Kinship Masterpost

I went looking into the histories of prechristian Scandinavian cultures assuming the hardest thing to deal with would be the sexism.

It’s not. It’s run of the mill sexism. Women’s lives are constrained in ways to do with the culture’s concerns about paternity. Some women find their status onerous, some women find their role ennobling, some act within it, some push its boundaries. There is nothing especially difficult or shocking about it. Sexism isn’t required to worship in certain way or to build a devotional relationship with female or domestic gods.

BUT There is a different concept that I didn’t expect, that is turning out more troubling to me. Partly because I value some aspects of it and devalue others – it puts its unintended consequences right in front of my eyes. It seems to demand digestion from me – a barrier to be dealt with before I can move onward in any direction.

This concept is the kin soul.

I will keep on saying “kin soul” because there are near infinite Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse jargon words to get lost in. Haminja. Fylgia. Hamr. Dis. I am not even an amateur philologist, so I will leave alone trying to understand their particular shades of meaning for now.

The core idea seems to be that a society cannot be reduced to a collection of individuals – a person’s relationships are inextricable from their self. Because of the way relationships demand action, often over the will of the individual – a parent must be supported in court, a cousin must be fed and housed, a blood-brother must be protected from danger – the groups to which one is tied are considered more real than the individual.  The kin group/kin soul is like a beehive, and its members are the bees, one can only function as a member of the other. Individuals draw their personal attributes – not only physical features and material circumstances, but also invisible attributes like magical power, luckiness, health, and life direction. It is not static, but evolving, and not something in addition to the individual – if I graduate college cum laude, everyone kin to me is magnified. Their gardens grow better, their business ventures are more certain of success. If my cousin cheats his employees, I am diminished, along with the rest of our family. Likelier to get the flu, slower, clumsier.

This identification with the success and failure of other members of the family fosters a sense of collective responsibility. A person enculturated into a belief in kin soul is literally his brother’s keeper, because his brother’s success and his success are spiritually identical.I split kinship ideas into a variety of subtopics (I operate in fractal outlines), to think and write about individually, rather than attempting to smash them all together into a multi-headed multi-limbed daunting essay of doom. They will all be heavily cross-referenced, updated with links, written and meant to be read in no particular order.

Ancient ways of making and moving through kin ties

The limits of the modern Kindred-as-religious-confederacy

Heathen visions of reincarnation

Family responsibility and family guilt

Options for the modern Heathen estranged from their family

Cross-pollination from comparable sources

How big is the clan?

The kin’s marks on the individual

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Ordinariness

I wanted to post a little something, because I am struggling over here, with a complicated and thorny piece of writing about understanding and incorporating complicated and thorny pieces of history and culture into a practice, and I haven’t stressed about a piece of writing like this since college, because I want it to be good. I want it to be honest and true and helpful to people. I have a terrible weakness of letting the gravitational pull of a cliche drag me in, and I express things that are easy to say rather than things I believe, or I spend all my time explaining myself to some imaginary audience whose approval I am seeking in some way. So, forgive me, readership, and read this instead.

I love being ordinary. Really. I love taking on this work as I am doing it as a choice – to feel free to let it slide a little, to have wiggle room. To carry no taboos, unless you count the better judgement in the back of my head saying “really you would be more effective if you were more polite,” or “you shouldn’t publish that with all those accusations about that guy who leads the kindred you don’t like.” I love and appreciate the existence of spiritworkers and diviners and others who have honed their skill and serve their community. I want to help them, shore them up, and be part of a community with them. But their role is not my role. I don’t know what my role is yet. Sometimes I just want to buy them all a drink, cause for all that direct contact to immanent Divinity, their lives are sometimes way more stressful than mine.

It is great to have just a little godphone. To feel blessed by a whiff of presence when making offerings. To be strongly tied to my body in the world. To have little blessings that makes the invisible world around me feel friendly – leftover beer in the back of the cabinet, the front door ajar when I don’t have my key, a long red light that lets me catch a bus, a half a pack of cigarettes left on my front step.

To be devoted to a God who is nice. Just nice, as a really dominant chord. The devotees of the Gods of madness and frenzy and transformation may just not understand, but I am happy to add diversity to their world as they add diversity to mine. To have a path of devotion, as far as I can understand it today, that starts with its feet in texts and interpretation, and only rarely winds off into the mystical wilds.

I know there is work to be done, a lot of it – the world is changing and not for the better. When I watch the news (which I try not to – what is important to me and mine gets onto my radar without me looking for it) it is flat out scary. There is a culture to change, and ties to rebuild between humans and humans, and humans and the earth. I know I need to grow to meet that challenge, and I am, and will, and I have no idea where I will be in months or years. I try to take bites of all of that at a pace I can maintain. But when I pray to Odin I pray for peace. He feels like a God with ideas about where things ought to be going, and I have a lot of faith in many of His people. “Grant me as much peace as You can afford me,” I pray, “as much peace as I can afford.”

Diane Duane Theology

I just started reading Door Into Shadow, at work, because it is engaging high fantasy and I need escapism. But it reminded me of the huge impact Diane had (and still has) on my ethical system.

She writes high fantasy and modern fantasy (as well as Star Trek novels) but the thought behind them is largely the same (and they might as well exist in parallel universes), and I basically took what underpins her fiction whole cloth to be my ethics, with very minor edits. I know Diane Duane self-googles periodically, and though I think I ought to promise myself I won’t go fishing for her attention, I wouldn’t mind it, and I don’t think she would be disappointed.

In her modern fantasy universe, the cosmology goes like this: At the beginning of things, the universe was created by a collection of Beings on whose reality-beyond-reality the ordinary reality of things is founded. One of those Beings is bitter and runious – Death/Entropy – and is in the sandbox kicking over what It can. As a species becomes self-aware, this Lone Power presents Its shitty (but shiny) gifts of suffering to them; this interaction affects that species’ longevity and relationship to death, as well as (or at least) its cultural narratives to understand those things. The other Powers oppose and mitigate It, and empower sentient beings wherever they are, to do this same Work.

Okay that is all great, BUT the most important thing about this cosmology as it plays out in the lives of Our Heros is that — those powers are not named. Or at least rarely named. It is not important if Kit’s strengths put him most closely in the domain of the archetype of the Artificer, or whatever it may be. The Powers are real, and may be immanent, or found in unexpected places, and you may shout to Them but They rarely answer back. They are busy, and you should be busy too. The primary job of these blessed and called people is not to turn back around and thank the Powers continually for what they have been given, but to change the world.

Our Heros meet, at one point (I think) Lugh, in Ireland. This Being is not spending His time in mortal form with neopagans of any stripe (except, I suppose, by happenstance) consoling and advising those people in whose religions Lugh plays a part. He is a blacksmith, shoeing horses, out of (as modern blacksmiths do) a forge in the back of a truck. Lugh is being Lugh, and if there is a lesson to learn from a belief that reality is founded on the reality-beyond-reality of many individual Holy Powers, it is to spend your time being particularly yourself, and doing the work that it is particularly yours to do.

Every religious path, at its best**, has this goal. The devout Kemetic upholds Ma’at, order, the bulwark against chaos, by being polite to the grocery store cashier; by sorting their recycling. The Methodists down my street preach their gospel by not preaching at all to the people they serve with a food pantry. I do not care what you believe (though I do like to chat theology with people who believe similarly to me) but if you are interested in getting the work done, we can work together.

Any moment when you are up to your elbows in hard work, kicking its ass and making progress (however blessed and right that work may feel) is not a moment before a shrine or inside a ritual. At its best, moments spent in formal ritual will give you inspiration, power, support, and grounding to then go out and do the work, or renew and comfort and console you after you’ve been doing it.

Although I say that literal hard work is thing that ritual work exists to support, there is no reason to get bogged down in minutiae. The Work that exists for an individual to do is exactly the same size as their capability. The small things are important and make a foundation, but for a gifted organizer, for a compelling speaker, for a savvy lawyer or an inspired artist to sit at home and sort their recycling faithfully and by that work say they are changing the world is a lie. To say that one doesn’t know what their Work is is abdicating the responsibility to find it. And (another point on which I think ours and Duane’s created universes agree) we don’t have time to waste. The best time to plant a tree is forty years ago. The best time to give a poor mother a leg up is when she was a child. The second best time is now.

In the words of an old saw that I love, “Don’t pray to God for a solution. She already sent one. You’re it.”

**I am sure there are exceptions, and those exceptions will be all versions of religions that I can’t stand.

//

Someone posted a mix of music for Hypatia of Alexandria, and it seemed like the appropriate thing to listen to, as I lit a candle and made an offering in an approximation of the style of the Neoplatonic ritualists, on this, the anniversary of her death.

I feel as awkward as a pagan, “claiming” Hypatia, as “one of mine”, when I know she seems as strongly wedded to rationalism and obeying only the evidence of the external senses as any Enlightenment writer, as I felt awkward as an atheist, “claiming” her when I knew she participated in and perhaps felt moved by the rituals en vogue around her, and understood her world from within its own god-suffused idiom.

I suppose it is continued rudeness to continue to attempt to discover her, who died at the hands of people who wanted, out of religion, black and white judgements to discern Us and Them.

In any case, listening to the mix I made a piece of jewelry with a stone and a silver charm, on a line from Borges‘ Theologians:

“Four months later, a blacksmith on the Aventinus, driven to delusions by the misrepresentations of the Histrioni, set a great iron ball upon the shoulders of his little son, so that the child’s double might fly. The man’s child died; the horror engendered by the crime obliged the heresiarch’s judges to be irreproachably severe with him.”

Because humans can scratch the most profound pieces of art, as well as the most atrocious crimes out of the tiniest, identical, scraps, and I want to minimize casualties.

Ave, Diva Hypatia, daughter of Theon. An honorable woman, in skepticism or faith.

The Death of Hypatia

Njord as a Feminine God

Imagine this: So the original worshipers of the Aesir meet and interact with the original worshipers of the Vanir. Njord the sea-king and his children Freyja and Freyr find a niche in the religious lives of the Aesir-worshippers, but to others this causes a difficulty – why those Gods and not others? Is this a challenge to the sovereignty of the Sky-king God? So they characterize the exchange as a clan-war, followed by a truce, followed by exchange of hostages. The hostages recieved by the Aesir are the popular Vanir Gods.

But imagine this: the prototypical hostages exchanged in the lives of those worshipers were brides, called frith (peace) weavers. Njord is king-in-exile, a powerless state, bound by laws of loyalty and allegiance to two different (and sometimes conflicting) kin-groups, as married women would be. When his religious popularity is described, he is called the ruler of “many high-timbered temples” – the hospitality-hall being the prototypical space of women’s sovereignty. Even his home in the sky-realm of Asgard is Noatun “Harbor”, an enclosing and protecting place.

When Loki starts breaking friendships and throwing insults, he insults Njord with the claim that he opened his mouth to drink giantesses’ urine – a image that casts him as ‘receiving’ fluids from beings typified by their sexual aggressiveness. (And if I haven’t pointed it out here, the gender split in this society was not male/female but powerful/powerless i.e. males and exceptional females vs ergi (passive-receptive) males and average females)

When his marriage occurs, he is passive: seated behind a screen with the other bachelors of Asgard, he is chosen by Skathi who has come to the Aesir, as a man would, to formally end her feud (for Loki killed her Giant father Thiazi) with Asgard by marriage. Was Njord chosen by Skathi not only because of his feet but because the myth-writers needed to complete the hostage-bride analogy?

When his marriage ends he is passive, too. So many words are dedicated to the ergi status of Odin and Loki (and sometimes Skathi) but I’ve never seen any about this guy.