Monthly Archives: March 2015

Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 8

My blogging has taken a back seat at the moment, so I have not been making as regular as posts. I am writing on another project between 5k and 10k words a week, and its gets priority. That means I have been putting off posts here. You have my apologies, but it will probably be that way for the next couple of months as I work through another manuscript. Sometimes it hard to find time for blog writing.

Today, as I continue to work my way through the FFA, we will be talking about the different types of “soul” according to Sarmela. Here we pick up, as Sarmela says;

” Many soul types, each with a specific function, have been identified in the folk belief system of northern peoples. In accordance with Wilhelm Wundt’s categories, Finnish scholars have usually distinguished two main classes of soul concept: a man’s body contains a life-sustaining ‘breathing soul’ (spirit, body soul), as well as a ’ghost soul’ or ‘shadow soul’ capable of detaching itself from the body. The ghost soul has also been called the ‘free soul’, and in phenomenological terms, it is possible to distinguish a number of classes of soul concepts.”

It is important to remember that there are “many soul types”, and thus the dichotomy between “body soul” and “free soul” is arbitrary, and more a means for clarification and discussing, as opposed to being a definitive “soul guide”. For scholarly purposes, the framework is meant to help make sense of the large amount of, potentially conflicting, source material. Sarmela lays out a simple framework as follows;

” 1. The life soul (breath soul) is the life force initiating life and sustaining it, leaving as the body dies, perhaps with the final breath. The presence of the life soul may be felt as the heartbeat or rushing blood, and the terms for it in Finno-Ugrian languages have meant e.g. ‘breath’, ‘vapor’ and ‘spirit’ and ‘life’ itself. This kind of soul concept has been used to explain the beginning and end of life, but also conception, transmission of life from mother to child. The breath soul distinguishes living, breathing beings from the dead, those who do not breathe.”

As was pointed out earlier, this is one part of soul/spirit that dwells in the body, that animates the body. It is often equated with the breath, and the breathing of living things. It is the vital life force, the biochemical metabolic energy that keeps the physical body going. Once this spirit leaves the body, the physical body dies and begins to decay. It is contrasted against the next piece of the soul/spirit. The persona soul, often called the free soul. Sarmela says;

“2. The persona soul (ghost soul) is an immortal, personal substance residing in all living things, a psyche or ’genetic memory’ into which a person’s individual spiritual experience is collected. The persona soul resides in the innermost recesses of a person, but during dreaming it may travel outside the body or leave the body when the person becomes ill and dies, and after death it may continue wandering independently in a new form.”

I am not sure I agree with the “immortal” part, as I believe even spirits can “die”. I guess this warrants a discussion of how I conceive of “death.” To me, death implies a change in form, a fracturing, a kind of entropy. When I die, I feel pieces of my spirit will separate and take on new forms. My body will be cremated, other parts of “me” will live on, through the memories of others that knew me, through my children, and of course I believe some form of “free soul” will continue after my body ceases to function. Sarmela speaks more to this point:

” In Finno-Ugrian languages, the term for this ghost or shadow soul has corresponded to the word ‘self’ in modern Finnish. This self- or I-soul is what makes a newborn baby human, gives him his own consciousness and personality. After death, the persona soul moves over to the realm of the dead, living as a ghost in the form of its ‘owner’, resembling the deceased person in outward appearance.”

Curious too, that a similar concept amongst the Norse is the hugr, the “self” soul/spirit. I will be talking more about this in another post.

Lastly, we have the haltia soul;

” 3. The folklore of the Finns, in common with that of other northern peoples, also includes man’s supernatural guardian, haltia. A person’s haltia might appear as an external double or doppelgänger (Sw. dubbelgångare), called etiäinen in Finland; it has been seen to walk ahead of the person and to arrive before he has arrived himself (narrative type Si A 1-100). The haltia-soul has been used to explain the variety of human fates, man’s luck and success, the mental abilities of strong personalities such as shamans and sorcerers; a strong person had a strong haltia. The concept of soul has also helped express the reason behind the individual strength of each living being, the strong or weak psyche, and the distinguishing features of his personality.”

My last post covered a lot about haltias, so I will not talk too much about this one. The interesting bits here is the overlap with the Norse concepts of fylgja and vordr, which I have also written about before. Also of interest, is that a person haltia can reflect their personality, and individuals strengths, and by implication, also their weaknesses. Really digging into this will require more space and more time. I plan on digging into this.

Lastly, an important point to remember is this is a scholarly framework designed to organize a diversity of experiences and stories, stories that have changed and shifted over time. As Sarmela says;

” As the cosmic view changed, interpretations of the soul have also emphasized different areas or acquired
new features. With many northern peoples, the number of soul categories has increased, and man
was believed to possess many different souls….”

That is where I am going to leave this post for the time being. As I mentioned several time in this post, I currently plan on starting a new, more in depth series on the various bits of the spirit. It has been dwelling in my head for some time, ever since a friend asked me about the hugr. I want to write more about these ideas.

So, plenty of new writings in the future, and of course I will continue to work my way through the FFA and the Kalevala.

Thanks for reading!


The Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pgs 326 – 327

Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 7

This time around, I wanted to dwell a little more on the idea of haltias, a wide umbrella term for many different kinds of spirits found in Finnish Folklore. As a recap, Sarmela says;

“Haltias are supernatural inhabitants of a certain place and guardians of living creatures, living in an invisible environment but capable of showing themselves to humans and appearing in the world on this side. In Finnish interpretations, the haltia has been the supranormal original inhabitant or guardian of a place, albeit also the female progenitor, the eldest of the species or the first representative of some species of animal. A haltia may also be a human being after death, one who was the first to inhabit a place and was buried in his dwelling-place; on the other hand, a person can also have his own haltia, a guardian.”

In short summary, haltias can be a lot of different things with a lot of overlap between the ideas. However, the general idea seems that they are associated with a specific place, a kind of local spirit. Whether a guardian, a spirit of some animal or plant, or a dead ancestor, they can serve as guardians of their dwellings. At the same time, and overlapping with Norse concepts such as the Vordr and the Fylgja, they can also be associated with a person. It is always a stretch of the imagination for me to imagine that every living creature on the planet has spirits associated with it, has ancestors watching out back to the first of its kind. Beings and spirits without count would inhabit the world, and that is a foundation of the animistic system. I cannot comprehend the kind of numbers we are going into here. The ancestors is a decent bridge here, for Sarmela goes on to say;

” Haltia belief is closely related to belief in ancestors and earth folk, inhabitants of an inverse world. However, the supernatural guardian of a place is always a solitary being who guards its domain, its natural environment and peace. A supernatural guardian of animals has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered animals back to life on earth. Haltias are in their own sphere and among their own kind guardians of the invisible boundaries between man and nature, with human survival and prosperity also dependent on their benevolence.”

Haltias guard and look out for those things under their care. They can be ancestors of a species, or even of a place. It almost seems like each one has its own sphere of influence, its own jurisdiction. They are involved in the cycles of nature, death and rebirth as well. In addition, they are also involved in reciprocity. As I have mentioned in previous parts of this series, haltias can take a “share” of anything for themselves. Whether it is the share of a hunt, of a fishing trip, or a harvest, it seems that haltias have some say over the distribution of these things.

Just as an example of the various roles and types halties can be found in, Sarmela give some examples.

“(1) Metsänneito [Maid of the Forest] is a beautiful woman or maid viewed from the front, but when she turns around, for example to run away, she looks like the side of a spruce tree from behind. A criterion of her supernatural nature is also the fact that when meeting a person, such as a hunter, the Maid never showed her back.”

This type of haltia is also found in other Nordic countries, notably in Norway, Sweden and Denmark as the skogsra. This is often a female type of forest spirit, that almost never shows her back. There are tales of these spirits enchanting hunters, charcoal burners and other woodsmen. There are stories of them as foes, lovers, and reluctant friends, illustrating the spectrum of relationships capable with such spirits.

“(2) Tonttu (Sw. tomterådare ‘site owner’, tomtegubbe, ‘old man of the place’) is a haltia of specifically
the drying barn (riihi) in Finland. Its appearance is described as a little old man dressed in grey and with
a grey beard. Epithets of particularly the drying-barn tonttu are a red pointed hat and a pipe.”

This haltia is similar in many ways to the Nordic nisse, which is also a kind of domestic spirit. It is hard to even generalize about spirits of this nature, because they are very diverse, and may ask different things of different people. In the apartment my wife and I use to rent there were three house spirits. They had a love of sweets, were bothered by change, and loathed swearing. We were on good terms with them, so they often cleansed the house for us.

“(3) The deceased-type haltia is like a soul or ghost, a humanoid apparition with long white hair down to the waist, or wearing a long white gown. Because the habitus of the haltia is evidently the image of a dead person in his white shroud and hair loose, the haltia habitus has been called the ancestor or deceased type. A long-haired figure shrouded in white also appears in narratives on the dead and ghosts, and it is a common habitus of a supranormal being in Finnish folk narrative.”

Pretty straightforward here, so moving on.

“(4) The giant was most commonly a forest haltia; it rose in the forest as a frightening monster the size of a tall tree. The giant is often already the devil or hiisi in the Christian meaning of the word,but the original criterion of the supernatural status of the forest haltia has probably been that the haltia showed itself in the size of the tallest vegetation on the site. In the forest it was as tall as the highest trees, in the grass only the size of a grass stalk, allowing it to hide in the undergrowth.

In my experience, spirits come in all shapes and sizes. It is curious to think about however, that they can also shift sizes in order to obscure themselves. Also, in brings in the possibility that something of immense power, could appear inconsequential, for a variety of reasons. Since we are on the topic of shapeshifting, it makes a good segway to Sarmela’s next point.

“(5) A polymorphous or multiform haltia can appear in different guises; for example in Savo and Ladoga Karelia the haltia sometimes appears as a haycock, a moving haystack. However, most commonly the haltia has appeared in the form of some animal. It is a mouse, weasel, snake or any mysterious animal seen on the spot, a haltia animal. The idea that a haltia can manifest as an animal is universal, and in European folklore the supernatural guardian of a house may also be an animal, such as a snake.”

This one is also straightforward, but with a lot of potential implications.

Considering this piece is already kind of long, I am going to end this here. This is plenty to digest here, and I will likely have more to say in future posts.

Thanks for reading!


Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela Pg 424 – 426

Kalevala Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working my way though the Kalevala, and using it as a source for journey work. As such, the retelling that follows in my experience of the story.


“For long ages, Vainamoinen floated at sea. Then the tides and the waves brought him onto some land, an island. So he stood, and walked upon the island.

In dismay, he saw that there was no verdure to be found upon that land. There were no grass, no trees, no greenery to by found. With sadness in his heart, he wandered the lifeless land. He pondered, he brooded, and he ached for what could not be found.

Then a thought, an idea took root in Vainamoinen. He thought, who could help me sow this land, to plant the verdure? He thought of the lad Sampa, a spirit of arable, and he called to him.

Sampsa set to work, and he sowed all that came to grow on that land. He seeded the acorns on the firm soil. Fir trees he placed on the mountains. Pine trees he grows on the hill tops. Many shrubs in the valleys,  birches in the marshes, the alders in the loose soil, the lindens in the lowlands, and willows in the wetlands. Also Sampsa sowed, Mountain-Ash in the virgin places, hawthorne on the banks of rivers, and junipers in the hilly regions. All these things and more Sampsa sowed, and Vainamoinen saw all these things, and the joy lifted his spirits.

All the plants and trees took to root, and grew tall and strong. All of these things, pine, birch, juniper, all of them grew in the strength of their kind. So Vainamoinen walked through the hills and valleys, to the rivers and mountains, and saw all of this. In Sampsa’s work he found happiness, and was made glad.

Until the day he came across the acorn, for the great oak had no grown. Unlike all the others, there was no root nor branch for that great tree. Vainamoinen was once again dismayed, and somber. So he once more brooded and thought.

“Why does the great sky-tree not grow?” He wondered. He waited many days, and still the acorn was content to stay as it was.

His heart heavy, Vainamoinen wandered. As he did, he came upon five water maids, spirits of the waves. They are mowing grass, cutting down the long stands and piling them. As he watched, Vainamoinen saw the great Tursas come up from the water with a torch. He sets alight the bales of grass, and they burn down to ash. Great Tursas then raked up all the ashes, and spread them about the beds of the acorns. Vainamoinen watched for one day, and then another, and watched the might tree begin to grow.

One oak grew fast, and soon its might branches stopped the clouds, and made the mountains feel small. It rose high into the heavens, and blocked out the light of the sun, and the pale of the moon. All in its shadow begin to wither and die. Once again Vainamoinen  pondered and brooded. Surely, so great of tree could not stand, could not be at the expanse of all others.

He missed the sun, and the moon, and the stars in the heavens, and so he pondered how to fell the great tree.

He called to his mother, and other spirits besides.

“Send a spirit from the waters, for in the water are many spirits! Send one to fell this tree which has robbed the world of the sun and the moon!” He cried out.

So a spirit rose up out of the water, and Vainamoinen was dismayed. Here was a tiny thing, no bigger than a man thumb’s. He scoffed and he ridiculed the tiny spirit, for no such being could fell such a great tree.

Then the tiny spirit rose up, his arms like tree trunks, his legs like mountains. And he brought down the great tree with one, two, three mighty swings.

The moon and sun returned, and many things began to grow once more. Barley alone did not come up, no fields of grain for the old man. A bird told to him;

“Barley will not come up, until the land is tamed. Make a clearing, till some fields, and burn it over by fire. Only then Barely shall grow.” The bird said.

So Vainamoinen set out to make a farm for himself, and with his sharp axe made a clearing. He fell many trees, and upturned the land. One birch he spared, because he deemed it a fine tree. Many birds came to rest in that tree, and a mighty eagle. The mighty eagle thought the tree was fine, and praised Vainamoinen in his good judgment, leaving the tree standing.

So the great eagle struck fire from his wings, and fanned the flames across the clearing. Old wood and grass takes flame, and the ground is burned over. Barley rises up, and the grain grows through the fields of the farm. Vainamoinen recites a charm over the fields.

So, were the fields of Kalevala made to be prosperous.”

I really enjoyed learning this story. I especially enjoyed how much of nature is present throughout. From what I have learned so far, the Kalevala and Finnish folklore more generally is very naturalistic. Nature was included in the narrative to such a degree that the poem would almost not exist without it.

Take an example from my own telling, and look at the amount of time that was given just to detailing the trees. There is much to be learned from these stories. I want to call attention to the variety of soil types the trees are planted in. I can say from experience that some descriptions from the poem are right on the mark. Certain trees prefer certain soils for optimal growth, and the poem shows that in many cases. That is reasonably specialized knowledge, and the fact that it takes such a central part of the poem is something worth considering.

Agricultural knowledge is also present in the poem. Certain seeds and plants will not grow until they are frozen, or burned. It is interesting that the poem would go into that much detail. In no small way, the poem is a mechanism for passing this kind of nature-based learning on. There is quite a bit of practical know-how in the story.

At the end of this poem, is the first incantation of the Kalevala. It is called the Sower’s Charm. I won’t say too much about it here, because it may deserve a post of its own. The incantations and charms in the Kalevala are an interesting study all on their own.

So, until next time.


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

Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 6

The first whiffs of spring are in the air. The snow is melting at a rapid rate, and I have felt a lift in my mood I have not felt all winter. Over the weekend I went on a five mile hike. It certainly helped to lift the weight I have been feeling. It was refreshing, cleansing.

As we continue to work our way through the Finnish Folklore Atlas, Sarmela introduces us to an curious overlap of the shaman and narration. In his own words;

” The soul was also an instrument of narration, a monitor to the invisible. The shaman described his journeys through the eyes of his soul or his soul characters; this made the description plausible and credible. Among Palearctic peoples, evidently also in early Finland, the shamanistic rite – the soul journey – was often performed as a dramatic play, with the shaman or his assistant recounting in song the course of the journey, the difficulties, dangers and battles the shaman’s soul had encountered.”

In no small way, shamanism is also a method for narration. In many stories, the shaman is often a singer, chanter, or some other type of story teller. The story is told through a variety of characters, spirits and those the shaman meets along his (or her) journey. The shaman as well, will take on many different roles, and the story will unfold through the narrative.

A lot of this links back into things I have said in other places, such as here and here. The quote by Geertz especially comes in mind, because we are suspended in webs of meaning, webs we ourselves have created. That is one role of the shaman, to weave people together through narrative. And by people, I mean more than just humans. The shaman connects people with spirits of the land, the ancestors, and the gods. The shaman crafts stories in which everyone is a character, and from that emerges a community. Everyone takes part in the creation of a communal narratives, which then serves to shape experience in a dynamic, and adaptive way.

“The shaman’s dress, his role costume, mostly symbolized the animals in whose habitus he was believed to go about. Entering a state of trance, the fast tempo of drumming or the rite technique were not so much designed to affect the forces on the other side, but the audience. The shaman also manipulated his listeners, endeavored to whisk them away with him to the stage of the souls, and to strengthen the concepts held by the community on the constantly regenerating natural order, the world on the other side, and the causal relationships of the environment.”

Everything about the shaman and his performance served to reinforce the narrative, as well as the cosmology in which the narrative took place. This was not a one sided narrative, but one in which the audience was a part. The bonds of the society were strengthened, and the community brought together in shared stories.

When I think about the modern pagan communities, I can see a fair amount of this going on. People are reconnecting, rebuilding old bridges that were left to decay long ago. All sorts of beings are being reshaped into a meaningful web, spirits, ancestors, gods, and those of us among the living.

This reminds me of the article over at the Wild Hunt, that asked if pagan bloggers shape pagan culture. As a blogger, obviously I am invested in this question. Be that as it may, I think we are threads in that web of meaning. We are part of that web, building and shaping the meaning and narratives that surround us all. Whether or not these narratives all agree, we are part of the process.

And that is certainly worth pondering.


Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. Pg 310

Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 5

It has been a slow year so far. Some weeks I feel I am making progress, others I feel I am terribly behind. I am now realizing it is March, and I am behind by more own standards. I think I might switch to another project so I get be a little more productive. I am quite done with being in this rut. Maybe I will just focus my efforts on the blog for the time being, just to keep writing.

Plus, winter can end anytime now. Normally, I don’t mind the snow, and am pretty tolerant of cold. But I am done.

Moving forward in the FFA, we revisit the idea of shamanism in Sarmela’s work. Now, I don’t really want to rehash what the author has already said on this topic, so this time around my focus will be a little different.

Let us look at some of the roles the shaman played in the North;

” The shaman of northern peoples was originally the spiritual and social leader of small hunting communities, acting as intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead, providing answers to vital questions for the individual and community on subjects such as illness and death, the movements of quarry animals or reasons for unexpected

Then, as Sarmela says, we can say that the shaman was a leader, negotiator, diplomat, teacher and healer. This does not apply only to the realm of humanity, but extends to animals, plants and spirits as well. In short, the roles of the shaman extended well beyond the needs of the human community, and was interconnected and interwoven with non-human communities as well.

To add to these roles, Sarmela adds:

“The shaman was a religious interpreter operating in the environment of souls. On his soul journey, the shaman was capable of contacting the souls of ancestors or the supernatural guardians of nature and influencing the basic issues of living. He might get a newborn child its soul, restore the soul of a sick person or animal in his body, guide the soul of a deceased person to the realm of the ancestors, as well as the soul of a bear killed in a hunting rite back to its original home, and also entice quarry animals to the hunting grounds of his community. The innermost essence of animate beings was controlled via the soul, and through the soul technique, the shaman of hunting communities was able to obtain information on matters significant to them, on nature and the future, which were controlled by the inhabitants of the world in the hereafter, the souls of the deceased and the supernatural guardians of animals, ‘gods’. The shaman of hunting communities took care of the constantly reincarnating soul, the continuity of life, the future.”

The tasks of the shaman are immense, and far ranging. In my own experience, working with spirits is an almost constant state of negotiation and diplomacy. It is not a stretch to call spirit work very political. You build alliances, shape friends, negotiate touch contracts, and make enemies in the process. It is difficult to express the diverse range of potential interactions with spirits. They can range from ‘just business’, to long term friendships. Also, each spirit is in no small way the center of their own social network. If you work with spirit X, the enemies of spirit X may now consider you an enemy. Their allies may now consider you an ally. Some won’t have anything to do with you.

The hunting aspects of this really speak a lot to my own practice. In my own work, I have tried to entice animals to my hunting grounds, as well as guided the spirits of the dead to the keeping of their ancestors. Reincarnation and the continuity of life are a big deal.

Now, let’s talk about the technique of the shaman. Sarmela says;

“The rite technique of northern shamans has been characterized by entering a state of trance or altered consciousness, which has been deemed to be an identifying sign of shamanism. In a state of trance, the shaman was able to go off on a soul journey, to detach his soul from his body and to guide it in different forms, usually of some animal or among some Arctic peoples of various ancillary spirits, to the invisible world on the other side, to the dimensions of the dead and supernatural guardians.”

There is so much here, in so few words. The trance state is notable, and of course has many different methods, ranging from drumming and dancing, to chant and song, to hallucinogenics and other mind altering substances. The focus of course, is not the means to trance, but the revelations found in that ecstasy. The shaman was expected to answer questions the people might ask, and so the trance was only the technique to find those answers, not the answer in an of itself. The soul, or the spirit if you prefer, was sent out in various forms. Sometimes other spirits acted as guides. The shaman would send his spirit to the otherworld in search of whatever was sought, healing, answers, guidance, or negotiation. This was done often on the behalf of others in the community. The soul flight leads nicely into the next point;

” Perhaps the essence of shamanistic thinking is the belief in the soul, the idea that all living things have an inner substance that makes it living and is constantly reborn. Different peoples have many different interpretations of the soul, but particularly in shamanism, the soul has had a kind of a separate form that is independent of the body. It might leave the body when a person became sick or died, or take on different forms and wander around the world of souls or dreams, outside visible reality.”

Here, Sarmela comments on some of the reasons the shaman may journey. Sometimes spirits may get lost, and have to be found. Other times, foreign spirits may enter the body and make a person sick. However, the are certainly not the only interpretations, but many cultures see some sicknesses in terms of spiritual intrusion or spiritual loss. Spiritual intrusion is interesting when considered against our modern ideas concerning disease. Some diseases are the results of living beings, such as bacteria or viruses entering the body. In an animistic view, these too have spirits. So it would in fact be a spiritual intrusion, albeit with a very physical counterpart.

Still, there is more to say on this. So thanks for reading!


The Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. Pg 309 – 310

Mentors, Role Models, and the Future.

There has been quite a lot on my mind lately. This year does not seem to be off to a productive start. I guess I just thought I’d be a little farther along with writing and such this year. My current project has slowed to a near stop. It is frustrating. Other projects clamor to be started, but my ambition is lacking.

Normally, I don’t mind the cold or the snow. But this winter is starting to drag, and I am more than ready to get started on spring projects. There is a lot of crafting work I want to get done. Maybe that will be a little more productive.

Yet, I have also been thinking a lot about my future learning and my current path. I have often pondered going to graduate school, but now that seems farther away. In light of several discussions with others lately, maybe my path leads another way. A friend of mine told a story recently about meeting with her advisor about graduate school. I won’t recall all the details here, but suffice to say it resonated a lot with where I am right now.

Frankly, I don’t know where I am right now. What my goals are, my plans, my aspirations? I would have thought I’d be in different point in life at the moment. Getting married had a big part in it. Not saying that is a bad thing, and I have no regrets. I am quite fond of my wife, and welcome the companionship.

Just that, had I been single I would likely have never hesitated with grad school, and the additional debt that entails. Now, I have a wife and a house. Placing that kind of debt burden on my little family of two just seems selfish, and with questionable benefit. Honestly, most days I already feel like a debt slave. Pay for the car to get to work. Work to pay for the car and the house, which stands empty most days while I work. Work to pay off the education that may or may not have helped me get a job… Wheres does the cycle end?

In my college days, I pictured myself working at a university somewhere, research or teaching. Now, that future seems very unlikely. Not that I am complaining mind you, because the more I think about it the less I see myself in that kind of position. My writing suffices, and fills that intellectual and creative need.

Also, I would have never counted on being called by the spirits. Even though I have always been “spiritual”, I never really saw myself in any kind of role in that regard. I would have never figured I’d be called to serve. So now I wonder about what that entails.

I recently attended a metaphysics discussion group, and we talked about formal and informal training. Personally, I favor a balanced approach. Of formal, mentor-to-student structured learning and informal, self-taught experiential learning. The metaphor I like to use is Fire. You can be taught formally about Fire, how it is hot, how it burns, and so on. But until you touch Fire, experience Fire, aka get burned, you don’t really really understand Fire. They are two sides of the same learning process.

So my learning continues, and I contemplate what the future might hold and where I might go. I am still not comfortable calling myself a shaman. Be that as it may, I continue to ponder what I might have to offer to others. I also look to the role models around me, the mentors that have helped me, Jim and Sarenth loom large among them. They are an inspiration to me, and I look up to them. Their thoughts and teachings have really helped me a great deal, and helped me come to where I am.

I look at what the two of them offer to the community. Divination, teaching, counsel, and other things as well. They both co-create The Jaguar and the Owl podcast. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience in those things, and I wonder if I’d be any good at these things.

Can I shape my own forms of these things? Certainly I bring my own unique skills to the table. As a hunter, a crafter, and a writer I have my own things to contribute. I have my own learning and thoughts, my formal background as well as my life experience.

I am currently taking a leadership class, and we are currently in a section called “Mapping the Future.” It has really led me to really think about my goals for the future, my strengths at the moment, and parts of myself I would like and develop. Today was more of an introduction, and the next section I am under the impression we will be working up individual future maps. I will be taking the second section of that class in two weeks, so I will have more to say about it then.

Really, I have no intention for the learning to stop. At the same time, I wonder where I am heading?

“If you narrow it, you miss it.” A response.

This post is in response to a post by Helio, which can be found here.

I want to clarify some things from my point of view, because I feel some things have been lost in translation.

“So when a polytheist says he’s not god-centric because he focuses on ancestors and landwights instead of gods, he’s basically superimposing a monotheistic scheme on a polytheistic worldview”

First off, I stated very clearly that I am only a polytheist by proxy. I am first and foremost an animist, though my worldview and practice acknowledges and allows room for beings I would call gods. The “monotheism critique” will be dealt with later.

Helio has this to say;

“What is a god? The question is easily answered in monotheism: god is the all-knowing, all-powerful and all-seeing being who created and rules everything. And because there’s only one, everyone else is not a god, no matter how much they look and act like one. They’re called by other names: angels, demons, saints, prophets and so forth. But how does it work in polytheism, where there’s no divine monopoly nor a cap on the number of divine beings? Can godhood be restricted to a specific group of more-than-mere-human beings? No, it can’t. A landwight, just like an ancestor, is a deity. A nymph is a goddess, an elf is god, as is the spirit of a dead person.”

My criticism of Helio’s piece is such; that conflating all spiritual beings as “gods” misses the fundamental diversity of such beings.

Spirits are diverse beings, and some come in kinds we can recognize, and some are so alien, so beyond our experience it is difficult to even think about them, to give words to the experience of them.

Helio and I would be on the same general page, if “gods” were substituted for “spirits” in his post. So on this level, the difference is merely semantic. However, some more depth is required.

“What is a god?” I think this is a great question, and one that is not easily answered. As I conceive it, a god is any being that makes me feel insignificant. Any being, that is so beyond me in age, experience, power, influence, or what have you, that I utterly feel small. Also, I generally consider gods to have an interest in human affairs, for various reasons.

I agree with the author when he says that this is not a clear black/white issue. It is not so simple as “x is a god” and “y is not a god”. There is a wide amount of overlap between categories of spiritual beings, and because many of these categories are humans creations, we can argue that each is arbitrary as well, because it is true. We put beings into categories to help make sense of them, but often these categories do little justice to the diversity of such beings. Categories are generalities, and the specifics often go beyond or overlap with other categories.

I think Helio gave some good examples of this; “consider the Dísir in Norse polytheism: they’re divine women or mothers, tribal and family goddesses if not female ancestors, yet goddesses nonetheless; but the word dís is also used for the Valkyries, themselves minor deities of war and at one time called Odin’s or Herjans dísir (Guðrúnarkviða I, stanza 19); even Freyja is referred to as Vanadís or the Dís of the Vanir.”

However, I think it is dangerous to go from “there is some overlap between x and y” to “there is always overlap between x and y.” This logical extension just does not hold water when considered against the diversity of spiritual beings, and the relations between beings as well. Some are gods, to be sure, some are not, and some are inbetween, or neither. There is some overlap in some cases to be sure, but this is not always true.

While I cannot speak to the Roman sources, I am fairly familiar with the Nordic sources, so here I offer a couple of counter examples. Yes, I agree that there is a great deal of overlap, especially between the Aesir, Vanir and the elves, and other classes as well. Sometimes these are treated as separate classes, and sometimes spoken of as if the same thing. Also, there is no small amount of overlap between the dead and these classes. Warrior dead go to Valhalla, Freyja picks up some, and Hel picks up others, and so on. Hel is notably thought to be in the underworld. So no, there is no set “higher” strata which is exclusive for the gods. Beings of all types move around, and can be found on many levels. However, even if Christian-glossed, the old Norse sources do generally put their god-beings, in Asgard, in the branches of the world tree. Such an arrangement is not strictly a monotheistic idea, and I will say more about that in a moment.

At the same time, the Norse sources also make a clear cut distinction between gods and other beings in some cases. The Alvíssmál is notable in this case because it details several diverse class of beings, Aesir, Vanir, Jotunns, elves and dwarves. The Jotunns are the most notable example of beings that are not considered to be gods. Jotunns, speaking generally, are similar to the Aesir gods in many ways, going so far as to share a common descent in ancestry. However, they are not (again generally) considered to be gods, and in many cases enemies of the gods and what they stand for.

At the same time, there are notable exceptions to all this. Skadi is a case in point. A giant that was considered as an  Aesir and a Vanir. As I said, there are cases when spirits go to join the gods, but the reverse is also true. Perhaps not in the Norse sources, but there are sure to be forgotten gods and spirits. Beings which no longer had the status and worship they once did, whose memories and names are lost to time. Other beings can be ascended to godhood, and there are some cases as well where beings are “cast-out” and stripped of divine status. And this is not exclusive to modern monotheisms, either.

As for the “monotheism” of my thoughts, it is a fair point. It is something I will have to think about in more detail. However, at the same time, I feel such a critique does more to shut down the conversation then it does to enhance it. The reason for this is that many other systems of belief conceive of their world in similar methods, and some of which are far older than modern monotheisms. As examples, I have written about shamanic/animistic worldviews herehere and certainly in other places as well. It is important to remember that ancient as well as modern beliefs systems are not entirely divorced from the socialcultural realities that create them. It is no coincidence that the Norse cosmology resembles the society and culture it came out of. Also, even the Norse system drew from other inspirations, and people they encountered. They were also interpreted through a Christian lens when written down. The same is true of modern monotheisms. They drew inspirations from the people they conquered and converted. Christianity especially assimilated pagan ideas and holidays, and certainly some of the ideas as well. Can we say honestly where some of these ideas originated?

The point I am trying to make, and that was central to my original post on this topic, is that there is a fundamental diversity to the world of spirits and belief that we can barely grasp. We are forced, through our limited abilities, to create categories that makes sense of a whole other set of realities that do no always make sense to us humans. The complexity is too great, and eventually, our thoughts and languages categories fail.

If you narrow it, you miss it

Some interesting points have been made here. Some I agree with, some I do not. My response is forthcoming.

Golden Trail

There’s been some online discussion on multiple aspects of reconstructed or revived forms of ancient polytheism. It started with Galina Krasskova’s piece on modern Heathenry, which generated a debate in the comments section. Edward Butler added more thoughts on the matter on Twitter, followed by Galina’s own further considerations and Sarenth’s take on what it means to place the Gods first.

Many excellent points have already been made in this discussion, some of which I can relate to personally. Among modern Roman polytheists, there are some who harbour a deep suspicion, if not outright disgust, for anything that goes too much into personal religion and instead expect individuals to deal with the Gods in the same emotionally sanitized way as a public cult. They’d argue there can be no personal devotion or patronage, because that’s either monotheistic baggage or a form of superstition, i.e. the religious equivalent…

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