This issue, EHS sites down with prolific Heathen author Galina Krasskova. Currently buried in Latin studies, Krasskova is also editing a number of devotional anthologies (for the Egyptian Sekhmet, the Greek Charon, and the Norse Idunna). She took a few minutes out of her very busy schedule to discuss her studies, her Gods, and her many projects.
[Addendum: since this interview was conducted this past winter, Galina has begun editing a devotional in honor of the Healing Goddesses of the Northern Tradition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments, questions or submissions. She has also released the children’s book, A Child’s Eye View of Heathenry.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correct one misconception about modern Heathenry, what would it be?
Galina Krasskova: That is a very, very difficult question partly because it depends so very much on my audience. To whom am I speaking?
If I’m talking to non Heathens, sadly the first thing that I would want them to know is that we’re not racists. Heathenry represents the contemporary reconstruction of the indigenous religions of pre-Christian Europe. We honor our ancestors. Lots of sensible religions do. That does not make us racist! Those who hold racist ideologies are a very small percentage of the community and frankly, are misusing and misrepresenting the faith. This is nothing new. It happens in lots of religions. We fight it and stand against it wherever we find it.
Followed very closely by: “Heathen does not mean godless. We have many Gods … many, many Gods and many of us are immensely devoted to Them. Ours is a faith about piety, respect, courage, discipline, and doing the right thing.”
If I’m talking to Heathens, I’d want them to know that ‘the lore’ is a map, one map of many. It is not the territory. One doesn’t substitute for the other.
There is room for the experiential, for the mystical, for the ecstatic, for the transcendent within Heathenry. It’s there. It’s happening. It is the heart of the faith. It makes people uncomfortable but it’s not likely to stop any time soon and we should be very grateful for that.
The evolution of our faith didn’t stop with the Sagas. The Gods can and will and want to interact with us. Just like with every other polytheistic religion that ever was, our Gods are intimately concerned with and connected with the lives of Their children — Their reasons are Their own, but They consistently seem to want to interact. We should be smart enough in our faith not to deny ourselves the experience!
EHS: How did you come to Heathenry? Was your path fairly straightforward or was it roundabout?
GK: I don’t think any spiritual journey is ever anything but round about in its own way … not if spirituality is truly being examined and integrity consistently sought. Looking back on it now, it seems rather straightforward for me, but I know at the time it wasn’t.
I was raised Catholic in a fairly devout household. I left the Church at 12 refusing to be confirmed because I felt very strongly in my heart and conscience that these were not *my* Gods. I read up on other religions for several years, and then when I was 18 I encountered an article and an image of the Goddess Sekhmet and I felt Her presence. I didn’t know at the time that anyone else honored Pagan Deities, but I knew Divine presence when I felt it. I prayed and set up an altar to Her. She took me in hand for several very long, very grueling years. She also led me to a local Fellowship of Isis Iseum where I began learning about ritual work. Then Odin and Loki both came for me in a way that I simply couldn’t deny. I was passed on to Them and my relationship with both, but especially with Odin, rapidly began to deepen with what must have (again looking back) been a frightening speed.
I knew from very early on that I was called to the priesthood and I was first ordained within Fellowship of Isis in 1995. I resisted calling myself Heathen for a long time because at that time, I simply didn’t want to be associated with that community. I didn’t see a lot of piety or devotion evident there (thankfully that has changed over the years), but Odin insisted so I went. At the same time, from right around the point of my ordination I also ran my own spiritual group, first a Lyceum and then a Kindred.
In 1998-2000, I also attended an interfaith seminary, ending up ordained as an interfaith minister. The whole process of going through the program, being the only Heathen in the program, and constantly delving more deeply into my faith caused me to end up more deeply devoted to the Heathen Gods than I had ever realized possible when first enrolling in the ministerial course! Looking back, I still find that a surprising outcome given the nature of the program. For me, though, it was a largely positive spiritual experience.
I occasionally sought out other clergy training programs because it is a vocation and one that should demand a high level of training. If I saw a program that had something that if felt would make me a better priest and thus better able to serve my Gods, I went for it. That’s what led me to the seminary in the first place: I realized as a priest I needed experience and training as a pastoral counselor and the seminary provided that. Eventually, thanks to my adopted mom, I was able to go back to school and I got my BA and MA in Religious Studies.
Finally a few years ago, I found myself being pushed down the shaman’s road. That really sucked, let me tell you. LOL. But it was also terrifyingly beautiful with rewards beyond price. So I can’t complain too much. I’ve been lucky in my life and especially in my spiritual life and very, very, very blessed.
EHS: You are currently pursuing an MA in Classical Studies. How is what you are learning in school informing your practice?
GK: It’s exposing me, by way of the Roman texts that I’m translating, to a culture very different from the Norse and Germanic, but equally steeped in polytheistic thought. It’s been fascinating to see the references to honoring the ancestors, or the cultic heroes, or calling upon a specific Deity that creep ever so unassumingly into some of the pieces I’m reading. There’s a lack of self-consciousness evident in the religious allusions that I find quite compelling and it’s something we lack as contemporary Pagans and Heathens because we’re still rebuilding our traditions.
I do think I have a better innate comprehension of certain aspects of classical culture than the average monotheistic student. Let me give you an example: my Latin tutor commented that he hopes when I’m finished my studies that I’ll write on ancient Roman Religions (my first MA is in Religious Studies). He went on to say that scholars tend to find it incomprehensible so not a lot of thorough work has been done. I was floored. There’s nothing incomprehensible to me about Roman religion: they honored many Gods, including some foreign imports, there were many personal cultus to choose from for devotion (some gender specific), they honored the spirits of the place, of the threshold, of the home, and most of all they honored their dead … a lot. They were animists. I’m an animist. I think this type of world view is only incomprehensible to those who, by virtue of their monotheistic mental filter, can’t see within the world a glorious panoply of numinous multiplicities. When you’re so focused on there being only one truth, so committed to singularity, it’s often difficult to see any other truths outside of that rather limiting construct after all.
EHS: How is your Heathen spirituality informing your school work? Do you have any suggestions for other Heathen students as to prayers or rituals that have proven helpful for you?
GK: I am in a very demanding program focusing on Latin language and literature. My classes involve a significant amount of translation work. I’ve never had much formal Latin training. I took perhaps two semesters and then some private tutoring. My adopted mom drilled me on grammar. I went from translating simple little fairy tales written by contemporary language teachers to Pliny’s letters. It was terrifying. I found myself sitting in a classroom with students who had taught Latin for several years. Moreover, I’d never taken a translation exam before.
So before starting the term, I prayed and meditated and sat down with Odin to ask for His counsel. I did divination to make sure that He was pleased with the direction my studies had taken (for now, He seemed to be most indulgent — apparently I’m learning something that’s making me more useful to Him), then I asked Him if He would help me. His response was that I should seek out the Roman God of language and get to know Him. So I set up a small shrine to Mercurius and I make frequent offerings.
I also have two linguists in my extended ancestral house. So prior to midterms, I called upon a spirit ally, Mercurius, and my dead for help. I also studied my butt off. When I was presented with the selections to read for the exam, one was the selection I’m basing my final paper on and the other was one that I also knew well because I found it amusing. Out of forty possibly choices, the professor had chosen two that I could pretty much sight read through without any problem. I got an A.
Then I spent the next week making major offerings of thanks; because essentially, it was a team effort!
That being said, I would counsel other Heathen and Pagan students studying the Classics (or studying anything really) to call heavily upon their ancestors and additionally to consider honoring the leading “Heroes” within your field. There is precedent for hero veneration within many ancient Paganisms. Let me give you an example of how this can work for the modern student. When I was taking that course on Pliny that I mentioned above, I would spend hours preparing to translate for class, and then always walk into class fearing my mind would go blank out of nervousness if I were called upon. So I decided I needed help. Pliny was a wealthy landowner, a senator, estate lawyer, rhetor, and writer. He had a keen, sharp wit and maintained extensive correspondence with many of the leading figures of his age. There’s also a fine thread of ancestor veneration and reverence for important men and women of the past, for honoring their memory and maintaining traditional practices running through his surviving letters. Sometimes, working my way through them, I would by grace of the Latin get a strong sense of his voice. I liked that and I liked his occasional sharp-edged sarcasm. So, as I was reading Pliny’s letters, I put a representation of him on my ancestor altar, on the part that is devoted to spiritual ancestors: those men and women not related to me by blood, but who have mentored or been important to me in some way. I honored Pliny and thanked him for whatever help he might be willing to provide. I will keep honoring him too. That relationship has been established now and I don’t believe in just honoring an ancestor when I want something! (and yes, he helped me immensely with the Latin!)
So the best advice I can give to a student is to honor your dead. Take good care of them; and consider honoring also the heroes of your chosen field as spiritual ancestors (if you feel that they are willing. Again, I used divination to suss this out). The dead don’t go away. Often they are merely an offering away. Take advantage of this. Grad school is hard. We need all the help we can get.
EHS: You also edited a new devotional anthology for Sekhmet. Why Sekhmet?
GK: I began my adult religious life under Her aegis. She was the first Deity to really take me in hand as an adult. Sekhmet is my spiritual Mother. She was the first to break me, to break my pride and hubris, to teach me respect and polish me to service. She protected me and ensured that my feet were firmly on my spiritual path before handing me over to Odin and the Norse Gods. She taught me to endure. I love Sekhmet dearly. She gave me spiritual roots and then, as a Mother should, She let me go. I owe Her and I’ve wanted to write a devotional to Her for some time. I was glad when I was finally able to focus properly on it.
I also maintain a small shrine in my home to Her as well. Sekhmet made me.
EHS: Were submissions open, or did you have particular pieces in mind? Were you surprised by anything that came in?
GK: I was actually surprised that I didn’t get more submissions. For awhile, it was really like pulling teeth. As it is, I wish I had more rituals and articles. The majority of submissions were poetry and prayers. I have to say though, that the folks on the Neos Alexandria email list have been fantastic. I received so many lovely submissions from them for this devotional. I’m really grateful.
EHS: In addition to Sekhmet, you are also editing a new anthology for Charon. Why Charon, and are submissions still open?
GK: Well, my adopted mom passed away Feb. 2010 and while she was a very devout Heathen, she had in passing, the occasional interaction with Charon. His situation moved her deeply, especially the fact that while He ferried people to the land of the dead, He Himself was denied that place of peace. She did a ritual once for Him where she offered coins for all those who might be forgotten when they die, and at the end she gave two coins for Him, in case He should ever wish to seek His rest. His Presence was so very strong during those few moments, and I was immensely moved by the feel of that Presence. So anyway, when she died, I made it a point to make one offering in some way to every Deity Who had strongly impacted her life, Charon was one of Them. She always mourned that He had so little, that He was given so little in contemporary Paganism. This devotional is my small way of remedying that.
I haven’t received many submissions so yes, I’m absolutely still accepting. Please feel free to spread that around. I’m also looking for someone to do the cover art. This is very much in its nascent stages.
EHS: You are compiling a collection of Heathen essays for publication. Are these new essays or reprints? Or a mixture?
GK: Two of the essays have appeared at Pantheon (“The Demonization of Loki” and “The Development of Culture in Modern American Heathenry”), one of the others (“Performativity in Modern Heathen Culture”) was originally an academic lecture that I gave at Claremont University’s Pagan Studies conference in 2009. The other one is new. I may yet add a fifth essay. I’m still playing with the idea. If I stay with what I have, the book is nearly finished as of this interview, though. I just need to format the footnotes consistently throughout the text and write the introduction, but I’ve been procrastinating.
EHS: What topics are covered by the essays?
GK: Right now, the book consists of four essays, the three mentioned above, and a fourth on Odin, sacrifice and the ritual of blót. I’ve done a good deal of research into sacrifice within Heathenry and this article looks at the motif of sacral kingship and its connection to sacrificial blot through Odin. It’s a bit more folkloric in character, as I compare and contrast Odin to other Celtic and Northern European Deities as a lens through which one can better understand ritual sacrifice.
I’ve decided to dedicate this particular book to Alexei Kondratiev. He was my first language mentor (my first Latin tutor) and for many reasons is a man deserving of honor. He was an amazing teacher and a remarkable Celtic Pagan elder. I hope he would have been pleased with the scholarship of the book as I hope his spirit will be pleased with the offering.
EHS: These texts are coming out through Asphodel Press. Why that publisher, and would you recommend Asphodel to other authors?
GK: They’ve been really great to work with. Devotionals and specialized books like my forthcoming Essays in Modern Heathenry appeal to a niche audience … really a niche within a niche. It’s just not worth it financially for most publishers to touch them. They also have less cross over appeal between traditions than say something like Exploring the Northern Tradition, which is more accessible to not only Heathen, but also Wiccan, Pagan, or even Interfaith readers.
Asphodel Press was formed as a writer’s collective to provide Pagan and Heathen authors with a place to publish those books that might not garner a large enough potential audience to appeal to mainstream publishers. They’re really great to work with. Their editing process is reliably top notch and they give me pretty much complete freedom to write what I want, how I want it. That’s a real blessing.
EHS: Blogging at Patheos, your column in witches&pagans, your work as an editor, *and* school. How do you find the time to work on all these projects? And how do you keep coming up with new ideas?
I belong to Odin, LOL. it’s not like I have a choice! I think this is an Odinic trait: we tend to have our fingers in lots of pies. I find I am happiest when I am completely overbooked with deadlines looming.
I try to be as disciplined as possible about regular study and I keep a running list of my deadlines so I (hopefully) don’t miss anything. I like always having something to work on. There’s always something to do. Then I just plug away at my projects little by little. Eventually things get done.
As to how I come up with new ideas … sometimes colleagues suggest things, sometimes Gods demand things, sometimes I’ll read something or see something on the news that spurs an article. I’m running a Deity of the Month series on my blog in which each month, a different Deity is ‘profiled.’ Well, September (by reader request) I talked about Idunna. At the end of the month I was just feeling a bit sad that She didn’t have a devotional out there, because She’s an amazing and much loved Goddess so I figured I’d compile one. I don’t have any particular devotion to Her myself, but She’s fascinating. That’s the way it sometimes works for me. Thankfully, this isn’t something for which I need to give myself a tight deadline!
EHS: What other projects are you currently working on?
GK: Wow. Too many to count! I’m currently working on two academic articles, the Idunna devotional, a fire etins devotional (a job which I actually inherited from someone). The project that I’m really excited about though is something I’m collaborating with Raven Kaldera on. We’re putting together an introductory book on Northern Tradition shamanism. This book, divided into nine chapters, is the book I wish I’d had when I first started getting pushed down this road. It’s basically a novice’s first year (or two) training manual. If someone does all the things, or even half the things in this book, really learns to do them well, he or she will be doing a huge portion of useful, holy, and very solid work. So we’re in the middle of that right now and it’s probably the project that I’m looking forward to finishing the most.
Beyond that, in addition with keeping up with my Latin, I need to learn ancient Greek for school and increase my facility in German and this is all eating up a good deal of my free time.