The recent discussions around definition and limitations in Heathenry got me thinking about my own version of Heathenry. Last fall I wrote about why I love Heathenry and what is the heart of Heathenry. So, let me wrap it up and tell you a bit about what my Heathenry is.
As a polytheist, I’ve found that they are many challenges involved with being a woman dedicated to Freyr. One of my biggest issues with Him, and one of the reasons it took me so long to come back to Him, was the myth of how He won his jotun wife, Gerda. It’s a fascinating story told in the form of an old-fashioned narrative ballad (unlike most of the surviving tales), and at first glance it doesn’t really portray Him in a very positive light.
Heathens have a wide variety of spiritual experiences. Some Heathens have little or no direct experiences with the Gods, while others develop devotional relationships with one or more Heathen deities.
My relationship with Freya has been a long one which has involved much wooing on both of our parts. It started when I was 19 and had just found Wicca; She turned out to be my Patron Deity. A few years later, I found Heathenry, and I was able to put my worship of her into her a more coherent cultural and religious context. Many years later I went through a really bad relationship and subsequent divorce, and She helped me put my pieces back together and become whole again. In the years since my divorce, I’ve deepened into a clergy role for Her, and in doing so, I found myself in need of a Dedication Contract.
When I first started this series, I thought it was going to be pretty straightforward. I mean, everyone knows who the Gods are, right? However, relatively quickly I found out that this was not as easy as it sounds. Does Freyr’s Jotun bride, Gerd, count as a Vanir or as a Jotun? Balder is clearly an Aesir god, but no one seems to actively worship Him, so should He even be included?
Long story short, Norse mythology is messy. It just is. Best to accept it and move on.
As a practicing Heathen, a key cornerstone of my spiritual practice is the offering of gifts. The Havamal (“The Sayings of Har”; ie, Odin in disguise, doling out practical wisdom on a number of topics) has a lot to say about gift giving and fostering reciprocal relationships. Though Odin focuses more on how to build relationships between humans, I think the same advice can be applied equally well to our relationships with the Gods.
To many modern Heathens, ‘Brisingamen’ is Freya’s beautiful necklace, made of gold or amber or gemstones. Gifted to her by four crafty dwarves, who were paid as only Freya could pay them. Her necklace is as much of a distinctive symbol of the Lady as Thor’s Hammer is of the Thunderer.
The foundation of any Heathen’s spiritual practice is the giving of gifts. Heathens back in the day (as well as Heathens today) understood that a constant exchange of gifts was required in order to grow our relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and land spirits. A gift begets a gift, back and forth, and so a relationships is grown.
As a new Heathen, people are often told to “read the Sagas and the Eddas”. However, this can be a bit overwhelming to those unfamiliar with Old Norse spelling and pronunciation. This situation is further worsened by the somewhat stilted, archaic-sounding translations of the key texts. So what’s a newbie Heathen to do?
The Vanir bestow blessings of fertility and prosperity to all areas of our lives. Njord, in particular, is a very generous god. He blesses fishermen with an abundant catch and manages the currents which bring merchants’ ships safely into port. He gives of Himself to keep the peace: He allows Himself to become a hostage after the Aesir-Vanir War, and when Skadi comes storming into Asgard to avenge Her father’s death, it is Njord who ends up becoming her husband and soothing her anger. Njord helps to calm the roiling waves, no matter what their source. He gives wisdom and good counsel, and he and Freyr act as priests for the Aesir tribe. When gifts of money, fertility, wisdom, serenity, and abundance of all kinds are needed, turn to Njord for help. He will always there to help you “bring your ship in”.