A Little Lonely: Practicing as a Solitary Heathen
It can be rough trying to practice a religion rooted in the concepts of tribe and family all by your lonesome, I admit. There are group practices and rituals that won't really pare down to just one person, and there's something to be said for the connected nature of community that comes from being part of a Kindred. I sincerely hope one day to find (or create?!) one that I can work with to honor the community and the Gods.
In the meantime, though, being alone is no excuse for not honoring the Aesir and Vanir with regular gifts and prayers. But what to do? There are so many rules that everyone on the Pagan Interwebs seem to want to lay down in a depressing "Heathen-er Than Thou" Mjollnir-measuring contest, it can quickly get confusing, especially for the fresh-faced newcomers who just want something to do. This post is for them, or for anyone who is curious what a week in the life of a solitary, (mostly) devout Heathen looks like. Namely, myself.
Quick, cut to someone more interesting!
Still here? Okay, then let's get a disclaimer out of the way: I'm not an authority on any of this for accuracy, dogma, or historical points-of-fact unless specifically noted as such. There is a lot of personal tweaking that has gone into my current path, and everyone reading should feel free to not only take and tweak further, but completely ignore what doesn't work for them.
First off, Morning Prayers:
Those of you speaking English probably already know this, but the days of the week are rooted in the names of the Norse Gods, which makes deciding on who to pray to in morning prayers quite easy for those just starting out. Monday was originally Manisdag (Mani's Day), Tuesday was Tyrsdag (Tyr), Wednesday was Wotansdag (Wotan/Odin), and so on. So start there! Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier (and get to bed earlier to compensate, of course), then get up and offer a quick "Good Morning" to the God or Goddess of the day. But what to say?
Don't be scared, there is help.
An amazing resource every Heathen should tap is the website Odin's Gift, which has over 2,500 poems and songs for any subject a Heathen could ask for, from Deity-specific prayers to re-jiggered Holiday songs! An example of what I use on Friday morning is the following prayer to Freya:
(light a candle)Now, why Freya on Friday, as opposed to Frigg? Both names can be aligned with "Friday", phonetically speaking, and there are some historical scholars who have posited that perhaps at one point the two were the same Goddess (I disagree, but that's my own experience talking, not years of academic rigor!).
Freya, Goddess of gold,
inspire me today.
Teach me to walk through my day
with pride in my own being,
Goddess of fiery passion,
bless me with the insight
to the marrow of my bones
that I am a person of worth
in the eyes of the Gods
the eyes of the ancestors
and of myself.
May I radiate this
and transforms all I meet.
That is my prayer for this day, oh great and powerful Goddess,
that I may mirror Your presence throughout my day.
In return, I shall praise You always,
and lay amber before Your image,
consigning it to the sacred fires that burn
when the day is at its longest.
Hail Freya, shining Goddess of gold.
I praise You.
(blow the candle out)
Copyright Kira R.
This is, as the common Pagan parlance calls it, Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). Unverified because I can't point to a specific historical or archeological evidence to back up my claim. Personal because the notion originates with me. Gnosis because it's a fancy word for knowledge and we Pagans love our fancy words. My UPG logic is simple, really: In the Romance languages, the Goddess who grants her name to that day of the week is obviously Venus (French: Vendredi, Spanish: Viernes), not Juno. Syncretically, Freya is much more in line with Venus than Frigg, so that's why I celebrate Friday as Freya's Day. That's not to say anyone who considers it Frigg's Day is wrong.
You do you.
If you're uncomfortable calling out to individual Deities for morning prayers, there's a historical and lovely passage that works really well as a generalized "Good Morning" prayer/ritual, from the Sigdrifumál, spoken by the newly awakened Valkyrie Sigdrifa (i.e. - Brunhild):
Hail to thee Day, hail, ye Day’s sons;Now, once you get your metaphysical feet under you, a God or Goddess will likely reach out and tap you gently on the shoulder and ask for a bit more, but sharing the love around in the meantime isn't a terrible way to begin.
hail Night and daughter of Night,
with blithe eyes look on both of us,
and grant to those sitting here victory!
Hail Aesir, hail Asynjur!
Hail Earth that givest to all!
Goodly spells and speech bespeak we from you,
and healing hands in this life!
...I said GENTLY.
I do three scheduled offerings a week. It sounds so boring, doesn't it? Welp, it's Wednesday, time to water Odin... However, like anything important, what matters is consistency. And like anything spiritual, what matters is intent. Yes, we can approach regular offerings in that same foot-dragging reluctance that resulted from a Sunday morning alarm in childhood, or we can recognize what even many modern Christians have figured out: If you want a relationship with a Deity, you've got to earn it. They are Beings of immeasurable age and wisdom, not your buddy Jim from work. Even Jim doesn't want to hang out with you if you start every interaction with a long and wary sigh, so why in the Nine Worlds would a Deity want to interact with a human who considered even the smallest gift of time a chore?
Morning prayers are a way to shake off some of the fog of sleep and remind myself every day that I am a Heathen, and I work to better myself and honor my family, ancestors, and Gods. Offerings are a step beyond that. They are an effort to create exactly the kind of close, mutually beneficial relationships I spoke of previously. Unless or until you get that "gentle" tap, there's no reason to feel compelled to do anything beyond some morning prayers. "We are our deeds" is Heathenry to a 'T,' so if you feel your actions alone honor the Gods and ancestors sufficiently, then cool! Me, I just want a bit more.
So on Wednesday night Odin gets a drink, on Friday night Freya gets a drink, Sunday night Heimdall gets a drink, and on Thursday the house spirits get some grits made with whole milk. Odin likes hard liquor and mead, Freya loves gewurztraminer wines or melomels (fruit-based mead, like strawberry). My ancestors seem to hate mead but love a good beer. Heimdall just wants some company, so whatever drink you want to bring to share is fine with Him. All of these "tastes" are simply what I've offered via trial and error, and the positive feedback I get aligns closest with the things I mention.
Along with the offering, I light a candle for about an hour on the shrines I have set up for each (the grits go in the hearth, where offerings for house spirits traditionally go), and the offering is poured out outside after 24-48 hours. Sometimes it's just a, "Have a drink on me, see you next week," and sometimes I ask questions or do more with whomever I feel I need to communicate with.
Just like how we behave differently around different friends, due in no small part to how those friendships came about, Deities can act differently around specific humans, so Offerings are something that you're going to have to figure out through practice and trial.
Don't stress. You've got to figure out what works for you.
It's easy to psych yourself out. Starting out, you're basically cold-calling a Deity on a very unreliable communication line. The potential for misunderstandings and pitfalls are vast, and the Internet community can be swift and unreasonably harsh to neophytes taking their first steps into spirituality. Don't let them get you down.
There are diviners out there who are willing to work with those who are lost and getting them onto the right path, if approached honorably and humbly. It takes them a long time to reach where they are, so show appropriate respect for the effort it took to gain that knowledge. Also, don't shop around. It's one thing to ask two or three diviners without leading them ("Who is calling me?" vs. "Is Thor calling me?") in an effort to be sure, but it's something entirely else to keep harassing one after another trying to get an answer you want. Sure, you can probably find a weather forecast that will say the sun is shining in the middle of a hurricane, but it doesn't mean you need to open your windows. Plus, a lot of them know each other, if you're going to have a named reputation with people knowledgeable and powerful enough to help you connect with Gods and Goddesses, maybe aiming for a positive reputation is wisest.
Once you're settling in to a practice, however, you need to start listening to you. We have instincts, crude as they are, and listening to them is important. A true "Godphone" (a person who can channel or communicate almost conversationally with Deities) is rare, so don't expect that. Pay attention to ideas that keep popping up, thoughts that come "out of the blue," especially that relate to your practice.
An example in my life is an amber necklace showed up on my Facebook feed for sale. For several days, there was almost a nagging urge in the back of my mind, even while at work or playing video games, "I should buy that for the Freya shine." When it showed up for the third time on my feed unprompted, I gave in to that urge, and now my shrine has a necklace on it, in addition to the rose candle and idol of Freya. It wasn't as if The Lady leaned in and said, "I want that," but I've seen similar items before and never had the urge to buy them. I examined that urge over a couple days, and I couldn't find a source for it within myself, so I accepted it as a low-level signal that something was requested from Someone.
To be a spiritual person that genuinely desires interaction with the Divine or spirits that can (and do!) interact with us on a steady basis is to cultivate not only a strong sense of self (in order to be able to 'source' urges and thoughts), but a willingness to act on things that may not make complete sense within our limited context. You're going to fail or screw up. That's okay. Own it, accept it, apologize to any offended parties, and move on. Try something different next time.
I'll cap this post off with what every other 101 intro post says, because after several years of start-and-stop stuttering practice, I can definitively say the best thing you can do, is do. Do the work. Be consistent, but be respectful and know what you're actually trying to gain from your practice. We're Heathens, and our deeds will speak for us. That especially includes the deeds performed to better connect us with Deity, Land, and Ancestors.
Now get to work!