Oh, Rite…

In anticipation of delving into the Troth’s Clergy Program, I was reviewing my not-so-little library of lore and heatheny tomes. I found The Troth’s printing of Book of Blots, and I was perusing it, looking for ideas to use for upcoming events. It didn’t take long for me to realize why this book was forgotten in the back of a bookcase: it’s awfully formal. Like, really formal. Proper, solemn, and other adjectives. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t jiving with me, like, at all. Which is funny since one of the things I enjoyed about Catholic school and funeral service was the super structured, ritualized nature of the Mass. The chanting, the prayers, the readings and iconography and incense; it’s soothing and lulls you into the half-sleepy state of rote participation. For some reason, however, reading the chants and prayers and formats of these published blots was unappealing. I had kind of an uneasy, nagging sensation as I skimmed through, looking for a nice turn of phrase or bit of prayer that I could incorporate into my own practice.

I found a few things that I can work with, but overall, none of it felt all that right to me. But really, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, least of all me. Hi, have you met me? I’m an absurdly devoted Lokian. I talk with Himself and the other gods on a regular basis, and I poke fun and tease and goof around. So do the other heathens in the kindreds I do blots with. Stiff rote prayer seems (to me) like a way to detach from the gods rather than draw them closer. But again, that could be because Loki would give me hell if I tried to be so proper.

Of course, I’m also coming at this from a lifetime of knowing them, and nearly 20 years of actively working with them and building and deepening my relationships with them. They (or at least the god/desses I work with the most) are family, and so are the members of the kindreds I celebrate with. So of course highly ritualized formats are going to feel awkward AF. Plus, you know, Lokians kinda can’t keep a straight face or bite down on sardonic commentary. I’m always amazed when I’m invited or sought out for the next round of offerings or holidays. I’m not actually disruptive, per se, but I’m kind of the worst when it comes to solemnity at a heathen ritual.

I think I enjoy the structure and soothing lull of Catholic Mass and other religious services because I don’t know those deities the way I know mine. It’s like I’m visiting a friend of a friend, going to a house that I’m not familiar enough with to just waltz in and plunder the kitchen on my own. I’m a visitor, so I have to behave. And I’m appreciative of the ritual because otherwise, I don’t know how to interact with the host of that house, not really. The rubrics of worship help me to blend in and prevent me from committing a disrespectful faux pas.

That, I suspect, is why The Troth published such a stiff Book of Blots. It was published in the ’90s, when most heathens in the US were converts coming from Christian backgrounds. Not only had they grown up with well defined rubrics for worship, they didn’t quite know how to interact with the Northern gods and goddesses, so they needed a “getting to know you” kind of framework, I suppose. I’d hazard to guess that’s why reading through the scripts and chants and prayers felt so strange. I just know that if I were to either do a formal, scripted blot either solo or with my kindred, the gods would be baffled and snickering, not unlike how my parents would roll their eyes if I broke out the fine china and did elaborate prayers and toasts before dinner at their house.

That’s not to say I (and my associated kindreds) don’t take blot and sumbel seriously. They are well organized, with much talk of the lore and plenty of kennings and even a little song here and there. They’re just not really formal — to newcomers, G says, “We’re not High Holy EpiscoPagans.” There’s a relaxed air to our worship, as we all know each other so well and know the gods so intimately. Jokey asides are acceptable, silliness can abound, and that’s a blessing. The air is always charged with Their presence, and it’s not uncommon for one or all of us to get chills, goosebumps, or silly little grins of awe as we feel our gods standing with us. We’re lucky to know Them and each other so well as to have organic connections during ritual, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of such a fine and lovely community.

But still, it’s funny in a sort of offputting way to look through strictly formatted, scripted blots comprised of such formal, almost academic language. They have their place, sure, but not within my practice or within the bounds of the community I know and love. I can’t possibly imagine holding the horn during the stuffy prayers and shaking my fist at the sky, growling, “This is for you, you Old One-Eyed Bastard!” through clenched teeth. “Loki, you asshole! We ask your blessing and share this offering, but don’t be a dick or I’m not sharing coffee and donuts with you anymore! Twerp.” This form of address sounds terrible, but I promise things like this are said with the greatest affection. Even in the confines of rite and offering, this is how I speak to the gods. I love them dearly, as I love my family and my friends. Of course, I only use this kind of language with the gods with whom I’m genuinely close; I’d never call Frigg or Idunn a salty bitch the way I do Freyja, nor would I dream of teasing Ullr or Freyjr or Sif. That would be disrespectful, because our relationships aren’t that tight or familiar. Granted, Loki and Odhinn bear the brunt of my uncouth declarations of adoration, which are usually met with impressions of giggles and an eyeroll (singular, just the one), respectively.

In addition to the, uh, rough language, weird shit tends to happen during both solo and group blot. Exploding candle votives and accidental kinsman immolation (two separate occasions; alas, I was not present for the latter) would feel disruptive in a formal blot, but just kind of work within the framework we use. And of course, with my kindred opening up to Loki for me, whenever something the slightest bit quirky goes awry, every eyeball in the place locks onto me; the only chorus we have in our rituals is, “THANKS, LEA!” as I shrug and say, “I tried to warn you!” Call and response, Lokian style.

I can’t speak for how things go when I’m not present (save for the time someone accidentally set a yard and fellow kinsman on fire while someone else chanted, “Stop, drop, and roll!”), but I do know that every rite and ritual I’ve attended has had at least one appropriately inappropriate comment/joke/song/mishap that would be so very out of place in An Officially Scripted and Published Blot, but is so very natural, illuminating, and pretty much expected in Our Blots. We know our gods well, and we’re as comfortable with the holy and divine as we are with each other. So our blots and sumbels feel more like a family celebrating a birthday; there’s a format that’s followed, we all know we’re there for a special occasion, but our rituals feel less like Mass and more like the rite of gathering around the kitchen table and singing “happy birthday” while hoping (in vain) that spittle doesn’t drench the cake/the curtains don’t catch fire.

In any case, I know the formal, scripted rituals have their place. Just because I’ve never attended that kind of rite doesn’t mean people don’t/shouldn’t worship that way. They’re definitely useful for newcomers/folks with a background where worship is more, well, structured. It’s definitely a good way to get to know the gods and the wights and ease from one worldview into another. They’re also great for large gatherings, to help keep things moving smoothly so you don’t end up with a 4 hour long ceremony with wolves rushing from the woods to gnaw on ankles or something. But the great thing about our deities is their lack of hubris; they walk among us, they weave their way into our lives and engage with us, tease us, and talk with us. The more you work with them, the better you get to know them, and the more the trappings of formality drop away. Before you know it, you’re badgering them and they’re giving it right back as good as they get.

Just, uh, just watch out around open flames is all I’m saying. Hmn. Maybe stiff formal blots are a good idea after all. . .

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