Mothers: Zemes Mate

This is the first in what I am hoping will be a series of poems honoring the mates or mothers, a series of named deities and spirits in Latvian mythology. Some people will argue that all of the mothers are forms of Mara, though I’m not inclined to go that far. I do think some of them are titles that could apply to her, and which she answers to. Zemes Mate, Mother Earth is one of the titles she does answer to.

the spring rains have paused
I step out from my front door
I set my feet on springy earth
I smell the grass, growing fresh
and strong beneath me
you are in the grass, and you
are in the loamy dirt below
you whisper to each seed,
sending leaves toward Dievs above
sending roots toward Veles below
you hold me up and support me
you give me everything I need
hail to you Mother Earth!
hail to you Zemes Mate!

Praise and Thanks

Hail Mara, Dear Mara, Mother Mara,
Queen of Generosity, Kindest One
from whom all gifts have flowed
I thank you and I praise you,
publicly, here before my readers!
Thank you for the child we begged
you for! Thank you for promises
fulfilled and blessings poured out!
I will keep doing my best to praise
you, to spread your word, and to share
the joy of working on your behalf!

Inferiority, Complex

This isn’t really my story to tell, but my spouse doesn’t blog much lately so hopefully she doesn’t mind…

When we started this whole parenting gig, we talked a lot about what she wanted her pregnancy to look like. The answer was: midwife, no drugs, as little medical intervention as possible. That sounded good to me, so we went ahead with that plan. We diligently saw a midwife for nine months and she did all the right things but there came a point where that all went out the window.
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H is for Hræsvelgr

Something brief for the PBP…

One of the first jotnar I ended up speaking with when I began journeying to Jotunheim was the giant Hræsvelgr, who lives in a cave-like nest on a very tall mountain that overlooks one of the seas that border Jotunheim. He prefers the shape of the eagle, but will sometimes take a humanoid form; he did that for me the first few times we spoke.

His wings help create the harsh, destructive winds that blow across the waters, and like Ran, he takes wreckage as his due. He’s been collecting things for… well, a really long time, I guess, and his home is pretty stuffed. I’m trying to figure out a more respectful way to say it, but essentially it’s half “curiosity shop” and half “Hoarders episode”. He doesn’t often share what’s rightfully his, but he sometimes bargains and even more rarely gives gifts. He’s also good at finding what’s been lost.

I wouldn’t recommend seeking him out without a reason, but if he’s willing to teach you, there’s a lot you can learn, tucked away amid centuries of wreckage.

A Writer’s Three Prayers

Hail Wehaz, God of the Fire and the Senses,
Hedonist, Inspiration, Teller of Truths
you know the spark and the tension it inspires,
how the rush to notebook and pen can overwhelm
in the moment and how fast it can fade in our hands
just like anything else we grasp at in life
you allowed yourself to be bound that the end
might be delayed, waiting for that moment
of crystal clear inspiration that never came
please share with me your fire, your inspiration,
give me a vision of the clear path ahead
and the way to get there, hand me the matches
that I may choose when to burn the bridges
behind me and when to clear the brush ahead
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How To Write Devotional Poetry

As a follow up to my shingle post the other day, my friend Tom asked if I had any advice about writing devotional poetry. It turns out that I do!

There are a couple of different styles of poetry that I write for my gods, but they share some commonalities that make for a good starting place. Trying to find the starting place is hard enough. Sitting down with the idea of writing a poem for your favorite god or goddess can be overwhelming. How can you funnel all of the thoughts and feelings your god inspires into a single poem?

First, you want to start with an idea of the god you’re writing this for. Not just in the obvious sense of knowing which god you’re writing to, but also in the sense of which aspects and names of that god will be appropriate. If I’m writing a poem to Odin, for example, I will want to consider whether I’m writing with Odin Allfather in mind, or Odin Storyteller, or Odin Berserker… you get the idea. It’s possible that you want to write a devotional poem with all aspects of a god in mind instead, and that’s also a valid construction. The idea is to know what kind of poem you’re writing.

Once you have an sense of who the poem is for, think about why you’re writing it. Were you told to? Is it an act of pure devotional love and praise? Is it a prayer or request of the god? Are you trying to explain some aspect of the god to other people? Again, the goal here is to get a sense of what you’re doing and why.

Now that you know what you’re doing, hopefully that blank white page looks a little less intimidating. The next step is to actually put pen to paper – or fingers to keys. Start by writing down your goal and any images that come to mind.

For example, if I was writing a prayer-poem to Odin Storyteller, who I refer to as Wodanaz, to help me with my writing, I might start by noting the image of the wandering storyteller in front of the fire. A prayer-poem is a good place to start when you’re getting comfortable with writing; more imagery-heavy poetry can come later.

I always start prayer-poems with a call to the god in question. You may have noticed that I tend to start with “Hail Mara” because I spend a lot of time in the Norse/Northern European POV. Most traditions will have their own traditional greeting, but as a fall back, “O Name” is probably a safe construction for everyone. I generally follow this up with a couple of kennings, nicknames or titles to make sure that the prayer is on the right track:

Hail Wodanaz, God of the Typewriter and the Road,
Storyteller, Wanderer, Most Furious of Poets

That’s a pretty good start for now. I’m feeling a Jack Kerouac vibe that I hadn’t been planning originally, thought that’s a reasonable fork of the wandering storyteller idea, so I’ll go with that. You may or may not feel the sting of inspiration as you go through this process. If you don’t, you can still produce a great poem that honors and praises.

Now that you’ve got your god’s attention, in a prayer-poem like this, it’s time to make your case:

you know the burden of the author and the skald,
how we bear the twin responsibility of creation
on one hand, inspiration, on the other, hard work
I put in my hours, bent over the clicking keys
every night, banging out neat rows of crisp text

Once you’ve laid it all out like that, you can ask for what you want:

my half is fulfilled in offering to creative gods
please let me get drunk on your Mead of Poetry
grant me inspiration, free-flowing and plentiful
show me how to bang those words on the keys
an endless role of never-ending stories

By itself this is probably enough. You can see how the On The Road hints are woven in, (hopefully) without overwhelming the rest of the prayer. If you want to keep going at this point, you have a few options. You can repeat the basic structure with new titles and a new request, or you can go on to promise something in return for having your request fulfilled.

I’d like to come back to this later and discuss how to write other types of devotional poetry as well. I also recommend checking out the series How To Make a Polytheist Prayer Book. If you write anything based on this explanation, I hope you’ll leave me a link in the comments!

H is for Headcanons and Hypotheses

(with thanks to Sophie and Stephy for “H” suggestions)

Different branches of paganism deal very differently with UPG or unverified personal gnosis. Some feel it’s inappropriate, some see it as inviolate, some fall in the middle. Where does fictional reconstruction fit in there? You might assume that it UPG would be highly valued in fictional recon, and you’d be correct, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d think.

In the sorts of fannish circle that generate fan fiction and meta, people will post their headcanons: their own personal interpretations above and beyond what’s giving in the canon. Some of these are quite straightforward, while some are complex and turn brief moments in hundred-thouand word epics. The connection to UPG is obvious, but the most interesting thing about headcanons is that they are not considered mutually exclusive. It’s expected that you can have your own headcanon while appreciating the differing ones of other people; some people have multiple versions of headcanons of their own.

For the fictional recon, it is not accidental that ‘canon’ is also a religious term. However, while there are still ship wars and arguments over how canon various information is, in most fandom circles, the norm is to appreciate the variety of headcanons available. This is an attitude that would serve more pagans, in my opinion. By treating UPG as headcanon, a fictional reconstructionist has the opportunity to appreciate a diversity of interpretation and to see his or her gods from new angles – even the non-fictional ones. Whether you agree with the headcanon is ultimately secondary to whether or not it prompts a good story.

To use a modern example, Phil Coulson’s death was widely ignored by fandom – at first people wrote stories explaining how he was alive, and not long afterward it was essentially decided by fandom that it wasn’t even necessary to explain it in any given fic. It was just a given that Fury had faked his death, and eventually Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made that fanon (SPG) into canon. While this made telling stories with Coulson in them easier, in some ways it limited what fandom could do because writing a dead!Coulson fic was harder, even though Coulson’s death was apparently canon for months.

If you can’t quite bring yourself to conflate your canons, perhaps you’d be more comfortable with another “H” term: hypothesis. Some pagans would benefit from treating their UPG as a hypothesis: something that needs to be tested, refined, and evaluated. If you similarly view the UPG of others as hypotheses, you can seek any useful ideas or possible truth in even UPG that conflicts with your own experience. Whether or not you ultimately decide that two pieces of UPG are or are not compatible, the time spent gives a greater understanding of your own experiences and knowledge because they have been compared and even challenged.

Altar-ations

Kuan Yin altar, April 2014

Kuan Yin altar, April 2014

Well, there are choices you have to make when it comes to parenting and one of them is space. The dresser where I had been keeping Kuan Yin’s altar is going to house the changing pad, so the Lady got moved onto a space about half the size. Everything fits, though just barely.

To set that up, I had to move a few other small altars around and that got me thinking about Mara’s altar. I’m starting to get the itch that she wants it rearranged, but there’s not a whole lot of rearrangability in the current configuration. I’m thinking about keeping an eye out for a new small furniture piece or something else that might go in place of the shelf it’s already on, or maybe I have something in the house I can use.

I have been doing Butt In Couch instead of Butt In Chair for my regularly scheduled writing rotation. For a while I was using the desk in the second room, but that’s got baby stuff all over it (again) and rather than clear it I’ve just been sitting on the couch with the laptop. This is a terrible plan for my back and I need to just clean off the desk, but I’ve gotten distracted and off-track this week.

I have been getting writing done, though nothing orderly. That’s probably some kind of metaphor, that if I try to be too orderly with my writing, I end up getting nothing done. It’s not a very productive metaphor, though. I need to find a way to change that.

My Shingle

If you’ve been following my blog for more than, say, a week, you’ve probably noticed that I write my fair share of devotional poetry. (Probably more than my fair share, honestly, but you guys and my gods seem to put up with it.)

Last night a good friend asked me to write something for her goddess. It was actually the third deity-inspired piece I’ve written so far this month and she was pleased with the result. It got me thinking that this is something I can do for other people outside of the context of simply writing poem-prayers to Mara on request.

So! For the rest of National Poetry Writing Month (April), I will be taking requests for devotional poetry and prayers. The goal is to build up a portfolio I can use to offer my services as a devotional poet going forward.

Hit me with your best shot, guys.