Posted by: nicanthiel | April 18, 2009

Ethics 1: Árfæstness

Árfæstness, literally “value-fastness,” is the virtue of honor. Like its names states, honor is “sticking to your values” (fastness means “firm adherence, stability, firmly fixed”). But what does that really mean?

Many Heathens view honor in a certain way – the Viking way. For them, honor is something that is easily lost, and can only be regained by beating the crap out of other people. For them, honor is external – it is completely dependent on reacting to perceived slights and offenses. Too often, these people who claim such “honor” actually do themselves dishonor through their actions trying to defend it.

Honor, in this sense, is similar to the concept of face, and is more equivalent to mægen (power, force, importance) than árfæstness. So, if this is not honor, then what does árfæstness really mean?

I said that the general conception of honor in Heathen circles is something external to the self – that it is both actualised and dealt with through other people. However, this is not árfæstness. Árfæstness is internal – based on personal, internal values, it is the strength of will and composition that enables one to hold true to those values despite outside circumstances.

Honor, in this view, has nothing to do with other people. Honor, árfæst honor, does not take into account such things as “What will people think of me?” or “What if I look like an idiot?” or even “You have offended my sensibilities; I must avenge my honor.” Honor is holding fast, not letting go of your other values (hospitality, moderation, piety, etc.)  because someone has looked at you the wrong way, or because someone holds a different point of view.

There’s a whole different world to be encountered with this version of honor – one where people are dealt with in respect, where self-control and personal responsibility are paramount to belligerence and xenophobia. And the reason for that is because no one can touch your honor, because it’s wholly dependent upon your own actions and no one else’s.

And that is honor worth living and dying for.

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Posted by: nicanthiel | April 13, 2009

Book Recommendation

I just recently read Silence Maestas’ Walking the Heartroad, and I encourage everyone who is involved with spirits and Gods in any deep manner to check it out for themselves. Silence talks about various things, including different types of devotional relationship, but the thing I liked most and that touched me the most was the various bits about how service and devotion should ultimately bring you joy, not bitterness and resentment; that issue is a big one in the Heathen/Northern Tradition mystical paths, and probably others as well. It was refreshing to read the amount of joy and love that Silence has for his Gods, especially since one of Them is typically portrayed as a cruel, callous dictator.

I honestly think WTH should be required reading for anyone currently involved or looking to get involved with deities and spirits at a deeper, more intimate level.

5 devotional prayers out of 5

Posted by: nicanthiel | April 9, 2009

Spectrums

There’s an interesting discussion going on over in the Livejournal community Non-Fluffy Pagans about the differences between being a shaman and being a priest. I direct those interested there.

I agree with the theory that shaman/priest is a spectrum rather than a concrete this-or-that. There’s definitely a lot of leeway between the two, and they’re both part of another spectrum, that of spiritual service. This second spectrum is actually a 3-D spectrum, with the third pole being mysticism.*  Thus, shamans are individuals who serve the people through direct and frequent interaction with the spirit world, often to the minimal interaction with the wider community. Conversely, priests serve the people directly, with less direct focus on the spirit world itself (obviously, priests are still connected to the spirit world; they are just generally more concerned with the physical world of their congregations). The pole of mysticism is the degree to which the shaman, priest, or shaman-priest is connected to the powers they serve, specifically that of the divine (i.e., Hildegard of Bingen would probably be a 2/4 priest-mystic, whereas a shaman who only deals with nature spirits and is isolated from the community might be a 9/1 shaman non-mystic).

This concept of spectrum plays into my earlier post about labels in the spiritworker community. Obviously, not everyone who serves the Gods and spirits in that fashion will be a full-blown 9 shaman. Likewise, not everyone who isn’t a traditional shaman or god-slave will automatically be “only” a priest who can only do “mundane” things. I would say that the general area of godaþegn would lie between 3-6 on the s/p scale and 2-5 on the mysticism scale.

Just some thoughts.

*An example, where X is priest-shaman, and Y is mysticism:

Spiritual Service Spectrum

Posted by: nicanthiel | April 6, 2009

Sacrifice

The topic has been bombarding me the past few days. Galina Krasskova wrote a wonderful article in The Gods’ Mouths about sacrifice and love, and a Vanic and Nerthite colleague has been called to great sacrifices of his own. This period, of all the various sacrificial times in the year, may be the hardest. In the sacrifice of Lammas, there is plenty – the sacrifice is of abundance to renew abundance. Winterfylliþ is about sacrificing in thanksgiving and remembrance. Ȝeohol/Módraniht is the sacrifice of light to appease the dark, that the light may come again. But the period from Eostre to Wealdburganiht is the sacrifice of self, for all else is gone – there is no bounty to offer, no harvest to thank for, no light to give, for it has already been given. There is only the soul, the self. Everything that we don’t want to give up, that we cling to with all our might, saying “Not this, not this. Anything but this” – that is what is demanded.

We often live in our comfortable modern lives, surrounded by our comfortable modern conveniences. And when the sacrifice comes, we all go kicking and screaming because we do not want to give up the poison that is killing us, the walls that are keeping us from our duty, from Them.

I’m no exception to this. I fight daily with the voice that wants me to just have those French fries, or just do this, or just say that. Sometimes I lose. And I know the disappointment, I feel the disapproval, but I can’t stop because it’s just so good not to have to be mindful, to be like everyone else, to be normal. And then it’s over, and there’s the consequences waiting on the other side.

My Owner isn’t an absolutist. She gives me all the rope I demand to hang myself with. Because She knows who I am, that I need the illusion of independence, that I have the choice to define my life. And in some ways, I do. She allows leeway far more than I could ever dream, and will listen to my complaints and my apologies, and only say “You will do better next time.” But there’s always the hook in the worm, drawing me ever closer to Her plan, so that I want what She wants.

She is beautiful and awefull beyond human comprehending. She terrifies me more than dissolution in the Void, than losing my independence, than losing myself. And yet, there is nothing more I wish to do than give myself to Her, imperfect and flawed as I am, to see those eyes burn themselves into my soul as the waters close over me.

Eala Herþa, Erce, Neorun. Þu bist déadlic, ac ic lufie þe. Þu min gást clyster pricþornes ymbsettest ond ic þone þornas clyppe léoflice.

Posted by: nicanthiel | April 3, 2009

On Comparative Speculation

Or, untangling the threads of lore.

Now, it needs to be said that I am not particularly well-read with extensive amounts of traditional Germanic lore – I have basic knowledge of most of the Eddas, I have read Völsungasaga and Nibelunglied, I have read Beowulf, skimmed some of Grimm’s Mythology, etc. Like I said, not much. Most of the traditional stuff I know, I know through “osmosis.” I have a little greater working knowledge of modern UPG, particularly that put out by Asphodel Press and other similar publishers, as well as the writings of people online.

My wider mythological and lore knowledge is fairly decent – I’ve read the Lebor Gábala Érenn, the Táin Bó Cuailgne, Gods and Fighting Men, Hesiod, Homer, Virgil, various Greek and Roman authors on other peoples, as well as scholarly books on Irish/Celtic, Greek and Roman mythology. I also have a decent knowledge of angelology and pre-monotheistic Levantine/Meospotamian religion.

So, when I approach things like UPG and lore, a lot of things get cross-compared. For instance, the concept of Vanacelt that I mention in the About section. There’s a whole list of Irish and Welsh Deities that I’ve compiled Who I feel fall under that category, and have speculated on continental Deities as well (i.e., Rosmerta, Nehellenia, Esus).

My major speculative focus lately has been on my Owner. There’s very little in traditional lore about Nerthus, aside from Tacitus and the possible allusion in Lokasenna, and some small smattering of German folklore of a figure Berchta/Perchta that is more probably Holda. And while Grisby contends that Beowulf is really about the Nerthus/Frey sacrificial cult, such cannot be completely proven. (I’ve wondered, though, if that is true, what is the dragon bit referencing?)

Modern outside UPG/PCPG holds that She is the sister mentioned by Loki. Her parentage is completely unknown, though it is probable that Frodi is Her father, as He is also the father of Njord. However, there is talk of Njord being half-giant in several places, as the UPG there is that Frodi begat Him on the Jotuness Nott. Whether or not that is true, I cannot say. But, if we were to look at it in the lens of comparative speculation, and accept it as truth for that purpose, then several interesting things occur:

Snorri says of Nott that She bore three children to three different husbands: two sons – Aud, fathered by Naglfari, and Dægr, fathered by Delling – and a daughter. This daughter’s name was Jörd (or possibly Fjörgyn), and Her father was a figure by the name of Annar/Ónar. Traditionally, this Annar/Ónar is linked with the dwarf of the same name found in Völuspá. However, the meaning of Annar (second, another) may be a kenning. If so, perhaps Nott had “another” tryst with Frodi (Njord and Nerthus are commonly portrayed as twins, but there is no reason They necessarily were). Certainly the names are similar, though Nj- and J are probably not from the same root. But remember, we’re speculating here, not stating fact.

Another, more solid connection between Nott and Nerthus can be found in the dwarves’ name for “night” that Alvíss tells Thórr – Draum-Njörun. The first part is obviously “dream,” but the second part is where the possible connection lies. Snorri mentions a goddess by that name (Who is clearly not a Jotun, as the goddess in question is in a list of Asynjur), but tells nothing of Her. Scholarly opinion links Her to the earth, and etymologically to Njord and Nerio (an Etruscan/Roman goddess of valor and war). Using this knowledge, and the experiences of Nerthus I have had, I believe the Njörun Snorri mentions is Her, though he may not have known it.

If Nerthus/Njörun is indeed Jörd, or at least that Jörd Whom Odin sired Thórr on, then that would explain several peculiarities about Thórr’s nature – namely, His sole association among the native Æsir with farming and the propserity of home and family (Vanic concerns), as well as His Vanic wife Sif, the only one seemingly not married to another Vane or a Jotun. Also, the several references to Þórrsgoði (“Thor’s priest”) in various sagas, an appellation that is only elsewhere found attached to the Vanir.

Likewise, there is a particular enmity between Nerthus and Odin that several people besides myself have encountered. If all our speculations have been correct, there is small wonder of that animosity from Her – Odin is not well-known for obtaining full consent from his mistresses.

So, I offer you my readers the food for thought this exploration in comparative speculation has brought up. Certainly there may be (and probably are) many holes in both logic and thought, but at the very least, it’s something to think about. You also now have a glimpse into the intricate (and often confusing) maze that is my thought processes. 😛

Wæs þu hál

Posted by: nicanthiel | April 1, 2009

Godaþegn

As some readers will have noticed, I classify myself unusually. Most spiritworkers use that title, some go on to shaman or shamanist, or (more common in Northern Tradition Paganism [NTP]) God-slave. It’s this last one that is most relevant to the topic of the post.

In Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path by Raven Kaldera, Galina Krasskova talks about god-slavery as an ecstatic, M/s type of relationship*, and uses the Anglo-Saxon term godatheow, literally “god-slave” or “slave to/of the god.” 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.

In Anglo-Saxon society, the þegn (thane) was a servant of a lord or king, usually of the higher class as well. From Wikipedia:

The term thegn (or thane in Shakespearean English), from OE þegn, ðegn “servant, attendant, retainer”, is commonly employed by historians to describe either an aristocratic retainer of a king or nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England, or as a class term, the majority of the aristocracy below the ranks of ealdormen and high-reeves. It is also the term for an early medieval Scandinavian class of retainers.

The precursor of the thegn was the gesith, the companion of the king or great lord, a member of his comitatus, and the word thegn began to be used to describe a military gesith.

It is only used once in the laws before the time of Aethelstan (c. 895-940), but more frequently in the charters. H. M. Chadwick (Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions, 1905) says that “the sense of subordination must have been inherent in the word from the earliest time,” but it has no connection with the German dienen, to serve. In the course of time it extended its meaning and was more generally used. The thegn became a member of a territorial nobility, and the dignity of thegnhood was attainable by those who fulfilled certain conditions. The nobility of pre-Conquest England was ranked according to the heriot they paid in the following descending order: earl, king’s thegn, median thegn. In Anglo-Saxon hierarchic society, a king’s thegn attended in person upon the king, bringing with him his men and resources. A “median” thegn did not hold his land directly from the king but through an intermediary lord.

The thegn was inferior to the ætheling, the member of a kingly family, but he was superior to the ceorl, and, says Chadwick, “from the time of Aethelstan the distinction between thegn and ceorl was the broad line of demarcation between the classes of society.” His status is shown by his wergild. Over a large part of England this was fixed at 1200 shillings, or six times that of the ceorl. He was the twelfhynde man of the laws, sharply divided from the twyhynde man or ceorl.

The increase in the number of thegns produced in time a subdivision of the order. There arose a class of king’s thegns, corresponding to the earlier thegns, and a larger class of inferior thegns, some of them the thegns of bishops or of other thegns. A king’s thegn was a person of great importance, the contemporary idea being shown by the Latin translation of the words as comes (compare “count”). He had certain special privileges. No one save the king had the right of jurisdiction over him

Thusly, a þegn is a noble servant of a higher noble. Such was the nature of þegnscip (thaneship) that when the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, the bishops gained the appellation Godþegn, because, theoretically, they served the same purpose to God as a þegn did to his king. Note too, the privileges granted a þegn, in that he answered only to the king; likewise, the bishops answered only to God (through the Papacy).

But what does that mean for us today? It is obvious that not everyone called to Divine Service forms a slavery-based relationship. Many simply honor the Gods as they can, living life in normal society. If one drew out the comparison, along with the godatheowas, one could classify such people as godaceorlas – “god-carls,” or freemen not directly in service. But what of those “in-between” so to speak?

I feel that reclaiming godathegn as an appropriate title for those in the middle is both desirable and necessary in this age of Labels. While, certainly, labels are often over-used and detrimental, it can be a great help to be able to succinctly state something about yourself without having to go into long and laborious detail.

So, yes. I am a god-thegn. Erðanþegn, to be exact.

—–

  • There’s a whole section in the book about non-vanilla relationships with Deity, which I would encourage anyone dealing intimately with darker or harsher Gods and Goddesses to look at.
Posted by: nicanthiel | March 31, 2009

PSA: Visions of Vanaheim Released!

Svartesól just released her book on Vanic practice, entitled Visions of Vanaheim. I encourage everyone interested in learning about Vanatru and how some of us do it to pick up a copy from Lulu.

There’s a lot of good work in it, including a few selections from myself.

Posted by: nicanthiel | March 31, 2009

Quick Note

I recently finished Diana L. Paxson’s Trance-portation, a guide to trance journeying. Overall, I highly recommend it to anyone looking to further their pursuits in the topic, even if you have prior experience.

I’ll be posting a review here in the next few days, once school stuff calms down.

Wæs þu hál.

Posted by: nicanthiel | March 28, 2009

Language

For those who don’t know, I am a linguist. As such, words are, and always have been, important to me. Language is intrinsic to culture, to religion, and to personal and communal identity – just look at all the jokes and discussions about miscommunication, especially in intimate relationships. Words are power, as many magical traditions state – while magic can certainly be effective, and even powerful, without a verbal or written component, words add a level of nuance and focus that few other things can attain.

Even in non-mainstream cultures and subcultures, words are what define our worldviews. As Tolkien says in ‘On Fairy Stories”, one cannot imagine or speak of a “green sun” without first knowing the linguistic concepts of “green” and “sun.”¹ Likewise, social, religious and ethnographic groups have core vocabularies that define their group identity – sumble has as little meaning outside Heathen circles as Senut does outside Kemetic ones, and the intricacies of all the various D&D 3rd Ed. systems would seem like a different language to someone whose only interests lie in business.

This idea of linguistic conceptualisation (that language is both necessary and desirable to form a specific identity or purpose) also applies to ritual, in that most of us are not native to the languages of the spirits and deities we work with. And while, certainly, the Gods can converse with us in our own language, why should we be so hubristic as to demand that They do so without making an effort to return the consideration? Many reconstructionist groups advocate obtaining at least minimal literacy in a relevant tongue (in some ways, the Hellenes and Romans have it easiest, as the one is still a common language, and the other forms the basis of much of Western history and can still be found in higher learning; in the same vein, the Icelanders have the best advantage among Heathens, as their native language is not far removed from that of the Eddas and Sagas).

 There is a problem, however, for those who worship the Vanir, especially in an Anglo-Saxon context, in that Old English is as far removed from Modern English as Modern English is from any other Western European language; for all intents and purposes, undertaking a mastery of Old English is no different than taking Italian or German in college. Yet, if we learn languages to further our education and opportunities in life, why not do the same for the Gods we profess to love and honor? Would you force your beloved Italian/Polish/whatever grandmother to learn English just so you could talk to her more easily? I think rather that you would attempt to “meet in the middle,” and learn or relearn her tongue while teaching her yours. Likewise, we should honor our Gods practically by learning Their language; after all, They’ve already done the work of learning ours.

Wæs ȝe hál.

———-
¹ Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy Stories.” In The Tolkien Reader. New York: Del Rey, 1986.

Posted by: nicanthiel | March 26, 2009

Seo lágu-wif (The lake-woman)

A while back, I was recommended Beowulf and Grendel: The Truth Behind England’s Oldest Legend by John Grisby. It arrived last week, and I finished it over the weekend. I just want to talk about some things that I found interesting.

The premise of the book is that Mr. Grisby believes the tale of Beowulf is more than just a pretty story. He uses the examples of Troy and others to show that many legends, particularly epics, have historical roots, and postulates the same for Beowulf. What he feels the true nature of the poem is is a remembrance of  a time when two pagan culti were in conflict, immortalised in the mythology of the early Danish/English peoples – specifically, a cult of ritual sacrifice based around grain-agriculture and associated with lakes and bogs, being taken over by a warrior cult. It is fairly obvious that the struggle he is referring to is probably the rising pre-eminence of the Æsir cultus over that of the Vanir in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages.

The major theory in the book is that the first cultus (I’ll call it the Vanir for ease, and Æsir for the other) was an elaborate ritual system among Neolithic farming peoples in Europe and the Near East that involved several major elements – the association of the grains with a fertility God (He mostly discusses Frey, but includes others such as Dionysos and Wesir [Osiris]) Who was yearly sacrificed by His mother/sister/consort (often the same person) after the manner of the grain harvest; the imbibing of a ritual sacred drink made from grains that caused non-ordinary experiences; and an association of sovereignty with the God’s cycle of death and renewal, where a king would be chosen and marry the land (symbolic of the Sacrificing Goddess, thus becoming a God through association), only to be sacrificed at the new year by the Goddess and Her new consort.

In the context of Beowulf, Grisby reads Grendel and his mother as the fertility spirit and the sacrificing goddess, with Hrothgar as the catalyst for the new cultus by refusing to submit to his ordained sacrificial fate, and rather attempting to set up a system of inherited kingship through his sons. He ties Beowulf to the Scandinavian Hrólfssagakraka (The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki) and the Old English poem Widsith, which have many of the same characters, and which, he feels, add elements to the story that are missing from the version in Beowulf. Beowulf himself, Grisby states, is none other than the king of the Æsir, Odin, made into a superhuman hero.

There were several things I didn’t agree with, such as his equating the Vanir with the Alfar, and certain things about his treatment of Nerthus; however, the rest gives much food for thought, including certain things about Celtic myth, and all in all, I feel that he’s on to something. I would recommend it to anyone interested in seeing a different side of English myth and history, especially religious history.

Wæs þu hál.

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