Noble Ones, The Spirits of Nature
When I was about eight years old, my friends asked me to go with them to watch planes take off. We went to the end of the street we lived on (it was a dead-end street) and they showed me this opening in the fence. I crawled through to find a small woods and a well-worn path. After short walk through small trees, shrubs and briar, the path opened up to tall pines. Oh I will never forget that feeling of smelling the pines moments before stepping into such a beautiful scene. It was breathtaking and serene! To me this was the destination. To my friends, just a shortcut to the airport. I came back again and again, to to walk and think, to absorb the sensation of being in such a magical place. Thus began my love of nature and my relationship with the Nature Spirits. The little woods by the airport is gone now, which greatly saddens me, but I have connected to other places since then; luminous places along the West Fork branch of the White river, places along the paths of Devil’s Den state park, and most recently, many little nooks and crannies along Skull Creek across the yard from my apartment building. The Celts called them Sídhe, the Norse called them Landvættir, no doubt most Indo-European cultures had their names for the Spirits inhabiting land, plants, waterways, trees, and rocks. Rather that knowing them as distinct personalities, I know these spirits by the mood they convey. I don’t know if Nature Spirits have multi-part souls such as humans do, according to Anglo-Saxon belief, but if they do, then I believe I have gotten to know the Mægen and Mod of many Nature Spirits- their personal energy and emotions. In stillness and being open to perception, one can become aware of them at any given moment. At least once a week I try to leave an biscuit or slice of homemade bread at the base of a tree in offering.
Mighty Ones: The Ancestors
It’s perfectly fitting that we should revere and honor those who have gone before so that we may live today. While it’s harder for me to connect to the ancestors I’ve never met, the connection to the spirits of my grandparents was easier to make, for I knew them in life. However, when my own parents died, I developed a much fuller connection to the Ancestors. On the day of my mother’s funeral, and for about a week afterwards, I spotted a rabbit close to my apartment door. It seemed to be watching over me, and I immediately felt the presence of my mother. The Celtic and Norse cultures had varied beliefs on what happened to the soul after death. The Anglo-Saxons believed that the soul had eleven parts; Lich (the body), Hyge (the intellect), Mynd (memory), Willa, (will), Æþem (breath of life), Hama (the soul’s skin), Orlæg (personal wyrd), Mægen (personal energy), Fetch (guardian spirit), Mód (emotion), and Wód (source of passions & inspiration). So I believe that it’s as likely as anything that different parts of one’s soul may have different afterlife destinations. When our thoughts, prayers, and offerings are sent out to the Ancestors, there are many sources they may nourish; the Isle of Youth, the halls of the dead in Hel, and in Osgeard, yes, but there are other worlds of possibility. Some Ancestors (or a part of them) may have joined with features of the land and became Nature Spirits. Some may have been reborn along family lines. I even think it’s possible that I may have absorbed some part of my Mother’s spirit; I sure act a lot more like her in the years since she died! Germanic cultures believed that the spirits of some female Ancestors joined the Dísir (the Saxons call them Idisi) to watch over their descendants. The first night of Yule, Modranecht, is dedicated to the Dísir. The thought that my Ancestral Mothers are watching over me is very comforting, and commemorating Modranecht is very meaningful to me. On Hallows night I remember all the Ancestors, including Ancestors of spirit as well as blood.
Shining Ones: The Deities
The Shining Ones are the deities, the eldest spirits who watch over us and guide us. Some believe the deities to be spiritual or cosmic forces. A very old traditional belief is that the deities are spirits of dead mortals, ancient and powerful Ancestors, protecting the living. Some may view the deities as immortal humans with superhuman powers existing in another dimension, or in this dimension, and maybe even living secretly among us. This idea has some mythological substantiation; Indo-European mythologies often tell of certain gods disguising themselves and visiting humankind to check up on us.
Yet, some might ask, why believe in any of this at all? The best reason I have found for believing in the existence of deities is the “argument from design”. This is the idea that life is too complex to have come about randomly, through blind evolution only. Modern forms of this argument do not deny the existence of evolution, but rather, suggests a “guided evolution”. Nor does the “argument from design” point to one designer, for it makes perfect sense that something so complex would have more than one creator. The book “A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism” by John Michael Greer examines the “argument from design” as well as the other classic arguments for theism. It is a very convincing and logical book, said to be the first study of the philosophy of religion from a polytheist standpoint published in the western world since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Yet there are other ways to know the existence and nature of the Shining Ones… Through piety we initiate the exchange. The best way to get to know a person is to initiate and maintain a friendship. Exchange gifts. Learn their story. Keep the conversation going. Share a meal and a drink. So it is with the gods.