I’ve been working my way through a twenty-seven night runic initiation. The first nine nights consisted of working through Freyja’s aett (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gebo, Wunjo), but I have now begun working with Heimdall’s aett (Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Eihwaz, Perdhro, Algiz, Sowilo). Some would consider nine nights working with those particular runes to be a weighty–possibly even a profoundly negative–exercise. However, I am finding a peace within Heimdall’s runes that I never might have expected.
My ultimate guideline for the study of each rune has been stanza 143 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”; the sayings of Odin, Codex Regius, 13th century):
Do you know how to carve them?
Do you know how to use them to advise?
Do you know how to paint them?
Do you know how to prove them?
Do you know how to pray them?
Do you know how to blot them?
Do you know how to send them?
Do you know how to destroy them?
And within those first four runes of Heimdall’s aett, I have found a “recipe”, if you will, for getting through the more stressful times in life:
Rune of destruction and controlled chaos; of testing and trial which lead to harmony.
Advises against catastrophe, stagnation, suffering, and pain.
Proven by accepting those things which are beyond one’s control.
Sent forth as harmony in the face of opposition
Rune of resistance leading to strength; of delays and restrictions; of endurance, survival, determination, self-reliance, and the will to overcome.
Advises against deprivation, imprisonment, and distress.
Proven by standing fast in the face of trials and via innovation born of strength of will.
Sent forth as strength and compassionate endurance.
Rune of challenges and frustrations; of standstills and times for introspection and/or turning inward; of holding fast.
Advises against treachery, illusion, deceit, and betrayal.
Proven by standing still and seeking clarity.
Prayed: Be Still.
Sent forth as stillness and the ability to hold fast.
Rune of reaped rewards and fruitful seasons; of peace and happiness; of cycles and of change; of hopes, expectations, and successes earned.
Advises against bad timing, conflict, and reversals of fortune.
Proven by hoping and dreaming; by accepting and understanding the cycles of life in the Universe; by working hard to manifest one’s dreams.
Sent forth as peace and good seasons.
When faced with the stresses of life, it is all too easy to get caught up in them; to cling needlessly to the suffering and pain that they cause (Hagalaz). However, if we follow the example inherent in the runes Nauthiz and Isa, we may learn to turn tragedy into triumph by quieting our minds and hearts, and, as we endure, using the force of our will to fuel innovation. Jera promises that if we do this–accept and understand the cycles of the Universe–we will be gifted with reaped rewards and fruitful seasons.
Last night, as I sang the galdr for Heimdall’s aett, I was gifted with the bind-rune, depicted in the upper left of the image above, as well as the accompanying galdr and prayer. For those among our audience who are not working from a Norse base, I have also included Christian and Celtic-based cognates for the prayer. I hope it will help others have a little less-Monday Monday.
Sigyn, show me how to Overcome;
Gerdha, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Skadi may show me how to Be Still.
Rhiannon, show me how to Overcome;
Taillte, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That the Cailleach may show me now to Be Still.
Archangel Gabriel, Help;
Mother Mary, show me how to Overcome;
Saint Ruth, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Saint Elizabeth may show me how to Be Still.
People sometimes ask me where I get the inspiration for my art, especially for my votive art images, which often depict the Norse Gods and Goddesses as I “see” them. Many of these same people belong to a faith-system that strangely looks upon actual mystical experience–often referred to as Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis (UPG)–with deep suspicion. It also tends to be a belief system that holds firmly to the stance that “we do not bow to our gods; our gods do not ask us to bow to them”. As I said yesterday on Facebook, UPG may not be looked upon too fondly by the staunch Reconstructionists within the Heathen community, but it is the very life-blood of the artist! Insofar as the “to bow or not to bow, that is the question?” debate: many of our historical resources (which are supposed to be the foundation of a Reconstructionist faith) strongly suggest otherwise. When I create a piece of art based upon a vision of a god/dess that I have been given, I do so with great humility, and I offer a gift for the gift which I have been given, whether that be a prayer of gratitude, or a burnt offering of incense, or the actual pouring of a blot.
Godfinding is perhaps the most important aspect of any system of beliefs that would choose to call itself a religion, and yet it is a topic I have found far too-seldom covered within the Heathen community. What do I mean by that word: godfinding?
Godfinding: to come upon (often accidentally, but also through study, research, effort, or experimentation), meet with, or obtain an understanding of God/gods/goddesses; to notice the presence of God/gods/goddesses and then to deem God/gods/goddesses worthy of consideration.
The word “find” is etymologically sourced to Old English findan, which in turn sources to Old Norse finna: to find, to notice, to deem (regard in a particular manner) and consider. To actually find God/gods/goddesses, therefore, we are forced to go beyond simply reading about them in books, or even recognizing the apparent previous finding of Them by our Ancestors in the archaeological and anthropological record. No, to truly find God/gods/goddesses, we must necessarily experience Them, which means we must necessarily be open to UPG, which in turn means we must be open to the concept of faith. A religion without faith is nothing more than yet another political body of semi-like-minded people.
Which begs the question: why is it that in other religions a personal experience of God is pretty much the entire point of being religious in the first place, yet in Heathenry, such personal experiences are generally chalked up to UPG and then shown varying degrees of derision? On some levels, this would be slightly more understandable if demographics showed that most Heathens were also previously Catholic, but numerous censuses have shown that most of those in our community who were previously Christian were raised Protestant. Why do I say this? Because in Catholicism there is an actual council known as The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints whose job it is to scientifically verify that miracles have occurred. In other words, it’s their job to scientifically verify UPG, so clearly such “behavior” is “approved” in Catholicism. Yet most “Heathen converts” come out of the Protestant faiths: faiths that were indeed founded out of an abject disapproval of such “behavior”! If, in their previous “Protestant lives”, people would have looked on the existence of such a council with deep suspicion (if not outright hatred), why perpetrate such “behavior” within their “Heathen lives”? It makes zero sense.
I’ll gladly grant that UPG is a slippery slope: I may see Njordr, for example, as dark-haired and clean-shaven, while you may see Him as grey-haired and grey-bearded. I may regard Freyja, from my experiences of Her, as a goddess of healing, as well as magick, victory, and sensuality/fertility, whereas you may regard Her as a goddess of physical beauty, or of self-esteem, or of whatever. I have even encountered at least one person who experienced Her as a goddess of home and hearth, much more akin to traditional views of Frigga. But that is where godfinding becomes useful.
Let us begin with the accidental encounter, and work our way up to seeking with intent. A year ago, I had a dream wherein I was visited by Freyja. At the time, I expected Loki to be my patron, given my past experiences with Trickster archetypes. As such, my only exposure to Freyja had been “in passing”: I knew of Her from various mentions in the lore, naturally, and from brief conversations with a Heathen friend, but beyond that, I had not actively researched Her. I knew nothing of Her various kennings (Vanadis, Valfreyja, Gefn, etc.), and I honestly only knew of Her as a goddess of magick, sex, and beauty. Yet in my dream She appeared to be wearing “warpaint”, and She announced emphatically: “You belong to me!”
One of the ways which we may accidentally encounter Deity, therefore, is if They come to us, instead of the other way around. The Lady came to me that first time as Valfreyja–Her warrior aspect; She who chooses Her half of the slain–but it took me a year to figure that out! In my case, accident led to intent. I woke up the next morning driven to recreate what I had seen in my dream as art: UPG led to votive action.
Let’s pause for a moment to talk about that term: votive action. In its most simplified sense, votive action breaks down to a devotional act. It is, at its most basic core, a form of prayerthrough action. More than simply spoken words, it is a thing that you are doing, for one of three purposes:
As fulfillment of a vow;
As an act of gratitude;
As an act of worship.
In Heathenry, the fulfillment of vows (oath-taking and oath-keeping) and the concept of gratitude (“a gift for a gift”) form the very cornerstones of our belief system, but things tend to get a little bit “sticky” when one starts using the word worship:
Worship: the feeling or expression of reverence, adoration, and love for a deity.
Worship requires humility; it asks for bended knees, and many Heathens, as I’ve already said, have a huge issue when being asked to bow down to anything or anybody, regardless of the fact that our historical record shows that our Ancestors definitely did so. In 98 AD, Tacitus wrote in the Germania of the Suebi (a Germanic tribe):
“There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believe that she intervenes in human affairs and rides among their people. There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, and in that grove there is a consecrated cart, draped with cloth, which only the priests may touch. The priest perceives the presence of the goddess within this innermost shrine, and with great reverence escorts her in her cart, which is pulled by cows. There are then days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place which she deigns to visit and accept hospitality. No one goes to war; no one takes up arms; all objects of iron are locked away. Peace reigns wherever she goes, until the goddess has had her fill of human interaction, and then the priest returns her, in her cart, to the temple in the grove on the island in the Ocean. After that, the cart, the cloth, and if you choose to believe it, the goddess herself are washed in a clean, secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. From this arises the dread of the mysterious, and the pious reluctance to see what only those who are to be put to death are allowed to see.” (Emphases mine.)
For those who would here raise the “a history not written by its own people isn’t a true history” argument, I would also supply this (my own translation) from the third chapter of the Kjalnesinga Saga:
Thorgrim, the High Priest, took special note of the men who would not bow before the gods in the temple. His son, Thorstein, also held a high reputation as one who would call men who did not bow before the gods out as less worthy than dogs publicly. Bui, who was a great hero, was only twelve years old, six years younger than Thorstein, who was then eighteen, when Thorstein witnessed Bui not bowing to the gods at the temple, and made it public to all who gathered for the local Thing, decrying Bui as an outlaw. (Emphases also mine.)
Clearly, historically-speaking, our Ancestors worshipped their gods, and part of worshipping is “bending the knee”, as a show of reverence as well as affection. Most of us can pretty easily understand the word “affection”, but let’s pause for a second and actually define the word reverence:
reverence: to have or show deep respect of or to someone or something.
If we love and deeply respect the gods, why are we reluctant to express or show Them that? And if you don’t love and deeply respect the gods, why are you calling yourself a Heathen in the first place, instead of an agnostic, or even an atheist?
Votive action is the point at which accident meets intent in godfinding. Your devotional act may be something as simple as saying aloud “Hey, I know you’re there”, or it may involve hours of research and study, or it may be as formal as an actual blot; it may even actually involve bowing down before the gods. Your accidental “first brush” with Deity may not be something so “earth-shattering” as an actual dream-vision of a god, as mine was; it may be something as seemingly mundane as repeatedly encountering the same Deity over and over again in your research or study of the extant lore. Study and research might then also become an act of intent–a votive action in and of itself–as you begin to focus on learning more and more about that specific god/dess. As you then begin to obtain a deeper understanding of Them, research itself becomes, in essence, an act of “bending the knee”.
The other side of intent in godfinding happens when we actively seek Them, instead of waiting for Them to come to us. How does one actively seek God/dess? How does one actively seek anybody else, on a mundane level? Breaking down human/Deity interaction to the terms of human/human interaction may at first blush seem to be grossly oversimplifying things, but we are, after all, talking about a faith system wherein the god/desses themselves are incredibly and distinctly human in the way that They interact with each other, as well as with us. How, then, do you actively seek another person–another living, breathing human being–who maybe you’ve only heard about in books or on TV, or from the word of mouth of other people? Or maybe you’ve passed them on the street or at some function? How would you actively find out more about them, so that you might know better how to approach them the next time you meet, and possibly build a relationship from there? In today’s modern age, most of us would answer with two words: google search. You would look them up, right? See what other details you could find on social media or elsewhere that tell you more of their character and interests. We can do the same thing with Deity! Find Them in the Eddas and the Sagas; find other people’s UPG of Them on social media and elsewhere online. Learn what They like and do not like; learn what pleases Them; learn what attracts Them. And then use those things you learnto build a relationship with Them!
How do you use what you’ve learned about Them to build a relationship with Them? How would you use that sort of information when attempting to build a relationship with a living-breathing human? You might start by finding out their contact information: some way to call them up on the telephone, or speak with them via social media, or even write them an email or a letter. You do the same thing with Deity: what’s Their contact information? Obviously, our god/desses don’t have phone numbers, email addresses, or social media accounts (apart from ones that other humans have set up in reverence to Them), but They do have a sort of physical address: your own personal altar/shrine, whether that be a ve, a stalli, a grove, or even your own miniature version of a hof. We also have what could be equated with phone numbers and email addresses, courtesy of the Eddas and Sagas: many of our god/desses have halls which they call home, whether that be Sessrumnir (Freyja), Valhalla (Odin), or even Helheim (Hella). So, once we have someone’s contact information, what do we do with it? We use it to make contact, right? Like I said, we call them on the phone, or we contact them on social media, or we email them, or we write them a letter. Do the same thing with Deity! How? I mean, that’s one helluva long distance phone call, right? Through prayer. Prayer does not need to be conflated, or composed of poetic phrasing; on the contrary, I have found in my own personal experience that my most profound experiences with prayer consisted of conversations very much like those one might have when initially making contact with another living-breathing human:
“Hi, Freyja? Yeah, this is Connla. Are you hearing me okay? I just wanted to call you up and tell you how much I appreciate having you in my life….”
“Hello, Hella? This is Connla. I’ve noticed you being around in my life a lot lately, and I just thought I’d let you know that I know that you’re there….”
Usually the next step following first contact is to organize a “date”, whether the living-breathing human that we’re talking about is an actual romantic prospect, or just a possible friend. We arrange a meeting with them of some sort, usually doing something that we know from our previous research that they will enjoy. Maybe we plan to go to a theater and see a movie that we can talk about afterwards, or maybe we plan a shopping adventure, if we know that they enjoy shopping. Whether our inclinations are romantic or purely platonic, this first meeting is a date. So how in the heck do you date Deity? You use the same sort of information–what do They like; what do They enjoy–and you commit time and effort to bringing those things either to a physical location (your home altar, whatever form it might take) or to a votive action, such as cooking Them a meal, or listening to specific music that They might find appealing, or even, yes, watching a movie that They might enjoy. You make yourself present to Them, via something that is appealing to Them, and then recognize Their presence with you.
So what follows a “first date”, whether romantic or platonic? Hopefully a second date, right? Hopefully that first meeting leads to future meetings that are maybe a little less formal, and more on the level of “hanging out“. That’s when most of us know that we’re actually involved in a relationship with someone: we can just “hang out” with them. Time spent doing the most mundane of things–such as cooking a meal or vegging on the couch watching television–becomes equally valuable to (if not more valuable than) meetings that are formally arranged. Of course, that second date and subsequent hanging out only happens if the first date was successful: if you mutually decided that your personalities fit together, and you actually enjoyed each other’s company. After a first date with a Deity, you will definitely know if you enjoyed each other’s company, or not. Just like with another human, if you come away from that first date “feeling wrong somehow”, chances are that you are not meant to work with that particular Deity, for whatever reason. But if that first date was, indeed, successful, then how do you hang out with god/dess? The same way that you do with another person: notice Their presence, even when you are doing the most mundane of things, and let Them know you notice. With another human, you might do that by engaging them in conversation or simply smiling over at them, right? Do the same thing with Deity!
Eventually, over time, as the relationship with another person deepens, you might come to call that person your friend, your beloved, or even your spouse. When we do this, we are, in effect, dedicating ourselves to that other person. After a period of time hanging out with a particular Deity, you may find that you wish to dedicate yourself to Them in the same manner; I’ll talk more about that in a future blog post. In order to develop a relationship that is that deep, however, you have to find Them first, which means that you have to be open to experiencing Them. We don’t build relationship with physical humans simply by reading about them, or by secondhand accounts of other people’s experiences of them; we should not expect to be able to build relationship with Deity in those ways, either!
Much of my art is based on the experiences I have had while godfinding. Sometimes, as with the above image of Freyja, it is because They have come to me; other times, as with the art I have done of Njordr (and my subsequent devotion to Him), it is because I have actively sought a relationship with Them, via prayer first, and then a “first date”, sometimes followed by “just hanging out” (as has been the case for me with Freyja, Njordr, and Freyr), and sometimes not (as has consistently been the case for me with Thor). Sometimes I find Them; sometimes, They find me. What is important, however, is that finding, and being open to the experience that follows after.
Do you ever feel like you’re just “hanging out”? I don’t mean in the good sense of those words; I mean in the sense of that desperate kitty cat on the poster, just clawing his way to hold on so that he doesn’t fall off the rope! Saint John of the Cross (Catholic/Christian) described such periods in our lives as The Dark Night of the Soul. The Christian Bible tells us of Christ crucified, just “hanging out” on the cross, between murderers and thieves, to save the whole world from its sins. And in the Norse Tradition, we have the tale of Odin hanging himself upon Yggdrasil: the ultimate shaman’s death experience.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Odin (or Norse Mythology at all, for that matter), the All-Father (roughly cognate to Yahweh/Jehovah in Judeo-Christian tradition) went to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to seek the power of Knowledge and Wisdom. He climbed that great tree, cut himself with his own spear to feed its hungry bark with his blood, and hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nine nights. Much like Christ on the cross, Odin’s self-sacrifice is believed to have torn open the fabric of Creation (remember that part in the New Testament where it says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two? Same thing.) and allowed the Rune Spirits to appear to him, and teach him the runes (written language, as well as a divination and magickal tool). The end result of Odin “hanging out” was the beginning of True Wisdom for All.
“Hanging out” wasn’t pleasant for either Odin or Christ, yet for some reason, we humans have the gall to think that it should be pleasant for us. That it should be easy somehow; that instead of desperately clawing our way up the proverbial rope, like the little kitten in that popular poster, we should be joyfully swinging from said rope while we “hang out”. What gives us the audacity to think such a thing? If “hanging out” was that difficult for gods, why in the hell should it be a joyride for us?
In The Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross writes:
“Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo, as to their fear of having gone astray.”
From an early age in our society, we are unfortunately taught that if something is difficult or unpleasant, it means that “whatever it is” is likely punishment for something that we’ve done. Some of that, I think, can be pinned on how pervasive the assumed Christian worldview has become in our society, but not all of it. Let me be clear on what I mean by “assumed Christian worldview” before I move on to what other factors make us think this way: that whole “eye for an eye” thing in Christianity? The whole “if you go astray you will be punished in equal portion” thing? Yeah, that went out with the Old Testament! Too many Christians seem to be missing the entire point of Christ “hanging out” on the cross in the first place! Okay, so what do I mean when I say that not all of our “if something is unpleasant, clearly I did something wrong, and it’s punishment” worldview comes from that assumed Christian perspective? The concept of karma and karmic repayment in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even modern Neo-Paganism is also responsible; we can’t pin this one solely on the Christians. Now, please don’t take that as me saying “there’s no such thing as karma”; karma is, as they say “a right bitch”, and definitely exists, but it’s a slippery slope at best, when it comes to the idea that if something is difficult or unpleasant, then obviously we’re being punished for something else we’ve done previously.
No, Saint John of the Cross got it right: the difficulty and unpleasantness we experience when going through the Dark Night of the Soul are patently not punishment, they’re tempering to make us stronger and wiser, in exactly the same way as one tempers steel in fire, but it is our fear that they are somehow punishment for our having gone astray that makes us believe that “hanging out” should be easy for us, when it wasn’t even easy for gods. Being tempered isn’t pleasant, anymore than harsh instruction from a parent–designed to help a child grow and learn–is pleasant. Priscilla, an early female leader in the Christian faith, puts it this way in the Epistle to the Hebrews (yes, that was written by a woman!):
Others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through–all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as His children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? …At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. –Hebrews 12:4-11, The Message
Sometimes when things are difficult and unpleasant–when we’re forced to “hang out”–it’s because we did something right enough to deserve deeper wisdom and greater maturity, instead of because we’ve done something wrong. “Hanging out” makes us grow–that’s what Priscilla means when she speaks of a mature relationship with God. It deepens us as humans; brings us closer to the gods (whichever ones we favor). While it may be hard to see such dark times as an actual reward, exercising such discernment can make all the difference between whether we put our head in our hands, cry buckets, and shout to the Universe “I freaking give up!”, or not.
I am, admittedly, “having a day” today. Today, I feel like I’m “hanging out”: like my whole life just ground to a halt in some sort of unasked for pregnant pause.
My usual response to a day like this one would be to honestly either sit around and cry about it (yes, I’m that guy!), or sit and stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself, or stomp around the house like an angry spoiled child, but not today. Why is today different from all the other days in the past just like this one? Because today I realize that “hanging out” isn’t punishment for something I’ve done wrong, but instead a reward for everything I’m doing right. Now, I’ll grant you, in and of itself, it’s a pretty sucky reward, but I have faith that what I’ll gain on the other side of it is worth this feeling. “Hanging out” has forced me to “take a break”, and review what I’m doing, as well as what I’m not doing, and look around from this height at which I presently find myself hanging at all of the other possible directions I could be doing in. This “pregnant pause” has reminded me that ultimately, all that I do, am doing, and will do is not solely my own, nor is it solely up to me: ultimately, I am just the messenger, and I need to “get out of the way” of Those who would speak through me. At risk of potentially offending any of my more “hardcore” Heathen or Pagan readers, there is definitely great Truth in this passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, so please humor my “Paganizing” of it:
Now the Gods have us right where They want us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us. This instruction is all Their idea, and all Their work. All we do is trust Them enough to let Them do it. It’s Gods’ gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor instruct ourselves. The Gods do both the making and the instructing. They create each of us to join Them in the work They do, the good work They have gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. –“Paganized” from Ephesians 2:7-10, The Message
I am ready to join Them in the work They have gotten ready for me to do. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, “hanging out”…..