[This issue, we sit down with poet and songwriter Math Jones. Here, he discusses Heathenry, his spoken word album eaglespit, and the Norse sources for his work.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: How do you describe your spiritual path? Do you follow a particular tradition?
Math Jones: It’s more a way of being rooted in the worlds, than a path. And for that, many names, many labels:
To anyone who recognises the term, I will always say Heathenry. Twenty-odd years ago I played a small part in the effort across Heathendom in the UK to get us away from terms like the Northern Tradition, or Odinism. I could say Anglo-Saxon (and Norse) Polytheist, but to most other people, I would say Pagan, and go on to explain further if they expressed an interest.
It seems to be true that most people will recognise something important to themselves in things that are common-place in modern Paganism: the honouring of ancestors, the marking of the seasons, the holiness of the natural world. But for years there’s been no ‘tradition’ to follow. We are working with remnants of lore, faint remembrances in language, incomplete stories, and unexplained images. Many of us are ‘first generation’; there was no one practicing before us. Our most precious resource is our lived experience, the prompting of our own hearts and minds towards a kind of haleness, and our ability to work our ways out of the shadows of our Christian inheritance and our attachments to corporations, nations, received wisdoms, and unquestioned ‘givens’.
A religion to me, a mythology, a way of living, should allow for all that we are, the size that we are, the best of what we are. It should root us in the world and in time, in ourselves, and help us overcome fear. I was also for many years, and in the days before social media, running the modest, but effective, online network, Midgard’s Web, with a strongly inclusive, anti-racist, anti-homophobic message.
For me, my impulse to worship (worthship) recognises any number of gods, including those outside of Norse/Anglo-Saxon. Most of them I do not have personal relationships with, though I could approach them if I (and they) chose. But some are very real and imminent in my daily life: Freya, Woden, Ing, Thunder, we have history. I mark the seasons of the year. I speak and make offerings to the wights of household, of woods and fields. Mostly alone, these past few years, but previously in large and public gatherings.
EHS: You recently released eaglespit, an album of spoken word and poetry. First, congratulations! Second, how did you go about producing the album? How did you fund it, and how did you record it?
MJ: The material has been produced over several years — the first poem with a Heathen subject and metre was written twenty years ago. Similarly, my skills in performance have developed over thirty years and more, through drama training and acting, primarily, but also through working ritual for handfastings, burials, naming and seasonal blot.
Once the poetry was written, the rest was relatively easy and quick. I hired a studio (this was a friend’s, but there are other small commercial places) for a few hours, and with the tracks laid down of a suitable quality, I released them via bandcamp.com. There are other similar websites, where tracks can be heard, often for free, and downloads are paid for. A physical CD is also being printed, and there are countless places will do that for you. So cost in all comes to a few hundreds in Pounds Sterling.
I’d been performing the poems to Heathen and Pagan groups for a while, and more recently to mainstream audiences. The hearing of the poems feels more vital than the reading of them from the page, and recording a CD was always a priority to me. It’s not unlike the power of the runes: they are sounds, they are spoken, they are carried on the air. That is part of their magic.
EHS: Norse myth is the inspiration for eaglespit, but that is a vast resource. How did you decide which stories to include?
MJ: There are two things about the writing of them: the subject and the form. Old Norse and Old English poetries have forms that differ greatly to the poetries that followed, to what we are used to. We associate now with particular rhythms and especially with rhyme. The old verse relies on stresses, on half-lines, and head-rhyme, i.e. alliteration. It uses kennings (constructions, almost riddles, used to name an object, like ‘the swan’s road’ for the sea, ‘the shoulder’s leg’ for an arm…). There is a unique quality to the verse that I wanted to utilise in my own. So having learnt the form from the writings of Tolkien and others, I experimented. It took a while to adjust, but suddenly a verse flowed out — a lament by Hodur, sitting in Hel’s hall with his brother.
Over verses have followed fairly regularly after that. Some were written for specific events (Skadhi’s Laughter for a blot to Skadhi), while others were suggested by things happening in my life. Grithspell was written after two groups of friends had an online spat (not uncommon). Mothers’ Song was written for Mothers Night, while my wife was carrying our son and after his birth; her story became intrinsically bound with the poem. But mainly, the verses seem to arrive at their own volition and prompting; it’s rare that I choose to write to a subject. And some are suggested not by the myths but by aspects of life, by handfastings, and similar. Woden and Freya turn up often, as you’d imagine, but so too do Frigga, Loki/Loptr, and poems around Baldur.
The treatments vary also. Tyr-Song is very formal, kenning-heavy, true to the story as we have it, makes no apologies. Askr ok Embla, and Vidar, are looser in form, and are free imaginings of and responses to the stories. And always, there is a sense of the verse being carried to me, or brought to me, from elsewhere; from Odin’s mouth (Os byth ordfruma aelcre spraec… from the OE Rune Poem), from Bragi, and more recently and especially, Freyja.
Myths can be retold. The versions we have are versions, coloured by the writers. Freyja is criticised by Snorri for sleeping with four dwarfs. I celebrate her power and freedom, and the inspiration she can stir through love and desire. There are those that scorn Loki. I recognise the gifts and benefits that come through encompassing his often painful setbacks. All of us can find the unexpected and unorthodox in our unique and personal relations with the goddesses and the gods.
EHS: Where can fans find eaglespit?
MJ: Currently, it is available to download via bandcamp.com. It’s £12 before tax (which means £14.40 in the UK). Other outlets will be open soon, and a physical cd is being produced. I’m hoping to get to perform around the UK also.
The link is here: https://mathjones.bandcamp.com/album/eaglespit
Or reach me at email@example.com
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
MJ: There are more Heathen poems written, for a second album soon. There are also poems on mythological subjects from other traditions: from classical Greek, from folklore, from the Welsh Mabinogion (from where I chose my name, Math).
Sooner than either of those though, will be the release of a project entitled The Knotsman. This is a collection of verse and short fiction, which together tell the tale of a Seventeenth Century cunning-man, who’s magic works through the unbinding of knots; his origins, his life and times, his quest to find the Hanged-Man. That is due to be recorded as an album, and will hopefully find a print publisher. It will also be the basis for a one-man stage show, which I hope to tour the UK with.