Film Review: In Praise of Robert Eggers’ Bold Old Norse Religion-Saturated Spectacle, “The Northman” (2022)

You know that a newly released film has made quite an impact on you when, hours after you’ve left the theater, you obsessively muse upon its indelible imagery and the effect of the moviegoing experience is all you seem capable of discussing with family and friends. In fact, you’re filled with missionary-level zeal in urging people you care about to go see the film as a matter of vital importance.

I had the immense pleasure of seeing Robert Eggers’ The Northman (Focus Features, 2022) yesterday and I’m still very much enthralled by it. I greatly encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in Old Norse Religion–whether that interest is based in academia or in a lived personal spiritual tradition or both–to see this film at once. Let it transport you to 9th century Northern Europe, from the desolate coasts of the Orkney Islands to the lushness of the Dnieper River in Kievan Rus to the majestic valleys of Iceland. Indeed, the overall effect of the film on me was equivalent to an intense 2-hour-plus shamanic journey to a sensational Otherworld brimming with wonder and terror. There are thoughtful and deliberate evocations of Old Norse Deities, chiefly Odin and Freyr, that are sustained in the film and add to the feeling that, if you honor these Gods, you’re partaking of something akin to religious communion just from the very act of watching this movie. But make no mistake, as a member in the audience, viewing this film is not a passive experience. If you’re a Heathen or a Witch or a Pagan, this film will call you to participate at a Soul Level. You will, frankly, be shook.

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In Service to Hekate: Dark Moon Deipnon Ritual and Paupers’ Graveyard Cleanup on Earth Day 2020

I love being a morning person. I’m not one to sleep in past 6 a.m., even on the weekends, so I’m up and walking my dog, L’il T-Man, very early in the morning. Our first destination is the paupers’ graveyard near my home. It’s a treat to witness the dawn of a new day from the vantage point of standing in one of the commemorative concrete circles, each of which bears bronze plaques that honor a different demographic group buried on the premises (e.g., John Doe Civil War dead, John and Jane Doe victims of the 1871 Chicago Fire, Cook County Asylum for the Insane patients and their children, etc., over 38,000 total bodies).

And in the past 7 years of living in this far Northwest side Chicago neighborhood, the paupers’ graveyard has been my focal point of clean-up efforts every Earth Day. With today being the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and it being the Dark of the Moon at the time of this writing (the New Moon at 3° Taurus will occur tonight at 9:25 CDT), I am dedicating my clean-up efforts in a wider context of spiritual service to one of my Patron Deities, the ancient Anatolian-Greek Goddess, Hekate Khthonia (Hekate “From Inside the Earth”).

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Encounters with the Dark Goddess: Artistic and Ritual Reimagining of Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. As a former college English instructor, a published poet, and an ordained Priestess, I honor the legacies of artists whose works have transcended the boundaries of their artistic mediums, and the vagaries of the times in which they lived, rippling out with profound spiritual force to affect so many people today. American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is such an artist who has had an incalculable effect upon my developing spiritual consciousness from my adolescence onwards; I go so far as to hail her in the ranks of my Mighty Dead, my spiritual forebears in Witchcraft.

Three years ago, I began to meditate on the idea of Plath’s poetry as a vehicle for encountering Dark Goddess energies and the need to harness those energies in a public Pagan ritual format. I knew I wanted to weave together the strands of my academic analysis of her work (I taught American poetry at the undergraduate level for 3 years as an adjunct English professor on Oahu), my Priestessing skills in generating energy and directing it towards a specific purpose to benefit a group of participants, and my own personal religious devotion to specific Dark Goddesses (e.g., Hekate, Nephthys, Hel). Art served as the medium of inspiration, as it often does: not just Plath’s poetry, but my artistic interpretations through acrylic paintings of some of Plath’s most famous works.

The following chronicles my process and its eventual public ritual outcome: an evening of tribute to Plath’s genius through the ritual encountering of Dark Goddess energy, recitals and discussions of Plath’s poetry, and a shamanic journey facilitated by the use of my 2017 painting An Homage to Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ as a portal into the Otherworld. My goal was to have ritual participants surrender to the “blackness and silence” of the Dark Goddess, as described in Plath’s inimitable voice, and experience the transformative gifts of the Shadow.

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Replenish Yourself: Gather Sprowl from the Land

In this era of social distancing amidst this pernicious COVID-19 global pandemic in which we find ourselves, focus on how your solitary spiritual practices can not just grow, but thrive. One helpful method of personal spiritual battery replenishment takes its cue from the swelling Traditional Witchcraft current in contemporary Paganism, whose tenets include, among other things, establishing a dynamic relationship with the spirits of your local landscape.

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Happy Navratri: Blessings of Durga-Ma!

This is a holy season for many religious traditions. Last night at sundown, the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah (L’Shanah Tovah to all my Jewish readers and friends!) began, kicking off the period of the High Holy Days that culminate with the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur on the evening of October 8; this new year is the year 5780 in the Hebrew calendar.

Yesterday also began, for the 1 billion+ adherents of Hinduism around the world, the 9-day Festival of the Goddess Durga known as the Navratri. These are among the most auspicious days of the year in the Hindu religion, and while the whole country of India celebrates the Navratri, the festival is celebrated with a particular fervor in the Indian states of West Bengal (home to the Kali-centric city of Kolkata) and Gujarat.

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Dulce Domum, the Soul Returns Home: Last Night’s Fellowship of Isis Funeral Ceremony for Grendel the Cat

The reality is that grief from pet loss is not as easily ‘fixed’ as some would have us believe. It’s hard to live in grief that’s judged as unworthy. Grief is about love, and our animal companions often show us some of the most unconditional love we could ever experience. How often, despite our best efforts, do we absorb some of society’s judgments and think, I shouldn’t be grieving this much? Yet when we let these thoughts in, we betray our genuine feelings.

Dr. David Kessler, You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Publishing, 2014), p. 136.

 

My role as cat midwife/cat mother has come full circle for my beloved Grendel: On September 21, 2007, I midwifed his feral birth in the woods behind my parents’ house; last night, June 11, 2019, I served as the death midwife who ushered him into the Spirit World after I made the heart-wrenching choice (given his Stage IV stomach cancer diagnosis less than 3 weeks ago) to have him euthanized at home sooner than I was expecting to. Continue reading

Shining a Spotlight on Dark Nights of the Soul

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide Sea!

And Christ would take no pity on

My soul in agony.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, In Seven Parts” (1798), Part IV, lines 224-227

In my last post, I wrote about the beauty and the power of prayer and how it forms the core of my contemporary Polytheist devotional practice. But I certainly have had my challenges over the years in sustaining my practice, like any other religious person committed to devotional piety.  Whether the span lasted for weeks or even months on end, the spiritual crisis known as the “dark nights of the soul,” a term first coined by the sixteenth-century Spanish Counter-Reformation mystic known as St. John of the Cross, was a dreadful phenomenon I’ve endured many times. Continue reading

My “Polytheism” Discussion on Magick Radio Chicago: Saturday, May 12, 2018

It’s been a little over a week since I appeared on Magick Radio Chicago as the sole guest invited to speak about Contemporary Polytheism (episode 134). Hosts Drew Prince and Alicia Nell Mitchell (a.k.a. “Galaxy Goddess”) asked me questions and we had a lively two-hour discussion, ranging from the 10-fold criteria I see as essential to a Polytheistic Worldview, to the points of commonality and difference between Polytheism and the broader Pagan movement in the West, and so much more.

Here’s the MP3 file for your aural pleasure!