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Crafting Invocations

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Invocations are a common practice in modern Heathen spirituality. Whether one is engaging in a personal act of daily practice or are participating in a large group ritual, invocations of some kind or another will almost certainly happen. This often leaves newer practitioners wondering how to make their own invocations. In this article, I will unpack some of the big fears that you may be facing before then giving an example of from surviving source material that can help you structure your own invocations. Regardless of how you do it, what matters most is for invocations to be a genuinely authentic expression of you or your community's understanding of their relationship with the Power being invoked.

Easily the biggest dilemma facing newer practitioners is the looming question: am I doing this right? Having such doubts is perfectly understandable, thanks to the nature of this movement's emergence. Modern Nordic Paganism is, at its core, a new religious movement that draws its inspiration from ancient spirituality which was subjected to an extended process of violent suppression beginning over a thousand years ago. Very little, if any, material describing the how & the why of pre-Christian Norse spiritual practices survives to the present day. Surviving descriptions of rituals produced during this period were largely written by outside observers, such as the missionary Lebuin, Adam of Bremen, and Ibn Fadlan. None of these men possessed the kind of lived understanding of the spiritualities of Early Medieval Scandinavia that would have likely been taken for granted by the people participating in the rituals they describe.

These conditions aren't helped by how modern society offers a very clear, specific, and often highly Christian-dominated understanding of how religion and spirituality are supposed to behave. One consequence of this is the idea that for any religious act to work, it must be done according to a specific format laid down over generations of practice. Information on these different practices is clearly defined, documented, and disseminated by institutions with considerable wealth at their backs. This emphasis on correctness, rightness, and adherence to existing forms permeates into how many people in Christian-dominated parts of the world understand the way that religion and spirituality are supposed to work. Anything that doesn't "fit" within this framework tends to be dismissed as illegitimate, fringe, or fraud.

Unlearning these assumptions is, therefore, a critical part of both thinking about how to write invocations and for addressing broader questions in your spiritual practice. The expectations held by the overculture for how religion and spirituality are supposed to work are ones that have been shaped in an environment of unquestioning Christian spiritual hegemony. They are, therefore, a reflection of assumptions regarding the correctness of ritual and praxis which only accurately apply to Christian-derived spiritual practices.

What is especially significant for modern Heathens and Nordic Pagans is how heavily our practices emphasize the importance of right action over right thought and the general acceptance of imperfection. Doing right, rather than being right, is what matters most and the Powers are just as likely to bless a humble, simple offering of thanks as they are to smile on an elaborate ritual feast. Sometimes all you have to give is a moment of breath and that is as appreciated as the lavishness possible in times of plenty. To quote the Havamal:

No great thing needs | a man to give,

Oft little will purchase praise;

With half a loaf | and a half-filled cup

A friend full fast I made.

Havamal 52, Bellows Translation

We also have some idea of what the invocations and prayers of the pre-conversion Nordic peoples may have been like. One of the best surviving potential example can be found in the Poetic Edda:

"Hail, day! | Hail, sons of day!

And night and her daughter now!

Look on us here | with loving eyes,

That waiting we victory win.

"Hail to the gods! | Ye goddesses, hail,

And all the generous earth!

Give to us wisdom | and goodly speech,

And healing hands, life-long."

Sigrdrifumal 2-3, Bellows Translation

This pair of verses gives a pretty clear idea of how the Nordic peoples may have organized an invocation. Each verse begins by naming the Power being recognized before then proceeding to request some sort of favor or assistance from them. More broadly, the first verse begins with an appeal to what seem to be animistic powers, the children of day and night, while the second is addressed generally to the Aesir and Asynjur, translated by Bellows as Gods & Goddesses. The general nature of the requests in the Sigrdrifumal also give the impression that these verses may have been a more general benediction though this possibility is speculation.

What this suggests for modern practitioners is that you can structure your invocations in a similar fashion. It is totally acceptable to limit your invocations to simple recognition and praise but you can, if you feel it is necessary, request assistance from the Powers you are working with. Whether you choose to do so is, of course, up to you but that this option exists is one to remember. Therefore, invocation is not necessarily an act of supplication. It is a request for interaction, relationship, and building trust between you and the Power you are addressing.

When it comes to composing a Nordic invocation, one tool you may wish to employ are kennings. All of the Powers possess different bynames, titles, and nicknames which reflect different aspects of what they represent. They also make clear to the Power in question that you are familiar with them and are very directly trying to reach them through a specific set of associations. Such kennings can be ones that are found in historical sources, personal kennings, or ones that have developed in your community. You could choose, if you wish, to use one of the skaldic poetic forms for structuring any words you use as part of the invocation as is done in the verses from the Sigrdrifumal. You are also free to use whatever other forms of creative expression you think are best for the Power and moment, such as dancing, specific movements, chanting, and singing.

One example would be if you were writing an invocation to Thor for strength in a coming confrontation. You could choose to invoke Thor as God of Laughter or Friend of Man for inspiring moral courage, the Thunderer if you are seeking more overt ability, or Warder of Midgard if you are expecting to be facing a trial which demands great endurance. How Thor is invoked will matter as much as that he is invoked and including such additional kennings helps guide this mighty Power more carefully. You are also free to change an invocation as your relationship with the Power in question grows and develops.

Ultimately, what matters most with your invocations is that they feel effective, meaningful, and authentic to your understanding of your spiritual practice. They will always vary, with every practitioner adapting or changing invocations to best meet the needs of the moment. You can be as traditional or modern, simple or stylized, as you like with your invocations. How you do invocations will also change as your practice grows and develops. As long as you feel that your invocations are effective for initiating and maintaining relationship with the Powers in question then that is what is most important.

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