Defining The Gods

In discussions, debate, and even when considering your own belief, it is very important to define terms. A term that is often tossed around with various definitions is the word god. Abrahamics use it, Atheists use it, and Polytheists use it.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the polytheist image of the gods. Often in conversation, Christians, atheists, and others import into the conversation the idea of the Christian god, an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity, and simply assign this idea in multiplicity to our position. That’s not what polytheists believe.

Throughout much of the world, there’s a Christian background in our culture, so it’s understandable that one might assume that all gods are the Christian god. However, among the totality of religions, this Christian idea of God is rare, especially when you throw in concepts like the Trinity, or the various views of Jesus.

Lets start with a huge misconception that I often hear in discussions regarding polytheism. That the gods are physical supermen zipping through the galaxy. And that polytheism is obviously wrong because there’s no gods on Mount Olympus. There’s no survey data on this, but I’ve met quite a number of polytheists in my life and not one of them has held this position of the gods being physical humanoids with superpowers. Looking back into history a couple thousand years, Cicero’s discussion of divinity, On the Nature of the Gods, written in ancient Rome, represents and even pits against each other multiple perspectives on polytheism. But this text doesn’t represent a physical superman position among any of the polytheists in the dialogue.

With that concept out of the way, we move on to another position often assigned to the polytheist, which is that the gods are simply metaphors. There’s possibility that Greek and Roman Epicureans held this position, which is similar to today’s atheopagans or like Jordan Peterson’s god. However, Cicero represents the Epicurean otherwise, having him discuss gods that are not corporeal but quasi-corporeal, going into great detail about their form and actions, suggesting that they are external, rather than as simple metaphors to strive for. Cicero criticizes the Epicurean’s position, as Cicero was a Stoic, but the criticism of the Epicurean wasn’t that the Epicurean held that the gods don’t exist. Surely if they did, Cicero, being a strong critic and a polytheist, would have attacked this.

But while the atheopagan or the atheoChristian like Jordan Peterson is an atheist, the polytheist is not. The polytheist holds to external agents of deity as experienced by people around the world. Cicero points out that humans seem to intuit the gods, and from that we can posit their existence to ask questions about them. This observation, combined with global experience of deity in human history, gives us justification for the position, and we can define them in terms of properties that we seem to experience.

Philosopher Steven Dillon, a Hellenic Polytheist, lays out a set of properties to posit to the gods. But, like with most things regarding spirituality, there are still barriers to these properties as far as developing clear understanding. And I’ll go into some of that.

Disembodied Consciousness

This is probably the most clear of the properties and yet it’s still a complex one. Dillon points out the challenges of even describing the experience of consciousness in the first place. But essentially our consciousness interprets the world through our senses. A disembodied consciousness would not be bound by these limitations, able to interpret information in the universe without the need for physical instrumentation.

The closest that a human can experience to this would be within meditation, achieving a thoughtless awareness that disconnects yourself from the senses as much as possible. Such moments are described as a goal in many spiritualities, as it is believed these moments bring you as close to the gods as you can be.

So how do they interact with us? Clearly from spiritual experiences, it seems that at least their minds interact with our minds. But we would be unaware of the mechanisms they use to interact, as they don’t seem physically measurable, which, honestly, would be expected of an disembodied, non-physical mind.

There are some schools of polytheism that posit more imminent gods, such as the Etruscan idea of a consciousness behind each movement in the universe, that the gods bodies are parts of the universe, that the clouds are not pushed together without reason, but that the universe moves so that they might come together. Yet even in this description, the consciousness itself would be disembodied, as there isn’t a physical seat of the consciousness for the gods as there is for the human, which is the brain.

Immensely More Powerful than Evolved Minds

This property is deduced from the first property. Interacting with the world in a way not limited by senses already makes one extremely powerful. Evolved minds, arising out of the evolutionary process, have physical bodies, and are therefore limited by our physical interactions. I can will my hand to move, but I cannot will anything beyond my body. Any distance I cover has to be traversed across the physical realm. The gods would not be limited by these things.

That leads us to the third and final property which is…

Remarkable Greatness

This one is difficult to describe, but it might be best phrased as that which inspires the reverence that we feel. Spiritual experiences are often described as an overwhelming presence. This might be similar to the greatness felt by an incredible natural site or a monument, beholding the majesty of the grand canyon at sunset, or standing in the shadow of the great pyramid.

This property is deduced in part by the first and second property. For the presence of a mind immensely more powerful than your own would be remarkable, and at least greater than yourself. Dillon points out that it’s important to note that this property is meant to be that which deserves our awe rather than that which simply elicits it. What elicits awe is subjective, and this is meant to be understood as a universal, as it manifests as one across the world through human experiences of deity.

This would be the element that separates the gods from other entities, such as Landvettir or a house spirit, which may not have that overwhelming aspect of greatness. What defines that may be distinct. Odin’s presence is sometimes described as almost haunting, yet inspiring, while Thor’s presence is one of strength and protection. Sif as maternal and steady, Freyja as unbridled and wild.

These experiences are distinct, but each trasmit that element of remarkable greatness.


Now is this the end-all-be-all definition of deity? Maybe. Maybe not. There’s polytheists in the world that have disagreements with these properties to be sure. Heathens like myself might describe other aspects to distinguish the gods from the chaotic entities such as the Jotun, which would retain these properties as well. So, depending on tradition, the conversation may become more subtle.

It’s also important to note that there are many interpretations of the gods, and many ontologies of the gods. This one differs slightly from the Epicurean and the Stoic, which differ from each other. The goal of this understanding is to be experience-centric. To take what we experience of the gods and assign the commonalities as properties.

Cicero approaches the issue of multiple ontologies in On The Nature of the Gods, noting that multiple ontologies doesn’t mean that the gods do not exist, but it does mean that, assuming inconsistencies, only one of them is true, or none of them are true. And if none of them are true, it still doesn’t mean that the gods do not exist. It only means we do not understand them, which is entirely possible.

Written by Ocean Keltoi

Creating Prayers

What and Why

Everyone starts somewhere down their spiritual path. 

You attend a ritual or a blot or do your own personal ritual as you experiment with your spirituality. Maybe you were interested in exploring your spirituality due to reading books on myths growing up (like me) or something in an alternative spiritual path called to you. In books or online, you can find rituals to perform. I share my rituals and blots to help people get started on their own paths by giving them something to use or to inspire them to write their own.

Once people get settled into a spiritual path that involves gods, ancestors, or beings like nature spirits, people tend to start with their own little prayers—even from something as simple as gratitude for a god or goddess’s presence in your life to thanking the deity (“Thanks, Odin!” or “Thanks for giving me confidence in dealing with that, Cerridwen!”) to something with more details to asking them for help with something and then thanking them for what you believe they helped you out with. To help you as you start a pagan path to connect with said beings is to create your own prayers. 

Prayers that come from your heart, head, and mouth have more potency than one written by someone else’s prayers, but we all have to start somewhere. 

Both rituals and blots, as well as prayers, are based around the concept of sacrifice and do ut des, or the idea of gifting. We give to the gods some of our creations of things we’ve made from baked goods to poems to drawings, energy that we’ve imbued into the sacrifice of drink, bread, or other offerings, or our words through our rituals and prayers. The more it comes from your own work (written, drawn, created, or grown), the more empowered the offering. 

“Closely allied to prayer is the offering—the second most common form of worship. This makes sense; prayer and offerings are the same thing. They both present gifts to the gods—one of words and time, and the other of objects. Prayers usually accompany offerings, and offerings usually accompany prayers.” (6 Serith)

In prayer, we are giving our thoughts and energy towards the entity we are praying to, whether it be deities, landvaettir/nature spirits, or ancestors. One way to think of it in a simplified manner is when a friend reaches out to you just to say hi. It does warm the heart and that little bit of attention can make a difference. Same with the entities you are praying to–it gives them a little bit of energy, personal mana, or megin as described in Norse heathenry. It might take a minute or so out of your day to say a prayer to the entities you want to work with, but it does help establish that connection and strengthen it the more you do it.

We give so that we may receive. A healthy relationship with family, friends, the gods and goddesses we feel connected to, the ancestors, and the land spirits is one where each side gives and receives from the other. It can be a simple thanking of a tree or the spirit within as you relax on a beautiful day for the shelter it provides. 

There are many different reasons people have to pray which feeds into how you might create a prayer for yourself. Some are creating a prayer as a way of thanking the gods or a praising a particular entity, while some are choosing to request a blessing of some sort before something they feel they need to request aid for, while others feel that they might need some protection while dealing with something stressful or before doing magical work, and then some are asking for help from the beings they are creating a prayer for. And some will say a prayer for the same reason someone might pick up the phone—just to say hello and to connect with them in conversation. One thing to take into consideration if you are asking for help is are you requesting help or are you demanding help because of the urgency?

Taking these points into consideration (the who, the why, and the what do you want from the prayer) will help you get prepared for writing your own. Keep in mind that the deities, ancestors, and land spirits are not vending machines (as many people writing about prayers and offerings will mention)—you need to establish connections with the entity you want to work with. Many people make a prayer for a god or goddess to help them with something, and if things go well, they say they will make offerings for them at every ritual or blot for a year or something similar as a thanks for helping them out. 

How to Create Your Own Prayers

What I’m going to do is let the reader follow as I create five prayers—three for the deities I work with, one for the nature spirits/landvaettir, and one for the ancestors. The three deities I primarily work with are the Norse goddess Freyja, the Welsh goddess Cerridwen, and the Celtic god Cernunnos. 

A scholarly approach to it can be found in an article about “Prayer” in a Heathen Context. A simple way I found to summarize what this well-researched article says are three basic concepts behind proto-Indo-European prayers:

  • Kennings or listing of titles
  • Why you are making the prayer
  • The request

Kennings

Kennings are an old Norse, Icelandic, and old English way of describing something or someone through the use of a compound word or phrase. Another way to look at it would be describing something someone was well known for. For example, Thor could be called “Mjolnir’s wielder” or “Defender of Asgard and humanity.”

This step takes either you being very familiar with the entity you want to work with or a bunch of research. You aren’t just researching the entity you want to work with, but also the cultural context of said entity. For example, working with ancestors in an Irish context where the idea of the ancestors sailing to the west or the sea being tied to them versus working with the ancestors from a Norse approach where there might be halls and locations they are in such as Helheim, Folkvangr, or Valhalla depending upon how they died or who you are trying to reach.

One thing to be aware of is that various gods and goddesses have more than one aspect they are known for. For example, Freyja is known for magic, for love, and for fertility. Cernunnos is known for being a god of the wild, life, and as a walker between worlds. So, if I wanted to write a prayer to a certain aspect of Freyja, for example to help me with my magical work, I would try and call upon kennings that reflect her connection to magic, rather than her connection to love or fertility. If I wanted to call on Cernunnos to help me develop a stronger connection to nature, I would describe those titles and things he’s known for that are tied into nature, rather than the Underworld.

At the same token, if you are connected to a god or goddess, you don’t only have to call on them for what they are known for. For example, while Aphrodite is known as the goddess of love and if you have a connection to her, you can reach out to her to continue building your relationship with her on the subject of money, courage before a big presentation, or other similar things. The god or goddess you’ve created a connection with just might be able to help you with the request that normally doesn’t fit their purview. It’s better to turn to a god or goddess you do know and have a relationship with, than to turn to one you’ve never really worked with if you need assistance. 

For Freyja, I want to work on developing a better understanding and connection to magic, so I’ll choose kennings based that aspect of her myths and what she’s known for.

  • Queen of the Volva
  • Seidhkona
  • Vanadis
  • Goddess of magic

For Cernunnos, I want to work on being better connected to nature and the liminal aspects of our world and that of the Otherworld.

  • Walker between worlds
  • God of the Underworld
  • Lord of nature and the wild places
  • Opener of gates

For Cerridwen, I want her help with getting better attuned with my own wisdom (the Awen) and transforming myself into someone who can better work with the deities, ancestors, and nature spirits.

  • Creator of the Awen
  • Keeper of the Cauldron of Knowledge
  • Goddess of transformation
  • Mother of witches and Taliesin

For ancestors, I’d like to thank them for their presence and for those who came before me and ask them to help me better hear, understand, and work with them so I may become a better priest.

  • Those fathers and mothers who came before me
  • Ancestors of blood and deed, through hard work and needs
  • To the wisdom keepers, druids, and priests before
  • To those who blazed the trails before that I now walk along

For the nature spirits, I want to just be better connected with them, thank them for being patient as I learn to better understand them and their ways.

  • The spirits of sea, land, and sky
  • To the creatures, plants, rocks, and beings of nature
  • Dwellers of the land about me
  • Nature beings I come across as I travel throughout the day

Why You Are Praying

If you were specific about your word choice for the kennings part, the things you’d want to tell the gods, goddesses, and other entities about why you are praying to them, should fall into place.

Since this is your personal prayer, here’s where people might put in their own personal experiences that they’ve had with an entity that falls into the unverified personal gnosis category for what your work with a being might have taught you.

Some might only have a line or two or three for why the person praying is calling specifically upon said entities. For this, I’ll write three for each to give more examples of what I might say. Also, some find that some form of repetition adds power to your words. Rhyming also can make it easier to remember which gives you more freedom to imbue your words with more oomph.

Right now, I’m putting down a rough “why I’m calling out to you” reason. Some might be more polished than others and end up the same in the prayer, but some listed below might be reworked to have a strong element of poetry added. Putting in the time and effort into the creation of your poem is something that many have said the gods can notice.

What goes into this section of your prayer are why you are asking them, of all the possible gods, goddesses, or other beings you are reaching out to them. Praise or thanking prayers are easier along this front and you can use a lot of images of their generosity or praise. In request-based prayers, what you chose for your kennings will be reflected and clarified in here, so some repetition will happen.

For Freyja as I said above, I want to work on developing a better understanding and connection to magic and the magic that surrounds me. I also want to add praise in there because I’m not asking for a direct act, but for her influence on my life.

  • I call upon your wisdom and skill with magic
  • As the goddess who created the Volva of old
  • Your skills with seidr and teaching Odin the ways of your magic

For Cernunnos as I mentioned, I want to work on being better connected to nature and much like hedge witches being able to sense the liminal aspects between the realm of humans and the Otherworld.

  • I call your skills as one who walks with ease between nature and man
  • As lord of the wild places of nature heard in the whisper of the winds and leaves underfoot
  • You dwell amongst nature, attuned to all around as their Lord

For Cerridwen, I want her help with getting better attuned with my own wisdom (the Awen) and transforming myself into someone who can better work with the deities, ancestors, and nature spirits.

  • You worked hard to create and distill wisdom and knowledge
  • You transformed from shape to shape using your magic within
  • As goddess of the cauldron, it can be used as needed for magic

For ancestors, I’d like to thank them for their presence and for those who came before me and ask them to help me figure out how to work better with them and connect with them.

  • As those who have tread down paths before me
  • To the wisdom, knowledge, and skills my family knew in days of old
  • Ancestors of blood and of spirit who watch and walk beside me

For the nature spirits, I want to just be better connected with them and thank them for being patient as I learn to better understand as well as connect with them and their ways.

  • You are around me when I’m blessed with being outside
  • You who are life around us all, who watch and know
  • Your voices are carried in the wind and experienced through all my senses

The Request

Here is where you ask for what you want. If you are familiar with stories of people making wishes (as in famous story of the Monkey’s Paw) or the old saying “be careful what you wish for,” it can apply here if you are asking for something. If you are just thanking them for their presence in your life, what usually happens is that you will start sensing them more and more in your life as you attune yourself to them and they notice you being appreciative of their continued presence. 

For Freyja, I want to request better understanding of magic and being more in tune with the magical ways of the world.

  • I ask from you that you help me understand and live a more beneficial magical life
  • I request that you help me learn the old ways of your magic
  • Help me be better able to sense the natural rhythm and currents of magic in the world

For Cernunnos as I mentioned, I want to work on being better connected to nature and being better able to sense the different worlds out there.

  • I pray to honor you, your ways, and your connection to nature 
  • I ask that you help me become more attuned to the liminal aspects of our worlds
  • Help me learn how to connect more deeply with nature and the Otherworld

For Cerridwen, I want her help with being more in tune with her creation of the Awen and helping me transform my life into one that’s more in line with her knowledge and myths.

  • Help me transform my life into one that works in harmony with the Awen
  • I ask that you guide me to better understand your wisdom and teachings
  • Thank you for your presence in my life and to your future presence

For ancestors, I’d like to thank them for their presence and for those who came before me and ask them to help me figure out how to work better with them and connect with them.

  • I ask that you help me understand your memories and wisdom
  • Please guide me into better understanding and working with you
  • I ask that the ancestors help me be better at helping them as a person and as a priest

For the nature spirits, I want to just be better connected with them and thank them for being patient as I learn to better understand as well as connect with them and their ways.

  • Help me be more attuned to your ways to better understand and work with you
  • Thank you for whatever assistance and help you have provided and are willing to provide in the future
  • I give thanks for you for your presence, seen and unseen, in my life 

Putting It All Together

Once you’ve got the main three sections, you could just take what you’ve written and put it together if you feel strongly enough about how you wrote things down. Chances are, you’ll want to play around with how it sounds and flows, especially for certain entities.

For example, the Fair Folk are known to appreciate rhymes and word play, so making sure a prayer to them sounds more like a poem might have a better chance of catching their attention. For a goddess like Cerridwen from who inspiration in the form of Awen flows from, making my prayer to her sound like a poem might help bring further inspiration my way. 

To end a prayer, I recommend making sure to add a thank you to the god or goddess, ancestors, or land spirits.

For Freyja, I will take the above three sections almost as is and put it together for my base prayer to her:

Freyja, you who are queen of the Volva
Seidhkona and Vanadis
Freyja, Vanir goddess of magic
I call upon your wisdom and your skill with magic
You who taught magic and seidr to Odin
And are known as the teacher of the Volva of old
I ask from you that you help me understand magic
And help me live a more beneficial, magical life
Help me be better able to sense the natural rhythms and currents of magic in the world
I thank you for being a presence in my life now and in the future.

For Cernunnos, I want to take what I’ve written and be a bit more descriptive with my imagery—not quite turning it into a poem, but instead playing up how nature (as in his realm) can be experienced through all the senses as well as some liminal imagery:

Cernunnos, He who is known as the walker between world
God of the Underworld, Lord of nature and the wild places
Where one realm crosses into another as you open the gates
Between the realm of mortals to the realms beyond
I call upon your skills as one who travels with ease between nature and mankind
As lord of the wild places, seen in the shadows out of the corner one’s eyes
The crunch of leaves underfoot and wind dancing with the trees is your realm
You dwell at peace in nature, attuned to all around as their Lord
I ask that you help me become more attuned to the realms you travel through
The liminal spaces between and how to navigate through the orderly and wild
Help me learn how to connect more deeply with nature and the Otherworld
I pray to honor you, your ways, and your connection to nature
In wisdom and respect, I thank you for your presence in my life and around me 
As I travel through your realms
.

For Cerridwen, I want to make it feel more like a poem with rhyming and imagery that’s important to her such as her cauldron and her myths. I’m choosing to use internal rhyming and other such poetic techniques to draw attention to the lines I feel I want to emphasize in the prayer. I’m putting in the work into how the prayer flows to show her the work I plan to put into my request for guidance to demonstrate my working towards the goal even within the prayer.

Cerridwen, creator of the Awen
Keeper of the Cauldron of Knowledge
From where wisdom brews, boils, and bubbles forth
Goddess of transformation and the understanding within
Mother of witches and greatest bard the world has ever known
Cerridwen, you worked hard to create and distill
Wisdom and knowledge brewed into Awen
So that when in the true flow of life, of spirit, and of connection
Your gifts can create, transform, reform, and through understanding inform
Those who have embraced your gifts embodied in the cauldron
Help me become a cauldron for my own Awen within
So I may be more in tune with the ebb and flow of Awen
I ask you to guide me to better understand the wisdom of your teachings
In harmony and in the natural flow of spirit
I thank you for your presence in my life and your future presence

For the Ancestors, I choose to keep this prayer more straightforward and direct without much embellishment. 

I pray to the Ancestors, those fathers and mothers who came before me
Ancestors of both blood and spirit
That I descended from and follow through their deeds
To the wisdom keepers, druids, healers, and priests before
To those who blazed the trails before that I now travel
As those who have tread down similar paths that lay before me
To the wisdom, knowledge, and skills of my generations before
To my ancestors of blood and spirit who watch and walk beside me
I ask that you help me understand your memories and wisdom
That sing through my veins and through understanding of your lives’ works
Please guide me into better understanding and working with you
I ask you help me be better as helping you honored dead
So that I can better help you as a person and as a priest
So I can help bring the honor and respect you deserve
Thank you for your presence in my life

To the nature spirits, who include spirits of nature as well as the faeries that inhabit our realm and their own who might visit from time to time, I want to have my prayer be respectful, but also playful in design. I want to be able to say it to respect an ancient tree on my property as well as say it to the wild, liminal places where they dwell. I’m also choosing to give it more of an Irish feel by referencing how the Irish viewed their cosmos—in sea, land, and sky.

To the spirits of Earth, and Sea, and Sky,
To those that swim, and crawl, and fly;
From elder trees and ancient stone,
To falling rain and winds unknown.
I ask of you, please, to heed this prayer.
To the Fair Folk, who dwell below,
And live among trees, and all that grows.
To the spirits of vines and brush and trees,
To those that whisper among their leaves.
I ask of you, please, to heed this prayer.
To the spirits of life, nature, and land,
I beg of you to guide my hand.
May I heed you when you speak
Help me hear those loud and meek
I ask of you, please, to heed this prayer.
I thank you for your presence here,
I pray you’ll help me when you’re near.
To the spirits of life, found anywhere,
I ask of you, please, to heed this prayer.

How to Pray and Afterwards

If you’ve followed my steps and created your own prayers, you’ll want to start working with them. One thing I recommend is lighting a candle for when you say your prayers, especially to the gods and goddesses. In so many mythologies, fire was a power of the gods that we came to possess usually through a gift that we were not supposed to have. Fire is viewed as a conduit to the gods, so using it to help send your prayers up can help get your words to them.

Brünnhilde waking up to greet the day and Siegfried

Another thing that I’ve noticed people might not think about is how to say them. Christians tend to put their hands together in the classic prayer stance, but from what I’ve read and from my old Wiccan training, there’s a stance known as “orans” which is standing with your elbows bent (from a slight bend to an almost 120º bend), palms open and facing upwards or outwards as if to both give and receive at the same time. The image at the top of the post is one way to hold your hands in the orans position. Some hold their hands down closer to their waist, while some hold their hands out in front of them as if someone was about to hand them something long to hold, and some hold their hands up and out like the image above by Arthur Rackham of Brünnhilde waking up to greet the day and Siegfried from Wagner’s Ring Cycle. 

Find what feels the most comfortable to you as far as how you choose to stand. The orans position is usually commonplace in pagan groups because it is also a stance which opens you up to the energies of the work happening, whether it be public ritual or private prayer. It’s a receptive way to hold yourself. Also give it a try in any ritual work you choose to do and see if you notice a difference. If it works for you, go with it. If it doesn’t, find a stance that does. Do what’s right for you and what you want to accomplish.

Also, you can try taking your prayer and coming up with a short sentence to summarize what your prayer is about so it can be used as a quick prayer as you start to undertake something that you’ve asked their help in or as a mantra to focus your attention to connecting your mind to the longer form of the prayer.

For example, for Freya, I would say “Freyja, help me attune myself to the nature of magic” before I start a ritual or something of a magical nature. 

For Cernunnos, I would say “Cernunnos, help me connect better with nature” as I walk through a forest.

For Cerridwen, I would say “Cerridwen, help me become my own cauldron for transformation and growth in wisdom and Awen” as I start magical studies or clergy work so I can learn and grow as I work, write, and read.

For the Ancestors, I would say “Honored dead, help me better understand and help you as I best can” as I walk through a graveyard or when doing something that is a life path or something you know previous generations of yours have done. NOTE: I choose the phrase “honored dead” as a way to call out to ancestors who mean me no ill will as compared to those who might be more malicious or mischievous.

For the land spirits and faeries, I would say “Spirits of sea, sky, and land, help me learn your ways to understand” as I walk in more wild areas so that I can become more attuned to them and their ways as well just better sense them and their spirits in the trees and land around me.


I hope this guide helps you in your own work. If one of my prayers is pitch perfect for you, feel free to use it. If you have thoughts you’d like to share about your own work creating prayers or share prayers you’ve written, please feel free to share your own work with us as well.

Serith, Ceisiwr. A Book of Pagan Prayer: Weiser Books 2002

Originally posted at https://www.urban-druid.com/2019/03/17/creating-prayers/

I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG

I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG. Seems strange to say, but just because it pops into my head doesn’t mean I have to or even should believe whatever it is.

I’ve been a pagan for a long time, and over the years I’ve accrued some measure of UPG. Lots of little events, a couple sanity shattering events. However, just because it comes to me doesn’t make it the truth. A god could beam the whole story of the universe into my brain and tell me it was the gospel truth and I would maintain a measure of skepticism. Why? Because the gods are not infallible.

Our stories and myths are filled with instances where the gods don’t know something; they don’t know something so they go searching for answers. Furthermore, their understanding of whatever it is is only as good as the source of their information. Our stories and myths also have beings that lie to our gods or the stories even have our gods lie. The gods can and do lie. Also the gods can and do make mistakes. If the gods can make mistakes, can be mistaken, can be lied to, and can lie in turn then why would we trust divine communication wholesale?

And here is why the lore is important to me. The lore is the accumulated stories and myths of the ancient heathen peoples. They lived and worshipped and practiced their religion for thousands of years, it was engrained into their culture and even left indelible signs that have persisted to today. Those people, over hundreds of generations and across numerous cultures and subcultures, developed and evolved their beliefs as time progressed. That came to a halt at conversion, those beliefs were distilled and sometimes interpreted by Christians before being written down. That snapshot of the lore represents a moment in time right at the end of the cultural and religious development of pagan beliefs in the ancient times. But also it represents the combined collaborative effort of untold hundreds of thousands or even millions of ancient heathens over thousands of years who had experienced the gods, understood their nature, and lived a life connected with them who had then transmitted the stories of the gods to the next generation who each added new confirmation with every new person those stories interacted with. And the high level of agreement across different Indo-European groups for certain myths shows further confirmation. The names shifted with linguistics, but the stories, well, the details would morph depending but not the core truths of it. The understandings of Thor and Thunor and Donner remained very much in line with each other across the centuries and across a vast region filled with many different tribes that were very diverse. That overall continuity in belief shows the value in the lore. It’s tried and tested by those ancient peoples, and yeah it got a tiny bit touched by some Christians but their hands are usually very obvious and can be looked around as needed.

But here is the rub. Sometimes we try to put our UPG as tantamount to gospel even if only to ourselves. However to assume that the gods who are fallible and who do lie somehow cannot or will not or do not lie to you alone just doesn’t fly in my book. And if my UPG goes against the lore directly, am I to assume that somehow those many thousands of people over thousands of years were all somehow misled or mistaken and yet I alone have the right of it? It seems kind of hubristic. No, for me, I choose to be skeptical of my own UPG. I choose to research it and weigh it out and see where it could fit and see if it’s true, partly true, or a misunderstanding by me or a lie by divinity and in those cases false. Not only do I not hold my own UPG as gospel, I don’t carry any illusion that I should misconstrue my own UPG as anything close to fact towards others. I am under no obligation to believe my own UPG and you’re under no obligation to believe it either.

By J. Beofeld

Originally posted on https://windintheworldtree.wordpress.com

Hearth, Home, and Hospitality

In Latin, there is a word which is the basis of our use of the word hospitality: “hospes.” Hospes has three meanings: host; guest, visitor; stranger, foreigner. Hospitality comes from the root hospes and is one of the core concepts behind Indo-European interactions in our ancestors’ times.

Hospitality was ingrained into ancient societies. A visitor should be treated with respect and welcomed into one’s home and hearth. There were many reasons for this with three standing out: It could be a god or goddess visiting to test their followers; a positive interaction could have beneficial future outcomes in trading and alliances; a negative interaction could have serious ramifications for a chieftain, a household, or a village.

Many Indo-European myths have the gods taking the form of a man and, because of these myths, people would be careful when dealing with visitors in case it was a god who was visiting to see how followers would respect any visitors. In the myths, kindness and generosity towards visitors were rewarded and ill treatment towards visitors were punished.

Normally when visitors came to a village or a remote house, the inhabitants of the village or house from chieftain’s wives to housewives, they would be treated with honor and respect. Visitors tended to bring news and pass on news in their travels and some would repay hospitality with gifts, labor, or usually passing on favorable tales of the hospitality they received. There are tales of travelers who stayed with kings and kings would try to outdo the others to have their tales of their great deeds spread throughout their kingdoms and to other countries to encourage trade and other favorable views to be held towards them and their lands.

If a host gave ill treatment to their visitor, the news would spread which could ruin potential future trade–if a host couldn’t be trusted to respect and show hospitality to their visitor, then how would they treat someone who might want to trade? Such news and rumors would quickly spread as visitors traveled to other villages or kingdoms. This could hurt the economic viability of villages. Whereas acts of kindness could make a chieftain, acts of mediocre or poor treatment could mess with a village’s renown.

Guests were also expected to be gracious. The Hávamál goes into details into how guests should behave when traveling with advice such as remain attentive, don’t talk too much (as in hog the conversation) but do share knowledge and information, and don’t drink too excess. Going back to the Latin word of hospes, the host/guest relationship is strongly connected.

Reciprocity is a key to helping understand the host/guest dynamic contained in the word hospes. By giving friendship, a warm fire, or food generously to your guest, they in turn would possibly reciprocate sometime in the future. While they might not have the same chance to be give you food, shelter, and friendly interactions, they might help you out in other ways. This is part of interacting with visitors in a hearth and home setting.

Through hearth goddesses, we can call upon the guidance and patience to take the peace they strived for with frith (peace within the family) and apply it to grith (peace in situations involving strangers or outsiders). Grith is all about hospitality and treating visitors with respect and generosity. If a guest breaks grith by being disrespectful, all pleasantries, safety, and hospitality can be removed. If a host breaks grith, word could quickly spread about how that village or chieftain treats visitors which could cause people to shun them.

As Frigg known as a goddess of hearth and home, she is a good choice to try to emulate when entertaining guests—whether in a settings where visitors are visiting your home or visiting your pagan group. She is the queen of Asgard, wife to Odin, which they would have viewed in daily life as a chieftain’s wife. Chieftain’s wives were recorded to act almost as a priestess in large feasts where they would bring around the horn almost as if it was a religious proceeding so the men could toast to their hosts and their host toast to them.

Grith is more than just keeping the peace or creating a place of sanctuary between allies, foes, or strangers. It is a situation where the host(s) try to make sure that the visitors are well taken care of, much in the way as described above as treating them as one would in case they could be a god coming to visit and test their generosity or someone who could end up spreading news about how someone treats a newcomer. Treating everyone who visits and who upholds the hospes act of both sides being good towards one another in a friendly manner by making their feeling of acceptance and being welcomed something that will carry forth when they tell others about your group.

Think about times you’ve visited groups you were unfamiliar with. What made the difference between feeling welcomed or unwelcomed? What did you tell others when you talked about your experiences? Did you tell them to go check out an unwelcoming group or did you advise them to steer clear of them? If the group was welcoming and showed great hospitality, how happy were you to spread the word of your experiences so that others could check out such a group?

It’s easy to think someone else will handle hospitality in a group setting, but looking back at past interactions with groups, in situations you didn’t really feel welcomed at, how many times did maybe only one or two people interact with you while otherwise you felt invisible because people were primarily talking with people they already knew? How excluded did you feel?

I know I’ve shared tales of visiting different spiritual groups. Some treated you almost like you were family, even if you were there to check things out and not necessarily desiring to become a member. At others, I didn’t feel welcomed at all. When people would ask me about a certain group, I would steer people away from attending a group where they didn’t seem welcoming—sometimes they wouldn’t be welcoming to women or to people not of their faith or to significant others. Other groups would be welcoming and provide great hospitality towards all who visit.

Hospitality isn’t just for visitors either. Members who are unable to attend regularly can feel disassociated from a group and without hospitality, the group will slowly lose members who have difficulties attending as frequently as others. Welcoming back members who haven’t been around for a while and treating them just as well and making them feel just as important as those who are regulars is key to having positive words spread about one’s group.

When at a ritual or a blót, think of what it would feel like for you to be a first time visitor or someone who hasn’t been around for a while and feels like they aren’t quite a part of the group. How would it feel if you were in such a position and people came up and either introduced themselves or reintroduced themselves with the goal of making you feel included and truly part of the group? What would you say to others in your travels if someone asked about your particular pagan faith? Would you encourage people to come check it out?

Hospitality is such a core value to our ancestors that I feel if we are going to say we follow the old ways of the Heathens of old, we need to make sure visitors will spread that same message about us in a positive way. Who knows? Maybe a visitor might just be a god in disguise?

By Michael

Originally posted on https://www.urban-druid.com

Propitiation

Propitiation is a concept in paganism that does not receive the discussion it deserves. You see we do a fairly alright job of describing the gifting cycle and those concepts regarding offering. We know that as we gift a friendly god we build a relationship of reciprocal gifting with them that increases over time. But we fall short when describing offering to chaotic forces.

While I have taken issue with the concept that the gods universally represent order, they do on a whole represent order a majority of the time. That is not to say they are not on occasion fickle; they do have their destructive or chaotic moments. That said, there are forces which are much the inverse of the gods in that where the gods represent order, those other forces represent chaos. In terms of sheer power the chaotic forces are often on par with the gods. But whether you call these things Ettins or baneful wights the end result is the same, these beings are chaotic and can cause destruction and devastation and unrest and suffering. Are they gods? I would argue that the only thing truly separating them in might and being from the gods is their attitudes and bearing towards men. But hesitate to call them gods in the same respect. Yet It Is here that the difference between propitiation and the gifting cycle comes into play.

Propitiation implies appeasement. It implies that it is to lessen the negatives of something. Chaotic forces can be offered propitiation to appease them and keep them from killing you today or tomorrow or from wrecking your day. I have seen rituals where people offered propitiation beforehand so that outside forces would not impede the ritual. But that doesn’t make them benevolent, it means you can pay them off. They will drop you like a hot rock the second they see fit. It isn’t the gifting cycle. The gifting cycle builds a relationship. You cannot build a relationship with chaos.

The wild places. The rivers. The untamed places. The mountains. The Glaciers. The thorny places. The Ettins. Chaotic deities. They’re all like the gods in their might but not all deities are benevolent and not all are kind and not all have equal disposition towards humans and not all enter gifting cycles that benefit humans.

The wilds will send forth beasts. The rivers will flood or even on the best of times dash your head on the rocks. The untamed places will make you lose your way. The mountains will drop rocks onto you or make you lose your footing. The Glaciers will send forth icebergs and sink your boat. The Ettins and chaotic deities will devour you and your sacrifices with equal glee.

If we work with the forces of chaos we should understand this, it is practicing propitiation. All those sacrifices do not build a truly lasting relationship as relationships are a function of order. It’s not a gifting cycle, its paying the chaotic forces off. It’s like the Danegeld, don’t be surprised if the chaotic forces decide to turn on you eventually; they are chaotic after all. Your offerings of propitiation are great until they aren’t and then the amount you gave before or the time and energy spent on it before don’t matter.

By J. Beofeld

Originally posted on https://windintheworldtree.wordpress.com

Welcome to Berkano Hearth Union

Welcome to our new home page. Please, don’t mind the dust as the site is under construction. We plan on having a members’ only forum where people can interact with other members outside of social media sites such as Facebook. We will also keep our calendar of events listed there. Look forward to more features in the coming weeks as the website expands and more features come online!
Skip to toolbar