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Posts Tagged ‘Ancestors’

Last night some friends and I (Hi Yngvi!) did a group ritual to celebrate Hallows. It went well, minus one quick trip to the kitchen for a forgotten offering, but it brought to mind some of what I miss about previous ritual groups I’ve worked with, and something I feel I’m missing out on as a solitary Druid.

In the Core Order, you do a lot of work to set up a ritual – warding, honoring, recreating the cosmos and hallows, etc. Then you welcome in the Kindreds… and then it seems like there’s a short working where you make offerings to the deities or spirits of the occasion and then it’s right on to the omen and blessing part of the ritual, take everything down and you’re done. The middle part – the actual working in honor of the high day – is fairly short (or nearly nonexistent) compared to the rest of the work.

In my previous work, there was always setup involved, distributed to members of the group (or done by the leaders, depending on the step), but the main focus of the work was definitely on the High Day working – and it was definitely WORKING. There was decidedly magic involved. Maybe because my previous group was Wiccan, and a Witch Turns The Wheel, but I miss that feeling of purpose, and of magic, in my ADF rituals.

I also miss sitting with my groupmates after the working as we discussed the working and all things magical, winding down the energy and grounding. Last night we did a small ancestor toast, but that was really it, and we were on to dismissing the hallows and taking down the ritual. There are definitely reasons for that – some of which I didn’t know before hand (like we were only doing one round of toasting, so I should name everyone in the first round instead of just starting with the first one and then being like “whoops! now we’re done?”). Plus we were short on time. But it still felt like the “guts” of the ritual weren’t the important focus that they could have been. (This is not a criticism of my friends’ ritual skills – I was co-leading the ritual, so it’s just as much my fault!)

I am finally getting to where I have parts of the COoR that I use consistently (though I just got a new ritual template from another Anglo-Saxon Druid, and I’m totally stealing parts of that for my own use), and there are even parts I can improv offhand without a script, but I haven’t found a good way to feel the “magic” of High Day rituals.

Maybe that’s just a difference in focus – the high days are about honoring and giving gifts and receiving blessings, not about actively, magically turning the wheel of the year. The ADF rituals I’ve done where I’ve had magical workings to do – especially my oath rite – have been much more powerful. High days feel more like a ritual of obligation and less like they spring from a magical need. It feels like a Druid honors, offers, celebrates… but a Witch works.

Perhaps I need to work on combining some of my previous path into my ADF workings, and elaborate on the “work” part of the ADF COoR – it’s definitely got a spot built into the ritual format, but it’s not a required part of the high day. As I work out how to meld the Neopagan Wheel of the Year with the Anglo-Saxon holidays (which actually line up pretty well – no surprise there), I think I may be feeding some more Neopagan magical work into the ADF celebratory rituals. I’m more driven to do rituals that have purpose, and “Yay Ancestors, Have a Beer!” isn’t quite the purpose that I need from my rituals.

As much as I’m a working Druid (and intend to continue to be so), deep down I think I may still be a Witch – and a Witch Turns the Wheel.

Blessed Hallows!

 

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One essay describing the Dedicants understanding of and relationship to each of the Three Kindred: the Spirits of Nature, the Ancestors and the Gods. (300 words min. for each Kindred and 1000 words total)

ADF splits many of its observances into threes, a number that seems to have been fairly sacred to the Indo-Europeans. There are the three worlds – the underword, the middleworld, and the upperworld – the three realms of land, sky, and sea, the three hallows of fire, well, and tree, and the three Kindred, sacred to our worship, the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Gods and Goddesses of old.

The Ancestors, sometimes called The Mighty Dead or the Mighty Ones, are associated with the underworld, with the sea, and with the realm of the well. They are sacred to burial mounds and crossroads, as well as to the sea.

To the Norse, the ancestors were a vital part of their culture, and ritually remembering them was a vital part of their family religious structure. The dead could influence the living, and bring good luck or bad, depending on whether their rituals were followed correctly. This included sacrifices of objects, food, and drink, as well as the ritual of “outsitting”, whereby one brought offerings to an ancestor’s burial mound, made the offerings, and then sat all night in meditation to commune with them and receive messages from them (this was especially common for mothers and grandmothers). These ancestors were usually buried nearby where the family would live, and were considered to protect and help ensure the survival of the family.

I generally divide my “Ancestors” group into three types:

  • Ancestors of Blood – These are my direct relatives, and those relatives that I inherited through marriage. They are my grandmothers and great grandmothers, the people to whom I am related by blood, as well as my grandmothers-in-law. I consider my inlaws to be part of my family, and so I place them here. I keep a special place in my home (the mantle of our fireplace) for pictures of my and my husband’s grandmothers who have passed away as part of my relationship to my Ancestors of Blood. I also make sure to keep up with the genealogical research that has happened on both sides of my family tree (and my married-into-family-tree), and keep that in a special place in our home.
  • Ancestors of Heart – These are the people to whom I have been close in this life, who have left their mark on me as a person, but who have passed on to the otherworld. They include teachers and mentors, and most especially my two martial arts teachers – a Shotokan Karate Sensei and my Tai Chi Sufi. Those two men did a great deal to shape who I am and how I think, and I am sad to have lost them. My relationship to them was very close, and though I am related to neither of them, I consider them as part of my Ancestors of Heart. I keep them alive by telling their stories, and by passing on their wisdom to those around me.
  • Ancestors of Hearth – These are the people who shared my faith (or something like it) in an earlier time in the world. They are likely Anglo-Saxon in descent (though some of them are Scottish), and I include my husband’s German and Danish ancestors in this group as well. This is the group of Ancestors I relate to the least at this point, because I am not sure what they would think of my modern practice, but I am trying to reach out to them.

Special among my ancestors are my Disir, my ancestral mothers, an idea I gained through my studies of the Norse. The cult of the Matronae was common throughout Western Europe, and I see no reason why it should stop there. While I call upon my Ancestors of Hearth as part of this group, I also have a special group of women called my Prairie Godmothers (who are like Faerie Godmothers only they carry wooden spoons and are very concerned with the running of households and the strength of their families) – from both my family and my husband’s family. These are the women who came to the United States and scratched out a living here, making a new life for their families. Though they were all Christian, I take great strength and inspiration from them, and I try to remember them as I build my hearth and home – even though I am a modern woman with a 40 hour a week job outside the house.

Beyond the various things mentioned above, I have a small hearth shrine in my home, set up on my stove (the place where I do all the cooking – I have a fireplace, but it is not used most of the year. I use my stove daily). I light candles there in honor of my Disir – both the ancestors of my blood, my Prairie Godmothers, and those who walked this path before me. I try to make sure the kitchen is clean before I light those candles, out of respect for them. My hearth should be in good order before I ask for their blessings.

My usual offering to the Mighty Dead is to share with them a portion of my own cup, marking it as a sacrifice – this is a drink that I purchase specifically for the occasion, and I choose to share it with them. However, they also like brownies. (And who doesn’t?!)

The second of the three Kindred are the Nature Spirits, sometimes called the Noble Ones, the Land Wights, the Land Spirits, and the Sidhe, as well as the Spirits of Place. They are associated with the middle world, the land, and (to some extent) the tree – though the tree usually has other functions in ritual, the Nature Spirits seem to fit best there, and trees are among the Nature Spirits. (Also, to the Norse, the World Tree is inhabited by several nature spirits, my favorite being Ratatosk, the squirrel). This is a fairly broad group of beings, from the elves, wights, and trolls who inhabit particular places and objects (and homes) to the larger Nature Spirits, like the spirit of Stag, or Owl, or Rabbit, as well as the smaller spirits we see around us, and the spirits of the trees themselves.

To the Norse, the world was one full of spirits, from Giants (Ettins and Jotnar) to trolls (who could be good or bad) to elves and dwarves, who each inhabited a certain type of place and required a certain level of decorum in dealing with them. Unlike the Sidhe of the Celtic lands, it was considered very bad form not to accept food or gifts from these beings, as frequently they would turn out to be of great benefit (and refusing them would usually peeve the offering spirit, which was something to be avoided at great cost). Even today in parts of Iceland, a road will be moved to go around a rock that is known to be inhabited by Elves, or extra time given to allow the Elves to find a new home before the rock is moved to allow for road construction. These naturekin frequently like small, shiny objects and offerings of milk and honey, or a portion of meals as an offering. One of the most productive books I read on this subject has been Kvedulf Gundarson’s Elves, Wights, and Trolls, which offered deep insight into the various Norse distinctions between these spirits and how to live productively among them.

My personal relationships with the Nature Spirits run more along their natural embodiments as animal spirits, especially Owl, Rabbit, and Toad – creatures I have had a fascination with since I was a very small child. I find that these animals often act as guides for me when I am working in trance states, and I frequently find that I can get wisdom from them, just based on their behavior and mannerisms. I also like to leave offerings for my local house spirits and the spirits of the land on which I live (They especially seem to like homemade chili, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising. I do live in chili pepper country.) These relationships aren’t particularly deep or meaningful, but I find it important to honor those spirits who live here on this land with me, even if I don’t work with them directly.

In ritual, I tend to call the Nature Spirits as their fur and feather natures, instead of calling on tree wights or river wights, though I lump all of those under the distinctions of the Nature Spirits. These are the Noble spirits with whom we share this middle world, and their presence can add good energy to ritual observances. Also, they have the ability to affect the world in ways that we do not, being beings of different substance and gifts, and so I find it appropriate to honor them and make offerings to them. My usual offering to the Nature Spirits is the same as that to the Ancestors – a portion of my own cup, something I have purchased specifically for the purpose of sharing it as a sacrifice. They have also received both grain and honey as a sacrifice, but that was quite a challenging sacrifice to make, since I don’t have a fire to pour the honey into, and pouring it into the communal offerings bowl made a very sticky mess. As a solitary, having to clean a whole pile of sticky offering bowls was a bit off-putting, so I’ve stuck with more easily pourable sacrifices most of the time.

Third among the Kindreds (in this list, though certainly I would rank them all as having equal importance) are the Gods and Goddesses, who have perhaps the longest list of names: The Shining Ones, First Children of the Mother, The Gods of this Place, The Great Ones, The Elder Ones, Eldest and Wisest. They offer us a clear connection to the creation of the world, though they are not usually the same generation as those who created it. Most of our Gods and Goddesses are their children, but they are the First Children of the Mother Earth, whose body was formed out of one of their forbears.

They are associated with the upper world, with the sky, and with the hallows of the fire, to which offerings to them are most often burned. The Deities of our chosen hearth (or of our chosen preference, if we don’t follow a hearth) provide a lot of the backbone for the structures of ADF, especially as it follows the Wheel of the Year. While some festivals might be just as easily associated with Nature Spirits (Spring Equinox) or the Mighty Dead (Samhain), we usually attach associated Dieties of the occasion to that worship, and a lot of our thought and energy goes towards building relationships with those Deities that we chose or are chosen by.

Whether I think of the Deities as beings to be worshiped or not (which is something I go back and forth about, as the word worship for me comes with a lot of emotional baggage), certainly the words honor and love come into play. We honor these great beings, because of all the Kindreds, they have the greatest power at their disposal. Each of the Gods will have a domain where he or she is best found, Njord by the ocean, Freyr in a garden or in a plot of farmland, but they are not bound to those domains, or even bound to the domains usually associated with them. While Freyr may be a god of fertility and frith and peacemaking, there is no reason he could not also act as a protector. The Gods may have limits, but those limits are much fewer and lighter than our own as humans. While we interact daily with the Nature Spirits, and owe our very existence to our Ancestors, the Gods hold a special place in life as protectors and nurturers and challengers of what we can accomplish as humans.

It is with the Gods that I find I hold the greatest *ghosti relationship. With the Ancestors, they already have a vested interest in me. The Nature Spirits are more indifferent, but some are inclined to be friendly (and even helpful towards) humans. But with the Gods I feel that the *ghosti relationship is truly the sacred one – I offer so that they in turn may offer. There is some evidence that the Norse believed their primary relationships were with the Ancestors and Nature Spirits, only calling on the Gods for big things, but I find that I prefer to have a closer relationship to the Gods than that. Still, I find that my relationship with the Gods is most defined in formal ritual, as opposed to casual offerings or remembrances, like I do with the other Kindreds most of the time. I encounter them primarily in ritual, and I try to make that count. I also try always to make their offering directly from my own cup, because I want it to be something special that is “mine” that I am specifically offering to them as a shared offering.

I am attempting to cultivate a more personal, daily relationship to specific Gods, notably Ing-Frey, through my morning devotions and my meditation times. I would like that relationship to transcend the boundaries of a ritual setting and embark more on a patron relationship. Beyond that, I typically work with and work for the Norse Gods, though I am trying to transition to a more Anglo-Saxon hearth (which is hard, because one of the Gods I’d like to get to know is Njord, but I may just have to cross-hearth for that one).

I try to make sure that I am giving small offerings, fairly regularly, to the Gods just for the sake of giving offerings, usually of incense or of food. I think it’s important to keep up the communication, and I frequently meditate during these offerings of incense. I try to not make every encounter with the Gods (or any of the Kindreds) simply about asking for things, though I am not afraid to ask for things if the situation warrants it.

Combined, these three Kindred provide a complete spiritual picture of the types of spirits that an ADF druid can expect to work with through ADF style rites. While far from an exhaustive list of ALL the types of spirits that might be out there, the three Kindreds provide a solid grounding in Indo-European beliefs about how the world was ordered, and how they should interact with it. By basing my own practice around these three types of spirits (even if I don’t always do so in a truly Norse-derived way), I know I’m plugging into a spiritual current that is growing and developing around the world as ADF grows and creates its own spiritual egregore. As well, I know that I am honoring the primary divisions of the spirit world that my spiritual ancestors would have seen and believed in.

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The Ancestors, as one of the Three Kindreds, are pretty central to ADF. Ancestor veneration was pretty important across the Indo European world, and it’s well documented in the Norse and Anglo Saxon cultures, where some of the strongest protectors of the folk are your disir – the ancestral mothers and grandmothers who looked out for and protected their family line.

Still, it can be hard to get started, as a modern American Neopagan, who hasn’t had a lot of real upbringing around honoring and remembering our ancestors. While we might place flowers on a grave, we don’t typically (as a culture) consult with or do actions in honor of those who have died. Also, not everyone is on the best terms with their actual blood family, and in today’s culture, families are often split up by long distances thanks to jobs, divorce, travel, and all the other things that create physical distance in a way that our earlier forebears would not have understood. I’m also fortunate (and young enough) to not have lost a lot of people who were particularly close to me in my life, so I need to expand my definition of Ancestors well beyond just “my dead grandmother”.

So how do we find the Ancestors in the modern world?

First, I think it’s useful to remember that by Ancestors, I don’t just mean “people who are related to you who died”. (This is especially good if the people who have died that you are related to were unpleasant people with whom you choose not to associate.) Rev. Dangler, in the Wheel of the Year book (p 43-44), breaks down Ancestors into four types.

  • Blood- Kin: These are ancestors of your blood, such as Grandpa Winston above, or your mother, or you sister, or your child. All of these are Ancestors, or would have been considered so by the Indo-European peoples. (DS: I include the ancestors of my husband’s family in this group as well, as they are now part of my family.)
  • Heart-Kin:  These are the close friends with whom there are ties of love, respect, and strong friendship. They are family, even if there is no blood tie.
  • Hearth-Kin:  These are people who have shared your hearth religion, though they may not be close friends or blood-relatives.
  • Mentor-Kin: These are teachers, guides, and friends with whom you sharean intellectual lineage: perhaps you learned something from them that profoundly affected your life, or you are following in their footsteps in learning.

From that breakdown, I include in my ancestors my two martial arts teachers, from whom I learned a great deal and who had a huge influence on my life, both of whom died very suddenly while I was studying with them in college. They are Mentor-Kin, in a way, and from them I learned a lot. When I list my honored dead, I include both of them among the other close people I have lost, because they profoundly affected my life. (I also think at least one of them is absolutely tickled that I’m now a practicing Druid – he’s probably the most interesting man I’ve ever met – a practicing Jew, a master of Tai Chi, a professional ballroom dancer, and an expert in the I-Ching. I can only think he’d be profoundly amused to think of one of his former students as a Druid.)

Of course, I include my family and my husband’s family in my ancestral lineage as well. Both of our families have strong ties to our past and to the people who came before us, and there are pictures all over my inlaws and my parents houses of their various relatives from the past. As good solid Methodists, they’d be appalled if I said it was anything other than good Christian remembrance of their family members, but it does start to look a lot like an Ancestor shrine, especially when you start to include little mementos and tokens belonging to the various family members.

I have recently started honoring my Hearth-Kin as well, lighting candles and incense and asking for their guidance as I work my way towards their practice. I know my religion looks very little like what theirs would have been, but I hope that I can honor them in a way that makes them feel valued and remembered, and that they can be proud of having their beliefs and traditions passed on. As part of this practice, I keep a candle on my “hearth” (my stove) that I light each evening as I am cooking and then cleaning up, in honor of my ancestral mothers who also worked to feed their families. It brings a little sacredness to the daily chore, and helps me remember to see the value in little things done with intention.

As I build on my altar space, I am also adding things that remind me of my ancestors. I’ve had some trouble with this, since I don’t often associate people with specific things, but I’m trying to expand that. I use a coin to represent my Tai Chi teacher, and a guitar pick to represent my Sensei who died, since those were things that were particularly special to them in life – even if they didn’t have a lot to do with what I learned from them. I have pictures of my grandmother and great grandmother, and I’d like to gradually build to have some items and pictures from both my family and my husband’s family on our mantlepiece.

My favorite way to honor my Ancestors, though, is through stories. I don’t know a lot of their stories yet, but I’m learning to ask about them now – asking my Nana about her mother’s story, and about the stories of my husband’s family as they worked their homestead in the Hill Country of Texas. I love to share the stories of the people I know who have died though, about the things that made them special or interesting, and about how they lived their lives in ways that influenced mine. I really enjoy sitting around with family and telling the stories that make us who we are (I’m lucky to be close to both my own and my husband’s family for this).

Hopefully I will continue to grow in my respect for and devotion to the Ancestors as I work with and for them, and do things in their memory. Keeping in mind that I have “hearth kin” ancestors as well as those from whom I directly descend, I want to remember them and honor them as … well, as my ancestors would have honored THEIR ancestors. Without them I would not be here, and would not be the person I am today.

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I finished reading Alaric Albertsson’s Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan last night, and I have to say, I am highly intrigued. This is an easy read, and a charming book, with solid information about the Anglo Saxon path (with common sense advice mixed in) as well as how to take that information and turn it into a modern practice. Albertsson is a member of ADF, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find the ritual structure is familiar, but the book just felt *right* while I was reading it.

This is, of course, especially interesting considering that while I do not have any (known) Norse direct ancestors (I have Germanic ones by marriage), I have ancestors in Britain – and with the usual speculation of how hard it is to date things back that far – to pre-Norman Britain. Granted those might have been Christian ancestors, I have no idea and no real way to tell – I didn’t do the research myself, but it’s likely that their names and records came from church record keeping, so it’s certainly likely.

Still, I felt a real connection to what I was reading. It’s very close to what I’ve already been working with in the Norse hearth (and I don’t know that I’d abandon that entirely), but I may add some Anglo-Saxon flavor into my ADF workings and see what happens. With Midsummer approaching, I’ve plenty of time to work in a ritual that would make sense.

On the other hand, I don’t know how hard a polytheist I am about it – the Gods of the Anglo-Saxons are certainly familiar to someone who has studied the Norse hearth. Do I think Woden and Odin, or Thunor and Thor, or Ing and Freyr, or Freyja and Freo are the same gods or different gods? They have both similarities and differences. The lack of knowledge about the Anglo Saxon culture also seems to lead to a good bit of borrowing from the Germanic myths, just so that there’s enough information to fill out a practice. In that light, I’ve ordered a copy of Brian Branston’s Lost Gods of England to see if I can fill out my knowledge a bit. It’s another approved ADF DP book, so its probably not a waste of time to read. Since it’s out of print, it’ll be a bit before it gets here (the best price for best quality book I could find is being sold by a bookseller in London, so it’s got a trip to make!).

In the meantime I think I’m going to read Albertsson’s other book Wyrdworking, and possibly Diana Paxston’s Trance-portation. (Both of which arrived yesterday! Yay books!) I’ve got a lot to learn, and I tend to read a lot in the summer – it’s quite hot, and I enjoy sitting in the sun with a book and a cool, tasty drink in the afternoons. Bonus points if I drive down to the beach to do it.

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Most of my meditation this week was of the “just breathe” variety. Things at work are fairly stressful, and I had a major screwup that caused one of my coworkers to have to cover for me, and it’s sent my anxiety through the roof. My job itself is not in jeopardy, it’s just not the best working environment right now.

So I’m leaning on my meditation practice to be a little safe haven to help think about something, concentrate on my breath, and let things go.

Sunday, however, I did a fairly extended meditation to have conversations with my Disir for Mother’s Day (after celebrating with my living mom on Saturday). I want to honor my Disir, and the group of women I’m calling my Prairie Godmothers (who are like Fairy Godmothers, only with wooden spoons instead of magic wands). These are my American ancestral mothers; the women who held their families together with grit and resourcefulness, who left their homes and came and made a new life for themselves and their families here (some on the east coast, some here in Texas). Some of them are from my own family, some from my husband’s, but I’d like to honor them and learn from them regardless. I made an offering of food (chocolate cake) and incense, and just sat in meditation/light trance to try to communicate with them. I didn’t hear anything definite, but I think it was worthwhile anyway.

Somehow I find it easier to connect to the women who came here to North America than I do to women who would have actually practiced something like Norse paganism. I guess I’ll just have to work my way back to them.

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I didn’t write this – Rev. Michael Dangler did. You can read the rest of his post here, and I highly suggest you do go read it. It says a lot toward what we expect of our Priests in times of grief, and what we can expect of each other.

A Prayer for Boston
Rev. Michael J Dangler

Artio, a Child of the Earth calls out to you.
Today, there has been pain and suffering,
And it weighs on my heart and soul.

I call out to you, Healing One,
Protector of your folk.
Be there for those who are in need,
And comfort those who seek it.

Wrap those in pain in your healing arms.
Bring them warmth if they are cold,
And soothe their fears.
Let those hurting never be alone.

Artio, Bear-Lady, I call to you:
Be there for those in need.

Monday night, I sat with others I “know” online, and we all approached our altars and lit incense and prayed together. What we do between the Worlds, and what we do in the Otherworld, affects the outcomes in this World, even when it is only in a small way. These prayers bring us comfort and reorientation in a time where we are overcome by information about which we can do nothing.

Our ancestors did not have 24 hour news channels and endlessly repeating video clips. But they knew how to pray, because so much of their lives was out of their direct control. And we can take a cue from them – the knowledge that sometimes all you can do in a situation is come together, support each other, and pray. We are Children of the Earth, and from Her, and from the Kindreds, we can take some measure of comfort.

May we all find the peace and healing we need at the hands of the Kindreds, especially those most closely affected in Boston.

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I didn’t make my goal of sitting meditation every day this week. Distraction, thy name is Druid. Still, I am working towards the state of emptiness and focus that will help me enter trance states more easily, without being distracted by too many thoughts (I’m not trying NOT to think, only not to be attached to my thoughts, or allow them to break my focus.) I’ve been focusing on my breath most of the time, but I’ve also done some tree meditations that I like.

I picked up a copy of The Book of Nine Moons this week, since its been recommended on various lists. I was delighted to find that it’s designed to go with the Initiates Path, since that’s where I am considering focusing after I finish the DP. I was really encouraged by the first few chapters, as its exactly the kind of thing I’ve been looking for. I don’t think I’ll start early on it, since I do want to finish my DP first, but I am definitely going to tailor my meditation practice towards the eventual IP work. I figure the more I plan ahead, the easier it’ll be and the more I will get out of it.

My devotions this week consisted of sharing incense (and wine) with Freyr and starting to introduce myself to Freya. I am also, as mentioned, working on building an ancestor practice focused on my Disir. I’m encouraged by my early work, which consisted of doing some kitchen work with them in mind, and charging my hearth candle to them specifically. I got a ton of resources to work with from Heather over at Loki’s Bruid that I am working my way through. I really think this will be a big part of my practice, and I’m excited to begin real devotional work. I’m planning one meditation specifically focused on connecting with them this week.

I need to get back to my practice of tea with the kindreds, though I do a miniature version with my morning devotions every day. I sip tea and say a few prayers, and then try (since I’m at work) to get a good solid chunk of clear breathing and listening.

I am definitely working out a Norse path that will work within the ADF framework for now though. I haven’t felt called to Asatru or Vanatru at all, even while I’m directly trying to work with the Norse Gods and traditions. Hopefully I can make it work as well as other ADF members seem to have done!

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