Hearing I ask from all the tribes,
greater and lesser, the offspring of Heimdall;
Father of the Slain, you wished me well to declare
living beings’ ancient stories, those I remember from
– Poetic Edda, 1
“Do you want to know more: and what?”
The words of the ancient seeress rang out in the beautiful but tiny dorm room, as the sun began to set. The ancient poem describing the beauty and fury of the Gods was not over: the Seeress had many more stanzas to go before she would collapse. And on that beautiful summer evening in Oslo, I knew that I had been called.
I had just read my friend Tenaya’s cards, and she repaid me through a dramatic reading of the first verse of the Poetic Edda. We had a bottle of cheap (for Norway) wine, we listened to Olafur Arnalds in the background. And the words brought tears to my eyes.
Do you want to know more: and what?
I had always avoided delving into the magick of my own ancestors. The Otherworlds of the Irish mythology had always drawn me, and I always felt deeply Native American spirituality – though I knew it was not my tradition to practice. What I knew of the Norse was my Grandmother. Ardell is one of the sweetest women I know, charmed by the simple things in life and a devout Lutheran. When I think of Norway, I first think of her and her homemade lefse, the dramatic but faded photos of fjords that decorated her home in between Christian sayings.
The myths themselves seemed so violent in comparison to other mythologies, so dark and twisted. Norse mythology is dominated by male figures, Odin to Thor to Loki to Baldir to Heimdall, and I couldn’t see the divine feminine. When I first tried to read the Norse mythology, it felt stiff, unwilling to smile – much like my stoic but very sweet grandmother. Ardell only ever smiles off-camera, when no one is recording.
Then things started…happening. As I was casting circle one a couple of years ago, I opened myself up to new spirit guides. I felt a very definite, new presence enter the circle – and this presence told me their name was Odin.
I rationalized with myself. Just because the spirit is called Odin, doesn’t mean it’s that Odin. And the figure felt wise, but there was a smirking presence to them. I’m a pretty scientific person. I’ve had a hard time, my entire life, rationalizing the idea of a Creator God. I often understand the Gods as spirits, beings that may or may not have created the world, but that we can never fully know.
But here’s the thing: Even if it wasn’t the Allfather himself, even if there is no such thing as the “spirit world,” I learned something important. Because my mind told me that I had met Odin, I knew that I needed to begin to explicitly explore the magick of my ancestors. And still, two years later, it has been difficult to release my old reservations about Norse practice and answer the calling.
Staring my own whiteness in the face
I have struggled to accept my Norse ancestry because I have an uncomfortable relationship with my own whiteness.
I’m not proud of what my American ancestors have done. The racism perpetuated by white people in America has a lasting, horrific legacy, and I struggle with the idea of honoring my European roots. I have tried to study different forms of magick broadly. Too often, pagan practice gets whitewashed, and the amazing spiritual guidance of people of color gets ignored or worse, appropriated.
There’s an important line between learning from other cultures and appropriating those cultures. Many practices are closed, and to practice them publicly is incredibly disrespectful – especially because I am a guest in these spaces. My Native friends here appreciate my interest in and admiration for their traditional spirituality, but for me to practice this spirituality would be disrespectful. These are rich traditions that have survived, grown, and changed with the times and have been practiced continuously – and I need to respect that these traditions have been threatened by my ancestors, and recognize my place as a guest, and not a practitioner.
Which leads me straight back to square one: practicing within the tradition of my own ancestors.
And even this is a charged reality. I can’t write this post without recognizing that Norse practices have been appropriated by white supremacists. The masculinity of the mythology, the toughness of the heathens, and the very whiteness of Norse practice has been hijacked by white supremacists. I don’t like to wear the runes in public, for fear of others assuming I am one of Those White People. White supremacists make up a very small percentage of Norse practitioners, but it has meant that the community is self-conscious, tense, unsure how to exorcise this illness.
For years, I have avoided mentioning my interest in Asatru for fear of guilt by association.
But it’s time to reclaim, publicly, Norse practice. To stare my own whiteness in the face and open up a conversation about all of this shit with the Allfather himself.
Toward a radical, feminist Norse practice
I am a feminist. I work for racial justice. And I am Norse.
The records of the Norse goddesses were lost – the ones that wrote down the ancient songs were Christian monks. That’s why Norse practice is so masculine – there is so much we don’t know.
And I know that I can find the divine feminine. But she’s wilder, she’s been buried deep underground, frozen in the permafrost.
I could use a little wild in my life.
No one is really practicing the religion of the ancient Norse peoples. We don’t know what that was. But the study of what we can tell, the new meanings found for runes, the use of runes in magick, and the drama of Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse) all feel very relevant in these dark times. There is a certain amount of wisdom that I can bring forward from my own intuition. Some of these rituals lie deep in my bones. They feel right, in a way that I can’t explain.
Because of this flexibility, I want to make of Norse practice what is most meaningful for me: An open, flexible faith that is both rooted in the wisdom of my ancestors and challenging of whiteness. I seek to find the divine feminine within Norse practices. There is a fierceness at the heart of it all, a fire that I need to bring into my life.
And that’s what this column will be all about.
I’ll be exploring my personal relationship to Norse practice, as well as what this means for my identity and my search for purpose. I’m working through several different classics in the Norse tradition, including Diane Paxson’s “Taking Up The Runes,” and will look at the runes individually, in combination with one another, and as a system of divination. Each month, I’ll post a ritual centered around the runes.
I will also be sharing mysteries and magick from the mythology, and connecting ancient heathenism to a modern-day spirituality.
I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but I am happy to have you with me.
Blessed be, y’all!
You can follow Abbie’s journey under the Heathen’s Journey tag!