As a member of The Troth, I’ve known this news for a little while but needed to wait for the official announcement (published Jan. 2nd) before blogging about it.
For me, as person who is oathed to Loki as a devotee and who hails Loki on a daily basis (along with a few others in the Norse Pantheon), I find that my heart beats faster and happier at this news. And I particularly like this part, which I find wondrous:
“- The Loki ban lasted ten years, but its original verbiage has not been found in organizational Minutes. As such, as Schuld to Laufeyson* and to our members whom the ban impacted, the organization will hold an official Loki Blót for the next ten Trothmoots in a prime time slot. After the tenth Trothmoot, Loki Blóts may be held as any other blót or Sege, and the timing of the Blót will become adjustable to meet scheduling needs.”
[*Should be Laufeyjarson.]
OMG! Loki and Lokeans are so ready for prime time!
But before I give way to more rejoicing, let me back up a bit and define some terms:
Trothmoot is the annual gathering of Troth members. I have never been. Here is the link to the 2019 Trothmoot page.
A blót is a sacrificial ritual in Norse paganism and heathenry. There’s a fair amount of hailing and drinking toasts to the various deities.
Schuld has a few definitions, including a debt or a responsibility. With this portion of the announcement, The Troth admits to having been at fault for enforcing a ban which actually did not show up in their organizational minutes and the organization has now chosen this action to make amends.
I would like to attend this year’s Trothmoot to witness this historic change, and to be able to hail my beloved patron god in community with others, but Trothmoot takes place at the start of our California fire season. I’d need a cat sitter who was committed to evacuating my cats if necessary. Plus, my environmental illness issues might be insurmountable. So, we’ll see.
In the meantime, it is crazy how much joy I feel at this news. Honestly, having spent most of my life in a kind of gauzy pagan-esque haze with not much to back it up, I never expected to be so emotional about a religious matter! But, duh! I guess daily devotional practices really can and do create and nurture strong links between a human being and a larger spiritual entity.
Why am I so surprised to find this goes deeper than my intellect allows? Inside, I sing. I cannot deny the song.
Hail to thee, blithe Loki! (And because I’m perverse in spite of–or because of–my devotion, I keep wanting to add, “bird thou never wert,” but hey, he’s a shapeshifter who donned a falcon skin, so bird in fact he was. Wert. Whatever. I’m just happy. That’s all.)
It is appropriate to begin with a self-introduction and a brief genealogy. It is a courtesy.
I am Amy Rebecca Marsh. I come from a long line of settler colonists on Turtle Island. My mother is Chloe Alexa Milne and my father (deceased) was Richard Edgar Marsh. I was born in Mesa, Arizona but grew up in San Diego (here is a timeline for indigenous people of San Diego). Coronado was my home for most of my early childhood. It was once an island. Then we moved to La Jolla. A house I lived in, across from La Jolla Cove, was later torn down. I heard a native burial was discovered there as a result.
Eventually I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. My two children were born there. I lived there for many years before I realized it was an Ohlone place and that the bay was surrounded by numerous sacred shellmounds and the remains of shellmounds.
I have also lived in the Hawaiian islands. When I was four (1959-60), I lived for several months on O’ahu, in the Waikiki Ahupua’a of Honolulu, on Lipe’epe’e Street near the Ala Wai Canal. From January 2016 to September 2017, I was living in the Maku’u Ahupua’a (Pahoa, Puna District) on Moku o Keawe (Hawai’i island). O’ahu and Hawai’i islands are part of the unlawfully occupied Hawaiian Kingdom.
I currently live in Lake County, California, on Pomo land, not far from the Elem Indian Colony, on the continent known as Turtle Island. Personally, I feel like a child of the Pacific Rim. Genealogically and historically, I have come understand my settler colonist status.
My own genealogical research has revealed ancestors who are English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, German, and Spanish. My genetic test results are overwhelmingly English and “British Isles,” with some Iberian Penninsula, Finnish and Scandinavian. Many of my American ancestors were among the earliest European colonists. Two of my confirmed ancestors were Mayflower passengers (Richard and Elizabeth Warren) and were most likely complicit in the massacres of indigenous people that form the hidden story of the American Thanksgiving Holiday. I am sure that other ancestors must have owned slaves and that some profited in the north from trading southern cotton. A few of my later ancestors, the Swifts, were abolitionists and had their homes burned down for being so outspoken. I can point to them with pride. The others? Not so much. Who knows what cruelties they accomplished, with pious words on their lips?
My Magical “Genealogy” Doesn’t Match My Physical Genealogy
Given the above, I have no idea why my most extraordinary, spontaneous, magical and spiritual experiences happened in and around Hawai’i. I have no genealogical connection at all, though my father and maternal grandfather were both familiar with the Pacific Ocean and at least somewhat appreciative of its many peoples and cultures. My grandfather was devastated by witnessing the atomic test at Bikini Atoll (from the deck of a Navy ship) and died of a radiation-caused brain tumor years later. My father sailed all over the Pacific, dodging child support. He lived in Guam for awhile. I do know that.
And I have always loved islands…
But none of the above explains why Maui and Hawai’i islands were among my most important spiritual catalysts and teachers from 2000-2017, as well as the source of some very painful lessons, including lessons pertaining to my status as a settler colonist. It would have been much easier for me (and for others around me) if my spiritual “groove” had remained congruent with my ancestry and cultural background. But then, I wouldn’t have had this ongoing learning.
I’ll write about those Hawai’i experiences some other time. This blog post concerns the necessity of acknowledging settler colonist status and issues while engaged in the neopagan spirituality, including the pursuit of magic (which may or may not include a devotional relationship with foreign gods and spirits). This isn’t about being “PC.” It’s about understanding the true nature of our histories, our genealogies, and our continued impact on the lands and peoples we’ve displaced. It’s a precursor to partaking in a grand healing of our Earth and our relationships with other living beings–the most important magical work we can do.
Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget
• Wait to be invited or at least be a good guest. Check your privileges.
The accident of birth and family placed me in California. There’s not much I can do about that. However, when I moved to Hawai’i, I was there to be with my former partner, a part-Hawaiian activist. I thought he had invited me to come and that we would finally make a life together on the same land mass. When the love affair soured, I had no excuse for being there. I moved back to California.
But before I moved to here Lake County, no native person said to me, “Hey, Amy Marsh, we’d like you to live here on our land.” However, I am here nevertheless. That’s a feature of my settler-colonist and capitalist privilege. I can make those decisions and ignore the important protocols and courtesy of asking permission and waiting to be invited.
So I must be a good (uninvited) guest instead. What does a good guest do? A good guest is respectful of his/her/their/zir hosts. A good guest is not greedy or rude. A good guest tries to figure out the rules of the house or the place, and to follow them. A good guest does not trash the premises or steal. A good guest takes no for an answer. A good guest will bring food to share. Those are basics.
Magical actions: In lieu of actual spoken permission, ask for guidance and use divinations to gauge level of permission. If you can, ask someone else to perform the divination for you, just so your ego doesn’t intrude. Remember that religions which prosletize and convert (often violently) have also claimed divine guidance, so beware of wishful thinking and misinterpretation.
• In addition to being a good guest, don’t invade and/or desecrate indigenous sacred places.
Quote from the “Cease & Desist Order …written by Chief Caleen Sisk, chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe:”
“THERE IS NO PLACE IN OUR INDIGENOUS TERRITORIES FOR RAINBOW FAMILY ACTIVITIES, AND YOU ARE ORDERED TO NOT TO RETURN TO MT. SHASTA FOR FUTURE RAINBOW FAMILY GATHERINGS,” WRITES CHIEF SISK. “BY HOLDING SUCH LARGE GROUP ENCAMPMENTS AND GATHERINGS IN ECOLOGICALLY AND CULTURALLY SENSITIVE AREAS, YOU ARE CAUSING HARMFUL IMPACTS THAT CANNOT BE UNDONE BY EVEN THE MOST FASTIDIOUS CLEAN UP,” CHIEF SISK CONTINUES.
In Hawai’i where signs saying “kapu” (keep out, taboo) warn tresspassers away from private and/or sacred places, I have known tantra practitioners and other “spiritual” types who think they are entitled to ignore these signs because of their own “spiritual” claims or intentions. Please don’t do this. If you need to take over someone’s space in order to pray or do ceremony, go find a church or a park bench.
Magical actions: Cast a spell on yourself so that you never, ever violate native wishes in this way. (I’m only half-kidding.) Ask your guides and gods to help you stay observant and respectful.
• Don’t make assumptions.
Just like I couldn’t assume that every native Hawaiian person I met was a devotee of Pele (because many are Christian), or that they would be delighted to hear how I was personally interpreting their culture (I hate to tell you how long it took me to understand the latter!), back here in Lake County I had better not make any assumptions either.
Recently I was at a gathering of local activists and cultural people (one of the few I’ve attended) and ended up speaking with a young native man from this area. A fellow neopagan joined the conversation and proceeded to draw equivalencies between what we do as neopagans and what he presumed the Indian man did (a man who after all could have been a practicing Christian or engaged with some other religion). It was a cringe-worthy moment. The young man listened politely, as he had to me, yet I was uncomfortably aware of the many white assumptions revealed in this conversation, particularly the assumption that indigenous people share “one culture” or that all are engaged in earth-centered spirituality, and that we (non-natives) can know all about it based on a few adjectives or descriptors (which happen to be the ones that we choose). The other neopagan meant well and was speaking from an impulse to create a feeling of solidarity, however I am not sure if that result was achieved.
Alas. Assumptions can create micro-aggressive impacts, even if we don’t mean harm. Remember that.
And would I have liked being on the receiving end of assumptions about my spirituality? What if I mentioned my Norse gods and goddesses and others immediately assumed I was a Neo-nazi? (There are Norse pagan Neo-nazis, sadly.) Plus, to anyone on the outside, white American culture is extraordinarily violent. We (meaning white people) don’t notice because we swim in this violence, like fish in water. It could be a quite reasonable assumption, as voting stats indicate that plenty of older white women in America are racist and reactionary in their politics.
Magical actions: Listen and be humble. That can yield magic results.
• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.
By this, I mean a verbal introduction given to the local land spirits and ancestors, in ritual or when making offerings, as well as to people (if called to do so in a semi-formal way or in a ritual setting). The genealogy above is probably too long for most purposes, but I went into some detail just for the sake of giving an example.
Also, avoid trying to copy anything you think might be an indigenous ritual for offerings. It’s likely to be an appropriation (see below) and you won’t know the proper protocols anyway. Just put out the food and/or drink and say a few words of greeting and well-wishing.
• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.
Find some form of community service or engage in environmental action that will benefit the land and people. Be a good caretaker of the place where you live. Give money to indigenous causes. If you’re white, try very hard to not center yourself in any allyship or activism you take on. Do the job and then get out of the way. (That’s a very hard lesson. Don’t get discouraged. Keep learning.)
Magical actions: If you don’t have one already, craft a ritual for self-forgiveness for when you make a mistake. Also have forgiveness rituals to help ease conflicts with other people. Make sure to keep yourself grounded and do a lot of self-care when in service to others.
• Know some local and ancestral history.
In the U.S., we live on blood-soaked ground. Understand that the violence causes multi-generational harm (to all involved) and that while we ourselves maybe didn’t “do anything,” we have privileges and patterns that resulted (directly or indirectly) from those violent acts. Those who are native and indigenous to the places where we reside certainly still feel the results of what happened. We, white settler-colonists in particular, are potentially still dangerous, even if it’s just our ignorance now that makes us so.
Magical actions: I highly recommend Daniel Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine, to help heal our ancestral lineages. Many of our ancestors participated in and/or were harmed by numerous atrocities. Foor’s method helps the more recent dead to heal and change (yes, it’s possible!) with the assistance of your own ancient, truly well ancestors. Please see his website for more information and for many free informational lectures. I engage with my ancestors every day, according to this work. It’s really helped in a lot of ways.
Forgiveness rituals might come in handy here too. But depending on your experience, beware of taking too much on. And don’t talk about what you do–it could be triggering or taken the wrong way by others. Act from the heart but keep this work private.
• Stop polluting.
One of the dangerous things about us, as consumer settler-colonists, is that we cheerfully consume resources and pollute air, water, and soil everywhere we go and with almost everything we buy. We make hardships for all living things. This is one way that our ignorance makes us dangerous.
• Don’t appropriate spiritual practices, symbols, and objects from indigenous cultures.
Unfortunately, a lot of “new age” and neopagan people have done this. Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s were also avid appropriators. Now the conversation about cultural appropriation is evolving and becoming increasingly nuanced and sophisticated. The line between appreciation and appropriation is not as clear as you might think. If in doubt, don’t. If you’re not in doubt, question yourself more deeply, just in case you should be in doubt. Absolutely refrain from making money off anything that commodifies a native practice or object. Don’t give money or promotion to non-native people who do this. There’s lots to say on this subject and some of the hard lessons I’ve learned (and still learn) fall in this area. Be guided by the wishes and priorities of the native people.
Magical Actions: Critique your rituals, tools, etc. to make adjustments as necessary. Begin to replace appropriated elements with ones which are more authentic to your own heritage and cultures.
If you have been trained in a tradition outside your own culture, continue to pay attention to guidance from your teachers about what you may and may not do with what you’ve learned.
• Learn to Ask Permission.
As neopagan settler colonists, we may be bringing in work with spirits and deities who could be as invasive as we are. Will they be good guests too? Do the local ancestors and land wights feel okay about your spirit guides, gods, and demons? Do they agree to allow and support your spiritual path? What can you do to ask permission to gather substances and/or to create rituals? How can you do what you do without insulting or harming local spirits? What kind of containment and agreements can you put in place?
Magical Actions: Again, divination, offerings, respectful engagement with local ancestors and land spirits, letting your own spirit community know how to be a good guest too. Create and maintain relationships of trust with the unseen as well as the seen.
There’s a lot required of us when we begin to cultivate spirit relationships and work in magical realms. I hope this collection of thoughts encourages others to add an understanding of settler colonist status and issues to their practices.
As a solitary practitioner of all kinds of stuff, yesterday’s solstice celebrations were also solitary, as least as far as humans are concerned.
However yesterday I actually had more than my usual quota of real human contact.
(1) I went to the bank to cash a check and had a few light words with the clerk. Sadly, the bank trip also included a massive fragrance exposure from another customer. People really pour it on this time of year. Fortunately, I had my asthma inhalers with me.
(2) I had a quick trip to the grocery store. I let someone go ahead of me in line and exchanged a few words of cheer with the cashier. (Unless I cross paths with a neighbor, this is usually my only form of actual human contact during the week.)
(3) I talked to one of my part-time neighbors about the feral cats I’m feeding. Sadly, her house was scented with candles (or air fresheners) so I didn’t stay long.
(4) Another neighbor and I yelled a few words across the street. Yes, she and her husband are coming to breakfast on Christmas day.
(5) The dishwasher repairman came. A pleasant and efficient person. He was unscented. SUCH a blessing. So many repair people wear heavily scented deodorants.
(6) But the biggest deal was a shared meal at the Clearlake Senior Center. I’d gone there with a friend on Thanksgiving, and though wary of fragrance exposures, thought I’d give it another try since I was in the area (twelve miles from my home). This was an interesting experience for me. I forced myself to smile while filling out the intake form: yes, I eat most of my meals alone, yes health conditions keep me socially isolated… Honestly, I wanted to cry just admitting to that on a piece of paper, but I didn’t. I even stifled my impulse to go to a table by myself and instead asked to sit with an elderly couple who looked friendly enough. And they were.
The food was okay. A modest salad bar, ham, canned green beans tarted up with fresh onions, mashed potatoes, and a macaroni salad and a roll that I couldn’t eat (wheat allergy). Two men also sat at the same table, but they were not people interested in conversing. Mostly the elderly wife and I talked, and sometimes her husband interjected. I learned a bit about their lives (married over seventy years!) and they learned a couple of things about mine. When they were younger, they lived on a bit of land with plenty of fruit trees and a vegetable garden. They were known for sharing their bounty with the senior center and other places. Now, they live in a trailer home and the husband, older, worries about what will happen to his wife when he’s gone. She sat and nervously smiled. Her fingers were tangled with arthritis. She was still pretty. Married at sixteen, she must have been stunning.
What will happen? I wondered. And what will happen to me? I have four cats. If I die alone, they’ll feast on my corpse until I’m found.
The shortest day was starting to feel a lot longer than I’d expected. Back home again, once the dishwater repairman left, I could get busy with Solstice observances.
I swept the floor of the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple and brought a couple small offerings to the altar (a candy cane and a cinnamon stick). I lit candles and sat awhile, enjoying Loki’s donut patterned shower curtain and the view out the front door. Then I shut my eyes and tried to connect with my favorite deity. Meowington, the temple cat, rolled on the floor and soon became bored.
Inside my house, where my main altars are located, I made my weekly offerings to Frey, Freya, and Gerda as well as to Loki. Friday is my usual “all gods” day so that was part of Solstice too.
I also did another bit of meditative “journeying” work with my father’s mother’s lineage, as per the instructions of Daniel Foor (Ancestral Medicine). This is the last of the “first four” lineages I’m working with and the focus shifted from a previous (quite distant) ancestor to one even further back. The idea is to connect with the most recent “truly well” ancestor and to ask their help in healing the more recent generations (while also forming a protective circle or barrier for the living as the work is done). It’s quite a wonderful system. Each lineage I’ve worked with so far has a distinct “flavor.” I honor these ancestral lineages daily with poems and weekly with offerings.
When I began trying to connect with my father’s mother’s line, I had an impression of green hills and standing stones, a landscape which suggested Ireland to me. In that first visioning meditation, I came upon an old woman who emerged from a small, stone hut. She seemed to be a no nonsense type who would flick away “the troubles” with a cleaning rag. She seemed to have a sense of humor based on observing human foibles, but was not a grand visionary (which I foolishly expected the most ancient ancestors to be). She was willing to help, though, and I was grateful for that. I realized also that I am not at ease among “salt of the earth” folks–I am too much of a 20th century (and now 21st century) construct. She made me uneasy because I probably couldn’t dazzle her with fancy words or ideas. She had probably lived her entire life more in the moment than I ever have. I don’t think this is romanticizing her–I think her life had been too busy for idle thoughts.
But yesterday I ended up beyond this old woman, facing a taller, younger woman in a long blue dress. Brigid was the name (though probably not the saint) and she had some affinity with doves. I asked her, as per Foor’s suggestions, “how do you see the world?” and her answer was to spin around, to look at all sides. I felt that she was on a hill or a tower, as there seemed to be a lot of landscape around her as she turned. She wanted an offering of water and also seemed to want an embroidered or beaded hanging of some kind, a small one. She is also willing to help heal the lineage.
And there was a message too about “empty nests” which I associated with the dove. I tried to write a scrap of poetry about this, but failed.
I did an eight card “Winter Solstice Divination” reading which was pretty darned interesting, went outside and looked at the moon, and ended my night with the smallest black cat on my lap, doing my usual thirty minute Loki meditation.
It was a good day for a short day that was far too long. I encountered other human beings. I sat with my sadness. I let the tears flow. I busied myself with writing and a bit of cleaning and cooking. I enjoyed my cats. I did ceremony. Such days, stretching to the end of my life, are not such a bad thing to contemplate though I yearn for so much more.
Please note: This is a blog post of UPG, preliminary thoughts, and potentially fruitful lines of inquiry.
Loki as the “mother of witches” is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of this shapeshifting deity. According to a short prophetic poem in The Poetic Edda, Loki either gave birth to an unknown number of troll-women, ogres, or witches or to one child who then became the source and ancestor of all “troll-women.” In this blog I want to talk about these mysterious daughters and descendents of Loki, the seemingly perjorative names they are given (trolls, ogres), and how they remind me of wrathful dakinis and goddesses of Tantric traditions, beings who are also associated with witchcraft and magic.
But first let’s go to the source of this story.
The Norse Prophecy Poem
This poem, “Voluspa en skamma,” is also called the “Short Volupsa,” “Shorter Volupsa,” or “Lesser Volupsa.” Hollander calls it “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy.”
I will offer up several versions of the two stanzas which concern Loki and some of his children.
Here is the Lee M. Hollander’s translation of stanzas 13 and 14 of “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy” (The Poetic Edda, 1962, pp. 127-139):
13. Gat Loki the wolf with Angrbotha,
and Sleipnir he bore to Svathilfair,
but of all ill wights most awful by far
is Byleist’s brother’s baleful offspring.
14. A half-burnt heart which he had found
it was a woman’s– ate wanton Loki;
with child he grew from the guileful woman.
Thence are on earth all ogres sprung.
The wolf of course is Fenris, and Sleipnir is the famous eight-legged horse that Loki then gave to Odin. But Hollander says in a footnote that “His most baleful offspring is either the Mithgarth-Serpent or the Fenris-Wolf” (p. 138). However, some scholars will disagree with that, as you’ll see.
Here is a translation of “Völuspá in skamma – The Short Voluspo” found on Voluspa.org (note the stanzas are numbered 11 and 12):
11. The wolf did Loki | with Angrbotha win, And Sleipnir bore he | to Svathilfari; The worst of marvels | seemed the one That sprang from the brother | of Byleist then.
12. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay, And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;– With child from the woman | Lopt soon was, And thence among men | came the monsters all.
From the above we can get a better sense that the “worst of marvels” (aka Hollander’s “most baleful offspring”) referred to in stanza 11 may be the same being(s) discussed in greater detail in stanza 12.
‘Loki got the wolf on Angrboda, and he got Slei[p]nir on Svadlifari; one monster was thought the most baleful, who was descended from Byleist’s brother.
‘Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman, roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked; Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman, from whom every ogress on earth is descended.
The above translation states that the “wicked woman” is the ancestor of “every ogress on earth.”
Note: because there are complex controversies about who this “wicked woman” may be, I am not going to get into that in this blog post.
This next example is from Jackson Crawford’s translation of “Voluspa en Skamma” in The Poetic Edda–Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes (p. 166). Crawford’s translation embeds the poem within the “Song of Hyndla” (“Hyndluljoth”) which may be a combination of two separate poems. FYI: Hyndla is a “dead witch” (p. 156).
40. “Loki fathered
a wolf with Angerbotha:
He fathered Sleipnir
But there was one child
Worse than all the others
of those born to Byleist’s brother Loki.”
41. “Loki ate a woman’s heart,
He found it
On a burning Linden tree.
Loki became pregnant from that dead evil woman
And from their child
come all the troll women.”
Crawford’s translation states that Loki had one child who is the ancestor of “all the troll women.”
According to Dagulf Loptson, in Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson, trollkona is the Old Norse word for “troll women” and trolldómr is a word associated with witchcraft (pp. 71-72). While a discussion of the role trolldómr played in Old Norse culture is beyond the scope of this blog post, I will mention that I just found a long study, Trolldómr in Early Medieval Scandinavia by Catharina Raudvere, but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to becoming better informed on this topic through this and other sources. I am also now intrigued by the topic of burnt-heart offerings in Old Norse culture, as a burnt heart hanging on a linden tree seems more like an offering than anything else.
In any case, Loki’s burnt-heart offspring (whether plural or singular) may be referred to as trolls or troll women, ogres or ogresses, and witches.
Actually, this blog post was prompted by an online exchange with someone who listed Loki’s birthing of witches as one of his heinous acts. I responded that birthing witches was a good thing (hey, I’ve done it!). He responded with “yeah, but they’re ogres!” I replied that powerful female beings were often given perjorative names, therefore I still considered this as one of Loki’s happier achievements.
UPG Note: When I made a request of Loki to learn a certain sort of magic, he indicated (via pendulum) that he wanted to be counted as an ancestor of mine in order to receive the “energy” of the practices that I’d be doing. Since then, my daily devotions include honoring him as an ancestor (among other things). However, it wasn’t until today, writing this blog, that I got an “aha” moment about Loki as a “mother of witches” and connected my personal UPG with the above story. Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see.
A Witch by Any Other Name: Wrathful Dakini Women?
One reason I’m not put off by Loki’s witch kids being called “ogres” or “trolls” is that I have a long-standing love of the Hindu and Tibetan tantra spirits known as “dakinis,” sometimes also called “sky-dancers.” They are also frequently ogre-ish. (And in the East, the taboo aspects of tantra have more to do with magic than with sex.)
Judith Simmer-Brown describes the origin of dakinis in India as “indigenous, non-Brahmanical” and as “demonic inhabitors of cemetaries and charnel grounds,” “witch-spirits of women who died in pregnancy or childbirth,” and “wrath personified.” She also says they are a class of minor deities that attend the (non-Brahmanical) god Siva (Shiva) in his form of Ganapati, as well as the goddesses Durga and Kali. (Judith Simmer-Brown, 2001. Dakini’s Warm Breath–The Feminine Prinicple in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston & London: Shambhala. p. 45).
In Simmer-Brown’s notes for her second chapter, she quotes Alain Danielou (note #8): yoginis are “represented as ogresses or sorceresses” and “dakinis are called female imps, eaters of raw flesh.” (1964, 1985. The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.)
Simmer-Brown also says, “Like their famous champions Kali and Durga, dakinis represented forces marginal to mainstream Aryan society–female, outcaste, impure–and therefore were powerful outlaws” (p. 45). And, with the rise of tantra (7th and 9th centuries C.E.), Simmer-Brown says dakinis were elevated, particularly with the Cakrasamvara-tantra text. Goddesses such as Durga and Kali were also elevated. In fact, in the Hindu tradition, the singular “absolute” could manifest with male and female aspects:
“Alone, the male aspect was impotent and could act only through his female consort (his sakti, in Hinduism), who…became an all-powerful creator and sustainer of the Cosmos.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 46).
In Tibetan Buddhism Vajrayana tradition, Simmer-Brown says the dakini has become elevated as the feminine principle of wisdom, “defined as insight into emptiness” (p. 51). In Tibet, dakinis are called khandroma, “she who goes through the sky” or “sky-dancer” (p. 51). Noting here that Loki is sometimes called “sky-walker.”
The Tibetan dakini is associated with:
“…limitless space; intense heat; incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence; an emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool; the power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment; and an unblinking stare from her three eyes, which galvanizes the experience of nonthought.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 51).
It’s also intriguing to note that in India, male counterparts were known as dakas and started out as “male ghouls and flesh-eating warlocks” and were later elevated as dakini consorts and spiritual mentors (Simmer-Brown, pp. 52-53). In Tibet, dakas became known as “heroes” and “fearless warriors” who were often able to obtain “full realization” (Simmer-Brown, p. 53).
The topic of dakinis and dakas is a complex one. There are elaborate classifications of dakinis, yoginis, and other magical spiritual beings, both in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Some are classified as “worldly” or “wrathful,” some are known as “wisdom dakinis.” All are powerful and potentially subversive to human norms. But the essence of these beings may be conveyed by Miranda Shaw’s phrase “numinous, sky-borne women” (1994. Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pg. 37). As for function, Shaw offers a quote from the Mal translation of the Cakrasamvara-tantra (p. 38):
Enjoyment and magical powers are obtained
At places where female adepts (dakinis) reside.
There you should stay, recite mantras,
Feast, and frolic together.
So dakinis (and dakas) are teachers and exemplars of spiritual transformation and enlightenment, in spite of their often fearsome appearances, habits, and witchy magical powers.
Transgressive divine females are also found in the group of Hindu goddesses known as the Mahavidyas. Kali (below) is probably the most famous outside India. In Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine–The Ten Mahavidyas (1997, Berkeley: University of California Press), David Kinsley dates the grouping of these goddesses to a period circa or somewhat after the 10th century C.E., though he says that some goddesses predate the grouping. Kinsley also points out that the complicated “thousand-name hymns” for each goddess contain a mix of attributes that we humans would find fierce, horrifying, nurturing, erotic, and more (p. 5).
This reminds me of the complexity we’re asked to consider in many religious pantheons. In the Norse pantheon, all the deities are a mix of desirable and undesirable traits and actions, but Loki’s complexity often seems most troublesome for those who are not his actual devotees. He has a vast array of aspects and kennings and we Lokeans eventually learn which ones to actively invoke and which are best left acknowledged but not encouraged. I imagine that devotees of Kali and some of the other Mahavidyas are somewhat in the same boat.
Loki’s Witch Baby (or Babies)
I continue to marvel at the mysteries contained in Loki’s evident association with primordial female power. Loki is often referred to as a god of “chaos,” which is one of those attributes that pushes my neo-tantric buttons. In tantric thought, the chaotic and creative kundalini force is feminine. Loki’s last name, Laufeyjarson, refers to his mother not his father–again an invocation and association of female power. Loki even gets pregnant and gives birth (more than once) and even suckles his children (if one is to believe some translations of Odin’s jab in the “Lokasenna”).
So when Loki eats a burnt heart hung on a tree (most likely an offering to a deity, either to him or to another) and becomes pregnant with an important witch ancestress or a number of witches (or troll-women, ogresses, whatever!), this is one of the most intriguing stories I can imagine. I am fascinated by a god who creates powerful female beings with his own body. And perhaps these beings have the potential for experiencing or transmitting spiritual “realization” similar to the powers of dakinis of Hindu and Tibetan traditions.
It seems to me that I could even apply a number of Simmer-Brown’s dakini attributes to Loki! Loki himself is somewhat like a daka. He could be described as a being of:
“Limitless space” — Perhaps also described as liminal space?
“Intense heat” — That god of fire thing? And my UPG about Loki and kundalini forces?
“Incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence” — Oh you trickster you!
“An emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool” — Shapeshifter, yeah! And any god spouse want to chime in on this one? Plus, he’s birthing witches…
“The power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment” — Well, those who follow Loki can speak to the transformative qualities of engaging with this deity…
I end with a tantric song of realization (mahamudra) quoted in Miranda Shaw’s book (p. 93):
When you see what cannot be seen,
Your mind becomes innately free–reality!
Leave the stallion, the wind, behind,
The rider, the mind, will soar in the sky.
My UPG is that something like this state could be part of the deeper “template” of transformation that Loki presents and that clues to access this state may be found both within and beyond the Norse lore. And that we may perhaps “feast and frolic together.”
When I was little, I could get lost in the rain, the waves, the sparkle of dew on the park’s grassy lawn. Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove brought me face to face with moray eels and the neon-bright children of garibaldi, California’s state fish. Sunrises and sunsets, and that sad time before both, were numinous moments for me. Anything that emerged from the fog was…magic!
And then I grew away from all that, reaching instead toward that which seemed bright and glittering and adult. And then later, all that which was in reality tarnished, ironic, and dystopian. I drew strange pictures in pen and ink, created costumes of vinyl and electrical tape, and always dreamt vividly.
Later, as a new wife and mother, the immense mystery of gestation, birth, and the unfolding of child spirit and development consumed my interest. Nothing has ever been as remarkable and humbling as this. And I worked with a will at the (usually thankless) household and parenting tasks in spite of my chronic illnesses. And I tried to bring “magic” into my children’s lives through books and special occasions.
My own longing for a sacred homeland of imagination and spirit remained. By the time I hit my early 40s, all of these submerged capacities and longings for sacred experience came busting out in a series of absurd spiritual epiphanies. I’ve written about some of them elsewhere (here and here). Some, like my Hawaiian experiences, I haven’t chronicled yet.
Today, December 15th, is actually the second anniversary of my final divorce decree. I bring that up because my marriage was so very “secular” and when the spiritual stuff came bashing through, I was embarrassed to confide in my husband. And when I finally did, well, we just didn’t understand each other anymore. I tried at one point to engage him with tantra. That was a huge failure. The rift worsened. Neither of us was capable of mending what we’d once had.
For a long time, Hawai’i was a spiritual beacon for me. That’s because those islands are so alive (so conversational!) and what remains of the cultural traditions are so wise. But while I was attempting to be true to the astonishing things and connections that happened to me there, I was also aware of how alien I was to the place. I still don’t know why I went through what I did in Hawai’i instead of having some Celtic or Norse deity call me home. But I do know that my contact with the Hawaiian islands (mostly Maui and Hawai’i Island) brought out my full desire to live daily in a sense of the sacred, to cultivate practices and relationships which would be grounding and numinous. I tried a lot of things to try to get to that place.
Once my marriage was truly over, and the paperwork was filed with a judge, I moved to Hawai’i island, Moku o Keawe, for nineteen months. Unknowingly, I moved to an area that used to be known for fearsome sorcery. The island kicked my`okole and though I tried to stay pono (appropriate, balanced) there, I was in reality a’ole pono (off balance) pretty much the whole time. I was surprised by this, as I’d prayed for years and asked permission to move there. I thought I had been granted that permission, finally, or I wouldn’t have gone. (So maybe this was a case of spirit saying, “Yeah, sure. Come on over–and then we’ll kick your ass back to California!).
I was immensely homesick for my children. I developed pervasive social anxiety. I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” I was frequently suicidal. And in the midst of all the turmoil (which also included the sad souring of a long-term, long-distance relationship), I was learning some important lessons. The islands were now turning me firmly toward my own ancestors and heritage. The message seemed to be, “Okay, you’ve hung out with us long enough, now go back to your own.” And that’s when I began to seriously study witchery and western magic and create a regular, daily practice of devotion and gratitude.
Finally, I was establishing a daily connection to the sacred. In a way, Hawai’i midwifed this birth for me. Magic was saving my life.
Once back in California, I continued to study magic and also took up the learning and practices of “ancestral medicine” (based on Daniel Foor’s work). I began to explore devotional work with a few Norse deities, first Frey, then Freya and Gerda. (Loki came later.) I also began to acknowledge and make offerings to the local wights and ancestors as a “thank you for letting me be here” practice. (I’m on Pomo land and I know a bit about the brutal history of this place.)
I could never go back to the merely secular life, ever again. Through magic study, mystic experiences, and devotional practices, I’ve been able to bring my child self home and simultaneously face growing old and older, and to view my eventual death in a balanced way. If I ever have another intimate human partner in my life, that person will have to be someone who already shares similar values and approaches to the sacred side of life.
And the close relationships I have with my ancestors, guides, and deities–particularly my patron Loki–will never be neglected or set aside. This is the stuff of life to me now.
What I don’t like is this seasonal mix of utter despondency combined with perky attempts to foil the utter despondency. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. It’s most wearing.
And to make matters worse, “Solvent-based Life Forms” are also out in force. Scented people are everywhere, and scented candles, brooms, and soaps are in every store. As a result, I am even more constrained than usual in my abilty to access just about everything.
I used to like this time of year, as a child, and also when I was raising my own. As a mother, I threw myself into elaborately concocted Christmas stockings, gifts, special breakfasts, annual trips to the California Revels in Oakland, and so on. But that’s all over. One kid is a Luciferian now and the other — well, I’m not sure if I’m even going to see him and his girlfriend over the holidays. I keep asking about their plans, via texts, which are sometimes answered and sometimes not.
But I’m essentially a witchy neopagan and a Lokean who prefers to observe the Winter Solstice and Yule, so why do I even care?
It’s the loneliness. It’s that peculiar holiday loneliness that is suffered when it seems that all the rest of the world is gathered with loved ones, eating, laughing, in rooms full of colored lights and twinkly objects. There are things to do in this county, crafts fairs and such, but I can’t really enjoy the events as it is so depressing to go to them alone.
I do try to be proactive, however. Here’s how:
• Reaching out to other lonely people: Somewhat from a counseling and peer support perspective, I’ve started a Facebook group called “Lonely in Lake County CA” and have revived my BlogTalk Radio show, Love’s Outer Limits, to cover social isolation in four parts, including the last segment on Xmas Day. I’d like to do something to counteract the shame that goes along with being lonely (especially old and lonely).
• As I mentioned earlier, I used to love to make special Christmas breakfasts, so this year I decided to invite my neighbors over on Xmas morning for a breakfast open house. This has the advantage of socializing in a time slot that doesn’t conflict too much with people’s plans for Christmas dinner.
And there’s a bit of socializing. Last Sunday I drove 300 miles, round trip, in order to attend the Revels with three good friends (all Scorpios!) and we had a festive meal and modest gift exchange afterwards. And tonight the fraternal organization I’ve recently joined is also having a holiday meal. I may even try a Senior Center meal or two, on the 21st and 24th, knowing full well I’ll probably have to dodge fragrances or leave because someone starts to use harsh cleaning products to wipe down a vacated table (this happened on Thanksgiving).
I’d volunteer to serve food at a community meal or staff a warming shelter, but there’s that fragrance and chemical problem I’ve got. Other people just can’t help pouring that stuff all over themselves at this time of year and facilities tend to use the harshest possible chemicals for cleaning.
Since I have no partner, no idea if I’m gonna see either of my kids, and as I am without neopagan or Norse inspired kindred (except for online connections with Lokeans), I do feel sad about not being in a cozy hall with a blazing fire, surrounded by Lokeans and others, toasting and boasting and blótting the night away as the shadowy figures of my ancestors look on from wherever they are, nodding sagely, “yes, she is most truly our daughter,” or some such thing.
Instead I will expand upon some dim devotional ideas for Yule offerings and a ritual for Loki in the Lokabreanna Tiny Temple. And I’ll look for other ways to get through this most painful time of year. Suggestions are welcome in the comments section. Thanks!
Earlier today, Sunday, I spent time in an online group with a number of people arguing that Loki shouldn’t be hailed because…Ragnarök: “Twilight of the Gods,” Loki riding in on a ship made of “dead men’s nails,” and all the rest of that “evil” stuff. Sigh…
And in the course of these discussions I began to mention my previous association with another “difficult” deity, namely Tutu Pele, the volcanic goddess of Hawai’i. And how people in Pele’s country, Hawai’i Island (aka “Big Island”), show her much respect and love. Even many people who are otherwise Christianized will acknowledge Pele. Especially in Lava Zones 1 and 2 in the Puna district, many people will clean their homes and make them beautiful for her, as an honored guest, if she is on the move.
I moved away from the Puna district in September 2017. Just a few months later, on May 3rd, 2018, the Leilani Estates (about eight miles from my former house) erupted into a massive, months long series of earthquakes, fissures, eruptions, and huge, swift rivers of lava. Halema’uma’u, Pele’s home at Kilauea Caldera in Volcanoes National Park was practically emptied of lava. It all spilled out over miles of Puna and flowed into the sea.
 Pele dwells in the chaos,
Resounding down below in the pit,
Kilauea is overturned, adrift like a canoe.
Puna is branded, burned, the sand blazing hot.
Puna is destroyed, destroyed by fire.
 Charred by the fires of the woman.
Puna is blighted, burned by fires.
The Epic Tale of Hi’iakaikapoliopele, Woman of the Sunrise, Lightening-skirted Beauty of Halema’uma’u. As told to Ho’oulumahiehie. Translated by M. Puakea Nogelmeier. Awaiaulu Press, 2006. p. 346
One of my friends had actually lived on the property that later turned into the most active fissure (fissure 8), spilling millions of tons of lava over several months. As the lava flow continued it took out Green Lake (known as the Wai O Pele, her bath, one of only two fresh water lakes on the island), the vacation neighborhood of Kapoho, the Wai’opae tidepools, the Ahalanui warm pond, the Hawaiian language charter school, and hundreds of homes and acres of forest preserve. One man lost half his leg to a lava bomb! Others lost…everything. And with all this, people pulled together in amazing ways, even when they were homeless and governmental response was clearly inadequate.
And still they love Pele!
I can’t help but contrast this kind of spirit and courage of people who live so close to spontaneous destruction on a daily basis with people who are too timid to even be in the same room with people who hail Loki. The timid ones speak of Loki’s supposed role in Ragnarök as the major reason why.
Obviously Davidson and Phillpotts weren’t just scholars, they had heaps of common sense. They understood the relationships of landscapes and natural processes to the stories told by human beings. I think their theories sound very plausible. I’m going to enjoy learning more about them.
My Lee M. Hollander (1962) translation of The Poetic Edda says that the collected poems were compiled around the beginning of the 12th century but were probably written across a span of four centuries. He also says that the poems seem to have orginated in several countries–possibly most came from Norway and only one was confirmed for Iceland. Now this is an old book I’ve got here and scholarship must have advanced, but since this is not a blog on Norse lore (which I am not qualified to write anyway) I am going to ask readers to play nice if they make corrections in the comments section. I am hoping to get a copy of Jackson Crawford’s translation soon. Thank you.
So let’s just note the twenty-two or so volcanic eruptions in Iceland from 870 til 1188, just before the beginning of the 12th century. These eruptions, or news of them, may have had an impact on several countries in the old Norse world, particularly if they affected climate and crops. They are dramatic so some poets may have been tempted to reference them.
Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) wrote the Prose Edda in Iceland around the year 1220. There were twelve volcanic eruptions in Iceland during his lifetime, including one at Katla the year he was born.
Looks like this evening’s UPG is possibly verified by geologic and scholastic sources. But my main interest in this blog post is in comparing cultural/community reactions to Pele and Loki.
Destruction, Renewal: Norse Style, Hawaiian Style
Volcanoes are impressive natural events and it’s not hard to imagine that they would make an impression on any writer’s mind. They are very much like the end of the world. There are earthquakes, spewing fountains of lava and lava flows, poisonous gases…not to mentioned a sun which seems to go dark and other disruptive weather patterns which might cause crop failures and starvation. When I hear the phrase “ship made of dead men’s nails,” I have to admit I think of obsidian shards raining down from a volcanic eruption.
And in the poems and the prose, Loki is linked with some of this phenomena. Bound in a cave at the end of the Lokasenna he shudders from dripping snake poison and makes earthquakes (linked to volcanic activity). He is linked with fire and lightening. He’s said to be the avenging force behind Ragnarök, a battle of the gods and the end of life as we know it (temporarily, anyway). Fortunately there is a renewal of life afterwards. The seeress exclaims, “I see green again—–with growing things” (Hollander, p. 12).
It’s interesting to note that one of the most important tales in Hawaiian literature involves Pele and her youngest sister, Hi’iakaikapoliopele (“Hi’iaka in the bosom of Pele”) (see the quoted poem above). It’s an enormous saga, a world class epic, and at the end there is also a fierce battle between the two sisters, partially because Pele has killed Hi’iaka’s same sex lover, Hopo’e, for no good reason. Their battle devastates the land with flowing lava, burning forests, etc. Finally other gods and goddesses step in and tell them to quit it. And at that point Hi’iakaikapoliopele becomes a goddess in her own right, bringing vegetation and new life to the lava flows of her eldest sister. Destruction, renewal; the cycle of life we endure and sometimes celebrate as human beings.
(You can watch a stunning dance performance of this story, Holo Mai Pele, here. The hula teachers for this performance are direct descendents of Pele, who is an ancestral goddess as well the volcano goddess. Production by Halau O Kekuhi.)
As you can see, Hawaiians embrace this story and love both goddesses in spite of their flaws, including Pele’s potential to create real-life catastrophes! This is pretty interesting to me when I compare this with fearful attitudes toward Loki among American neopagans who worship Norse gods. Meanwhile, back in the countries with volcanic histories that may have inspired the story of Ragnarök, I hear the people there are mostly chill when it comes hailing Loki. Are we weird here in the U.S. or what?
So I do think it’s regrettable that unlike Pele in Hawai’i, Loki–also connected with natural forces and cycles–gets little respect or celebration except from those who are particularly devoted to him (or who at least hail him from time to time). I find myself wishing that people who worship Norse gods would have a little more aloha for Loki, which is a value somewhat comparable (though not equivalent) with frith.
We cannot escape the natural forces that rend and rule our planet. Those who are theists (of any kind) might also argue that we cannot escape our deities. I look out every morning at Mt. Konocti, a high threat volcano just a few miles on the other side of Clear Lake in California. Sometime in the distant past a whole side of one of Konocti’s peaks slid into the lake, creating a giant concave scoop and probably triggering earthquakes and a flood. Every day I bless and thank that mountain. Why not? What else am I to do?