The Kingdom of Dasak – Religion and Magic

The challenge for Day Three of the Worldbuilding bloghop is to describe the religion and/or magic in your world.

There are two rival factions of gods—the Stronni and the Taaweh—and the type of magic practiced by their followers differs.

The Stronni

The Stronni themselves worship the Perfect Order, which is somewhat like the Norse concept of wyrd or fate.    They watch the stars for omens and guidance, and attempt to divine the path the Perfect Order wishes them to follow.  By doing so, they believe that they will be guided along the path of least resistance to achieve their goals.  The Stronni pride themselves on their ability to be rational, while at the same time they are ruthless and often pitiless to those who displease them.

The Stronni live high up in the mountains and humans are forbidden from venturing into the mountains or the foothills.  Those who do are never heard from again.  When the gods are particular angered, they cause immense balls of fire to rain down upon the valley.  They are not evil, but they are very strict and demand obedience and discipline from their subjects.

Humans who worship the Stronni

The Stronni demand that the humans build towering cathedrals in their honor, with large circular openings in the tops of the domes to allow the Eyes to see down into them.  Only when it rains are tarps permitted to be drawn across the metal arches that crisscross over the opening.

A priest of the Stronni is called a caedan, after the Stronni king Caednu.  (An acolyte is called a tadu, which is the Stronni word for “boy.”)  The caedan have little magical ability beyond lighting small ceremonial fires for services or lighting the incinerating blazes of funeral pyres.  The caedan believe that they are promised a position of honor in the Great Hall of the Stronni after death (see below).  In true “sun-worshiper” fashion, the Stronni males are always naked and their bodies are works of art, perfectly formed and decorated with glistening magical tattoos.  The caedan emulate the gods by wearing nothing more than a golden loincloth and decorating their bodies in similar tattoos.  They are permitted to wear cloaks in cold weather.  However, as imperfection displeases the gods, tadu and caedan are required to remain physically trim, at least until old age renders them unable to do so.

Sorcerers dedicated to the Stronni are called vönan.  They are exclusively male, as are the caedan, and specialize in fire magic and magic involving air.  They can cause massive destruction with firebolts and windstorms and they have the ability to fly.  It isn’t permitted for a vönan to be trained, unless he is attached to a noble house, and they are often used as weapons in battles between city-keeps.  Like the caedan, vönan have magical tattoos that mark them as “owned” by the gods—in this case, just a single tattoo of an eye on the top of the skull, which must be kept shaved.  As we see in book two (available in March), this tattoo fades away, if the magical link to the gods is broken.  Stronni magic must be invoked through chanting, so it is possible to disarm a vönan by preventing him from speaking.

Female Stronni are treated respectfully, but not equally.  They are required to wear gowns that keep most of the body covered, though diaphanous materials are permitted, and this is reflected in the culture of the humans.  Still, they do have power.  The queen of the Stronni, Imen, is a powerful sorceress, and women dedicated to her have the ability to see anything in the world illuminated by the Eyes.  They are called ömem, and they are the spies of the kingdom.  They also have the ability to cast healing spells to a small degree.  Generally, they mix up herbal formulas and link the spell to the potion.  Because of their abilities and their control of the elite assassins known as samöt (see yesterday’s post), the ömem are treated as untouchable.  They have no political allegiances and will sell information to the highest bidder, unless it pleases them to make a temporary alliance.  Not even the emperor dares punish an ömem for supplying information to an enemy, for fear that the Sisterhood will send the samöt after him or deny him information he needs in the future.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall of the Stronni is where caedan believe they will reside in the afterlife, but this is, at best, a misunderstanding.  Where this misconception arose is uncertain, but the Stronni themselves never specifically promised this, nor do they have any ability to grant an afterlife to the men and women who worship them.  However, they have no desire to disabuse their worshipers of this misconception, since it serves their goal of bringing order and perfection to the humans.  Peasants and farmers care little for the Great Hall, since they have no expectation of being anything more than servants there.

The Taaweh

The Taaweh were the original gods, before the Stronni attempted to drive them out.  They chose to disappear a thousand years ago, when they saw their human charges being driven to extinction by the Great War, but they have merely lain dormant.  Their worship didn’t vanish entirely, but the offerings left for them at sacred pools and the ruins of their stone circles have become little more than blind custom and superstitious attempts to gain blessings from unknown spirits.  The name Taaweh is similar enough to the Stronni word towe, which means “small,” that the misconception arose that there were tiny people living in the forests and streams.

The Taaweh have little structure to their society.  All are treated equally and in fact they have no names and no word for “I”.  When a Taaweh wants something, she is likely to say, “It is desired that….” rather than “I want….”  Only two Taaweh have names:  the Iinu Shaa (“Beloved Lord”) and the Iinu Shavi (“Beloved Lady”).

The Iinu Shaa is a frightening figure.  He is taller than a man and has two faces.  One face looks like a handsome man, but as a corpse, bluish and waxen, while his other face looks even more corpse-like, with blue-black skin and lips drawn back in a grimace from shrunken gums and elongated teeth.  The first face is called the Iinu Shaa‘s “kind face,” whereas the latter is called his “fearsome face.”  Both faces have hollow eye sockets in which can be seen a black so deep that it appears to be endless.  The Iinu Shaa wears mismatched pieces of armor taken from the battlefield, damaged and bloody, and it is he who comes to collect warriors who die in battle.  The peasants long ago distorted the name Iinu Shaa into “Neesha.”   If a warrior has been noble and virtuous, it is said that he sees the “kind face of Neesha” coming for him as he lies dying.  If he has been malicious or cowardly, they say that “the fearsome face of Neesha” will come for him.  Though what happens after that, nobody knows.

The Iinu Shavi is the opposite of her consort.  She is fair and beautiful and so full of life force that she positively shimmers.  It is impossible to kill her, as it is impossible to kill any of the Taaweh, but she is bound to the earth.  If she is separated from it, she loses strength.  Imen was clever enough to figure this out and arranged a trap for the Iinu Shavi, in which the old Great Hall was magically lifted above a deep chasm, while the Iinu Shavi stood in the hall, attempting to arrange a truce.  The Iinu Shavi fell unconscious and there she has remained, imprisoned, for a thousand years.  The Stronni built a second Great Hall for themselves, leaving the first to serve as a tomb.

Worshipers of the Taaweh 

At the beginning of the series (in Dreams), only one young man—Koreh—even knows that the Taaweh are still around.  Through his dreams, they teach him an ancient form of magic, which allows him to merge with the earth to escape detection and to move in the shadows.  Later, Geilin learns how to cause a seed to sprout magically and the Taaweh cause a forest to spring up on Harleh Plain.  They also have control over water, as Koreh demonstrates to Sael:

Koreh stretched out his other hand and cupped it, then tilted the pitcher until water began to flow into it. But the water never touched his skin. It pooled in the air above his palm until he stopped pouring and set the pitcher down. The water hovered above his outstretched hand, oscillating slowly back and forth until it settled into the shape of a globe. Koreh held it up for Sael’s inspection, grinning triumphantly.

Sael took a couple steps forward and reached out to touch it. Where his finger tapped the surface of the globe, ripples moved outwards as they would on the surface of a pond. But the ripples continued around, converging on the back of the globe to create a shadow of a fingerprint there, before bouncing back to the front.

“It doesn’t seem very practical,” Sael said skeptically.

“Well, just wait until I get better at it.” Koreh focused his attention and the globe began to flatten and expand until a hole opened in the center, making it resemble a wheel. Koreh caused it to rotate a few times before letting it return to the globe shape. Then he made the water elongate into a tube with a wide bulge at the base, until it so obviously resembled an erect phallus that Sael gave a startled laugh.

Koreh smiled and dumped the water back into the pitcher. He’d seen one of the Taaweh explode a ball of water into mist, but he doubted he could do that without getting them both drenched.

Unlike Stronni magic, Taaweh magic is quiet and doesn’t require anything to be spoken.  It all takes place in the mind.

The Tyeh-Areh

Unlike the Stronni, the Taaweh do have power over life and death.  When people die, they find themselves in the forest surrounded by the mist—the tyeh-areh “great mist.”  They soon come across a stranger—perhaps a kindly old woman, perhaps a child—who offers to walk with them.  As they go deeper into the mist, it grows thicker and closes in about them.  What is beyond the mist, no living person knows…but we find out in Book Three!  🙂

This has been an extremely long post, but tomorrow’s should be shorter. 🙂 And then we’ll finish up on Friday with an excerpt!

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More than Getting Better, Let’s Make it Better, Starting Right Now

More than Getting Better, Let’s Make it Better, Starting Right Now.

A wonderful video by Ann Evans at The Priestly Chapel in the Susquehanna Valley, PA.  She’s stepping up and offering a place for GLBT teens to go, if they need help or someone to talk to.

“Freedom of Religion” and Same-Sex Marriage

Recently, as the result of the Chick-fil-A controversy, I’ve found myself involved in arguments I’d rather avoid.  But one particularly angry person tossed some arguments at me that I feel need to be addressed — not because he’ll ever read this blog, but because people who might read this blog will no doubt come up against these arguments in the future.  (They’re very popular.)

Now, I’m tolerant of differing points of view, but illogical arguments drive me crazy.  Illogical is illogical, regardless of the motivation behind it.

So let me address a few points.

First of all, we need to make something clear:  there is a big difference between being a “Christian country” and being a Christian-dominated country.  In the last poll I came across, something like 70% of the people in the USA identify as Christian, so clearly this is a country dominated by Christians.  Likewise, most of our Founding Fathers were Christian (though not all).  But that doesn’t make the United States a “Christian country.”  Some of the original colonies had very strict laws about attending church services and regulating “Christian behavior” on a number of levels.  But other colonies did not, and when the entire country was finally mashed together, those laws fell by the wayside (at least on a National level).

The US Constitution does not dictate that people must be Christian and in fact about 30% of the citizens in the country are not.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, as laid out in the Bible (both versions), the first, second, and third commandments are completely absent from our Constitution.  It isn’t illegal to worship other gods.  It isn’t illegal to worship idols.  And it isn’t illegal to completely forget the Sabbath.  If the country had been designed as a “Christian country,” then these would hardly have been left out.

Therefore, the United States of America is merely a Christian dominated country and not a “Christian country.”

When people haul out the Christian Bible as their reason for opposing same-sex marriage, they need to be reminded of this.  Their argument declares that God Himself defined “marriage” as being between one man and one woman.  (I won’t even go into why I think this is false, even within the context of the Bible.)  Therefore, we should accede to His divine will and forbid same-sex couples from marrying.

Closely tied to this is the belief that marriage has always been a religious institution and not a civil one.

If the only valid marriage in the USA is one sanctioned by the Christian God, then how is it possible that two people who don’t believe in that definition of God — say, Wiccans, or Scientologists, or atheists — are allowed to marry?  If marriage in this country is a religious institution, then why do we allow atheists to marry?  Why do we allow people to be married by a Justice of the Peace, rather than a pastor or priest?

The answer is simple:  marriage has never been a religious institution in this country.  It is a civil institution which all American citizens have a right to.  You have the right to marry, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, atheist, or what-have-you.  Your religion does not determine your eligibility to marry in this country, because it isn’t relevant to civil marriage law.

It is true that clergy were granted dispensation to conduct marriages in the USA, probably dating all the way back to its founding.  But perhaps you’ve noticed that even a Christian couple needs to apply to the government (via the Town Hall where they live) in order to get permission for the church to marry them.  This is because marriage is a legal institution that determines legal relationships, for purposes such as inheritance, property ownership, insurance, Social Security benefits, etc.  Your pastor, or Rabbi or High Priestess is simply performing the ceremony as a proxy for the state.  He or she may also being doing it on behalf of your god or goddess, but the government isn’t concerned with that.  The government is merely concerned with your legal marital status for the purposes mentioned above (and taxes).

So when it comes right down to it, if somebody wants to insist that his religion disapproves of homosexuality (to put it mildly), then yes he certainly is within his rights to believe that and to say it.  But when somebody tries to tell me that laws should be passed which will force everybody in this country, including the 30% who aren’t following his religion, to obey the dictates of his Bible or his God…well, that’s another matter entirely.

If a Christian couple (male and female) went to a Jewish synagogue and demanded that the Rabbi marry them, the Rabbi would have  every right to say, “No.  You have to be Jewish, before I can marry you.”  But that’s entirely different from that Rabbi insisting that everybody in the entire country be Jewish, before they’d be allowed to get married.

Likewise, Christians should not be insisting that the law force everyone in the country to adhere to Christian mores, regardless of the fact that they are clearly in the majority.  What about those religions that have no issue with same-sex marriage?  They do exist.  My husband and I were married by a pagan priestess.  Other same-sex couples have been married by Unitarian churches or simply by Justices of the Peace.  (And now, of course, there are Christian churches performing same-sex marriages in some parts of the country.)

In other words, if a minority religion believes in same-sex marriage, Freedom of Religion is not served by making it illegal for any church or JP to perform same-sex marriages.  This is why the Constitution does forbid any one religion from dictating the law to rest of the country.  Being in the majority does not invalidate this.

What Was It Like to be a Gay Viking?

I’ve been posting a lot about being gay in a Christian world lately, because it is after all what most young people in this country have to deal with as they’re coming to terms with their sexuality.  But as I’ve stated in previous posts, I am no longer Christian.  Furthermore, religion in general isn’t the main thrust of this blog or of my YA novels.  No doubt relgion will come up again, but for now I thought I’d cover a topic that readers of Seidman might find interesting:

What Was It Like to be Gay in Viking Age Iceland and Scandinavia?

WARNING:  Though I’ve attempted to keep this discussion from becoming too graphic, it does contain some referrences to sexual practices.  It really couldn’t be avoided.  Anyone old enough to read Seidman (recommended 14+) should be old enough to read this post.

I’ve had people try to tell me that there were no gay people in the Viking Age.  This is flatly ridiculous.  First of all, there have always been people with same-sex attractions, throughout history, all over the world.  Always.  Anyone who thinks homosexuality suddenly appeared out of nothing in the past century simply hasn’t bothered to crack a book on the subject.

Secondly, we know that people experienced same-sex attraction in Viking Age cultures, because they had words to describe it and laws to regulate it.  You don’t make something illegal, if it doesn’t exist to begin with.

So how did the Norse actually feel about homosexuality?  Well, the answer is a bit complex.  In general, they didn’t approve of it, which isn’t much of a surprise.  But like many cultures, they mistakenly equated homosexuality with a lack of masculinity, as if being attracted to men (if you’re a man) somehow makes you behave in a “womanly” manner, and likewise being attracted to women (if you’re a woman) somehow makes you “mannish.”  (Obviously, this attitude is still with us in modern western culture.)

But this is where it got a little weird.

The key to understanding the Norse attitude towards same-sex attraction lies in their concept of “manliness.”  We don’t have much evidence one way or another that the Norse gave much thought to same-sex attraction or other forms of sexual contact besides anal intercourse between two people of the same gender.  But we do know that they were obsessed with manliness.

Men had to behave in a masculine fashion (and conversely, women had to behave in a feminine fashion).  Men who acted effeminitely really upset people and in some cases were put to death.  A similar fate awaited women who wore men’s clothing!  And for a man to be accused of being effeminite was a horrible insult — so horrible that the accuser could be challenged to a duel to the death, if he couldn’t prove his accusation, and the law would not protect him.

Two of the words commonly used to describe “effeminite” men in the Sagas are ergi (a noun) and argr (the adjectival form of ergi).  The definition of these words is uncertain, because they are used in so many contexts.  In general, it appeared to refer to a man allowing himself to be used sexually by another man.  (In other words, a man who took the passive role in anal intercourse.)  We might translate ergi as “effeminacy” and argr as “effeminate.”

But there were other usages that suggested somewhat different meanings.  For instance, when used to describe a woman, it meant that she was lecherous or immodest — in other words, too masculine.  It was also said that old age made a man argr and the god, Oðinn, was said to become argr after practicing seiðr.  (Technically, the phrasing was that the practice of seiðr was accompanied by a great degree of ergi.)  However, I seriously doubt that this meant old men suddenly turned gay or Oðinn became effeminite after performing trance magic.

What does make sense is that being old might make a man frail and performing trance magic might make a man feel temporarily weak.  As with the case of women who were called ergi or argr, the main implication appears to have been that a person was violating gender taboos.  The terms were also sometimes applied to men who were incapable of fathering children — another “failure” to be masculine — and argr was also synonymous with cowardice.

So the next question might be, did this association of ergi and argr with masculinity provide a loophole of sorts?  Did it mean that a man might have sex with other men, as long as he was still verifiably masculine?

It might have.

We know that Norsemen often violated male prisoners or slaves, and there did not appear to be a stigma associated with doing this.  (Yet it was still one more reason that being on the “bottom” had such a horrible stigma attached to it — because it was allowing another man to treat you like a slave or a defeated prisoner.)  We also know that there were male prostitutes who served men, and they seemed to have been regarded with contempt.  Yet men did avail themselves of their services.  And in Snorri Sturlusson’s Edda, a man named Sinfjotli boasts that he impregnated another man (as an insult to the second man), which might not be something he would boast about, if being a “top” had any great stigma attached to it.

So it may be that there were certain contexts in which sex between people of the same gender was considered acceptable or at least ignored.  Keep in mind that the only references we have to homosexuality concern accusations of anal intercourse.  We have no record at all of how the Norse felt about mutual masturbation or oral sex.

It was also not unheard of for men to live together as “bachelors” once they were past the age where they were expected to marry and father children.  While these would not have been open same-sex relationships, advanced age might have made it possible for others to look the other way.

One last point to keep in mind:  all of the information we have about Norse attitudes toward homosexuality comes from Christians who wrote about the Viking Age centuries after the events they were describing, and by this point homosexuality was widely condemned by the Christian Church.  It’s difficult to know how much the writers’ personal religious beliefs may have colored their accounts of their ancestors.


Probably the best source of information on this subject is Preben M. Sørenson’s The Unmanly Man:  Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, but that can be hard to come by and it’s somewhat dry reading.  A more accessible discussion of the subject can be found at the Viking Answer Lady site:

The Viking Answer Lady doesn’t appear to be updating her site anymore, which is sad, because she really knows her stuff.  But as long as the site is still up, it’s a fantastic reference for a lot of aspects of Norse culture.

The Folly of Ex-Gay Therapy

When I was a teenager, I was Christian.  I was very Christian.  I read the Bible frequently, if not exactly on a daily basis, attended the Assembly of God church with my father and stepmother and occasionally attended a Baptist church, because they allowed me to practice piano there after school.  I had a constant dialog going on in my head with Jesus and I felt close to Him.

I wasn’t perfect, of course.  My need to please my friends kept the “Jesus-talk” to a minimum, when I was around them (evangelists seem to believe that you aren’t truly worshiping the Lord, if you aren’t talking about Him constantly) and eventually turned a 16-year-old who couldn’t say anything more severe than “hell” or “damn” into a 17-year-old with an absolutely foul mouth.

And then there was sex.  At seventeen, I was still a virgin.  Worse, I had no interest in girls, at all.  I certainly masturbated — a lot — but when I did, all I could think about was seeing certain male friends naked or touching them.  I tried to force myself to think about girls, but it just didn’t get me aroused.

However, I was a good Christian.  I loved Jesus.  I hadn’t killed anybody or done anything particularly sinful, at this point.  (I still haven’t killed anybody, in case you’re wondering.)  I hadn’t actually been raised to believe that masturbation was a big deal — thank God.  It was inconceivable to me that I could be truly “evil” or “sinful” at the core of my being.

There had to be some mistake.

Perhaps I was a late bloomer.  Or perhaps this was some sort of test that God had come up with for me.  But then, why me?  The very thought that God was testing me, struck me as ego-centric and therefore sinful, as if I were thinking that I was somehow favored by God and deserving of His special attention.  But I could think of no other reason for God to put me through this anguish.

And anguish it was.  I was so lonely that I often cried myself to sleep, longing for someone to hold and be held by.  Other teenagers were lonely, of course — perhaps even most — but they could hold onto the fantasy of a happy life someday with somebody they loved.  I saw nothing but a future of loneliness and self-loathing, stretching ahead of me for decades, until I finally died, never having been loved.

Now, the standard response to all of this is that God doesn’t make mistakes, of course, and regardless of whether it was a “test” or simply something I happened to be burdened with, faith in God would help me overcome it.  After all, people are able to overcome alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, infidelity and a host of other “problems” through prayer and devotion to God.  Certainly, God would help me overcome homosexuality!

So I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed.  During this time I kept journals, documenting my struggle, analyzing sexual dreams and struggling to find hope in them — some sign that the prayer was working.  There were times when I thought I saw it, when I convinced myself that it must be “working.”

But it didn’t really work.  What it did was increase my despair, because the longing for another boy to love was constant.  It never lessened, no matter how much I prayed.  I knew that, if I got into a relationship with a girl, it would feel terrible.  Deep down in the pit of my stomach, the thought of being in a straight relationship nauseated me — as much as the thought of being forced into a gay relationship probably nauseates a straight person.

We know, at the core of our being, when something feels…wrong.

And the absurdity of it all was that the people who said heterosexuality was what was right for me…they were all heterosexual.




They were all people who would be unhappy if they were forced into a gay relationship.  Of course.  So they could state with “authority” that gay relationships lead to misery and despair, because that’s what was true for them.  But the thing is, they didn’t know that it would lead to misery and despair for me.  They couldn’t possibly know that, because they had no idea what being gay was like.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was when I gave up the fight against my own nature — when I stopped listening to people who had never experienced what I was feeling, yet had the unbelievable arrogance to claim that they knew more about what I needed than I did.

“But wait!” you might be thinking, “What about those people who were gay, but did find a happier life after praying to Jesus and rejecting homosexuality?”

Well, it would be hypocritical of me to insist that they’re wrong.  If they say they’re straight now, then I can’t say they’re not.  On the other hand, it has certainly not worked for a lot of people.  Several people who have had so-called “reparative therapy” have later stated that they did not feel that it worked for them.  Worse, many have attempted suicide, as a result.

One of the earliest “success stories” of reparative therapy involved subjecting a young boy to beatings and a cruel system of rewards and punishments to discourage his “effeminite behavior” (which was equated with homosexuality).  As an adult, he behaved in a “manly” enough fashion for supporters of the study to claim that it was successful and use it to back their claims that homosexuality could be cured.

Unfortunately, that was far from the case.  The young man in question did, in fact, turn out to be gay and he had sex with men off and on over the years.  But the guilt he felt over it eventually led him to take his own life, and his family now feels immense guilt about the cruelty they subjected him to at the recommendation of his therapist.

Recently, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, the largest organization in the “ex-gay” movement, recently admitted that he still feels same-sex attraction, despite his marriage to a woman, and said that the organization would no longer support reparative therapy:

“As the president of Exodus International and, even more than that, as a Christian leader who is out in front of people all the time, it is my responsibility to lead honestly and transparently and to share with people that, just because you become a Christian,…your struggles don’t always go away.  You don’t get to a place where you’re never going to be tempted again.”

The American Psychological Association released a position statement in 2000 that basically stated that 1) there has been no actual proof that reparative therapy works, apart from isolated anecdotes, and 2) the theories behind it are highly questionable.

I cannot say with certainty that it is impossible for a gay man or woman to become heterosexual through prayer and devotion, anymore than I can say that it is impossible for prayer to heal someone of an illness.  I cannot say with certainty that miracles cannot occur.

But miracles, by their nature, are extremely rare.

The Research That Went Into “Seidman”

There’s very little point in challenging reader comments on your novel.  It can easily blow up into an argument and lead to not only that reader but other readers getting a bad taste in their mouth whenever they think of you.  Even if you win, you lose.

But a reader recently commented that they thought the mythological parts of Seidman were dubious and I feel I should address this, at least here on my blog.

I’ve been researching Norse mythology and Viking Age culture for over twenty-five years.  In college, I read books about the myths and began delving into it seriously a few years later.  When I ran out of books from resellers in the USA that treated the subject of ancient Norse religion in depth (as opposed to retellings of the myths or New Age books on rune magic), I found myself ordering from academic presses in Scandinavia and Iceland, as well as the UK.

I’m only able to read English fluently, but that still gave me access to books by Neil Price, Jesse Byock, Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson, Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, and Jennie Blain. I’m not claiming that reading these authors makes me or anyone else an expert, but their work is exceptional and I highly recommend their books — especially Byock’s books on life in Viking Age Iceland and Price’s hefty tome The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. 

I have also, of course, read many books that I would not recommend, which would include quite a large body of work from the 1800s, a time period which was notorious for pompous scholars who loved to inject quotes from Latin and French into their work (disdaining to translate them, because all smart people naturally know these languages), while neglecting to back up any of their outlandish claims with citations from reliable sources.  Much of the distortions of Norse mythology that have found their way into modern texts, such as the preposterous assertion that Freyja and Gullveig are one and the same goddess, have come from these books.

Throw into this mix the fact that my husband and I did at least put some effort into learning Old Icelandic and translating several chapters from some Icelandic sagas (mostly Hrafnkell’s Saga) into English.  I am now in the habit of looking up any passage I don’t fully understand in one of the sagas or Eddas in the original Old Icelandic (well, they’ve usually been normalized for spelling) in order to verify that the English translation I’m reading is truly accurate.  (Often, it proves impossible to tell exactly what the original author meant.)  The two stanzas from the Voluspa that appear in Seidman during Kol’s initiation were translated by my husband from the Old Icelandic, since I was concerned about copyright violation from any of the translations we had available.  (Of course, it comes out nearly the same as the Bellows translation.)

This does not mean I’m any kind of an expert and it doesn’t mean that anybody should take Seidman to be some kind of authoritative document on the practice of Norse religion.  However, I spent years piecing together a plausible reconstruction of Norse religious practice.  I didn’t just read a couple books and wing it.

One area in which my interpretation of Norse mythology differs from that of many others interested in this study is in the way I view the dísir and the alfar.  From everything I’ve read, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are connected to ancestral spirits — the dísir being female spirits and the alfar being male spirits.  Many might find this odd, since the idea is rarely presented in books about the Norse gods, but there are many references that support this notion, as these two Wikipedia articles can attest:



If those articles leave you with the impression that it’s all a confused muddle, then you’ve stumbled upon one of the Great Truths of Norse religion.  (And no, I don’t get all of my information from Wikipedia, but it often presents us with a good summation of a topic.)  The texts are not consistent; they are not universal.  The alfar were not viewed the same in Iceland as they were in Norway or Denmark, and those perceptions changed over time.

Since Alfheim was awarded to Freyr when he was a baby, I believe that he ruled over the alfar.  Freyja is frequently called Vanadis (“Lady of the Vanir” or “Dís of the Vanir”) and is often associated with the valkyries (valkyrjar), who were in turn associated with the dísir, and she is the goddess who taught Oðinn seiðr, which is associated with the spirits of the dead.  For these reasons and others, I believe her to be the ruler of the dísir.  The reasoning can be convoluted, but there is reasoning behind it.

So the entire point of this is not to demonstrate that I’m a pompous intellectual, but merely to say:  Yes, Seidman was thoroughly researched.  It’s not perfect.  But I’m quite proud of it, both as a novel and as an exploration of what it might have been like to live in that time and place and to worship as the ancient Icelanders might have done.

Why Blocking Marriage Equality Isn’t About “Religious Freedom”

A recent article in the Kennebec Journal has same-sex marriage opponents up in arms, because the Secretary of State phrased the question simply and plainly:

“Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

They had wanted the more convoluted question that had appeared on petitions earlier in the year, which phrased the issue in terms of “religious freedom” and clergy being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

The problem is, this is blatant misdirection.  In none of the states that currently allow same-sex marriage is any clergy being forced to perform a marriage ceremony that violates their beliefs or the beliefs of their church.  And this isn’t going to happen, even if same-sex marriage becomes legal throughout the country.

Currently, no Catholic priest is forced to perform a marriage ceremony between two people who have previously married and divorced.  Not a one.  This is because it would violate his faith and the tenets of the Catholic church.  Similarly, a Jewish Rabbi isn’t forced to marry people who aren’t Jewish.  Religious freedom is already enshrined in our system of law and same-sex marriage poses no threat to it.

On the other hand, any religious group that demands same-sex marriage be illegal in a particular state is a very real threat to religious freedom.  No group or groups of religious people, even if they are in the majority, should have the right to impose their belief system onto people who don’t follow their faith.  There are other religious groups in Maine (and all over the country) — Wiccan, Unitarian, Episcopal, and others — who do consider same-sex marriage to be in concordance with their religious beliefs.

Yet their religious freedom is curtailed by the Christian groups who continue to oppose making it legal, on the basis that allowing it would somehow “violate” their religious freedom.  And in fact, it would not.

It’s a blatant lie.

This post is part of the YAM LGBT 2012 Blogathon.

Mormons Making “It Gets Better” Videos!

As I frequently tell people, I’m no longer Christian.  I turned away from Evangelical Christianity when I was in college, and unable to reconcile my faith with my identity as a gay man.  But I am a strong supporter of people of all faiths reaching out to one another, and particularly to the gay community.

Mormons have, unfortunately, had a particularly bad track record on tolerance, when it comes to the LGBT community.  But that’s why I’ve been finding attempts by the Mormon community to reach out to gays to be particularly significant and poignant.

The first I saw of it was an “It Gets Better” video made by a GLBT group on the campus of Brigham Young University (the fact that BYU allowed the group to form, in the first place, is an amazing step).  The video is simultaneously sad, frightened and hopeful:

(Here is the news article this was attached to.)

But even more wonderful to me, was a sort of response video, two weeks later, from Mormon parents and friends of gays:

(Again, here is the complete article.)

It saddens me that the comments on these videos point out these people don’t represent the Latter Day Saints Church, as if we can’t figure out that that organization is still very intolerant.  But I see a glimmer of hope in these videos that things may be changing.

It isn’t simply the LDS Church that is intolerant, of course, and it isn’t all Mormons, or all Catholics, or all Evangelicals or any other group.  But we need to see more people — of all faiths — speaking up against intolerance, if there is to be any hope of severing the association many gays have of religious faith equaling intolerance against the GLBT community.