I was browsing around in a thrift store last weekend*, having donated some items. You never know when you’ll find something amazing that would work well as a devotional or votive item.
I walked out with a ceramic mug that I promptly forgot at my next stop. Perhaps this was subconscious, because as I was browsing, I started remembering that Sven and I had, before we moved into our condo, resolved to Have Less Stuff. While I’m not a hardcore minimalist like Tammy Strobel of the Rowdy Kittens website**, it did get me thinking about Asatruar and our relationship with our stuff.
Asatru—and pagans in general I’ve noticed over the years—tend to have a lot of stuff. I type this as I reached into my bag for a lip balm and found a Mjollnir at the bottom that I bought to include in a travel shrine for Thor.
Every Asatruar I know has a lot of books. I’m no exception. We also tend to have a lot of firearms, which have their accompanying gun safes, cleaning tools, ammunition, etc. All of these take up a lot of space and are particularly annoying to move. Then as mentioned above, there are the shrines and altars. Sven and I each have an altar, plus we have shrines. This means statues, horns, candles, lanterns, offering bowls, votives and STOP ME BEFORE I BUILD A SHRINE AGAIN.
So I’ve been writing a lot about Asatru as an earth religion. This got me thinking about how, if we’re an earth religion, we reconcile that with the material items we collect. There’s no right or wrong answer. For myself, I’ve been purging clothes and books. The criteria has been twofold: do I use this item more than once a year, and if not, does it have a story behind it?
The clothing purge has been relatively easy; if I don’t wear it more than once a year and I have no emotional tie to it because it’s not a gift, historic t-shirt, or vintage, it goes. I now have more room in my closet.
My books are the issue, although a lot went away. I did a large purge before we moved into the condo. My criteria is now if I can’t replace them on Kindle. Many of these are my textbooks from years of theology school. I have some art books. I don’t have as many books on mythology and the occult as I thought I did, and that is definitely an area where I prefer my books as books rather than digits. Still, many of them are available as digits, and I must say I like having two editions of the Poetic Eddas riding around in my cell phone.
Fiction has taken the hit, so right now most of it is stuff that is irreplaceable. I’m not going to get rid of my small Tanith Lee collection. I know I could find a good home for it very quickly, but it’s not available for Kindle and they’re the old yellow-spine Daw originals. The same goes for my early 20th century fantasy like James Branch Cabell.
The altars and shrines are one area where stuff must be accumulated. I can’t think of any other way to honour the gods and ancestors. I suppose one could have a minimalist shrine to the Aesir that consists of a shelf holding items to represent each one, but it would require a very Zen approach to make it spare and striking, not a collection of shorthand symbols. The ancestors require items; photos, items they owned, and whatever votives one uses to honour them. Sven has his mom’s nursing badges and some of his dad’s tie clips. I have my grandfather’s motoring hat and my grandmother’s wooden spoon.
We also like statues, and have them for Thor, Frigga, Loki and our hjemnisse Ted, among others. Other Asatru we know have little china figures to represent their housewight and the Alfar and Disir. It just seems to come with the territory.
What I concluded, walking around Auntie Helen’s, is that if something feels like it’s missing from your altars and shrines, you probably need it. Minimalism and non-materialism calls for one to recognize the difference between needs and wants, but when it comes to dealing with the deities, the difference between the two often blurs. At the 2011 Pagan Pride event, I found a piece of art that was a dollhouse-sized cabinet onto whose shelves had been glued a Mjollnir, a plastic raven, a tiny drop spindle and a little wooden candle. Inside the one door of the cabinet was a rune chart and a picture of Odin. It reminded me of Steve’s mom, so I bought it. Did we need it in the “needs and wants” sense? No, but we’d feel emptier if we didn’t have it. At the same time there are plenty of other Norse images and items that would be nice to have, but that’s all the attraction we feel towards them.
That’s my rationale, and I’m sticking to it. Souls need feeding too.
*Auntie Helen’s Thrift Store, 4028 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104, http://www.auntiehelens.org raises funds for laundry fluff & fold for people with AIDS. This is a worthy enterprise and the mens’ clothing there is top-notch because it is donated and sold to gay men.
**http://www.rowdykittens.com. Tammy and her husband Logan moved into a 400 sqft apartment in Portland while their 109 sqft Tumbleweed Tiny House was being built. They now live on a family ranch in NorCal, and just towed the Tiny House there. Living the dream, but a little too hardcore SMALL for Sven and myself.