The “Broom Closet” is a term which refers to neopagans and witches who are not “out” about their religion and practices. As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I have worked with many people who at one time or another had to emerge from a sexual or gender closet in order to lead a more authentic life. What I’ve just done is slightly similar, though more fraught with professional peril than with personal difficulties.
Of course it doesn’t escape me that outing myself as a witchy Lokean neopagan polytheist means my potential dating pool has now shrunk to the size of a small puddle, but hey, what’s not to like? (I mean that with the sincerest irony…)
So here’s the skinny. The last three years–after my divorce and the sale of our family home–have been personally and professionally difficult. I’ve been financially and geographically exiled from my beloved San Francisco Bay Area where my family resides. I’ve had difficulty re-establishing my professional practice in both Hawai’i and here in Lake County. Therefore I’ve struggled with a lack of interest AND motivation with regard to my work. The only truly consuming interest, besides general survival in a new region, has been a deepening of my spiritual life and the pursuit of magical knowledge.
I am a creature motivated by special interests. If I get bored with something, I drop it in favor of a compelling new shiny. Due to lack of business and time-wasting sexual harrassment by pretend clients, the field of sexology began to lose its appeal for me. I felt burnt-out. In Hawai’i, while working on my first novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I began to study magic and witchcraft as research for the book. I was soon hooked by everything about it. Whee! Something that’s even more fun than just plain sexology or just plain hypnosis but which can absorb elements of both (e.g. sex magic, tantra, and trance work)! And I’ve always been a mystic anyway, since about age twelve… (FYI, I’m now working on the second in the Ornamental Hermits series.)
I’m also not good at compartmentalization. I can do it, but it always feels wrong and exhausting. Over the last several months, I’ve been longing to combine my spiritual life with my work life with my (non-existent) romantic life. I just want put it all together in one oddly shaped package as so many others have done before me, and then spend that released energy on more interesting pursuits.
That rune reading, done on Imbolc with the help of my patron deity, Loki, encouraged me to take the leap. That’s what Loki’s all about–pushing his devotees out of stuck places and into new terrain. At first I thought he wanted me to leave my sexology practice altogether. Now I realize he wanted me to MUTATE and deepen it. Therefore, I spent parts of yesterday and today re-writing my professional website to announce my new direction. Doing this does feel like emerging from a rather stale crysalis and my wings are still a bit crumpled and soggy. However, my new page, “FAQ: Out of the Broom Closet”, was actually a lot of fun to write.
Plus, the idea that I’ll be deliberately working in tandem with my deities and guides means I’m not going it alone any longer. I hope this means my clients will benefit from my improved access to insights and energy, gifts of the gods, belike.
Also the sexual harrassment from fake clients has been a source of worry, but I’ll be invoking protection and warding the heck out of my practice from now on. My Norse deities can be pretty hardcore…
So thanks to them, and Loki in particular, I am expanding and mutating once again. And with Freyr and Freya as deities of both sexuality and magic, I’ll also be appreciative of their ongoing guidance. I hope that in becoming whole, I’ll be doing work now that is “holy” in the best and most expansive sense of the word. I feel excited.
My life has been spent experiencing and responding to epiphanies. There have been many. Sometimes they have created massive upheaval. Other times they simply add understanding and nuance to what I’m already learning. Back in my punk rock phase, at the time when I was shifting into my feminist space activist mode (1980’s), I was suddenly struck by the epiphany of feeling myself as an “ancestor” in the making, as a link in a chain of being (though I didn’t have children yet). This prompted the making of two issues of a ‘zine, Young Ancestors, which I wrote and illustrated.
By the end of that decade I was married and expecting my first child. During my pregnancy I spent countless hours doing genealogical research in the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I had a deep spiritual hunger to know my people before bringing another life into the world. My mother’s lines were easy to research as there were dozens of early New England ancestors and tons of books and records. (New Englanders are apparently obsessed with genealogy.) My father’s people were harder to find as many of them were newer arrivals from Ireland and Wales. But I was able to track my missing father and some of his family through city directories in the midwest and San Diego. By the time my first child was born, I had a pretty good grasp of my genealogy, with some lines traced as far back as the 1300’s and more.
I found marvelous books which gave me scads of dead relatives, such as The Descendents of Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My mother even had a two volume copy of Michigan Pioneers, which gave me the abolitionist Swifts who helped to settle Palmyra, NY and then Flint, MI. I found Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower. I had Rowells from Candia and Orford, NH. I found so many ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany–many of them settler-colonists who were most assuredly conveying a heritage of atrocities such as Indian genocide and African chattel slavery. Though my understanding of this heritage has deepened over the years, even at that time I was aware that my genealogical chart held horrible secrets and privileges gained at the expense of others. Still, I was eager for the knowledge of “my people” even as I rued their deeds.
Later I would also do a bit of research into my (now ex-) husband’s family tree, to learn more about the heritage that my children shared. My mother also was bitten by the genealogy bug, but some of what she’s logged within Ancestry.com is confused and confusing, and possibly contaminated by sketchy, not well-documented work of others.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that I started actively working my ancestors, thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, Ph.D., and his book Ancestral Medicine–Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. I also took his first online course in Ancestral Medicine. These content-rich classes have enabled me to connect with my ancestors in a dynamic way–requesting healing for each great-grandparent lineage from very distant “well and truly seated” ancestors who are capable of assisting the more recent dead to release inflicted and experienced traumas. This is truly healing work and also meshes well with my Norse-infused spiritual practices, as ancestors are quite important in these (reconstructed) traditions. Foor encourages working with the least messy line first, then moving gradually to the ones which are more traumatized.
Daniel Foor’s methods enable me to leapfrog over dozens of traumatized generations in order to make contact with much earlier “well and robust” ancestors, in order to bring healing to the generations who have experienced and/or inflicted more recent horrors of conquest, religious conversion, warfare, genocide, torture, disapora, starvation, plague, and slavery, as well as personal family traumas (abuse, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, neglect, etc.). “The dead can change” is a fundamental concept here. I experience Foor’s work as a form of ho’oponopono (see below), resulting in forgiveness and healing (though not forgetfulness).
This is also an opportunity to create an active, ongoing relationship with my ancestors. As I do so, I learn more about the blessings and gifts of each lineage. I have a daily routine of offering poems and acknowledgement to my ancestors and a weekly practice of making other sorts of offerings. I speak with them also, thanking them and asking them for blessings for me and my children.
At present, I have completed the initial stages with three lineages, and have just begun working on a fourth (my father’s mother’s line). There will be a total of eight in all. During the ritual meditations and imaging, lead by Daniel Foor via video in the online course, I have made contact with either individual ancestors or clusters of ancestors. Each line has a very distinct “flavor.”
The contact in my father’s father’s line is someone I call “Bright Father.” He seems to radiate a robust golden joy, a “feasting in the hall” sort of presence. He “told” me (via meditative journeying and pendulum divination) that his line “comes from the stars,” perhaps from Sirius. This is the most Nordic-feeling line so far, but there is also some link to Wales and a long wide beach backed by hills or mountains. I have a strong feeling of poetry, song, and stories from this line. Incidently, several months ago Loki agreed to function as an ancestor for me and he has since indicated that he is connected to this line.
My mother’s mother’s line yielded a group of mysterious “River Women” and a feeling of a mountain landscape with few trees, perhaps the Scottish highlands (or perhaps not). They are more remote and quiet and I probably have to do more work to cultivate my relationship with them, to learn more from and about them. The River Women feel quite witchy to me.
My mother’s father’s line manifested as several “Watchers and Archers” in a forest. One of them shot an arrow at me when I first approached. The arrow was meant to land next to me (not in me) and when I picked it up in my mind’s eye, I held it aloft to make my request for healing. I felt these particular ancestors may have been Pictish. The main feeling I experience with them is a sort of wariness, though they are also willing to work with me on the lineage healing.
I have written poems for each of these three lines and I recite them daily. Now I am in the process of writing a fourth. My father’s mother’s line has a lot of Irish and it seems the most mysterious for some reason. I also have a strong sense that Brigid is important (both as a pagan goddess and later as the saint). During one of the meditation journeys, the phrase and image of “Brigid of the long blue dress” appeared in my mind. There is much more work I need to do with this lineage and it is possible that I’ll be adding Brigid to my devotions.
I am devoted to this process of ancestral medicine as a way to help my children heal from residual trauma in my own lineages. (They’ll have to cope with their father’s stuff themselves.) It is also a way to prepare for my own death and transition. It feels like a developmentally appropriate work.
Years ago, I studied the Hawaiian process of Ho’oponopono with Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, of O’ahu. I helped to organize two weekend workshops for him in Berkeley, and also took the workshop once more on Maui. (If you google “ho’oponopono,” please do NOT take the Joe Vitale method as being in any way authentic–it is an appropriated and commodified travesty of the traditional practices.)
When I began working with Daniel Foor’s methods, I quickly saw that this was a form of forgiveness and healing as profound as what I’d learned with ho’oponopono–and also quite complementary in intention and method. Through both methods, one can reach back through time and forward into the future, effecting subtle but powerful changes in spiritual and ancestral realms.
In this video of Ramsay Taum, talking about the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, which he teaches as well as ho’oponopono, there is also a discussion of our relationships with our ancestors. Ramsay Taum says:
“We have to make sure that everyone is in alignment…and when you’re out of alignment, when you step away from your kuleana, your responsibility and obligations, your ancestors have no identity because the line stops with you, see? So when you’re lost and you’re out of balance and you step away from your responsibilities and from your place in community then interesting enough your ancestors, your line stops, there’s no more future… Everything that they’ve [ancestors] done–good, bad, or indifferent–we own that and they’ve created that space and we’re now standing at the end of the line and we just follow their footsteps. And the challenge for us living in today’s society is that you know we say that, ‘I’m following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I take comfort in that. I take pride in that.’ But when we get to the end where they stopped it’s beholden upon us to take the next step for the next generation. It takes individuals who are standing at the edge of the line to walk, to take the next step because now our ancestors, their legacy lives on through our steps, but more importantly we are now setting direction for the next generation. So when I step back in line, now I am giving my descendents identity… Our daily practice should include that meditation, that thought, what will my great grandchildren, seven generations from now, say about us, about me, what did I do? So that really speaks to kuleana.”
Working within the methods of ancestral medicine and ho’oponopono, I do truly own what my ancestors have done but take steps to cleanse the residual trauma–allowing the dead to change and reach their full potential as ancestors. That seems to me to be part of my own kuleana. And when I do this, I can walk without hesitation, transforming the path ahead now that the previous “footsteps” have been healed and cleansed.
As I once realized that I was an ancestor in the making, doing this makes perfect sense. With this practice, perhaps I can ease the path ahead for my own descendents, releasing them from the burdens of ancestral traumas.
Tomorrow’s full lunar eclipse has the exciting name of “Super Blood Red Wolf Moon.”
How to View It
Right now, I cannot even see Mt. Konocti from my window, the clouds and mist are so thick, so I have the sad feeling that my sky vision will still be obscured tomorrow evening. If you are unable to watch this eclipse from your neighborhood, you can see it live on the internet starting at Jan. 20th,10:30 PM ET. Check this National Geographic link for info. I’ll likely have to watch this event online.
What’s in a Name?
The moon is “super” because it’s going to be closer than usual to the Earth. The first full moon in January is called a “Wolf Moon” according to some non-specified European and native American traditions. I am always a little wary when I hear something comes from “a native American tradition” as there were so very many nations and cultures of indigenous people here on Turtle Island and white people continue to lump things together and they also get them wrong to boot. (Perhaps I’ll try to track down more specific info later.)
The moon will also turn a nice rusty red during this eclipse. Hence, “blood red moon.”
Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone is my usual “go to” site for monthly forecasts. Here’s what she tells me, a Scorpio, about tomorrow’s eclipse:
“The next eclipse, January 20, will be a full moon lunar eclipse, in Leo one degree, and something is ending. This will be a difficult eclipse because chaotic and unpredictable Uranus will be active and in one of his raging moods, sending an angry 90-degree beam (denoting obstacles) to the Sun in Aquarius, one degree, and at the same time he’ll send exactly the same aspect to the full moon in Leo, one degree.”
Miller relates the above to troubles in my career house. Since my career is presently dormant, I am not sure what–if anything–could be affected.
Miller also says, “The moon rules your ninth house, so you may also have a problem while traveling (best not to do so near January 20), with a relationship with a foreign person based in your country, or regarding a client based overseas. Publishing, broadcasting, academia, and the courts are areas that could bring up a difficulty – pick one.”
Bummer. But I don’t have travel plans anyway, except to the grocery store twelve miles away. The cats are out of food. Since this county has flood warnings, I’ll be careful.
According to another website, the sun signs Aries, Gemini, Cancer, Capricorn and Aquarius are going to be most affected by this eclipse. Bummer again. My moon is in Capricorn and this eclipse is supposed to turn Caps into super blood red control freaks (i.e. more than usual) and my rising is in Cancer. This eclipse is supposed to make me totally hungry for money and much less sweet tempered.
So… as a Scorpio this moon causes turmoil in my career house, and with Cancer and Capricorn also affected, I may experience a vile temper, a lust for cash, and an urge to rule the world. Sounds like a perfect time to go into professional domination! But nah, too old…
(And I can think of quite a few politicians who deserve ickle spanking right now. Restore the government already and get those people back to work!!!)
Seriously though, if any astrology-minded readers have insights on the impact of this eclipse on Scorpio Sun people, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Time for a Lokean Ritual of Resistance?
Yesterday I wrote about the Realm of the Honeyed Moon, a sort of mindful, sensual, “glad to be alive” practice, a series of small and large ritual actions, charming most aspects of daily life. (And right now I am charmed to be sitting up again at my usual window after three days in bed, and sipping apple cider vinegar, hot water, and honey.)
But a ritual for the Realm of the Super Blood Red Wolf Moon is a perfect flip side to that, especially for a Lokean! For one thing, it could it be an opportunity to ritually greet and honor Loki’s two wolf children: the more famous Fenrir, who is kidnapped and bound and bites off the hand of Tyr, and another son who is turned into a wolf and kills his brother Nali (post “Lokasenna”). The son who is turned into a wolf is named Narvi or Vali, depending on the source.
The fate of these two wolf children are told in poems and stories of vindictive, authoritarian deities who enact terrible penalties based on: (1) harm that might be done in the future by Fenris (killing Odin at Ragnarök); and (2) revenge against Loki which is partially taken out on two of his innocent children (Nali and Narvi/Vali). Loki is bound with the entrails of the slain Nali and Narvi runs off afterwards, apparently remaining a wolf. Meanwhile, according to a prose postscript to the poem “Lokasenna,” Loki is imprisioned in the cave, with a poison-dripping snake above this head. Sigyn holds the bowl to intercept the poison, and when she has to empty the bowl, Loki writhes in pain from the venom, causing earthquakes.
[By the way, my retelling here is sketchy and barely adequate so please do look up this stuff in the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda yourself, if you haven’t already.]
I can’t help but compare the present actions of certain vindictive authoritarians with some of the elements of these stories. The Norse lore had prophecies and dire actions taken to forestall those prophecies (which become self-fulfilled). We have “fake news” and a fake “emergency” call for a wall. The lore has the kidnapped Fenrir, the murdered Nali, and the abused then vanished Narvi/Vali. We have children of immigrants, some of whom have died in custody, some of whom are lost, many not reunited with family. People are punished harshly for telling the truth (the lore has Loki’s Flyting, we have whistleblowers going to prison). And Gray Wolves no longer have federal protection.
Both the lore and these current events make me angry and sad.
Tomorrow’s eclipse of the Super Blood Red Wolf Moon is an opportunity to honor these innocents of Norse Lore and those in our own epoch who are hurt or worse for their differences or deeds, whether human or animal. I feel this Wolf Moon eclipse is an opportunity to honor resistance and to highlight the need to protect children and wolves, so I am looking for ways to create a suitable Lokean ritual for this. As an offering to Loki, in honor of Fenrir and Narvi/Vali, I have donated to an organization that fights for Gray Wolf protection, the Wild Earth Guardians. I have also made a donation to RAICES, an activist group helping immigrant families. This article lists seven organizations doing similar or complementary work.
Without the realization of dire circumstances in our own epoch, without the awareness symbolized by a Super Blood Red Wolf Moon, there can be no peace, no rest, in the Realm of the Honeyed Moon.
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.”