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Wednesday Wisdom: Look Around

Page created with elements and digital papers from Absinthe and Wormwood, January Gathering: A Winter’s Tale, and January Gathering: Winter Time, all of which are available in our shop when you click this image. (Opens in a new tab.)

Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.

–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason

At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life.  It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater:  “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.

But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:

  • It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.

How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it?  Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?

  • It is a reminder to look before we leap.

How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation?  If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often!  An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”.  There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.

  • And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!

Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day.  Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact.  It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.

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Rock Aching Against Water

Original art and blessing by Connla Freyjason; Thrud from a previous render by Daniel P. for Iaconagraphy (Thrud image only available at Red Bubble by clicking this image; opens in new tab)

I have spent most of my life attempting to emulate the famous Bruce Lee quote “Be water, my friend”, but for the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like the rock than the water: rock aching against water.  Most of you already know that we’re in the midst of selling our home and attempting to find and buy a new one, and I’ve said before: moving is hard.  As we go deeper and deeper down this tangled path, however, I’m discovering more and more every day that those three words are really too mild of a statement for precisely how difficult this entire scenario actually is.  “Be water, my friend” went flying out the window, leaving nary a feather behind, somewhere around June 11th, and it’s been all uphill from there!

For a moment, let’s talk about what that quote means, before we talk about its opposite.  In full, Bruce Lee said:

“Don’t get set into one form; adapt it, and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.  Empty your mind; be formless; shapeless–like water.  Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now, water can flow, or it can crash.  Be water, my friend.”

Basically, what this means it that you shouldn’t get locked into patterns; that you should basically learn to “roll with the punches”, and somehow keep landing on your feet.  It requires being mindful of your environment and surrounding situations to the point that you can easily “change your shape” to fit that environment and those situations–the way water becomes a cup, or a bottle, or a teapot.  It implies that you are adaptable; that you can take virtually any situation and “make it your own”; take command of it; know when to flow, and when to crash. Ultimately, “being like water” means being completely open to the fact that there are infinite possibilities open to us; it means being hard and soft at the same time; it means accepting the possibilities of success and failure equally. It is to believe that anything can happen, and that it actually might.  From a Heathen perspective, it means being comfortable with the ebb and flow of Wyrd, rather than afraid of that ebb and flow.  When we close ourselves off to all of that, we remove any chance for a sense of accomplishment, relegating ourselves to a constant state of feeling stymied, trapped, out of control, and basically doomed.  

And that is where being the rock, instead of the water, comes into this discussion.  Rocks don’t typically move.  They are static entities; their shape is their shape, and they aren’t exactly legendary for adapting.  Instead of adapting, they break and erode.  Generally, with a rock, “what you see is what you get”, which is why we have phrases like “written in stone” and “set in stone” to denote things that are unchangeable or immutable.  Rather than changing its environment, a rock is changed by its environment: moss grows, or the rock is broken apart by rushing water, or eroded into sand.  “Rock people” (as opposed to “water people”) see Wyrd as something which is likewise set in stone, and they live in an environment of fearing that Wyrd.  It is a life of feeling as though something unknown is constantly impending, and almost every creature alive fears the unknown.

Up until June 11th, I was doing a fairly decent job of “being water”, instead of “being rock”, with this whole home-selling-home-buying scenario.  I had dutifully packed up most of my office without batting an eye, looking upon the whole affair as the first key to a new future in our lives together. I was, in fact, actually excited about the whole thing.  I had begun shopping around online for potential new home prospects, and we had already toured a few open houses. I began embracing the whole concept of “mobile home living” and the “mobile home lifestyle”, which honestly tugged at my California-born heartstrings in ways that I couldn’t even begin to readily describe to my partner or anyone else.  I began feverishly creating home-plans (complete with decor motifs and furniture placement) at Roomstyler, and researching everything I could find on home makeovers (including fantastic accent wall treatments).  I resolved that I was going to become the “ultimate house husband” upon moving to our new locale, complete with all that such entails, right down to making sure dinner was on the table promptly at 5:30 every day when my Beloved gets home.  And I was super excited about all of that.  Wyrd would take us where we needed to be, and I had ultimate faith in the Gods in bringing us there.  So what changed?  How did I suddenly go from “water” to “rock”?

Prepping for our first open house, on the heels of our favorite future home prospect being pulled from the market, while suffering from the worst outbreak of pustular psoriasis we have ever endured started my downhill slide.  Still, I tried to remain hopeful, as we went that Wednesday to tour two other home prospects, the first of which we were both absolutely in love with.  Cat-in-tow, we went to tour two properties, both of which had promise, and I immediately came home and sat down the very next day and started plugging in our furniture and coming up with decorating motifs via Roomstyler.  Yes, I was terrified about where my health was taking me, but I kept reminding myself that soon our lifestyle would be way more laid back, and that somewhat helped me through. I continued to pray nightly (as I always do), even as I put my job on hold because I couldn’t write or even make art through the fever and the itching and the fear.  I tried to keep my chin up, and wade through the itching, the pain, and the knowledge that this could be the outbreak that ended both me and Michelle, and remain hopeful. I tried to stay water, my friends.

On the 22nd, that prospect we were in love with sold to another buyer.  I tried not to let that get me down, as my health was improving (however slightly), and instead focus on the other prospect we had toured.  The more of our furniture I crammed into the houseplan of it on Roomstyler, the more cramped it became, but I found “work arounds”, and kept plugging away.  “It’ll just be cozy”, I reminded myself and my partner; “and we love cozy, right?”  Meanwhile, we scheduled two more open houses, and I watched my Beloved work her tail off while I had to sit humbly by and try to “pray away the pain”.  I began to feel guilty that I couldn’t do as much as I had done around the house previously and internally beat myself up about that fact.  I began to pine for another property we had found that is totally our dreamhouse, but also totally un-financeable.  I began to hear the Princess Leia quote from Star Wars: A New Hope replayed over and over again inside my head, only with a real estate theme: “The more you tighten your grip, the more mobile homes will slip through your fingers”.  Except our “grip” didn’t feel tight at all; instead, it felt more and more like “one hand clapping”: an appendage constantly reaching out for what it wants, yet only grasping air. My downward spiral from “water” into “rock” had officially begun.

I am officially breakingeroding, and turning into sand.  Where once I sat out in the swing to watch the bunnies and the birds, and it would bring me peace, now I sit out in the swing and watch the bunnies and the birds to hide my tears.  What will life be like in a place where I can no longer hear the coyotes sing?  All I want to be able to do is look out my window and see a tree, and it doesn’t even have be my tree; it just needs to be a tree!  All the while I am constantly reminded that I am a financial disaster, living on the good graces of the people who love me, and cannot help with anything whatsoever except maybe a little housework here and there, and right now, I’m not even fully able to do that.  I feel like a piece of dandelion fluff blown on the wind; some magical thing, perhaps, to the eye of a child, but when it’s all said and done, wherever I come to land I will grow into a weed.  And weeds are a nuisance; they leech all of the good away.  My nightly prayers have begun to feel like something I say by rote.  Where once there was faith behind those words, now that faith has been replaced with a very definite desperation.  I still sing galdr, yet each time I do so, I am reminded of the two homes previously that I have tried to “galdr into existence” for us that have gone to other buyers, even as our own prospects grow ever more slim. I am spiraling ever deeper into a pit of despair, and I’m having a very hard time finding a way to climb back out of it. No longer caught up in the ebb and flow of Wyrd, it has instead become a wave which I fear will drown us all.  

This morning, I pulled Uruz for my daily rune-draw.  I do this every morning, asking the Gods to tell me Their intentions for me this day: how should I live; what should I do; to what should I put my energy?  Immediately, the blessing for Thrud which I had been led to create weeks ago popped into my mind, and most especially the line: As rock as it aches against water.  We don’t tend to think of the pain the rock endures, as it is broken apart by rushing water, until that moment when we have become that stone.  As Heathens, the words “the strength of mountains” sound like a fantastic thing to have; like something for which to actively strive.  That’s all well and good until one is actually asked to endure; then and only then does one realize just how tough it must be to be a mountain!  

So how does one go from being “rock” back to being “water”?  

Flip that switch in four steps:

  • Restore hope via gratitude.
  • Give yourself permission to believe in miracles; in infinite possibilities.
  • Define your ultimate possibility.
  • Ultimately believe in your ultimate possibility.

The first step is the restoration of hope.  That’s the “thing” I lost a good grasp on, starting around June 11th, and then pretty much totally on the 22nd.  As this proverbial stone has continued rolling downhill like an avalanche, things have come to feel more and more hopeless. And, as in that famous quote from the TV series Lost, “hope is a dangerous thing to lose“.  Perhaps the easiest way to flip our brains from a “doom cycle” back to a “hope cycle” is via gratitude.  Being grateful for the things around us provides the rational mind–that part of the brain that tends to be the “doomsayer” in the first place–with evidence that good things can and do, in fact, happen after all.  I end every day, no matter how shitty, with a litany of gratitude to the Gods for every single good thing that happened throughout that day, no matter how small: everything from “thank you for that heron that flew by my window this afternoon at two o’clock” to “thank you for time with my Beloved and Kili”.  So, clearly, I have a relatively decent “gratitude system” already in place, yet here I am still: a rock, instead of water.

Restoring hope should begin to pave the way for a restoration of the belief in infinite possibilities.  In other words, giving oneself permission to honestly believe in miracles.  Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly did; now, notsomuch.  I believe that was the true turning point for me, with going from water to rock.  One can only be told so many times that something is impossible before one actually gets with the program and realizes that something is, in fact, impossible. And once we reach that point, miracles cease being a possibility.  The permission to believe in them is officially revoked.  Author Marianne Williamson, famous for her books on alternative spirituality, including A Course In Miracles, has this to say about giving oneself permission to believe in miracles:

“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love–from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is.  That shift in perception changes everything.”

Breaking that down from a strictly Heathen perspective, believing in miracles means understanding, accepting, and (most importantly) allowing the concept that all of those infinite possibilities–all of those miracles–are not utangard, but instead, innangard.  In other words, miracles aren’t something that happen to someone else out there in the big somewhere elsebut are instead right there, waiting for us, within our own circle of influence.  We fear what is outside our circle of influence, while we love what is inside our circle of influence.  When all of those infinite possibilities becomes things which are outside of that circle of influence–when we have that “one hand clapping” feeling that I described earlier, which makes us feel very out of control–we come to fear those possibilities, rather than love them.  The further we push possibility away from us, the more we come to fear it, and the more out of control we subsequently feel.  

So the third step is to define your ultimate possibility.  Your ultimate possibility should be the best possible outcome, based on the good things already being detailed by your personal “gratitude system“.  By basing the ultimate possibility on things which are already happening within our present circle of influence, all of those infinite possibilities become innangard, rather than utangard. My ultimate possibility, therefore, would be an attainable home that is sustainable by me, even given all of our health issues, which will require me to show off my interior design skills in effectively homemaking, because that is the “part of this bargain” which is actually within my circle of influence.  I cannot buy us a house; I can’t make that happen.  But I can make it a home. I cannot control whether or not there are trees in our yard-to-come, but I can learn to garden and grow things inside as well as outside. Home-buying is outside my circle of influence; it is utangardHomemaking, however, is something at which I excel–something I have always longed for the opportunity to actually do–and is therefore inside; it is innangard.

The final step, then, is to believe ultimately in that ultimate possibility.  Believing ultimately means that you put your heart and soul (all four parts of it!) into making that ultimate possibility an ultimate reality.  In my case, that means that rather than pinning all my hopes and dreams on this specific property, or that one, I instead put all of that energy into learning and preparing to do all of the things that are congruent with my ultimate possibility.  For example, if I want to be able to look out my window and see a tree, I need to start learning how to either plant one, paint one, or otherwise create one, rather than sitting around crying and moaning about “please, Gods, give me a tree!”  If I’m so obsessed with having “a room with a view”, instead of pinning everything on a specific property that has that view (which could just as easily slip away as not), I need to be developing creative ways to make a room have a view.

Ultimately, Wyrd is neither shaped for us nor set in stone: it ebbs and flows and changes with our every breath and our ever-changing attitudes.  When we trap ourselves in a cycle of hopelessness, then that becomes our Wyrd.  Instead of running like rabbits from shadows in the dark–from those things which are outside our circle of influence–we must come to realize that such behavior simply calls our worst fears to us.  By living our lives that way, we are literally bringing the worst possible Wyrd into existence.  Instead, we must focus on those things which we can control–those things which are inside our circle of influence–and take charge of those things.  Be grateful for them, and then do something with them and about them.  Even if it requires the strength of mountains; even if it hurts, like rock aching against water. 

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Heading Njordr

Art and verse original by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy using elements by Beetle for Iaconagraphy and an open domain image by John Bauer. Click image to purchase as an altar cloth! (Link opens in new tab.)

I have been in love with the sea since I was young enough to first learn to say the word, and some of my fondest memories of childhood involve boats and sailing. When I learned that Freyja’s Father was a sailor—a great navigator and protector of merchants who was often called upon by our Ancestors to help them navigate through stormy seas to new horizons—I realized I had to come to know Him. I told my wife one Friday, after performing blot for Freyja that afternoon, that I thought the following week, I might pour to Her Father as well. It felt like the right thing to do, even though at that moment in time all I really knew of Him was that He was Freyja’s Father and that He “liked boats” as much as me.

The following Monday, a prayer for Njordr came up in my Facebook feed, as if out of nowhere. It was beautiful, and it added some new facets to my understanding of The One I have come to lovingly call “The Van-Father” since. A chord was officially struck in my heart, mind, and “soul”. The prayer mentioned being “adrift in strange waters”, “the mists of doubt” having clouded one’s vision. It described exactly how I was feeling in that moment, and it gave me Njordr as the “go-to-guy” for such feelings. It went on to say “reinvigorate my spirit with the smell of the Sea”–given that sea gulls have become a symbol of precisely that sort of “soul invigoration” in my personal symbology, I knew this was a sign to me. I had made the right decision, when I announced on a whim to my wife the previous Friday that I felt pulled towards blotting Njordr.

So that Friday I did precisely that, and I used the prayer (from Huginn’s Heathen Hof) when I performed that blot. I poured seawater we had kept from our trip to Maine the previous May in offering to Him, and then I took a small bit of sand and some very tiny shells from that same trip and placed them in a small votive bottle for my altar, which I likewise filled with seawater. I filled it only halfway, so that when the bottle is rocked, it mimics the waves of the sea. I keep it on my altar even now, for that first blot to Njordr kindled a lasting relationship between He and me.

I have since come to know Him as the Peacemaker: as One Who teaches moderation, temperance, and diplomacy in the face of negativity. You see, there was a time when He was married to Skadi, the shimmering Snow-Goddess and Jotun-Daughter Who was so brave, She brought Her shield to bear against the Aesir Themselves when They killed Her Father, Thjazi. Instead of combat, however, in the end She asked for two things in payment from the Gods: that someone make Her laugh (which Loki did, by tying His testicles to a nanny goat which subsequently dragged him about), and that She be allowed to choose a spouse from among the gathered Gods. Odin countered, saying that She must choose Her new spouse based only on the appearance of Their feet. She chose Njordr, because He had the most beautiful tootsies—She thought He was Baldur, based on the beauty of his feet. Subsequently, They attempted to move to Her mountain home to live together, but Njordr was not happy there, so far from the sea. They then attempted to take residence in Noatan, Njordr’s seaside Hall, but Skadi found the constant crash of the waves and the persistent calls of the gulls maddening. In the end, They agreed that They could not be happy together, and They parted company: peacefully.

I am notoriously unskilled at “agreeing to disagree”, but getting to know Njordr has tempered that for me. It’s not that I need to be right all the time. I’m definitely not that guy, but when I know for certain in my heart of hearts that I positively am right about something, it is very hard for me to back away graciously from an argument. Njordr has taught me that trying to “drive your boat” across rocks only leaves you with a leaky boat. Usually in an argument, both parties are absolutely convinced that they are right, whether they are or not, and often, no matter how many facts you can show them to the contrary, nothing can be done to change their mind. Sometimes it’s best to adopt a “you love mountains; I love the sea” attitude, as He did with Skadi, and walk on, with no hard feelings.

Njordr has also taught me the true value of Family. As fulltrui of Freyja, my bond with His Daughter has waxed somewhere between “little brother” and “cared-for child”, and I have often felt that bond recognized by Njordr. To say that He has been good to me would be putting it mildly. In the time since I began my relationship with Him, I have seen my reach as a merchant more than double, and the bounties He has poured into my life have not only kept me going and kept me trying, but renewed my faith in this business and myself. This has, in turn, taught me that rather than being a burden to my own human family (as I have often felt), what they are doing for me is simply what families do: families take care of each other; no one gets left behind. One of the greatest lessons Njordr has taught me is that best summed up by the Hawaiian ideal of Ohana: that family is more than blood-relations, it is all of the people in your life who are inextricably bound together in a network of mutual cooperation and remembrance of each other. True family members are those people who think about you and your welfare, even when it isn’t in their best interests to do so. I may be separated from much of my blood-kin by thousands of miles and the veil of Death, but I still have a family, and I am profoundly grateful that those people have come to love the “misfit creature” that I am the way that they do. Njordr taught me that, too.

I am proudly fulltrui of Freyja, but the more time I spend in the company of Her Father, the more I feel the call of the gulls in His direction as well. Every Friday is His now, as well as Freyja’s and Freyr’s. Monday, too, belongs to Njordr in my life. I’ve recently begun a daily blot to Him with rum, as an extra expression of my gratitude for all that He has helped me navigate toward in my life. I keep the tiny bottle of Captain Morgan’s on my altar—it seemed highly appropriate. One day soon, I know I may find myself crying to Him “Oh Captain, my Captain”, as I enter into a second fulltrui relationship with the Van-Father. Either way, I know He will help me steer my ship towards the brightest horizon, and will hold to the bonds of family, as they are reflected in my relationship to His Daughter, Freyja. I am slowly “heading Njordr”, for He is my “tallship”, and She is the “star” I steer it by.

This blog entry is a featured chapter in my forthcoming book, Wanderer: Romantic Heathenry for the Rest of Us.  

Njordr has been very instrumental in helping me “get a handle” on my Wyrd; I would love to help you do the same!  Reading slots are available for the month of June, simply click the image below, or “Got Wyrd?” in the menu above.  I look forward to working with you!