Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Kindreds Essay

The Nature Spirits

Nature spirits are unique in that they share this middle realm with us.  They fall into many categories - those tied to a specific place (genius loci), those with a broader territory (so to speak) and those that represent a sort of collective soul of an element of nature. 

Genius loci are spirits of a particular place, whether it be a specific building, river or a mountain.  On the property my family owns I view the dry creek and trees on the property as having their own unique spirits.  I talk with them and leave offerings.  The land itself has its own spirit as well, one forged in glacial till, bison paths and farming long before we came.

Then there are the creatures with spirit that roam the lands.  Deer, coyote and wild turkeys regularly cross our property.  We've found snakes in the garden, a westbound baby snapping turtle in the field, and too many types of birds to name.  We let them go about their business, maybe offering a word of advice or a morsel here and there.  Bluebird houses dot the fields and each summer night we can spot our resident bat is a good night indeed.  These spirits may just be passing through, or take up residence in our area, but they have just as much right to be there as we do.

There is another type of nature spirit that functions as a sort of collective energy.  We may call on the spirit of the wolf or oak, without referring to a particular canine or tree.  In a way this spirit is a sort of cosmic essence of the element of nature we wish to summon or address.

Sometimes nature spirits can communicate with you, by the leaving of a feather, or mark upon a tree of even by the simple gift of their presence.

I try to take time to regularly stop and appreciate the nature spirits around me.  During the warmer months I often take my morning coffee outside and watch the birds flitter about (sometimes during these moments I also have the delight of seeing deer or turkeys as well).  This activity helps me to remember to keep the bird feeders full.  During the winter I try to take a perimeter walk of our property every month just to "check in" with the spirits.  Sometimes I leave salt out, and when we slaughter our meat chickens we leave the entrails out on the edge of the property for the coyotes.

There are many types of nature spirits identified in Slavic traditions.  Some are specific to a location, such as the bannik (mischievous spirit of the bathhouse), while some are more generalized like leszy (woodland spirits) and polevik (dwarf-like spirits of open fields). 

The Ancestors

The ancestors are the ones who have gone before, that have made today possible.  They dwell in the dark, cool of the deep, beyond the waters.  Ancestors can be of the blood, or of the heart and mind.

Ancestors of the blood are those with which one has a genetic relationship.  They are the grandparents, parents, cousins and siblings who have passed from this living realm into the dark realm.  In my own personal practice I try to honor my blood ancestors both by honoring them collectively in rituals, as well as individually (Grandpa appreciates pipe tobacco, Grandma  likes black licorice, etc.).  Every year since my beloved Great-Grandmother passed away in 2004 I have, on her birthday, served for dinner her favorite meal and sung her happy birthday.  Honoring her in this way seems the least I can do in gratitude for all the love and encouragement she provided me and my family.

Ancestors of the heart and mind are those that we may not be related to but have made a serious impact on our lives.  We may have known these ancestors personally - for example, my best friend from childhood died when we were 16.  She is one of the ancestors I honor in ritual and at my altar and by speaking of her to my children.  Some ancestors of the heart and mind we have not known while they were living, due the limitations of time and space.  For some members of ADF, Rev. Bonewits falls into this category; I did not have the honor of meeting him while he was still living, but the effects of the work he put into this faith and organization have made a tremendous impact upon me.  Likewise, the Slavic ancestors may be separated from me by hundreds (if not thousands) of years, but I honor them in gratitude for the faith they practiced and our common worship of the same deities and nature spirits.  For these ancestors I offer gratitude by speaking of my faith, by keeping the old ways and by making certain choices in the way I live and the crafts I make.

Communication with the ancestors can come in many form; in dreams, smells and meditative visions.

The ancestors are a critical component of native Slavic faiths.  In many traditions the soul of the ancestor was seen to split in two at death - one part contributing to the nature spirits while the other remained with the identity of the loved one.  Plates are often left out for the ancestors at ritual meals and some ancestors take on the task of protecting a household.  These spirits, known as domovoi, are in a sense part genius loci (guardian of the house) and part traditional ancestor (in some traditions the domovoi are viewed as paternal ancestors).  Many families treat the domovoi as an unseen family member, speaking with him and giving him gifts of bread, salt, and old shoes.  In our household the domovoi has his own offering bowl on our altar where we leave gifts of bread and salt for him.

The Shining Ones

The Shinning Ones, the deities, are the mighty gods and goddesses, those who from the beginning shaped and forged our world.  For some, the deities are the original ancestors.  They are referred to as dwelling in the heavens, although their presence can transcend the three realms (indeed, some are known to inhabit the Underworld).  Each IndoEuropean culture has their own unique gods and goddesses and pantheons; while there are historical examples of syncretism, in general each pantheon is composed of specific, individual deities - they are not simply archetypes or personified forces of nature.

The Shining Ones can participate in all three realms and influence human activity, but they are not necessarily omnipotent.  Each of the gods and goddesses have certain elements of nature and/or human activity that they hold sway over.  For example, Perun is the Slavic god of thunder and warfare - these are his realms and he should not be petitioned to act upon the areas of the dead or weaving because he has little authority there (and these are the domains of other gods and goddesses).

We know of the deities through myth and legend and the prayers that have survived through the years.  We can honor and petition them through prayers, offerings, and sacrifice.  Most in ADF form especially strong connections with specific cultural pantheons; by working with the same gods and goddesses over time we can learn their preferences and strengths (and sometimes their limitations and fickleness).   For the past 14 months I have worked exclusively with the Slavic pantheon, in ritual and in meditation.  I have gained a better understanding of each deity and their strengths and preferences.  This means that during ritual the words I speak are rooted in knowledge and experience and the dialogue between the realms feels balanced.  By repeatedly working with the same deities I know that Perun prefers offerings of alcohol, Dazhbog accepts anything that will feed the flame and gifts of bones are suitable to Marzenna.  Overtime I have forged particularly strong relationships with Veles and Mokosz.  I offer alcohol and oats to Veles, and during the harvest months Mokosz receives a portion of the garden produce.

Before Christian influence the native Slavic faiths were largely aniconic.  Depictions of the gods and goddesses are extremely rare - in contrast to Celtic and Germanic cultures.  As such Slavic prayers typically do not describe the Shining Ones in physical appearance so much but instead focus on the abilities and deeds of the god or goddess, as well as the devotion and intent of the petitioner. 

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