Hearth cult musings: Hel and company

Heathenry and Lokeanism

After ten years of worshiping Odin, a different deity is coming to the fore. Hela has really caught my attention. I tried focusing on both of them for three months: I wrote rites and rosary prayers for each deity, but consistently found I was being drawn closer and closer to Hel and her associations: ancestor veneration, bones, shadow work, her monstrous kin, and Loki.

Odin encouraged me to follow this new direction, so I did. I wrote multiple free verse poems (some of which got published). I wrote and fine-tuned a monthly hearth cult rite for her and the ancestors. I started a Tumblr (again!) to connect to other devotees. I talked about her a lot on Discord servers.

I had some pretty intense experiences with her at the end of March, so I decided to make April an intentional fallow time. I am going to try really hard not to read spiritual texts. I am going to attempt to take breaks from polytheist Discord servers. I am also going to try to rest more, since I will have a brief window between the end of my winter semester and my summer semester.

Odin and Loki are still around, but in different ways. Hel takes up a lot of my time, energy, and bandwidth right now, but I like it that way! It feels nice to focus on a deity, rather than be distracted by multiple.

Hellenic polytheism

Hel’s energy is weighty and dark–or it is so far, anyway, that might change in the spring/summer–so, I thought bringing in some brighter, happier gods might help. I have long found Ancient Greece to be endlessly fascinating, so I am going to borrow my little brother’s copy of Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored and read that… after my fallow period!

As I walked home from my internship/work today, I mused that it would be nice to worship Apollo, Dionysus, Athena, and, possibly, Hephaestus. I’ve known these deities a long time, and often worshiped them at my friend’s monthly cultus to the Theoi.

OTOH, I just spent more than an hour on theoi.com looking up hero cults and obscure deities, so we’ll see who I end up worshiping, haha!

At some point, I’ll have to write about my past studies with Ancient Greece…

Hearth Cult

I think that if I choose three Norse deities, and three Hellenic deities to worship, I think that could work very well. In my explorations of ritualized hearth cult, I found listing out ALL of Hel’s family in my prayers to be rather labourious. If I limit the number of deities, I think that could go more smoothly. I could, for example, only invoke Hel’s family at my yearly Hel’s blot at Samhain. Or I could do that at the autumn Equinox, if I would prefer to focus Samhain on Hel and the ancestors.

I’ll also need to determine what Hellenic holidays to add to the calendar. My yearly calendar has already been hammered out (by Mjolnir, haha!), so I think I would try to pick small or easy holy days to include.

I’d also like to include more intentional stillness and quiet time before holy rites. I will start small, with 15 minutes of meditation, spiritual reading, or rest. Ideally, I’d like to have quiet time for longer and longer periods until I have an hour of calm before the rite. This timing will vary depending on how big the rite is. If it’s a high holy day, I’d prefer a longer period of contemplation. If it’s a smaller moment of cultus, the quiet time can be shorter.

This practice was inspired by a mixture of Christian Ember Days and the Jewish Sabbath.

Eastern mysticism

I’ve been keeping up a regular daily meditation practice since Yule 2021. My little brother brought me into his weekly group meditation sessions and now I have a teacher. I’ve found a free app to use called Insight Timer. There’s tons of guided meditations on there.

So all this to say that my interest in Eastern religions is renewed. My brother bought me the LeGuin translation of the Tao Te Ching for Christmas–an excellent gift because I love the author and can now compare her translation to the David Hinton translation that I have. I recently picked up Benebell Wen’s The Tao of Craft and it is waiting on my night-table.

I’d love to resume investigating local Buddhist temples. I trained for eight months at a Pure Land Buddhist temple here in my city, but eventually left, as my career took me away from that path. I’d like to visit other temples to find a ‘home’. My brother wants to attend with me, so that will be a nice brotherly adventure…

Hela’s Arrival

So this year, I jokingly called my July schedule The Month of Hell.

Hela noticed.

Then, in August, spurred by I-am-not-sure-what, I did a rite to Her at an outdoor shrine at a pagan camp. I introduced two friends to Her at the same time; one of whom felt very compelled to get to know Her better afterward.

At Samhain, I held my usual Hela rite, but invited my brother and his girlfriend. So, they too met Hela.

I started including Her in my monthly hearth cult. I made Hela a Spotify playlist. I found a Hel subreddit.

I started to realize I was doing a lot for Her–more than usual. Then, I got a tarot reading (that was originally for Odin) that offered me a chance to do some deep ancestor worship with Hela.

Thursday, I got an extra reading, specifically for Hela and the ancestors because I wanted to be sure I was interpreting the situation correctly. (Thanks, L, for that!)

In the live virtual reading, Hela, in her usual tough manner, encouraged me to just freaking start already and do the cultus of incorporating ancestors and doing slow, manageable research [in tandem with grad studies].

This feel right. Having Her here feels good. I think my ancestors are happy too.

What is my religion?

Try and explain or describe your religion/tradition/praxis without using negation or comparison, in your own words. –from this post

I follow the Norse gods and goddesses throughout a year of sacred holidays. I believe in the gifting cycle between myself, the ancestors, deities, land wights, and house wights. I try and uphold sacred hospitality and frith in my daily actions.

As of late, I have been drawing closer to the jotun or giants. So, I believe in celebrating the dark, the monstrous, and the unseen. Loki is my hearthfire.

The Wild Hunt guides my year. It begins in October and ends in April. I propitiate to Odin, Sleipnir, and the Hunt at the beginning and end of the Hunt. In the spring and summer, the Vanir come forth to bring sunshine, fertility, and merriment (if you think I might be a Canadian who blots to give thanks for spring fever, you are right!). In autumn, Hela and her kin sit with the dead, and honour them. The winter brings both cold and a certain coziness, as I rest from the busier seasons.

The Hunt ends with rites to Odin. For two or three years now, I honour his Hanging in April, at the end of the Hunt. I have yet to figure out how His sacrifice specifically fits into the wheel of my year, but I’ll get there.

Monthly Hearth Rites

Finding more heathen community online has really helped me organize my hearth practice. I’m becoming much more organized than I used to be: I type up my rites, for one thing. I’ve also got a template for a monthly hearth cult and have modified it to suit my needs.

I’ve taken to sanctifying my altar space with a tiny Mjolnir keychain. (If I am doing a Jotun rite, I ask Jormundgandr to sanctify the space, using a little snake ring I have to circle the altar). I’ve also invoked Heimdall (or other entities) as a guardian deity to allow safe passage for prayers and offerings. I’ve been invoking Loki more explicitly as a hearth deity in the same way you might invoke Hestia, a Hellenic hearth goddess, at the start (and end) of a rite.

The monthly hearth cult rite I have invokes Loki, Hela, Freya, and Odin. Yep, I am slowly adding Hela as a main deity now. I’m debating adding Freyr too. The rite also thanks the ancestors, the land wights, and the house wights.

It feels appropriate in my ninth year of being a Norse heathen and polytheist, that my practice undergoes some great revolutions, such as an organizing rehaul. (nine being a sacred number in Heathenry)

Rune study 2021-2022

I just read The Runic Book of Days by Kelley Harrell. I’m going to use its framework to study the runes for a year.

Image description: pictured is the first page of my new rune journal. In black stamps, it says “Rune Journal 2021”. A fox is stamped above the title. A hand-carved FEHU is stamped below.

The start point is the summer solstice, which doesn’t *really* fit my personal spiritual schedule, but I’m going to roll with it for the sake of following the text. I figure if, after a year, I’d like to continue these studies, I can adapt it to my own framework.

I’ve had some very positive rune visions lately that feel auspicious. I’ve noted them in my ongoing “Rune dreams” google doc so that I can observe my rune dreams and visions over the course of the year. I wish I had thought of this sooner–it’s so useful!

Some joyous news: I’ll be camping at a pagan campground next weekend! I hope to do a small 3-person group rite for Hela, as well as greet the Norse deities at their ve. I plan to bring lots of alcohol for offerings… and so me and my friends can have a horn to lift too!

Endings

So, things with Lucifer didn’t work out. I felt like I had to choose between him and Odin, and it put a rift between us. I feel I’ve learned my lesson from that, at least. Even as things with Lucifer ended, things with Odin were eroding too.

Then Angrboda and her children arrived.

I wasn’t expecting this, but I felt right at home. Loki’s family feels like family to me. In worshiping Odin, I really drifted away from Lokeanism. But now, I want to go back to Jotunheim and the Ironwoods. I want to be intentional about it.

I invoked Loki Worldbreaker because my life has been going through some massive shifts. I figured he could help me ride the wave, clear up the rubble after the pausing of my devotion to Odin, and help me with gender stuff. Loki and some human friends of mine have suggested that Hela will be a quiet, restful balance to Loki’s chaos.

Other things that have ended or are ending: my devotional relationship with Odin, Ursula LeGuin’s writings, and a long-time work thing.

So, Odin is still on my shrine. He’s not gone forever. It’s become clear to me that I had been hyperfixated on some things related to him and that actual ritualistic actions had fallen by the wayside. I was/am too stressed out to pray to him. My solution to this issue is to spend time on my other household deities, and just let Odin’s statue metaphorically gather dust until, well, time heals the wound. Plus, in fixating on Odin so much, Loki and Freya didn’t get so much attention. In a way, this problem is good, because I can see the broken things and try to fix them.

Alright so the next two things aren’t devotional at all, but this is my blog so I am going to blather about it.

I recently read Ursula LeGuin’s Gifts. I hadn’t read it in many years, and forgot the plot. I felt rather sad reading this book because I know I have a limited amount of her books left to read. I picked up her last book of poems today, So Far So Good. I think I’m just gonna let this book sit on my shelf for awhile, because I don’t want to rush through her works. Friends who are fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett have been empathizing with me. It sucks to lose a beloved author.

The work-related thing: I am starting my second semester of my Masters in the fall. (Second, you ask? My first semester was this summer. While it was certainly educational, I can’t say that school in summer is fun.) I simply won’t have time for two jobs, so I had to cut one. I’ve cutting the job that gives me a lot of extra work, and is too inconsistent. I am sad about this, because it was a very good job. But school has to come before work for me.

I don’t think Hela’s arrival has *caused* these endings. She has pointed out some rotten things. Friends have also pointed out some things causing unnecessary stress. And Ursula, well, I might always feel sad about her. Hela just happens to be present in my grief.

Little update: I am now using they/them pronouns.

Virtual Trothmoot 2021

I attended Trothmoot virtually this weekend. What a delight! I couldn’t attend everything–nor did I want to sit in front of a screen ALL weekend. But! I got to attend: a workshop about Odin’s names and a stunning future oracle deck of his heiti (unfortunately the website is not great and has no art posted), a workshop using the 4 elements as otherworldly journeying aids, a charming blot to Idunna, a glorious blot to Loki (yes, really), a workshop about necromancy, and the Grand Sumbel.

Hailing Loki at his blot really reminded me of why I’m a heathen. There’s nothing like a good HAIL to boost one’s spirits! The blot had heart-warming prayers to Loki thanking him for joy, survival, and love. It was really nice. A few longtime Troth members reflected on the changes in the organization, thanking Loki for telling the Troth to rescind the Loki ban. That was cool to hear.

My last post was really down and sad. But after this weekend, I feel more hopeful. I want to spend the rest of the summer radically re-envisioning my spiritual practice, my holidays, my bonds to spirits, and my magical practice.

Thanks to Winifred’s 4 elements workshop, I also met a new god that I hope to sit with sometime this summer.

Also, a silly side note: it had been nine years since I’d participated in a sumbel, so I literally forgot what it was. Thankfully, I remembered very quickly. For those who don’t know it’s a round of toasts, usually toasting the gods, the ancestors, and oneself. With a big group, such as the 60+ group at Trothmoot, it takes a looooong time. I didn’t survive passed round one, as I was pooped from attending so many Zoom events. But it was still good fun!

Queer Family, Tangles, and My Writing Practice

(Here is a long post! It’s clearly been too long since I have written here.)

I’ve been getting Vibes from the Ironwood. Hela seems sisterly, Fenris looks like a brother, Angrboda is both scary and motherly, and Loki is like, not just a gay uncle, but maybe a queer dad. This reflects my need for a queerness in my pantheon and my family.

I’m the eldest queer in my bio family. I have a little brother who recently came out as bi. I have a distant cousin who, I think, might also be bi. But as the first to come out and break down barriers, it was really hard on me. So, to have queer divine family who shine on me, want me to be well, and encourage my wildness is really healing.

My other household deities, too, are encouraging me to look at them queerly. Freya told me once in a dream, years ago, that she was celebrating a thirty year anniversary with a human god-wife. I’ve been remembering that, and trying to think of Freya as a queer goddess of love. And Frey too, we know, has a queerer side… I like to think he’s friends with Dionysus and maybe they go to sex parties together.

I am listening to Wardruna’s new album as I write this. My dad and his girlfriend got me the vinyl for my birthday. I’m grateful to be older, wiser, calmer, and hopefully more compassionate to my younger self.

My last household deity, is, of course, Odin.

He and I have spent all of this year discussing how I might deepen my bond to him, either with or without an oath. I’m still reflecting, daydreaming, and pondering this. He’s encouraged me to go extremely slow and dream big.

Looking at him so closely did burn me out for a few weeks. I learned three things:

  • I do need to center myself as well, and prioritize my dreams. I can’t root my hobbies in God. So, for example, I have been daydreaming about learning martial arts. But, I don’t want to think this is a requirement from Odin to go be a warrior. I want to do it for fun, for my well-being, and my own interest.
  • Wandering away from the gods is an intrinsic part of my path. I am researching Buddhism, the Jewish Sabbath, and other things right now.
  • Taking breaks is important! It’s ok to stop worshiping sometimes. (Also, researching the Sabbath is interesting because it shows how rest can be an integral part of faith and still be an honour to Deity.)

There’s also an issue between him and I on how to keep my writing practice. When am I writing for him, when am I writing for me, how am I gonna pursue writing long-term, etc. There’s an oral storytelling class I think I’d like to take after my Masters degree, but at the same time, I want to do it because I want to and not because the gods are handing me some destiny of being a skald, you know? I want to tell stories for the joy of it, not because I’m oathbound to Odin to do so. I’ll keep being mindful of these boundaries. At least, I hope I will. This could snarl and go badly quite easily, I fear.

I don’t actually have to oath to Odin and/or the gods. It’s not obligatory. And I do fear, of course, repeating what happened in my last spiritual romance, and needing to dissolve the oath. That would suck. So I am really thinking this though. It could be better to remain without an oath and just go do my fun human things.

We’ll see. I told myself I would take the whole summer to daydream, but I was thinking this morning, maybe I ought to take the whole year and really deepen this wait for a potential oath. Odin did say it was like wine–it only gets better as you wait. Additionally, a friend recommended a trial oath, which would be a great wait to dip my toe in the waters of devotion without pledging lifelong service/devotion/what-have-you.

I find daydreaming to be a healing, wholesome, and potent practice right now, so I am going to keep doing that!

I hope you all are well and enjoying the sunshine. ❤

A Visit from Frey

“I want you to be happy,” he said.

I couldn’t see him, exactly, but I could feel his essence: warm sunshine on a summer afternoon. I got a profound sense that he is happy, loves happiness, values it, and wants to spread it.

“Eat well, play well, and be well,” he added.

And not to say, here, that I am not happy or well. But, what with a lot of work at the beginning of the year, and the pandemic going on, I think I’ve been more serious-minded. (Frey also noted that Odin has me invested in the life of the mind a lot, and that I need to connect to my body too!)

He wants to be a household god along with his sister Freya, Loki, and Odin. I’m not sure I’m gonna have spare cash for a statue since I am going back to school soon. But I could print an image! Lately, my trio of household deities have been associating themselves with the elements. Freya noted that I was missing the element of Earth, and naturally she said, “Hey! You know my brother. You’re friends with Frey, right? You should talk to him!”

Because as any devotee of Freya knows, she often brings her brother along.

If I understood him right, he may have also asked me to honour his parents, Njord and Nerthus, at Freyfaxi, rather than him but that will take some checking by divination and omen. I have no idea why he wants me to meet them, other than that Njord and I both enjoy boating and might get along.

Now that I think of it, Freya has been hinting for awhile that spending time in a Vanatru-mindset might be good for me. I’ve been distracted from that message because I’ve also been trying to reconnect with Loki again. I focused so much on Queen Guinevere from late 2017 to 2019, then Odin and Frigga at the beginning of 2020… at this point I kinda feel like I am reintroducing myself to Team Norse. While it’s true I’ve been a heathen for nine years, it was a very scattered nine years filled with illness, delusions, and mental pain. So, now that I’m well, I am slowly edging back into a more thoughtful, connected Heathenry.

I did try to start monthly rites for different Heathen deities but concluded that celebrating the holidays, plus one day per month focusing on a rotating household deity is enough for now.

I’m really excited to see Frey. I think his happiness will teach me to prioritize my well-being more.

Why Worship Odin?

A friend asked me this today. If I know he is an asshole, associated with war and death, why worship him?

I quickly pointed out other associations: runes, poetry, magic.

My friend seemed keen to understand, but we were in a group setting, and I totally blanked.

So, this blog post is my response.

Yes, Odin can be an asshole. He can drag you through shadow work, put you in uncomfortable situations, and demand a lot of you. But he’s never been dishonourable to me. He has always encouraged me to get well, keep writing, and study my passions.

So, last weekend, he really challenged me to look at some rot in our relationship. I did the thing, and got the distinct feeling I had passed a test. Then, yesterday, I was talking to a new Internet friend. She started talking about vibes she is getting from Odin. I informed her that I am an Odin devotee. She asked me for advice and we had a long (and delightful!) conversation. I had to delve deep into the very rot I had uprooted. What irony! As the saying goes in the heathen community: That Old Bastard! He wanted to be sure my shadow work was done. You can trust I shook my fist at the sky.

And you might ask, well, if he’s gonna put you through some bullshit, then why go along with him?

The shadow work I did was worth it. Our bond is clearer now. He’s not an asshole for no reason, you know? He can be brutally honest, and I think he expects that from his followers too.

He is the long-bearded, stern, grim warrior sage who gives me snarky advice. He’s certainly filling in the shoes of my deceased human grandfathers too.

My friend encouraged me to challenge Odin–which is not a bad idea, because sometimes I think I avert my eyes from those darker aspects. But sometimes, I call on them too. I’m not sure I would call on his Bolverk (“Evil-Worker”) aspect, but his battle aspects are excellent for protection, warding, banishing, and–if this is your thing–cursing.

To go back to my friend’s main critique: why worship a war god? I’ll admit, I don’t care for or admire war one bit. I don’t think it serves any kind or loving purpose whatsoever. And if Odin ever asked me to join the army, I’d say fuck no. So I don’t call on his war faces so much. I aim at his Gandalf-esque wandering wizard face. I think the discomfort I feel with his war aspects is something I will always have, and I would prefer to perpetually be uncomfortable about it, rather than accept him thoughtlessly. I’ll call on his warrior aspect to have my back in a conflict, but I’m not about to ask him to stir up more trouble for me.

And why worship a death god? my friend asks. Death is a sacred process we all go through. It’s worth honouring. (I watch videos from Ask a Mortician all the time) I like the idea of Valhalla in that people of strength are honoured for it, but I like to think it’s a very expansive idea of strength: inclusive of disability, just as Odin himself is disabled. I guess for me, Valhalla is more of a concept of courage that I admire, rather than being a place I’m actually going to go when I die. (Admittedly, if I am wrong and I it turned out to be a literal place, I am sure I would tire very quickly of fighting my fellow dead people all day.)

I haven’t mentioned this much on this blog, but for me, Odin has a lot of overlap with the archetypal wise sage in the mountains mixed in with bits of Buddhism I’ve picked up along my spiritual journeys. So the faces I see of him tend to reflect that and it shows up in my poetry too.

His strongest qualities for me are his profound runic knowledge, his poetic inspiration, the ecstatic writing frenzies, and his wisdom-seeking. It’s true that I might even forget his more aggressive aspects. But he’ll always be there to remind me–leading the the Wild Hunt by my window.