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loki

Of Prayer & Altars

I don't know what it is about this week, but several individuals, as well as numerous communities and mailing lists I'm on have all had people discussing their relationships with the Gods.



The common theme seemed to be individuals expressing frustration that they've felt less connected with the divine lately. A few of theses individuals I think suffered from expecting the God or Goddess to react in a specific way, and failed to understand that these are our Gods and we can't really dictate the nature of our relationship with Them. It's not in Their nature to perform on schedule for us, or to meet our expectations or preconceptions of how They should act, or how we should interact with Them.

Think of it like this, when you work with a God/dess you are building a relationship. Just like the relationships you have with friends, family, co-workers, and classmates it takes work. it doesn't just magically happen with a snap of your fingers. You talk to one another, do activities together. If you're not doing this, then it's no wonder you're not feeling connected with Them.

Also, relationships aren't scientific formulas, there is no one way to do things, and no two people will necessarily experience the same thing. For those of us who do devotional work, we have to accept that as we work with our Gods, they reveal aspects of themselves to us. Each relationship a person has with a God is unique than any other, because They come to us in the ways they need to. So whereas I might have a strong connection with Odin as a storyteller, I might have a friend who is connected to Him as a warrior, and another as a rune-master, etc.

Just as there is no one way to do things, doing things the same way always leads to stagnation. Life is about change, not doing the same thing exactly the same way. So just because you've always connected with a certain Deity in a certain way, doesn't mean you always will. If you start feeling disconnected from Them, it might be time to approach the situation differently.

For me, Loki likes to change things up on me all the time. When He does this He's making me broaden my horizons, forcing me to learn by a different means. Or if you will, I've become a one-trick pony stuck in a rut, and Loki likes to reinvent the horse. <-- Lame attempt at humor intended, i.e. Loki fathering an 8-legged horse.

When we approach Them, we should do so with sincerity and respect, and be open to the experience no matter how it may manifest. Oftentimes what we think we want isn't what They know we need. Or there may be unexpoected surprises and blessings by approaching Them with less narrow-minded notions.

Some of the most common ways of connecting with Them is altar work, and prayer (and of course horn/mead-cup but folks don't seem to stumble over this one). I think a huge stumbling block for so many is that people have these very rigid concepts of what an altar and prayer should be, that they think there's only one way of doing things, or these individuals think that if you don't go to tremendous effort and put in a huge investment of time and money that there's no point because it won't please the Gods.

The Gods are very understanding of monetary restraints. But you don't necessarily need funds to connect with Them. You can pick some flowers growing in a field as an offering. Set aside a bit of your food (it can be as minimal as just a bite of something) at every meal and designate it as Theirs. What is important is that you're making an honest, sincere and heartfelt attempt to connect with Them. And to reiterate, a relationship with a God/dess is like a relationship with anyone else in your life, if you don't carve out the time to talk to them on the phone, spend some time with them even if it's just a coffee once a month, drop them an email just to say hi, etc. you drift apart and grow distant.

The most basic thing that you can do is TALK to Them. So talk, pray. We have a misconception that 'prayer' means we're asking for something. While prayer can indeed be a supplication, it can also be adoration or worship, an offering of thanksgiving, or it can even just be conversational. Just speak with Them about what's going on in your life, your thoughts, your worries, things that amuse you, things that annoy you like you would with a friend or even a mentor. Tell Them what you'd like to learn. Maybe you see something that just takes your breath away. Tell Them! Just like something may catch your eye or your interest and your eager to share it with a friend or someone who will appreciate it.

Some folks have taken to adapting the concept of a rosary, or prayer beads and go through a regularly daily meditation with our Gods by using them. Understand that you don't have to do what everyone else does, and if it is sincere, and heartfelt then go ahead and adapt things in ways that work for you, and don't be afraid of trying new things. Maybe do some meditation and prayer while you do some crafting.

Also, an altar doesn't have to be a grandiose thing, but just carving out a niche of a bookshelf, making a trinket box on your desk become the altar, etc. Anyone can have an altar, it's all about working within your restrictions, and finding something that is meaningful to you, and it can come in any size or shape, and can set nestled among neighboring mundane items on the space you do make for it. Place items on the altar that make you think of Them.
Let it be a physical connection to her, as you begin to learn about Her, meditate, etc. you will add to the altar, take items away, etc. An altar should be a living thing, meaning it shouldn't be allowed to go stagnate. But by engaging with it, it becomes something physical and tangible that you can touch and see, which in my experience makes it easier when wrestling with esoteric relationships. If you don't have the space... that's no excuse. You don't need some grand altar, but even using a trinket box, a trunk, a nook of shelf, a niche in a cubby hole, a small vial you wear around your neck... anything can be an altar.

And here's an example of anything being an altar, and it's cute and little TOO!

A basket altar

A basket altar

Sometimes, life circumstances can mean you're rather limited in available space for an altar, and that's when you need to think outside the box. This basket is barely over 3 inches tall. I gravitated towards this little gem because I am 1/16 Cherokee (I have both a great-great-great grandmother in my maternal and another in my paternal line that survived the Trail of Tears) and there is something about baskets that always evokes in my mind images of Native American peoples and cultures.

With the basket as my base, I chose to continue along with decorations that would have been used by ancient cultures taking advantage of materials they had access to, including leather, shells, semiprecious stones and feathers. The basket is specifically accented with a turkey feather--if you know your American History then you'd know that Benjamin Franklin wanted our national bird to be a turkey because of how noble and plentiful they were! I chose the turkey feather because I liked the patterning of it when juxtaposed against the abalone shell. That's turqouise dyed leather rawhide woven through the basket, and then a variety of semiprecious gemstone chips were strung on wire for accentuation.

Once my ancestral altar was decorated and ready to go--the very act of decorating it was a form of offering to my ancestors--I stuffed it with things that mattered to me. Tobacco, corn meal, trinkets from my ancestors from stuff they made, to stuff they wore, and photo charms. I'd load it up with incense sometimes, a vial of essential oil in offering placed inside of it, Hershey's kisses and candy corn (in honor of my deceased Uncle who loved the stuff), & nuts. Graveyard dirt from the cemetary where a huge chunk of my paternal line is buried. Some items are always in there, others get added when it's time for other items to come out. :)

At the end of the day what's important is that you find something meaningful for you to connect and interact with Them.

Comments

"Marching Orders"

I was a bit worried after I decided to stop wasting my Energy with the Heathen Community, so last night we had a bit of a sit-down and Chat.
It was made VERY CLEAR to me that not being willing to waste Energy on folks that don't wish it was acceptable. Wasting Energy WASN'T. I'm to turn that which I used to focus OUtward to ME, My Family and my Locale. Since Recon Heathenry's Dying of Pagan Poisoning the only thing left IS your own Soul, Family and Land....
Truth,
Pat

Re: "Marching Orders"

The order of importance should be:

You & the Gods & ancestors & wights
You & your family & friends & kindred
you & the wider community at large (secular and/or religious)

Our religion really works in two ways if you ask me. One is a folkway in that it shapes the way you live your life and becomes part and parcel of how you live it. So on your own you're doing something to maintain that connection.

But we are also a communal religion, in part this is because it strengthens ties. Alot of this came from the very basic necessities for survival in ancient times, and even still today. We all go through rough patches. House fires, flood, grief, illness, a broken down car, etc.

But more than that, there is something we do gain from making the effort and connecting with other heathens out in the real world. We learn through interaction, and gain some valuable insights as well. But you can be selective in your choice.

It is important to go out and be with others. I know as well as many that it's just not always practical to do so regularly, but one should make the effort to do so here and there throughout the year. Either in rite, or just to meet some folks for coffee. :)



Edited at 2008-05-31 03:43 am (UTC)

Re: "Marching Orders"

Thing is, I've lost Interest in being around most Heathens anymore. Friends who are, sure. No different than friends who are anyhting else but I've pretty much lost Hope with the changes in Heathenry since I "Came Home". It isn't "Home" anymore. It's nothing like what my Ancestors would have Followed. Made fun of? SUre. Cheerfully killed? Probably. But nothing they'd recognise as having to do with the Regin other than a few Names poorly Pronounced....
Truth,
Pat

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