by Raven Kaldera

Excerpted from "Wrydwalkers: Techniques of Northern Tradition Shamanism"

Family Tree1Every culture's magical tradition is different. Not only do they differ in their signs and symbols, their Gods and wights, but there are always some mysteries that are deemed brutally important by one magical culture and dismissed by another. This means that each one has their own "specialties", which not all the others may share.

One of the most ambivalent "specialties" of northern-tradition shamanism is the magic of blood and bloodlines. Our Gods beget children on us as part of long-term breeding experiments; our divine pantheons argue about whose bloodlines are the best; we even have a patron goddess of genealogy. Some other cultures share these traits to a lesser extent - the Chinese, for example, have the Taoist immortals who sometimes mess with human bloodlines and create hybrids. In contrast, Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) magical tradition is entirely lacking in bloodline work; their Gods consider the entire field unimportant and prefer to concentrate on other specialties.

It is one of the things that most unnerved me when I started in training with the Northern deities. Bloodlines matter to them in ways that feel difficult for me, a modern American who was raised to be as anti-racist as it is possible to be while being white. To the modern American sensibilities, one ought to be able to do anything regardless of what's in your genes. Even when we are chided for stealing the traditions of aboriginal peoples, it's stressed that what gives them the exclusive right to those traditions is their upbringing, their enculturation in an environment and a society where those traditions are pervasive, not their DNA. The issue of non-genetic people "adopted" into aboriginal cultures, and aboriginally-descended people who have not grown up in that culture but "rediscover" it later is a matter of confusion and argument.

When I learned the name - and saw the face - of the Goddess who had claimed me, I was rather chagrined that She was, indeed, one of the Gods of my Germanic ancestors. It made me vaguely worried, and I consoled myself with the fact that I had also had dealings with deities whose original batch of people never (as far as I knew) slid a single chromosome into my background. It is also true that this trend has continued, in that Hela does occasionally send me to work with deities outside of Her own pantheon, but that seems to be a Rokkr-god trait in general. In the meantime, I was slowly drawn further and further into the cosmology of those ancestors, almost against my will. I found that it was as complex and far-reaching as the multitudinous Greek and Egyptian pantheons that I'd studied in school. All too often mythology classes, books, and readings will stress the classical pantheons and ignore the Norse or Celtic ones save for a handful of stories and deities, usually treated more as children's folktales than as complex, adult myth cycles. The more I looked, the more I found otherwise.

Any cosmology with layers of deities and myth cycles that span long periods of time, especially when there are issues of conquered/conquerors and indigenous/outsiders, will reflect the problem of cultural - and sometimes even racial - tension. Sometimes it does more than that. Sometimes it lays it outright on the table, and that's uncomfortable for all of us. The usual response is to cling to the most favorably presented (which is usually the most recent conquerors), and demonize the oldest ones. Thus Zeus defeats the Titans, and Brahma and Vishnu take precedence over the older Shiva. In the Norse pantheons, the fact that the Vanir fight the Aesir to a standstill and require a truce is unusual, and one can only wonder about the history that was synchronous with that twist of the cycle. However, the Vanir seem to be presented as a similar sort of people to the Aesir, if culturally different, whereas the Jotnar are entirely different racially...and when a god of the Aesir spawns with a giant/ess, the child is always a god of the Aesir, not a giant.

In The Jotunbok, I explored the UPG of those who work with the northern-tradition gods and the way that they do things, and the subtly racist attitude that some spirit-workers have noticed in the Aesir. Although some would consider it rude to say out loud, there is a common understanding among those gods that Aesir blood is stronger (or at least less malleable) than Jotun blood when it comes to breeding, and thus the children are always more sky-god than giant-god, and accepted as such. This strength of the Aesir (and Vanir, whose blood is equal to theirs in lack of malleability) bloodlines is used to explain why they and not the far more numerous Jotnar, and the equally powerful Rokkr, rule the top of Yggdrasil and are worshiped more strongly by the puny mortals of Midgard. (Although in terms of actual influence over every world in Yggdrasil, the Aesir cannot exactly be said to "rule" the majority of individuals.) In other words, the very core of the northern-tradition myth cycles turn on a racial conflict and an assumption of superiority by the conquering caste.

This has been very, very hard for me to deal with personally...especially as someone who is owned by the main deity of the despised "lower" race, and who carries their blood within me. I look at the fringe elements of the Heathen demographic - the racist neo-nazis - and although they are few and far between, and most of the northern-tradition folk try strenuously to dissociate themselves from this "fringe", the fact that they are there at all seems to reverberate back to the echoes of this ancient racial conflict that still burns today in the Nine Worlds. Of course, if you scratch any religion deep enough, you get to something unpleasant that you'd rather wasn't there, whether it's the Hindu caste system or the rapes of Zeus or Orthodox Jewish men thanking Jehovah that they were not born women, or Luke 14:26. No faith is immune to the bits that make you cringe...but as spirit-workers, we need to at least be aware of the popularity of genealogy issues in our cosmology, if only because our Gods play with breeding experiments.

One clear example in myth is the god Rig/Heimdall, who is made mortal and sent to be raised in Midgard, where he sires children in every (carefully justified) class, thus getting more of Odin's blood into the population. There are numerous examples in historical lore of rulers whose claim to thrones was the blood of Gods in their veins, such as the Ynglings who gave England its name, descended from Ingvi/Frey during his sacrificial ceremony. As the worlds come slowly back together, Jotun blood and Rokkr blood is showing up more readily in the populace as well, and one can only assume that as other worlds pull into line, we will see more Vanir, Alfar, Aesir, and perhaps Duergar blood in the new generations. Ancestors matter to our Gods, all of them, whether we like it or not.

However, when I say that the "bloodlines matter", that doesn't mean that they are only interested in people with specific northern European bloodlines. Certainly, those do interest them, but sometimes they will also grab someone who has none of those bloodlines and work with them, especially when one is talking about the Rokkr Gods and Jotun wights. Remember that they are very close to Nature, with all its inherent chaos and randomness, and Nature sees diversity as wealth. To them, grabbing a worthy person of foreign blood is a good way to integrate them and their gifts into the Northern lines. Separatism is in opposition to the natural cycles of both this world and of the Otherworlds. Even among the Aesir, the children of their etin-brides are accepted as heirs to Asgard, and allies who prove their loyalty are valued.

Besides, I believe that this is one of the ways in which we have the chance to actually teach our Gods something new. I've mentioned this before and gotten rounds of incredulity from those who see the Gods as unchanging and unchangeable archetypes, but to those of us for whom they are real People who can learn new skills and ideas, influencing them through our thoughts and deeds is not unthinkable...not because we are "changing the thoughtform", but because if enough of us who work with them do it, they will notice. If enough of us say that it is wrong and dishonorable to consider another race inferior just because they are very different, then maybe the message can get through. The Gods are capable of learning too. The lwa and orisha of the Afro-Caribbean religions have adapted to their Catholic overlay, because that was the only way for them to be able to come down. Our Gods, too, can see us refuse to carry on old hatreds, and they will notice.

When it comes to spirit-work, you will probably run into people who have need of wisdom about bloodlines, whether you like it or not. Some folk have old blood-curses running down their genetic histories, for example. This isn't as punitive as the Old Testament idea of "the sins of the father being visited onto the sons", it's just that sometimes people do things that get tangles stuck in their Wyrd that are passed down through generations, messing with people's luck over and over again. The most prevalent reason for this is a deal with a deity or wight that was forgotten, ignored, or deliberately broken, and the mess was passed on to the individual's children. This may seem unfair, but it's just natural law. It's not fair when a pregnant mother takes a medication or a man is poisoned with Agent Orange while in a war, and their children are born with deformities, but it happens. The best thing to do is not to frame it in terms of blame, but in terms of fixing problems.

While much of this is covered in the chapters on luckworking and wyrdworking, suffice it to say that if you think that a "curse" is stuck to the bloodline, then you need to follow that line back through history in order to find the source. It's not unusual for bloodline "curses" to manifest over time as a gradual increase in genetic health disorders, some of which are strangely resistant to any form of treatment whether it be magical, natural, or technological. It's also not unusual for people with these curses to become attracted to each other and spawn children - a fact which I cannot explain except perhaps in terms of "like attracts like" on some cosmic level - therefore multiplying the levels of blood-curses. Biology being what it is, just untangling the threads will not make genetic diseases go away, although it may make them less resistant to magical healing and perhaps prevent them from being passed on.

It's your job as the spirit-worker to explain things to clients with these problems as honestly as possible. If there is anger towards the past, stress that forgiveness is part of working this through, if only because it's unhealthy to go around carrying that kind of anger towards people who are long dead. People do things for reasons that seem right to them at the time; they may have been in desperate circumstances, with many lives depending upon them, and barely understood the deal that they were offered, or even the nature of the dealers, but only knew that this was their only chance at survival. And, really, survival was the baseline of what our ancestors had to give us. If they didn't survive, we wouldn't be here, or at least not as we are now.

It's important to keep those things in perspective. There are choices that you make every day - in the food you eat, the place you live, the activities that you take part in - that will help decide the future for your own children, and everyone else's. We can't fairly berate our ancestors for being short-sighted until every one of us is walking far more lightly on this Earth - and who knows what devil's bargains we will need to make in order to keep our world going for our descendants? This is a point than can be stressed when dealing with ancestor anger: the best possible way for you to channel that anger is to be more mindful of your own choices, so as not to make mistakes as destructive as theirs.

On the positive side, once in a while you will find that a genetic line has a kinfylgja, or guardian spirit who watches over the line. Sometimes this is a dead ancestor; sometimes it's a nonhuman spirit who has formed a relationship with a dead ancestor and looks after their descendants out of fondness; occasionally it may even be a deity or major wight (or family of deities/wights) who has attached Themselves to that lineage. In the latter case, you can bet that it's because that human lineage bears Their blood in it somewhere back along the line, due to ancestors who coupled and conceived while being possessed by Them. A kinfylgja will often intercede when blood-curses or other problems become life-threatening enough to interfere with the survival of "their" people; they have also been known (especially in the case of deities) to matchmake for purposes of breeding qualities into "their" line. (My own family seems to have Hela and her entire family as kinfylgjas, as we are thick with Iron Wood blood in both lines.) A family may have no idea that a kinfylgja exists, much less that they are being aided by one, so it's up to the spirit-worker to check on that. If there is one, help can often be negotiated, or at least clear insight as to what needs to be done in order to clean up a mess.