Let’s Talk About Incarcerated Heathens

The general population does not have a very high opinion of people who are, or have been, in prison. I remember being as young as 12 and hearing rumors about plastic surgery, niche therapy and otherwise non-essential care being provided to people on death row. These were all told with the heavy implication that these people are worthless and have it “too good.”

The reality is very different. There’s hoops to jump through just to get a tooth pulled, no matter what your conviction was about.

This perception doesn’t improve once people are released. Employers often refuse to hire convicted felons, but having a steady job is a requirement of parole in most areas. Being in prison leaves large gaps in your life that are, at best, awkward to explain. There is a huge social stigma attached to it, which creates a serious barrier to resuming a normal life. Incarceration often traumatizes people, creating yet another barrier to reintegrating with society because trauma is a profoundly alienating and lonely experience. It’s really not surprising in these circumstances that over half of all people released from prison eventually go back, often for a parole violation. Personality and habit alone do not explain this.

The prison system theoretically isn’t supposed to make people magically disappear. But a lot of people behave as if they assume or wish this were the case.

One would hope, as members of a religious minority that is often either invisible or stigmatized, we’d be a little more charitable to people paddling up the same creek in a different boat. This is not often the case. Obsessive Tru Warrior types are all too glad to slap these people with the label of níðing, proclaim them oath-breakers and discard them as dishonorable.

I hate this approach.

The vast majority of people sent to prison are eventually released. Approximately 90% of all people currently in prison in the US will eventually leave it. That means that many Heathens in prison right now, statistically speaking, will eventually be back in our communities. We can choose to make that our problem, or make it an opportunity. Either way, it is of our concern.

There is also a strong tendency among the prison population to become religious. It is vital for people in prison to have some kind of support structure, and anyone involved in Heathenry (on the inside or outside) can attest that the gods and a good community do wonders for our well-being. Remember how I said over half of all people released from prison eventually go back? The rate of recidivism is lower for inmates who receive competent religious or spiritual care. Religious organizations have an incredibly important role in the reintegration process, and society directly benefits from ensuring that incarcerated Heathens have these needs met.

This is true of all faiths, but Heathens in particular are under-served.

There’s a few complications with resolving this, as with anything. A declaration of faith often dictates your social circle in prison, and there’s a definite correlation between white supremacy and putting some form of Heathenry on your paperwork as a result. This is made worse by the fact that various racist organizations both in and outside of prison feed off of this. And then the DOC shuts down Heathen volunteer programs out of (unfortunately, justified) concerns for gang activity.

For sincere Heathens who aren’t seeking community for a social life or an ego trip, but out of devotion for the gods, this sucks. Prison is not a pleasant place to be. It’s not meant to be, but these Heathens are denied a very necessary service that would drastically improve their experience and behavior on the inside, and their chances upon release.

Because, yes, on top of reducing recidivism rates, competent spiritual care reduces the number of infractions while in prison.

Universalist/Inclusive Heathens have an important job to do when it comes to reducing the amount of racism in our religion. Tactics may differ, but they all require work. Prison ministry is a valuable opportunity to redirect people in a bad situation to a healing and progressive framework. Even if we can’t make people stop being racist, supporting inclusive Heathen prison ministry at least means we have a better chance of preventing further indoctrination from Heathen organizations with a malicious, racist agenda.

Robert L. Schreiwer tackles this in the In-Reach Charter (all emphasis mine):

*Whether inmates have access to positive Heathen influences is part of a larger issue that has an impact on the whole of the Heathen community.* In many cases, the perception of Heathenry is defined by radical racist elements from the prison population.

The administrators are not blindly or randomly inventing their perceptions; the perceptions have formed from the presence of race-based books, tattoos, and gang behaviors that have been found among the Heathen prison population. A radicalization based on race and/or ethnicity is taking place in some facilities. When these radical racists are released into the general population, the history of their experience and influence will become an even bigger problem for us than it is now. Thus, *prison outreach efforts are a frithful move to protect the folk from this destructive radicalization.* This program meets a need that supersedes the unpaid debt of individual prisoners.

Programs like In-Reach have stepped up to the plate, now armed with this knowledge, and with the goal of ensuring that incarcerated Heathens have competent spiritual advisors. Appalachian Pagan Ministry is doing the same.

This is a big part of why pursuing ordination is one of my major life goals. This kind of work is immensely important.

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Old Gods, New Tricks

Recently, as I was stuffing pork bones into a ziplock to make soup later, my dad said “you’ve become such a homesteader!”

Since I don’t have an actual backyard farm or a little house on the prairie, I asked “how so?” To which he replied “well, trying to grow food, cooking everything from scratch, making bone broth, whittling and chopping wood, this Old Norse thing.”

And…he’s not wrong. I did end up Googling the money and space required for having a small flock of sheep later that day, since my absurd backup life goal is becoming a shepherd. As it turns out, it’s roughly 1,000 USD before fencing and maintenance costs, and five ewes would fit comfortably in the front yard. So I have the space, but not the budget.

In talking to other Heathens, I’ve noticed there’s a definite trend to become a little old fashioned. But in a wholesome and self-sufficient way by picking up forgotten skills, as opposed to nostalgia for an age that never existed. We have a high proportion of artisans, brewers, fiber workers, accomplished home cooks and backyard farmers. Some of us end up being bushcrafters and preppers. And this usually kicks in after being scooped up by the gods, with surprising regularity and frequency.

It’s happened to me, as well. I had been cooking from scratch and playing with yarn for a while, but the desire to make my own Sauerkraut, naalbind, work with wood and contemplate spinning my own yarn (while possibly raising sheep for the fiber) came after Heathenry.

While I wholeheartedly believe the gods are willing to adapt a bit to our modern life (especially considering the internet is the best recruiting and networking tool for Heathenry), they seem keen on us being as handy as possible.

I doubt this is doomsday prep. Odin’s concept of that is wandering around and picking up esoteric wisdom, not stockpiling non-perishables. Considering the survivors of Ragnarok are already pre-assigned, I’m not sure how much good rice and chocolate bars would do you, anyhow. And I doubt that our gods would nudge such creatures of habit as humans to alter our lifestyles for the aesthetic. It’s not a compelling reason and doesn’t add a whole lot to our personal development. Ask any former mallgoth.

Some of this can also be easily explained by a stronger tendency among pagans for environmentalism, frugality and being more mindful about our use of resources–which all lead to a lot of the same behaviors.

We also, for many of the same reasons we gravitate towards otherwise forgotten faiths and gods, have a fondness for history. Depending on your path, you’re likely to be doing a lot of research anyway, so it stands to reason that you’d come across a lot of older skillsets in that process.

Are we just trying to get in touch with something archaic on our own, because we find it interesting? Because the land is frequently part of our spirituality? Because we think it gives us better insight to how the people who originally honored our gods lived?

Better insight to the gods themselves, even? Skills like fiber spinning, animal husbandry, farming and brewing were utterly vital to human survival before mass-production. And the same mentality applied to the gods. It makes sense, then, that it would have been considered laudable and sacred work. Hence, the importance of Frigg, Thor, Frey and Aegir as participants in, and representations of, that work.

Perhaps our gods nudge us towards it, as part of a larger scheme to develop us as humans. To make us more capable, more productive, more contemplative. To connect us with history, for the sake of a better understanding of our place in the big picture.

I don’t know for certain. And to an extent, I suspect that is particular to the god and devotee, as well.

All I know is, the gods have kind of ruined modern life for me, in the best possible way.

Further reading (and watching):

Spin Like a Viking,” by Lois Swales on YouTube

Vikings Didn’t Knit! (Nalbinding)” by Good and Basic on YouTube

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Heathenry Changed Me–For the Better

Obviously, all religions come with certain expectations about conduct. There will probably always be disagreements about the finer points, but there are still overarching themes. There are certain rituals and observances with traditions you’re at least implicitly expected to use. Or to find a sufficiently similar approximation.

But major lifestyle changes? Heathenry doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of dogma, and explicitly didactic stuff like Havamal is mostly common sense, so I didn’t expect any major changes. They happened anyway.

When I swore my pledge in preparation for a lifelong oath, one of the requirements I set for myself was that my oath ring had to be on during waking hours, and other religious jewelry should ideally be worn, especially if I was leaving the house.

For the first two weeks, I didn’t wear my oath ring to bed. The natural chemical balance of my skin runs acidic and salty, so it tarnishes every metal I wear, except for stainless steel. (Probably purer gold alloys, too. But I don’t wear gold. Sorry, Gullveig.) My oath ring is made of copper, so I kept it on the altar to prevent my skin from damaging it, and because I was paranoid about rolling over on it and snapping it. This meant climbing out of bed as soon as I was alert, so I could put everything on.

I used to wake up at a pretty normal time, but then spend several hours catching up on social media, sneaking naps, and collecting myself before finally making coffee around 11AM. Putting myself in a situation where I had to get out of bed the instant I realized I was awake has forced me to start my day earlier. I may still crawl back into bed to stay warm and check feeds, but I definitely start my day a few hours earlier and catch myself looking for ways to get a head start on being productive. I suddenly have so much more time to get things done.

And considering I have ADHD, which often comes with bizarre sleep issues (more on that here) this was a feat. I have struggled for years to keep myself up at a “normal” time. Now that I’ve managed it, I crave it. Melatonin and coffee are still useful things to have on hand, and I’ll throw in the occasional nightcap, but these are all in pursuit of a functional relationship with sleep and daylight.

Religion has also nudged me into being more active. When I didn’t have the budget or the craft skills to dress up my shrines to my liking, I relied on found objects picked up on walks. I was walking upwards of 7 miles a day to collect cute rocks and offerings. I’m out of shape at the moment, but now that the weather’s a little kinder I’ll be right back to that level in no time flat.

There’s also a lot more emphasis on trying to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Part of that was downsizing to identify a manageable workload. The rest of it was picking up new skills and advancing the ones I already had. If you can cook well enough for yourself when you were used to prepackaged food, that’s an achievement on its own. But when you cook for the gods, the pressure is on to make more exciting choices and expand your repertoire.

And when idols are pricey to buy, and the ones on the market don’t suit your style, the next logical step is to figure out how to make your own. Which, incidentally, made me far more motivated to tidy up the yard in search of workable wood and finally learn how to properly work an axe.

Being a heathen has also drastically altered my relationship with alcohol. I was never an alcoholic (thank the gods) but I had a horrible tendency to binge and get blackout drunk on the rare occasion that I did drink. If I bought alcohol, it was a matter of finding the balance of a tolerable flavor, good price and sufficiently high %ABV. If someone else provided it, and didn’t intervene, I’d just grab whatever they permitted. I didn’t drink for pleasure. I just drank to get drunk.

You’d think, from the outside, that heathenry would encourage drinking, since it’s frequently included in our group rituals and we take our cues from the supposedly very sloshy Vikings. The Hávamál suggests something pretty different, though:

[12] Less good there lies | than most believe
In ale for mortal men;
For the more he drinks | the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.
[13] Over beer the bird | of forgetfulness broods,
And steals the minds of men;
With the heron’s feathers | fettered I lay
And in Gunnloth’s house was held.
[14] Drunk I was, | I was dead-drunk,
When with Fjalar wise I was;
‘Tis the best of drinking | if back one brings
His wisdom with him home.

Bearing in mind that alcohol snatches your wits has made me more likely to refuse, even when the opportunity is right in front of me at no apparent cost. Faceplanting on walls isn’t a good look. And I’m sure the gods find it funny, but what’s funny once is just really sad when you do it regularly. The real cost is a lot higher than what’s immediately obvious.

Which is something that having my fingertip crushed in a door during a bender put into painfully sharp focus.

So, I take the apple juice instead of the wine. Make instead of buy. Try to sleep and try to be mindful of my consumption and be generous with what I have. Try to be whatever it is the gods seem like they’re nudging me towards.

Wild goose chases aside (tricksters gonna trick), they haven’t really led me astray so far.

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How I Study the Poetic Edda

Translations of the mythology can be dense and a little bit dry. Personally, I like dense sources. But they do require more effort to pick apart, so I have a note-taking system in place. This allows me to not only absorb the information better, but also provides a compact source I can quickly refer to later.

When I took a poetry class, with a professor who specialized in Medieval literature and was kind enough to cover Lokasenna, she would have us do a quick skim to start. After that, she would ask us what we thought the Narrative Situation of the poem was. In other words, what it means, but without worrying about what it means. What is the event or story? What is the most obvious idea?

For example, in Völuspá, the Narrative Situation is the creation and destruction of the universe. In Rígsþula, it’s the origin of the social classes and the first king. Many of these poems are not able to be summarized in a single sentence, especially because the strength of poetry is its ability to transfer a vast amount of information in very few words.

So with that as my influence, I give it a quick read through and I take my first guess at the Narrative Situation. Then, I read the poem through again, while paraphrasing it in prose form. This can be a very serious and faithful paraphrasing, or a humorous one if it helps you. Half of my paraphrasing from studying Lokasenna is “and then Loki calls her a hoe.” Which, I mean…that’s not wrong. Simplistic, yes, but not inaccurate.

The next step is background research to improve your understanding. This is easy with Dronke’s translations, because she follows up each poem with several pages of notes. With her translation, I make note of anything that:

  • Corrects a mistaken assumption I made on the first read through
  • Provides a better understanding of the language, like explanations of kennings and wordplay
  • Provides useful historical or cultural context, like folk customs and events that may have influenced the poet’s portrayal of the story
  • Provides broader mythological context, like comparing archetypes and common narratives

Plus, I take notes on anything that’s just plain interesting or any other connections I make while doing the background research. As a Heathen, you’re studying this for spiritual use, so you can have fun with it.

Also, Dronke’s translations are hard to get a hold of. Carolyne Larrington, who was a student of Dronke, also has a translation available with many of the same merits–with the added benefit of still being in print, and therefore far less expensive.

When making notes on your background research or translator’s commentary, cite or make a note (like a page number or site name) to locate your source later. This way, you can go back and compare if new information comes along.

Something I haven’t included before, but that I’d like to start doing, is taking note of which poems and stories reference each other. Part of this is because intertextuality simply interests me. Poems like Völuspá and Lokasenna, for example, are very intertextual. But it’s also because I have a hypothesis that stories which reference one another more may potentially reflect a more reliable group of narratives. There is no guarantee of that, obviously, but this is just an idea I’d like to explore further.

Intertextuality is worth noting, either way, because it will help you understand certain flourishes used in a poem and the broader context.

I’d also like to start further exploring the symbolic meanings of a story when I study it. The symbolism of a poem is something that is useful in a religious context, because our gods have an abstract link to many concrete things in our world. Additionally, with stories like Baldrs Draumr, that helps us separate the distinctly heathen elements from later influences on the texts.

Yet another thing I’d like to start doing is writing down any questions I still have after studying the poem and taking explanatory notes, so I know what to keep in mind while doing other research.

I knew most of the stories long before I started this system, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how much more I’m getting out of it this way, and how much more sense things make this time around. Hopefully, this helps anyone starting to study the Eddas, or who wants to take a fresh look at them.

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Tough Love Exists

I think one of the weirder things I have learned from Loki is how to accept tough love.

Tough love is a weird and unwelcome concept for a lot of people. A lot of people hide malicious intentions behind the idea of tough love. People with agendas, or a sense of selfishness they refuse to rein in, are often needlessly harsh and fall back on claiming to mean well to avoid consequences. In retaliation, other, better-meaning people want to claim that love shouldn’t hurt, ever. Under any circumstances. Even this crowd hides its own creeping agenda, as a refusal of negative experience is also often a refusal of consequences. All these people do is sour the concept.

Tough love in its true form is best known in the context of addiction recovery, as that’s where the concept originates. While I’ve never grappled with substance abuse, trauma recovery brings out many of the same symptoms, carries much of the same baggage, and results in similarly bad behavior.

I’m a traumatized person, and I need tough love.

The way I have managed my trauma before receiving professional and divine help…didn’t work. Recovery just isn’t something you can do by feel, when the entire problem is that your brain has betrayed you. What makes sense does not necessarily have any genuine logic to it. Just because something feels dangerous or impossible doesn’t mean it really is. Alternately, just because something feels justified in your fear, doesn’t make it so.

I threw hairbrushes at people and screamed unthinkable insults at the love of my life over the stupidest things. It was not sustainable, and I needed a change that I was unwilling to make.

Loki’s a pretty well established boundary-violator. That is terrifying when your trauma comes from violated boundaries to begin with. And you can always, theoretically, say no. Low-value efforts will not be pushed farther than you allow them to be. Our relationships with the gods are a mutual investment–and our gods have things to do, they’re not going to invest in something pointless.

But always saying no doesn’t get you places. You know this. Your therapist knows this. Your gods know this. Someone in this team has to give you a hard time when something is important. If Loki’s on that team, it’ll most likely be him.

And I needed to be used to the idea that other people are smarter than me and have a valuable perspective. A power dynamic is great for making you accept that. It’s hard to believe it with other humans, because we’re all theoretically on the same level and a lot of us are really stupid. I say this on the grounds that am a human who is really stupid.

And part of distinguishing tough love from malice is recognizing that there is a difference between fearing and being afraid. To fear is to know that there can be consequences if you step out of line, and trusting that these consequences will be survivable and done for a good reason. To be afraid is to fear consequences and to refuse them by any means necessary.

I fear Loki. But I am not afraid of Loki. He is often annoying, and kind of a dick. But he acts with good reason.

And when you are throwing objects at people because you refuse to take a joke, lashing out at strangers on the internet and dropping commitments, torching bridges for petty reasons and sabotaging yourself when you really need to cut someone out, refusing to leave your house…you can’t live like that. You need a loving kick in the ass.

And Loki is more than happy to oblige.

If I had not been pestered into doing some pretty heavy shadow work, I’d be in worse shape than I already was. By contrast, I’m a much more functional person who can recognize when the Bad Brains are acting up, and who has the skills to start addressing the problem and dig up the root.

Religion isn’t a substitute for therapy. But it makes a great supplement.

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My Ancestor Veneration Has No Ancestors

AKA No Wire Hangers in my Ørlog, EVER.

I have never really felt fortunate about the idea that I inherit the deeds of my familial ancestors. We have some truly terrible people in my family tree. I am not honored, flattered or proud to be tied to them by blood. It’s a millstone on my neck.

Perhaps in more of a Juniper Tree sense than a New Testament sense.

And the obsession with genetics in a Heathen context is…creepy. The dog whistles are shrill.

Family is of little value to me in terms of metaphorical inheritance. Frankly, I’m more interested in what I’ve inherited culturally. The objects and tools (both concrete and abstract) that people create say so much more about us than our family names. Our languages, our habits, our codes of conduct, our specific ways of relating to one another and the world that we’re thrust into, are all vastly more important to me.

That is what I choose to honor.

In the skills realm, I’m a knitter, a crocheter, a naalbinder and a tablet-weaver–continuing a variety of utilitarian skills that ensured our survival and became vehicles of culture. My dad made sure I knew how to use tools, some of which were antiques. I picked up whittling on a whim (actually, to avoid spending money on hair forks), and it’s becoming an important lesson in slowing down and trusting the process of unleashing the potential of wood.

My lofty goal is to take up spinning, because it’s the foundation of all of the fiber arts I use–something that woodworking will help with, too, so I can make my own spindles. If I could sew worth a darn (sorry), I’d probably be quilting as well. My grandmom is a big deal in the quilting niche, but while I’m the spitting image of her, I didn’t quite inherit her grasp of how shapes interlock, or her confidence with a machine. Majoring in math or calmly removing yourself after getting trapped in the machine (which happened to her!) are not, as it turns out, heritable traits.

Nor did I get her ability to casually brush off injuries. Grandma slipped and smacked her head on a metal-reinforced corner in her kitchen, and then calmly walked to get stitches. You should have seen the wall.


If you do any handicraft, you’ll know that you begin to relate differently to objects related to your skillset. I used to think wool was an awful, scratchy material. Knowing how deeply important wool has always been to people in cold and wet climates, and how much variety is available depending on sheep breed and treatment has changed that. Wool–especially fresh, greasy wool–absorbs very little water compared to most natural fibers and stays warm when wet. Now I never wear a plastic layer in the rain, and am still perfectly comfortable from neck to knees even when it’s pouring.

I’ll see sweaters that I used to think were just ugly or tacky, and now take a few minutes to appreciate the prominent stitch pattern, the texture of garter versus seed stitch versus stockinette and ribbing, the elaborate intarsia or stranding, and try to guess at what size needles they would have been made on. I think about whether, for handmade sweaters, the knitter was a continental-style picker, or an English-style thrower like me. Or maybe they knitted with their yarn tensioned over the back of their neck, or their working needle clamped against their ribs.

I’m starting to notice this tendency with wood working, too. You’d be surprised how many spoons there are in a tree. Or bowls. Or miniature viking ships, if I am ever ambitious enough to try and hack it. Any given stump looks like a promising drum frame. God poles and runes lurk in widowmakers. A collapsing mulberry tree looks like it has a secret spindle waiting to be liberated–and some rune sets for my Urglaawische friends, to boot.

My ancestors are not my family. Genetics and family names are happenstance. My ancestors are the wool- and wood-workers who kept us alive and created objects that made life more enjoyable. Being born a certain way is not an achievement. Nobody chooses to be born, let alone how. Using our gifts as human beings to bring comfort and comprehension into our existence–that is something to celebrate.

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Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air

By Bloodofox (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Snaptun stone is a hearth stone that was found in 1950 on a Danish beach, though the soapstone from which it was carved originated elsewhere in Scandinavia. It was most likely made around 1000 AD, and has two holes drilled into it that allow the user to insert the tip of a bellows into the front and pump air out of the top. This protects the bellows from the heat of the flame.

Now, we (by which I mean “everyone invested in knowing what this artifact is”) are reasonably sure that this is an image of Loki judging by the stitched mouth. I could absolutely do without the Dick Dastardly mustache, but it is what it is.

The idea that the Snaptun stone portrays Loki makes sense, especially given that there is an established connection between Loki’s lip scars and the working of bellows to keep a flame sufficiently hot in the Skáldskapármal. Namely, that Loki attempts to manipulate the outcome of his wager by sabotaging the dwarf working the bellows, and is punished by having his mouth sewn shut for doing so:

Then Sindre placed iron in the furnace, and requested Brok to work the bellows, adding that otherwise all would be worthless. Now the fly lighted between his eyes and stung his eye-lids, and as the blood ran down into his eyes so that he could not see, he let go of the bellows just for a moment and drove the fly away with his hands. Then the smith came back and said that all that lay in the furnace came near being entirely spoiled. Thereupon he took a hammer out of the furnace.


Then Loke offered to ransom his head. The dwarf answered saying there was no hope for him on that score. Take me, then! said Loke; but when the dwarf was to seize him Loke was far away, for he had the shoes with which he could run through the air and over the sea. Then the dwarf requested Thor to seize him, and he did so. Now the dwarf wanted to cut the head off Loke, but Loke said that the head was his, but not the neck. Then the dwarf took thread and a knife and wanted to pierce holes in Loke’s lips, so as to sew his mouth together, but the knife would not cut. Then said he, it would be better if he had his brother’s awl, (Note from me: Or his brother is the awl, if you ask Dr. Crawford) the awl and as soon as he named it the awl was there and it pierced Loke’s lips. Now Brok sewed Loke’s mouth together, and broke off the thread at the end of the sewing. The thread with which the mouth of Loke was sewed together is called Vartare (a strap).

The existence of the Snaptun stone is, for many, evidence of a link between Loki and fire. I’ve read Axel Olrik’s essay on the fire connection. (Mind, he pre-dates the rediscovery of the stone.) I’ve read Eldar Heide’s “Ash Lad” essay. I’ve read Dagulf Loptsson’s “Sacramental Fire” theories. I’m currently working through Stephen Grundy’s God in Flames, God in Fetters. But I’ve also read Jan de Vries’s The Problem of Loki, so I disagree, for a few reasons.

Continue reading “Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air”

For Jörð

Mín móðir hon er sum ein blóma
Hon er sum eitt livandi træ.

My mother, she is like a flower,
she is like a living tree.

– From “Mín móðir,” by Eivør.

Jörð does a lot for us.

She has given us the land we stand on. The water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, or bring into our homes to care for because we find them charming. All of this comes from her.

Even in our houses intended to buffer us from nature–built from the wood and stone, glass, and petroleum-derived plastic she provides–we strive to bring her in. We throw open our windows. We stop to smell and collect flowers, keeping them in vases made from sand-derived glass and dirt-derived ceramics. We seek out hiking trails and camping trips, buy little chunks of shiny rocks and metal mined from underground to adorn our bodies, and look forward to lying in the grass once the weather warms up and the winter thaw dries out.

When we die, Óðinn or Freyja or Hel take care of our spirits. But Jörð takes care of our bodies. She turns us into something new.

We love and admire her, even if we don’t realize it. Everything we have comes from her. I think as humans, we also fear her. But I suspect that this is why she is Thor’s mother. He softens the forces of nature. He protects us if we need it.

We owe her so much, and I hope we will someday manage to repay that debt. For her benefit, as well as our own.

A (Bus) Token of Appreciation

So I mentioned how (I’m pretty sure) local landvættir gave me bus tokens one time. That probably warrants a story, even if it’s just to illustrate how much flailing and guessing and silliness is involved in religion.

I was at a music festival and was inevitably under the influence, because that’s…just what you do at a music festival. I was the kind of Under The Influence that demands buying a chili cheese dog. I’m not naming the intoxicant or verifying any guesses, but that should be enough to guess. Gotta maintain plausible deniability, yanno?

The land this festival is on is a really nice place to wander through in the off-season, when it’s a hay farm. I suspect that, despite how trashed the place gets, the landvaettir feed off of all the loose energy, spilled food and drink, etc. that all the hippies leave in their wake. It seems like leaves start falling off the trees the day everyone packs up and goes home, even though it’s only halfway through August. But it feels nice to be there year-round, so I’m really fond of the spirits that represent it.

Which is why I pick up trash if I’m in the area. Hence, also, why the owners don’t mind me wandering through. Who else is going to be that enthusiastic about retrieving shrew skulls?

So, wandering up to the food stall, very much not sober, I tried to be a responsible person and count out my money in advance, down to the cent. But when trying to hand over my change, I ended up dropping a ton of it into the grass.

It was super late at night, the lighting was terrible, and the ground was so saturated that I had no hope of recovering my change without being caked in mud. And, being as not-sober as I was, I didn’t feel like I stood a chance at recovering any of it.

“Well,” I said. “I’ll let the Landvættir have it” and bought my chili cheese dog with a bunch of paper bills.

And then forgot about the loose change entirely, because chili cheese dog.

The next day, while walking the long way down the festival grounds (which are basically a small vale) to reach the correct entry gate, I saw something glinting in the grass by the bridge that connects the two fields.

I certainly have some magpie tendencies, given that my first thought was “shiny!” I assumed it was a small puddle, since it tends to be a very soggy field, but upon parting the grass to investigate, I found a bus token.

It was for Philly’s mass transit system, which meant at the time it was worth about $1.80. I had dropped far less money than that into the grass the night before, but I figure now it might have been intended as both a thank-you for loose change and for visiting regularly. I knew it was extremely rude not to accept something from the Landvættir, so I gratefully put it in my pocket.

There are thousands of reasons it would have been there. But nobody else noticed it, and the timing was odd enough that assuming it was meant for me seems reasonable.

That bus token has remained in a special spot for safekeeping, and unspent. It will never be spent. Unlike a crowded trip on the Market-Frankford Line, that token is special.

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The Merit of Teachable Moments

When I was on a plane to Texas, I was seated next to a very chatty seventeen year old. In between randomly making assumptions about substance use (I’m generally sober, thank you), and incorrectly guessing my age by ten years (to be fair, nobody cards me) she asked me what I was reading. Or trying to read, really. Because she was that chatty.

I told her I was reading a translation of the Poetic Edda. Since nobody who isn’t Heathen or super into mythology to begin with knows what “Edda” refers to, I explained that this is one of the main sources of Norse mythology. She still didn’t know what that meant, so I said, “well you know, like, stories about Odin and Thor and Loki and them.”

That finally clicked for her, and I scrambled to specify “it’s not like the Marvel movies, though. This is a religious thing for me.”

Her response was “wait, you can do that? That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!”

By disclosing my practice, I had achieved two things:

  1. Challenged the idea that pagan religions are dead, non-existent or inferior.
  2. Challenged the stigma surrounding Heathenry as base and hateful, because I was peacefully sitting on a plane and making the effort to educate somebody.

Visibility of pagan practices is important. I believe in the gods and teachable moments.

This idea that our faiths and our gods are dead leads to a lot of things. People assume nobody has a personal or cultural investment in these deities and their stories. And then they assume it is therefore okay to take these and bend them to their own wills. This leads to miseducation, insulting portrayals, and exploitation by people with a malicious agenda.

Because the general population assumes we don’t even exist, they don’t know enough to separate assumptions from actual practice, and those who are only vaguely aware don’t have the background knowledge necessary to differentiate extremists with an ahistorical agenda, from decent human beings who actually value the gods and the good we can all do for each other.

I’m not saying to go screaming it from the roof tops. It is not always prudent or even safe to open up about your practices, but doing so has a positive effect when it’s well-timed. I used to hide my hammer because I thought it was more “polite” to do that. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable, knowing that this symbol has been bastardized for the past 80-odd years.

But I realized I was missing out on valuable opportunities to let people ask questions if they recognized it. I was allowing the face of my religion to be the louder and more dangerous contingent. I now make a point of being really, really obviously Heathen while being a decent human being. It shouldn’t be a big deal. In a better world, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But we’re not in that world yet.

There’s a wide variety of tactics available, and I know there are some that work better for other people. Setting a good example and being open to questions is what I’m capable of at the moment, so that is what I do.

Setting precedents is important.

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