Action and Gratitude

When you work as closely with deities as I do, you start treating them like close, but respected, friends. And you usually don’t think too hard about asking friends for favors. In the case of deities, of course, you request favors via prayer.

In a society predominantly Christian, it can be easy to backslide into the mentality of expecting things to happen. And then, when things don’t go accordingly, it’s easy to get upset with the gods.

Backsliding happens to everyone, whether you’re willing to own up to it or not. It’s hard to constantly live in a polytheistic paradigm when the world around you is shouting monotheism at the top of its lungs.

Still, prayers to deities that consist of specific requests can only come to fruition if, once you have asked, you do absolutely everything in your own power to make it happen. The gods come in and add an extra umph at the end, but if you don’t even start, then why should they do the work for you?

It’s the same with spellwork. If you do a spell to get a new job, then refuse to put it in any work to find a new job, you’re not going to land a new job very easily. Intent matters, both in spell and prayer – in my experience, prayer and spell are basically synonyms. Spellwork is just a little more elaborate.

And, after you’ve done everything in your power to accomplish what you asked for – whether it’s money, a new job, or help finding a partner – it’s important to remember to do a ritual of gratitude. It’s the equivalent of sending a thank you note to someone for their effort, especially when that person (or deity, as the case may be) was never obligated to helping you or granting you any favors.

The Havamal tells us “A gift for a gift” and it also emphasizes hospitality, where a gracious manner is essential. The gods have given us so much already – when we ask for more, it’s only right that we work as hard as we can to accomplish what we can on our own and then offer our gratitude when they come in and lend a hand to cross us over the finish line, so to speak.

These are things that are very easy to forget…and yet, these are the things that are at the very heart of Pagan faiths. Action and gratitude. That’s all it takes.

Tyr’s Path: Need for Balance

First post of the new year, and I’m thinking a lot about balance. What it means, how to find it. How to structure my life without overwhelming myself and also leaving enough room in it for spontaneity. It’s a very Tyrian way of thinking, as Tyr is the deity that presides over cosmic balance.

Most paint him as the deity that presides over justice. In the Norse pantheon, that is actually Forseti, and he is the one to call on for courtly disputes. Tyr does work with justice, but on a cosmic level. As the ultimate balancing agent. He is the peacekeeper who will wage war to bring about harmony. He does what is needed in order to keep the worlds from colliding.

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about how the Otherworld is leaking through into ours, how the veils between this world and the next are shredded. But I’m not quite sure shredded is the right word. Thinner, perhaps, but I’m not sure that’s a negative . Yes, I had to deal with more otherwordly encounters last year than before, but I can’t view that as being a bad thing.

Others are concerned…I guess I’m a little concerned myself, but it’s more a concern about what it is I need to know in order to face whatever ends up in this world. Science can’t explain a lot about the spiritual phenomena we encounter every day, and that may always be true. While I don’t believe science and magic are incompatible, a balance between the two has yet to be properly struck.

Anyway, it’s not just in the greater schemata of the universe that I am sensing a need for balance. There’s also a bit of a deficit of it in my own life. That’s not really too surprising, since I work with both Odin and Loki (extreme order, extreme chaos). It’s hard to seesaw back and forth between the two of them without someone else to help balance out those two very strong forces, and that’s where I find it necessary to turn to Tyr.

Very little is known about Tyr, aside from the bravery he showed when he did what was necessary to keep the peace in the realms by binding Fenrir and losing his hand in the process. it’s not as clear-cut as saying the ends justify the means, but rather that the right ends (namely, peace and frith between the worlds) justify the means, even if those means happens to require the betrayal of a great friend. It becomes a study in how sacrificing one for the sake of the many can be done, and, sometimes, how it should be done. One life versus one hundred. One realm versus nine. There are no easy answers. But the questions must be posed, and it is only in weighing the odds that balance is found.

 

Loki’s Path – the Non-Binary World

When most people think non-binary, they think gender. Because the LGBTQ+ community (of which I am a proud member) has done a wonderful job of promoting gender awareness. The community has spread awareness that there are more genders than just male and female – there’s a difference between biological sex and gender, which is, of course, a social construct.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about non-binary gender identity because I realized a few days ago that I don’t really have a gender identity. Yes, I was born female – biologically, that’s my sex. But I don’t identify as a woman insomuch as society tells me I am one because there’s still this confusion between sex and gender. I also don’t identify as a male, nor do I identify as trans… it took me awhile to realize that my gender identity is agender – I don’t identify with any gender at all.

To be fair, the last time I was proactively engaged in the LGBTQ+ community was in high school – over ten years ago – and after I graduated high school, I got too busy with work, figuring out my religion, and relationship dramas to really engage in the community. I was too busy with life to worry or care about what my sexuality or gender identities might be.

I mean, yes, in high school, I came out as bisexual. But I did that almost by accident. I wrote a letter to a friend asking her what she thought about homosexuality and got back a four page response accusing me of being a lesbian and telling me that we could no longer be friends because I was going to go to hell for being a terrible sinner. I was shocked at the reaction a simple question had provoked, but I let her spread the rumor that I was a lesbian without disputing it unless someone asked (upon which I said I was bisexual). I honestly didn’t care what people thought about my sexuality. I never have. My sexuality isn’t anyone’s business but mine, yet it caused my high school to react with a high dramatic flair. I had two girls follow me around my freshman year, taunting me about how I was going to hell, only to have those self-same girls come up to me my senior year and ask me what it was like to be with a girl. People are fickle. That’s what I learned.

Prior to this year of university, my engagement with the LGBTQ+ community was via friends I had who were also part of the community, talking to people online, and reading news stories. That was all the exposure I had. Until this year, I didn’t realize how large the local LGBTQ+ community really is, and I had very little experience with non-binary gender identities. I knew I’d never have a problem with transgender – that was the only one I’d even heard of before – because I can easily understand why someone born as one sex can feel like the opposite gender than the gender they were assigned at birth. That never confused me. I’ve never felt uncomfortable being in the body of a woman, but I’ve never really felt like a woman. It just happens to be the sex I was born as.

I’d never heard of gender neutral pronouns until about a year ago when I first met someone who used the they/them/their pronouns. It was a little weird to get used to using the pronouns as singular rather than plural – especially as a writer – but I’ve always been an advocate of supporting the way that others identify themselves. Now, if I know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns and a friend slips up when talking about said person, I immediately correct my friend. I understand the disconnect from the binary.

And, for the first time since high school, I took the exploration of my own sexual and gender orientation off the back-burner and really started considering it. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t bisexual, I was pansexual. There’s not a single gender that I’m averse to – a person is much more than their gender. In some ways, that makes me gender blind, but in others… I understand that gender is a very important part of who they are, and I’d never downplay someone else’s gender identification.

But figuring out my own gender – that was more difficult. I already knew that gender was a social construct. I’ve taken enough psychology courses to know that. When it came to figuring out my gender, however, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t know there were more genders to choose from than just male, female, and transgender. I thought those were the only three. I’ve since done a lot more research – I’m pretty quick to correct gaps in my knowledge when I feel the need – and I realized pretty quickly that I identify most strongly with the agender identification. I still use feminine pronouns because I genuinely don’t care how others view my gender. I don’t identify as any gender, so why would I care? Others who identify as agender may care – that’s fine. I don’t, and I can only speak for myself.

Now,  you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Loki, but honestly, it should be fairly obvious. Loki is, perhaps, the most gender fluid of all the Norse deities. Loki shows up as female, as male, and anything/everything in-between. He also takes on animal forms. He has no qualms showing up in whatever form suits him.

On top of that, he is also the deity who pushes the hardest for those who honor him to embrace every aspect of themselves. No matter how hard it is, Loki says “Face yourself. Figure out who you are. Embrace yourself.” There’s a reason Loki is often the patron of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Of all the deities in the Norse pantheon, he may be the least non-judgmental.

In the Heathen community as a whole, being part of it while also being queer? That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when there’s tons of essays and books written about proper feminine and masculine roles within old Norse societies. If I have one major complaint about the behaviors of those in the Heathen community, then it’s directed at those who insist that traditional roles need to be upheld because Heathenry is a “family-oriented faith.” But you know something? When you identify a family unit as headed by a husband-wife couple, you are perpetuating a binary. You are saying the world is black and white -you are creating a world where family can’t be two women at the helm, two men at the helm, two trans at the helm, etc… you are invalidating a ton of diverse family units, and for what?

For some distorted notion of what family should be?

But when you do that, when you insist on a single type of family unit, you’re doing the same thing that monotheists do when they insist on a single type of deity. We’re polytheists. We honor many deities. We shift perspectives on a daily basis because we have to. So why do I see so many polytheists stuck in this binary of what a family can and can’t be? Of what gender is and isn’t? Of whether Loki deserves to be honored or not? Why can’t we just make room for it all?

After all – that’s what polytheists of old did. They made room. They included. So stop dividing, stop creating lines to create divisions just for the sake of having sides to stand on. And start paying attention to the humanity of the person standing next to you.Try appreciating the things that make you different rather than dismissing them.

If you don’t understand why anyone would honor Loki – that’s okay. No one is asking you to honor him. All we’re asking is that you stand aside and let us honor him instead of condemning us for our spiritual practices.

Over the years, even on the outskirts of the Heathen community, I have felt a sense of exclusion. Because I don’t fit the mold. I don’t adhere to rigid reconstructionist lines. I incorporate other practices outside of Heathenry. I work with druidic and shamanic practices, too. I’m not bound by these imaginary lines that the community has drawn because community? That’s something I can create for myself.

There’s this mistaken idea in all societies that in order to be an accepted part of a community, you have to obey all the social norms. Toe the line. Do the exactly expected thing. Never step out of the box. If you do, you become outcast. And nothing’s worse than being cast out. At least, that’s what the community says.

But take some time – read the Poetic Edda. Read Odin’s words. He never says “Conform.” None of the deities ever say “Conform.” And while Loki may have done quite a few mischievous things, in general, the other gods trusted him at their side (barring the myth of Balder, which is controversial for a lot of reasons). Loki broke social norms all the time. He broke the binary. He said, “Look, there are other ways to do things than the way they have always been done.” And the other gods, when they had a problem, turned to Loki and asked, “How do we solve this?” Because they trusted him to think outside the binary. They trusted his ability to find new ways to view the world and to come up with solutions that worked, however unorthodox those solutions might be.

So, if you need a reason for why I work with Loki – that’s the best one I have to give. Loki pushes me to be a better person, to be the best version of me that I can be, and he pushes me to accept myself, no matter what truths I find. And he says it’s okay to be outside the norm, outside the binary. Loki doesn’t make me choose – none of the gods do. The only ones who keep telling me to decide between this or that, between one thing and another – the ones who keep telling me to embrace binary spectrums – are humans. The gods don’t care.

And community? Community isn’t found with just those who share your faith. That’s just another binary world, and I reject it out of hand. Because I don’t live in a binary world. To me, that’s an incredibly boring place to live. If I wanted binary, I’d have stuck with monotheism. I’d have stuck with atheism. I’d have chosen an either-or path. But that’s not what I chose. That’s not what spoke to me, not what called me home. No, polytheism spoke to me. The myriad, the plentiful – the non-binary – world of thousands upon thousands of deities. Why would I choose anything else?

Polytheistic Theology: Avenue of Avenues

When we think of theology, we typically think of monotheistic theology, especially the structures found within Abrahamic faiths. But theology itself is not inherently monotheistic – in fact, theology is simply the study of deity. Because most polytheistic faiths are inherently pluralistic, it is safe to say that it is impossible to identify a single theology that unifies polytheistic belief. That’s part of what makes polytheistic faiths so beautiful.

It’s easy to prove how impossible it is to identify a single theology for polytheistic faiths. Take Hinduism, for example, and examine the way many sects of Hinduism base their faith around the idea of a unified plurality – there are multiple deities, but those deities are all aspects of the greater whole. Then take another polytheistic faith, like Asatru, that bases faith around the concept of multiple distinct deities, all separate and completely unique from one another. While there are certainly connections between polytheistic faiths like Hinduism and Asatru, the way that deity is approached is distinct between them.

Because of that distinction, a singular approach to theology – the study of deity – is impossible. However, I do think that it is possible, within each polytheistic faith, to approach deity through multiple strands of exploration. That is what I propose is the best way to approach the study of deity through polytheistic faiths, and I am proposing a framework for a polytheist to use in their own study of deity within their own religions, rather than proposing that deity can be understood the same way through all polytheistic faiths.

Note: When I say deity, I mean the essence of deity or what makes a god a god (what makes gods gods).

I believe the following components can be explored through all polytheistic faiths:

  • Cosmogony
  • Cosmology
  • Theogony
  • Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices
  • Eschatology
  • Axiology
  • Pneumatology
  • Psychology
  • Semiotics & Symbology
  • Sexology
  • Sophology
  • Occultology

Cosmogony is the study of the creation of the universe (or multiverse). Studying how the cosmos originated in accordance with a particular polytheistic tradition through myths and legends allows us to begin to develop a framework with which to approach deity through our respective faiths.

Cosmology is the study of the universe (or multiverse). Different faiths propose different models of the world. For example, in many shamanistic traditions, there are three worlds while in the Norse view, there are nine worlds. Understanding the cosmos is a necessary foundation before exploring what deity actually is can really get underway.

Theogony refers to the lineage of the gods. Every pantheon has a unique structure and hierarchy (though it can be argued that some pantheons aren’t hierarchal). It seems self-evident that the pursuit of theology requires the understanding of theogony.

Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices. This particular component is really three-in-one, but every polytheistic faith has a calendar of sacred rites and practices. Since most (if not all) polytheistic faiths are orthopraxic (focused on right practice), this is the most direct route of exploring theology – again, when I say theology here, I mean the pursuit of the understanding of deity.

Eschatology is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. In essence, it is the study of the afterlife. Every faith has an idea of what happens to a person after they pass from this world. Not all polytheistic faiths believe in a final judgment, but some do. This is an area where the greatest discrepancies between faiths exist, and it may also be an area where the greatest insights into the nature of deity can be found.

Axiology is the study of values and ethics. In other words, the study of morality. At first glance, it may not be obvious what this has to do with theology. However, the myths and legends of each tradition shape the morality of the people who follow those traditions. Understanding the ethics held by a particular culture can enhance the pursuit of theology.

Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. Beliefs about mythical creatures like dragons, sirens, mermaids, brownies, kelpies, the Fae, ghosts, landvaettir, etc. This is where understanding the cosmology of a polytheistic faith comes into play as well, as some traditions have worlds set aside specifically for certain types of entities.

Psychology is the study of the soul, and it is the closest term I could find to describe what I actually mean. When I say psychology here, I don’t mean the traditional Western version of the study of the human psyche. I wish there were a better term (so if someone has an idea for one, I’m all for suggestions). What I mean is the study of the constructs of the soul-the parts of the soul. Many polytheistic traditions propose that the soul is not a singularity but a plurality, constructed of a myriad of parts that are meant for particular purposes. Understanding the way in which the soul is viewed is vital in the pursuit of theology, as the soul is the expression of the most inherent divinity a living being has in its possession.

Semiotics & Symbology is the study of signs, symbols, and their interpretations and uses. This includes things like the study of divination and omens. While some symbols are fairly universal – like the serpent that represents wisdom – others are not as clear-cut. Understanding the way that a particular tradition utilizes semiotics & symbology helps create a clearer path towards the understanding of deity.

Sexology is the study of sex. Each religion approaches sex in different ways, and in many traditions, the act of sex is one the most powerful ways to experience divinity. There aren’t many polytheistic faiths that view sex in a negative light, and I say that simply because there may be a few that do – I do not proclaim to be an expert on all the polytheistic faiths that exist, and I do not wish to potentially exclude even one.

Sophology is the study of wisdom. Defining wisdom is a very difficult thing to do, as it is a very abstract concept. Generally speaking, it is the ability to take acquired knowledge and put it to good use. In many polytheistic traditions, the study of wisdom is equated with the study of the myths and the cultures with which the traditions started. But because wisdom relies on application, it assumes that a person will take the myths and cultural learning they have developed and will incorporate it into their own practices. Applying the knowledge gained of deity through the myths is, perhaps, one of the most direct ways to approach theology, although it is by no means the only way.

Occultology is the study of the occult, meaning mystery or secret. It is generally associated with magic, and there are several polytheistic traditions that incorporate magic into their practice. There are many different types of magic, but the one that deals most directly with deity is Theurgy, which is magic done with the aid of deity.

Many of these components, on their own, require extensive research, and many of them weave in and out of one another. These are the strands that I see throughout every polytheistic faith – though each faith has its own unique set of these strands.

I’ve read multiple books on polytheistic theology, and every time, I see the same problem arise – there is no unified set of principles that underlie every polytheistic tradition. Some polytheistic traditions venerate ancestors, others don’t. Some believe in pluralistic deities, others in unified plurality.

So this is my attempt to address that issue – rather than looking for underlying principles that exist in all polytheistic traditions, I decided to look for the categories of principles that weave through all polytheistic traditions. Sometimes, to simplify, you have to complicate, and looking at categories instead of principles isn’t an obvious thing to do. The stark truth is that we still live in a predominantly monotheistic culture, and we all often fall into the trap of trying to collapse things down into smaller parts.

As polytheists, we need to work on expanding outward, breaking things into larger pieces rather than collapsing things down into smaller ones. So what I have done here is propose a framework, an avenue of avenues of exploration for those who are interested in the pursuit of theology from a polytheistic perspective.

Polytheism and Perspective: Some Thoughts

I’ve found myself thinking about perspectives lately, and how, as a polytheist, I must constantly shift between them. In some ways, there is never a good way to describe my path to someone else because I walk a manifold path. I work with multiple deities, and each of those deities asks of me different things.

I think that’s the biggest challenge of being a polytheist, honestly. Looking at situations and then figuring out which perspective to use to approach the situation. I personally believe that people are drawn to the deities who they are most similar to in temperament, and those deities, in a way, are exemplars for the way the person who approaches them should attempt to approach life.

In other words, gods are meant to be imitated – at least to a degree. For me, this comes from an understanding that the myths read are more than just the stories they tell. They provide insights into the world and also into the personalities of the gods, but the events in the myths may not have actually happened, or they may have happened in ways that we don’t understand because deities and humans are a separate species.

And that’s kind of how I think about deity – as a separate species from humans with their own lives and problems to contend with who are infinitely more complex than humans in the same way that humans, say, are infinitely more complex than cats. That isn’t to say cats aren’t complex – just that humans are a degree more complex than cats. So, with that said, humans aren’t simple – we just aren’t as complex as deity. And, considering how difficult a time we have understanding our own complexity, it stands to reason that our ability to comprehend the complex nature of deity is incredibly limited.

I also believe in a living spirituality, so I interact more directly with deity than others who may rely almost entirely on human sources for their information about deity. I don’t know – I guess I find it a little absurd to read the Poetic Edda, for example, and take every word as holy writ when the man who compiled the Edda was Christian. I find it absurd in the same way I would find it absurd to think that a friend’s version of a situation she only heard about it secondhand was more accurate than the version of the same situation from the viewpoint of the people involved in the situation. Perspective matters.

So, when I say I believe in a living spirituality, it means that I prefer to go straight to the deities I honor for information first, then consult source material second. It’s interesting to me that most of the UPG I experience I have seen confirmed by others who honor the same deities, that my understanding of the deities I work with is very similar to the understanding developed by those who have interacted more with source material than with what I can only describe as shamanic insight.

Coming back to perspective, each deity I work with approaches the same situation in different ways. The best way to explain this is to give an example:

Suppose a man, Marcus, is yelling at a woman, Tina, in the middle of a grocery store. Tina is hunched over, defensive, her arms cradled around an infant in her arms, and she is trying to quite the babe through her own tears. Marcus is yelling terrible things at Tina, calling her a liar, a slut, and all sorts of nasty names.

Now, imagine you’re the bystander. What’s your knee-jerk reaction?

Let me guess – you’re horrified and appalled by the behavior you’re witnessing. Why would someone be yelling at a woman with a baby in tow? What possible justification could exist for that?

But that’s just one perspective, given a very small piece of information.

What if you knew that the reason Marcus was so upset was that he just got a call from a paternity clinic informing him that the babe Tina is holding is not his son, even though the two of them have been married for two years and she’s never exhibited any of the classic signs of cheating?

That changes things. I mean, yeah, you may still find it ridiculous that he’s yelling at her in the middle of a grocery store, but at least you can understand where he’s coming from. You can understand his reasoning. Maybe even feel a little sorry for him.

But wait. What about Tina? If the babe isn’t Marcus’s son, then she has cheated on him and even withheld the truth from him about his son. Doesn’t that make her the bad person? I mean, yeah, the yelling sucks, but didn’t she do the wrong thing by cheating on Marcus?

Well, what if you now have the understanding that the reason Tina cheated on Marcus is because Marcus works around the clock and she rarely ever sees him except one night a week. She works from home, so it’s not like she goes out to meet people. But a new neighbor moves in, and he’s attractive, and Marcus is never around, and she gets lonely -after all, she’s only human.

And I’ll stop there.

What I’m trying to get at is that our knee-jerk reactions may not be the best thing to base our beliefs and opinions on. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to Loki because they don’t understand Him or where He’s coming from.

And that’s why I think polytheism is a lot like learning how to stop those knee-jerk reactions so that you can pause and shift perspectives. Each person approaches life in a different way, as does each deity. It’s important to know the story of the person in question before issuing judgment. The same is true with deity (although, really, judging deity strikes me as incredibly arrogant and rude…)

Learning about the gods through the myths and the lore allows us to understand their personality, to understand where they are coming from. But every time we read the lore, it’s important that we shift our perspective to each player’s role in the myth so that we can appreciate each deity for who they are, rather than play favorites and refuse to see the myth through more than a single lens.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

 

 

A Lokean Type of Courage

One of the biggest groups of people who tend to find themselves interacting with Loki are those who have been abused in some way. The ones who have lost themselves and need to be guided back – who need to learn who they are again. Loki teaches us that it’s okay to not be okay. He teaches us that it’s okay to be wounded and feel the wound so that it can heal properly.

Until Loki came into my life, I had pushed the abuse that I dealt with growing up to the back of my mind. Learned to suppress it, to minimize it, to rationalize it into being less bad than it actually was. To some extent, I still do that. Because there’s the fear that follows me around that people are going to think less of me if they understand what I went through. That they are going to think me weak because I didn’t stop it, that they won’t understand that I couldn’t stop it.

It’s easy to tell people that I grew up in an alcoholic home and let them draw their own conclusions from there. It’s harder to explain the stark terror that I felt when my mother started drinking. The more alcohol consumed, the more violent and unreasonable she became. She would yell terrible things at me, telling me that no one would ever love me, that I was the reason she drank, that I could do nothing right. And I took that all to heart.

Because when my mother started drinking, I was eight years old. Up until that point, my mother had been the most incredible, doting mother that a child could ask for. She taught me how to read. She waited with me in the freezing cold for the bus to school. She made me snacks for when I got home from school. There was no one in the world that I loved more.

And then, like someone had flipped a switch, she became someone I didn’t know. Someone who terrified me because I couldn’t understand where my mother had gone. My life became a pursuit of escaping the terror she inflicted in me. I wanted to be anywhere but near her. Because I took what she said about her drinking being my fault to heart – I believed that I had caused the change.

So I did everything I could to be the perfect child. I performed well academically. I did my chores without complaining. I wanted my mother to be proud of me because I had this idea in my head that if I just did enough well enough that I could fix her. And I wanted to fix her because I missed the woman who had spent hours teaching me to read. Who had cared enough about me to stand beside me in the winter to make sure I got to school okay.

Occasionally, there would be flashes. Moments of sobriety where I would see her. In those moments, she taught me how to keep from being bullied. She taught me how to spot potential threats and how to guard against them. She also taught me how to deal with my empathic gift. And I loved her during those moments because that was the woman who I recognized as my mother. There was her, and then there was the woman she became when she drank.

She became domineering – everything was micromanaged. I had to fetch her drinks and fix them perfectly – eight ice cubes in each glass of water. I had to bring her glasses full of vodka. To this day, I cannot stomach the smell of pure vodka. If it’s in a mixed drink, I can always taste it. I told one of my ex-boyfriends this. He didn’t believe me, made a drink without telling me what he put in it, and I took one sip and handed it back to him. There was less than a thimbleful of vodka in the glass. The reason I can always taste it – the first time I ever tasted vodka, my mother forced it down my throat. I was twelve years old.

When I didn’t do something to her satisfaction, her favorite method of discipline was to use the handle of a broom as a cane. Compliance is pretty much guaranteed when you know that disobedience results in that level of pain. Because of that threat, as well as the continuous emotional abuse she threw at me, I lived in perpetual fear. I learned how to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I didn’t want to risk her ire – it was a matter of survival.

I constantly felt pulled in two directions – I loved her and I hated her. I wanted her to die, I wanted her to be better. She was in and out of the hospital up until I turned fifteen, when she passed away. With her death, my entire world fell apart. I blamed myself because I had occasionally wished for it to happen. I was tormented by guilt, feeling responsible for her death as well as feeling guilty for feeling relieved because she was gone. My beloved tormenter was gone forever.

What I didn’t realize until years later was that she had left me with incredible emotional scars. I couldn’t trust people properly – I went into relationships expecting them to fail. I was defensive, scared that people could see the me underneath – the broken, flawed me. The one who felt like she was falling apart. I pushed people away in a twisted effort to test their ability to handle my brokenness. No matter how successful I was at what I did, no matter what accomplishments I laid claim to, I always felt hollow. Empty. Because being successful meant nothing to me if I wasn’t the most successful. My mother succeeded in turning me into a perfectionist, incapable of appreciating my own success without feeling inferior for not being the best. And I hated it because I knew that other people would be happy doing the things I’d done. They would appreciate them. And all I had was this bitterness towards not being the best, about failing to win the best and most impressive awards.

To say that I don’t still contend with these feelings today would be dishonest. I still struggle with maladaptive perfectionism. I still struggle with the double-bind thinking that was dumped on me by my alcoholic mother. And I still sometimes feel that I will never be good enough. Not for myself, not for other people. But now, rather than have them define my life, they are just the bad days. The ones that fall in-between the mostly good ones.

Because Loki, when he came into my life, he made me face my past. He made me own up to myself. He forced me to stop minimizing the damage that had been done because wounds left untreated tend to fester. Facing my past wasn’t an easy thing to do. Learning to trust wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially because I had to learn to trust the world again. I learned to distrust it as soon as my mother started drinking. Started being afraid that everything I saw and felt wasn’t real, that there was an illusion separating truth from fiction because in no real world would my mother become what she became. I stopped trusting myself.

And self-trust is the first step in self-knowledge. How can you know yourself if you can’t trust yourself to distinguish reality from illusion, truth from deceit? I still struggle to trust myself. I may always struggle with that, but that’s okay. I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be perfect. That it’s okay to have wounds, as long as you are actively seeking to close them (festering wounds do no one any good), and I have learned that there’s a strength in me that few people can match because I had to go through hell to get to where I am today.

So when I say that the biggest group of people who are drawn to Loki’s path are those who have been abused, please understand that I say this with the understanding of someone who has gone through hell and come out the other side. You can’t come out unscathed – you come out scarred and battle-hardened. Lokeans are some of the fiercest people, some of the hardiest warriors, on the face of the planet because we’ve all lived through our share of wars.

When other people point to Loki and make claims that he isn’t a god, that he’s a Norse devil, or that he only finds purchase among the weirdest and fluffiest of people, it infuriates me. Because I’m not a fluffy person – no one who goes through what I’ve been through comes out of it and becomes the happy-go-lucky rainbows-and-unicorns kind of person that “fluffy” implies – and none of the Lokeans I know are very fluffy either. Scared, yes. Vulnerable, sometimes. But being willing and able to admit to fear and vulnerability isn’t a weakness – it’s one of the greatest strengths that we possess because being honest about fear? There’s no greater courage.

A Thought Occurred to Me

The war between the Aesir and the Vanir – what if that had nothing to do with which tribe of Gods thought they were entitled to the worship of men, which is the common assertion of many different Heathen groups?

What if, instead, allegorically, that battle is supposed to be the battle between the masculine and feminine forces of the universe? The Aesir are all pretty masculine in their energies. The Vanir are fairly feminine in theirs. The only God that ties them together is Loki.

Anyway, food for thought. Not sure I’m convinced of this theory yet, but it is something that popped into my head as I was researching, of all things to be researching, the history behind the names of the months.

An Eclectic Type of Courage

Like anyone who walks an eclectic path, I have my own worries and anxieties to contend with. But the greatest fear I deal with is the fear of never finding a place where I fit or a place that fits me. Being eclectic is terrifying because it means that you are constantly rejecting what other people are telling you, discarding certain things that others insist are true because you realize that those things aren’t true for you. It means you are constantly picking things up that others are rejecting as false, realizing that what others see as false sometimes rings true for you. Walking an eclectic path becomes an art of pulling truths from many different paths and discarding some and retaining others until you have created a mosaic of truth for yourself.

As you look at other paths, however, you can’t help asking yourself if you’re doing the right thing. Can’t help wondering if it’s somehow wrong or unnatural to pull from so many different traditions. Can’t help thinking that maybe other people are right about sticking to one tradition. That maybe there is one path better than another. That voice is always there. Maybe that voice comes from growing up in a culture that is largely influenced by monotheistic faiths, or maybe it is an intrinsic human quality. Whether culture-derived or inherently human, all of us wonder occasionally if what we are doing is right.

And, if you’re like me, you often find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to find a place where other people will truly accept you as you are. You wonder if you’ll ever find a place where you feel safe. Where no one is going to single you out as the one exception to the norm. And, for me, it doesn’t just happen in my spiritual life. I’ve been singled out for a lot of things in my life. Some of them good, all of them awkward. Because every time someone singles me out for something, whether it’s done with good intentions or ill ones, I am made aware, yet again, of how different I am from the people around me.

There’s a type of despair that comes with that. An exasperation for people who are blinded by their own abilities to recognize and celebrate difference. But that exasperation is one born from fear. Fear that the people around me are right. Fear that maybe there is no place for me here. No place for me to forge my own path. Fear that I may have to cave and follow someone else’s rules just for a chance at companionship.

There are many people out there, of many different faiths, who reject eclecticism out of hand, and, so, reject anyone who follows an eclectic path. Many faiths, many traditions teach that religion isn’t something you can scrapbook together, that there are defining concepts of a particular spiritual path that absolutely cannot be laid to the side in favor of another concept. And most people who follow those faiths are entirely agreeable with the major concepts of those paths. But some of us – some of us aren’t.

Some of us attend the rituals of our chosen path with trepidation, wondering if the people we are chanting with would accept us if they knew that we didn’t agree with everything. In the case of other eclectic heathens, wondering what the group will do if it comes out that we honor Loki. That one little discrepancy among a group can get a person thrown out of it. People who are supposed to be kin turn on each other because the paths look a little different. Perhaps it doesn’t always happen that way – in fact, it probably rarely does. But that doesn’t diminish the fear. The terror of being found out.

And it doesn’t diminish the truth that we have, yet again, found something that makes us different. Something that keeps us separate. Because even as we crave companionship and kinship with those that walk similar paths to ours, we understand, as eclectics, one of the hardest truths of all. That the only person who can walk a spiritual path, even when following the teachings and guidance of others, is the person themselves. We are all solitaries when it comes to our pursuit of truth. It’s just that, as eclectics, we tend to spend more time walking the solitary road than our friends who walk the more well-worn paths.

That doesn’t, however, diminish the fear of walking a path completely of our own making. As an eclectic, the decisions made about the spiritual path you walk are completely your own. Being able to look at multiple concepts presented as spiritual truths, all of them conflicting, and say “This one is right for me,” requires an extreme amount of trust in yourself, the world around you, and the presence of the divine in your life. To walk an eclectic path requires some of the greatest courage to be found, as an eclectic must, every day, look into the abyss of the unknown and decide what route to take.

On Being an Eclectic Heathen

I’ve been thinking for a while about what umbrella my faith really falls under. My beliefs are pretty unique, and I’m highly aware that I don’t fit within any particular Pagan mold. Ever since I started researching Paganism, over 16 years ago now, I realized that to be true. Every path I’ve ever tried has been interesting and intriguing in some ways, and in others, I’ve felt a complete disconnect.

A big reason for that disconnect, however, is that I grew up learning how to channel energy as an Empath. I grew up learning proper energy-work techniques that I never saw replicated in the Pagan traditions I tried out.

When I first started researching Paganism, the first path I came across was Wicca. When I started reading about Wicca and learning about the rituals used, especially all the tools required, I knew Wicca wasn’t for me. Energy-work (or magic, whichever term you prefer) doesn’t require the rigorous tool-based ritual format that Wicca seems to prefer. I also hated spelling magic with a k because you either believe in magic or you don’t. Adding a k to the end of the word does not make it any easier to suspend disbelief if disbelief exists.

In any case, I realized that what I enjoyed about Wicca were the older arts sometimes in use. Astrology and Numerology both fascinated me. I started researching those on my own, and I have a decent amount of understanding of both. I know enough to use those arts to understand myself a little better, and that’s really all I need.

But those were the only things I enjoyed about Wicca, and astrology and numerology are far older than Wicca is. The extreme focus on having two deities, one Goddess and one God, known via multiple names, didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t mind the idea of two deities, but I hated the extreme focus that was put on the Goddess over the God. For a religion that was supposed to promote a balanced world between feminine and masculine energy, Wicca fell far short of that mark.

So, I spent a few years learning more about astrology, numerology, gemstones, and many different pantheons of gods. I also spent time researching other religions, including the Abrahamic faiths. It was in this period of time that I read the Bible all the way through, and I even experimented with going to different denominations of Christian churches to see the differences. No matter where my research took me, however, what I found was that I loved Paganism. Even though no pantheon was speaking to me, even though I had never been approached by a single deity, I was in love with a religion that allowed me to not only choose, but design, my own path through life.

Once I became comfortable and adamant about sticking to a Pagan path, the Norse deities began to appear to me. I started dreaming about Odin, and he called me to him. I wear the Valknut in his honor, as I am sworn to him. I can’t say that it was an easy decision to make – at first, him approaching me terrified me. I tried to ignore him for almost six months before he got so insistent about being in my life that I could no longer shut him out. Once I stopped running and started to get to know him, I started to see that his path was one that I could walk with ease, as I had already been on it without knowing it.

After Odin appeared in my life, it wasn’t long before Loki came along as well. While there are many, many people out there who offer hatred to anyone who worships Loki, they are the people who do not understand what Loki’s path entails. Odin’s path is hard enough, as it is full of sacrifice and pain in the pursuit of wisdom. Loki’s path, in a way, is harder, as it entails facing yourself, dealing with your demons, and learning to laugh despite the pain. Sigyn came along with Loki, and her path is one of compassion, loyalty, and, most importantly, self-love.

Then came Tyr, the cosmic balancer, the one who keeps the nine worlds from spinning off their axes. Balance, exchange, comprise – all of these are Tyrian traits. Freyja also showed up, and she has taught me a lot about facing up to who I am as a woman. I have a lot of masculine energy, so she, in essence, helped me learn about my own femininity and sensitivity.  Freyr also came along, and he has taught me what nobility truly means – what it means to take pride in the smallest detail of the work you do, and how to accept that there is no one and nothing beneath you when you possess true nobility.

Most recently, Mani and Ullr have begun to feature in my life. Ullr plays a pretty significant role in my life, and he has taught me much. He prizes his secrets, and he is right to do so. Mani is ethereal and elusive, and I think that he, like Ullr, doesn’t wish to be known by everyone.

With all that being said, when Odin first came into my life, I started doing research into Asatru. What I found there, originally, was interesting. I learned about the Eddas, and I read them. The lays within are beautiful, even if somewhat distorted due to having a Christian author. I also found the Nine Noble Virtues, a guideline for ethical behavior that everyone can aspire to emulate. I also found the runes, which pulled to me as nothing else ever had. All of these things were positive, and I fell in love with them.

But in Asatru, I also found things I despised. I found people who adhered so strictly to the Eddas that anything outside of them were automatically labeled “wrong.” I found reconstructionists so passionate about rebuilding old religions that they had become blind to the possibility of a living faith, a living spirituality. I found people so full of self-righteousness that I might as well have been sitting in the pew of a Southern Baptist church listening to a preacher spew sermons about hellfire and brimstone. I found intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance. I found hatred.

However, the Gods I honor are the Norse Gods. Asatru is one of the Heathen faiths dedicated to the Norse pantheon. And, although there are other Heathen traditions, all of them suffer from the same pitfalls. So, what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to reconcile myself to being part of a religious movement that was full of hatred and self-righteous anger because certain people didn’t worship their gods in the “right” ways?

These questions are questions I have been asking myself for a long time. For years, in fact. And they are the reason that I typically stick to myself, even on the internet. Because, the truth is, my beliefs don’t fit neatly into a box. They never have, and they never will.

The closest I can come to fitting a label to myself is to call myself an Eclectic Heathen. But, when I say Eclectic, I mean that I draw from multiple faiths across the Pagan spectrum rather than strictly across the Heathen spectrum. When I say Heathen, I mean that I honor the Norse deities first, and other deities second. I’m willing to honor other pantheons, if I am called to do so, but the call of the Norse pantheon will always be the one I listen for first.

I’ve heard multiple times that my beliefs in certain things aren’t “Heathen.” I’ve been told that there is no place for the elemental powers within Heathenry, which I find ridiculous. The elements are as old as the earth, so to say there is no place for the elements is to say that there is no place for the earth (which is, quite frankly, ridiculous). I have also always been drawn to magic, and I have finally found a path of magic that makes sense to me. A path that I have already started walking.

I intend to do a lot of things with my faith, as I refuse to let it stagnate. I will not be someone who insists that there is a right way of belief or only one correct way to perform a ritual. While I am a priestess of the Norse gods, I am not a priestess of Asatru or any tradition in particular. To call myself an Eclectic Heathen Priestess seems incredibly weird, even though that is technically what I am. One day, perhaps, I will have a name for what to call my path. Perhaps, when that day comes, I will be ready to share it fully with the world around me.

To be Eclectic is to choose to walk away from the other paths that are out there. It is to be brave enough to say, “These ways don’t work for me. I need to create my own,” and realize that need isn’t borne out of arrogance but out of necessity. Most people can find the faith they need already realized in one that already exists, but some of us – some of us need to construct it out of bits and pieces of the other faiths we find around us.

The Problem with Life-Denying Faiths

A woman came up to me at work the other day and started going on and on about how all of the terrible things happening around us had been predicted by the book of revelations and how the second coming was nigh. Even when I told her that her faith wasn’t my faith (and she said that was fine, to each their own and all that), she continued to go on about the book of revelations.

When I mentioned that we were destroying our planet, she dismissed that concern, essentially saying that it didn’t matter because we wouldn’t be on the planet much longer due to the second coming. That arrogance and ignorance about the world, about the planet, incensed me. I wanted to respond to her, but I was at work. And I pride myself on my professionalism, so I said nothing. Partially because of my professionalism and partially because I knew that no matter what I said, she wouldn’t listen.

And this is one of the reasons I can’t stand Christianity or other Abrahamic faiths that preach about the second coming of the messiah who will come to the earth and take everyone off of it in some glorious moment. This ridiculous illusion is what allows people to damage the earth to the extent it has become damaged.

I watched a video the other day that put the damage we, as a species, have done to the earth into a horrifyingly clear picture. According to that video, if you condensed the age of the earth down to a 24-hour day, then, proportionally, human beings have been alive for a grand total of 3 seconds. In 3 seconds, we have decimated the beauty of this world.

Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths give their followers permission to do whatever they want to the planet around them because, after all, if the messiah comes to save them in a blazing flash of glory, then it doesn’t matter what the world around them looks like. It doesn’t matter if they destroy the planet – after all, to them, heaven is the only place worth going.

There is an ugliness in a person’s willingness to destroy the beauty of the world around them, an ugliness that cannot be erased. And yet, millions of people casually destroy the world around them without a thought. Not all of them are Christians or followers of Abrahamic faiths – some of them are atheists, and some of them are just ignorant of the amazing life of the planet that surrounds them.

I went on a hiking trip earlier this year, and I have trouble with steep hikes as I have metal rods in my leg. I mentioned that I should have thought to bring a walking stick with me, as it would have helped immensely. In response, one of my companions turned to the nearest tree and started to break off part of a limb. I physically felt the pain the tree went through, and I turned around and confronted him about it. He left the limb half-broken off of the tree, and I told him if he was going to break it, then to break it cleanly. After all, a half-detached limb can’t grow back properly. I was upset for the rest of the day because of his ignorance.

While he thought he was being kind by trying to find me a walking stick, he was actually causing a tree unnecessary pain. And yes, trees can feel pain. They are living creatures, just like we are. Every living creature can feel pain. Most people go through life ignorant of this fact, so, of course, they find it easy to cut down forests or trample flowers without a single thought to the harm they are doing.

We live in an interconnected world – all living beings are part of this immense web of life, in this biosphere. To forget that, to forsake that, is to blind yourself to the beauty of the world around you.

Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths teach an ignorance of this. They teach that humans are meant to hold dominion over the earth, over the other animals that reside here. That we are supposedly the masters of the planet.

That is a load of crap. We are masters of nothing except our own beings. So many people fail to respect the earth and the lives that reside within the earth, it is no wonder so many animals are going extinct, hunted for their fur or their tusks or their meat. It is no wonder our oceans are being filled to the brim with plastic garbage. Until we start taking responsibility, each and every one of us, for the harm we have been doing to the planet, and taking steps to correct that harm, then the earth will continue to slowly strangle under the weight of our presence.

If I had to choose one thing that ties me to Paganism, one thing that will always tie me to Paganism, it is the love I hold for the earth we live on. The earth is ancient, and it thrives with life. To ignore the wisdom of the earth is ignorance in its highest iteration. I refuse to be ignorant. I refuse to live a life waiting for some messiah to come and save me. Instead, I embrace the Old Ways, the ways that honor and cherish the life of the earth and all of the life found within it. For my faith is a life-affirming faith, and I will not deny it.