Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Runecasting for Recons (not really)

Gods, I love alliteration.  So, I couldn't help myself with the title.  But who knows?  Maybe the recons will learn something when they read this.

Or probably just talk smack on Reddit.  Just saying...

Monday, April 10, 2017

Runecasting and the M- Word

I really hate the M- word.  It suddenly puts Heathenry into the realm of Wiccan and other m(agic) based beliefs. It suggests that there isn't a good reason why something happened.  And for the Rational Heathen, that drives me batty.

I've been accused in the past of being atheistic because I waffle on certain elements of our beliefs.  And yet, there are plenty of nonbelievers in the ranks of heathens, who don't necessarily believe in the gods as people, but still wish to preserve the old ways.  And yet, I have had more encounters with our gods, and even the wights, than some of the staunch believers have.

Go figure.

About Runecasting

So, when I talk about runecasting, understand that this is my interpretation of it.  It isn't necessarily the only way to do it.  It's not even the right way.  But it is my way and if you can learn some things from my methods, then terrific.

Before I get started on this, I don't consider myself an expert in the runes. I know the Elder Futhark and I cast those runes. There are other runes that are equally valuable such as the Younger Futhark, the Anglo Saxon runes, and others.  None of them are inferior.  But unless you make yourself a set, or find someone who makes these runes, chances are the runes you'll pick up are Elder Futhark.  Which is okay.  There's a lot more written about them than the other runes, anyway.

How I Got into Runecasting

My sister (who, weirdly enough is a devout Christian), gave me Ralph Blum's Book on runes when it first came out when I was in junior high or high school (yeah, it was that long ago).  I dinked around with them throughout high school and college, not knowing what the Hel I was doing.  Even so, the runes had a tendency to give me consistent, true readings. As I started reading other rune material, I outlined the rules in my own mind, what the runes meant, and how to runecast.  Even now, I follow these rules when I do a runecast.

It works for me.  It may not work for you.

My Rules to Runecasting

These are my rules when it comes to runecasting.  Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV), and you probably have a method that suits you.

Choose Runes that Speak to You

I'm not talking about actual speech here.  I'm talking about what feels right in your hands.  I have probably around 10 rune sets, some which I do not like or connect with.  There's one runeset, a runeset made from hematite, that feels right in my hands. I have one runeset I totally despise that is a card runeset (similar to Tarot) that I picked up because I thought it would be different.  (Boy howdy, it was.)  I've been ambivalent on some wooden runes I bought. I don't know the wood and they don't seem to have a connection to me.  So, I don't use them.  YMMV.  Again.

Abandon Conventional Tarot Wisdom

Don't treat the runes as though they were Tarot cards (they're not).  That means there is no merkstave (upside down) readings.  We have enough negative implications with some of the runes, depending on how you read them. The rune, whether you pull it out upside down or sideways, or whatever, is the rune.  However, can you read a different interpretation with an upside down rune?  You can do what you like.  I think it's incorrect, but hey, that's my interpretation.  Again, YMMV.

Abandon the Blank Rune

This is clearly a Ralph Blum invention, although someone might call me on this and tell me somewhere in yada...yada... lore someone used one.  Pertho is more the unknown rune, so we use that.  Someone always says to use it as a spare.  For the life of me, I don't know how I would cut into the hematite to replace a lost stone.  I'd probably just rob a stone from another set.

Read Right to Left

Okay, I'm sure there's no real cause for this other than learning it this way.  You can read anyway you want, as long as you have the rules settled in your mind and with the runes.

Read as Much as You can on Interpretations

This seems a no-brainer, but I would argue that you need to read as much as you can on the various interpretations of a particular rune. Even when I think I'm settled on an interpretation, I'll get an odd reading that causes me to go back to the books.

How I Believe the Runes Work

I'm avoiding the M-word when it comes to runes, because I sincerely don't believe in magic.  I suspect how they work is that they tap into our subconscious which pays far more attention to the world than our conscious selves. I remember having the runes come up with a positive outcome to a particularly difficult time in my life and later discussing them with a physicist friend of mine. He thought they worked because they offered only general interpretation that could fit any circumstance, and yet, I've hit the nail on the head more times with runes than not. So, if there's something else going on, I suspect it's largely subconscious.  But occasionally I've seen the gods intervene in the runes, which suggest maybe they have a hand in tipping the scales, subconsciously, or through quantum means.

Remember what I've quoted Arthur C. Clarke so many times about technology being indistinguishable from magic?

Next week, I'll do a sample rune reading...

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Conversation with Bob the Car Wight

The other day, I stumbled onto a smallish fellow sitting on the hood of my Dodge, smoking what appeared to be hand-rolled cigarette.  His skin was bluish and he wore a stained blue jumpsuit, smudged with grease. It had a name tag which said Bob. He also wore a pink hat.

Normally if I saw someone sitting on my car and smoking, I'd be upset, but this guy was maybe a foot tall, if that.  Blue eyes squinted at me from an impossibly wrinkled face as I walked toward him.

"You're 1000 miles late on your oil change."  His voice sounded like gravel crunching under tires.

I halted and stared at him, taking him all in.   A car wight?  Good gods.  And a petulant one, too. Well, at least he spoke English. "Those are guidelines.  The three to five thousand miles are guidelines."

He glared at me with some disdain. "And when was the last time you vacuumed your car? It's not intended to haul hay."

I frowned. "You know, it's my car, and the goats need hay.  And anyway, you're not supposed to be smoking, you know."

Bob, the car wight, grimaced. "Bad habit, I know. Picked it up from my Model-T days. Mike used to keep a pack or two in the old girl and I picked up the habit."  He glared at me. "You never buy cigarettes, you know."

"Wait a second.  You were the car wight to a Model-T?"  I considered the little guy.  Did car wights get reincarnated when their machines were crushed and melted?  I never considered the possibilities.

He seemed to follow my train of thought. "Yeah, I hate switching brands, but that's what you've got to do when the cars get crushed.  Then, you don't have much choice when it comes to recycling.  I mean, you can hang out at the local junkyard for a while, but it gets kinda crowded with car wights, and it's a rough neighborhood."

"Rough?"

"Yeah, we get a lot of trolls around there." He looked sidelongs at me.  "You don't think all the trolls ended up on the Internet, do you?"

"So you don't hang around the junkyard with your car?"

"They crush them into these really flat pieces.  A lot of car wights don't bother with them then.  So they hang out and join gangs.  They really like giving junkies and other drug users bad trips."  He paused and took another drag on the cig. "But they have nothing to do, really.  I'd rather follow my car and see where the pieces ended up.  They recycle the metal, which often means it goes into other things. I lucked out and got a Jeep, a Chevrolet Camaro, and a Dodge.  Poor Jenny got her car recycled into a building support.  Tough luck."

"Hmm," I said.  "Couldn't she just find something else?"

"I suppose, but it was the frame for a Starbucks, and she's now wired all the time.  She doesn't want to leave. The manager keeps accusing the employees of drinking all the coffee."

"I can see that," I said.  "So, why have you decided to grace me with your presence?  Certainly not to tell me about changing the oil, or to stop me from picking up a few bales of hay every few days?"

"Well, those are valid reasons," Bob said.  "And don't forget the cigs.  But I thought I'd show up since you've written two pieces about us."

"About you?  You mean the car wights?"

"Yeah."  He smiled impishly.  "You got it wrong."

"What wrong?"

"Car wights.  We really don't exist.  Just ask the recons. Their arch-heathens wouldn't have believed in us, so therefore we can't exist."

"Then how do I explain you?"

He shrugged and took another drag on the cigarette.  "Hey, you claim you're the rational one.  You tell me."

"Good point."  I considered the little guy. "Suppose I said I don't believe in you?"

"Are you trying to prove a negative?"  Bob chuckled. "You could say you're delusional, and in which case, you might be right."  He paused.  "But no.  Try again."

"Well, lack of evidence..."

"Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence."

"But the burden of proof is on the person who asserts it as truth," I replied.

"But you see me.  You talk to me.  That means I'm here." Bob flicked the ash away from his cigarette.

"Hey," I said. "You don't need to start a fire, imaginary or not."

"Good point," Bob said.  "Got an ashtray?"

It was my turn to look askance at him.  "I don't smoke.  Remember?"

"Good for you. Don't start.  It's a nasty habit." He pinched the cigarette out with his fingers. "So, since you can see me, you can tell the naysayers out there that there are car wights."

"They won't believe me."

He shrugged.  "I'll talk to my buddy, Guido."

"Guido?  A car wight named Guido?"

"Who else would hang out with a Ferrari?"

He had a point.  I had to concede that.  "What about?"

Bob's eyes held a wicked gleam.  "Guido can talk to their wights. We have a nasty habit of causing break downs at the most inopportune times. Especially when people dis the car wights." He paused. "Which reminds me, when are you getting the oil changed again?"

I sighed.  "Okay, I'll make an appointment."

--

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Monday, March 27, 2017

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

If you're like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you're the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate.  Still, unless you're looking to cut ties with your family--and I don't recommend that--you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations.  If you're a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn't for you.

Let's take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.

Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don't be an Asshole)

Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian.  I'm sorry, but that's the truth. They've been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it's unlikely you're going to change their minds. You're going to the Christian hell, and that's all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don't get why you would worship pagan gods.  At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.

That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it.  Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them.  So, don't expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.

Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre's holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs.  Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ's death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won't cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter--not ours, so let's respect their religion, just like we'd want them to respect ours.

So, What Can You Enjoy?

At this point, you're wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter.  There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration.  Here are some of the things I recommend.

Egg Coloring

We color eggs for springtime, so there's no reason why you can't enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.

Easter Egg Hunt

Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You'll all enjoy it.

Chicks and Bunnies

Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory.  You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that's where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.

Easter Candy

Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There's no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can't have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.

Easter Brunch or Dinner

Never turn down a good feast, even if it's in honor of a god you don't follow.  All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You'll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.

Talk about Family, both Present and Past

Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story.  As the good Doctor says, "We're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one."

Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them

If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don't have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don't argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart.  You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.

Go to Church with them

This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you're likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that's another long post.)

Why go to church with your family?  Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences.  Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.

Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen.  It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family's behavior a bit better.

Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors

 I've given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives.  But this isn't about Heathenry, it's about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.

Hopefully, I've given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday.  If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I'd be interested to learn how they worked out.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

As we approach the vernal equinox, winter starts to lose her icy grasp and  spring slowly slips in. Spring for me means mud season, which isn't  something I or my livestock particularly enjoy. One of my goats gave  birth on the Ides of March to a lovely buckling.  I had to come up with  makeshift quarters for them and bring the kids inside at night due to  the cold and predators.  I'm now on kid watch for the last pregnant doe  of the season, which means checking on her every couple of hours.  Yay  me.  Hence the lateness of the blogs.

Here up  north, we're still in Skadi's grasp, although the winter goddess is  slowly relenting to the gentle hands of the spring goddesses and gods.   These goddesses and gods are powerful in their own right, and while we  may not know everything about them, I think we can make some good  assumptions about them.  Let's look at them.
Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Eostre or Ostara

If you want to start up an argument between  Heathens or between Heathens and Christians, mention Eostre, the Anglo  Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth. (In German, it's believed to be  Ostara.)  A goodly portion of recons think that Eostre was simply the  name of April and St. Bede suggested it was the name of a goddess when  it wasn't.  Christians will accuse you of trying to undermine Easter if  you mention it.  Nevertheless, if you wish to enjoy a feast day to  Eostre, do it. I have a whole post dedicated to Eostre and why I think she was probably a real goddess.

In Urglaawe, practitioners believe in the goddess  Oschdra (Ostara?) who  gives the Oschter Haws (Easter Rabbit) the  ability to spread color throughout the world in the spring. The Oschter Haws was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers where the Easter rabbit laid colorful eggs.

That  being said, if you're an Eostre believer,  celebrate with candy,  colored eggs, bunny rabbits, and chicks. (The candy, incidentally, is a  later addition of more modern times.)  Have fun and enjoy yourself.   Make an offering to Eostre for the spring.

Idunn

Idunn, of the golden apples fame, is the goddess of spring,  renewal, and immortality, is certainly a terrific goddess to honor in  the springtime. She's interesting not only because she's a powerful  goddess, who keeps the gods young, but she wasn't born into the Aesir or  Vanir (though you can make a case for her being Vanir, being a goddess  of fertility.)  She hails from alfar blood, making her one of the Elves.

She's  particularly important because without her, the gods would grow old and  die.  Her apples bring youth to those gods who do age.

Freyja

When talking about spring, I feel that you simply must  include Freyja.  Freyja is a Vanir and a fertility goddess.  Without  Freyja we would have no beginnings when it comes to new life. She is  literally the conception of life, and my own UPG suggests spring is  indeed her time. As such a powerful goddess, she has many roles: goddess  of war, love, beauty, seidr, and death.

Freyr

If Freyja one of the quintessential goddesses of spring,  Freyr is one of the gods of spring. One could make the argument  (successfully, I might add), that he is a summer god.  But Freyr also  has the duty of gestation and growth.  He is the male god of fertility,  but he is often associated with germination. It just makes sense he is a  fitting god for spring.

If you think about Easter  celebrations, you'll note that a traditional Easter meal is a ham.  No  surprise there.  I've read that Christianity was happy enough to  incorporate the pagan traditions of eating ham at Easter when ham was  originally eaten in honor of Freyr. As Heathens, having a traditional  ham dinner is certainly a great way to celebrate spring and Freyr.

Thor

On first blush, Thor seems out of place in the list of  deities having to do with spring. But the thunderer is certainly  considered a god who brings the rains which helps the fields to grow.   Little wonder that he is married to Sif, who is a spring/summer goddess  in her own right. Thor presides over the wind, rain, and even the  crops.  It makes sense that he is considered a major god and one who  presides over spring and summer.

Sif

If Thor brings about  rain to the crops, it is Sif, his wife, who receives the rain. She's  definitely a fertility goddess and an earth goddess.  The story about  how Loki cuts her golden hair and must find a substitute for her is a  suggestion that her hair is the wheat crops. (Incidentally, cutting a  woman's hair was a sign that she was unfaithful -- something to think  about when reading that Loki found his way into her bedroom and cut her  hair while she was sleeping.)  But, I digress here.  Sif is certainly an  earth goddess and spring and summer is her time.

Honoring the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Springtime  is a transition time. As modern day Heathens, we acknowledge that the  equinox is the first day of spring.  However, in ancient times, our  ancestors looked at spring differently.  Spring was believed to maybe start with Grundsaudaag or Groundhog's Day in Urglaawe tradition.  The groundhog replaced the badger or bear in German tradition.  While,  we're well past Groundhog's Day, we can hold a feast in honor of spring  and our spring gods and goddesses.

Sigrblot usually comes in April and is celebrated with offerings to Freyr and Freyja.  Most pagans consider May 1st as a celebration time of spring which  includes Walpugisnach.  While it may be a more modern interpretation of  the Heathen calendar, there's no reason why you can't enjoy it. Unless  you're a member of the recon rabble, there's no reason why you can't  adopt Heathen and pagan traditions your own holidays as you see fit.

I  mentioned coloring eggs and rabbits as part of the Eostre celebrations.  Even if there wasn't an Eostre, it doesn't mean that you can't take our  older Heathen traditions that survived and changed, and make them in  honor of the spring goddesses and gods you do wish to venerate.  I think they will be pleased.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

How Close are We to Following in the Gods' Steps?

I was doing research for my last piece on Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, which took me on a whirlwind tour of what science thinks about souls, the beginning of life, and other amazing things.  This is when I ran into a huge post about how scientists have been putting together the pieces of life, and are very close to creating an organism.

Holy shit.  What kind of implications does that have for religions, and in particular, Heathenry?

How Close Are We to Creating Life from Inorganic Matter?

How close are we to creating life from matter? The answer, much to my surprise is: very close. It seems that there are groups of scientists scattered across the world who have come up with pieces on how life may have formed. The TL:DR version is that there have been many theories but the one that seems to come closest is the formation of cells spontaneously given a group of chemical reactions. In fact, one scientist has created protocells with the ability to reproduce, carry a genetic code (RNA), take in molecules, and even compete against other cells for survival.

This has brought scientists to the point where they have figured out the type of environment necessary for life to arise. They have a pretty good clue what brought about life. They just need the right amounts of chemicals in the right conditions.

Holy shit.

Creation Myths

Every culture has some sort of creation myth to explain how life came into being. The Heathen version tells us how the gods appeared through the rime created from heat of Muspell melting the ice that flowed from Niflheim. Ymir, whose body eventually became Midgard, was the first frost giant born from the ice. Buri, the first god, was brought into being by a cow licking the rime.

I'd hazard to say that most heathens don't take our creation myths literally, but most accept Odin as the creator god of humans and the world.  Odin and his brothers, Vili, and Ve, created our world as we know it, and together they fashioned humans from trees.  Odin giving humans the breath of life, Vili giving us our consciousness and feelings, and Ve giving us our senses.

It's a nice story, but it is one that doesn't really play with science much, especially if we can cause the same chemical reactions and "breathe" life into things that are not alive. (Although one could argue that trees are indeed alive.  So, we have some issues here.)

So, Do We Throw Out Religion? Why the Hel am I Writing
This?

Religion, to a large degree, answers questions that have not been answered/cannot be answered by science. What if we do create life?  What then? Does that eliminate our gods--or any god?  I believe the answer is no.

I believe that our gods are metaphors for the Universe, itself.  I'm not quite pantheistic, but darn close, because, let's face it, science seems to eliminate a lot of the woo-woo in religion. And if we believe our senses and reason, it's the only thing we have to go on.  Hence, the Descartes, "I think, therefore I am."  We must start at some point, somewhere.  If they're wrong, then the whole thing is a futile exercise and we just may be some kid's simulation in a computer down in their mom's basement.

But Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest solution is often the correct one. Reality is reality and the processes that occur are strictly natural.  Despite all the universes in the multiverse, most that do not have our physical laws and would not support galaxies, solar systems, and life, we ended up with a natural 20 on the die roll. Luck, or something else? At some point, we just have to make sense of what we have and go with it from there, making changes to our beliefs as we discover more about our world, and how life came into being. 

Is There an Odin?  Thor?  Freyja? What about Tyr?

Actually, I believe that Occam's Razor is a guideline, and not an actual rule. I believe, give the weirdness of the quantum world, that our gods do exist in the other planes of existence that we cannot experience. I believe that they are controlling forces that we have seen expressed so perfectly in mathematics. And I'm not sure that they didn't affect our development in the quantum universe.  We know that a series of very happy circumstances brought about our life.  Who really knows if a single quantum flip was all we needed to create what we have?  And who is to say that Tyr didn't create the conditions, and Odin didn't cause the overall process to take form?

So, Are We Playing God(s)?

We are at a crossroads in humanity.  We may be able reproduce the exact circumstances that caused our life to evolve on Earth. A handful of cells, artificially brought to life, is suddenly both exciting and scary. These cells aren't necessarily something as complex as a human, or even an insect, but they stand for how far we've come.  In essence, we have done what gods have done: created life from a handful of minerals and compounds. On Earth, the life that appeared through a combination of chemical reactions eventually evolved into the creatures we see today.  So, it does put the question out there: are we playing god or gods?

That's an interesting question.  We may be bringing about life that could eventually become a larger, more intelligent organism through evolution, but it would take more that all the lifetimes of humanity to evolve something from our new creation to what we have present day. A bit more than 3 billion years, to give you an idea.  So, until we get hold of Idunn's apples, I think we can safely say that our god-like roll is fairly limited.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 2)

For those of you that were waiting for this next piece, I am truly sorry I didn't get it written up sooner. I picked up the typical cold that turned sinus infection, and was feeling pretty lousy.  So, nothing written up last week.  This week, ADHD kicked in and I've been researching how science believes life came into being on this rock.  Truly amazing and fascinating shit.  But that is a post for another day.  I promised I'd take up heathen beliefs about the afterlife.  So, here goes nothing.

The Road to Hel is Paved with Bad Writing

I honestly tried to read the book, The Road to Hel. I couldn't, but not for the reasons you might think.  While reading it, my professional editor side kicked in and I was literally screaming over the writer's style. Now, I realize that it was published in 1914 when it was in vogue to write in passive voice, but I threatened to burn my Kindle if I read any more.  I've hidden the matches and started reading it again, because I know I should if I'm going to discuss this topic cogently. Right now I am about a third of the way through, which probably makes me a Bad Heathen, but there you go.

I did cheat and went to the section about the soul because to a large degree this what I'm talking about. So, I pulled out what I could and tried to put it together in a more coherent form.

Burial Mounds and Ships

Okay, so someday I will finish the book.  Really, I will.  What I did pick up from what I read was that burying one with one's goods was pretty common. I could see her conclusion that people apparently believed that at least part of you resided in the mound and lived underground.  The dead needed the grave goods to live well in the afterlife, presumably in the grave.

Well, okay, I can accept that view, I suppose.  However, our ancestors were just as smart as we are. They were amazingly observant when it came to the natural world. They'd know that the person who is dead rots and the grave goods either rot or get stolen. Not a surprise there. But like the person's body, the physical substance was probably not as important as the essence of it. Otherwise, you've got a pretty nasty existence as a rotting corpse.

My guess -- such as it is -- that the belief was that the food and goods sustained the person on the trip to the afterlife.  After all, there is only a limited supply of food there. Given that the afterlife continues at least until Ragnarok, if not for an eternity, even a king would have not a lot to live off of.

Of course, the dead would want their favorite things, including a ship, armor, weapons, and other grave goods.  So, we can presume that those things are placed in the chamber for the dead to enjoy their wealth once they arrived at the place they will go.

Nowadays, we still do this even in the Christian burials.  When my mom, and then, my dad, died, my family picked their best clothes to wear to the afterlife. When my dad passed away, my sisters chose to leave one of my mom's rings that my dad wore on his pinkie with him when he died.  They also left his wedding band on.  In Christian terms, it doesn't go with you.  So, what was the purpose of all that? Even now, people choose to be buried with beloved pets who passed away, with certain items that they held dear, or at least in good clothes.  And some folks insist on certain burials over, let's say, cremation or donating their bodies to science.  Seems pointless, if you believe that nothing except the soul travels forward.  All it does is show that people have enough money to waste on their burials.

Places the Dead Go

One of the interesting points that crops up in Heathenry is the concept that when we die, we can go to one of many places, including getting reincarnated.  I'll talk about each place and what I think of it all.

Valhalla

Certainly the most well-known afterlife in Norse mythology is Valhalla, the hall of the slain. According to Snorri Sturluson, it's Odin's great hall where those who die in battle fight and feast while waiting for Ragnarok. That is, after Freyja gets first pick of the dead for Folksvangr. In recent times it has been looked on as a type of Norse heaven -- and indeed, Snorri seems to treat it as such.  I suspect he took liberties of imposing a more or less Christian structure on it (Valhalla=Heaven; Helheim=Hell).  I suspect our ancestors looked at Valhalla differently.

I remember in college being told that only male warriors went to Valhalla, and everyone else went to Hel.  Totally incorrect, because there are other destinations. And I'm not sure women warriors would be excluded from Valhalla.  (My guess is that women warriors will go to Folksvangr. More about this later.

My thoughts about Valhalla are mixed.  Was it a place where the slain went?  Probably. Was is full of partying and fighting?  I have no clue. Was it heaven as we've come to know it? Probably not. It doesn't even seem to play by its own rules in Snorri's account of Balder's death.  (I mean, he was killed by a weapon -- do you really have to be on a battlefield?)  Balder dies a violent death and goes to Helheim, when you'd think he'd go back to Valhalla. I suspect there's a lot of information missing here.

Folksvangr

Folksvangr is Freyja's hall.  Freyja gets first choice in the slain warriors and they rest in the "field of the people." To what end? Does she lead them during Ragnarok? Do they indulge in a heaven-like afterlife?  Again, we know nothing. My instinct says that this is a place of rest until Ragnarok, and then Freyja leads them in the battle.  This is all a guess, which means I'm full of shit when speculating since I don't have a UPG to even back this up. My belief is that women warriors do go to Folksvangr. 

Helheim and Nastrond

Helheim and Nastond are in Niflheim.  Niflheim is considered a cold and dreary place, which probably is the reason why Helheim is considered gloomy as well. But descriptions of Helheim, particularly when Baldur is received by Hel, doesn't look so bad.

Helheim

Probably where the majority of the dead go in the world of Niflheim is Helheim. Seeing as it was considered beneath the ground, we can assume that this is where most Norse believed they would go. If you compare Helheim and Hades (of the Greek/Roman beliefs), we can see a lot of correlation between the two worlds. Both are places of rest for the dead. Both are guarded by hounds. Both have rivers (one requires a ferry; the other we have a bridge.)  I suspect that the concepts are very old and preclude either of the religions.  No doubt we inherited those beliefs from an older paganism that may have existed before the migrations.

Helheim seems to be a place of rest for most of the dead. Despite the gloomy name, it appears to be a place where you are reunited with your loved ones and do the things that we normally do in our lives. Graves are considered gateways into this world. Those families that are in a general region may apparently haunt places near where they lived.

Nastrond

Unlike the Christian hell, most people in aren't punished for their sins, with the exception of Nastrond. Like Tartarus of Greek and Roman Hades, it is a place of punishment for the worst criminals in Norse belief. Nastrond wasn't only written in the Prose Edda, but also in the Poetic Edda, so we can't necessarily blame Snorri for the similarity to the Christian hell. Nastrond is where Nidhoggr chews on the corpses of adulterers, oathbreakers, and murderers.

Ran's Hall

Those who die on the sea are destined to stay with the goddess, Ran. She takes sailors down to her hall where they reside. I have read something that states that they can travel the oceans, just as they had while living, but I honestly haven't done much research on this.

Hall of Particular Gods or Goddesses

I'm pretty sure that if a god or goddess lays claim on you, you can end up in their hall when you die, rather than Helheim. I've seen this mentioned more than once by Heathens, and my own UPG confirms it.

Reincarnation

One of the interesting beliefs is the Heathen version of reincarnation. You can be sent back through your family lineage if someone names a child after you. That's an interesting concept, which means you better be particularly nice to your kids and grandkids if you ever want to be alive again.

I have some general thoughts about this, but this post is huge, so I just better leave it for the next post. Suffice to say, I have had experience with reincarnated animals, which does give me hope.

So, Where Do We Go When We Die?

In my darker moods, the skeptic in me says we all go to be food for worms. But that's just my agnosticism occasionally breaking through. Regardless of our beliefs, death is a big unknown. That's where religion comes in -- to bridge the gap.  As I've said in my last post, it's not a democracy as to who goes where when we die.  If the Christians are right, there's a heaven and hell.  If we're right, we have many places we could go, but most people are likely to end up in Helheim with their families. We may be all right, or all wrong. Much of it is reliant on whether we have a soul, spirit, or something that can go on.

Which Brings Us to the Concept of the Soul

Apparently, our ancestors didn't do the Christian thing and have one soul.  Which is good, because it explains a lot more than the Christian counterpart.  However, this is something I want to explore more in-depth, which means you're probably going to get some heavy-hitting posts over the next few weeks.
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