Winterhammer

A Progressive Heathen Blog

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I Forbid Neo-Nazis the Symbols of My Faith

First and foremost, I want to make something clear. As a person of Western and Northern European descent, I condemn and repudiate Neo-Nazism, Neo-Nazi ideology, and President Donald Trump’s support of them both. Neo-Nazis and other racists aren’t saving the world for me, and I never want to benefit from what they’re creating.

I’ve been Pagan for thirty-two years, so I’ve weathered my share of misunderstanding as a result of my faith. But I wore the symbols of that faith proudly even so; the pentacle when I was practicing Wicca in my twenties, the Celtic cross when I practiced Druidry in my thirties, and the Thor’s Hammer I wear now as a Heathen. I always believed, and still do, that it was important to be the Pagan in the room and to answer any questions my non-Pagan family, friends, and colleagues might have with clarity and kindness.

In the wake of the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, I believe strongly that I need to be a Pagan in the room again. Fortunately, I’m one among many whose minds and hearts have been moved to speak out both against Neo-Nazis and on behalf of the sacred symbols they’ve desecrated with their hateful ideology. I’m writing now to add my voice to theirs.

If you’re not Pagan, you might recently have seen Neo-Nazis use symbols you don’t recognize. Here are a few I do recognize and a brief usage description of each. Please note that these descriptions are not intended to be comprehensive.

Elder Futhark: A runic alphabet once used among Germanic and Scandinavian people. Among contemporary Pagans, it is often used as a system of divination.

Othala Rune: This is a letter in the Elder Futhark. Among contemporary Pagans, it represents family, culture, and heritage.

Valknut: A symbol associated with Odin in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.

Thor’s Hammer: A symbol associated with the protection of Thor in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.

Celtic Cross: A symbol associated with both early Paganism and early Christianity, varieties of the Celtic cross are worn by both contemporary Pagans and contemporary Christians.

As a contemporary Pagan, all of these symbols are sacred to me. I make and use rune sets for divination, of which Othala is a part. I wear either a Valknut or a Thor’s Hammer (usually the hammer), and I have worn the Celtic cross. Indeed, many Gaelic Christians of my acquaintance wear the Celtic cross as well, and this blog entry also stands in defense of that symbol for them.

None of these symbols is inherently hateful, either in their historical or contemporary contexts. Rather, they have important cultural significance to the people whose ancestors created them, and they have both personal and sacred significance to contemporary Pagans. If you’re Christian, think about how horrified you are to see the cross burned as an act of racism. If you’re Muslim, think about how horrified you are to see your declaration of faith on an ISIS flag. That’s how it feels to have the above symbols used by Neo-Nazis. It breaks my heart and leaves me weeping as I write this. It is a desecration I cannot and will not stand for.

I am only one voice. But I forbid Neo-Nazis the use of my sacred symbols. If you are a Neo-Nazi who uses my symbols in this way, you are desecrating them and bringing shame upon my faith and upon the ancestors of people who hold these symbols as cultural artifacts. I demand that you stop right now, and I call upon all Pagans of good conscience to make the same full-throated, public statement. At the very least, we help non-Pagans understand that these symbols are not inherently hateful. At most, we reclaim them for use by ourselves and our descendants.

“Where you recognize evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies.” — Old Norse proverb, from the Hávamál, st. 127

A Discussion of Solitary Seidh Work Methodology

I’m a revivalist Heathen, academic, and fiction writer, which makes for an interesting approach to cosmological and theological ideology and practice. In short, I recognize that there are substantive holes in the lore, but I honor what we have, and I also honor my own process of interaction with the transpersonal. As a longtime solitary practitioner, that process of interaction is decidedly personal, which is to say that I haven’t studied with any particular Heathen organization or individual. With this in mind, and because I do have a specific process for undertaking seidh work, I thought it might add to our ongoing revival of the practice to write about it here. I’ll start with some relevant personal background, followed by a discussion of my toolkit, and end with a paragraph or two about the method itself.

Background

The gift of sight runs in my family, passed down on my mother’s side. My grandmother, an old church Apostolic Pentecostal who believed in gifts of the spirit, would occasionally tell my mother and I that ‘the Lord came to her in a dream’. This was always followed by a prophetic pronouncement of some kind, and these were accurate enough that she (1) believed they came from the Lord, and (2) believed the content of the dreams themselves was a glimpse into the future.

My first prophetic dream was about the onset of my menstrual cycle. Shortly after I turned 12, I dreamed that I would bleed for the first time at home surrounded by specific friends. This came to pass a few months later when my mother went out with her best friend, leaving that woman’s daughters to babysit at our house and visit with me and my sisters, which was an uncommon occurrence. Since then, I’ve had a number of dreams and waking visions about everything from automobile accidents to house fires to family deaths which have come to pass. I’ve also seen for the people in a Spiritualist context, worked as a professional clairvoyant, tarot card reader, and rune reader, and I’ve become a rune smith. In all, I’ve had and used my sight for thirty-six years, long enough to sometimes wish I didn’t have it. After all, who wants to know in advance that family members are about to die and newly-married friends will soon divorce?

I’ve also completed the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids training course consisting of the Bard, Ovate, and Druid Grades, and I was an OBOD tutor for two years. One of the cornerstones of that work was the development of internal landscapes for the purpose of undertaking spiritual work. By the time I completed the training, I had established and journeyed to personal groves, places of interaction with guides and guardians, and many other non-physical locations. The work I did was rarely called shamanic, and it certainly wasn’t called seidh. It was also largely self-focused. However, it taught me to visualize the intersections between the personal and transpersonal and to navigate them, which is foundational training for trance journey work.

Two more pieces of background bear mentioning. I studied briefly with a Zen Buddhist group in Maine and have also attended several Shambhala meditation retreats in Nova Scotia. As I hope to discuss at greater length in a future blog post, meditation focuses the mind for the purpose of centering attention on the present moment. Of course, trance journey work of any kind is a complicated undertaking which involves far more than just the mind, but if an active or “monkey” mind can interrupt meditation, you bet it can interrupt seidh. Because of this, various principles of mindfulness meditation have found their way into my practice. Another technique I employ is the use of shamanic drumming during seidh work because patterned drumming, ecstatic dance, and indeed mindfulness meditation itself can and do create the altered state of consciousness a shaman/trance journeyer/seidhkona needs to undertake this work.

Finally, there is the matter of the lore itself. I’ve already mentioned that I know how to write, know how to read, and know how to stain. I’ve also studied Northern European Pagan cosmology and theology for about twenty-five of my thirty-two years as a Pagan, though I believe the Valfather called me early on and sent me out to wander awhile before I came home. Some of this study has been casual and need-driven, and somewhat less of it has been academic (so far). I’m also continuing to study the lore as I cultivate my seidh practice. I’ve taken my spirituality on pilgrimage to Glastonbury and more recently to Iceland twice, where I’ve made specific oaths and undertaken a bit of research on the huldufolk.

Toolkit

So this is my toolkit. An ancestral gift of sight and the longterm cultivation of it via clairvoyance, tarot, and runes. Completion of the OBOD training course and the teaching of it. Mindfulness meditation training. A working knowledge of the lore, if not a complete one. Pilgrimage to holy places as circumstances permit. It’s a fairly individual package and lends itself to differences in the way I practice seidh from the ways other people have revitalized the practice, but it produces results, which I’ll discuss a next.

Method

I first began seidh work in earnest shortly after I graduated from the OBOD Druid Grade. I wanted to learn more about the lore, and I wanted a gnostic experience of the cosmology, so I decided to combine the two. This manifested as the methodical exploration of Yggdrasil I’m still undertaking, which includes visiting the nine realms as appropriate (this is an especially risky proposition in some respects, and so there are realms I haven’t visited yet, nor may I ever), meeting the Gods, undertaking work at Hela’s instruction in Helheim, meditating more deeply upon the runes, and so on. I also work with the help of specific allies, which I won’t name here, and I’ve collected a few spiritual objects of power to be used while I’m journeying.

In practice, this is what a trance journey looks like. I identify or am given a task (take a gift to Heimdall and give him greetings, guide a beloved, departed companion animal into Helheim, visit my allies, ask an important question, etc.). If the task requires a deeper understanding of the lore, I do the research first. This might mean revisiting my knowledge of Heimdall, for instance. Once that work is completed, I go to my altar, put in my earbuds, and start a track from an album called “Double Drumming for the Shamanic Journey.” A bit unorthodox, I know. But while I can trance and drum at the same time, I can’t trance, journey to accomplish specific tasks, and drum at the same time. Sometimes I’ll also focus on my breath or count to ten and back once in order to encourage mental focus before beginning the journey in earnest. The specifics of my internal landscapes (or my versions of of Yggdrasil, Helheim, and the like) are really of no consequence, but I will say that I’m always met by a primary ally who journeys with me and who is sometimes assisted by other allies. I undertake the work, note any interactions I have and messages I receive, and return when the drumming track ends.

At the end of this journey, I return all the way, eat something, and journal the entire experience from research to meal. In all, this process takes the better part of a day, so I’m tired when I’m done. Still, I’m alert to messages in the outer world triggered by my journey work, which are both frequent and reliable, and I add these to my journal. I would end by writing that because it’s taxing, I don’t journey often, and at present I have a backlog of seidh work that needs doing because of this.

Conclusion

I’m not a reconstructionist, and I’m not a Hrafnar trainee (though I have respect for Hrafnar’s methods and count one of its teachers a close friend). I also recognize that in several important respects, I’m still learning the ropes, as it were. But I’ve cultivated this method and used it often enough that I thought my experience might be helpful to fellow seidh workers, so here you go. How is your experience similar? How does it differ? I’d appreciate your insights.

The Huldufolk – Part 2

In my first blog post about the huldufolk, I wrote about my recent research into the hidden people of Iceland and offered some thoughts about Icelandic belief in the otherworld. In this post, I’ll conclude the discussion with lore I gathered about the hidden people and offer some book and website suggestions.

The Huldufolk and Their Lore

Note that all of the lore I gathered came from the oral accounts of my informants, except where noted.

Trolls are the guardians of the great places; mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls. They may be helpful or harmful to humankind. I have a vague memory, not captured in my notes, of an informant telling me that trolls turn to stone during the day and back into living beings at night, which is why so many Icelandic mountains have the shape of giant faces and bodies. These are trolls, frozen in place until the sun goes down.

House Elves live in your house, help you, tease you, and borrow your things. Their lives mirror human lives, and they’ll travel with families when they move. You’ll know they’re around if things in your house go smoothly, and if you need help, just ask them. However, it’s important to be grateful for the help they offer and tell them so.

Flower Elves are tiny and exist everywhere among growing things. When you plant trees, these elves come to protect them. They nurture and encourage your plants to grow, but they might be poisoned if you introduce pesticides and other toxins into your garden. In the summertime, they generate the energy that protects living things, and in turn, these living things protect them in the wintertime.

Elf Women and Men are what most people think of when they hear the word “huldufolk.” These are the extra-dimensional people who have lived in Iceland since well before the Vikings colonized it and can see between the dimensions. My primary informant indicated that these people live like human beings but use simpler technologies, including sailboats. However, I’ve also heard them referred to as beautiful or shining people who dress in rich clothing. Their households are multi-generational.

Mermaids and Mermen live in the ocean and on the shore. Mermaids come to sing on the beach and heal those who listen to them. If you ask them a question, they’ll whisper the answer in your ear. They’re thankful when you’re careful about what you throw away, especially into the ocean. Both they and their mermen counterparts are protectors of the sea and the beings who live in the sea.

In what might be called the miscellaneous category, I learned there were elves who fled natural disasters to live in Iceland and elves who have families both in their dimension and in ours, effectively living dual lives. Of course, huldufolk lore goes well beyond what I’ve indicated here, and I’ll be doing further research using the resources listed below.

Book and Website Suggestions

These books are part of my advance reading list for a novel series I hope to have outlined by the end of summer. However, I haven’t read them yet, so I can’t actually recommend them. I can only suggest they might be interesting to you. They’re all collections of Icelandic folktales and legends suitable for non-academic audiences.

You might also enjoy this web site, which is based on academic research of Icelandic folklore.

Conclusion

Iceland’s landscape is varied and majestic, like nothing I’ve ever seen, and it captivated my imagination. The crests of certain mountains were like the circular towers of fortresses barely hidden by the veil between the worlds or the bodies of crouching trolls covered in rock. One glacier appeared to have the image of a smiling face drawn into it as if by a giant index finger. As a folklorist and storyteller, it was easy for me to envisage the ancient Icelanders seeing the same things I did and crafting stories about them. As a Heathen environmental activist, it was important to me that I revere the sacred presence of the place, however it chose to manifest itself. In one case, that meant taking a trash bag around a waterfall in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and picking up after disrespectful visitors. In another, it meant leaving apples beside a prominent stone on Grímsey Island. In yet another, it meant straight-up seidh work I’m not willing to write about here.

When I talk about my academic work to people outside the discipline, I tell them it isn’t my job to decide whether or not a thing is “real.” It’s my job to observe and record human belief. But I share many of the beliefs I observe and record, and I’ll gladly embellish them for the sake of a good tale. The combination necessitates good compartmentalization skills, and it makes for interesting investigations of folklore like that of the huldufolk. I hope you’ve enjoyed the results I’ve offered in this blog series, and I’d be delighted to hear your own huldufolk lore.

The Huldufolk, Part 1

Last year, Sean and I went to Iceland as tourists. This year, we returned as friends to participate in a knowledge exchange with the owner of the northernmost vegan and raw food restaurant in the world. You see, Sean makes tofu from scratch, and the owner of the restaurant wanted to learn the trick of it. Conversely, she’s a raw food wizard, and Sean wanted to spend some time in her kitchen. I offered to update the restaurant’s web site, which was in need of attention, in order to help make her offer of free room and board more equitable. But when she learned that I had recently written a paper on Newfoundland fairy abduction legends and had an interest in the huldufolk, she became an important ally to my research.

I should preface what follows with a bit of personal information for the sake of context. I’m predisposed to circumspection about many things, especially those related to my faith and practice. I’m also a PhD student of Folklore with an ethical mandate to respect the wishes of my informants, which means I share nothing about them without their explicit consent. So while I gathered information about the huldufolk from several sources while I was in Iceland, this blog series will be intentionally vague about most of them, both to protect my own experience of the sacred and to preserve my informants’ privacy. However, I will tell you that I gathered information from direct experience, from self-described seiðworkers, from others who had direct experience of the huldufolk, from casual conversation with Icelanders, and from the Akureyri library staff and English-language holdings.

Some Thoughts About Icelandic Belief in the Otherworld

Keeping in mind that my knowledge here is limited to the people I met and the things they told me, I learned that while most people in Iceland identify as Lutheran, this Christian identity sometimes coexists with belief in and interaction with the otherworld. One person I met sings in a church choir but also practices Lakota-infused seiðwork, which includes an ongoing search for power centers in the country and communication with its huldufolk. Another person has painted and written about various kinds of elves and believes they live in a dimension next to ours. A third told me that a portal exists near Selfoss after I described an uncanny, uncomfortable feeling I had while traveling through the area. And when I told of a dream about trolls and elves Sean had while camping last year in a cave near Vík, our dinner companions wondered whether or not it was just a dream.

In fact, in every conversation I had with Icelanders, discussions of the huldufolk were taken seriously. Some told me about contemporary incidents involving stalled road work because of broken equipment, worker illness, and other unforeseen catastrophes that were abruptly resolved when the work was re-routed around particular stones. Others told me about losing household items for a time and requesting them back from the elves, only to find these objects soon after in obvious places. One person told me that hidden people travel with families, so that if a family moves house, their hidden companions move with them.

But what struck me most about Icelandic belief in the hidden people was that it wasn’t solely tied to Heathenry or Paganism. Last year, we had the opportunity to interact with several Heathens during an Ásatrúarfélagið kaffeeklatsch, and one expressed a belief that the “elves had brought us to them” because we arrived in time to participate in a sacred tree-planting beforehand. But that sort of comment might have been made by many of my acquaintances and friends in the north of the country. So even in Iceland, where one of my Lutheran informants mentioned the “old gods” in passing conversation, huldufolk belief and practice are not purely Heathen or Pagan. They evolve in step with Lutheranism, Lakota-inspired seiðwork, and other expressions of spirituality.

I’m going to close here, partly because I’m still catching up on other writing tasks after returning home, and partly because I have a great deal more to write on this topic. In my next post, I’ll continue with a discussion of the huldufolk themselves and perhaps move on to some of the lore I learned. After that, I’ll write what I can of direct experience with the huldufolk and offer some book recommendations.

A Better Burden

We arrived in Reykjavik at 6:00 AM yesterday morning during a spring snow squall that made the road to Akureyri impassable. But our friends Vigdis and Sveinn took us in, fed us Icelandic pancakes, and sent us to bed, for which we were grateful. We’re on the road today after a good night in the company of good people and two sweet-tempered cats who curled around us while we slept.

Iceland isn’t a foreign country to me anymore, breathtaking because I have never seen her before. Now her snow-covered mountains and spring-brown soil are familiar, even welcoming. I love this place from volcanic bones to glacial crown. She is a young queen among geological elders, still showing off to the world.

I said something to Vigdis about that love that I think is worth exploring. I told her that I admired the landscape, the language, the culture, and the history of Iceland but also tried to be a wise traveler, as the Hávamál recommends. Then I talked about the Pagans who come here to fetishize these things, which I gathered was problematic for the Ásatrúarfélagið when I visited the organization last summer. “I’m not one of them,” I told her, and I’m not, but only because I made those mistakes among the Gaels some time ago and know better than to make them again.

It was hard to fall for a landscape, culture, and spirituality that wasn’t mine by birth. When Christianity divided my family, I went away hollow from the experience. Hegemonic religion held less than nothing for me, so when I discovered “Celtic,” it was like finding food at the end of a bitter winter. I conflated modern Gaelic and Celtic culture with their historical predecessors, with fragments of pre-Christian Celtic religion, with modern Pagan writing, and with my own gnosis (I should add for the Heathen crowd that I’m solidly pro-gnosis, but I’ll cover that another time). Underneath it all lay a deep, sweet yearning I came to identify as hiraeth, the longing for a time and a place in the distant past.

That yearning drove me to the University of Toronto, where I earned a Bachelor of Celtic Studies, to Ireland, and ultimately to Cape Breton, the Gàidhealtachd where I now own a home. In that time, those pieces of Celtic I had conflated became distinct again. It was good they did, because then I learned to see and interact with them separately, a necessary prerequisite for avoiding the specter of cultural appropriation. As a result, I’ve come to embrace Heathenry on better cultural and spiritual footing. The mystic in me wonders if there might have been a greater plan at work in this, but the evidence of that remains to be seen in my deeds. I don’t walk with Gods who teach me to no good purpose.

We’re climbing into the mountains of Northern Iceland now, and we’ll make Akureyri by dusk. The road rises damp and gray ahead of us, and there’s a good playlist on the car stereo. We were wise to rest yesterday and travel today; early spring is a mercurial time in this country. I hope that I have grown wiser in the ways I choose to travel the soul road as well. It too can be mercurial, but I wouldn’t trade either journey for anything you might offer me.

“A better burden can no woman bear
on the way than her mother wit;
’tis the refuge of the poor, and richer it seems
than wealth in a world untried.”

Hávamál, Stanza 10

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