Lessons from the Winds: Óðinn and Breath

I stand on a path on a rocky moor, the clouds like steel overhead. Below me the wild, deep azure of the river cuts through the valley. It’s cold here, and noisy as I walk. I hear the rush of the water and feel the wind beating against my ears.

I follow the noise to the source – a waterfall, but it isn’t just any waterfall.

Goðafoss sits like a watery giant reclining against the hard rock face of the valley to stretch out feet into the land around. There is a sense of expansiveness, but also layers of story stored in the depths.

Þorgeir and his Cloak

One of those stories is that of the godposts of Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson. Þorgeir you see, was a lawspeaker who lived around 1000 CE, a time when Christianity was putting down roots in the north. The crisis faced by the people of Iceland was one of conversion, and it had fallen to Þorgeir to decide how to proceed as he was the one person trusted by both Heathen and Christian alike.

Þorgeir’s decision was unenviable. On the one hand, there was growing pressure from Norway for the Icelanders to convert, and many Icelanders had already converted. But on the other, those who remained Heathen in Iceland wished to continue to worship the gods of their forefathers.

Now that’s a very condensed version of what was going on when Þorgeir elected to go under the cloak to see what was to be done.

Going under the cloak is one of those Heathen period magical practices that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention by modern Heathens. (There are a few Óðinn - cloakpractices like that though, if I’m being honest.)

Part of the problem is that we don’t really know a whole lot about the practice. But we can be reasonably certain that for Þorgeir, on that fateful day at Þingvellir, it was a method of seeking wisdom about a seemingly impossible situation.

And so he went under the cloak, lying as though sleeping or dead for long hours until he surfaced and made the announcement that a decision had been reached: the Icelanders were to publicly become Christians, but were able to keep their ancestral ways privately.

What’s in a Name?

It’s hard to imagine how Þorgeir must have felt after making that decision. He himself was a Heathen, and yet one of the first things he did on leaving the Allþing was to cast his godposts into the rushing depths of Goðafoss.

This is why it’s called ‘Goðafoss’; it’s the waterfall of the gods (though some say ‘goði’ as Þorgeir was a goði).

The Lone Weirdo

I’d gone to Goðafoss as part of a Land Sea Sky tour group. I was a presenter on the tour, along with the incomparable Morgan Daimler, and I’d been experimenting with a method for going under the cloak that had been yielding interesting results.
That was my plan at the waterfall of the gods, and that’s what I did.

I’m probably in the background in a bunch of tourist photos – a lone weirdo hooded and wrapped in a shawl of serpentine patterns lying down as though to take a nap.

But that’s okay, I hope they found the falls as special as I did.

Now I’m not here today to talk about the experience of going under the cloak, or how I do that. I have a description of my entire process (as well as how I came to practice in that way) in my upcoming book that’s coming out at the end of this year/early next year.

(Did I mention that yet? I don’t think I did. Btw guys, I’ve got a book coming out on Heathen magic.)

No, today I’m here to talk about what happened after I got up from the cloak and the practice I discovered from that experience. That is what I would like to share today – what I’m being nudged to share.

Óðinn Gave Breath

So I get up from the ground and dust myself off. But suddenly, I become aware of the sound of heavy wing beats even above the din of the waters. I feel them in my heart even, and search them out with my eyes.

Two ravens fly the breadth of the waterfall and come up the opposite side of the river to draw level with me.

Time slows, becomes weighty with presence and I know that I’m being shown something.

I feel my breath mingle with the wind – with Óðinn, the god who first gave breath-soul to humans. For a long moment there is a communion of sorts. But this isn’t just a connection with a god. He’s there too but it’s bigger than that. Instead it’s like my sense of self falls away, expanding to include the world and people around me, and it’s wonderful. A true place of potential.

Connecting With Óðinn Through Breath

Think about every breath you take. From the beginning of life when a baby takes that first breath before releasing a scream into the world, to the end when those borrowed breaths are finally released back to the winds, breath is our constant companion. This is life, death, interconnectedness, and the mother of spoken sounds.

Some say the Old English Rune Poem credits the Old Man as the source of all speech. I think in a sense he is.

This is how I like to check in with Óðinn, and I think some of you might like it too.

The best place to do this is outside, preferably in a high place where the winds blow wild. Those have always been the places where I’ve felt his presence the strongest.

For a Heathen, relationships are built with gifting, so bring a gift with you (wine is good). Prayers don’t hurt either. Then simply sit and focus on your breath.

This works best when you can forget about all the things that keep you separate and different from the rest of the world. Óðinn is a mutable god. He is a god of masks and becoming other people as needed. Hell, even his name refers to temporary states of being! It’s a lot easier if you try to become mutable too.

You won’t always experience his presence when you do this. But there are worse ways to spend a morning or evening than exploring the interconnectedness of breath and wind on a hill somewhere so it’s no loss.

Just be sure to dress for the weather.

And that’s it.

Happy Wednesday, all!

Women as Supports

A Demon Turned Heathen

I met a new ‘demon’ yesterday. She was twisted and bent, doubled over with stress and covered in cysts. She walked with a cane, and was orangey-pink and red in color.

When I say ‘demon’ here, I clearly don’t mean the kind of demon that normally springs to mind in popular culture. There were no pitchforks or flames, no oppression or seeking the ruination of human souls. There wasn’t even anything even vaguely chthonic about this ‘demon’ either, and the only bowels involved were the bowels that live inside my body.

This ‘demon’ was instead more of a body-mind manifestation, and meeting her and hearing her out took my IBS pain from about a four to a zero.

I’m a fan of shadow work and find the process of examining one’s ‘shadow’ to be a useful activity. But as Pagans and Heathens, we’re not so good on the release/resolve stage of this process. Sure journaling, journey, and/or ritual can also help. However, I am yet to find anything within the Pagan/Witch/Heathen sphere that is nearly as effective as Tsultrim Allione’s Feeding Your Demons. Out of all the possible ways for working with one’s shadow (or ‘demons’), this is the method that has brought me the most tangible returns.

So there I was with my ‘demon’, feeding her of myself until she became a beautiful woman in her 30s. I called her ”Mōdsefa” and promised to listen to her. Then we made friends, and my stomach hasn’t hurt since (long may it continue!).

Sitting with Mōdsefa

Since my experience of meeting “Mōdsefa” (a name that felt appropriate for an intelligence that resides in the torso), I have found myself mulling over the role of women and female-presenting people in religious and magical communities.

As all too often happens, synchronicity saw a party going on and also decided to jump into the mix. First I came across an article written by a Zen nun about

“My titties hurt and I haven’t slept in what feels like years because I happened to get with some ass who had to be talked out of stoning me when I got knocked up by a god.”

how enlightenment is a male fantasy reserved for monks (and the cooking and cleaning reserved for nuns). Then my friend shared a poem/meditation on Mary’s ignored-role in birthing and nursing Jesus. As this poem so ably demonstrates, again men are able to concentrate on the transcendental whereas the woman is left with the bloody and painful practicalities of essentially making that happen. If we are to believe Christian mythology, Mary may have brought Jesus into the world (and is ‘venerated’ – not worshipped – for the fruit of her womb), but women were supposed to be silent in church, unable to give teachings or administer the symbolic representations of the body and blood of that woman-born child. Mary herself would be ineligible to serve the representations of the child that she herself birth and fed. Take some time to think about that.

In the context of both religions, we are nothing but supports for male aspirations and experiences, and like my poor Mōdsefa, our capabilities and contributions all too often ignored.

Heathen Women Then

But this is not just a Buddhist or Christian thing; we see a similar mindset in the gendered roles of Heathen women too. As LMC Weston argued in Women’s Medicine, Women’s Magic: The Old English Metrical Childbirth Charms., the cultural center that was the hall in this period was the domain of men, and the women largely relegated to support roles:

“Where the men’s hall occupies the cultural center and defines that “semblance of order,” women and women’s lives outside the hall in the places where they cooked the food, wove the cloth, and bore the children-all processes, as Sherry Ortner argues, transforming nature into culture-represent a potentially dangerous ambiguity. Given the logical oppositions male/female and human/nonhuman, if the norm for human is male, where does woman stand if not on the boundary between the human hall and the nonhuman wilderness?”

Jenny Jochens makes similar observations in Women in Old Norse Society. Not only were women excluded from all political life (beyond what influence they could garner through incitement and other forms of manipulation(, but they too were relegated to the role of server during feasts (which arguably held religious as well as cultural and religious dimensions). (Jochens 107-108, 113-114)

We modern folks may pretend that the Heathen period woman’s lot was a liberated one, but often the reality is that it might only be described so when compared with the most misogynist societies in Europe.

Heathen Women and Female-Presenting People Today

Unsurprisingly, it’s not uncommon for modern Heathen males (as well as some females) to argue for the same bifurcation of spheres and labor today. This pattern is not unfamiliar in some communities from what I understand, and even among more progressive groups, you may still find the men peeling off to have the more philosophical discussions over beers while the female-presenting humans are left to basically facilitate everything else (or in some

“I may be giving a thumb’s up, but let’s not kid ourselves, I’m dead inside.”

cases face social censure).

For some modern Heathen women (especially on the right of the political spectrum), this is an acceptable state of affairs and considered to be ‘right’, and over the years I have observed attempts to sacralize housework and child rearing in some way in order to somehow make it seem less onerous and more “honored”. As with all “honored” things of this nature though, that “honor” only ever seems to take a form in which the woman/female-presenting person is divorced from physical and personal cost in the minds of men as readily as they are the political and religious spheres. This is “honor” that is convenient for men, and built almost entirely on platitudes and approval-seeking behaviors.

There is nothing wrong with finding fulfillment in housework or child rearing. But let’s not pretend that a polished turd is anything but what it is. True honor is recognizing the personal and physical costs as well as making efforts to include and listen to those you wish to honor in the political and religious processes of your community.

The Reconstructionist’s Dilemma

As with many aspects of modern Heathenism, many of the arguments surrounding the role of female-presenting humans center around history. This is to be expected in a group of religions with heavy reconstructionist influence. However, we do not reconstruct everything, and if anything, our reconstruction is often quite selective. Sometimes this is because we don’t like what the sources have to say, but other times it’s because we recognize that our society and the laws that we live by are very different.

The History of the Spindle Side

Like my poor, ignored Mōdsefa ‘demon’, the history of women and other female-presenting humans is all too often ignored. Though credited with preserving older tales while at work at spinning and in the weaving rooms by scholars such as Rumpf, women as a whole are left out of the conversation. No one talks about the labor of birthing the next generation, the countless hours spent clothing families and producing textiles to sell, or how it was the work of women that created the sails that drove the ships and enabled mankind to first go into space.

Whereas men have told their stories loudly and publicly, women have told them together and behind closed doors. Men have produced text and books of pages whereas women have produced textile and books of embroidery (Karen Bek-Pedersen 2007, pp 154 – 156).

And through it all, women (whether they understood themselves to be so or not) have worked to find their own ways to the holy (be it through cooking rice or renouncing the world in order to join religious communities for women).

In the Völuspá, ‘primal law’ (ørlög) is depicted as being something that is decided, scored, and spoken by women, and it is the völur that chooses and speaks the fates of men when asked at seance (Karen Bek-Pedersen, pp 200 – 201). There is a lot of power in choice, and I would like to see those of us who are either women or female-presenting people become choosers too.

I would like to see us choose solidarity and throw off the centuries of negative PR surrounding friendships between women (read Silvia Federici for more on that). I would like to see us choose to support each other and our own aspirations (be they spiritual or mundane). Finally, I’d like to see us choose a better path for our children. Because if there is one thing we can never forget, it’s that the patterns we create now, are what they will have to live with in the future.

So choose deliberately, friends, and learn to listen to the women/female-presenting people in your lives because we can do amazing things as a species when we actually work together.

PSA: Make Your Oaths Well!

There’s something of a theme du jour in my spookier friend circles right now. It’s complex – there’s a lot of background strangeness here – but the TL;DR version is that people (myself included) either feel the need to make oaths of fealty to numinous powers, or are witnessing others making similar oaths in either dream or trance. Now that strikes me as being pretty odd, and makes me wonder whether this is something which is confined to my various friend circles, or if it’s more widespread. (Answers on a postcard, please!) It also makes me wonder what on earth is going on at the moment. Because as I mentioned above, there is a background of strangeness here. This is not something that I’m prepared to write about it yet, but some of what John Beckett touches on here is eerily similar.

Either way, regardless of whatever the hell is going on, and whether or not this is a localized or more widespread phenomenon, it’s never a bad time to address the matter of oaths of fealty. After all, oathing to numinous powers is a serious business with potentially serious consequences. Friends don’t let friends oath to massively powerful entities without first giving them some tools.

And by “tools”, I mean this handy five-point list.

(Why a five-point list? Because this is the fucking internet, and everything seems to be a five-point list nowadays.)

1. You Can Refuse

This might seem like a no-brainer. However (as a few skeletons that won’t stay in their cupboards can attest), we seem to have consent issues in modern Paganism. We see this in a number of ways, and thankfully there are movements to work on all of that. But one of the ways in which those problematic ideas of consent

oaths - chris pratt
Kinda like this creepy ass movie, only with gods and ungods – yay!

surface (at least in my opinion), is in how oathing to numinous powers is presented in some quarters. There’s this creepy narrative that oathing is like a kind of pursuit by the numinous that the human doesn’t really have any say in, and quite frankly, that’s just plain fucked up.

It’s also wrong to boot, because that’s not how actual reciprocal relationships work. You have a choice, these are reciprocal relationships (read up on those here if you don’t know what that means), you can say no. So if it seems like a bad idea to get in cahoots with whoever, and your gut is twisting with the thought (there’s a clue right there), you can decline – politely.

If you do find yourself in a situation in which you believe you are being pursued by the numinous equivalent of Chris Pratt, then go and get a second opinion from someone you trust. Narrative can frame experience just as much as experience can frame narrative. Just a word to the wise though: not everything is what it claims to be either, so again, it’s good to get a fresh perspective.

2. The Devil is in the Detail

As mentioned above, these are relationships that are reciprocal by nature. In other words, they an exchange of sorts, which means you’re effectively entering into a contract. Now, if you’ve watched that episode of South Park where Kyle clicks the iTunes user agreement without reading it first, you’ll know that blind agreement with a greater power is not a good idea.

Well, it’s the same principle here. You need to be honest about, and lay out what you are prepared to do, and how long for. This is key – you don’t have to oath to a power for life, and you don’t have to give yourself to them after death

oaths - devil
“Hi, I’m goat-devil and I like to hang out in the details!”

either. Temporary alliances for a set period of time or until the completion of certain criteria are a thing, oaths that are renewed on a yearly basis are also a thing. NOTHING SAYS YOU HAVE TO OATH FOR LIFE.

So make a list of your conditions, and pay special attention to any potential loopholes you find. Because some beings out there (naming no names) are *experts* at finding ways to creatively screw humans over while adhering to the letter of any oaths made. So get good at thinking twenty steps ahead and doing thought experiments with potential outcomes. Also, remember that any oaths will also by extension affect your families, so factor your loved ones into those thought experiments too.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to try and figure out what they actually want from you, and assume that has value even if you cannot see it. And that might sound like the most hubristic shit ever until you remember that some beings quite enjoy consuming humans. It’s good to not become food, it’s like a rule for life.

But before you do *any* of that….

3. Do Your Research, Dammit!

If some sparkly and awesome (or dark and scary, or BOTH) shows up trying tooaths - book entice you into some kind of oath, your first move is always research. Go find out everything you can about them, and if it’s not available in physical sources, go pester allies for more information. Because there are a whole bunch of things you need to know here. For example, you need to know their MO; if they’re presenting themselves as they actually are; how others have fared dealing with them; and if they have a GSOH and enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset. Because all of that will not only help you figure out *who* you’re dealing with, but also help you better word any oaths you make so that you can do stuff like insert more protective clauses (which is #winning, trust me).

4. Consult Ye the Ye Olde Book of Oaths!

There’s a lot to be said for those old school handwritten pacts. On the one hand, they were utter shit for getting you convicted and burned (poor Father Grandier). But on the other hand, they also helped you remember just who you had pacts with, and exactly what was entailed. So if you’re in the business of holding oaths with numinous beings, it’s a damn good idea to have somewhere safe where you can write down all the details as precisely as you can (if you don’t already). It’s also good to read those oaths regularly – after all, you want to make sure you’re not fucking up your end of the bargain. However, it’s especially important to re-read your prior oaths when in the process of considering and creating oathed relationships with whatever new beings on the block because you need to know what you can agree to without violating the conditions of your other oaths. Sometimes those prior oaths can turn out to be pretty protective in the long run.

5. Phone a Friend

Finally, when you have all your research, and have tweaked the wording for
your oath as much as you can, run it all by a friend or trusted clergy. For some of you, this would have likely been a continuous thing anyway throughout this entire process, and that’s fine. Just don’t formalize anything until you’ve had that feedback from someone you trust and who has a good head on their

oaths - friends
“I asked my friend and got accused of dogging her for information!”

shoulders. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get caught up in things and hurtle towards a thing at breakneck speed, so it’s good to have someone prepared to remind you that there are such a thing as brakes.

But whether you do say yes to the oath-dress or not, you should record everything in as much detail as you possibly can. Because even if you don’t end up oathing, it’s just always good to keep a record.

If you do formally oath though, consider the creation of a pact-style document that both parties agree to before the oath is formally sworn. This document should contain the exact wording of your oath and clearly outline the conditions of the oath.

Lastly, if you are in this situation, I wish you smooth negotiations. May the odds be ever in your favor.