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Not Enjoying The Silence

Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them.  Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”.  I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.

(You can find that blog post here, and Declaration 127 here.)

On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat.  The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields.  Don’t believe me? Check this out:

(You can find that photo here.)

The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.

As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut.  I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am notwhite guy; repeat: I am notwhite guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:

As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history.  We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists.  Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage: 

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution.  It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words.  That he said them first is a tradition.  However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

So who the heck was George Santayana?  He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship.  In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported. 

Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough.  A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.

Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote.  We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really.  And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it.  It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)

This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall.  The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)

And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.

For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats?  Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….

Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?

Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me.  In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me.  However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said.  No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides.  Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.

So how dare I make such a statement?  How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing?  Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!

Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something!  And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.

Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012.  That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”.  That was when we actually had a president of color!  That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop:  George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice.  Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.

What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either.  What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose.  There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all!  When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.

If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one!  Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately.  In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?

I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family.  Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us.  To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”.  Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery.  I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.  

And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago.  Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand.  Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people.  That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!

As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included.  I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing.  And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are.  And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.

So I will not join in that silence!

My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family.  My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor.  And my family is the human race.  As Bruce Lee once said:

“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”

And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:

We all matter.  Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.

We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just.  Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.

 

 

 

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An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind

All art and words by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy. Please click this image to open a new window and support us at Patreon.

In war, it is unwise to use your sword arm to pat yourself on the back.  Yet I look around at the current “war on discrimination” that is raging within the better half of the Heathen community, and over the past two days, I have seen a lot of people doing exactly that. In fact, I have even seen some people encouraging such behavior through memes suggesting that we all take credit for the Facebook ban of the AFA, even if we were not actively involved in making that happen.  On the flip side, even as this “victory” was taking place, I have sat back and watched as many of those same Heathens who espouse complete anti-discrimination policies (and I am firmly on the side of no discrimination of anyone ever) attack Christians and Christianity as a whole, and attack people for the virtues they are oathsworn to protect (even when they began their post with a caveat patently stating they didn’t expect everyone to uphold those same values).   We cannot pretend, as a group of people, to make war on discrimination while we vehemently maintain our own ways of discriminating against people.  When we do that, the only thing we’re patting ourselves on the back for at the end of the day is hypocrisy.

For those on the outside of the Heathen community, here’s a brief snapshot of what has been going on for the past year:

In September of 2016, Huginn’s Heathen Hof published Declaration 127, which is based on stanza 127 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”, from the Codex Regius, 13th century; believed by Heathens to be the sayings of Odin All-Father):

“When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frith.”–Translation on the HHH website

“When you see evil being done, call it out as evil, and show the evil-doer no peace.”–My Translation

This Declaration is accompanied by a sort of “petition”, which people and organizations may sign to demonstrate their complete denunciation of, and disassociation from, the AFA (the Asatru Folk Assembly).  Those who support Declaration 127 are essentially binding themselves to an oath that:

“While [we] fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right. We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.”

Further, Declaration 127 states:

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities.  We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do.  We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frith, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.  The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.  They are free to stand alone.”

I wholeheartedly supported Declaration 127. 

Why? What had the AFA done that was so wrong as to spark all of this?

The AFA has its roots in the Viking Brotherhood, which was founded by Stephen McNallen in 1972.  This, in turn, became the Asatru Free Assembly in 1974, which gave birth to two other major Heathen organizations: the Asatru Alliance and The Troth.  In 1986, the Asatru Free Assembly was disbanded because McNallen was apparently “too busy” to keep it going. Then, in 1994, he formed the Asatru Folk Assembly (the AFA of today), founded upon a Declaration of Purpose which includes, among other things:

2. The preservation of the People of the North (typified by the Scandinavian/Germanic and Celtic peoples), and the furtherance of their continued evolution;

10. Working to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. (emphasis mine)

A brief visit to their website (yes, I went there!) sheds further light on the AFA worldview.  Their statement of ethics includes the following (and I really couldn’t begin to make this stuff up):

“Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them.  We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships.  We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.  We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.” (Again, emphasis mine.)

So, clearly, the AFA is not only racist, but also anti-LGBTQ.  

Which is why it became blatantly obvious to me that I should support Declaration 127.  I mean, clearly, there is zero room in my heart for frith for anyone or any organization who is discriminatory towards people of color, other cultures, other faiths, or members of the LGBTQ community.  And the AFA not only discriminates against these groups that they consider “outsiders” (utangard), but they also muddy the waters for the rest of us who patently do not.  I have experienced this “muddying of the waters” firsthand: to many people outside of the Heathen community, the AFA represents what we all believe, even when they patently do not.  Add to this a large dearth in Heathen publications that are not either advocated by, published by, or have publishing rights owned by the AFA, and you have a recipe for situations in which simply carrying a book in a shop which is remotely associated with the AFA becomes grounds for accusations of Neo-Nazism. (It happens. It has happened. I witnessed it with my own two eyes.)  Such also becomes grounds for those who support Declaration 127 to not give those shops their business, even when said shopowners are in no way, shape, or form remotely affiliated with the AFA.

It’s a slippery slope that has been built, to say the least.

That slope becomes even more slippery when one ventures into the dogmatically Reconstructionist world of many of my fellow supporters of Declaration 127.  I personally reached a point where I no longer shared my writings or my art because “daily crucifixion” is not my idea of a “good time”. I have sat back and watched, stunned, as other people were attacked (to the point of fleeing a group) for having values (to which they were oathsworn) which mirrored the Nine Noble Virtues, purely because those virtues were supposedly first espoused by McNallen and his compatriots, and supposedly not directly derived from historical sources (even though every single one of the virtues in question appear directly in the Havamal).  I have read through countless posts railing against the dreaded “Christian-grafting”, and Christianity and Christians on the whole, even while also espousing a “show it to me in the lore, or it isn’t valid” attitude: when our lore is all a product of Christian authors, written in the post-Christian period.  In short, I have observed those very same people who were so opposed to discrimination constantly discriminate: against those who are “less Reconstructionist” than they are; against Judeo-Christianity on the whole (which, when you think about it, can border on Anti-Semitism, in and of itself), and against anyone who is so “misinformed” as to accidentally promote something which has ever been “tainted” by the AFA whatsoever (in a world where, until about a decade ago, the AFA was pretty much “the only show in town”, and largely remains such when it comes to quality published source material apart from the Eddas and Sagas themselves).  

Many among the supporters of Declaration 127 see this recent Facebook ban of the AFA as a victory, and on many levels, they are not wrong to feel that way.  However, I keep coming back to those last words of Declaration 127; those last words that were still floating in my head as I signed it myself almost a year ago:

“While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right…The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit. They are free to stand alone.”

Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook is neither fully recognizing their right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, nor allowing them to be free to stand for whatever principles they see fit.  Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook, while supposedly upholding the above principles, is bullying at its basest.  One cannot stop bullying simply by being the better bully!  Yes, there are places within the corpus of the Havamal that suggest “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and bust their heads open while you’re at it”: a thrice-fold sort of vengeance, to make sure things really get sorted and your enemies fully know “who’s boss”.  There are also places within the corpus of the Havamal that say “never trust a woman” and “beguile women with soft words”. We tend to downplay those latter verses, with the argument that we’re living in the twenty-first century, and such sexism has no place here.  Well, there is no place in the world in which we are presently living for thrice-fold vengeance, either. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless, and that is all such attitudes accomplish.

Maybe we have won a battle, with Facebook actively recognizing that the AFA fosters hateful attitudes and hateful speech, but we have not won the war.  So long as we are shackled to our own hypocrisy while at the same time patting ourselves on the back with our sword arms, when the next battle comes, we will have no appendages left available with which to fight!  A zero tolerance policy for discrimination needs be exactly that: a zero tolerance policy.  So long as it is still socially acceptable to point an accusatory finger at someone based on a difference in faith (anti-Christian, anti-Judeo-Christian), or to argue the concept of ergi as anti-LGBTQ as a point of historical fact within our faith-base that still holds true, we patently are not maintaining such a zero tolerance policy.  Instead, we are merely ignoring our own transgressions and shortcomings by loudly focusing attention on the transgressions and shortcomings of others. Until we stop doing that, we will never win this war; we will only serve to perpetuate it.

Declaration 127 is a great ideal, but like most “high ideals”, once you throw actual humans into the mix, things have a way of going terribly, terribly wrong.  I commend its author for what he was trying to do, when he created it, and put it out there to gain the support which it has gained.  I admire him for having the cajones to do something like that, because it took some serious cajones.  Anytime one voice rises up against the Darkness and tries to get others to join them in that fight, it takes courage.  I hope that you will all keep that in mind after having read this post….

 

 

 

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Godfinding

Verse and art original by Connla Freyjason.

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!”

Digital painting of Freyja, all elements, and verse, original by Connla Freyjason. Click image to purchase the digital painting via Cafepress.

 

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 prayer through 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 learn to 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….”

Or:

“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.