Exploring spirituality somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the Black Land....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Way to Hel"

Today I want to share a song I like, "Helvegen" (The Way to Hel) by Warduna

Here are the translated lyrics:

"Who shall sing me
In(to) death-sleep sling me
When I walk the way of Hel
And the tracks I tread are cold, so cold

I sought the songs
I sent the songs
When the deepest well
Gave me drops so harsh
From Valfaders pledge

All know I Odin, where you (your) eye hid

Early or in the days end, still knows the raven if I fall

When you stand at the gate of Hel
And when you have to tear free
I will/shall follow you
Across Gjallarbru with my song / Past the bridge of Gjöll with my song

You become free from the bonds that binds you!
You are free from the bonds that bound you!"

"Cattle die, kinsmen die,
you yourself soon must die;
but there is one thing that never dies,
the fair fame that one has earned.

"Cattle die, kinsmen die,
you yourself soon must die;
but there is one thing that never dies,
the doom on each one dead."
- (Hàvamàl 76-77)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Prayer for Victory

The following prayer was adapted from a prayer of the same name from the Carmina Gadelica. It invokes the favor of the goddess Boann and her son Áengus mac Óg. As the name implies, it is a good prayer to recite when you need success in any matter. Personally, I like tp recite it while bathing, or while standing outside in the sunshine.

Prayer for Victory

I bathe my face
In the nine rays of the sun,
As Boann bathed her son
In the rich fermented milk.

Honey be in my mouth,
affection be in my face;
The love that Boann gave her son
Be in the heart of all flesh for me.

All-seeing, all-hearing, all-inspiring may she be,
To satisfy and strengthen me;
Blind, deaf, and dumb forever be
My contemners and those who mock me.

The tongue of a druid in my head,
The eloquence of druids in my speech;
The composure of the Son of Youth
Be mine before the multitude.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Are the Myths Real?

This is a question that pops up on Pagan forums and FB groups every now and then. I have seen it asked often enough that it inspired me to write this in response. However, before I can go on to answer this question, we first have to ask ourselves a slightly different one, and it is this: "Are the myths literal?"

The answer to which is a resounding "No." I do not believe for one moment that giant, one-eyed fomoire ran around Ireland battling the Tuatha Dé Danann, nor that a goddess in the night sky actually eats the sun every night and gives birth to it every morning. I do not think that treating the myths as literal is a legitimate means of validating them or our beliefs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that doing so can be outright harmful. One glance a creationist fundamentalist ought to be enough to tell you why.

"So if the myths aren't literal, then they're not real, right?"

Again, my answer would have to be "No."

"But Kaif, if they aren't literal, how can they be real?"

To help illustrate my point, I will take an example from one of my favorite new shows, "Vikings."

And before I continue, here is the obligatory

Lagertha the Awesome
In "Vikings" there's this really awesome chick named Lagertha. In the first season, her husband becomes earl and, while out viking, leaves her to take care of their land. It is during this time that a man brings his wife and her baby boy before Lagertha, claiming that she has been unfaithful and that the baby is not his. He says that a young man named Rig had been staying with them at the time she conceived, and since he had so far been unable to impregnate his wife, it must have been the doing of this young stranger. The wife concedes that since the three of them shared a single bed, she couldn't say for certain which man had, in the dark of night, had sex with her.

In answer to this story, Lagertha explains that Rig is a name used by Heimdall in is travels, and that the couple were in fact visited by this god who then saw fit to gift them with a child. It is the myths she cites as the source of this knowledge.

"But those are just stories!" the man protests.

To which Lagertha responds, without missing a beat, "Our lives are just stories!"

Lagertha herself was pregnant at the time, and had much trouble conceiving her own child. Because of this, it could be argued that she didn't really believe what she said about the young man being Heimdall, that she only said it for the benefit of the wife and baby. But whether or not she believed her own words is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that this couple had been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child, and now they have one. In a sense, all Lagertha was doing was telling this man to shut up and be grateful for the opportunity to finally be a father.

This is why Lagertha's assertion that "our lives are just stories" is so perfect. At that moment, the couple's story is that they have a child. Yet it is the story of the child's divine paternity that, even if not literally true, serves to highlight the reality that this previously childless couple now have a precious baby that needs to be taken care of, regardless of who actually sired him.

Myths are allegories, entertainment, lessons, and hyperbole, just like many of the stories we tell of ourselves, or the stories that will be told of us when we die. The myths themselves may not be literal, yet that doesn't make them untrue. The Cath Maighe Tuireadh illustrates the nature of the Déithe; Nut's birthing and consumption of the sun is a metaphor for day and night; the conflict between Ba'al and Mot are the cycles of rainfall and drought; the list of examples is endless.

So there you have my answer. The myths are just stories. Our lives are just stories. One is every bit as real as the other.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Ib

A few weeks ago I saw this video:

...And I thought, "That's cool! Kaif, get yourself a little ib pot thingy, and do all of the heka!"

While I probably could have gotten away with using any sort of container, it was very important for me to get one that at least somewhat resembled the ib symbol. So for a couple of weeks I kept an eye out for something suitable, but unsurprisingly, didn't find a finished product that was the right shape and size and price. And then I got impatient, so I did what I usually end up doing, and made my own.

For a dollar or two at a craft store, I found a small glass vase that had more or less the right shape, minus the handles. It was a little bigger than I would have liked, but it was the best I'd found so far. I took it home and covered the entire thing in air dry clay. It was a gamble, because I had no idea if the dried clay would stick to it or not, but luckily, in the end it did. (Huzzah!) I then added some handles to the body (again using air dry clay) and painted it a deep, rich red. Aside from being the color that ibs are usually portrayed in, red also happens to be my favorite color, so it has a bit of added meaning right there.

The result was this:

And here is a picture of my ib pot stowed safely on my shrine, with my Wepwawet amulet and ankh necklace draped around it:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Shaman From Northern Mongolia

Like many people, I love music and listen to it constantly. Music in general has a way of touching your spirit, but every now and then, a song comes along that speaks to your soul the way few others do. Maybe I'm just a sucker for overtone singing (or throat singing), but Hoosoo Transmongolia's "The Shaman From Northern Mongolia" is one such song for me. I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wepwawet's Shrine

If any of you have been paying attention to my most recent posts, you will likely have noticed that I have developed a bit of a Wepwawet obsession. I encountered Wepwawet not too long after I became Kemetic and liked him right off the bat, but it wasn't until about a year ago that we started working together on a regular basis. Everything pretty much snowballed from there, and we've developed quite a rapport in that time; so much so that after much consideration, earlier this month I finally took the plunge and dedicated myself to him. That of course meant he got a fancy new shrine, which in turn meant that I had to take pictures and show it off.

Ta-da! Wepy's shiny new shrine!

As you can see, Nut gets her own little spot on his shrine. She's another deity that I've long adored, and as there are references to Wepwawet being Nut's firstborn, I thought it was fitting that she have a place with her son.

All lit up with candles and incense.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Polytheism 101: Ritual

The third post in my "Polytheism 101" series will cover the basics of ritual. Though I will be referencing certain Kemetic viewpoints in regards to ritual, the actions and ideas behind them will be the same for any practicing polytheist. I feel I should also note that though this series is called "Polytheism 101," the ideas and methods shared here can be applied to just about any Pagan path.

There are a number of actions that many polytheistic/recon rituals share, and I have listed them below. These are what I consider to be the basic steps to performing a ritual.

Calling the deity
Before starting your ritual, you may find that it helps to invite your deities to join you. Some people call them by playing an instrument, ringing a bell, singing, or chanting. Others say a simple prayer, such as "Sekhmet, O powerful One, please join me for this ritual." Many also find it fitting to greet the deity with a bow. You can do any or all of these things. The most I do is ring a bell and call the deity's name before bowing.

Lighting the candle
In a Kemetic sense, the candle flame is representative of the sun and therefore the victory of Ra as he emerges from the underworld (or the forces of ma'at as they defeat the forces of isfet). Lighting the candle is also symbolic of Zep-tepi, The First Time, when Ra (or Atum, or whichever creator deity floats your boat) came into being and everything began. This isn't too far off from the meaning of the ritual flame in other traditions. The flame establishes the beginning of the ritual as the beginning of something new and significant, and/or the establishment of something powerful and good over the symbolic darkness. If you want to say a prayer while lighting a candle, something like "As Shapsu rises over the horizon, I light this candle" or "I light this candle for you, O Morrighan. May it shine as victoriously as you" will do.

Offering the incense
I read somewhere - and I can't remember for the life of me where exactly - that that the Egyptian word for incense (senetjer) means "to make divine." Whether or not this is true, and whether or not you follow a Kemetic path specifically, that phrase is fitting. Incense marks a space and moment as being sacred, and is very much beloved by the gods. And if you are anything like me, it goes a long way in putting you in a ritualistic headspace. I think it's also worth noting at this point that while both a candle and incense can be given as offerings in and of them selves, they both serve the purpose of establishing sacred space. For this reason I consider them to be ritual tools as much as they are offerings. If you wish, you can say something along the lines of, "I offer this incense to you, O Wepwawet. May its scent please you."

Libations are liquid offerings which are poured into a dish or, if your ritual is outdoors, onto the ground itself. Wine is commonly used, but other liquors, water, or milk can also be used. Since my practice is primarily Kemetic, I use water. In this context, the libation represents the life-giving abundance of the inundation. Of course, the theme of abundance and refreshment still works with other pantheons. You can accompany your libation with a prayer like "O Dadga, I pour this libation for you, that it will rejuvinate you."

Giving the food offering
At this point, it is time to give the food offerings. I often accompany these offerings with a prayer. You can say something simple, such as "O Brighid, please accept these offerings. May they satisfy and strengthen you." Only a small amount of food is needed to give to the gods. If you are having a feast as part of your ritual, you may choose to offer the entirety of the feast to the gods, in which case you would still give them their own portion of food.

Ritual action
Now is the time to perform your magic, meditate, pray, feast, or do whatever it is that you are performing the ritual to do. If consuming the food offerings is part of your practice, you will either eat them at this point, or wait until sometime after the ritual has concluded to return to the shrine and eat them. Kemetics call this "reverting the offerings," and only requires a simple prayer before you eat them, like "O Bast, receive your offerings from me." The majority of my rituals are done for the sole purpose of giving offerings to my gods, so I usually just take a couple of minutes here to pray, meditate, or just sit there quietly and enjoy the deity's company.

Closing the ritual
Kemetics know this as "removing the foot." Thank and bid farewell to the gods, extinguish the candle, and remove the libation and food offerings (or offering dishes if you have consumed them as part of the ritual action). If you intend to eat the offerings later, leave them at the shrine until you are ready to do so. Once you are ready to leave the shrine space, bow, then take a few steps backwards before turning away from the shrine.

And that's pretty much it. Hopefully now you're ready to perform your own rituals with confidence!

Other posts in the Polytheism 101 series include "Building a Shrine" and "Offerings."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wepwawet, God of teh Shiny

After a long and perilous journey through the underworld, Wepwawet emerges victorious!

Or more accurately, after a long journey through customs, this beautiful bronze Wepwawet amulet/ritual item arrived in the mail yesterday. It was made for me by jackal junkie and all-round awesome person, Bezenwepwy.

Guyz. I love this so much I can't even words.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wepwawet, God of teh Cute

I recently took up a new craft: needle felting. One of my first projects was this, a little Wepwawet doll. I still haven't decided if I'm finished with it yet or not, but he looks pretty darn cute in the meantime. Not too bad for a beginner, I think!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Polytheism 101: Offerings

The second post in my "Polytheism 101" series will cover appropriate offerings for various pantheons, and what to do with them after they have been offered. I feel I should also note that though this series will be called "Polytheism 101," the ideas and methods shared here can be applied to just about any Pagan path.

While the short answer to the question of what to offer the gods is "whatever you have to give," I'm betting that if you came here, you're looking for a more substantial answer. So here it is, my meatiest, Manwich-iest of answers:

There are three main places to turn to when figuring out what to offer the gods. The first is to look at the region your gods are from. If you follow Hellenic deities, you might want to offer Greek food. If you are Heathen, try Germanic or Scandinavian foods. Second, look to the myths and symbology of the god in question. At a ritual I once held for Sekhmet, an attendee brought some pomegranate infused beer because they read the story in which Sekhmet was pacified with beer dyed red with pomegranates. A cauldron could be given to Dadga or raven figurines to Odin, as those things have mythological significance to those gods. Lastly, as you continue your research, you'll find out what kinds of things are proven (or at the very least, likely) to have been offered in antiquity. From there, it becomes much easier to figure out suitable modern or local counterparts to give, which is especially important if some of these things aren't easily acquired (such as offering venison instead of gazelle meat).

If you are at a complete beginner, following a more obscure god/pantheon, or otherwise at a loss of where to start, there are luckily a number of things that make great offerings to give to any deity of any pantheon. I've found that vegetables, fruit (dried or fresh), water, fruit juice, bread, and alcohol are always a safe bet. As far as items go, incense, flowers, coins, and pretty stones or crystals are also great catch-all offerings. As you gain intuition and familiarity with your deity and their pantheon, it will go a long way in deciding what to give.

As far as the disposal of offerings go, composting or burying them is probably the most common thing to do, though burning or sinking them also works. When disposing of offerings, it is important that you to be mindful of what you have offered and how you are disposing of it. For example, if you offer chocolate, don't leave it lying around in a park where someone's dog could find and eat it, and don't burn an offered item if it could produce harmful fumes. What exactly you do with them may also be determined by where you live; I live in an apartment, so burning or burying anything on the grounds is out of the question, and I'm well out of walking distance from the nearest lake or river, so I just put natural (e.g. flowers, rocks, etc.) and edible offerings under a tree for the wildlife to take. (As I said before, if you are going to do this, be mindful. You don't want to leave something that will make an animal sick!) Just use common sense, and you'll be fine.

The following is a list of more traditional offerings for the Irish, Kemetic, and Canaanite pantheons. I've compiled it from my own research, as well as a bit of personal experience. Hopefully it will serve as a good starting point for you as you continue to build your own practice.

Irish Celtic offerings

Edible offerings: Alcohol is a favorite among the Déithe. Mead, beer, and whiskey are the definite forerunners, though I've known them to enjoy wine or hard cider. Apple juice and milk are great non-alcoholic alternatives. Beef, pork, and salmon are ideal meat offerings. Apples, hazelnuts, cheese, and honey (or pretty much anything with honey in it) are also great choices, though I have found that hearty foods in general tend to go over well with the Déithe.

Incense: Juniper incense seems to be well-loved, as well as cedarwood and sage. I've also had great results with cinnamon, amber, and cedarwood. Basically, anything woody and earthy is a good choice.

Items: Flowers and other natural items, or things carved from stone or wood are great. Weapons, real or miniature, are popular with warrior deities. As humans were sacrificed in ancient Ireland, human effigies are a suitable and powerful offering, though in my opinion, they are best saved for special occasions.

Food offered to the Déithe likely was not eaten, so you may want to avoid doing so. The best way to dispose of any offering to them is to burn, bury, or sink it in a body of water. Man-made items should be destroyed (broken or otherwise rendered useless, as was done back in the day) then burned, buried, or sunk. However, since items won't spoil, I find that it is sometimes acceptable to leave them on the shrine for an extended period of time first. (Devotional jewelery is my exception to this rule; such items I keep and wear indefinitely.)

Kemetic offerings

Edible offerings: As far as food offerings go, it could be said that the Netjeru have simple tastes. Bread, water, and beer are are the most basic, yet most ideal offerings. Beef, milk, onions, dates, figs, and wine are also appropriate. Game such as gazelles was also offered, so I think deer or elk could make a suitable substitution.

Incense: Frankincense and myrrh were commonly offered, and are probably the best choices if you can get your hands on some, though the Netjeru seem to love resins in general. I've also had good results with lotus, cedar and sandalwood, jasmine, and fig. When offering incense, the most important thing to keep in mind is that some brands use dung as a binder. These should not be given to the Netjeru, as dung is considered impure for ritual purposes (for obvious reasons; I mean, it's poo). I've put together a list of pure incense brands at the end of this post.

Items: The ankh, ib (heart), feather of ma'at, and udjat (Eye of Horus) are all things that were offered to in ritual. Jewelery and perfume, or pretty much anything that's pretty will be enjoyed by the Netjeru. For as simple as their tastes in food offerings can be, when it comes to stuff, they enjoy fine things.

Food offered to the Netjeru was eaten by the priests, so if it is up to you if you would rather eat or bury them. Items which were offered were also used by priests, so you can use them yourself, in honor of the god(s) it was offered to, leave them at the shrine, or bury them. Fire was typically used for banishments or execrations, so I wouldn't burn anything that was given to the Netjeru.

Follow this link if you would like to read more about Kemetic offerings.

Canaanite offerings

Edible offerings: Wine, figs, pomegranates, dates, grapes, hummus, olive oil, flatbread, beef, lamb, and goat are some of the best things to offer. Do not offer pork to the Iluma; it wasn't offered in antiquity, and is likely considered inferior or impure. They prefer farmed meat over wild game.

Incense: When it comes to incense, the Iluma seem to share many of the same tastes as the Netjeru. Myrrh and frankincense are ideal, as are other resins and floral scents. Offerings of incense to the Iluma  also carry the same requirement of purity as those for the Netjeru.

Items: Perfume or olive oil infused with essential oils are always enjoyed by the Iluma. Flowers, art, and jewelery make great offerings as well.

Disposing of Canaanite offerings is much the same as with Kemetic ones; priests used or ate what was offered, and you may choose whether or not to do so yourself. The main difference is that Canaanites performed burnt offerings, so burning them is an option.

If you are interested in reading more, this post has an in-depth account of offerings preferred by the Iluma.

Pure incense brands:

Other posts in the Polytheism 101 series include "Building a Shrine" and "Ritual."