Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Heartland Hof & Hall Meeting - Jan 12, 2014

Starting in January of 2014, we will be start something called the Heartland Hof and Hall Meetings every month. These monthly meetings will be open to the public. At each meeting, we will honor our Gods and Goddesses with a faining. There will be a workshop on topics that we will announce, followed by a study-group activity.

We feel it is important for Heathens in our area to gather as a group on a monthly basis in order practice our religion and learn more about our ways together. It has been the goal of Heathens in our area to work towards having land and a place of our own in which to worship, and the ultimate goal of the Heartland Hof and Hall Meeting is to work toward that goal as an united community.

Visit the Heartland Hof & Hall Website to learn more about this new monthly event in Kansas City.  The meeting dates are there for all of 2014, as well as a summary of the activities and theme of every meeting.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Monday, September 30, 2013

Nine Worthy Steps to Advance Heathenry

The Nine Worthy Steps described below represent our approach to advancing our native Folkway.  As modern Heathens we face a daunting task.  How do we reconstruct what was taken from our People?  How do we return members of our Folk to the ways and world-view of our pre-conversion Ancestors?  How do we transition from the mainstream culture within which we were raised, to the culture and values that are natural and appropriate to who we really are?  What steps are necessary for building something lasting for both ourselves and the generations to come?

These nine steps are not the only deeds that can advance our Folkway forward.  This list and the brief descriptions of each step are simply a method of outlining the work that many tribal Heathens are doing at this very moment.  Much more could be said about each deed and, with time and experience, we will of course learn more about what needs to be done and how to do it.  But, these nine worthy steps are the focus of the work being done by Jotun's Bane Kindred and many other good Heathen individuals, families, and kindreds among our People.

FIRST WORTHY STEP - We must bring positive attention to our Folkway, making it easier for members of our Folk to find Heathenry, learn more about it, and become actively involved.

The vast majority of our Folk do not even know that Heathenry exists, let along what it is, what we do, and for what we stand.  They are in the thrall of the foreign religion or, being dissatisfied with it, have run to another foreign religion, or become agnostic or atheist.  These members of our Folk are lost in darkness, whether they realize it or not.  It is up to us to shine a light into that darkness, and serve as a beacon so that our People can find their way home.  But, how do we do this?

It is not difficult to share resources and information on-line and through other forms of communication.  Outreach can take many forms.  As a heathen individual, family, or kindred we can make ourselves available to new Heathens in our local area giving them some guidance and advice by phone or in person.  We can start study groups or hold local Heathen events that allow those that are curious or new to Heathenry a way to actually meet other Heathens and learn more.  We can schedule classes and workshops on Heathen topics at a local bookstore, coffee shop, or community college.  We can share links to existing resource websites, assist with the improvement of these websites, or start our own.  We can even blog or post about our own beliefs and practices, and what they mean for us in our lives.

When we encounter someone curious or new to Heathenry, we can give them a good first impression.  Be understanding of the fact they are new, and give them information and advice without attempting to demean or alienate them.  If we live honorable lives of worth, when new Heathens contact or encounter us they will see by our example that living by the values and beliefs of our Folkway makes our lives more natural, fulfilling, and successful.  Bringing more members of our People home to their native ways and world-view takes a lot of time and effort.  But, it is the first step in advancing our Folkway forward.

SECOND WORTHY STEP - We must encourage our families to become involved in our Folkway, and structure all of our efforts to encourage other families to become involved.

This step can be difficult for some depending on their situation.  Many individuals find Heathenry later in life, and while they embrace our native Folkway - their spouse may not.  It is not advisable or healthy to attempt to force or coerce your spouse to convert.  Even if your spouse never converts, always make sure they know they are welcome at Heathen activities or gatherings you attend.  Many kindreds have non-Heathen spouses that attend all the events and truly enjoy interacting with everyone there.  Heathenry is more than just a set of religious beliefs and practices.  Heathenry is a world-view, or a way of looking at things.  It is a culture and a set of values that anyone can benefit from, even if they are not particularly religious.  So, making sure non-Heathen spouses feel welcome and included is an important part of getting families involved in our Folkway.

In other cases, non-Heathen spouses do become Heathen over time.  Usually, interacting with other Heathens face-to-face convinces them that Heathenry is a positive and healthy belief system.  Sometimes they see the positive changes it makes in their Heathen spouse, and this convinces them to become practicing Heathens themselves.  But, this is something that is their decision, and it happens in its own time.  It requires a very intentional patience, as well as a high level of communication and understanding to smoothly transition a family in its entirety back to the native ways of our People.

Having families involved, brings depth, strength, and longevity to the results of our efforts on behalf of our Folkway.  Families honoring the Gods together and working side by side, can accomplish more than individuals can alone.  Kindreds with families involved, tend to be more stable than kindreds without families involved.  In addition, no matter how much you accomplish in this life, it is nothing compared to what your children, and their children, and so on...can accomplish when they add their own efforts and deeds on top of the foundation you have created for them.  Involving our families in our ways, practices, and traditions is the second step in advancing our Folkway forward.

THIRD WORTHY STEP - We must build bonds among our Folk at the local grassroots level,  bringing together Heathen individuals and families for local events, such as coffee-shop moots, pubmoots, study groups, Heathen workshops, fainings/blots, pot-luck dinners followed by symbel, and other community-building activities.

Our pre-conversion Ancestors focused heavily on both family and community.  Bringing together Heathen individuals and families at the local level, provides the opportunity for face-to-face Heathenry in our daily lives.  This lessens our dependence on the internet for interaction with others that share our beliefs and world-view.  Creating local communities based on friendship, respect, and loyalty brings into existence a network of support where none existed before.

These local communities give us other Heathens of worth with which we can talk, study, honor our Gods, exchange ideas, interact socially, and help each other when help is needed.  Many of the values and concepts within the world-view we are reconstructing involve how to interact honorably with other people in our lives.  Interacting with local Heathens gives us the chance to be around people that share an understanding of these concepts and values, and who live by them as well.  This is a rewarding experience for adults, but it also allows our children to observe and learn from these interactions.

Just as Heathen families can often accomplish more than a single individual, Heathen communities working together can often accomplish more than a single family could.  They also provide an excellent environment for new Heathen individuals and families to become more fully involved in our Folkway.

FOURTH WORTHY STEP - We must form stable local kindreds made up of dedicated Heathen families and individuals of worth, with a focus on building a state of true Frith among those involved.

The natural result of creating active local communities, is the eventual formation of kin-groups or tribes of loyal, like-minded, and hardworking Heathen families and individuals.  Membership within these groups is clearly defined, and they are usually based on some form of kindred-oath or obligation.  The Heathen families and individuals within each kindred share Frith, meaning that every accomplishment is celebrated as a group, every hardship is faced as a group, and everyone involved shares collective Gefrain, Luck, and Honor.

Kindreds made up of multiple families and individuals offer a level of encouragement and support to their members that is similar to what one would expect from a close-knit and healthy extended family.  Over time, kindred traditions, beliefs, and practices form and evolve that represent the shared expectations and understandings of the group, based on trial and error and their collective experiences. Involvement in an active kindred provides a context for living one's Heathen life that cannot be provided by any other organizational structure.

These local kindreds are the grassroots engine that make things happen within modern Heathenry, at both the local level and the regional level.  The frith and strong bonds of loyalty and friendship they share, combined with the various strengths, talents, and skills brought together within the group, allow kindreds to accomplish things that Heathen individuals, families, and even local communities cannot make happen.  Kindreds host both local and regional gatherings and they create and provide resources for other Heathens.  They also provide a point of contact for new Heathen families and individuals in their area, and host open events in their area that local Heathens can attend.

Many of the remaining Worthy Steps are made easier, or can only happen, through the efforts of hard-working and dedicated local kindreds.

FIFTH WORTHY STEP - We must share practical information between individuals, families, local Heathen communities, and kindreds regarding personal practices, group practices and traditions, and organizational methods, with an understanding that we can learn from each others experiences, but that we will likely all do things differently.

Scholarly study and understanding of the Lore and world-view of our ancestors is important.  But, there is a deep need for the sharing of practical how-to information among those practicing our Folkway.  How to build a local community, how to start a kindred, tribal dynamics within a group, the role of a Chieftain or Godhi within a kindred, information on how to maintain a kindred and its traditions, building relationships with other Heathen in your region, or tips regarding Heathen marriages and families.  The choice of topics is endless.

The motivation for sharing this practical information should be to simply help others learn from your experiences.  It is not about control.  It is not about making people do things your way.  It is not about creating divisions within our native Folkway.  Those receiving the information will use what works for them, and they should discard that information that does not work for them.  The sharing of information should be a give and take, back and forth between Heathens and Heathen groups, allowing all of them to learn from successes and failures of those Heathens they know and trust.  The reciprocal exchange of information allows individuals and groups to build on each other's knowledge and experience.

Information shared between Heathens that actually know each other on a face-to-face basis, is much more valuable than information you might read in a book or on the internet.  When you actually know an individual or group, then you know if they actually walk the walk, or if the information they are sharing is just talk.

SIXTH WORTHY STEP - We must bring our People together at regional gatherings and with face-to-face visits, so that Heathen kindreds, families, and individuals can build bonds, work together, learn from each other, and come to personal understandings of each other that helps prevent needless conflict.

The only true way to know a person, is to meet them face-to-face and spend time with them.  It can't happen on a message board or social networking site.  We must encourage Heathen kindreds, families, and individuals to gather together at face-to-face events, and get to know one another.  These events build friendships and alliances.  They encourage the exchange of information and ideas between people that actually know each other, and this exchange will drive our Folkway forward.  These gatherings also build trust between Heathens, and this trust helps prevent or diffuse unnecessary conflicts among our Folk.

The more often Heathens are able to gather together, the more their friendships and trust will grow.  The more often they can gather, the more opportunities there are for them to exchange information, work together, and assist one another.  So from a practical standpoint, regional gatherings must be our focus.  Here in the Midwest, many of us can travel and attend gatherings around the region 5 to 6 times a year, or more.  We see our friends around the region every month or every other month.  In this context, the bonds between Heathens in our region are relatively strong.  It is impossible for this same frequency of interaction to happen on a widespread basis on the National level.

Meeting other Heathen kindreds, families, and individuals at regional gatherings also inspires an increase in travel and personal visits between Heathens within the region.  Both the gatherings and personal visits encourage the next generation of Heathens, our children, to play together, learn together, and build friendships and trust.  As our children across the region grow into adult Heathens, they will already know each other and share bonds that will serve their own families and kindreds, and the region as a whole.

SEVENTH WORTHY STEP - We must put regional organizational structures in place that encourage positive cooperation between Heathen kindreds, families, and individuals in the region, while also respecting the autonomy and independence of those involved.

The goal is to engender a sense of unified purpose across the region without requiring or attempting to enforce unified orthodoxy or orthopraxy.  As bonds of trust grow and deepen across the region, alliances and formalized methods of interaction and cooperation can be put into place.  This requires everyone involved looking to the similarities they share with others, rather than harping and fighting over their differences.  The leaders of the participating kindreds and families, must be mature and reasonable enough to accept that beliefs and practices among Heathens will differ, and that this is healthy.

Whatever method of formalized organization is put in place, it is important that the autonomy of every involved kindred and family is respected.  A Thing structure or loose confederation of kindreds and families, allows each kindred to participate, contribute ideas, and partner with other kindreds and families in the region without any one person being in charge.  Strong independent kindreds can then participate, communicate, collaborate, and support one another, without any one kindred or person being "in charge."  This maintains the grassroots tribal nature of our native Folkway, and avoids top-down organization, dogma, and divisions among our People.

A Thing structure of loose confederation of kindreds and families must be based on face-to-face meetings and interaction.  This is most easily done at regional gatherings of our Folk.  The telephone and internet can be used for communication between gatherings, but without the foundation of real face-to-face conversations and relationships, organizational efforts are unlikely to succeed.

EIGHTH WORTHY STEP - We must acquire at the local level tribal land where we can establish Hofs and Halls as a regional gathering place for our People.

In this early stage of the reconstruction of our Folkway, Heathens tend to gather in each other's living rooms and finished basements.  As local kindred's and the Heathen communities around them grow, gathering in someone's home becomes increasingly crowded and difficult.  When multiple kindreds and families gather in any sort of numbers, we are forced to rent a campground, or reserve space in a hall or hotel.  Logistically, it makes sense that we should move toward establishing at the local level, facilities for gathering that we own and maintain.

There is a sense of permanence that comes with acquiring tribal land, and establishing holy places and halls in which to gather as a People.  These local hofs and halls become a gathering point for Heathens in the local community, and an important destination for Heathens in the surrounding region.   Events can be held there.  Weddings.  Funerals.  Coming of age rituals.  A burial ground for Heathens can be set aside, so that we can honor our dead in the ways that we wish.  Imagine for a moment three hofs and halls in your region, and what that could do for face-to-face Heathenry and regional efforts.  Imagine a few years later, there being ten such gathering places, and what that would do to advance our Folkway.

Most hof and hall locations would be suburban or rural in their surroundings, while a few might border on an urban environment.  These locations could offer religions activities and workshops, but there is also an opportunity to offer traditional craft classes and cultural events that would draw in members of our Folk that have not yet found their way home to Heathenry.  The only organizational structure that has the resources, man-power, and motivations to establish tribal land on the local level, are kindreds.  Very few individuals or families could ever afford to establish and maintain a facility of this nature.  Loose-knit Heathen communities usually do not have the structure or unity to successfully mount the effort, or maintain it.  National Organizations may one day establish a national headquarters or gathering point, but it is unlikely that it will be in your local area.  (And it most certainly won't be in the Midwest).  For the Eighth Worthy Step to happen, it will take the work of local kindreds.

The kindred or local group that is able to establish tribal land and to build a hof and hall will be leaving an amazing foundation for their Heathen children and the next generation of Heathens to build upon.

NINTH WORTHY STEP - We must pass onto the next generation of Heathens and Asatruar a solid foundation upon which to grow and develop our native Folkway far beyond what we were able to accomplish.

We are rebuilding our native Folkway against incredible odds.  The world-view, as well as the religious and spiritual perspectives, of our People were drastically changed by the Christian conversion.  The beliefs and practices of our Ancestors were suppressed and buried, so much so that the vast majority of our People do not even know that they are following a foreign religion that was methodically and successfully forced upon us.  That leaves us often reconstructing our Folkway from bits and scraps of information.  It leaves us in the position of an "alternative religion," and a rather small one at that.

But against these difficulties, we put a determined will and enormously hard-work to the task at hand.  The final, and probably most important step, is that we leave our children and the next generation of Heathens in a better place than we find ourselves.  Success at the previous 8 steps will accomplish that goal.  If when we are done, there are more Heathens, more Heathen families, larger Heathen communities, more Kindreds, better sharing of practical information, bigger and better regional gatherings, a regional organizational structure that helps everyone involved, and hofs and halls on tribal land here and there across the landscape, then our children and the next generation will be able to take our Folkway places that is likely impossible for us to achieve in our lifetimes.

But, this also means teaching our children and giving them the knowledge and the tools to be better at this than we are.  They aren't coming to Heathenry 20 or 40 years into their life.  If we are doing our job, then they are being raised within a family, a community, and a kindred that lives Heathenry.  They are immersed in our world-view, and participating in its reconstruction from an early age.  These  young Heathens will have plans and goals that are completely beyond us.  They will have a drive and determination that will shame us, if we live long enough to see what they accomplish.  They are our partners in what we do...they are the next leg of the race...and we need to give them the best start we are capable of providing them.

CONCLUSION - Are there other deeds that can grow and strengthen our native Folkway?  Of course there are.  These worthy steps reflect the focus of my kindred, and other like-minded tribal kindreds.  These steps were carefully chosen to express the vision behind the work we do.  We are utterly dedicated to making progress on these steps.  They were also carefully put into an order that shows the natural progression that often occurs on the local and regional level.

These steps are never-ending, or cyclical, in nature.  Even if you are attending regional gatherings and visiting other Heathens in your region (Step Six), you are still attempting to attract new Heathen individuals of worth (Step One) and attempting to involved families in your efforts (Step Two), and so on.  Even when we reach the point where the next generation takes the reins (Step Nine), the next generation will still be working on the previous eight steps, maintaining, improving, and building upon the foundation we have built.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Religious Activities at Lightning Across the Plains 2013

Lightning Across the Plains is a heathen event, where heathens from across the Heartland come together to honor our Gods, our Ancestors, and the Vaettir. At LATP tribes, families, and heathens come together for this purpose as part of a larger regional community.

GOD HOF - To the West of our main camping area, there will be a Hof established at Lightning Across the Plains 2013. It will include images and statues of Odin, Thor, and well as areas within the Hof for honoring other Gods and Goddesses. If you have statues or objects you would like included in the Hof throughout the weekend, please bring them along. When you check-in at the registation table, please provide us with those objects. We'll record your name so that we can make sure you get your items back at the end of the weekend. Sacrifices to the Gods can be offered at the Hof, and we will ensure these items are properly sacrificed.

ANCESTOR'S HALL - To the West of our main camping area, we will also set up a hall for the remembrance of our Ancestors.  You can bring artifacts representing and honoring you ancestors to include on the tables in this hall.  There will be chairs in the hall, for quiet contemplation of what we owe our ancestors.  You can write stories or details about your ancestors in the Ancestors Book, which is kept in the hall throughout the event.

OPENING & CLOSING RITUAL - At the start of Lightning Across the Plains there will be an Opening Ritual, declaring grith and frith over the gathering. Tyr will be honored, and the perimeter of the gathering area will be walked in procession, with gifts given to the Vaettir of the land to ensure their goodwill and protection from baneful wights. The help of the children at the gathering will be enlisted, and they will have the honor of distributing gifts to the land wights.

VISITING THE VE - Jotun's Bane Kindred has established an outdoor Ve at Gaea Retreat. It is a cleared circle in the woods, at the roots of a large powerful oak tree named Forn Halr ("old man" in Old Norse).  This is our holy tree, and the Ve has a large stone harrow, a firepit, and benches around its perimeter. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, and it is where our kindred takes our kindred oaths. On Saturday morning we'll lead a walk over to the Ve for those that would like to visit it. And we will honor Forn Halr...and leave offerings for the land wights.

ODIN BLOT - Friday evening after dinner, we'll gather for an Odin Blot led by Fimbul Winter Kindred and other  Heathens from Colorado.  This celebratory event leads directly into Friday night's Folk Symbel.

FOLK SYMBEL - Friday night after dark, we'll gather around a fire and have a Folk Symbel. A horn will be passed, and we will toast the Gods and Goddesses, our Ancestors & Heroes, and then boast of our accomplishments. As a gathered Folk, we'll put our good words and deeds into the Well. If you know a good poem or a song worth singing, please share it with everyone during this Symbel.  While this Symbel is more informal in its structure, every year it is one those events that has a lot of impact on everyone participating.

SATURDAY NIGHT FAINING - After dinner on Saturday night, we'll gather as a Folk and celebrate with a large Faining our relationship with our Elder Kin.

SATURDAY NIGHT HIGH SYMBEL - After the Faining, we will enter the Hall as Tribes, Families, and individual heathens and conduct a High Symbel. At 2012's Lightning Across the Plains, over 150 adults sat in Symbel and spoke good words over the horn. This is a formal event, and if you have garb to wear and are so inclined please wear it. But garb is not required. This is a night for bold and Tru words, gift-giving, and the forming of bonds among the Folk.

THOR FAINING - On Sunday morning, prior to the Heathen Auction, there will be a Thor Faining led by Hridgar Folk Kindred from Texas.  Asa-Thor is honored and asked to grant his protection to everyone in attendance on their journeys home from Lightning Across the Plains.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Workshops at Lightning Across the Plains 2013

At Lightning Across the Plains 2013 on Sept 26-29 there will be a wide variety of workshops, classes, and discussions presented by Heathens from across the Midwest and beyond.  We encourage both adults and teenagers to attend workshops and participate in these discussions.

GROUP SPIRITUALITY - Planning and maintaining the spiritual activities and focus of a Heathen hearth, kindred, or family. Presented by Eric Sjerven.

THE WORTHING PROCESS - A discussion of the formal process of earning one's place and proving one's worth within a Heathen kindred or tribe.  Presented by Gunner Miller.

ASATRU / HEATHENRY 101 - This discussion of our native Folkway, will discuss the worldview and core values of our religion and way of life from a modern tribal point of view.  This workshop will be interesting for those new the Heathenry, but can also be useful for those with more experience.  Presented by Mark Ludwig Stinson.

THE ART OF VIKING WIRE WEAVING - Hands on instruction on how to weave wire into beautiful necklaces and other jewelry.  Presented by Erin Marshall and Ralph Romig.

BLACKSMITHING DEMO - Forges, hammers, anvils, and making cool stuff from iron using your strength and skill.  Presented by Jarnsmidur Kindred

TRACING THE WEB OF WYRD - A practical exercise that illustrates the interconnected nature of shared Wyrd and Orlog. Presented by Eric Sjerven.

STAVERS IN THE HOUSE - A casual gathering for women and men to learn the basics of staving for song and ritual - meet on the wooden stage at the Pavillion. Bring your staff and stick. One of two workshops required in order to perform with Kari in the concert on Saturday Night!  Presented by Kari Tauring.

NORDIC MOVEMENT - Learn about Svict, Tyngde, and Kraft...Weight, Wave and Power in Nordic walking, skiing, and dancing. Kari will teach how the spine stav, the world tree, and the runes manifest in our bodies as we move. All ages workshop, parents and children, elders and youth are all encouraged to attend. We will practice the concepts through Komme Alle, the Bear Hunt Ritual Dance, and other ancient circle dances. The second of two workshops required to perform with Kari in the concert on Saturday Night!  Presented by Kari Tauring.

THE RITUAL OF ACHIEVEMENT - How to use the power of Symbel to get what you want from life.  Symble is a time for community bonding. It is also when we stand right on the edge of "what is becoming!" The ritual as recognized today is a powerful formula to program your subconscious to reach your goals and a way to declare your desires to the Aesir, your ancestors, and friendly wights. Presented by Everte Farnell.

PERSONAL PRACTICES WITHIN HEATHENRY - The workshop will focus on those personal practices that you can perform on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  Obviously, there is no "correct" way to do these things, but this workshop will give you plenty of ideas and get you thinking.  Presented by Mark Ludwig Stinson.

NORTHERN MAGIC - FORGING THE WILL - This presentation is meant to deconstruct preconceived notions and build a broader understanding of what it is, its application, and the limits of the human potential.  Presented by Matthias Waggener.
A HEATHEN FAMILY'S INTRO TO PREPPING - This workshop will introduce participants to how to prepare their family, hearth, or kindred for whatever emergency hardships may come their way.  Presented by Jason Van Tatenhove.

NORDIC BATHING RITUALS FOR WOMEN - This workshop discuss all the sacred body types in Nordic art and iconography from the Ice Age, Bronze Age, and early Viking Era. Learn new ways of honoring and share your ideas for the excellent hygiene the Northlanders were known for.

WORKING WITH THE WIGHTS - This class will go over some of the basics of working with the Wights, Elves, Trolls, Dwarves, and House Fae. It will focus on the traditions of our northern ancestors, and how to bring these practices into modern heathenry.  Presented by Zanna Israelson.

NATURAL MEDICINE IN MODERN LIFE - An introductory survey on using herbs and natural healing methods in your own home, covering children, pets and adults. We will talk about what herbs and tinctures to keep on hand, how to read labels, where to find fresh herbs and where to look for more information. Bring your questions and notebooks!  Presented by Shawna Jones.

The workshops at LATP are just one of many reasons to attend.  We'll see you there!

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The History of Lightning Across the Plains

Well, it is the fifth Anniversary of Lightning Across the Plains this year. And we thought it would be interesting to share some of the history of the event, how it was started, and some of our expectations five years ago when it began.

Back in October of 2007, before Jotun's Bane Kindred had begun...the future founding members of JBK were meeting for only the third time. The five of us were sitting around a dining room table talking about what sort of group we would like to form. We were discussing how it would be structured, how decisions would be made, and even what the group would be called. That night we decided to call our future kindred "Jotun's Bane Kindred" and we decided that someday we would like to host a regional Heathen gathering that we would call "Lightning Across the Plains. We would not actually hold the first Lightning Across the Plains until two years later, but we knew what we wanted to do and we knew what we wanted to call it.

In 2008, we spoke with a kindred here in the region about the possibility of co-hosting a yearly regional gathering, with the idea that we would rotate hosting the event year to year. The name of this kindred is not really important at this point. But, this other kindred had been around a long time, and we were pretty thrilled that they were interested in cooperating with us and helping to co-host the event. Over time though, they wouldn't really talk to us about any concrete plans. They also seemed to have a vision for the regional event that was very different from our own. The lesson that we learned from this, was the idea that if we wanted to follow our vision for what this regional event could be, we were going to have to begin it and host it ourselves.

In late 2008, our kindred began internal conversations about whether to go ahead and launch Lightning Across the Plains in 2009. It was quite a discussion. There were two schools of thought in the kindred. Some believed that we were ready to host such an event successfully, and that it would be well worth it to get started right away. We were pushing for a September 2009 date for the event, and that meant we had 9 months to plan the event, promote the event, and get everything ready for our first shot at this thing. There was another school of thought in the kindred that we weren't ready. That there was not enough time to get ready. And that perhaps we should delay starting the event for a year or two more. Ultimately, those of us that wanted to push forward and schedule the first LATP for September 2009 were convincing enough, that a kindred consensus formed that we should move forward with our plans.

In planning for the first LATP, we attempted to estimate how many Heathens would attend. We had attended a number of gatherings hosted by other kindreds in the region, and we were forming friendships with other kindreds. So, we added up our friends across the region, and attempted to calculate who would attend. The number we came up with, including members of our own kindred, was about 60 people. We looked at what sort of supplies we would need for 60 people. We decided to provide the evening meal each night of the event to everyone in attendance. We created a tentative schedule for the event, with very specific objectives in mind, including providing plenty of activities for both adults and children. We learned a lot about how to host an event from the kindred gatherings we attended across the Midwest. Volkshof Kindred in Minnesota is one group that we learned a lot from. I'd like to think that this exchange of information and ideas has been very reciprocal over time, but early on it is clear that their annual Heathen event had a lot of influence over how we planned the first LATP. With a plan in hand, we reserved the location for the event, built a website and on-line registration system, and announced the event everywhere we could think to announce it.

LATP was started with $200. We had recently decided that kindred members should pay monthly dues to help pay some of the expenses of our group. Jennifer and I paid our dues in advance for the next year, providing the kindred with the $200 we needed to reserve the Ridge and the Pavilion at Gaea Retreat. That $200 was the initial investment...the seed money that made LATP happen. Rather than the 60 Heathens we were expecting, 120 Heathens showed up that first year. And about 1/3 of the attendees were children...a trend that has continued over the past 5 years. Now, how can any kindred pay for an event with 120 people in attendance with only $200 at the start? It is basic capitalism at work. We required participants to pre-register, and the registration fees were enough to cover nearly everything we needed for the event. The financial health and continuity of the event has always been ensured by a Heathen Auction we hold at LATP.

When we planned the first LATP, we set the registration fees as low as possible. We understand that for many Heathens, money is tight. We did not want registration fees to ever be the reason someone couldn't attend. Over the years, we've never allowed our registration fees to stand in the way of someone attending our event. In five years, we've never increased the cost of registration. A couple of years ago, we added an additional day and night to the event, and created two levels of registration. There is now the full-event registration and the weekend-only registration. That weekend-only registration in 2013 costs exactly the same amount it did in 2009. Every decision we make is aimed at making attendance at the event something affordable for both individuals and families, no matter what financial situation they find themselves in.

Weekend-only registration is $40 for an individual and $60 for a family (of up to five members). Full-event registration is $50 for an individual and $80 for a family registration. And these registration fees include a dinner provided every night you are at the event.

That first year, we were shocked that 120 Heathens attended the event. It was a number that doubled our forecasted numbers. So, we were amazed in 2010 when 240 Heathens attended the second LATP. It was that second year when it really sank in that one of the largest, if not the largest Heathen gathering in the world was right here in the Midwest. It was also in that 2nd year, that other kindreds in the region began helping with certain aspects of the event. Participating kindred volunteer to help prepare the evening meals. Some kindreds help by organizing some of the Fainings/Blots, workshops, and other activities at the event. Some kindreds help with setting up certain areas of camp, or preparing for certain aspects of the event. And this regional assistance that began in 2010, has only expanded and increased over time. It is only through these cooperative efforts, that our relatively small kindred is able to host an event that had 260 participants in 2012.

Another aspect of LATP that we did not fully anticipate when we began in 2009, is the Regional Midwest Thing that is now held at LATP. The name for the "Midwest Thing" came from an annual event hosted by Volkshof Kindred in Minnesota. Volkshof Kindred and Jotun's Bane Kindred are aligned with one another, and we consider each other sister kindreds. We share many of the same goals, and after much discussion it was decided that moving the Midwest Thing to LATP would ensure its accessibility and growth. Volkshof Kindred changed the name of their event to the Northern Folk Gathering, and if you haven't attended this event yet...look into it. It is a great event. The Regional Midwest Thing at LATP brings together the Chieftains, Gothar, and Elders of our various kindreds to discuss the needs of our region, as well as projects and efforts that will have a regional impact. A Lawspeaker is elected each year, but this Lawspeaker is merely an organizer and facilitator, and does not directly impact the autonomy of any participating kindred. The Thing does not interfere with internal kindred matters, but instead focuses on regional issues and goals.

The goals and intentions of LATP have shifted and evolved over the past five years. That first LATP in 2009 was all about bringing Heathens together, in face-to-face interaction. A pretty simple goal, really. We wanted a highly organized event, with plenty of things to do, including workshops and religious activities. We wanted attendees to go home feeling they had more than gotten their money's worth, and looking forward to returning the next year. Over time, LATP has become an event where marriages happen, so that they may be witnessed by all the folk in our region. LATP has become a place where many new kindreds take their kindred oaths, beneath the limbs of Forn Halr, our holy tree. LATP is where ideas are exchanged, friendships and alliances are built, inter-kindred projects are launched, and where the next generation of Heathens play and learn together. The web of friendships and bonds that have formed at LATP and other events in our region strengthen all of our individual efforts. LATP is more important than any one person...or any one kindred. LATP is truly a regional event, where many Heathen individuals, families, and kindreds from across our region gather together in order to honor our Gods and make our ancestors proud.

There are more details that could be added to this brief history. But, I think I've hit the main points I wanted to make. All good Heathens are welcome at LATP. So, please feel welcome to learn more about Lightning Across the Plains and know that you are invited to attend.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gods and Goddesses - Personal Practices

I've written a lot about our kindred and about living in a tight-knit heathen group. But, I wanted to write some essays that discuss a Heathen's personal practices. Things he or she does on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Obviously, what I write here is not the only correct way to do things. Just some ideas to spark more discussion and exploration of the topic.

Our Gods and Goddesses

Heathens tend to have different understandings of our Gods and Goddesses. Some view them as very literal beings. Some envision them as manifestations or personifications of forces in nature. Some view them as psychological or spiritual archetypes buried deep within, and springing forth from, all the members of our Folk. Some view them as all and none of these things. For me personally, the Gods and Goddesses are beyond understanding, and difficult to categorize or define simply. I believe that the stories we read in the Lore of our Gods and Goddesses represent the human understanding of our Ancestors. I believe these stories are revealing, enlightening, and even entertaining. But, I do not see the Gods and Goddesses as limited or restrained by these stories in any way. When it comes to your personal practices, your personal understanding of the Gods and Goddess is what is important.

For this reason, one of the first things you must do is learn about our Gods and Goddesses. Read as much as you can. Read the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Read Saxo Grammaticus. Read H.R. Ellis Davidson and other authors of secondary sources. You will find much of the information is incomplete. You will also find many contradictions within the sources. Don't let this frustrate you. What you are reading is various human understandings of the Gods. You aren't reading scripture. You aren't reading the supposedly "literal word or message" of our Gods and Goddesses. You aren't reading material created by a modern church in order to present the "official church version" or dogmatic understandings of the Lore. You are reading what various skalds and authors have believed about our Gods and Goddesses. Of course these understandings of our Gods and Goddesses are imperfect. Of course they contradict and disagree with one another. If you think about it from the right frame of reference, it is completely natural for there to be this diversity among the human understandings of our Gods and Goddesses.

Over time, as you honor our Gods and Goddesses, your understanding of them will grow. Over time, you will fill some of those gaps in information through your own spiritual growth. Over time, you will solve some of the contradictions for yourself. Heathenry is not just a scholarly exercise. It is a living, advancing Folkway. We are not simply "recreating" or "role-playing" some ancient rites and understandings of our Gods and Goddesses. Through our honoring, gifting, and interaction with the Gods and Goddesses we learn more. We learn in the same way that our Ancestors learned what they learned about our Gods and Goddesses. This idea that our Folkway can have new understandings, or that we can advance our understandings of our Gods and Goddesses makes many Heathens very uncomfortable. The very thought of modern Heathens building upon what our Ancestors knew is sometimes derided as "making stuff up." This sort of frozen-in-time approach, treats our Folkway as a dead religion that we are simply re-enacting. Perhaps for those that have this point of view, that is true. But, for those of us rebuilding our Folkway as a living, breathing religion and world-view...this is not the re-enactment of a dead religion. This is our lives. As the descendants of our Ancestors, we learn as they learned. We advance forward in our understandings, personally building upon what they understood.

Understanding what has been described above, do not get angry or upset when another Heathen has a different personal understanding of our Gods and Goddesses.  It is only natural that our human limitations lead to differences in understanding.  Considering the many different ways our ancestors viewed our various Gods and Goddesses, it is not only natural but healthy that we have similar differences.  When you see others getting upset and attacking people over these differences in understanding, stop and consider exactly why they are so upset.  Consider what psychological or emotional needs cause them to insist that their understandings are the only correct understandings.  Then shake your head a bit, and move on.

On the other hand, there are methods of filling in the blanks and resolving contradictions in the sources that can lead you away from an understanding of our Gods and Goddesses that would be recognizable by our Ancestors.  For instance, mixing and mashing in information from the Folkways of other cultures.  Stirring in New Age elements that are not consistent with the traditional ways of our Folk.  Or shaping your understanding of our Gods and Goddesses in a way that fits or serves your own personal political agendas.  It is important that we carefully consider our personal understandings of our Gods and Goddesses to ensure we are not distorting or twisting our understandings to serve some purpose other than honoring them respectfully.

As a personal practice, it is rewarding to establish an altar to the Gods and Goddesses in your home. It is good for this altar to be given some prominence in your home, and this can be done in a number of ways. For instance, a table or bookshelf in the main living room of your home would denote the importance of the altar. If you had a spare bedroom or office in your home, setting up your altar there would give it its own space, in a sense. There is no right and wrong answer to where you place the altar, unless you are considering sticking it in some musty corner of your dark basement. Personally, I think it is good to have your altar dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses in a location where you see it often. The altar can take many forms. It can be established on a beautiful table, a set of shelves, the fire-place mantle, or you could even build a free-standing altar out of wood, bricks, or stone. I know folks with cats or other pets, that establish their altar to the Gods and Goddesses in a standing cabinet with glass or wooden doors, to prevent their animals from disturbing the items on the altar.  Really, your options are limitless.

What you place on your Gods and Goddesses altar has practically infinite possibilities and is personal to you. Consider that you are creating a space to honor and gift your Gods and Goddesses, and attempt to give it the attention they deserve. In whatever way possible, you should make it dignified, beautiful, meaningful, and focused on our Gods and Goddesses. When first starting out, it may be as simple as a table with a nice table-cloth, a Mjolnir or Valknut symbol, and perhaps a few images of our Gods drawn or printed out on paper or in frames. Over time, you can add things that personally represent the Gods and Goddesses for you. Often you will see ornately carved hammers, statues of specific Gods and Goddesses, a beautiful wooden, metal, or horn bowl for presenting offerings, a spearhead or full boar spear leaning up against the altar, runes, amber jewelry, or other symbols of our Gods and Goddesses. Ultimately, your personal altar is "correct" if it serves the purpose of connecting you and your family with our Gods and Goddesses, allowing you to give them gifts, honor them, and represent their spiritual presence in your home. The exact means for doing this is personal to you.

Besides an altar to the Gods and Goddesses, many Heathen homes have many decorations throughout the home that represent their Heathen beliefs and practices. Many of these decorations are connected with our Gods and Goddesses. Wall-hangings, statues, wood-burned plaques, cross-stitched designs, framed images or posters, spears, hammers, axes, a single gloved-hand, an ornately painted shield, banners...really, the options are limitless. These decorations in our home rarely happen over night. They are usually collected over time. You might buy one at the latest Heathen gathering you've attended. Some might be gifts from other Heathens you've met. Many may be items you've made with your own hands. These decorations set a tone in your home, and serve as a reminder of who you are and what you believe. They can inspire and strengthen you during those times when you need it. If you have children, they can spark conversations and help increase their own understandings and belief in our Gods and Goddesses.
Another personal practice for honoring our Gods and Goddesses involves making wonderful objects that symbolize their importance to us as Heathens. I am always amazed at the talent and skill among those who use their craft and art to honor our Gods and Goddesses. There are Heathen wood-carvers, wood-burners, makers of chain mail, blacksmiths, painters, spinners, knitters, cross-stitchers, nalbinders, bakers, weavers, musicians, poets, writers, sculpters, mead-makers, and many more. As a personal practice, it is enormously rewarding to make something that represents or honors our Gods and Goddesses with your own hands and skill. Many folks are their own worse critic regarding their talent to create things. But, most of the personal value in creating things is the act of creating...not the perfection of the item created. If you are creating a holy item for your own home and your own use, don't constantly beat yourself up over the end result. Instead, focus on doing your very best, whatever that skill level may be. Put thought, time, and energy into what you are creating and take pride in bringing something new into this world that honors our Gods and Ancestors. I know Heathens that Galdr (an ancestral magical practice involving the singing or incantation of verse-form spells) while crafting objects. I know other Heathens that recite specific runes or rune combinations while crafting objects. But, if you do not know these methods or are not comfortable attempting them, there are other ways to honor our Gods and Goddesses as you work. As you are making the item, keep the God or Goddess you are honoring in mind. Consider as you craft what that God or Goddess means to you. Speak with that God or Goddess, letting them know who you are, what you believe, and why you are making the holy item you are making. Ask the God or Goddess to accept the gift of honor you are offering.

Heathen kindreds, hearths, families, and other groups will often perform blots or fainings to honor our Gods and Goddesses. It can be difficult and a bit unwieldy for a Heathen individual to blot or fain in this same way as part of his or her personal practice. Much of the blot or faining structure we normally see works specifically for group worship. By definition, our personal practices can be much more personal in nature. Direct conversations or prayer to the Gods and Goddesses fit into the personal practice of the individual more easily than these group forms of worship. For instance, if an individual wished to honor Thor, they could do the following. Set aside a time and place where things are quiet, and you can focus on what you are doing without interruption. Pour yourself a quality beer or ale, and pour one for Thor as well in a second mug or glass. It can be an excellent ale you have purchased, but better yet if it is something you have brewed yourself. Sit at a table or in your living room across from an empty seat, and welcome Thor as a guest into your home. Present the gift of the ale to the empty seat. Then talk. Tell Thor what his deeds and his presence in your life means to you. Express how important he is to you and how much you appreciate what he has done and will do for your Gods and your Folk. Share with him what you have learned from him and the stories of his accomplishments. If you are dealing with some problem, describe the problem, as well as how you intend to work hard to resolve the problem for yourself.

During this sort of personal approach to one of our Gods or Goddesses, don't feel like you have to speak in some special way. Do not "put on airs" or attempt to be something other than yourself. Approach them honestly, from the heart. Be exactly who you are and share that with the God or Goddess you are honoring. As a personal practice, this can last 5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, or however long is necessary. As a personal practice, you can change what I've described to be whatever works for you. Over time, your approach and methods will very likely evolve and possibly become more complex. But the whole point of personal practice, is the fact it is personal to you. In a sense it is also personal to the Gods and Goddesses. What I mean by that, is your method for approaching and honoring Thor will likely be different than how you approach and honor any other God or Goddess. They are distinct beings, with their own stories, their own likes and dislikes, and their own ways of dealing with our Folk. So, put some time into reading about our Gods and Goddesses, and considering what sort of honor they would most appreciate receiving. But, do not let yourself be paralyzed by uncertainty or an unreasonable expectation of perfection. It is better you honor our Gods and be somewhat awkward in your approach, than to not honor them at all out of some fear of being awkward or not doing it exactly "right."

One of the best ways you could personally honor our Gods and Goddesses, is to live a life of which they are proud. We do not beg our Gods and Goddesses for help. We do not expect them to solve our problems. We do not bow to them in expectation that they will lead us or guide us in our actions. Heathens live their lives well, with strength and honor. We raise our families, we're loyal to our friends, and we get things done. We are our deeds. Some say that we fall beneath the notice of our Gods and Goddesses, or that they have better things to do than to notice us. But, I personally believe this to be false. I believe the Gods of our Folk watch us. They watch to see what we do with these lives they have given us.  If they are proud of who we are and what we do, I believe that, on occasion, in times of need they will give us a nudge, or a bit of wisdom, or some much needed Luck. We should never count on them to do this, but I do believe it happens sometimes. So, part of your personal practice should be living according to values and a world-view that will please our Gods. To do this, it is important to learn the values and world-view of our Heathen ancestors, and to internalize this learning. It must go beyond intellectual knowledge, and become an integral part of who you are and what you do.

I am sure there are many other methods of honoring our Gods and Goddesses as part of your personal practice. But, I've described here what I know.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Monday, June 17, 2013

House and Land Wights - Personal Practices

I've written a lot about our kindred and about living in a tight-knit heathen group.  But, I wanted to write some essays that discuss a Heathen's personal practices.  Things he or she does on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  Obviously, what I write here is not the only correct way to do things.  Just some ideas to spark more discussion and exploration of the topic.

Our House and Land Wights

A house wight is a spirit that lives in your home...or in a sense...the house wight is the spirit of your hearth or the spirit of your home.  Some Asatruars/Heathens don't do much with their house wight, or don't focus on it much.  But it is fair to say that the spirits of your home and of your land are very close to you, and are available for daily interaction.  After all, they are right there in your home or on your land.  Your house wight is a roommate of sorts, and your land wight is like a close neighbor.  It is believed that our ancestors would have spent much more time gifting, honoring, and interacting with their house wight and land wights...than they would have their ancestors or the Gods.  They depended on their relationship with the land and the safety and efficiency of their home for their very lives.  So, it makes sense that this is where their focus would be placed.

It can be a worthwhile practice to establish an altar or home for your house wight right in your home.  I tend to believe that a fairly central location is a good idea.  Many of our ancestors saw the house wight as being associated with the hearth or fire in the home, and this was always in a central location.  So determine where the center or "heart" of your home is located.  Where does most of the activity take place.  Where can you place a house wight's home so that its right in the mix...part of the action?  Where is the focus of your home?  For some, it might be the family-room of the home.  For others, it might be the kitchen or dining room.  It really depends on how you use your home.  When you have chosen the right room, then it is time to consider what sort of home/altar you want to create for your house-wight.  Some place this altar on a shelf or table.  Others place it over their fireplace on the mantle.  I've even heard of house wight altars inside cabinets.

Some folks build an actual model home of wood or cardboard or other material.  Some buy a wooden or paper home at a hobby store, and spend a lot of time painting, decorating, and possibly even furnishing that home.  I believe the idea behind this is to show one's appreciation to your house wight and make it clear that he or she is welcome.  You are showing hospitality to the house wight, by providing it a place to reside or live.  An altar to one's house wight can go further of course...and often becomes more complex and full as one gifts your house wight over time.  In my family, we tend to give the house wight shiny pretty things.  Silver coins, bright jewelry, and colorful baubles.  The kids have provided most of these over the years.  We tend to believe our house wight enjoys fun things, so the kids will sometimes loan the house wight their favorite toys for a little bit.  Our house wight altar also has a Thor bobble-head, an Icelandic flag, and other objects that really have little meaning except to us (and hopefully our house wight.)  If the kids have not given gifts to the house wight in a little while, I'll remind them...and they will go on the hunt for appropriate gifts.  We then place them on the altar.

We also give our house wight a taste of beer now and again, and sometimes a shot of honey liqueur.  I've also shared tobacco with the house wight before, giving him a cigar once...and some chewing tobacco another time.  When I make my dad's homemade butterscotch, I will sometimes share a piece with the house wight.  I've heard of other families giving their house wight cream, or honey, or a bit of fresh cheese.  I tend to believe that house wight tastes vary.  So, if you give a gift and it doesn't feel right...don't give that gift anymore.  Try other gifts.  If a gift seems like it is well received, then make a mental note and repeat that gift again.  You may find that a daily gift is appropriate and works for you and your house wight, or perhaps something weekly is more realistic and more appreciated.  Really, it is something you have to experiment with until you find the right answers for your own situation and home.

It occurs to me that some reading this are wondering how they will know whether their gifts have been well received.  It is the act of acknowledging the house wight and honoring them that builds the relationship between you and them.  Obviously, the material gift you leave for them is still there where you left it.  But, the value or meaning of the gift is taken by them and enjoyed.  Determining if the house wight has accepted your gifts or if the gifts are appreciated is something very personal.  How does the home feel to you?  Does the home feel happy and calm?  Are things going well around the home?  Are you feeling comfortable in the home?  There is a tone to things when they are happy...and a tone to things when you may have displeased them or made them felt ignored.  And for some, there are physical results that that take place that denote their appreciation.  Something long lost, suddenly popping up in a place you know you did not leave it.  Or you are in a hurry and need something, and you turn around and there it is in plain sight.  Some would call these events coincidence or wishful thinking on your part.  But, I prefer to think these are gifts in return for your gifts.

I will gladly admit to also talking to our house wight.  If I've lost something or if I need to find something, I'll sometimes ask the house wight for a little help finding it.  Sometimes, I just talk about whatever's going on...or have a laugh about something the kids have done.  Some people picture their house wight as a spirit...others picture their house wight as some form of hidden folk, like brownies or tomte or nisse.  Some get the idea that their house wight is a male, and some a female.  Some folks come to believe that they have some understanding for the personality of their house wight.  Others find their house wight to be more of a mystery.  Really, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules.  I believe some house wights prefer a neat and tidy home, while others prefer a little bit of eclectic clutter.  Some house wights prefer a bit of quiet, while others seem to enjoy the noise a house full of children brings.  I've heard various beliefs on what house wights feel about family pets, but I tend to think the pets and the house wights give each other a respectful and friendship distance.

What is most important, is finding a way to acknowledge and interact with the spirit or heart of your home.  While this is a spiritual matter, it is a practical one as well.  When you gift and honor your house wight, and attempt to form a relationship or bond will most likely also have a better appreciation for your own home, how it operates, and what makes it work best for you and your family.  Many Heathens that gift and honor their house wight, report concrete benefits from doing so.  Their homes are happier and healthier.  They lose things less often, and when they do lose things...these objects have a way of turning up on their own (with a little help from the house wight, of course).  Children who are taught to appreciate and get along with their house wight, are introduced to a part of our Folkway that many adults new to our world-view have not yet discovered.  By teaching this to our children, we are giving back to them something that was taken from us.

Now let's talk about the land vaettir, or land wights.  Some picture these wights or beings as actual hidden folk (brownies, gnomes, etc.)  Others picture them as the living embodiment or living spirit of the fields or forests.  There are various ways to approach them as well.  What I'm going to talk about is what to do if you live in a suburban home and wish to gift the land vaettir outside of your home.  Much like with the house wight, it is a good idea to establish a place in your yard to honor the land wights and to leave them gifts.  This place in the back yard can be somewhere that you can sit and think and enjoy your back yard.  Or it can be someplace dramatic or central to you backyard, such as a large tree or some other feature that dominates your yard.  You can built an actual home for your land wight.  Though some build an altar of rocks or wood.  It might be appropriate to plant a flower garden, or landscape an appropriate place to honor the land wights.  It is really up to you.

Leaving gifts for the land wights is a similar process to that of the house-wights, except that it is somewhat less personal.  I don't find myself sharing some of my beer with the land-wights, like I do with my house-wight.  I am more likely to simply sacrifice an entire beer of some quality to the land wights, rather than sharing some of my own.  For me, the land wights are a little more distant and not nearly as close or personal as you house wight.  It always feels to me like they are a little bit harder to get along with...and not as quick to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Keeping your yard and trees healthy and well-tended (or at the very least, free of trash and clutter) is pleasing to the land wights.

If one lives on a farm or goes hunting, there are ways of approaching the land wights that may be helpful to your endeavors.  Much of this you learn though experimentation, and seeing what works.  Again, you can gift your land wights, talk with them, promise them certain things (but always follow through on your promises), and generally build bonds with them.  But, you have make the time for it and do the work.  Like everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

We have a neatly piled stack of stones in our backyard that is for our land wights.  It is by one of the oak trees we have planted in our yard.  It is hear that we leave gifts.  I keep this pile of stones well tended and neat.  I trim the grass very carefully around it, to show that it is important to me...and to keep it looking nice.

Honestly, this can all sound a bit crazy to the uninitiated.  Many new Heathens tend to focus on the Gods and Goddesses, because they are used to religions that focus on divine powers.  The idea that you share a home with an unseen spirit is not exactly something most of us grew up with in our modern culture.  Giving gifts and respect to the spirits and unseen beings that live on the land you own is not something that your hear much about outside of our Folkway.  But, as strange as it sounds and feels, gifting one's house wight and the land wights on your land, and learning how to interact with these beings can be very rewarding.  Making this a part of your personal practice is the best way to learn.  If something works, use it.  If something doesn't work, let it go.  This is one of those things that feels a bit strange at first, but then feels very natural after just a short time of giving it a try.

So, what are some ways you interact with your house and land wights?

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Legal Situation Has Been Resolved

I'm Mark Ludwig Stinson.  I'm a 44-year-old husband of fifteen years and a father of three.  Up until recently, I was a Sergeant on the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.  This was a career I was dedicated to for a total of eighteen years.  I am also a Heathen and the Chieftain of a kindred in the Midwest called Jotun's Bane Kindred.  I have served in that position of responsibility since 2007.  We host two open gatherings here in our region, including Lightning Across the Plains, and we attend many other gatherings in the Midwest hosted by other kindreds.

At the beginning of July of 2012, I learned I was being charged with a crime regarding my handling of a joint bank account I had with my mother's during my time as her Power of Attorney.  For the past eleven months, I have worked with my attorney to find the best possible resolution to the situation.  In order to avoid any possibility of jail time away from my wife and children, today I agreed to a plea bargain that involves me paying back every dollar that the State believes I spent inappropriately.  This agreement involves a Suspended Imposition of Sentence, which means that technically it is not a conviction in Missouri and I will avoid becoming a felon.  When I have completed my scheduled payments of restitution, it will become a closed record...and go away.

Considering the media attention this case initially received because I was a police officer, the resolution of the matter that was put in place today seems the best possible result that could be found.  My mother's needs will continue to be met.  She lives in a large comfortable log home in the country that she owns free-and-clear.  My brother's family lives there in her home with her.  She has money in the bank, money coming in from government benefits, and the money coming in from my restitution payments.  So, she should have very little worries monetarily.  The terms of my bond prevented me from talking with my mother for the past eleven months, but I was able to speak with her today after court.

Bad situations and conflicts arise in our life, both big and small.  Sometimes they can be resolved easily and in private.  Other times, they are difficult to resolve and become very public.  All you can do is face them head on and attempt to resolve them as honorably as you can.  From my earliest meetings with my attorney, those were my instructions to him.

I am very pleased to have this legal situation resolved.  I have a family to raise and a life to live.  I have a new job and I'm working hard.  I have a new book in the works.  I have a number of carved wooden statues that I've started, and a number of wooden hammers that I'll be finishing in the coming months.  I plan to write more modern Heathen fables, and I will continue my practice of having those translated into as many languages as possible, so they can reach as many children as possible.  We have many gatherings and friends across the Midwest to visit in the coming months. I'm hopeful that having this legal matter behind me, will allow me to be even more focused on my family, our kindred, and our efforts.

Jotun's Bane Kindred will continue to move forward with our friends by our side.  Our free resource website will continue to grow.  Our gatherings will grow and improve, and our bonds of friendship will increase in number.  We will publish more books, create and share more resources for Heathen children, and we will continue to be measured by the things we do for our families, our community, and our Folk.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Noble Virtues Wordle

I wanted to make a word-cloud of our Noble Virtues. So I headed over to the Wordle website. And I entered the following list of words, which represent our values as describe on our Noble Virtues page, here at the Temple of Our Heathen Gods.

Family, Frith, Loyalty, Honor, Responsibility, Self-Reliance, Respect, Hard-Work, Industry, Determination, Truth, Honesty, Wisdom, Generosity, Hospitality, Fairness, Justice, Equity, Bravery, Courage, Boldness, Strength, Endurance, Steadfast, Moderation, Self-control, Self-Rule, ASATRU, HEATHENRY

And with a few of the settings changed, this is what it came up with...

Click on the image to see it larger.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Myth of the "Unchangeable Me"

In a popular culture and education system that tends to put self-esteem far ahead of achievement, accomplishment, and success it should be not surprise that it is a popular thing to reinforce "being yourself" and "not changing for anyone."  On social media, you'll see many meme's, quotes, and images dedicated to reinforcing this idea of being completely unapologetic for "being who you really are."

From a more realistic standpoint, what if "who you really are" just isn't that great?  What if your natural tendencies and current decision-making abilities get you in trouble more often than not?  What if your personal habits are unhealthy and/or annoying?  What if the personality you have developed over time isn't quite the finished product you would like it to be?  What if you hold biases and dislikes that are unreasonable?  What if your values, work ethic, and focus are lacking or not up to the task of living the life you are capable of living, or want to live?  What if the "unchangable you" is failing to evolve and progress in your life and your relationships with those around you?

Don't get me wrong.  I get the point of the "don't you dare ask me to change" quotes.  There are people out there who try to change or fix everyone that comes within arm's reach of them.  Usually, they try to change you into someone exactly like them.  In-so-much as these "don't change" quotes refer to not being bullied or manipulated into changing yourself in unwanted and unreasonable ways, I completely agree.  In-so-much as these quotes might cause people to not aspire to change for the better, or as an excuse to behave poorly toward others, I find myself shaking my head sometimes.

From the minute we are born we are learning, growing, developing, and trying to find the best ways to interact with the world and people around us.  This process, to some degree or another, should go on throughout our entire life.  New people, circumstances, challenges, and even failures in our life provide us with new input and new information at to what works and what doesn't.  This new input almost always leads to some degree of change, and hopefully it leads to change that hindsight will show was an improvement.

None of us are perfect, and none of us are a "finished product."  This idea that there is a static "unchangeable you" is false.  Equally false or counter-productive is condemnation of anyone giving you input, suggestions, or open and honest communication regarding things you could do differently or better.  Especially if the person giving you input shares bonds of friendship with you, and has earned a place of trust in your life.   If you care about your friends and family and trust them, then appropriate feedback from them about how you could improve is a gift you are being given.  That does not mean you necessarily have to take the advice or change in the ways being suggested.  But, this sort of feedback is a key part of friendships and other relationships between people, and should be welcomed when given in an appropriate way.

I actively seek input and feedback from my friends and close family.  Sometimes they beat me to the punch, and bring me that feedback before I've even sought it out.  When I agree with the input or feedback I'm given, I'm willing to make adjustments and change in ways that will improve myself, my life, or my relationships.  Even when I disagree with the specific input or feedback being given, I really try to examine why my friend or loved one felt the need to share that feedback...and learn something from it.

I believe we have all known people who had serious problems with how they dealt with other people and the world in general.  Perhaps their behavior was widely considered by others as selfish, mean, irresponsible, or completely lacking in empathy and understanding for others.  We have watched as these features of their character cause problems in their life over and over again.  We've watched them disrupt groups and efforts they have been a part of repeatedly.  We've watched them drive away friends and acquaintances repeatedly.  We've watched them lose jobs and ruin opportunities repeatedly.  This really is a tragic process to watch when the person is not self-aware enough to know that their behavior and actions are at the heart of all their problems.  What is even more tragic, is when the person is self-aware of his or her character flaws but proud of them.

For example, something goes wrong and they have once again made an individual or group of people angry with them, and the person in question looks at you and says, "Well, I'm an asshole, so what did they expect?"  There is this sense that the person with the character flaw has no choice but to be an asshole to people, and further, that the whole world needs to give them a pass for being an asshole.  You can fill in that blank with whatever word you would like.  Bitch.  Princess.  Flake.  Cruel.  Self-Centered.  It doesn't matter what character flaw we are talking about.  There is just this sense that the individual with the flaw has no choice but to inflict the flaw on the world, and that the world needs to give them a pass.  After all, they are unchangeable and should be proud of who they are.  Right?  This is the myth of the "Unchangeable Me" at work.

Of course, people do have the complete freedom to be an Asshole, a Bitch, a Princess, a Flake, Cruel, Self-Centered, or whatever other personality traits they want to inflict on the world.  They have a right to be who they want to be.  But, the world has no responsibility to give them a pass.  They can't expect family, friends, and random bystanders to actually accept their excuse that they are flawed and proud of it...and to simply smile and accept whatever poor behavior they rain down on those around them.  Despite their belief that it does, the world has no obligation to give the flawed individual a pass for bad behavior.  Life is too short to indulge those that would repeatedly act badly toward you and around you in a way that negatively affects your life and your efforts in this life.  Much too short.

I would include in the myth of the unchangeable me, the idea that external factors are controlling us and that we have no choice in our actions.  I've seen excuses made regarding harmful choices and bad behavior, where all the blame is put on alcohol, drugs, sexual attraction, or love.

"Well, I was drinking a lot that night, and shit happens."
"I would never harm you or anyone in your kindred, but I was drinking that night."
"I'm just not that in love with my wife anymore, so when I met this other girl...."
"I can't really help who I love, you know?"

In these excuses we hear this idea that the person who is causing harm or making bad choices, really had no control in the matter.  We hear this idea that other people or the world in general can't hold them responsible for what they are doing, because it is this uncontrollable or unchangeable external cause that is in control.

Again, as with the excuse of the internal character flaw, no one can stop these people from letting alcohol, drugs, sex, or love control their behavior towards others.  But, the world has no responsibility to give them a pass.  They can't expect family, friends, and random bystanders to accept their excuse that they have no choice but to act badly toward them.  The people in your life have no obligation to just go along with your bad behavior and excuse-making.  There is a time and a place for "tough-love," where those closest to you make it clear that you have a choice between still having them in your life and your bad behavior and excuses.

When you think about it, the only thing standing between who you are and who you want to be, is your choices and your deeds.  You are your deeds.  We all have quirks, and flaws, and personal failings.  We all have problems in our upbringing and past that weigh on us at times.  We all struggle with doing the right thing on occasion.  We all suffer insecurities now and again and wonder if we can accomplish those things we want to accomplish in this life.  But, the bottom line truth of the matter, is we are creating and recreating ourselves every time we make a choice and do something.  Every deed we perform in this life adds to us, changes us, and builds upon what we've already done.  These are the layers in the well...our Orlog.  Those deeds build (or tear down) our Luck.  Those deeds grow (or shrink) or Gefrain.  Those deeds add to (or subtract from) our Worth.

To proudly announce that we are flawed and don't have any intention of working on or fixing those flaws, goes against some of the central concepts of Heathenry.  When one insists that the world and the people around us must change and accept a single individual's flaws, is contrary to the community aspects of Heathenry - Frith, Thew, and one's Honor within a group.

I think it is enormously healthy to be proud of our positive character traits and those positive things we've accomplished in this world.  I think it is unhealthy to celebrate negative character traits that have repeatedly caused negative things to happen in our life.  It is equally unhealthy to trumpet these negative character traits as something unchangeable about you, and to expect the world to give you a pass and just accept your bad choices and behavior.  The world shouldn't have to, and frankly won't.

In the end, we are our deeds.  And the responsibility for who we are and what we do as adults falls squarely on our own shoulders.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Friday, March 15, 2013

Renewed Activity on Our Message Board

We've recently recommitted ourselves to making the Heathen Gods Message Board a vital and active place where Heathens can come and have rational and respectful conversations with other Heathens.

You will find new posts on the message board every single day.  You can register on the Message Board in the traditional way, or you can use your Facebook account to register in seconds.  Once you are on the Message Board, you can browse by topic categories or browse a list of the most recent discussions.

We'd like to invite you to our message board.  Start discussions, join in on existing discussions, ask questions, and share information in a mature and moderated environment.

The Heathen Gods Message Board

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods