Monthly Archives: February 2015

Kalevala Part 1

So, I have started to work my way through the Kalevala. I have the Magoun prose translation, but am also using the Crawford translation from Project Gutenberg in tandem as a comparison. Both have their respective flaws and strengths.

With this project, I am doing something a little different from the FFA. As part of my ongoing spiritual education, I have started working with Väinämöinen. I was introduced to him by Skadi, as there are things I can learn from him that I cannot learn from her. Whereas she has taught me of the hunt, he will teach me about magic, generally speaking.

In the past, as with the FFA, my habit has been to review the scholarly work, and comment on the scholar’s work. In this case, I have been asked to travel with Väinämöinen. As such, the Kalevala will serve as the inspiration for trance/journey work. As such, instead of simple examination, the stories from the Kalevala will be told as I experience them. They may not be the “official” story, but more of my experience of them. As such, I will be journeying with Väinämöinen for this series.

Curiously, each of the poems of the Kalevala are referred to as runes. Normally, when I think of runes, I think of the Futhark, and the old Norse characters. By comparison, in the case of the Kalevala, a rune is an entire poem/song. The topic of this post is Rune 1, which I will tell of shortly. I just wanted to note this to consider at a later time.

Once again, this is my experience of the story.

 

In ages past, a Spirit of Air, a maiden, floated down from the sky. She found herself amongst the ocean. In loneliness and solitude she drifted, over the waves and through the waters. But there was no comfort for her, for none were around in which to comfort her.

For seven hundred years she wandered, as storms blew and waves whipped into white anger. The tossed her and threw her about. Sometimes, she wondered if she might drown.

The world is black, and there is the sound of waves. For seven hundred years, he waited and listened, in the womb of his mother. He listened to the storms rage, and the waves in white anger. He listened to the struggles of his mother, spirit of the air, now mother of the water.

So heavy with child, she struggles through the waves in the sea, and cries to the Sky-God, “Oh Ukko! I implore you! Help me in my time of trouble! Aid me in my trials! I have been alone for so long, amongst the waves and in the mercy of the storms. I am lonely, and miserable, and seek your aid, oh Ukko!”

Once she was a spirit of the air, now tossed about as water-mother. She is lost, and cold, and miserable in her endless ages at sea.

Then, on the horizon flies a duck. She looks for a place to nest, but all she finds is storms and angry waves. She flies to the north, east, south and west, but where will she nest?

The water-mother floats in sadness and in pain, for her trials have been long and hard. Longer her labor. So it was in exhaustion she raises her shoulders above the waves, and her knees above the waters.

Upon her knee the duck does find a place to nest. Away from the winds, the storms, and the angry white waves. Here the duck finds a place to call home. So she lays her eggs. First one, then another, and on.

With a violent wind and shaking wave, one egg falls into the ocean and is shattered. From the fragments of shell, the world came into being.

From the upper half, the sky. From the lower, the ground. The yolk became the sky. The white became the moon. The mottled bits became the stars. The dark parts became the clouds.  So was it that the world came into being, from the fragments of a broken egg.

Yet, Väinämöinen had not yet seen any of these thing. He had hear much, in the womb of the water mother. Yet, he had not seen the sky, nor the stars, nor the sun at morning’s rise. Desired he to see all these things he had heard about, in his mother’s womb. It held him like a dark prison, and he wished to wander all of the world.

So he came forth, and fell into that dark, cold ocean. Here he drifted for years, among the waters and the angry waves, too among the blowing storms and biting winds. Seven long years, into eight, until he came onto the land.

 

So ends the first tale of Väinämöinen, and begins his journey in the wider world.

The Crawford translation is beautiful, in my opinion. It also names his mother.

“On a coast bereft of verdure;
On his knees he leaves the ocean,
On the land he plants his right foot,
On the solid ground his left foot,
Quickly turns his hands about him,
Stands erect to see the sunshine,
Stands to see the golden moonlight,
That he may behold the Great Bear,
That he may the stars consider.
Thus our hero, Väinämöinen,
Thus the wonderful enchanter
Was delivered from his mother,
Ilmatar, the Ether’s (Air’s) daughter.”

Plenty more to come!

References;

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5184

The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District, translation by Francis Peabody Magoun


God-Centric?

So this is my 100th post on this blog… Woohoo!

I am really hesitant to weigh in on this one, let me put that out there. It is really entangled with a lot of other topics, and untangling them can be hard. But I honestly feel I have something constructive to add of to this conversation.

First off, to come clean on my biases. I consider myself to be an animist first, and a polytheist by proxy. I believe in spirits as real independent persons, with their own wills, personalities and agendas. I believe they vary greatly in power and influence, from high gods, down to the smallest local spirits. I consider myself amongst the northern sphere of communities, though “heathen” is of course up for debate.

I am among the non-Deity-centric folks. Now, I will tell you why.

As I have discussed before, gods are not center to my spirituality because I do not have a strong working relationships with the gods, with one exception. I honor them, give them offerings, and keep a place for them on my various altars. It is not a highly populated place, nor what I would consider to be a “central” place. Once again, as I have said before, generally speaking I lack the “god-phone”, and I have tried for many years to build a meaning relationship with the gods. To this point, I have generally been unsuccessful. I have invited, I have prayed, I have left offerings. Nada, zilch, nothing. Let me be clear, it is not from a lack of trying, devotion, or honest belief. It is more of a matter that it is not one of my particular talents. I would defer to others when it comes to the gods.

Sarenth put it well, in my opinion.

“When someone puts the Gods first, does that mean the needs of one’s family are ignored?  That the ties that bound a community are ignored?  Absolutely not.  What it means is that my family recognizes the Gods at the center of our lives.  It is not an either/or thing, here.  I do not love the Gods and ignore my family.  In loving and serving my Gods, I love and serve my family as well.  In separating one from the other is where error comes from.  If the Gods are in (or are) the Air, the Water, the Fire, the Ice, etc., then it is impossible to escape Them and foolish, if not hubris, to ignore Them.  Far better to partner with Them in good Gebo than to pretend we are somehow separate from Them.”

Some will hammer on against/for lore and/or UPG. On that topic. I am a moderate when it comes to the lore and UPG. It serves as a great check and balance system, in my opinion. One practice that I have learned from one of my mentors is spiritual accounting. Spirit Y told me to do X. Does that mean I run off to do X? Not at all. I verify the spirit is legit. I check the lore to see if it has any guidance. I get outside confirmations. I check it against my own beliefs and ideals. Sometimes spirits ask things that I AM NOT OK with. I have a will and identity of my own. Once all that is done, then I will consider what to do next. The point is balance, and mitigating the respective flaws of each approach.

But I digress a little.

As Krasskova points out, this is not a black/white topic. This is a multifacted topic, multispectrum, a topic with many roots and branches. Let’s run with that metaphor for a bit.

Now, this is not a literal interpretation of the Norse cosmology. But consider for a moment the roots that hold up the world tree. There is more than one, and there is more than one root to all of this. Perhaps one root is the gods, another the ancestors, a third the spirits. The roots all feed the trunk, which crosses through the middle world of the living, which includes family and living beings. They are part of the tree too.

Personally, I love the ideas expressed at Patheos by John Beckett, about the big tent and the four centers of paganism. I think these ideas are applicable to these discussions in heathenry and related spheres as well. It is a very pluralistic, and I do enjoy that sort of thing. What would the poles of Heathenry be? The gods, the ancestors, and the spirits for sure. Perhaps one pole for each. But family and community as well. Perhaps lore and experiential practices are other poles. The fact is that each of us aligns with each “pole” a little bit differently. However, there is overlap. We are not isolated spheres floating without connections.

So yes, I do come at all of this from a non-Deity-centric person. That does not mean I have no concern for my living family, even if there are just the two of us. This does not mean I do not honor the gods, because I do. I am just closer to the ancestors/spirit poles then I am the god-poles (haha, see what I did there?!)

So no, the gods are not the “center” of my practice. But it is a mistake to assume there is only one “center” in all this.

That is just my two cents.

References:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/01/the-big-tent-of-paganism.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/05/the-four-centers-of-paganism.html

https://sarenth.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/what-it-means-to-place-the-gods-first/

https://krasskova.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/are-our-communities-ready-for-theology/

http://polytheist.com/wyrd-ways/2015/02/15/lectio-divina-heathen-style/


Upcoming Work… Input?

Ok, so this post is a break from the norm, and really I am just seeking input from my readers on forthcoming work.

The book I am currently working on is making slow, but steady progress. I have it roughly organized into sections, that may be broken down further into chapters. Currently, it is organized as such;

Section 1: Archaeology and History: The Oldest Stories. This section surveys the archaeology and history of Northern Europe, telling a broad narrative of some of my earliest ancestors, the hunters of the North.

Section 2: Genetic Genealogy: This section covers how I learned about my oldest ancestors, and tips and advice to do the same.

Section 3: Traditional Genealogy: How I found about my documented ancestors, and tips and advice to do the same.

Section 4: Work in progress. Currently a jumble of animism and shamanism. Assorted bits about ideology, beliefs and worldview. I am working on breaking this section up to talk about working with spirits and ancestors, animals, plants, and things from my own experience. Might be some on hunting too.

With spring just around the corner, I am thinking a lot about the setup of my new garage/workshop. I have plans already for new leather projects, new metal work, and woodwork as well. Most of the things I have planned would be more functional than aesthetic, things I might actually use in the field. Knives, bows, bags, satchels, that kind of thing.

Also, more pictures. This blog is so black and white…

I plan to write about all these things as they develop. I was just wondering what my readers thought? Things you would like to see? Comments on the book outline? Anything?

 

 


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 4

For this post, I want to touch a little upon what Sarmela has to say about the ‘ancestor cult’. In the author’s own words.

” The religion of Iron Age hunter-cultivators and Savo-Karelian swidden culture consisted of the ancestral cult and sorcery. In the emerging agrarian communities of the Gulf of Finland coastal circle, the dead were buried in hiisi woods near dwellings or on stony islets in the middle of field clearings. The deceased guarded their living environment even after death, and their cult sites gave his surviving family the right to cultivated land; the land belonged to the ancestors. The oldest marks of cultivated land possession are perhaps cup stones; hiisi woods were probably followed by the village burial grounds of Karelia and the sacrificial trees of Lutheran eastern Finland.”

The amount of data presented in the FFA is immense. Maps show the locations of cup stones, stone altars, and sacred trees that in some way or another were all associated with ancestor worship. The finds of stone cups include both single cups, as well as clusters of cups. They have been found near houses, near field clearings, and near burial sites. Sarmela suggests the cups were built as needed for the ancestors.

Like the cups, finds also included stone altars, which were natural rocks and boulders. These sites were used as offering places for ancestors, but also for the supernatural guardian of the place, that may or not be an ancestor.

The sacred trees filled a similar function, and would serve as locations for offerings, either for the ancestors, or for the guardian of the place. Sarmela has this to say;

“Trees used in rites have been called in Finnish dialects e.g. aljo- (<Germanic origin), elätti-, lyylitys-, palvonta- and pitämys-trees. The terms indicate that the tree belonged to an individual kinship group or house and it was ‘kept’ like a kept snake, a guardian creature . Other known terms include hiisipuu which derives from the pre-Christian meaning of the word hiisi, ‘ancestors’ wood, ancestors’ tree’. Of the terms, lyylityspuu may be of Finno-Ugrian origin; lyylitä, ‘make an offering at a tree,
pray, appease’, occurs in old poetry and has been retained in the Karelian language; lyyli also means ‘fortune’ or man’s (ancestor’s/supernatural guardian’s) ‘share’ (of the catch). Guardian spirit trees may be older than the cultivating form of subsistence, possibly belonging to the early catch rites of hunting communities.” (pg 115)

Therefore, trees, similar to the stone cups and altars, may be associated with the ancestors as well as local spirit guardians. Concerning the offerings for the ancestors and the spirits, Sarmela says;

” A primogenic offering, the first share of everything yielded by cultivated land, forest and water, belonged to the ancestors. The
hiisi woods and sacred trees may have been visited on specific occasions by kinship groups to share a meal with their ancestors, as is still customary in Orthodox Karelia today, a couple of thousand years later. The ancestors influenced the life of the kinship group, new family members, babies born and spouses, were introduced to them, as they were to the supernatural guardians of the homestead, and possibly in Finland, too, the dead have been presumed to be reborn into their own kin.”

In many ways, the ancestors are still with us, and we would do well to honor them with offerings. My wife and I keep several altars up in our house, one of which is specifically dedicated to the ancestors. Regular offerings of food and drink are given at these altars. As Sarmela points out, the ancestors especially have a lot of influence on the living. Their blood runs in our veins, and our hearts beat just as theirs did. The dead are concerned with our welfare, perhaps more so than any other kind of spirit. They want to see us succeed, and that is the reason why ancestor work is fundamental to my own path.

When spring finally comes again, I think I will find some stones, maybe a few cup shaped ones, and make a place for offerings for my ancestors and the spirits around my home.

Sources,

The Finnish Folkore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela, Pgs 37 – 39, 115


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 3

So, I figured I’d post a two-fer this week, and this one is a nice follow up to my last post.

Today, we are going to be dwelling into the topics of shamans and shamanic cosmology. I have wrote on this topic before, so some of this, as I mentioned when I started this series, might just be rehashing a lot of what I have said before. At the same time, the Finnish Folklore Atlas approaches these topics differently than other sources. In some way, Sarmela’s work is unique, being wide in scope as well as depth.

This is a big topic, and so I am only going to scratch the surface here. Sarmela has this to say on the topic of the shaman;

“Hunter-gatherers’ religious role-holder was the shaman. Studies have emphasized the shaman’s ability to enter a trance or a state of altered reality. The rite technique is not the essence of shamanism, but the function of the shaman in his own cultural system and the hunters’ environment. The shaman must be defined as a religious role-holder who was believed capable of controlling the souls of men and animals. The infrastructures of the shamanistic system included the real, physical nature, and the invisible world on the other side, where souls and supernatural guardians operated.”

It is funny infrastructure would be mentioned in this context. I was just discussing the topic with Sarenth in a previous post, and I pointed out that the spirits need to be included in that conversation. To me, infrastructure is not merely physical, though things like buildings and temples do form a part. Infrastructure to me means the connections between people, and the resources they need. It is about networks, and relationships as much as physical things like temples. It is those networks that individuals create between themselves that forms community. And when I say ‘people’, that includes non-human people too. Gods, ancestors and spirits are included in those networks, in our communities.

Another good bridge, because Sarmela adds this;

“In myths and cosmological narrative, the world on the other side has three layers, or multiple layers. In the heavenly layers of the egg-shaped world live the higher haltias, creator heros figures, souls of great men; from the heavens originated also the bear and fire, and other primordial events also took place on the sky’s canopy. The heavenly layers were supported by the cosmic pillar, which the original sampo evidently symbolized. The universe extended beneath the earth’s surface: there was another, inverse world, in the various layers of which, beyond the Tuonela River or beneath the waters (or on their inverse side) were the souls of dead people and animals, and subterranean  haltias. The positioning of the habitats of dead or returning souls, images of the cosmos and the other world belong with the concepts of soul; the cosmic view maintained cultural order, but also the power and status of the shaman in northern hunting communities.”

There are more than few specific references in this passage, most from the Kalevala and Finnish folklore. “The egg shaped” world refers to the creation myth, in which the world was form from broken eggshells. All of this will be covered more in depth as I work my way through the Kalevala, and the parts of the FFA that compliment it. The Tuonela River and the sampo are also specific references to the cycle of stories in the Kalevala. The Tuonela River is kind of like the River Styx. My current understanding is that is in the underworld, or the boundary between the worlds of the living and those of the dead. The sampo is a magical creation that is central to the stories. My knowledge of it is limited, but it is a kind of magical mill that creates wealth and food endlessly.

I find it interesting how Sarmela details some of the denizens of the upper and lower worlds. The higher haltias (gods?), creator heroes and the souls of great men. This jives well with my own thoughts on the spirit, and in some ways parallels the Norse cosmology. You could consider the denizens of Alfheim, Vanaheim, and Asgard as rough parallels to “higher haltias”, heroes and souls of great men. There is at least one story that relates a man that becomes an elf. Curious, and something to ponder.

The cosmic pillar is an interesting concept, but I prefer it in another form, the World Tree. The roots go to the underworld, and the branches to the heavens. At the same time, you can see that the different worlds also correspond to the land (living), water (dead) and the sky (celestials/gods/higher haltias.)

Worthy ponderings.

Moving forward, I will certainly be returning to these topics in more depth.

Sources;

Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pgs 29 – 30


A Shaman’s Pondering

Ok, a more personal blog for a moment. You may have noticed that I write about shamanism a great deal. Shamanism is a topic that is close to my heart, for several reasons. First, I have a great interest in the topic. In all my studies, nothing has quite grabbed my attention like the idea of the shaman. In many ways, I feel a connection to shamanism that I really don’t get from a lot of other concepts. In addition, it is one of those things that “works” for me. I have walked more than a few paths in my days, and most of them didn’t quite “fit” or work. I don’t have much of a knack for energy work, or more “new agey” things. But connecting with spirits, working on relationships with them, that is something I can do.

Something Kelley Harrell commented on one of my previous posts really resounded with me, and I have thought about it for some time;

“It’s a challenging thing to struggle with, and I’m glad you are finding your way through, YOUR way. In the end, what we call ourselves is moot. It’s what the spirits call us that tells the tale. And no matter what, you’ll always have someone willing to throw rocks. Shaman, Notshaman. It doesn’t stop at any point on your path.”

There is a lot of truth in what she says. Though maybe it took a while to think it. It really has not stopped. I do not see it stopping in the future, and the constant back in forth in my mind is driving me bonkers. It is a question I may never answer, and I am tired of beating the dead horse.

In truth, I am tired of fighting with it. Perhaps I have been in denial for a long time. Perhaps I am self delusional. Either way, I want to move past that denial. I am going to accept things as there are. The gods, ancestors and spirits have come to me for a reason. I cannot say what that reason is, but they have called.

I am going to accept that I am on the shaman’s path. Even though I cringe at the idea of calling myself one. Really, there is little on the side of logical reasons I should avoid it. At the same time, it scares the hell out of me. Still, many of the foundations are there, and more than a few readings have indicated that is the path I am on.

When I contemplate my own path, I reflect upon the steps that I have taken. In some way, I feel I have been led, and at some points I have made the choices that led me here. It is mind numbing to think about how different my life might have turned out had I not taken certain steps. I would have not have learned some things, would not have met some people. Had I gone another way, I may not be writing this blog today. All the triumphs, all the failures brought me here.

And that is the real point, right? That I walk the path that has been lain before me. That the spirits have offered to walk with me, and I have chosen to walk with them. Certainly, this is not the end of the journey, more of a beginning. The learning doesn’t stop, the work doesn’t stop and there is always more to explore and contemplate.

I am taking the next step, wherever that might lead.

 


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 2

Alright, I guess we can start with updates. I am feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. There are so many projects competing for my attention, that I am having a hard time getting anything done on most of them. In addition, spring is closing in, which brings with it a whole new host of projects and seasonal work. I am working away weekly on what might be my first “animist” book, though the progress has been slow, not to mention frustrating. Another book has just come out of the editing pipeline, so that one goes for revisions. Honestly I wish I had more time and energy to get my backlog of work done. There is new stuff coming, I promise. I am just behind. As paradoxical as it may sound, I almost feel like I need a vacation just to get caught up.

On to other things. In the second part of this series, we will start off with a quote from Sarmela;

“In hunting communities, ecological security depended on the permanence of the natural habitat, on nature restoring itself like spring follows winter or birth follows death. Hunting communities do not practise ‘fertility magic’: the relationship of the hunter with nature is different from that of the farmer. The basis of everyday faith and hope in the coping thinking of hunting period man was eternal return. Constitutive religious ideas included the immortal, reincarnating soul, the engine of life, which is the key structure of the world view of the time and the basis of shamanism.”

This covers multiple functions in the existence of a society. The “eternal” return is the basic cycle of death and rebirth. As I have discussed before, hunters are not as concerned with fertility in the same way as agrarian communities. This is not to say they are not concerned with fertility at all of course. Fertile animals, especially game animals, were essential to the survival of the hunters. On a practical as well as a spiritual level, the hunter is concerned with regeneration. Making sure the animals are around for the next hunt, the plants for the next season, the fish for the next trip. To ensure that the hunter survived, they did all they could to make sure their kills came back the next year. Because, without the game, there would not be a hunter. This leads nicely into the next point.

“Northern fisher-hunters have undoubtedly been interested in all the forces that affected obtaining a catch and preserving the balance of nature. The hunting culture era is the source of the ideas that all natural sites had their own haltia: its supernatural original inhabitant, master, in the same way as animals had their own haltias, female progenitors, who took care of their own species. The haltias of animals and nature also determined whether man received a catch, how successful the hunting or
fishing was.”

Now here is a new concept for me, the haltia. It is obvious it is a kind of spirit that shows up in a variety of contexts. In some way, it is similar to the fylgja and vord I have discussed previously. In other ways, it is notably different. What is really interesting to me here is that animals had their own haltia, a kind of ancestor that is concerned with the well being of the species. I do disagree with such haltias only being “female progenitors”, as not all species reproduce sexually. I would say a haltia can be male, female, both, neither, or something else entirely. Circling back to a previous post, I would say the great deer I met might be a haltia, an ancestor that looks out for its own. On another point, it seems haltias also have a say with how successful a hunt or fishing trip might be. Again, another segway into the next point.

” The catch was man’s share of what the haltias divided between the inhabitants of the natural environment on this side and the other side, and evidently a very common idea has been that man had to live in a reciprocal relationship with the supernatural owners and guardians of nature. Hunterfishermen had to give a reciprocal gift, an offering, for all that ‘nature gave’. Thus, the ritualization of hunting may be interpreted as supernatural exchange…”

I cannot ever stress enough how foundation something like reciprocity is to the animist and the hunter. The very core of much of what I do comes back to this point, that for everything “received” something must be “given.” Gebo, the rune, means “a gift for a gift.” Also, this doesn’t just include humans. From an animistic perspective, dealing with nature is a relational exchange. As such, for continued success in the hunt, as well as good relationships with the spirits/haltias, one had to be a “good neighbor.” Because, as Sarmela points out, spirits such as haltias have the capacity to withold luck, and therefore food, from the hunter. This is both a spiritual exchange, as well as a physical one. The hunters got meat for food, fur for clothing and shelter, and in return nature should get something back. It worked on multiple levels, from the mundane/practical as well as the spiritual/socialcultural realms.

There is quite a bit more to say here, especially on shamanism, haltias, and ancestors. There are more posts coming on all these things!

Sources

Finnish Folklore Atlas, By Matti Sarmela. Pg 29