[This issue, we sit down with poet Oliver Porter. Here, he discusses his new volume of poetry, To Serve Odin’s Wine; his creative process; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Oliver Porter: What an intriguing question! I would say I am a Norse pagan and heathen. I spent quite a few years exploring other religions: Hellenismos, Arthurian paganism, Hinduism, and Buddhism — so I like to think I picked up a more open mindset from my journeys.
ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers are honored in your practice?
OP: I focus on Odin, of course, the Norse god of magic, runes, war, and necromancy; Loki, the Norse deity of shapeshifting, tricks, and truths; Freya, the Norse goddess of beauty, sexuality, battle, and cats. I also honour my ancestors. I’d like to add that I honestly find it too depressing to honour my most recent human ancestors, so I tend to look at the ancestors as this amorphous blob of ancient familial energy that manifest in the form of archetypal or nameless energy, such as, for example the Disir or Alfar.
ev0ke: You recently released To Serve Odin’s Wine: A Poetry Devotional Zine. First, congratulations! Second, how did this collection come about? Why did you decide to publish a collection in honor of Odin?
OP: Thank you! I am quite excited about it. So, right before the pandemic hit, I took this really lovely bookbinding class. I made many zines and books, often inspired by the rune-staves from the Sorcerer’s Screed: The Icelandic Book of Magic Spells by Skuggi, published by the Icelandic Magic Company. (These zines are unpublished handmade pieces of art, so I don’t think I am violating any copyright!)
During that class, I learned to carve stamps and made Fehu and Hagal (the runes for wealth and transformative change, respectively). I pondered making a zine of rune poems and rune stamps, but that task felt too momentous at that time (but maybe one day?!?!). Odin was still pushing me to produce some kind of work though. I realized I had enough Odin poems to make a zine and I decided to collect them. He seemed happy with the results.
Oddly, ever since that class in February 2020, I’ve had many dreams and visions of medieval illuminated manuscripts.
And why Odin specifically? I like him a lot as a deity, and find his mythology fascinating. His wisdom quests remind me a lot of the Buddha. I love that he loves poetry. We get along. So, why not him?
ev0ke: How did you go about assembling the collection? Were there some poems you had to leave out? Others that you absolutely had to include?
OP: First, I collected all the poems I had. Some of them felt too private, or even painful, as some of the poems were written during a period of severe mental illness. So I took out any poem that hurt or had UPG influenced by mental illness (which at that point, I should add, bordered more closely to medical delusion than gnosis anyway).
Funnily enough, just this morning over my coffee, I realized I forgot about an alliterative poem about rune-making, which is a shame.
ev0ke: Which poem was the most difficult, but ultimately the most satisfying, to write?
OP: This is a good point to mention my writing club. During the pandemic, a friend and coworker, Yasmine Ahmed, invited me to her writing club. Every week, we would meet and critique each other’s work. It was a wonderful way to keep motivated to do something while jobless due to COVID-19. I ended up publishing quite a few haiku that way! As I shared my Odin poems with the group, one participant, himself a pantheist pagan, challenged me to write about Odin’s darker aspects, since many pagans consider Odin to be an asshole. And they’re not necessarily wrong either! I know Odin devotees often affectionately call him that.
So I wrote a poem, entitled “Odin’s Faces”, exploring the crimes and troubles Odin caused. The funny thing is, perhaps in part due to that period of extreme illness, Odin has often had incredible patience and gentleness with me. There have been times where I wondered if it was really him at all. Thankfully, divination and ritual have indeed confirmed it is him.
I finished the poem with a question to him directly. I won’t spoil it here, but it was supremely satisfying to write.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into writing these poems? Tall stacks of books on your desk? Long trips to the library or hours online?
OP: In terms of books, I cannot fail to mention Diana Paxson‘s works, of course! Her books on Odin and the runes helped provide food for thought. I would say the Bhagavad Gita (trans. by Stephen Mitchell) was an influence as the text is a gorgeous dialogue between devotee and Deity. My zine does, in a lot of ways, feel like a lengthy conversation with Odin, although I wouldn’t necessarily say I channeled him or anything. Be Thou My Hearth and My Shield, a Norse devotional anthology edited by Elizabeth Vongvisith was an inspiration and is a text I often turn to for ritual use. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology by Nicholas Goodman-Clarke is my go-to for the fascist roots of Heathenry. One day, I might buy myself a copy just to have it permanently in my collection. Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison is a fantasy classic necessary for any Odin devotee or, really, anyone who wants a joyful romp through a tale of dragons and trolls.
The Rune Secrets Discord community and my online kindred also helped me work through a lot of thought processes, so a big thanks to them! I should also thank Silence Maestas, pagan author and a longtime Lokisperson, for his encouragement in zine-making.
ev0ke: Where can readers find To Serve Odin’s Wine?
OP: So far, it’s only available on Lulu.
ev0ke: What advice can you offer to other poets who are hoping to release their own collection? Mistakes to avoid? Things they absolutely must do?
OP: I would say — don’t rush. Take time to muse over and contemplate the poems you’re working on. Be sure to fiddle around with printing settings and page formatting before settling on your final document!
ev0ke: To Serve Odin’s Wine is currently only available in digital format. Why digital only? What’s the advantage over print? And will there ever be a print edition?
OP: Initially, I printed one copy of the zine and bound it using a Japanese technique. It was labourious and time-consuming: this is fine for one copy, but I shuddered at the thought of doing 10, 15, or 20 or more copies this way. The final document was ready for two months before I realized these printing issues were preventing me from releasing the zine into the world. My home printer does double-sided printing in a very finicky way and I knew I would mess things up if I tried using it for 20-page plus printing. I got stuck.
I knew that The Troth, an American heathen organization of which I am a member, does a lot of publishing with Lulu, so that’s how I came to choose that platform.
Ideally, it would be nice to have a print edition, although I am not sure how I would host the zine. Will I make an Etsy shop for the sole purpose of sharing one zine? Will I just leave a link on my Twitter or website? Should I just share it at local bookfairs? I’m still determining which course of action is best.
I’ll admit, I am going through an intense and lengthy spiritual crisis of faith right now, so the zine is not high up on my list of priorities. I share that because I think it’s important to acknowledge when we are in fallow periods. So I am trying to rest and not push myself too hard to do pagan things.
ev0ke: Some of your work has also been featured in Blood Unbound: A Loki Devotional. Did you write your poems specifically for this anthology? Was it an open call for submissions, or were you invited to participate?
OP: If I remember right, I had most of the poems already written. One poem, “Birth of a Skald,” describes the birth of me as a transgender person and poet within the Norse cosmos. I felt that poem needed greater explanation so I added a short essay to it just for the anthology. Most myths about the birth of humanity focus on cis people, and I felt I needed a trans mythos. So that’s what I created! (if anyone wants to take the seed of that idea, and write their own transgender myths, please please do!)
That book is chock full of fascinating works from different Lokispeople. I really recommend it.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
OP: I am in my first semester of a Masters degree in Education — a summer semester of all things — so I don’t have a lot of time for creative projects. I keep various tiny notebooks around to scribble down haiku. At some point, I’ll probably try to submit these haiku to online magazines. Other than that, I have a non-thesis project and internships coming up, so that will keep me quite busy.
I’m also slowly doing research into other spiritual traditions, to see if anything will inspire me to return to paganism, or go beyond into something else.
Thank you for this great opportunity to talk about Odin, poetry, and paganism! This was wonderful. I know it’s a little late, but happy summer solstice!