Log in

The Burden of Advice

If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it's that the general non-mystic populous seems to have a kind of 'sixth' sense of their own in that they usually know who to go to when they have problems of a more magical nature.

No really, I think it's true.

It also doesn't seem to matter if you operate inside or outside the wider community or not, or even what faith you subscribe to. There will come times when Joe or Jill Public will have problems of a more magical and otherworldly nature and will come find people like us to give advice, readings, clear houses or negotiate with wights. They might even be skeptical people on the surface that would categorically state that they don't believe in that kind of thing to anyone that asks. Even stranger, they might also be strict devotees of another religion 'pushed' into consulting Heathens.

It's not just the non-mystical types either that come for advice either. Mystics and magic-users often go to other mystics and magic users for advice too.

However regardless of the kind of person that comes to you for advice, the one thing that the mystic should be aware of is that giving advice or help is dangerous territory. Of course the level of danger varies from case to case but the decision to advise or help should always be one that is weighed carefully.

Giving Magical Advice to Other Magic-Users

This is often a more 'low risk' activity because usually the kind of folks that come to you for this kind of thing are quite magical themselves. They may just be stumped for a bit of inspiration, not as talented or it may just be outside of their field of experience. However this does not mean that it is automatically issue free.

Things that should be weighed up when giving magical advice to other magic-users are:

*The level and experience of the person you are dealing with - you really don't want to tell them how to do something too hard or too dangerous for their abilities or you could end up getting them into more trouble. With some things, it can be kind of like putting a chainsaw into the hands of a kid.

* Paranoia - is the person more paranoid than is healthy? Among magic-users there are always people that seem to almost constantly believe themselves to be under magical attack.  Yes, magical attack does happen from time to time, however not *all* the time! Some folks seem to attribute any run of bad luck to psychic attack and if you ask them why they think they are under attack, the only answer you will get is 'I just feel it in my gut' or something like that. Not even any kind of signs

* Recent traumatic events in the magic-user's life - sometimes, things that are interpreted by the subject as being a haunting or signs of magical attack, are merely the brain's way of coping with recent events. Especially in people of a more magical nature. In cases of hospitalisation or near death, it may be something that has attached itself to the person, attracted by the fear and pain.

So, what is the best thing to do in cases where there is too much paranoia going on or you believe that their current issues are stemming from recent traumatic events in that person's life? Well, ritual is a multi-faceted thing and serves the human not only spritually but psychologically too, allowing us to effectively 'draw lines' under events and make new starts. I have have found that in many cases, in spite of the actual nature of the problems being encountered, ritual is needed in order to make that psychological change for the (hopefully) better.
The art then comes in making a ritual that serves the psychological purpose while solving any actual magical issues that are there (just in case you read them wrong) and that doesn't end up with any harm being done to anyone else (i.e in the cases of people that believe themselves to be cursed, talking them out of sending a curse back to whoever they believe to be responsible.).

Giving Advice or Help to Non-Magic-Users

The non-magic-users usually come in five varieties:

* The folks from your own faith community that believe but do not get involved themselves.

* The folks from your own faith community that are complete skeptics.

* The folks from outside your own faith community that believe but don't really have any strong religious convictions.

* The folks from outside your own faith community that are skeptics and don't have any strong religious convictions.

* Strong devotees of other religions.

People may also approach a mystic/magic-user for a number of reasons:

* Desperation because circumstances have gone beyond what they feel happy/safe with and they will now try things that they would never normally try.

* At the insistence of someone in their family because their family members are desperate (usually the only time you'll see a skeptic come to you lol).

* Because they believe you can help.

There are so many complications with working with non-magic-users. Skeptics may be mocking towards you and not pleasant to work with, people from your own community carry the blessing/burden of wordfame and devotees of other religions can feel guilt at having consulted you and then take this guilt out on you in the end. This usually happens with folks that belong to the 'one true way-ist' religions and believe me, it is not pleasant. Further complications are added if you charge money for your services too. People, especially in this economic climate, want value for money and if they do not believe they are getting that, then they could also make things unpleasant for you. Please also be aware that people may lie about their reasons for seeking your help too.

Obviously you need to make the decision whether to help/give advice or to turn your back on a case by case basis. But what I will say to you - the advice I would give - is that you should try to learn something about that person, their motivations for seeking your help and what they *really* want to get from it before you take that plunge.  The consequences of not doing so are really not worth it.

Being a Mystic in Middle Earth

My friend Svartesol posted recently on the idea of mysticism as a spectrum ranging from those who don't seem to have any aptitude for it at all to those who are constantly engaged in full-time communication with the Gods and spirits. Like most extremes, people at both ends of this spectrum are rare, with most of us falling at some point along the continuum. Personally, I consider myself more or less a 5.5 on the "Siggy scale;" that is, I function as a solid 5 most of the time, though there have been indications I may be ultimately headed towards 6 and I do have my 6 days. I consider a full-fledged 6--full-time shaman or shamanist--to be a state that requires the ongoing support of a community to at least some extent and would be difficult or impossible to maintain while also holding down a job in the mundane world (which, face it, is something most of us do have to deal with). At the same time, however, we need to remember that in some indigenous cultures the shaman (or shamanic-type person) is not a full-time practitioner, but also functions as a working member of the "mundane" community either all or part of the time. In our society, this is closer to the situation most mystics in the 5-6 range will find themselves in.

I will also state up front that there is absolutely no need for everyone--or even most people--in Heathenry to be even remotely mystical. There do seem to be a greater number of mystics around, proportionately, than there were in elder Heathen days, one explanation for that being that the Gods, having been neglected for so many years, are tapping more people directly than They did when Their rites and worship were well-established. However, most people need not have any sort of regular mystical practice in order maintain a healthy and productive religious life, and in fact for the average person a little bit of otherworldly contact goes a long way; in many cases, a lifetime of devotion can be fueled by one or two such experiences. It could be argued that Heathenry (and perhaps most reconstructionist religions) needs the people who are at 2-4 on the "Siggy scale" more than we need the folks who fall between 4 and 6, because the former group are the ones who keep the traditions, rites and lore of a religion alive and in good working order. (Sometimes, to be frank, we mystical types fall short in this respect.) It could also be argued that the mystics are the heart and soul of a faith, because without regular otherworldly contact (not just the occasional flash of it, but the continual daily effort to maintain it) any religion will quickly devolve into a dry, lifeless heap of meaningless lore and empty rituals.

That said, what does life look like for those of us who fall between 4 and 6 on the spectrum? What do we have in common (at least in my own experience; as always, your mileage may vary)? What characterizes us and sets us apart (making us not better, merely different) from the 1-4 folks?

While our paths can vary a lot depending on Who we're oathed to or closely involved with (for example, the path of a Wodenist tends to be more liminal and solitary, as a general rule, than the more community-oriented focus of a Freyr priest--to cite myself and Svartesol as examples), we have many things in common as well--too many to list in this one post, actually. However, three things stand out in my mind as being the defining marks of a mystic in Middle Earth:

1. Focus. Those of us on the 4-6 spectrum tend to be heavily focused on the other worlds and their inhabitants, as well as on the spiritual reality underpinning Middle Earth itself, and this is often to the point of not being quite as well focused as we could be on the mundane happenings of the material world in which we (at least physically) live. The Gods, spirits and other disincarnate beings (the dead, elves, landwights, etc.) we work with are as real to us and as much a part of our lives as the flesh-and-blood people around us (and sometimes more so). The absent-minded mystic is becoming almost as much a stereotype as the absent-minded professor, and most of us do try not to come off as being completely flaky air-heads and work hard at being able to function effectively in our mundane lives. But as with all stereotypes there is truth behind this one, and it arises from the fact that many of us are so focused on the other worlds that it's harder for us to keep a firm grasp on our this-worldly surroundings and responsibilities. Of course, being completely preoccupied with Over There 24/7 is not a desirable state of affairs in most cases (remember the bit about most of us needing to work day jobs, maintain a household, pay bills and buy groceries, etc.), but the otherworldly focus--whether enforced by our Gods and spirits, or as a matter of choice--is an identifying mark. Most of us have our heads in the clouds; however, those who are truly skilled and well-grounded have our feet planted on the earth as well. This last point is especially vital for those of us who function as Doors, Bridges, or Gates, for obvious reasons; how can you act as a conduit between one place and another unless you are fully grounded in both? However, the fact remains that for most of us the other worlds are as real--or more so--than this one, which sometimes makes for a tricky balancing act.

2. Commitment. I often get asked for advice on how to maintain a mystical and/or devotional practice in the midst of a busy life, how to carve out the time for prayer, meditation, magic and trance work from a life already heavily burdened by work and other responsibilities. My answer--and don't get me wrong, this is an issue I struggle with continually myself, in addition to having chronic pain and fatigue issues that make it even more of a challenge--is always the same: make your spiritual work a priority, just as much of one as showing up at your paying job in the morning or running to the grocery store on Saturday. Commitment to your practice means showing up for yourself and your Gods and spirits, on a regular basis. If you didn't show up for mundane work, not only wouldn't you get paid, but you would probably even lose your job after a while. If you didn't go shopping for food on a regular basis, there wouldn't be anything in the house to eat. If you didn't pay your bills regularly, your utilities would get turned off and you'd eventually get kicked out onto the street. Mystical practice is exactly the same as mundane life in the sense that diminished effort equals diminished returns. Don't expect to get a lot out of your practice when you aren't willing to put a lot into it, and don't expect to be able to maintain otherworldly relationships when you aren't willing to put the effort into doing so on a regular basis. Even maintaining mundane relationships takes work and effort; how do you feel, for example, about so-called "friends" who never call or email you, never invite you to get together, and obviously aren't interested in making you a priority in their lives? We like to feel we're important to the people in our lives, and this is demonstrated not through words but through acti0n ("We are our deeds," as the famous Heathen maxim goes), through putting time and energy into a relationship. Why assume the Gods and other spirits we deal with would feel any differently? The principle of Gebo, a gift for a gift, is not only about the simple exchange of goods but about the dynamic two-way flow of energy that creates and maintains relationships. To quote Woden Himself from the Havamal:

You know, if you've a friend whom you really trust
and from whom you want nothing but good,
you should mix your soul with his and exchange gifts,
go and see him often.
(Larrington translation, Poetic Edda)

Relationships take work; otherworldly ones, even more so. Serious mystics know this, and our practice reflects it.

3. Investment. Most of us on the 4-6 scale are heavily invested in the other worlds on a very personal level. This may be because of a relationship (such as a God-marriage), a position or responsibility that has been given to us Over There, a demand made by our Gods for some specific reason, and/or all of the above, but we all have a stake in what happens Over There and in Who makes it happen, and many of us have duties to perform over there that are just as serious and demanding (or more so) as our mundane jobs. Of course, we also all have our own very vivid experiences and gnoses regarding the finer details of all of the above, and these strong UPGs don't always agree. This fact is what leads to the UPG wars we're all so familiar with, in which mystics have been known to hotly debate the minutiae of otherworldly geography, politics, and interpersonal relationships to the point where fault lines form around these topics. I think that many of us, because of the intensity of our experiences Over There, expect the otherworldly landscape, cast of characters, and other details as we've experienced them to reflect what all other "genuine" mystics will experience, just as objectively as, say, our own experience of our mundane hometown will reflect that of everyone else who visits it. Yet even in the mundane world, this is an unfair assumption; people have their own biases, triggers, and issues that cloud and shape their perceptions, even when dealing with so-called "objective" reality. In the otherworlds, reality is much more fluid, and more apt to reflect what visitors expect to see and/or what they can deal with seeing. This doesn't mean that another mystic who experiences something differently from you is wrong or a fake because he has issues that may have played a part in his experiences, or that what you are seeing is 100% "accurate" because you think you don't have issues (everyone does, even us "spiritually evolved" types; in fact, we often have more than other people, or at least we are more aware of them and more engaged in dealing with them). Nor does it mean that the otherworlds are a "Disneyland ride" that shapes itself to the expectations and desires of every visitor. The otherworlds are very real, dangerously so, and so are the wights who live there. However, the fact remains that they are also both more fluid and less crystalized than what we encounter in the physical layer of Middle Earth, more apt to shift and adapt. Scientists like to say that the observer is part of the experiment; in other words, the results of the experiment can be partly influenced and shaped by the person performing it in ways we don't quite understand. This is, I think, a pretty good analogy for the point I am trying to make about how the otherworlds can be affected by who we are and what we bring with us when we go there.

Of course, the above points can vary in intensity depending on where one is on the 4-6 continuum, but I think they are pretty much universal (and probably apply at least to some extent to mystics from other traditions as well). In my next post, I plan to talk a bit about the different mystical paths (areas of concentration, if you will) within Heathenry.

- Valgrind

(Cross-posted to my public blog here; please post any comments in that location.)
I know this Mystical blogging month is supposed to be more about our role in the wider Heathen community as mystical types but quite frankly I'm not so sure about that whole thing at the moment. Not for other people, no, I still think that Heathen mystics should be working with the community as much as they can and bridging that gap. But it's just when it comes to me that it gets problematic.

Over the past year I've worked hard to try and work positively for the community but it just seems that no matter how hard I try, me trying to fit into the community is kind of like trying to get a round peg to fit into a square hole. I can kind of go in if I pull myself in and make myself small enough but I'll never belong or fit. I can never really be myself. I'm not squishy, so I can't really reshape and/or remould myself either.

I would be lying if I were to say that this isn't kind of upsetting. Especially with my strong beliefs about the importance of community and how much I would like to be part of that.

But really, what can I do?

On to happier things now...

One of the things I've been looking at recently is looking at old charms from texts like the Lacnunga, the various collected Old English charms and the Merseburg Charms and trying to figure out modern usages for them.

Some of these charms lend themselves quite easily to modern usage and have still kept much of their Heathen qualities. Zum Beispiel, one of the charms for birthing problems.

***Se wifman, se hire cild afedan ne maeg, gange to gewitenes mannes birgenne and staeppe thonne thriwa ofer tha byrgenne and cwethe thonne thriwa thas word:

''this me to bote thaere lathan laetbyrde
this me to bote thaere swaeran swaerbyrde
this me to bote thaere lathan lambyrde'''***

(The woman who cnnot manage to have children, should go to a departed man's grave and then step over the grave three times and then say these words thrice:

Let this be my remedy for the horrible delayed birth
Let this by my remedy for the grevious difficult birth
Let this be my remedy for the horrible lame birth)

Another charm that also lends itself to our modern needs is the 9 Herbs Charm. I've found chanting the section about mugwort over an infusion of mugwort to be most effective. Especially when the chanting is done in Old English. There is something about the sound and feel of that language that just works with magic. Hence the reason why I've been singing my hallowings in Old English for years now.

Some charms need some 'stretching' or adapting. One of these charms is the First Merseburg Charm:

**Eiris sazan Idisi, sazun hera duoder
suma hapt heptidun, suma heri lezidun
suma clubodun  umbi cuioniouuidi.
insprinc haptbandun, inuar uigandun***

( Once the Idisi alighted here, settled themselves here and there;
Some of them fettered the prisoners, some hindered the war-group,
some laid hold of the bonds.
Make loose the fetters, drive off the enemy!)

Now very few of us are taken prisoner or require that  a 'war-group' be hindered, we live in the now. However this doesn't stop us from looking at the basic ideas of this charm. Being bound by enemies and dealing with those enemies.

This could refer to everyday situations, you don't need to be a soldier to find yourself backed into a corner, unable to get out and at the mercy of enemies. This kind of thing can happen in the workplace, in your social life or even magically. With these kind of charms, very often a kind of story is told about the basic ideas, but that doesn't mean that we should be limited by the story! Of course the story is powerful, there is power in tradition, but the usage of these story/charms seemed to have been quite abstract when compared to the content of the story at times.

Some other charms have refrains that can be repeated and used as a chant, for example the 2nd Merseburg charm:

''ben zi bena  bluot si bluoda
lid zi geliden  sose gelimida sin!''

(bone to bone, blood to blood
 limb to limb, so be glued)

This would be an effective generalised healing charm. Chants like that can build and build until the magic worker is quite literally seething with it.

So that's one of the things I'm working on at the moment. Crawling through old charms and figuring out how they can be relevant or made to be relevant today. Not just Old English ones too - I've also been looking at Norwegian Trolldom charms. Some of them for during childbirth and healing need no adaptation whatsoever. Different systems of magic have different 'rules' and methods of working. I'm hoping to learn more about the rules of Old English/German and Scandinavian magical traditions. After all, there is power in Tradition.

Ok well, I'm yawning like a lion under a Kenyan tree at midday. Time for bed.

July : The Heathen Mystical Blogging Month

Tomorrow is the first of July and the start of the Heathen Mystical Blogging Month.

Originally it started with siggy_gfs , she was the lady that first had the idea, but it spread. First  gallows_queen joined and then more of us thought it to be a great idea. A way for us 'middle path' mystics to voice our opinions and be heard. We wanted to show that Heathen mysticism doesn't have to be about ordeal work or godslavery. It doesn't have to be as extreme as that.  We also wanted to make the wider community aware of us, what we do, our motivations and how we perceive our roles in the wider community.

Most of us will be posting on our own blogs elsewhere too, but this will be a place to collect what we have and to make it easier to follow.

Only a few folks have posting access on this blog but this blog is open for everyone to follow.

Happy reading!