"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, May 25, 2009

GodaĆ¾egn and Godatheow

By Hrafn

One of the larger--and more uncomfortable--areas of discussion right now among Spirit Workers is the nature of our relationships with the gods. Some of the terms that get used, such as "god slave," carry a great deal of baggage with them. Many of the more prominent members and authors of our community claim the title godatheow (godslave). I will go into significantly more depth on this topic later, but for the moment I would like to talk about impressions. One of my concerns is that newbies will get the wrong idea and believe that godatheow is somehow a "higher" form of relationship with the gods or a natural state that spirit workers tend to migrate to as they become more advanced. They may also conclude that these individuals have become "closer" to the gods than they can get without going through the same process. While the current group of authors and godatheow generally disavow this, it doesn't help that so many of our highly visible members are godatheow, and many of them interact with one another enough that it can give both them and others a skewed impression of our community, leading Galina Krasskova to say in her essay Terms of Service:

"I am a godatheow, a godslave. Most of the spiritworkers and shamans that
I know are also godslaves - outright owned by their Deities. It goes with
the territory."

While later on she states that One does not need to be a godslave to serve -- I want to make that abundantly clear -- no more than one needs to be a priest, or healer, or ordeal worker to serve and be of use to their Gods one still walks away--in general--with the feeling that if you are a Spirit Worker in the Northern Tradition and not a godatheow then, on some level, UR DOIN IT WRONG. My teacher has over 20 years of experience and is in the service of Freyja. While I am working on three years in my Spirit Work training, I have around 11 years work as an occultist and have been service of Odin for over 4 years. Most of the members of my group have similar--or more--experience in a variety of different occult communities. I have friends who have undergone a full shamanic initiation, others who are shamanic practitioners of varying degrees of "immersion," and many who are members of initiatory magical traditions. Very few of these individuals--spirit workers, shamans, and occultists--could be referred to as godatheow. Not that there is a problem with being a godatheow, but I have to believe that it is fully possible to serve the gods--even as a spirit worker--without being a full slave to those deities. In short, I would like to challenge the assumption that it goes with the territory, and say that there are a growing number of us that are not god slaves--are for one reason or another not suited or required to be god slaves--but are still dedicated, Northern Tradition spirit workers. I also want to emphasize that I am approaching this with an attitude of this also rather than this instead. The Vanic-oriented practitioner Nicanthiel commented on this as well, stating that:

"As such, there has been a lot of talk in spiritworker circles, especially
those connected to Cauldron Farm, of god-slavery as the default spiritworker
paradigm; the assumption seems to be, either you are completely en-thralled
by your Boss(es), or you're not really a spiritworker. I challenge that assumption,
because not everyone is suited for slavery, and indeed, not every God wants a
slave, Frey being the most obvious example. Are people called by such Gods, or
lack the nature required for full slavery to be denied the right to serve their Gods?
Even Odin doesn?t always want slaves; sometimes, all He wants is just a warrior,
or just a magician, or just a tool."

Nicanthiel presents the term goda?egn/godathegn as an alternative, where "?egn" would be a noble servant of a higher noble. Raven Kaldera summarizes this term nicely and gives it his stamp of approval, saying that a goda?egn would be someone who had a strong (perhaps oathbound) bond with their deity, but had full agency except in some limited areas, and could leave if worst came to worst. I feel that this accurately encompasses my path as a spirit worker, it correlates with my own UPG of my relationship with Odin, and am going to start using it in my own practice. I firmly believe that one does not need to be a godatheow to serve the gods, even as a devoted spirit worker or shamanic practitioner, and that a god may find one person well suited to be a godatheow, and find a completely different use for another individual that doesn't require that kind of relationship. These paths are mostly just different, and come with their own risks and characteristics, and some come with their own unique safety considerations. Like with relationships: Internal Enslavement isn't "higher" than Total Power Exchange isn't higher than M/s isn't higher than D/s isn't higher than vanilla and polyamory is not higher than monogamy or vice versa: they are different models and suitable to different people, to negotiate with each other.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coming Out of the Drum Closet

We who consider ourselves god-touched are often at a loss as to how to explain the peculiarities of our lives to friends, family, co-workers or maybe even co-religionists who do not share our peculiar circumstances. Fear of being criticized, mocked, dismissed or disbelieved keeps many of us from talking about our experiences. It's easy to believe that you are the only one who hears the voice of the Holy Ones, who feels the spirits' presence in your surroundings, who speaks to the dead, or who has those crazy dreams or weird synchroniticies, especially when you're surrounded by other people who quite obviously don't, or who may even sneer at those who do. This is a shame. It would be wonderful if we lived in a society where people were accepting without being judgmental about other people's lives, but we don't. So the question for most of us is, how open should we be about "this god-touched thing," and how much information is too much?

Not everyone necessarily wants to be open at all, it should be remembered. That's a choice that ought to be respected. Keeping that aspect of your life entirely private may be an option for you, but it's not necessarily an option for everyone. Some of us are expected by our gods to have full disclosure about everything in our lives. Some of us are expected to speak openly on only a few topics, but must be completely honest about those few. And some of us just feel obligated to tell those we care about what's up with us, because we love them and because it could affect them in future -- heck, it may be affecting them right now. Even if you can handle giving details about your life to perfect strangers in a workshop presentation or on a website, however, it's often awkward and difficult to think about having that same level of openness with one's family and friends because there is more at stake, emotionally speaking. So how does a god-touched person go about coming out of the drum closet, so to speak, with people who might have known you before you were claimed by the spirits, people whom you see and interact with every day or who are otherwise in a position to be deeply affected by this circumstance?

The simple answer is to do whatever the gods or spirits tell you to do. In some ways, it's easier if They have insisted that you be completely honest with everybody about talking to spirits and hearing them talking to you, because while it's scary, at least you don't have to keep track of who knows and who doesn't -- which in a worst-case scenario can turn into a tragicomic exercise in half-truths and lies by omission that might literally drive you mad with distraction and paranoia. If your patron deity has commanded that you will always answer when asked a direct question about your spiritual work, well, you'e probably got no choice but to do so regardless of who's asking the question. Sometimes a certain level of disclosure will satisfy -- perhaps the spirits do not care how much detail you go into so long as you're honest about being a devotee of whatever tradition doing whatever work it is that you do. It's largely dependent on your individual relationship with Them.

However, not all the gods care whether or not we are open with other mortals about our spiritual lives. What if you don't get any feedback at all? What if They have purposely left it up to you to decide? This happens more often than not. I believe that people who are required to be relatively public about their lives are in a minority. Judging from the experiences of the many god-touched folks I've known, often the spirits are insistent about being active and visible within one's (often tiny) religious community but leave it up to you whether or not to tell Mom and Dad you've become a god's consort and that's why you dumped your last boyfriend. So how do you handle this sort of thing? Or should you even bother?

Before you decide, consider this: in many ways, coming out as a god-touched person is a lot like coming out as gay. You've got some people who're prepared to accept and love you no matter what, and some who will recoil at the news. Some people will never, ever believe that this wasn't a choice you made. Some people will be fascinated (not always in a flattering way) and some won't care. Some people might be disappointed but will still care about you anyway, and some will never want to speak to you again because things are just too weird. Even our various religious communities are full of in-fighting and disagreement about the proper place of "people like us," with some arguing that it is a valid spiritual path and some saying that we're all just a bunch of self-aggrandizing wankers who can't be content just worshiping the gods and spirits like normal people do.

I can't assure anybody reading this of a good response from their loved ones and friends when and if you decide to tell them about being a spirit-worker or a witch or a priest or an oracle or a shaman or a healer. But eventually, if your connection with the spirits means that much to you and has that much of an impact on your life, you'll have to address this, and you'll have to think carefully about how to go about it. Will being totally public about your spiritual pursuits hinder you or help you in other areas of life? Is your family likely to disown you? What about your spouse and kids -- are they likely to freak out if you appear in the living room wearing cat-skin gloves and a bag of runes at your belt on your way to a seidh session? Do you live in an area where you are likely to be harassed and threatened for your beliefs? Would you job be in jeopardy? You have to use your best judgment in each instance, and sometimes you'll guess wrong. You might choose to hide your spiritual experiences from someone and live to regret it, or conversely, you might choose to be honest yet meet only with rejection and anger. I wish it were otherwise. In my mind, being god-touched shouldn't even be a matter of controversy, merely a fact of life like having a talent for art or writing, or being blessed with a cast-iron digestive system that allows you to eat whatever you want with no ill effect.

The fact is that direct contact, intervention and/or being claimed by the gods and spirits happens to people regardless of who else does or does not believe in its existence. No matter what you decide to do, if you are someone who has experienced the realm of the spirits to the point where there is no doubt in your mind that These Things Exist, that is unlikely to just go away. The likelihood is that you will still be expected to do your duty by the Holy Ones and fulfill whatever tasks They may set before you. Sometimes the gods are sympathetic to our plight as people living in a largely agnostic modern Western culture, and sometimes They don't care biddy shit how many broken friendships and cold shoulders from co-workers we have to endure. But chances are, your status as someone who is in touch with the spirit realms is not going to change just because somebody else -- even one very close to you -- disapproves of what you're doing.

Whatever you decide to do, you will need to do one thing: grow a thick hide. Prepare yourself for criticism, disbelief and possibly outright condemnation. Even in a best-case scenario where you tell everyone in your life and they accept and support you, someday you will encounter someone who does not and whose opinion is not easily discounted or ignored. And even if people are willing to accept everything now, that may change depending on how much of your life gets sucked into your spiritual calling and how badly it affects other people. It's good to learn not to either fear disapproval or let your religious life get too wrapped up in winning approval, because then it stops being about your relationship with the Holy Ones and becomes an exercise in either showing off or placating others...and while I don't claim to speak for any gods or spirits, I highly doubt that this is what They have in mind when They bother to intercede in our lives so directly. I have known more than one person who did one or the other (or both) and regretted it later.

Being open to whatever degree about being god-touched is not something that's necessarily easily resolved just by sitting down with and having A Talk, of course. People come and go in our lives, circumstances change, and relationships grow and develop. Sometimes it takes time for other people to accept that we are who we are, particularly when they are worried about our mental and physical health and concerned for our well-being. The best thing you can do to allay the fears of your loved ones is to prove those fears and concerns wrong: Deal with your baggage. Take responsibility for your deeds. Learn from your mistakes. Share your triumphs and let those who care about you see how your relationship with the gods and spirits can be useful and good. I strongly believe that even in the strictest god-slave relationship, the deity in question ultimately has an eye towards the personal well-being of the mortal as well as whatever Their lofty goals are otherwise. Show others how your contact with Them enhances your spirituality. Living as a functional, useful and well-rounded person vastly increases your chances of getting your loved ones to a place where they can accept and even celebrate who and what you are in life.

If they still refuse to accept it or are outright hostile about it, it may come down to cutting off contact. That's sad, difficult and painful, and it too must be carefully considered. For those who might think I'm being too harsh, I'd remind them that it's likely that even if your family disowns you, the gods are unlikely to just go away once Their presence in your life becomes an inconvenience. They have a way of sticking around, I've noticed. But I'm not one to judge anybody for doing whatever they can to stay on good terms with their loved ones in a situation like this. If you'd rather not tell your beloved grandparents about it, ever, and let them think that you're still going to church every Sunday, then make sure your reasons for doing so are clean and that you aren't compromising your relationship with the spirits or avoiding your obligations. Sometimes it's less about what we personally want or need and more about sustaining a modicum of peace and harmony within a family or among friends.

Although I am fairly public in that I use my legal name on all my writing and websites and have published some obscene poetry about my god-husband, I neglected for several years to tell my family about my contact with Loki and Hela and the strange turn my life had taken as a result. My parents especially were concerned because they saw no reason why I was unemployed and apparently at loose ends at the time. I feared that if they knew about what was going on in my life, they would think I was insane and try to convince me that I ought to be committed -- I mean, how often do people tell their families that by the way, ancient Norse deities are talking in their heads and that's why they've made these inexplicable life changes? I dreaded the day when I'd have to tell everyone what was up with me.

I needn't have worried, however. My mom was surprisingly understanding, despite being a fairly conservative Protestant. She even said that she was sorry I hadn't told her about it before because it explained so much about me. My dad was similarly understanding, although I think he was secretly chagrined that he'd bothered to send me to an expensive private university just for me to wind up being a spirit-touched weirdo. Other family members and friends were more or less accepting, so for me it wasn't painful or hard to tell everyone in my world about my strange life and stranger religious calling. For that, I am grateful.

Some time after, I asked my dad why he didn't seem more curious about my religious life and he gave me a wary look. "I'm from a traditional culture and I know better than to ask,'" he said. "If you talk to ghosts, I don't want to know!" I've respected his wishes as well as those of others, and I don't talk about the spooky details of my religious life with my folks or with certain old friends who knew me "before" -- and that's okay. I see it as a need-to-know subject, and while it pains me a bit that I can't share that aspect of my life with some people, our relationships are close enough in other ways that it's not a big issue. And I have plenty of other friends who do know the details and aren't afraid to discuss them.

Like I said earlier, you don't necessarily have to talk about what the gods have done to you, and it may even be better to keep silent than to be loud and proud about your religious doings. Ultimately, those of us who are god-touched aren't as fascinating to other people as we sometimes think we are, and there are some experiences which should remain private anyway, or which simply cannot be put into words. Those of us who've shared them will understand, but it's good to recognize that no amount of talking can convey the essence of the Mysteries to those who have not experienced them for themselves. It's quite enough for most people to accept the "voices in your head" part, after all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trance Dancing

by G. Krasskova

Having spent over a decade as a professional dancer, I learned early on the trance inducing properties of physical movement. For nearly the entirety of my training and career, physical movement (in my case the rigorous discipline of ballet) was my primary means of spiritual expression. While I did not know about methods of trance when I was younger, looking back, I realize that I would often dance myself into a trance state where I was only aware of the energy flowing around and through me. It opened me up and provided a necessary outlet for many, many things including the berserkergang without which, I think my adolescence would have been far worse. I’ve since studied and learned many different methods of inducing trance but nothing is quite like the exhausting euphoria of dancing where the body itself is both conduit and doorway. Of course when I eventually became too injured to dance, I assumed that I would never taste that particular type of trance again. It wasn’t until my Muspellheim ordeal that this facility was returned to me once more.

In many respects, dancing is much like galdr, many of the same principles apply. Certain energies are best accessed through movement. Just as one can use the throat and voice for galdr to lay down threads of power, so can one do the same with movement and dance. Furthermore because in often ecstatic forms of dancing the concentration is on the body and not the ego/mental structure, it is very easy for it to bring about the type of opening needed not only for trance but also to enable possession. Focusing on the rhythm and movement allows our consciousness to shift ever so slightly in a way that facilitates both trance and possessory work. This, I believe, is the reason that dancing is often utilized in Voudoun ceremonies and Zar ceremonies as part of the possessory practice.

While my dancing has largely been prompted by Surt, Logi and to some degree Loki, Odin has indicated to me that there are weapons dances He wishes me to learn that will open me to manifesting His battle wod (but I’ve only gotten hints of the actual dances). I find that when I dance now, it links strongly into either sexual energy or the berskergang energy with very little in between and sometimes both at once. This may be in part because the ability to dance was returned to me via ordeal by Surt.

In this type of dancing, I’ve found that actual music is not necessary (though I personally prefer it as it sends me far deeper into trance far more quickly) because there is rhythm in the energies swirling beneath, around and within the dancer. The problem with using external accompaniment is that the sound then becomes master of the dance rather than the energy the dancer is moving in…the sound supersedes the energy, at least for me. These are palpable things and when I dance, how I’m working the energy, what I’m working with, the reasons I’m seeking movement trance, and a thousand other things vie for dominance over my body. If there is external sound, it has greater dominance for me than the energy itself though it can be a very, very close thing. Often the two work well in tandem together.

Entering into trance or working magic through the tool of a dancing body is to put oneself into a very open state. The energy one is dealing with is internalized far more deeply and intimately than with certain other forms of trance. It is both an internal and an external process simultaneously. This form of trance movement allows the practitioner to focus will and energy through the vehicle of the body and it is possible to weave directly into the threads of wyrd by virtue of the patterned movement.

So my use of trance dancing is three fold:

· to induce trance (obviously),
· to open myself to a specific type of energy be it physical energy or Deity energy
· to work specific magics via the conduit of the body.

I would estimate that of the dancing I do, 95% of it involves trancing to journey or tap into energy. During my Muspelheim ordeal, for example, the dancing loosened my hold on Midgard well enough that Surt was able to easily yank me into Muspelheim, the Gap and several other places as well for training and challenge. While it can be disorienting coming back to purely Midgard head and body space, I do find that the dancing is an excellent vehicle for rapid transitioning between the worlds. It shakes one’s consciousness loose from the temporal very quickly and easily.

The most distressing and difficult part of trance dancing, for me at least, was getting over my own self-consciousness about moving in such a fashion in public. There is a loosing of internal energies that necessarily accompanies such movement and it can be rather intense. I do not particularly like drawing such attention to myself (when I danced professionally it was A) a very different type of dancing and B) done for reasons other than a love of performing. The performing was secondary to the experience of dancing itself) and there has to be a certain level of body comfort as well. One must start out truly ‘in one’s skin’ so to speak, at least it helps.

While it certainly also helps to have a dance background for this type of trance work, I really don’t think that is necessary. What is most important is the ability and willingness to listen to one’s body, open to the external energies and be mindful of external sounds and cues. The body and the energy will direct the flow of the movement. Certainly a ballet background isn’t needed or even particularly helpful. If I had to recommend a style of dance to study, to prepare one for trance dancing, I’d probably suggest belly dancing followed quickly by some form of modern dance or perhaps tai chi. I tend to combine elements of flamenco (which I studied extensively years ago), belly dancing and Javanese/Indonesian martial arts. It’s not a consciously thought out thing, rather it’s just how the movements come out in the context of my body (or so I’ve been told by onlookers). I suspect that’s partly my body type and partly the quality of the energies I’m manifesting. It will vary with each individual person.

Finally, the energies raised in this type of dancing make it an excellent offering for the Gods. Both Loki and Odin like me to dance for Them both publicly and privately and I have known a Frey’s woman who was often moved to make the same offering to Her Owner. Even more than for journey work, I utilize this type of movement as a service to Them, to bring Them joy, satisfaction and perhaps entertainment. Utilizing trance dancing in such a fashion brings more than simple trance, it brings one to the level of ecstasy and intoxication.

“I cannot dance, O Lord,
Unless You lead me.
If You wish me to leap joyfully,
Let me see You dance and sing---

Then I will leap into Love—
And from Love into Knowledge,
And from Knowledge into the Harvest,
That sweetest Fruit beyond human sense.

There I will stay with You, whirling.”

--Mechthild of Magdeburg

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Musings

By G. Krasskova

I am a keeper of the future; my love outruns my anger.
I am a keeper of the future; my patience outruns my pride.
I am a keeper of the future; my hope outruns my despair. (1).

For the first thirty years of my life “mother” was a four letter word. It brought to mind nothing but bitterness, pain, and a terrible anger. This impacted every aspect of my life, even perhaps most especially my spirituality. Oh, I honored Goddesses from the moment I consciously became a polytheist. I have a strong dedication to a specific warrior Goddess. I never, ever, called Them Mother though. In fact, I had an intense distaste for Goddesses Whose primary function was that of the dreaded “mother.” It took the Gods bringing me a second mother, one not related to me by blood but by heart and spirit, for those wounds to heal. It took the Gods sending me a woman who chose to adopt me legally as her daughter, even though I was an adult, because that is the bond the Gods created between us. Through that experience, I came not only to understand what miracles the Gods have wrought, but also what a miracle it is to have a mother. Through that healing, I came to understand far more fully how terribly important mothering can be, and what a profound obligation there is to do it well.

Years ago, I saw a movie (I don’t recall the title) in which a character says “Mother is the name of God on the lips of every single human child.” That line stuck with me through all the intervening years: our first and most enduring name for God is ‘mother.’ That is the power this figure has in our lives, our hearts, our psyches. Like those who cannot approach a God because the father-figure in their lives was cruel, abusive, absent, or inefficient thus damaging that bond, those who have never known effective human mothering may have trouble approaching Goddesses. As above, so below….what is out of balance in our human lives will in time affect us spiritually and vice versa. After all, the Gods are the ultimate parental/authority figures. What can one do when the entire idea of ‘mother’ or even ‘parent’ has been damaged?

Mothering isn’t necessarily a biological thing. Anyone who cares for someone else in any way has the potential to fill this role. Is it the same thing as a biological mother, maybe not; but I do not discount the importance of spiritual mothers (and fathers). We can hold this space for others when need arises and the Gods move us to do so. We can consciously commit to moving with compassion in our world, to heal ourselves through bringing restoration to others. I know well the anger one can have at a mother who is emotionally (or physically) harmful or negligent. That anger is an appropriate response. It tells us something is amiss, that important boundaries are not being respected. We can acknowledge that anger without allowing it to turn us into the very thing that we are angry at. We can use that anger to drive us into the arms of our own restoration.

We are called to service, to minister (which really means ‘one who serves’) in just this way: we can bring nurturing and nourishment to others through a profundity of passionate, mindful engagement. We can mother those who are motherless. There are so many people crying out, hungering, starving in fact to be told that they are worthy, that they have a right to take up space, that they are cherished, loved, worthy of love. These are the lessons a mother teaches…or does not teach. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that even when our human mothers are too wounded themselves, we can choose a new family. We can choose our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers from those whose only tie to us is that of spirit, and a willing, loving heart.

Sometimes we have to do this and that’s ok. Those self-made families are just as sacred as many families of birth. I believe that most people do the very best they can. Sometimes people are too injured themselves, too broken, too scarred to parent well. Such people, like my own mother, are deserving of prayer and compassion. As a priest, I understand that even when the daughter in me cries out in anger and hurt. These people were not given the mothering they needed when they needed it and never learned to give it to themselves. Sometimes we have to do that too: the holiest task we may have to undertake is learning to mother ourselves wisely, lovingly, and well.

There are Goddesses who can teach this if we ask Them. I learned by asking the Goddess Sigyn for help. At one point in my life Nerthus stepped in and offered Her aid. Ancestral veneration is a very important part of my religion (Heathenry). Those who have hurtful relationships with their parents may struggle with this and yet our ancestors can be our most powerful allies in untangling the knotted, ragged threads of our family wyrd. We may have to go back several generations, to those ancestors whose faces and names do not bring pain, but doing so can be very valuable. When all else fails, each of us is entitled to call upon “the Mothers,” our most ancient, female ancestors, the tribal mothers of our individual lines. They are there, they can hear, they will help. There are secular sources as well: prayer and therapy can work very well hand in hand. The important thing is to know that are things we can do.

This may seem like a rather grim Mother’s Day message but perhaps it is a necessary one. It’s easy to honor the mothers who get it right. It’s not so easy to honor those that don’t; yet I think they too need to be honored. It is more than simply that bad parents show us how not to parent. They show us the tremendous and painful long term impact that poor parenting, poverty, neglect, emotional trauma, abuse can have generation after generation. They show us why loving parenting, healthy parenting is so important. It is what they have to bring to this table, the best they can give, coming as it does from their own devastation. As we honor the good, let us honor the injured who walk among us too. Then let us commit to doing all we can to seeing we never inflict that type of damage on another.

Grant me patience, O my beloved Dead,
To see the long view, and remember that what I do
Affects a million million souls I will never know (2).


1. excerpted from R. Kaldera’s “A Parent’s Prayer for Patience” from pages 16-17 of the forthcoming devotional “Be Thou My Hearth and Shield,” edited by Elizabeth Vongvisith, published by Asphodel Press.
2. excerpted from R. Kaldera’s ‘Prayer for the Ancestors” from p. 91 of the forthcoming devotional “Be Thou My Hearth and Shield,” edited by Elizabeth Vongvisith, published by Asphodel Press.