Many Vs. One – Crucial Paradigms

I had a conversation with a Christian today that didn’t devolve into an argument. I understand enough about Christianity and monotheism in general that I understand that the gods within those systems tend to work with a supremacy clause – either:I am the only god in existence” or “I am the only god worthy of worship” or a combination of the two. For all the Abrahamic faiths, I’d say it’s generally a combination.

Anyway, she was attempting to understand my views and beliefs – after telling me that she didn’t view my religion as a religion at all – which is such a knee-jerk, commonplace reaction that I no longer get angry, but I still roll my eyes at it (if I got angry every time it happened, I’d be perpetually angry, and, as I said to a friend recently, I refuse to invest in anger). She said that she understood that people used to believe in there being gods for everything, that they saw the moon as a god, the sun as a god, the wind as a god, etc. And I give her credit – she was trying so hard to understand, but she was doing so from a monotheistic worldview.

Polytheism is difficult, at best, for even us, as polytheists, to articulate. Because it comes in so many flavors, so many varieties – for some polytheists, maybe the moon is a god. For some of us, there are multiple gods who are associated and/or responsible for the moon. For others, there may only be a single moon god – who knows? The possibilities, the varieties, are endless. To explain those varieties to a monotheist who clings to the Bible as the literal truth (that was expressed during the conversation) is virtually impossible.

The most interesting part of the conversation, however, happened when she asked about the concept of sin. And I tried to explain that sin doesn’t really exist – I mean, there are technically two “sins” in the Norse framework (oath-breaking and kin-killing), but there is no concept of humanity being inherently flawed. I’m not sure that there is a concept of sin at all in the Hellenistic world – I think the closest one comes is in accumulating an overabundance of miasma, but that can be cleansed. And I honestly just don’t know if the concept of sin exists outside of Abrahamic religions at all – which made that a difficult topic. I guess it’s an area I need to do more research in, so that when Christians ask that question, I can properly answer it. I just wasn’t expecting such an in-depth inquiry.

And then we got to a question that illustrates one of the fundamental differences between Abrahamic faiths and polytheistic faiths. She asked, “So what do your gods tell you to do?” Like she expected me to list out a set of edicts and commands that the gods had set forth to be followed. Maybe the gods of monotheism want their followers to do everything to the letter, to be perfect little soldiers, but those aren’t the gods I know. And I wouldn’t – and don’t – follow gods that demand perfect obedience from me.

The gods I honor have never demanded perfect obedience from me. In fact, they have never demanded my loyalty, my friendship, or the sacrifices I make for them. Everything I have done for the gods – and continue to do for them – is done because I made a choice. Odin didn’t ask me to swear an oath to him, to become one of his warriors – he made an offer, and I accepted it. I swore fealty to him on my own, bound myself to him of my own volition. It was never a command.

I didn’t become Loki’s priest because he commanded me to do so. He asked me if I wanted to do it, and I chose. I stepped into the opportunity he offered – I made the decision on my own. I was never forced into the position. Loki would never force anyone into anything – that’s just not who he is.

I have never done anything for the gods I call friends, whom I honor with my offerings, prayers, libations, and rituals, against my will. I have never been presented with an ultimatum from any of them. I have been offered hard choices, and I have always been told that the path I choose to walk is my own.

Perhaps, in this, my Celtic ancestry shows through. I am loyal to the gods who have never attempted to command it, in the same way Celtic warriors were loyal only to the men who proved themselves worthy of the title of warlord. Those men never demanded loyalty from their warriors – they simply earned it. That reflects the way that I have come to know the Norse gods. I’m not loyal to them because they demand it – I am loyal to them because they have inspired me to it.

But to explain that to a Christian who views the Bible as the literal truth, other religions (and therefore other gods) as falsehoods, and cannot envision a god who doesn’t command – well, there’s the crux of the problem. We don’t have gods who lead us through our lives with laid-out commands or promise us impossible rewards. We have gods who will throw us out of nests to teach us to fly and show us that the benefits in life can be reaped only after the ordeals we endure.

To be a polytheist is to embrace a multitude of experience, of perspectives, and of the way life itself is lived. Monotheists can’t think that way – their religions promote a singular truth, a single perspective, a single experience. Tunnel vision is a problem only monotheists have – there’s truth to the statement that polytheism can easily incorporate monotheism, but monotheism leaves no room for anything but itself. Because of that, finding acceptance in the monotheistic society we live within may prove to be close to impossible, but that’s one battle I refuse to stop fighting. That’s the mistake the polytheists of old made, and it’s one I won’t repeat – our polytheistic religions are valid. And I will not back down from any monotheist who tries to convince me that I am somehow less human than them because I’m not like them. If there’s any cause in the world I’ll raise a banner for, it’s for polytheists.

 

“Understanding Loki” Book Update

I mentioned in October 2015 that I am working on a book for Loki. The working title is “Understanding Loki,” and I am 1/4th of the way through it. There are four sections. The first deals with understanding Loki through the runes in His name, the second deals with understanding Loki through His role in the myths, the third deals with four of His major aspects, and the fourth section deals with what my experience has been like walking Loki’s path and, hopefully, will also include what others have experienced while walking Loki’s path.

I know a couple of people have mentioned to me that they are interested in contributing to the book, and I have put together an interview for those who would like to contribute but aren’t really sure what to write about. This format does NOT have to be used – others may contribute however they wish, but I thought a generalized structure might be helpful.

Here is the interview:

  1. How were you introduced to Loki?
  2. What symbols do you associate with Loki, if any? (I.e. plants, animals, colors, etc.)
  3. What kind of offerings do you provide Loki, and how do you communicate with him?
  4. What other deities do you work with and how are those relationships impacted by your dealings with Loki?
  5. What have you learned about yourself and your faith through working with Loki?
  6. What has been the most difficult part about working with Loki?
  7. What has been the most rewarding thing in your relationship with Loki?
  8. What advice would you give to those interested in starting a relationship with Loki?
  9. Please share a particular experience or encounter you have had with Loki.

Anyone who contributes will receive a free version of the book as well as have the opportunity to proofread and offer suggested edits to the original manuscript. If you are interested, please email me your submission (and none will be rejected!) at kyaza18@gmail.com

 

Loki’s Stave and Facebook Group

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Loki’s Stave 

Dagulf Loptson

*

Listen to the words of the closer, the blazing one,

I who have borne witness to human evolution

since man first claimed my power.

 *

You have no cause to fear me, for I am already within you.

I speak to you from the depths of your intellect,

I call to you from your secret desires,

I sleep within the blood in your veins.

 *

My voice is in the crackle of the flame,

and the laughter of the innocent,

and the hiss of the serpent.

 *

I am the bright companion of thunder,

and I strike with inspiration.

I am the spark of genius that drives you towards greatness;

To abandon me is to embrace the darkness of ignorance.

 *

I am an all-consuming pleasure

that reddens your flesh with my embrace;

I give you the color of gods

so you’ll remember that you are divine.

 *

I excite your nerves and heighten your senses,

Driving you toward divine madness and the bliss of chaos.

To love me is to be consumed by me on a holy pyre,

where I devour your repose, to give you rebirth.

 *

I am the vulture who strips away that which is putrid

and makes bones white and new.

I am the dark brother who illuminates,

I am the wise fool who knows all and believes nothing.

 *

I am the rising star Sirius

who walks upon the bridge of heaven:

The harbinger of life and the harbinger of death.

I am the space between boundaries

who belongs everywhere and nowhere.

I am the spider in the web

and master of my own fate.

 *

I am the battler of gatekeepers,

for I know that all boundaries are illusions.

I end the world to prove there are no endings.

There can be no lies if there is no truth.

 *

I am the father of the broken.

I am the mother of the monstrous.

I comfort my children with the warmth

and avenge them with my flames;

for I know what it means to suffer.

 *

I am the primordial serpent

Who writhes in the abyss.

To conquer me is to win the wyrm’s hoard:

gleaming gold, which is the fire of knowledge.

 *

I am the father of witches

and the master of molding and shaping;

place crude metal in my forge

and I will give you treasure in return.

 *

If you understand nothing else,

remember this secret:

To know me is to know yourself

And to know yourself is to know my ecstasy.

 


I’ve created a  facebook group for those who are interested in discussing Loki and the Lokean path. It is also meant for Pagans/Heathens who are on the fringes of the mainstream community. Feel free to join and download your own copy of the “Loki’s Stave” poem with some nifty formatting.

Loki apparently wants more publicity, so we might as well give it to Him. 😉

As for the formatting of this page, it’s either WordPress being a pain or Loki just having some fun.

Priesthood, Change, and Differences

I’m hugging the line that runs between doubt and self-confidence because I think I feel ready to take on the burden of responsibility that being priest to the Gods entails. I have the rationale to know that I understand enough to impart the wisdom of the Gods to those who need help hearing Them, but I am also fearful that I will misrepresent one of the Gods or not make the messages clear enough. I think that is part and parcel of the responsibility  I’ve decided to carry.

There are those who will criticize me for even daring to refer to myself as a priest (if I’m being P.C. priestess, but priest has always sounded like a gender-neutral word to me, so I’m going to use priest instead). They will criticize me because I am not part of a kindred, I didn’t go through a traditional apprenticeship, and I’m not very involved in the larger Pagan community because of where I currently live. There will be those who say that a priest is granted the power to impart the wisdom of the Gods by the community around them, but I disagree. The power to impart the wisdom of the Gods is granted by the Gods Themselves.

Now, I will agree that it is far easier for those already part of a community to be seen as more of an authority figure than someone who is on the fringes of that community. I will agree with that only insofar as the central community goes. But the people on the fringes of a community see the parts of the community where the rifts really exist, while those in the community who sit in its center can ignore the needs of the ones that just barely fall within the lines of that community.

That’s where I fall. It’s not that I don’t care about the central Pagan and Heathen communities; it’s that the central communities already have the authorities they need. There are High Priests/Priestesses and Godhi/Godha within the central communities doing wonderful work. The resources are plentiful.

But out here on the fringe where solitaries hang out, where Lokeans tend to gather, where those who just don’t seem to fit anywhere else, there are precious few resources available. Every time I find a new book on Loki, I devour it because there are so few. I can barely think of five books that do Loki justice, and I know there are hundreds of Lokeans out there who have to bear the same frustrations that I do.

Even in a community that is supposed to be inclusive – the Pagan community as a whole – there are outsiders. People whose beliefs just don’t quite mesh with the rest. And I’m no exception to that. In fact, when it comes to being someone who doesn’t quite mesh, I’d say I could be the poster-girl.

I’m an aggressive woman with next to no ability to be submissive – I chafe under the hierarchies imposed upon me because I hate being told what to do. I’m pansexual, though I usually stick to the bisexual identifier when people ask because most people at least understand what that means. I spent my years from 12 – 22 being an eclectic Pagan before I came to Heathenry, and I am now 28. I’ve never sought out a coven, never belonged to a kindred, and I’ve never felt the need to seek a teacher. The only teachers I’ve ever had, in regards to my faith, are the books I’ve read and the wisdom the Gods themselves have imparted to me.

I have everything I need to be a priest to the Gods, but I can’t say for certain that I have everything I need to be a good one. I will always strive to be the best that it is possible for me to be, and hope that I won’t be found lacking. There will be those who say that I lack the fundamental aspect of priesthood – a community to preach to. But I don’t think that matters as much as others like to say it does.

The primary responsibility of being a priest is to be a living example of the wisdom that the Gods choose to impart. There is the responsibility to be a voice among all the other voices saying, “This path, too, is valid.” Not better, not preferred, but valid. To be able to stand up and tell other solitary Pagans, especially solitary Heathens, that it is okay to be solitary. That it isn’t necessary to be part of a community to walk with the Gods. That it’s okay to believe differently than the people around you.

I don’t need to be a priest for the mainstream Pagan community; there are enough there already. I’m interested in the fringe groups, the people who have been told that the way they worship is wrong, that the practices they indulge in aren’t acceptable within their faith, that the Gods they honor can’t be honored at communal events. These are the people who are the dearest to me because these are the only people who can cause change.

My soul is sworn to Odin, but my heart is sworn to Loki. The relationship between Odin and Loki is so grossly misunderstood that correcting those misconceptions will take many lifetimes. Especially when there are Heathens out there equating Loki with Satan and trying to banish Him from community events. Where Loki is banished, nothing can change. Nothing new can occur. Loki is where change comes from. He is where hamingja comes from. I’ve discussed hamingja before, so I won’t go into it here, but Loki’s role is pivotal.

The problem we currently face on the fringes of Paganism and Heathenry is the stagnation of it. There are a lot of people who start down Pagan pathways only to turn back to Christianity a few years later because Paganism is too hard a faith to follow. We have to acknowledge that we live in a society that values convenience over conscience, and we live in a world where self-accountability has become all but obsolete.

Introductory Paganism books fail to disclose to the readers that Pagan paths require a huge sacrifice from the start. I’m not talking about sacrifices to the Gods; those are different. No, what I am talking about is the sacrifice that comes when you have to give up the concept of finding an easy faith to follow. The sacrifice that comes from accepting that the only person that can be held accountable for the actions you make is yourself. That’s a huge sacrifice in a world that is more interested in placing blame than accepting responsibility. There is little wonder that people turn away from Paganism when they realize that easy answers can’t be found.

That’s just one of the problems, and that is a problem those in the more central Pagan communities need to address. What I need to address – what the fringe groups need to address – is our lack of contribution. I don’t mean getting involved in the bigger groups – I mean individual contribution.

There are thousands of solitary practitioners, but few of us lend a voice to the debates going on in the mainstream Pagan community. And why should we? Those debates, in the end, don’t matter to us. After all, we’re solitary, so we do things our own way. That’s the mentality I’m talking about.

Because most of us aren’t disinterested in the bigger issues. Most of us would love to lend a voice, but we’ve been shot down and ignored and told that what we believe is wrong so often that we just tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter. We sit back and we let the mainstream communities tell us that the way we practice is wrong, that we can’t call ourselves certain things because we don’t meet certain requirements. And, instead of arguing with the force of the mainstream, we withdraw from the arguments entirely. We say that we don’t want to deal with the drama.

But that isn’t really true. What we don’t want to deal with is the emotional fallout. We don’t want to be told, over and over and over that our beliefs are wrong. We don’t want to be forced to question our own beliefs because the mainstream disagrees with the way we do things. So we just keep our beliefs and practices to ourselves because we can at least avoid a fight that way. We can keep ourselves from feeling belittled and we can keep from getting hurt.

And that’s fine – no one wants to be hurt. No one likes to to be told that what they believe is invalid. But the truth is, none of us want to truly BE solitary. We want other people to understand what we believe and have them be okay with it. We don’t need covens. We don’t need kindreds. All we need is the acceptance of our differences.

As a Lokean, I know how tiresome it is to get on a discussion board and find the threads discussing how Loki isn’t really a God after all, and it’s irksome to read through the posts because they are so disrespectful towards Loki without understanding His character at all. It’s enough to make me want to punch someone, so I understand the desire to stay away from the mainstream.

At the same time, however, if we keep allowing others to tell us that our beliefs are wrong, and we just withdraw, aren’t we letting them win? Aren’t we telling them that they’re right, after all, and our beliefs aren’t as valid as theirs? I know Loki wouldn’t stand by if someone was treating Him that way – He does not tolerate disrespect. That’s shown, quite clearly, in the Lokasenna, where he intrudes on a feast He wasn’t invited to (and it’s clear that He should have been offered an invitation) and makes everyone pay for the slight by mocking them intensely.

Now, I’m not saying that we should all go out and start mocking those who insult us, but I am saying that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so easily defeated. Why do we let other people make us feel bad about the way we honor the Gods? The Gods don’t care how we honor Them – most of Them don’t even care if we honor Them. If the Gods don’t care, then why do we allow ourselves to become complacent in defending the way we choose to believe and live?

The people on the fringes of any community are the backbone of the community. We’re the ones who forge new tools, who create new paths. We’re the ones who know how to look at things differently. It is our responsibility to develop the true potential of the Pagan and Heathen communities. The mainstream can’t do it – they’ve become too blinded by their need to criticize the way we believe to see that we are the lungs of the community.

So, going back to what I said before – I’m ready to assume the mantle of priesthood. All I can do is impart the wisdom the Gods give me to share; it is your decision how you use that knowledge. The truth is, I’m only the catalyst, the one that carries the messages. If my help is needed, then I offer that freely. I’m not going to try to force anyone to see me as an authority figure; my purpose in life is to guide, not to coerce. I will ask hard questions, and I will raise issues that are difficult to address, but no one ever has to agree with me. I respect differences. In fact, I encourage them.

Doubts and Limits

I have this awareness that people see me as more confident and assured than I actually am, and I often wonder how it is that I can be so anxious internally and yet seem so confident to the people around me.

The truth is, I’m plagued by doubt. If there was a doubting disorder, I would have it. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be skeptical (I feel that falls more in the domain of atheism). I don’t have trouble believing that the gods exist – I can feel Them. No, my doubts center around whether I’m honoring the gods correctly and if I’m imparting the right messages to the right people.

Part of that worry – the “is it okay to do this in order to honor the gods?” is, admittedly, leftover from growing up in a Southern Baptist household. Part of it, therefore, is the remnant of fear of punishment for getting things wrong. That fear, however, is compounded by the fact that I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent and have to fight a daily battle not to succumb to the double-bind type of thinking that I never knew I was doing until I was in my 20s.

A double-bind, for those who don’t know, is a situation where the only choices you can make are bad ones (both outcomes are terrible) and having to still choose one of them. Double-bind thinking is always seeing things from the perspective of having to choose the lesser of two evils. Because of the way I grew up, I learned that no matter what choice I made – even when the choice, in a typical household, would be a good choice with a good outcome – I never won.

An example that comes to mind is my mother’s reactions to my grades. In general, I’m a straight A student because I love learning, so doing well in classes reflects one of my passions more than it does anything else (I could go on about how I think grades are incredibly limiting, but I digress). Anyway, I came home one day (I was in 4th or 5th grade) and I had an A- in a subject. Instead of being happy that I had an A of any type, my mom thought it was better to lecture me for two hours so that she could tell me how disappointed she was that I didn’t make an A+.

Most people can see how harmful that would be to a child – I took it at face value, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have maladaptive perfectionism. I also have ADHD, and with the combination of the two, my frustration level is incredibly low. I have to work incredibly hard to keep myself from being irritated by the little imperfections that are part and parcel of everyday life.

Because of that, I love structured systems. I love grammar and I love math because the structure is always there. Sure, both of those structures are complex, but both systems are very, very efficient. In everyday life, an appreciation of systems is fine. When it comes to religion, however, it is much more difficult to find a system that is both adaptive and rigid the way that the systems of math and grammar are both adaptive and rigid.

That’s one of the largest reasons that I’m a polytheist, although to describe it that way makes me sound like a nerd (which, okay, I readily admit to  – I’m currently wearing a Hogwarts shirt with the logos of all four houses because it’s awesome). But monotheism is too rigid for me – one god with all these rules that have to be obeyed or be punished forever more in an eternal hell of fire and damnation (I’d like to point out to any Christians who read my blog that I live in a Southern Baptist bible belt, so that’s not an exaggeration of the attitudes of the Christians around here). Aside from the rigidity, the system is tyrannical – do it my way or else – and I’ve no need to return to the mental anguish that my mother’s insane expectations inflicted upon me.

Generic Paganism, on the other hand, is far too flexible. Anything goes, and there’s only one rule (generally pulled from Wicca, as most mainstream Pagans are Wiccans) – harm no one. Okay, how would you like me to go about making sure I don’t hurt anyone? What about situations where I have to hurt someone in order to help them? Doesn’t that invalidate the rule? If you say there are exceptions, then it’s not a rule – it’s a guideline. And guidelines are great, but using only “harm none” and “the threefold law” as guidelines isn’t rigid enough. There are too many questions those guidelines don’t answer.

Also, generic Paganism embraces all pantheons of Gods, and there are plenty of Pagans out there who mix pantheons and worship the Greek Gods alongside the Norse Gods. And that’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with that. But say something happens where it’s obvious that a harvest god/goddess has intervened – how do you know for sure whether it’s Demeter or Freyr? If it isn’t the one that you have assumed it to be, will they get offended? Will the one that actually helped stop stepping in because they are offended that you didn’t recognize their hand?

Yes, these are the kinds of things that I worry about. That’s why I primarily stick to the Norse Gods. I’m not adverse to gods from other pantheons; I would just really need to be able to distinguish their auras in order to feel comfortable honoring them. For example, Thor has a very particular energy that I could never confuse with, say, the aura of Hercules even though they are both gods of strength.

However, I am fully comfortable with the aura of Hercules because I grew up watching tons of shows about him. Still, I don’t honor him the same way I do Thor – Thor is the protector of the Norse Gods; in that sense, He deserves my loyalty, as the Norse Gods are my Gods. Perhaps making that distinction is unnecessary, but I am a fiercely loyal person.

We all have friends that we share everything with and friends that we just sorta talk to when they are around (and don’t really hang out with). I am fiercely loyal to the people I share everything with, but I can’t offer the same strength of loyalty to those people who are my friends but not my confidants. For me, that is the major difference between the Norse pantheon and other pantheons. Gods from other pantheons are interesting, but the Norse Gods have my undivided loyalty.

And, of course, the reason for that loyalty I have mentioned before – the Norse Gods came to me and essentially pulled me onto their path. When I discovered that Asatru existed, I was fascinated by two things – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” Asatru was my first exposure to Heathenry, but I don’t think I can claim to be a proper Asatruar because I’m not a reconstructionist.

With my love of systems, I’m sure there are those who find it ironic that I’m not a reconstructionist, but I find the reconstructionist system seriously flawed. For many, many reasons, of course, but the major ones are that 1) Truly recreating an ancient faith is impossible without having the exact environment that existed in the time period when it was practiced, and 2) Reconstructionism ignores the evolution of spirituality because practices like prayer, meditation, and anything that falls out of the blot/sumbel format is often rejected as inadequate forms of worship. Essentially, reconstructionism is too rigid a system.

I will call myself Asatru and Heathen as I see fit, however, because Asatru literally means, “true to the Aesir.” And that is true of me – I am loyal to the Aesir. I am also loyal to the Vanir. As a note, Loki is part of the Aesir, although there are a lot of Heathens who would argue that point. Odin and Loki are brothers-by-blood-oath – there is no stronger bond than that.

What I like about Heathenry are the two things I first discovered in Asatru – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” The Nine Noble Virtues are guidelines that create a solid foundation of living. Instead of being told “if it harm none, do what ye will,” there is a code of honor. To act with courage, to preserve through the hard times, to be hospitable even when it hurts, to be disciplined in action, etc. These are guidelines that work. They aren’t easy to adhere to, but there is no punishment for failing to meet them (except self-flagellation, which we all engage in from time-to-time, despite how terrible it makes us feel when we beat ourselves up). On top of that, we are defined by what we do; we are held accountable for our actions.

In Heathenry, I found a medium between rigidity and adaptability that is beautiful. There are consequences to my actions, and the only person responsible for those actions is the one living inside my skin. But there is no external torment waiting for me should I fail – I can recover from my failures and come back stronger than I was before. I can change without feeling like I’m doing something wrong because I’m not behaving perfectly according to some set of commandments. I don’t feel like I’m floundering because I have the virtues to guide me when I find myself confused.

So, even though I still have doubts sometimes when I go to make offerings – the type of doubts that ask “Am I doing this right? Will this God be mad that I’m not offering something better? Will this offering even be accepted?” – I know that my doubts aren’t about whether the Gods exist. That hasn’t been a question in my mind in many, many years. My doubts are about whether or not the path I’m walking is the right one and whether what I’m doing for the Gods is good enough. Perhaps I’ll always be plagued by doubts about not being perfect, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be perfect, and I’ve started to accept that.

That’s why I have such a hard time with Heathen traditions that insist the only correct path is reconstructionism or, conversely, that only hard polytheists should be allowed within certain traditions. Where does the lore say that believers must conform to certain practices? Where in the Nine Noble Virtues or in the creed “We are our deeds,” can you find a guideline that says only reconstructionists or hard polytheists should be allowed to worship the Gods? Don’t you guys get it yet? The Gods don’t care about the shit we make up to fight about. They’re too busy with their own problems.

I read an interesting article a few weeks ago about how Heathenry is Godless in some ways because there are many Heathens who have never even felt the presence of one of the Gods. The point being made in that article (I wish I had saved it to share the link) was that Heathenry is Godless because Heathens make it more about research than devotion. Heathens make it more about scholarly pursuits and academia and science than about the Gods themselves. And, because of that, it was no wonder that Heathens had trouble connecting to the Gods.

The author had a good point, and, to add to that: if you want to connect with a God, you have to connect with a God. You can’t just do research and hope to understand the ideas behind a God. The Gods aren’t just ideas and concepts on paper. They are real, breathing entities with emotions and desires of Their own, each more complex than a human being (and we’re pretty damn complicated). Trying to convey the essence of a God on paper – no, trying to understand the essence of a God through the written word – is impossible. Why do you think so many Christians have such a limited understanding of their own God? The answer is simple – they rely too heavily on the written word and too little on the spiritual connection.

So work on connecting more and worry about the how less. The best way to connect to the Gods is to learn to see them as people. Read the stories as if the Gods you are reading about are standing beside you telling you Their own version of things. Use your imagination. The Gods can connect to us through any path we choose to receive them. They are limitless. And, as learned earlier today in Calculus, it’s impossible to limit the unlimitless.

What Sigyn Has Taught Me

Sigyn is perhaps the most understated Goddess in the Norse pantheon. In the Eddas, the only appearance She makes is in the story of Loki’s binding. She holds a bowl to catch the venom that drips from the snake above Him, doing Her best to ease His suffering.

I’ve read articles that describe Sigyn as a passive Goddess and as the embodiment of the traditional wife. I’ve seen Her discussed as someone worthy of disrespect because She stays with Loki despite all of His flaws, despite all of His cheating. That people are so quick to judge the relationship They share by the one mention of Her in the Eddas has always bothered me.

Sigyn isn’t passive, and I wouldn’t say She’s a traditional wife in any sense. She can’t be – look at who She’s married to. Loki would get bored very quickly if Sigyn fit the mold of the traditional wife, but Their relationship is still very solid.

I think what confuses people is the fact that Loki has a lot of godspouses – perhaps more than any other Norse God. People look at that fact and think that means that Sigyn is clueless, that He’s just cheating on her to have a good time.

But that’s because most people don’t approach Sigyn. They don’t try to get to know Her at all. She’s just a minor Goddess, so why does it matter? Even most of the Lokean godspouses I’ve met don’t seem to want to deal with Her – perhaps they are afraid that She would disapprove of them. I don’t know.

What I do know is what Sigyn is like. She’s fiercely loyal to Loki, but She isn’t unreasonably loyal. Though there are those who assume that, since She is the only one who comforted Loki when He was bound.

According to the stories, Loki was bound after His altercation with Baldur. If everyone loved Baldur, then why did Sigyn stay by Loki’s side after He helped orchestra the death of one of the most loved Gods of Asgard?

The most common answer I’ve seen to this question is that Sigyn stayed because She was duty bound to stay by Her husband’s side. And I hate that answer because it assumes that She took on the role of a mindless woman who was so in love with Her husband that She couldn’t see past His horrible act.

If there’s one thing Sigyn isn’t, it’s naive. She knows exactly where Loki goes when He leaves Her alone. She knows all about the godspouses He collects. So, instead of assuming She took on a passive role in the aftermath of Baldur’s death, perhaps the truth is that Sigyn knew exactly what Loki was planning on doing. She knew the reason for Loki’s actions, and She chose to stand by Him because She supported Him and the reasons He gave Her.

It gets under my skin, the way people assume that Sigyn is naive, and I suppose it makes sense that it does. She is the Goddess who understands me best, and the one who helps me understand Loki when His actions don’t make sense to me.

Sigyn is patient, kind, and loyal – but She’s not naive, stupid, or clueless. She has enough faith in the love that She shares with Loki to know that He will always come back to Her, no matter how many godspouses He collects. She knows that He needs His freedom, and, in Her love for Him, she gives Him the freedom to be exactly who He is.

Out of all the lessons Sigyn has ever taught me, that lesson is, perhaps, the most beautiful of them all. She has taught me that love can take on many forms, and that the relationship between lovers depends on their ability to grant one another the freedom to be completely and totally themselves.

So yes, Sigyn knows that Loki has many godspouses, and I’ve discussed it with Her many times – how She can handle knowing that He is out there, forming relationships with so many who aren’t Her. I think the best way that I can sum up what She has said is that while there may be many dalliances along the way, and many broken hearts, there’s only one person who can ever love Loki the way He needs to be loved – with complete and total acceptance of His inability to be tied down to anyone.

By refusing to restrict Him, Sigyn guarantees that Loki will always be loyal to Her – not in the ways of the flesh, perhaps, but in all the ways that matter most. There is no one that Loki trusts more deeply than Sigyn, and, for the trust Loki puts in Her, Sigyn returns that trust with deep loyalty to Him.

While others see Sigyn as a tragic figure – a lonely wife forced to spend a lifetime by the side of Her criminal husband, in lieu of living Her own life – that isn’t how She ever comes across. She has nothing but pride in Her husband, but She doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that Loki’s personality can be hard to handle. The truth is, Sigyn doesn’t love Loki despite His flaws – She loves Him because of His flaws. And that is why, to me, the relationship They share with one another is a beautiful one.

And, even today, when I was making sugar cookies for Her (I don’t know why She wanted sugar cookies, but She did), Loki was hovering and messing around with things, so it ended up taking thirty minutes to bake a ten minute batch of cookies. But Sigyn didn’t get upset or exasperated – and She didn’t seem resigned, either. Her mood was more along the lines of “Yes, husband, I know you like to play with fire, and I like to watch you, so mess around for a bit and get enough of it out of your system for me to have my cookies, then you can play some more and I’ll watch you with cookies in hand.”

That kind of freedom in a relationship is almost impossible to find, and it comes so naturally to the two of Them. I’ve mentioned that I worldwalk before, and I spend a lot of time visiting with Sigyn. Watching Her interact with Loki when He’s there (and it’s not all that often) is incredible. I don’t even have the words to explain how flawlessly synchronized the two of Them are.  Some nights, They don’t even speak to each other, but They are never, ever, out of step.

Difficult Dreams

I’ve talked before about the fact that I do a lot of dreamwalking. That process isn’t always within my control – sometimes one of the Gods seizes control of my dreams and sends me to weird places. When that happens, I often have trouble interpreting what message it is that the deity in question is trying to get across to me.

The Norse Gods are like raging storms of power, no matter which deity we’re talking about, so having my dreams seized by one of Them always leaves me exhausted and pretty much worthless the next day. I’ve mentioned before that the Norse Gods found me rather than the other way around when I started on this path.

I may not have been 100% clear on how that happened. I’ve mentioned the dream I had that featured the Valknut (thus, Odin taking control of the dream), but I’ve never discussed how violent that dream actually was. In the dream, I was me but a past reincarnation of myself (Odin’s dreams with me almost always deal with my past lives). In the dream, I was a male, a father of three boys, and I was in a Viking-style longboat. My sons were with me. A violent wave crashed over the boat, and one of my kids fell into the water. Even though I couldn’t swim and was terrified of drowning, I immediately jumped into the water and managed somehow to save my son – at the expense of my own life. When I looked up from the water (I didn’t experience the sensation of actual drowning in the dream), there were three longboats above the water somehow (impossibly, but still somehow) positioned in the shape of the Valknut.

The last dream I had where Odin took control was also another dream dealing with a past live – in this one, I was also a man. I was an ancient Sumerian warrior, a leader of one of the armies. In this one, Odin was actually physically present, although I have to say that his outfit was one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen. He was on Sleipnir the whole time, but he was wearing a red and white checkered bandanna over his blind eye. In the dream, my army had just captured an enemy city, and we were standing on the top of a fortress wall. I gave orders to kill everyone in the enemy army, and then civilians were brought up and asked a series of questions that determined whether or not they were allowed to live. It was brutal, and I had no mercy in me.

Now, as violent as these dreams are, I can process them and understand them because Odin’s messages are almost always about my past lives. When they aren’t, then the dream consists of both Odin and Loki, and Loki communicates with me without any trouble. There’s no interpretation to be done – He’s very straightforward. So, in those dreams, Loki essentially acts as a translator of sorts. Or I will hear a conversation between Odin and Loki that is in actuality a message intended for me.

When Freyja wants to communicate with me, She does so from deep within my psyche. She directly connects to that, and She uses the empathic language I understand (being a natural born empath) to communicate Her message through feelings. I can then interpret those feelings into words and understand what She needs me to know.

Lately, though, I’ve been having dreams that involve Hela. While I have a great deal of respect for Her, as I do all of Loki’s children, I don’t follow Her path, and I don’t make regular offerings to Her. Despite that, my dreams recently have been plagued with Her presence in subtle ways that I can’t quite seem to grasp. I don’t know if that She’s just too different from me, or what, but it is supremely frustrating to know that She is trying to communicate with me and not being able to comprehend the message She is trying to send.

There are little hints of death in a great deal of my dreams lately, but there are two dreams that stick out to me because they are the ones where I felt Her most clearly. In the first, I witnessed the head of a female woman with black hair and ivory pale skin roll down a pile of bones – the head wasn’t attached to a body. That’s all that dream was.

In the second dream, I was standing in the middle of a city covered in an ashen winter – it was cold, but the snow on the ground was volcanic ash. Hela stood in front of me. The reason I knew it was Her was because I could only make out half of Her body – the other half distorted every time I tried to bring it into focus. And I couldn’t help trying to bring it into focus – the dead half of Hela seems to both attract and repel at the same time, and I found that rather intriguing. Anyway, before She could talk to me and tell me what it is that she needed from me, grotesque grey creatures with very slinky limbs (able to contort in disturbing ways) with greedy eyes and mouths full of terrifyingly sharp fangs started to swarm up from the sides of the street, and the connection was lost.

I’ve never felt so frustrated about being unable to communicate properly with a deity before – even the deities whose paths I don’t walk, like Thor, sometimes communicate to me in my dreams. Although Thor only does so begrudgingly, to be fair.

If anyone has insight into this, that would be awesome, but I mostly wanted to share this because I feel like it’s important that those people who aren’t Gods-touched know that those of us who are Gods-touched can have difficulty communicating with the Gods. That’s mostly because we’re human, and the Gods are divine beings.

While every human has a spark of the divine in them, lights can be bright and lights can be dim. I’d say that being Gods-touched is being like a bright light, allowing the Gods to find the connection with more ease. The problem, however, is that the Gods aren’t the only non-human entity that divine sparks can draw. That’s why a lot of those who are Gods-touched end up drawing away from any/all spiritual paths – for fear of being driven crazy by hostile entities.

 

Update on the Heathen School 

I was really excited about the adaptiveU platform for hosting a school, but it’s incredibly difficult to work with. I’m good with software (not with hardware, though – don’t ask me to build you a computer) and can generally figure out how a program works within 10 – 20 minutes.

Working with the platform was really frustrating – not because it was hard to navigate. No, the platform is really easy to navigate. The problem is that it doesn’t save anything properly, so there are obviously glitches in the programming that need to be sussed out.

I am still creating a school – I’m just using a different platform – rcampus. It has an incredibly old school internet feel, which I absolutely love. I thought I’d hate it, but I actually find myself enjoying seeing the internet the way it used to look way back in the 90s. A bit of retro with the modern age is pretty cool.

Anyway, this platform works differently because I have to fully create a course before I can publish it. Once I finish writing this course (I’m maybe halfway through it – it’s an introductory course), I’ll share the link and the access code.

Winter Nights

This is Winter Nights. For those unfamiliar with heathen holidays, this is the day we honor Freyja and the disir. The disir are a group of semi-goddesses and figuring out what role they play in the grander scheme of things is rather complicated. There are theories out there that say that disir are female ancestral spirits and there are theories that paint the disir as being more important than wights but less important than goddesses. The only real etymological clue is that the prefix “dis” means goddess. Since Freyja is considered the Dis of the Vanir, or the Grand Dis, I’m going to keep it simple and say that the disir are lesser goddesses. Not lesser in terms of importance but in how much influence they have in day-to-day things.

Freyja, of course, has quite a large impact on day-to-day things, as she is the goddess of love, beauty, sex, and magic. Through her, I have learned some of the darker aspects of the runes, and she has shown me how to accept the more feminine side of myself, which, before her, I had trouble doing. To honor her this night, I am burning a dragonfruit scented candle, and, of course, writing this entry. I don’t stick to the traditional format of blots or rituals – instead, I do what feels instinctively right.

With that being said, I did find an image of Freyja and a poem I want to share, both from external sources, that I thought were remarkable. The picture I found shows Freyja the way I always see her, and the poem describes, for me, some of the strength she helped me to find. The image came from the Modern Heathen website (I found it through google, however, so I don’t have a direct link), and the poem came from the Odin’s Gift website here. Enjoy!

freyja

The First Lesson by Maris Pái

The first lesson, She said, is to look at the path before you:
None of this eyes-downcast fear.  No more stomach-clenched dread
Of all the things you don’t and can’t know.  Because, Little One,
all the things you don’t and can’t know are legion and I will not
have one of my own flinching at shadows.  Look at your path
and do not cower.  Square your shoulders and
lift your chin.  Have you not realized your own strength by now?

There are as many paths to the Tree as there are stars in the sky:
It matters less which you choose than that you have chosen
and been chosen and that you continue to choose
to put one foot in front of the other and walk the road ahead of you.
Sometimes you will walk on razor-blades, each step an agonized trudge
and sometimes you will run, eager to reach that which lies ahead, or
eager again to flee that which came before.  The dragons you do not slay
may chase you down later and find you unguarded: better to face them
the first time and not be tripped up later and find that the smoke ahead
is not a friendly bonfire or hearth but new immolation.

I am in the staff by your side and your backbone and your feet
and I am the falcon soaring high above, leading you to the rising sun
and dazzling your eyes when what your focus should be is the journey
and not the potholes.

Loki’s Path: Non-conformity

I’ve talked before about how Loki’s path revolves around change. While that’s a large part of walking His path, there’s a lot more to it. To walk Loki’s path, you really need to be comfortable with ambiguity and abstraction, and you need to have a sense of humor because weird things are going to happen to you. A lot of weird things, in fact. That’s just Loki being affectionate, and it’s really important to learn to look at the weird obstacles life throws at you as Loki’s way of letting you know He’s around.

To walk Loki’s path, it’s definitely necessary to be comfortable with weird. He has a tendency to turn the status quo on its head, and He doesn’t care at all what society has to say about who He should be. He just does His own thing, consequences be damned.

That’s one reason that I think that the Loki portrayed in the Thor movies is just another aspect of Loki. Of all the Gods, He is the one who tends to appear the most in fictional settings. Tricksters lend themselves to the screen. Granted, I don’t view Loki as a villain the way the Thor movies try to paint Him, and the mythology is all wrong, but a movie is just fiction adapted to the screen.

I’ve read articles upon articles about how falsely portraying Norse mythology to the millions of people who watched the Thor movies was misleading and how that representation of the mythology was a “crime” against Norse pagans. I, however, have the audacity (if you will) to disagree with that assessment. I look at those movies as the Gods saying, “Hey, we’re still around, and we’re not going to let any of you forget about it.”

Other articles, of course, have condemned Marvel for “Christianizing” the myths with the way Odin kicks Thor out of Asgard. Getting upset by that is counterproductive, however, as it is a fact of life that Christianity is the major religion in the United States, so more people are going to respond to movies that represent that “savior” mentality. Instead of looking at Marvel as the bad guy, I feel like it makes more sense to say the Gods know how to make Their presence known by adapting to what will appeal to more people. In some ways, the Gods are marketing Themselves, if only to announce that They are still around. If a person is meant to find the Norse Gods, then that person will find Them, whether it is through reading the Poetic Edda, the Norse myths, or watching the Thor movies.

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me and want to argue that point, but honestly, I’m fed up with every person who feels that the path they walk can only be walked in one way. Every path walked in life has branches, just like Yggdrasil branches into nine worlds. Loki’s path is about exploring the smaller branches, about seeing what is out there, and about not making assumptions.

I remember doing an assignment for a history class a couple semesters back where I had to find information about people who were infamous for being monsters. I found a striking resemblance between the people I researched and Loki because a lot of the people I researched were branded monsters simply because they went against the mainstream culture of their day.

Loki, I suppose, can be called the face of counter-culture, of true nonconformity. Anyone who identifies as pagan in a Christian culture is at least slightly nonconformist to begin with, but that isn’t what I mean by nonconformity. Nor am I referring to the group that most people assume is meant by the term nonconformist, which is generally the goth group.

No, what I mean by nonconformity is more internal. Nonconformists tend to look like everyone else – there’s no need to announce that you don’t agree with mainstream society – but the opinions and beliefs held are radically different than the mainstream of any particular group.

While being pagan is a non-conformist action towards the larger mainstream religious society of Christianity, there is a mainstream group in paganism, and that is Wicca. There’s nothing wrong with people who identify with Wicca – I don’t mean to imply that. But to experience Wicca as the only pagan path and arbitrarily decide that it is the right path without a solid reason as to why it’s the right path is a type of conformity.

If you are Wiccan and you can explain exactly why you are Wiccan, then you aren’t Wiccan just because the majority of pagans are Wiccan. You have deeply seated beliefs and reasons that you can explain, and those reasons are incredibly personal. Nonconformity, at its deepest level, is about putting your personal beliefs and principles over the principle beliefs and ideals put forth by the society you find yourself within, whether we are talking about mainstream American culture or mainstream religious culture.

Even in Asatru, there’s a mainstream way to do things, and if you fail to do them, there’s a tendency to find yourself shunned. Many kindreds disavow Loki, not including Him in their practice, and those kindreds sow distrust towards Loki in their members.

In general terms, Asatru is a religion that is seen as having a practical grounding, and magic (excluding seidr and galdr) are seen as ridiculous, frivolous, and unrealistic. To voice dissenting opinions on this is to invite criticism at best and outright hostility at worse.

The truth is, the mainstream Asatruars expect every other Asatruar to follow certain unwritten guidelines of behavior. Choosing to deviate from that pattern of behavior can result in ostracizing others, and people who are ostracized tend to look for other, easier paths to follow. No one wants to feel ostracized for their beliefs, and, in some ways, mainstream Asatruar tend to chase people away. It is a much more exclusive pagan faith than Wicca, although Wicca has its own set of mainstream expectations.

With Loki being the face of nonconformity, it’s fairly easy to see how a Lokean can feel alienated and ostracized and why Loki is considered by many the God of outsiders, or of society’s misfits. We have a tendency not to fit into the molds that people shove our way, telling us we need to behave in a particular way or believe certain things.

Loki looks at all of those “you should” comments and dismisses them. He doesn’t even bother to ask why, just goes on about the business of being Himself. And that’s what Loki’s path is ultimately about – having the courage to be who you are, no matter what. So, for those people out there who think of Loki as a coward, I have this to say – there is nothing more frightening than standing outside the mold society has prepared for you, knowing that people are going to shun you for daring to be yourself, and then being yourself anyway.

Walking Odin’s Path

Odin’s path is, in some ways, the most complicated of the many paths I walk. He is a leader, a warrior, a scholar, a poet, and a shaman. That’s a lot of roles to fill, and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times. it can be easy to fall into mainstream thinking because it’s easier to do – easier to just let things be easy and to go with the crowd. Even on pagan paths, there’s a mainstream. Ironic, really, that there’s a mainstream way of doing things in a minority religion, but it’s not really that surprising.

Asatru, in particular, is notorious for the self-righteous heathens that make up a large percentage of the faith. There’s a very narrow definition of what is and isn’t okay in Asatru. I’ve been told that the only acceptable religious practices in Asatru are those that are found within the lore, but the lore doesn’t actually contain a lot of information. Mostly, the lore is a bunch of stories. Important stories, for sure, but they don’t contain the entire truth.

In some ways, Asatru tries too hard to cling to the idea of being a lore-based pagan faith. There are claims like, “Asatru is the only pagan faith that has lore that survived the crusades,” which isn’t true. The Greek and Roman myths survived, as did the Egyptian myths and the Celtic myths (and I’m sure far more). And those myths weren’t tarnished by Christian hands the way the Poetic Edda and Sagas were tarnished. That is often forgotten.

Anyway, the reason I brought that up is that I started wondering if Asatru was really the path Odin meant for me to walk, or if defining myself as an eclectic heathen would be more appropriate. As I started thinking about it, I kept coming back to this passage in the Havamal:

Happy is he who hath in himself

praise and wisdom in life;

for oft doth a man ill counsel get

when ’tis born in another’s breast. 

And, as I continued to think about it, I started seeing the Othala rune in my mind. The Othala rune indicates inheritance, and it can be either physical or spiritual. On the rune-secrets site, the quote that goes with the rune is “We inherit ourselves.” I felt like I was being guided to the answers I sought, and the answer was pretty clear.

The truth is, I will never fit into any particular path because it is not what I am meant to do. I’m still figuring out what exactly it is that I am meant to do, but I know that it’s going to entail an intermingling of different paths. Odin’s path is the path of many paths, considering all the roles he takes, but the most important of those roles is sage – or seeker of wisdom.

To seek wisdom means to seek it wherever it can be found, no matter where the path may lead me. That requires sacrifice, and, as Odin is also the god of sacrifice, it makes sense that his path requires it. As for the answer to my question, I am starting to embrace the idea of identifying as an eclectic heathen. After all, the only opinions that should sway me, in matters of faith, are the opinions of the gods themselves.