Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Filan and Krasskova on Loki and Sacrifice

While you are well-known for your devotion to Odin, you are infamous for your devotion to Loki and the Giants. (Some have even called you a "Heathen Satanist"). What roles do Loki and His kin play in your spiritual life?

Galina: Every blessing in my life has in some way passed through Loki’s hands, including my relationship with Odin. It was Loki specifically who prepared me for that. He’s been a good friend to me and I love Him dearly. He is my touchstone, and continues to help me in times of spiritual difficulties. He is a teacher and friend as well as being a God that I adore. He brought me stability, an adopted mother, made me ready and useful for Odin, helped me through my shamanic ordeal cycle, and led me to deeper understanding of devotion and humility. Through introducing me to Sigyn, I learned the value of graciousness and piety, in the oldest sense of the word. There is nothing good in my life that does not in some way bear His touch.

Certainly I’m aware of the controversy in some denominations of Heathenry over whether or not to honor Loki and His kin. I think the argument is intensely misguided. Firstly, I find attempting to judge any of the Gods to be immense hubris on our part. Our “job” if you will, is to honor Them. If one is told specifically through direct interaction with a Deity not to take part in honoring Deity X that is fine. That is a taboo placed on that individual person. That is a far cry from a group looking at references in medieval texts, texts that were A) written well after conversion and B) were never intended to be utilized as any type of scripture and taking their position from that, rather than from direct experience, prayer, meditation, and discernment. Spiritual relationships are intensely personal things. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach -- not that works anyway.

I also think that vilification of Loki is a misreading of the extant lore, for what it’s worth. It’s an example yet again of a religion of converts not yet having shaken off the shackles of the dominant faith from which many of its people have come, in this case Christianity. Because we have an overwhelming majority of people having converted from various denominations, often fundamentalist, of Protestant Christianity, we have a majority used to drawing their religious rules from the normative authority of written texts. Add to this, the overwhelming emphasis on eschatology within some of these denominations and it is easy to see where we get the current obsession for vilifying Loki and His kin. I think, hope, and pray that as our religion grows and matures, that this type of reactive nonsense falls by the wayside or evolves instead into respect if not active devotion. Not everyone is going to feel a pull to honor every single Deity. We’re not always going to have a close relationship with each and every One. That however, does not preclude respect.

Loki’s kin, various Jotnar from Angurboda, to Kari, to Surt, to Farbauti have protected me, humbled me, and most of all have taught me. As a shaman I have learned so much from the Jotnar and I have done this with Odin’s blessing. I have grown spiritually and grown both stronger and wiser under Their tutelage. I admit these Deities can be terrifying but so can any God or Goddess. Instead of looking at Ragnarok tales, we should perhaps be focusing more on the fact that both the Aesir and Vanir often interacted (both positively and negatively) with the Giants ( Jotnar). Of course this again goes back to my belief that we should stay well out of the Gods’ politics and Their alliances. Our place is to give respect, courtesy, and honor to the Holy Powers…ALL of the Holy Powers. The Jotnar are a family of Gods, perhaps a difficult family of Gods for the modern mind to truly grasp, but no less worthy of honor.

There is a great deal of controversy in various communities about animal sacrifice (and the concept of sacrifice in general). Historically the Gods of most cultures have asked for and received blood offerings. How do we engage with that aspect of Their service in our modern world?

First of all, I think we need to dispense with our modern sentimentalities. We really need to get over ourselves. It is right and proper to give offerings to the Gods, including animal sacrifice. This is an immensely powerful and sacred act. We live in a culture that has done its best to alienate us from mess. Few of us butcher and prepare our own food anymore. The immediacy with which food is available in our world has led, I believe, to a certain cluelessness and lack of respect not only where offerings and sacrifice might be concerned but also with the food cycle itself. I’ve heard horror stories of middle school children who, when being presented with celery, or potatoes, or carrots couldn’t identify what these vegetables were! I’ll bet all of them could identify McDonalds though. We’re removed from the power of the land and the sustenance that it provides. There’s been a break in that cycle.

Sacrifice is one means of restoring that balance. The animals given are accorded immense respect and are killed in a way that is a thousand times more humane that what occurs in the local slaughter houses. I think the most important thing, we as moderns need to realize when dealing with the practice of sacrifice is that it has its roots in respect for all concerned. It is a way of maintaining firth, or right order, right relationship. There is nothing more solemn and sacred then the gift of an animal to the Gods. Therefore, it behooves those contemplating this offering to learn to do it properly. Years ago, there was quite a stir in certain Theodish Heathen quarters over the proper way to slaughter an animal. Some favored shooting the animal first and then cutting its throat. Others insisted that the throat alone must be cut for the sacrifice to be valid. My position: it depends.

What makes a sacrifice valid is the respect with which it is offered and part of that respect means making sure that animal does not suffer. (That, by the way, includes making sure the animal isn’t terrified. Traditionally animals set aside for sacrifice were pampered, well fed, and feted). If one wishes to use traditional methods eschewing the use of a firearm (and I am fine with this, I tend to do so myself), then it is imperative that such a person learn to do the actual killing quickly, cleanly, and well. Apprentice with a farmer or a butcher, perhaps you may be fortunate to find a sacrificial priest of another faith who is willing to teach you the craft. Above all else: learn the mechanics, the pure technical side of things first and thoroughly. That is the epitome of respect because giving a sacrifice is not something to be done for shits and giggles. It is an enormous responsibility.

I also think the question of sacrifice is complicated by certain unspoken taboos. I really think that blood is perhaps our most fearsome taboo. In the ancient world it demarcated the line between sacred and profane. For us, it speaks of the taboo is death and illness, infection and disease as opposed to health, which in our world is indicated by sterility and lack of mess. There’s a certain psychological barrier to be overcome where sacrifice is concerned, because it does involve the shedding of blood. There’s also a certain unconscious prejudice, a little voice of white-middle class privilege that all too often says: “killing animals for the Gods…that’s something those primitive people over there do, not us, not in our neat, modern, and oh so white-bread homes. Oh no. our religion is neat and clean and tidy. We’ve evolved past the need for such barbarism.”

Personally I would also add a third conundrum into the mix in that killing an animal in offering to the Gods brings home the fact that those Gods are real in a way that we’re usually not forced to consider. It implies commitment on a level our culture, in things religious, tends to avoid. Sacrifices takes religion from the realm of the theoretical deep into the realm of the experiential and that can be a very frightening thing.