their way of life took less a toll on the world than our way of life today, and they were certainly less concerned with unimportant things and more concerned with things that matter, such as the well-being of their families and their task as human beings in a community of human beings.

Most importantly, they had a direct, conscious connection with the wisdom of the collective human past which came to them through the vehicle of Myth and Saga, which they whole-heartedly accepted and hearkened to- the same myths that the modern world rejects as "superstition" or belittles as primitive attempts to "explain the world" in the "best way they could", with the clear insinuation that we moderns have some new, better ways of explaining the world that bring us far closer to the "truth" than anyone has ever come.

But the reality is that our own modern myths aren't closer to any truth; in fact, a case can be made that they are further from it, because we have forgotten something essential about myths- myths aren't just about explaining the world; at their core, myths are about us.

We operate under the mistaken idea that ancient peoples thought just like we think today; that their myths were linear explanations of the world, like primitive scientific theories. But they weren't. They were stories born from a very different perception and experience of the world, strange stories capturing something of the essence of reality- a reality that we all share, and which is stranger than anyone thinks. The Truth about our lives and the Gods is beyond belief; it is stranger than anyone thinks, or perhaps can think. "Wyrd" is the ancestor of the word "weird" for good reasons!

Modern scientific myths give us very intricate and detailed stories about the world, and all its physical and chemical formation, and all its evolutionary courses, and they tell us about the vastness of the cosmos- but the never tell us anything about our humanity, about our humanhood. They fail to explain the fact of our consciousness, of our subjectivity; they fail to demonstrate how very material brain matter can give rise to something immaterial like the continuum of consciousness; and even though not a single science-myth believer has ever seen consciousness emerge from the physical matter of the brain, it is accepted by most- quite without evidence- that it must do so.

Instead of being open to all possibilities- including the possibility that there are aspects of the human being that simply cannot be explained in a "scientific" manner, they rest in a groundless faith that one day, following well-worn "scientific" methods, everything WILL be explained, and furthermore, it will be explained without recourse to all of the aspects of human life and mind that they don't feel comfortable with, like the idea of spirit or the Gods.

The modern myth-writers do not have the open-minded, flexible mind of inquiry that they claim to have; most are quite sold on the myth of materialism, and they see everything with those eyes. They see any and all religious beliefs as childish denial or superstition, and accept their own spiritual nihilism as a form of mental and intellectual "maturity", giving themselves a feeling of superiority over the other human beings who cannot let go of their "security blankets".

They tell us how ancient the earth is, but say nothing about how ancient we are, or how ancient the spirit is. They tell us how vast the cosmos is, but they say nothing about how vast the spirit and its creativity is. They truly know more about the chemical composition of rocks and oceans than they know about how and why to love other human beings. They know a lot about how to sustain a body in health, but not how to live or why. They know how to escape death for as long as possible, but not how to die.

And so it goes. Can any thinking person really believe that these modern myths are "closer to the Truth" than any humans have ever come before now? Even though these modern myth writers have been able to produce air conditioners for us, and brilliant combinations of chemicals to treat our diseases, and pretty light shows and telephones, have they produced what we really need? I think not, and the reason why is because what we really need is not "produced" through scientific effort; what we need is something we always have, something we are born with and something we die with. It's the very basis for the dignity that each living being is heir to. To discover this gift we carry with us through life and death is a matter of wisdom, a matter of re-cognizing who and what we are.

If we don't have this recogntion, we are wandering fools, who will be destroyed by their lack of recognition. If we do have it, then we are true human beings who are consciously made whole by the recognition. To look outside of us, or to the chemical composition of the brain or of the earth's crust in some attempt to "explain" us is a doomed enterprise.

To know Wyrd, to see Wyrd, is to see with eyes of completeness, to see all factors, not just a few that are assumed to be the "keys" to it all- in the worldview of Wyrd, EVERYTHING is the key to everything else, for all forces are inter-related. Does consciousness arise only from the brain? No. It arises from the world, not unlike the brain itself. Without water, fire, sky, trees, there would be no humans, no brains, no feet or hands. If you take away one strand of the web of Wyrd, the entire thing vanishes, unravels, falls apart, ceases to be. Every single thing depends on everything else. The Gods depend on the many powers; we depend on the Gods and the other powers. Within that web of powers, the Gods shaped many things, but they themselves arose from the web of Reality, and they are affected by it, in their own way.

Consciousness also arises from this web; consciousness is not in a "place"; it is a quality of the web of Wyrd, a timeless aspect of reality that is dependant on countless forces and affected by them, while simultaneously affecting them back. Your consciousness is just as dependant on the oak tree in your backyard, on the roaring of the ocean, on the stars in the sky, and on the laughs and smiles of your friends, as it is on your brain. To try and "explain" it further than this is folly; the web of Wyrd is simply too vast to manage an explanation with human words.

And indeed, what good would it do us if we were able to explain consciousness fully? Would this explanation suddenly reveal to us how to live and how to love? Would the explanation suddenly make us all good, dignified human beings? No. We would still be facing the same issues about human inter-relationship that we face now; we'd still be facing greed and anger and strife. We'd still face moral issues and we'd still be struggling to find happiness. Would the explanation of consciousness spare us from having to die one day? No. We'd just be dying with full knowledge of where our consciousness came from, which may or may not be such a great consolation to those who are undergoing the pains of dying.

Would this miracle explanation make us all happy and at peace? No, I don't think it would. Chances are, we'd just come up with a new pile of questions hiding behind our "answer", and start struggling over those. The momentary satisfaction we'd have felt from getting one question answered would be drowned out by new questions. This paper-chase would never end. My point here is that explaining human life is not nearly as important as living life well, as honorable people. You don't need to see a schematic or a diagram that explains where consciousness comes from in detail to live a conscious life of love, honor, and bravery.

So to look "here" or "there" for the truth is a function of the confused mind that paradoxically searches everywhere for itself while ignoring the one most obvious "place" where the treasure awaits; it's a madness of types, when you think about it. Why would this "place" be ignored? Because in our modern day, perhaps in common with many older times, few people have the bravery or the ability to give up on the effort of "outer" searching and turn inward, to a "place"- and by "place" I mean that way of seeing completely- that defies our hopes and expectations for what the Truth has to be, or how it must be found.

The search for truth is not dependant on how good of a fighter a person is anymore than it is dependant on how brilliant a researcher they are. It's not dependant on how well they can manipulate numbers or words, or on how skillful and talented they are. More than anything, people want to believe that on some level, the Truth can be reached if they "give it their best" or apply "themselves" against the "world" and force the world to reveal her truths. Ironically, these attitudes and brilliant applications of mind and skill largely stand in the way of a person being able to perceive the truth for the simple matter that they create, reinforce, and maintain false distinctions between "self" and "the world".

The most that a person will ever see, through their brilliant efforts, is a reflection of what they wanted to see all along, or what they thought they should see. They won't be writing a myth that reveals some truth; they will (despite their sincere belief to the contrary) be writing a story that covers the truth up; they won't be writing a myth about the world or even humanity; they'll be writing a story of vanity, and this is a common enough occurence nowadays.

I'm a Wyrd-worker, a Seidman. I don't see things in quite the same way others do, though I suppose anyone could say that about themselves with respect to the perceptions of others. True to my non-traditional approach to perception, I see people's quest to "understand the world" as a disguised form of their deep desire to know themselves. The curiosity that drives a scientist to "explain" consciousness is actually a symptom of desire for self-knowledge, for understanding who and what they are. The sad thing is that so many of these people also have extremely limited methodologies for arriving at the "truth", so many harmful assumptions about how "truth" must be arrived at, that their desire for it will never be satisfied. To want something dearly, to need it, but to steadfastly refuse the means of obtaining it- that is the true seed of eternal angst.

Sadly, when these same people educate our children and the next generation of our scientists and our next modern myth makers, they pass on their fears, their limitations and their angst, which then even creeps into the policy decisions of governments, and the prevailing attitudes of common people, and the decisions of corporate superentities. Soon the whole world is permeated by a deep, unexplainable sense of being lost, and based on a search that goes on endlessly, while the masses sit back and half-watch in their daily stupor.

Again, this is where the worldview of Wyrd steps in and explodes these limitations and offers us a cure- the only cure we can expect in this Wolf Age. It says this: the limitations that we suffer are only in us, not in Wyrd, not in Reality itself. To see the full picture of reality, to experience it in the whole manner which it must be experienced, is to find what we seek. Just because the world is near to Ragnarok doesn't mean that peace in the individual is impossible. To live in the new Heathen era is to seek wisdom and peace in the way of our ancestors, and to seek fellowship with the Gods who help us to find wisdom just as they helped our ancestors. The Path of Wyrd is one of the most profound gifts our ancestors gave to us, to help us find wisdom, and so we should give it our full attention, in every aspect of our lives.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Focus on a Hero of the Northern Way: Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson is the father of modern Asatru. He lived all his life in Iceland, in constant contact with his folk-culture and with the unseen powers that surrounded him on that holy land. It was his efforts that won Icelandic government recognition of Asatru as the traditional and honorable folk-faith of the Northern Peoples. I believe that everyone interested in revivals of the Northern Pagan Religions should read the interview done with him here:

Interview with Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson's interview moved me deeply. I think that he was and is the very image of a "grass roots" follower of the old ways- every word he speaks in this interview resonates with a timeless, earthy wisdom. His words were clearly chosen carefully, and yet, they flowed with a simple honesty that we should all aspire to, if we ever find ourselves asked such questions.

More than this, I think that Sveinbjörn's way of life is the very essence of the Northern Path- close to the Land and reverent. Despite the absurd manner in which so many modern Heathen and Pagan thug-heads try to deny the power of Nature and the Land, even going so far as to try to fight against the term "land centered" or "earth centered" as a description for modern polytheistic religions, Sveinbjörn clearly presents the most authentic Heathen perspective possible, one of complete reverence for Mother Nature.
I think that the survival of Heathenry and true Paganism into the future is contingent on people coming into it who are just as "grass roots" as Sveinbjörn was, just as in touch with their Land, wherever they are, and just as willing to love the values of freedom and personal relationship with the Gods.

I wonder how well it sits with so many of the so-called "leaders" and loudmouths of the modern Asatru movement who demand that people think this or that about this God or that God, and who accuse people who see things differently from them of being evil peddlers of "UPG", to see Sveinbjörn say: "Anyone can pray to the Gods in whatever manner he likes."

My personal favorite quote from this interview was this one:

Interviewer: You live here by yourself on your land. Isn't that kinda lonely?

Sveinbjörn: "Oh no, my nearest neighbor lives 3½ mi. from here, and, besides that, I'm completely surrounded by beings, Landspirits--the Hidden folk."

I know just what Sveinbjörn meant. I give all honor to the spirit of this great man, and raise my cup to him!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Hammer and the Harp: The Two Great Families of the Pre-Christian North, and Sane Paganism/Heathenry

"The Hammer and the Harp" is a clever term I heard used to describe the twin revivalist Pagan religions of the Celtic peoples and the Germanic peoples. The Hammer of the Thunder God, such a common motif in pre-Christian times, has come to represent nearly all revivals of Germanic Heathenry or Paganism, while the Harp, with its timeless connection to the Bardic lore of the Celtic peoples, has joined the triskele as the unofficial symbol of Celtic Paganism.

Despite the over-romanticized and definately over-simplified ideas held by most regarding the relationship between the Celtic and Germanic peoples, there is no great "conflict" between the metaphysical realities and traditions of these historical peoples. The work of fiction writers like Marion Zimmer Bradley would have us believe that bloodthirsty hordes of monstrous Anglo-Saxons invaded peaceful Romano-Celtic Britain and attempted to rape and slaughter every person in sight.

My friends and I have always laughed at the scenario: the people who take "The Mists of Avalon" as holy writ really believe that there was some co-existence between the kindly Goddess Worshipping Pagans and the stern Roman Christians, and that the dark Germanic Horde came to destroy everything.

In reality, the Germanic invaders, led by the semi legendary Hengist and Horsa, were Pagans themselves. The Christian Romans in Britain had plenty of reason to fear; Christianity in Britain was submerged by the Heathen invaders, and Paganism and its related worldviews came to be the accepted ways of life Britain again for centuries, until Christian missionaries managed to (once again) commit cultural and spiritual near-genocide on the new mixed population of Anglo-Saxons and British peoples, again at the behest of greedy, politically motivated kings.

It was the Roman fear of the "barbarian conspiracy" that led to the propagandistic stories of the "evil" Anglo-Saxons coming to destroy the noble, civilized Roman outpost of Britain, and to destroy the church there. To think that the Anglo-Saxons were baby-eating barbarians who only desired the end of all civilization requires us to buy into Roman Christian propaganda.

The Anglo-Saxons didn't come to commit genocide; they came to find a home for their people. The pressure on them to move was due to pressures on the continent; the volkerwanderung- the Wandering of the Folk- had begun, because of the invasions of Eurasian tribes further east. Rome was gasping out her last breath; the world was changing. It was Fate.

As genetic studies have shown, the Anglo-Saxons didn't wipe out every person they could find; they mixed, as every other invader of the Holy Isles had done, back into pre-history. They brought a revival of Paganism, with a Germanic cultural flavor, and they laid the foundations for the greatness of England today. The Norse and the Danes would come later, to settle in Scotland and Ireland, and even to create the Danelaw in England proper, adding their own Pagan legacy to the again Christianized peoples, and to bring more of their adventurous spirit. I won't sit here and say that they were peaceful people who smiled and made friends with everyone they met; clearly, there was conflict and war. But like every other struggle from history, it ended and the peoples joined together over time.

Few people of British Isle extraction can claim no Germanic in their blood; it's almost impossible. Even places as "pure Irish" as the City of Dublin was founded by the Vikings. There's no need to fight it, and even less need to retreat into fictions and fantasies spun by the imaginations of neo-pagan disciples of Marion Zimmer Bradley and other writers. The Paganism of Britain- indeed, the very "Matter of Britain"- is a cauldron, in which the many noble peoples of the North have mixed their blood and their Gods.

I know well what I speak of- I am of Bernician heritage, myself. The kingdom of Bernicia in southeastern Scotland was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and its people were a mixture of the native Britons and the Anglo-Saxon tribes that came to that far northern place. That places me in a unique and somewhat uncomfortable place in my own religious path, as I have an ancestral connection to Germanic Heathenry, as well as the native mysteries of Britain, those carried by its native peoples, and the Celts who came to the Isles before the Germanic peoples.

I also happen to live in a world where the very small amount of people who still believe in the pre-Christian Gods of the North are influenced by a smaller, more foolish minority who preach that people can't worship the Gods of more than one ancient culture, never mind the historical proof we have that the ancients did worship Gods they found among other people.

The Romans were incapable of telling apart Germanic tribes from Celtic; there is a reason for this; the Teutons borrowed heavily from the Celtic peoples they came into contact with. In much the same way the Celts in Galatia worshipped local Greek Gods, the Celts and Romans also worshipped together, and the Romans and Greeks were more than happy to see their own Gods among the Gods of the Northern peoples. The simple fact is that the Gods are beyond the very human construct of culture.

We preserve the cultural names, beliefs, and practices that our ancestors used to reach the Gods out of love and respect for those ancestors, not because the Gods would ignore us if we used some other ritual or cultural approach. I don't believe that the Gods are so closed-minded as to do such a thing; we are their children and kin and they would not abandon us because we failed to use Old Norse or Gaelic invocations to call on them. We know and we feel our own inner ancestral power in relation to the ancestors of our family lines, and we honor that, because it is a natural, in-born channel to personal knowledge and strength.

But "culture", even in ancient times, was not what many people make it out to be today. Culture was a shared set of practices and understandings that were handed down from generation to generation, and it encapsulated things the people found sacred and worthy. It protected the order of their societies and helped add a sense of identity to the people of a kin-group or an area. And culture was never static. More on this in a bit.

I laugh at the people who try to make it sound like some "cultural purity" or even "racial purity" existed in the past, or that we should "return" to some ridiculous modern notion of it in the modern day. Respect for my ancestors and their Gods requires me to see a broader picture than that, and no one alive today can claim some "racial" purity that would exempt them from that task, as well.

For me, the problem is almost non-existent; I have long studied and written about Traditional Witchcraft and Germanic Heathen systems of religion and mystical practice- my two books thus far cover both subjects. I have been a follower of the "Truth of the Gods" for years. I have also studied the native mysteries of Britain, in the form of modern Druidry, for as many years. I see no conflict between these powerful and unique expressions of human spirituality. I am proud to be a son of Bernicia, and a scion of the Beornheard tribe, which is today the Burnett family of Scotland.

I make blots to Woden and Thunor, and I practice Seid- a form of shamanic mysticism that deals with trance-induction and seeking oracles on behalf of other people. I have also become a scholar of modern Runic mysticism, and plan to soon join Edred Thorsson's Runegild, as I have several friends who are members, and it is the next natural step on my journey; I have seen few mystical systems as powerful as the Runes in their modern sorcerous usage.

But I also pray to the Gods of Britain, the Mother Don Mam Cymru and Beli, her consort; I am Cauldron-Born, a person who has submerged his mind in the deep world of Annwn, to become wise to the mysteries. Anyone who cannot see the harmony between the Quest of Woden to hang from the Tree for Nine Nights and plunge his own consciousness into the deep void of Hel, to win the secrets there, and the submergence of Taliesin's own self and consciousness into the cauldron and womb of Cerridwen to win his own illumination, is either attempting to create and maintain false boundaries for their own personal ends, or they are perilously stupid.

My vocation as a shamanic practicioner allows me to draw from the boundless and deep resources that are spiritually present in all sides of my ancestry, and I unapologetically do so. It is my right and honor as a person with my grandmothers and grandfathers that I can do so.

And that brings us to the heart of the problem. While my cousins in Celtic Pagan paths have been very open-minded and kind, showing a rare breed of wisdom in their own faith and perspective, many of the Germanic heathens that I have had the displeasure of knowing, (and especially the so-called "authorities" who set up cults of personality around themselves, and attempt to command the thinking of so many modern Heathens) are nothing short of ignorant, racist fools, and they also tend to be re-writers of history.

Germanic heathenry has enough problems in image today: it is tainted with hints of white supremacy and racism, and there is a reason for this: racists and pseudo-scholars dominate much of the field. Because of these people, I actually withdrew from participation in many heathen forums and correspondences. But I have recently seen the error of my ways, in the most fateful of ways. With the birth of the Kindred around me, I have found my voice again, and have dedicated myself to destroying the modern dogmas and myths that are choking the life out of the revival of modern Paganism and Heathenry.

This is not the time to fully describe the myriad problems with many modern Heathen pieces of dogma: I will write articles in which I soundly refute the notions of "folk soul", "UPG", "Germanic Race" and the like. I will demonstrate, in future posts to this blog, the futility of trying to create some "orthodoxy" of belief from the few sources we have detailing Norse and Icelandic Paganism.

Needless to say, the idea of "race" is flawed to the core, as science has amply demonstrated, and peoples in ancient times- even the Norse- were travelers, explorers, and settlers who did not hesitate to marry other peoples anywhere they went in the world, bring home new technologies and customs, leave their own lands and settle permanently in others, and the like.

This is because they were no different from other peoples in Pagan Europe, with respect to how they dealt with other people; the absurd notion of "hard boundaries" between peoples and "races" and cultures and religions is foolish, and not factual. Racism as we know it today was not yet dreamed of, in the Pagan past that I am discussing. Surely cultural elitism was known, (the Romans specialized in it) and cultures were preserved not by race, but by tradition, among everyone from the ancient Irish and Romans, up to the Norse and Finns. To be Roman was to do as the Romans did, to practice their culture. But culture also continually underwent organic evolution, from contact with other peoples, technologies, and customs.

Today, when we practice the Old Ways, whether we do adbertos to Lugh and the Morrigan, or blot to the Allfather and the Thunderer, we are preserving and interacting with streams of power that flow to us from very distant times. When we preserve the values that we in modern times have extrapolated from reading the Eddas or Early Irish Sagas, we are doing the honor to the ancients that modern men and women owe them.

We are not Vikings; we are not ancient Celts or Norse. Not a single person who practices Seid or sings Vardlokkur or casts Runes today learned their craft from the ancients, or from people who learned them from the ancients. We have all looked at what sources we could, applied our senses, our intuitions, and created modern working systems. That is the Truth, and there is no room for "authority" or ego-games in this Truth. We are not the ancients, and yet, spiritually, their luck-force and wisdom lives in our blood.

We are modern Celts, modern Anglo-Saxons; we are the product of the last 2000 years. Our ancestral power has passed down to us, just like it passed down to them when they made the amazing leaps of culture, politics, and technology in their transition from the Stone Age and the Iron Age into Antiquity and the Dark Ages.

Despite the spiritual devastation brought by Christianity, very little has changed in the power of each of us- and the Gods are certainly still alive and with us, along with our ancestors. Reclaiming the Gods is good and important, but the reason we look to the past is because the polytheistic, animistic, and clan-centered worldview associated with the Pagan past is missing, and we need it. Deep down, the wisdom of our spirit knows that we need it.

These things can help us make our way through this modern world, by giving us new (and simultaneously old) spiritual and ecological perspectives. These old worldviews help us to define a new sense of "relationship" between ourselves and between human beings and the world, a new kind of thinking that we need, to head off the forces that thrive on separation and materialism and greed.

The fact that we speak new languages with tons of foreign influence, or that we eat foods that our ancestors never ate, or drive cars, is not a problem. The way our Pagan ancestors lived and talked and existed in the Iron Age was radically different from earlier ages; even their languages had undergone mutation and (yes) gained elements from other languages and cultures. That's life; that's reality. This in no way interrupts our relationship with the Gods and the Holy Kindreds.

But the "Edda-Beating" fundamentalists who have poisoned modern Germanic Heathenry are villains of the worst kind; they spend their lives surgically selecting their favorite modern interpretation of history, and expecting everyone to believe that "this is how it was" with insert ancient people ______. They project their own fantasies about the ancient world ONTO the ancient world and lash out with fierce stupidity at people who know better. Worse yet, some try to set themselves up as "scholars" of the history of the ancient peoples of Britain and Scandinavia, though few have the credentials to back that up.

The modern "scholars" who dominate the internet with their precise Edda-quoting and linguistic analysis of this or that phrase are typically ego-driven, home-bound victims of Asperger's Syndrome who only feel sufficiently powerful when they are befuddling other internet-Pagans with a mountain of scholarly-sounding bullshite, and looking like the finest, smartest person on whatever forum they happen to be on.

What they fail to realize, on the deepest level, is that no clever analysis of the linguistics behind the word "Blot" can express the true meaning of sacrifice; no amount of knowledge about the history of the Blot can compare with actually standing around a harrow or in a Ve and taking part in the simple austerity of the ritual.

What all these terribly clever people regularly forget, and indeed, never want to realize, is that modern studies and conclusions about the past (particularly Pagan religions from the North) are highly interpretive. There is no room for debate on this point. People- including scholars- tend to see what they are trained to see, or what they want to see. Everyone- including scholars- have pet theories and cherished ideas about things.

Scholars don't tend to make the best interpreters of spiritual and mystical subjects, considering that 99% of the men and women who make scholarly studies of Druidism, Germanic Paganism, or the like, are either atheists, agnostics, or Christians- none of whom study the shards of remaining evidence from the proper open perspective. They typically write from the "I must publish or lose my job" perspective of the professor, or the "I must make money" perspective of nearly everyone else.

Everyone is looking for an angle, a unique angle, and few care about the truth. Pinioned by the lack of evidence, and the multitude of modern assumptions that most people today are taught to accept, most modern scholarship on Paganism is simply awful. But nothing could be more awful than the fact that this same scholarship is used by self-appointed "Pagan Elders" to bolster their ego-ships and their tiny spiritual fiefdoms.

I am certainly not suggesting that we throw away all scholarship, only that we stop doubting ourselves and other people, and siding with scholarship, without questioning it. And I'm certainly calling for all modern Pagans to look closely at the men and women who try to set themselves up as our "elders". Do they serve the Gods? Or do they manipulate words and scholarship to support their imaginations, egos and agendas?

If there was a true "idolatry" in the modern Pagan world, it would be the worship of scholarship, and the unspoken notion that it "must be true" if someone with some degrees writes it in a book. One must look at the multitude of factors and powers and situations that surround every event that happens- the Web of Wyrd as it were- and see how and why things are written they way they are. We must divine how and why people say the things they say, how and why they come to the conclusions they come to, how and why they believe what they believe. Would you want someone who thought Odin was "false god" analyzing and explaining his myths to you? Naturally not.

My friends and I have long ago made the conscious decision not to subject ourselves to the foolishness that defines so many organized "Pagan" and "Heathen" groups. I am surrounded daily by people like myself who feel a draw back to the Old Ways- to the paths of Northern Paganism, both British and Germanic. My friend Seth, who has now sworn faith to the Old Gods of he and I's Germanic ancestors, has been a shining example to me of what a resourceful person can do when they find their calling in religion. My wife is true to the Gods, as well as our other friends. At nine nights old, my daughter was "sprinkled with water" in her heathen rite of consecration and named, her Fate in our path set.

We feel the living presence of the Gods and we have much peace and prosperity. We support one another, give our loyalty, and live our lives. That is the essence of the Old Way. Why do I focus more on my family and friends and personal practice, than on acceptance in some nonexistent "broader Pagan community"?

The answer is simple: any notion of a "Pagan community" today is a farce; few Pagans can agree on the color of horse shite, much less on religion, and this is how it should be. There is no need for Pagan "popes". "Organized religion" has shown us that it does not and cannot work, and not a single Pagan would be what they are, if they were satisfied with pre-packaged dogma being disseminated among massive congregations of people.

Clans, Kindreds, and Communities all over the Pagan North, in ancient times, believed as they believed, without some over-arching orthodoxy of belief. It is no different now. Everyone's personal and localized experience of the Gods and the Unseen World is different. It was so in ancient times, as well. It is absurd to imagine that all Germanic heathens everywhere in history acted according the stories and lore in the Eddas, or even knew them. It's safe to say that they didn't all have the same bodies of myths, the same sagas, or songs.

It's safe to say that they worshipped many Gods in common, as Gods tend to cross cultural and tribal lines, but it's also safe to say that they did not all have the same lists of Gods and "pantheons" as we call them today. Everyone knows about Odin and Thor; but who today worships Mogons or Mongontia? What about Tuisto? Dozens of Gods and Goddesses that were very important in ancient Germania and Celtia are either unknown to us, or no longer actively worshipped.

The bottom line is this: sanity in modern Paganism and Heathenry or Paganism is possible, if you keep one thing in mind: no one alive today has ever stepped into a time machine and traveled back to the past, to learn all the lost myths, sagas, and rituals that we have lost. No one really knows the full story of Pagan Europe.

What we do have are myths and sagas that show us how our ancestors faced life's difficulties, and some of how they approached the Gods. We can follow that example, in the modern day, in the context of modern reality- it isn't hard to do, if a person is ready to be bold and confident. I would say that this idea, the idea of looking to the past for exemplary models of behavior isn't just possible; it's imperative.

But there is no place for "authority" in Pagan Religion. Scholarship cannot and does not give us the entire story of the spirituality of the past. It serves us well in its own way, and sheds much light on the everyday life of our ancestors and the like, but spiritual "remains" are far more intangible and difficult to re-capture.

I daresay more people come back to the Old Ways to re-discover a spiritual relationship with the Gods and Ancestors, rather than to reconstruct how to weave or build houses like people did in 200 BCE. This being the case, we have to look to what we DO have, which can lead us to the spiritual connection we all long for- the Gods.

The Gods are alive and powerful now just like they always were, and we must worship and connect with them, and be open to the kind of relationship they want with us, as opposed to what other people tell us we should believe, if we want acceptance in some "modern Pagan community". The accusation of "unsubstantiated personal gnosis" is one of the more common charges you'll hear from the mouths of the nithings who exist on both sides of the Pagan fence.

The reality: what we know about the past is small compared to the glory that once existed. What passes for "substantiated" gnosis is usually anything but; the problem lies with HOW we can know something for a fact, through the lens of scholarly interpretation. What we DO know is that the world that the Germanic and Celtic peoples lived in was MASSIVE, and very, very few of their tribal stories, myths, and religious practices have come down to us today.

The ultimate dishonor we can do to the Heathen spiritual past is to try and force it into the narrow mold of the modern mind, which only has some Norse and Icelandic sources to go on, and the mentions of some Roman writers regarding some tribes in Germania. The Celtic myths and sources are the same way; nearly all come through the lens of Christian writers, just like the Eddas did.

This "shaky ground" is not a curse, as most people think, but a blessing; it forces us- if we are intelligent- to keep an open mind, to not be limited in needless ways. It forces us to become introspective and open to the living presences of the Unseen. Because the final truth is this: the line of ancestral power in each of us is the first and last "authority" on the faiths of the past that we will ever get, and they will only emerge from us in our own modern terms, colored by our present-day understandings.

That's fine; that's who and what we are. We can still be honorable people, and we can still experience the mystical truths from the old times. We need honor, especially in these days of so much argument.

Was Saga the Goddess of Memory? Most would say yes; some would say no. Those who say no would point to the description of her hall in Grimnismal, and use it as evidence that she was none other than Odin's wife Frigg. Is the Valknot the symbol of Odin? Almost everyone says "yes", but nowhere in the lore can this be confirmed. I could write a book on the controversies in modern interpretations of Celtic myths and Norse myths, or any myths. Who's right? I don't think it's for any one person to say.

What does a person do, when faced with fragmentary histories, myths, and collections of stories? What do you do when faced with a lost past, and when you find yourself paging through sagas and accounts, looking for how it was most likely done or believed?

There is only one thing TO do: trust yourself and the Gods. Understand the difference between modern ideas and modernistic assumptions, and the ideals and assumptions of the past, and don't imagine that you can just mix these things haphazardly, or that you can drop yourself directly back into the past. You can't. We have to live today, in the modern world, but we can live here today as heroes and heroines in our own right, if we are brave, and if we really let ourselves listen to the ancestors and the Gods. There is no greater "Heathen path" than that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Religion of the Very Old Times

So many people want to find a way back to older ways of looking at the world. This impulse drives a small group of modern people to make many attempts at reconstructing older pre-Christian religions, especially religions from tribal or Pagan Europe. There is a danger lurking between the desire and the task, however- the modern tendency to over-simplify things. We are used to religions being clear-cut; the revealed religions that dominate our world now come pre-packaged with smoothly edited books of scripture, priests and elders with generations of dogmatic understanding at their fingertips, and hordes of followers who all basically agree on the fundamentals and ideas of their religion as they have been taught them. Most modern Pagans have it in their head that Pagans had a similar religious life- clean and simple, easy answers, and a lot of people standing around in agreement. This picture, however, was not the case, long ago.

When we talk about the religions of Old Europe, the polytheistic religions of the many native and Indo-European tribes that inhabited Europe before Christianity, we can hardly consider them "religions" as we know the word today. It might be better to talk about "worldviews".

The peoples of the very old times lived close to nature, in small tribal groupings. As times advanced, urban societies did grow up, but Northern Europe remained very rural and decentralized for a long time, resisting even Rome's attempts to put them on the "grid" as it were. Britain stands out as an exception to this, though the further north the Romans went in Britain, the less they were able to handle the natives, until they just walled off Caledonia completely.

There is no way to describe the "religions" of the countless tribes and kin-groups that existed on the landscape of ancient Europe, like so many flecks of straw on a tapestry or quilt. All we can do is come within range of guessing how they looked at the world, based on what we know of the basic anthropological facts that everyone agrees ruled over their lives: polytheism, animism, and totemism, to name a few. But no matter what "spiritual worldview factors" you might agree ruled over the lives of ancient Pagans, there are things you never would have found in any Pagan tribe, or between two different tribes or villages or clans- you never would have found neat, clean cut "pantheons" of Gods and Spirits; you would not have found a lot of people believing the very same thing or things about the Gods and the world, nor would you have found neat collections of myths that were common to all the people in an extended area. Naturally, related peoples might have shared certain Gods in common, but their differences would be as many (or more) compared to their commonalities. Find that hard to believe? Look at the great variety between cities and towns and families today; Even within modern cultures, you see it. It's nothing new.

You wouldn't have found ancient priests who all agreed on the same ways to pray, sacrifice, or believe. Sure, there's not many ways to cut the throat of a sacrificial beast or to light a bonfire, but there are countless places with unique powers and histories that add their own unique force to religious rites performed in them. There would have been no religious "hierarchies" and books of dogma, with the exception of some of the more developed priesthoods in Rome, in later centuries, who incidentally became the pattern for the incipient Christian priesthood, after a point.

But I'm aiming to speak of an earlier time- even the original "Romans" didn't have priests in glittering robes with their heads covered, worshipping from big temples; the original pastoral people who became the Romans worshipped their Gods in groves, with fires and turf altars, and made no images for their Gods, choosing instead to "feel" the numinal power of the God's spirit as a formless, powerful thing, and part of nature itself. This is a fine example of a genuine native religion and animistic austerity that you could have expected to find anywhere in Europe at the same time.

The bottom line is this: truly ancient religions were extremely varied; they were very regional, and unique in most ways to whatever place in the landscape they were embedded. What they shared wasn't dogma, doctrine, or mythology, but similar tendencies in worldview. What were some of those tendencies, and how might we build an "experience" of them in our own minds today?

The world was (and is) full of spiritual powers. The entire tapestry of Nature, tightly woven together, appears in countless ways, each of these colorful, powerful, and vibrant "appearances" being the "companion" of a subtle spiritual power, a hidden essence, a "numina". You can't seperate them; everything has a spiritual presence "with" it. Some say everything is a manifestation of some spirit; this is believed by many, but few care to consider the philosophical issues that can be taken with such an idea. It's just as easy to consider things as having a "spiritual dimension" that need not be it's origin, but a simple natural parallel aspect of reality. What is Seen and what is Unseen can both exist in their own mysterious, perpetual way, in the Body of Nature itself, who forever acts as the true Parent of anything, including human beings.

Naturally, this goes straight into the next "worldview feature" which is Animism. But in the polytheistic/animistic worldview, the forces of Nature aren't unconscious, blank things. They are seen as living, conscious beings; their "spiritual aspect" leads a vibrant inner life in the Inner World or the Unseen, and these spirits can interact with human beings. It takes a human being whose mind is open enough to the subtle world to "interact" with them, normally, but spirits of enough power can interact with any human in a dream. The powers or spirits of certain natural phenomenon were "powerful" enough- filling many humans with enough awe- to reach the level of "deity", receiving the honor of "Great" Gods- such as the spirit of thunder, the spirits of the sun and moon, and of the mighty Oak tree, which always became the "forest cradle" of many important Gods of oak and sky- Thunor or Thor, Donar, Perun, Zeus, Janus, and Jupiter.

Are we to believe that the Gods were merely nature spirits who achieved some apotheosis at the hands of adoring humans? Absolutely. There's no shame in this at all; the Gods are spiritual powers born from Nature herself, just as human beings are. Only people who de-value the spiritual power and presence of Nature could look down on the spirits and Gods who are born of it. But by looking down on them, these same people would be looking down on mankind. Nature is the common mother of men and Gods.

Depending on where you lived in ancient Europe (or anywhere else in the world) what spiritual powers you interacted with daily was different. Sure, the Earth is always below your feet, and she is the Common Mother of us all, so regardless of what your Tribe called her, she is the same across the world. Anywhere there are Oak Trees, there is both the spirits of those trees, and the Oak-God himself. That too, doesn't change, despite the many human cultures that have named him and experienced him. The same sun and moon stares down on all humans; we all gather around the same great spiritual power of fire. Love between man and woman in Native America is the same attraction that binds together Greeks or Germans, so the spirit of Love is common to us all, as well.

But when you get off this level of "great universal powers", you discover a new "level" of spiritual experience- the local powers that are unique to place. They are on a different "tier" from the "Great" Gods, but no less important, as they are often the most important powers in the lives of many people- who is the spirit in the local hillside, or in the local river? Who is the spirit that protects the growth of grains in the nearby fields, or who haunts a certain mountain? These spirits sometimes work their way into the mythical inner life of nearby peoples, and become very celebrated, often entering into myths and reaching the status of Gods or Goddesses.

The secret to "recreating" the polytheistic experience in yourself is to understand the "Great" powers, but also to dive into the experience of local power. Without this, you are missing an opportunity to connect yourself directly to whatever Land you live on, and without that connection, you are like a stranger, wherever you live. Had you visited ancient Europe, you'd have heard many different stories of spiritual powers in every tribe you visited. You'd have seen customs, offerings, sacrifices, and traditions centered around places- caves, mountains, wells, rivers, forests, and the like. Nowhere else in the world would you have seen the same customs or beliefs. When you went to the next tribe, you'd have seen or heard a few things in common with the people you just left, but you'd have heard a lot of different things, too.

This may bother some people who have been misled into thinking that there is only one "Truth" that humans are meant to discover- but the reality, hidden from us for so long, is that the "Truth" you are meant to discover deals with you, and wherever you happen to be. The "Truth" you need to know is tied up with the place you stand, and the person you are, not some objective "Great Truth" that binds all people apart from these things. There is nothing that binds all people with the exception of that fact that we are all sprung from Nature, and inseperable parts of Nature.

The "Truth" is something that only you can know, and it speaks with the voice of the place where you live, and the powers and forces that are unique to your time and place. Naturally, since we are all parts of a common Nature, and all human beings, there is a shared life we have, and we share this life with beasts and plants and growing things; it is universal to us to protect that life and only see it destroyed within reason and under the rule of necessity. No one can claim that their "personal truth" allows for the wanton or needless destruction of life; this is against the nature of things, and a person who could make such a statement isn't listening well to their own inner self, nor the world around them. This one lack of insight, this one mistake, may be, in some ways, one of the most subtle, pervasive, and deadly errors (alongside greed) that our sometimes lack of connection with the world around us has brought us.

Either way, you wouldn't have found a simple, standard "way of believing" in ancient times, nor can the heart of sensitive people today find that "way" when they look at the great panopoly of powers around them. This is okay. Despite the tendency we have to want to see "standardized" religion in the modern day, Nature herself is large enough, fertile enough, powerful enough, and varied enough to give us countless local spirits, customs, and traditions, each of which is a perfect "doorway" to bonding with the inner reality of wherever you happen to be. Our task as modern animists and polytheists is to explore the inner reality of our homelands and our living places, and bond with them via ritual expression afterwards. This is how legitimate traditions are born.

You can feel free to give up any need you may feel to know "Who the Gods are" or "How many there are" or "Who's in charge up in the sky"- such questions are not important in the face of the ongoing spiritual experience here and now. All the path of modern Pagan polytheism takes is an ability to feel and a strong sensitivity for wherever you happen to be. The numina or the "feeling of power" that spiritual forces radiate is not a difficult thing to sense or feel, if your heart is open. What could be more obvious than the constant and awesome power of the sky above and the land below? As the two powers that have found a home in every human pantheon, your experience of them can be everyday and all day. To go further, to open yourself to the luminous bodies of sun and moon, of trees and animals, and rivers, hills, mountains, it is simply a matter of staying open and sensitive, and concentrating on the form of the thing- concentrating on the shape and "feel" of the hill, the vision of the animal, or the glow of the sun.

This takes us directly into "animism" and "totemism". There's no way to get around it; the Gods of ancient Europe appeared in animal forms, and with animals sacred to them. Some of them, perhaps, were simply the spirits of those animals long ago, and they became worshipped in human form or shape, many eons later. Or perhaps (and this is my personal theory) the "Great Gods" themselves are simply powerful enough to take whatever form they like, and they have favorite forms, for reasons of natural harmony- is there some connection between the great Thunderer or the Sky God and the Goat or the Bull or the Eagle? What about the Earth Mother and the Horse or the Turtle or the Serpent?

The answer is not simple. You have to explore it on an inner level, before you begin to see how the "Great" powers interact with the web of life, and how and why they assume the forms of the animals they have become traditionally associated with. Some Gods even share sacred animals in common. Again, the answer is not simple, but I will say this- those animals are doors for us to experience the power and reality of the God. We can connect with the animal easily; we can see their images, pictures, see them in the flesh if we go into the wilderness; we can create representations of them and experience them in the inner world easily enough. Around those beasts hovers the power of the Greater Gods, and the beasts become bridges in this way, messengers. They mediate some of the power of the God into the human range of awareness.

Every human being has a spiritual "co-walker" as well, and it arises in the form of a beast. What can we say of a human who has a "follower" or a "totem" spiritual force that is a beast which was known to be sacred to a God or Goddess of ancient times? Is that human closer to that God for some reason? Can they be closer? Certainly. These are all doors into the genuine religious experience that Animism, Totemism, and Polytheism represent.

Animism, Totemism, and Polytheism are tools for experiencing the world in a spiritually deep way- tools for understanding the multiplicity of power and the great variety inherent in our experience of the world. If you open yourself to the world, and consider things as I have said, you will be moving into the closest anyone today can come to what people might have believed, ages ago. Forget overly elaborate pantheons; trust yourself and the powers that are all around you. Trust that the spiritual powers of human beings do not die at what we call "Death", but gather in the unseen places within Nature, and continue to interact with us through the body of Nature- this is the ancestral cultus, which I have spoken of at length here, and will again.