Venturing Beyond the Solitary Path

As most of you know, I’ve been a solitary practitioner for about seventeen years. While my practice is still primarily solitary, in the last year, I have been venturing out into the small local Pagan community. At my university, there is a Pagan Student Association (PSA), a school club that I attend every week. It is primarily an educational club, and there aren’t many rituals performed. In fact, the only rituals done are those done outside of PSA meeting hours and by a select group of individuals.

Ironically, the libations we do outside of PSA hours are open to anyone to attend and are announced each week. The same small group of 5-6 shows up regularly, and those individuals are all adherents of traditional polytheist paths. We have done libations to Egyptian, Aztec, Norse, and Greek deities, as well as to some spirits associated with the Voodoo tradition. It is a very eclectic mix of practices, and we are all very respectful of each other’s paths.

What is interesting is that I feel much more comfortable in this eclectic mix of practices – the rituals are all kept within their appropriate cultural context – than I can ever imagine myself feeling if I were to attend an Asatru ritual where only Asatruar were present. In a way, it is far easier to respect the others in the small group I’m part of because we all come from such varied backgrounds. None of us are trying to tell each other what we are doing wrong or right – our focus is on our own practice and our own gods.

I don’t have to worry that one of them will tell me that Loki is unwelcome or that personal gnosis isn’t a valid way of relating to my gods. We all walk very different paths, but the one thing we have in common is that we view the relationships we have with our gods as sacred. The one thing we struggle to come to terms with is how so many people within PSA never come to the libations, and it is hard to understand how people can call themselves pagan without practicing the religion they adhere to.

I know some of the other members of PSA don’t come to libation because they view their relationships with the deities they work with as private, and I respect that. But there are others who play at practicing – when someone who has claimed to be Wiccan for over a year does not understand that the two candles on a Wiccan altar are meant to represent the God and Goddess, it is hard to accept the claim that they are serious about their practice.

I think this is where the divide in the Pagan and Polytheist communities is really seen – there are those of us who practice and then there are those who don’t. Participating in a libation once a week – and libations take about 15 minutes – is usually not a hardship. Some people do libations every day – that’s not something everyone can do. Once a week isn’t asking much, and once a month is asking even less. I think that participating in some form of ritual is necessary, at a minimum, at least once a month. Otherwise, you risk losing sight of the fact that pagan traditions are meant to be experienced. The practice makes the faith – that is what it means when we say that orthopraxis is central to pagan traditions.

Venturing out of my solitary practice to also engage in small group practice has been an interesting experience. There are far more people who call themselves Pagan than actually engage in Pagan rituals and practices, and I am starting to understand why there is such an exasperated undercurrent running through the words of the more renowned devotional polytheists. While I don’t think that splitting polytheists into hard and soft camps is effective, as division within a community rarely does anything but create more problems, I am starting to understand the root of that division. And it is, primarily, the difficulty polytheists who practice face when confronted by polytheists who don’t.

Don’t get me wrong – practice is unique for each polytheist. But there are clear lines between those who practice and those who don’t. A Wiccan who practices is going to understand what the placement of candles on an altar means, is going to understand the relevance and importance of calling the corners, and is going to know how to open and close a circle. And not only is this Wiccan going to understand these things theoretically but also through experience. Research may be enough to give a Wiccan the basic information, but the understanding – the real, deep, comprehension… the wisdom of the ritual – comes only from the ritual itself.

The same could be said for any other tradition – I use Wicca as an example because it is the most accessible. I’ve never participated in a Wiccan ritual, as I’m not Wiccan. I don’t know what Wiccans get out of their rituals. I know what some of the tools are, what they are used for, and what some of the symbols mean. But because I don’t participate in Wiccan rituals, I cannot say that I understand the power behind the use of those tools when they are at play in a ritual setting. The dynamic of ritual is different than the dynamic of study. There comes a point when the knowledge gathered cannot be furthered except through experience.

That is the point when ritual becomes crucial, and that is why ritual is so crucial to polytheistic traditions. I can read about a god and learn a lot – I can learn their stories, their lore, their personality characteristics, their attributes, etc – but to do only this… I can liken it fairly readily to someone who idolizes a rock star. A person who reads about the rock star’s life, knows everything about that person to the point of obsession, but never actually meets the person. And, as we are all aware, people who become obsessed with a rock star (or any other celebrity of your choice) typically idolize them, put them on a pedestal, and completely change the truth of the rock star’s personality to fit the mold they have designed for them.

That is why ritual practice is so crucial – it is only through ritual that a god can truly be known. That is the only way to know if the personality, lore, and everything else you glean from the research you do is in any way reflective of the god in question. You can read pages upon pages of academic articles that paint Loki as the equivalent of a Norse Satan, but it takes ritual experience of him to understand that he is not Satanic at all, to understand how deeply he cares about those he calls friend, how compassionate he is, how fiery his temper can be, how quirky he can be (vending machine weirdness and socks disappearing), or how hard he can push you to face the darkest and deepest parts of yourself. That’s not something you can get without experiencing him through ritual. It is in ritual that we come into relationship with the gods. It is through ritual that we develop friendships with them. To avoid ritual is to avoid the gods. And to avoid the gods runs counter to the core of polytheism, considering that core is the relationships we share with the gods.

I suspect there is also the idea floating around that the only rituals in existence are libations and bigger group rituals. But almost anything can be ritualized. Creating a piece of devotional jewelry for a particular deity is ritual. Meditating for a certain period of time on a particular deity is ritual. Writing a poem, a song, a blog post, a journal, a book for a particular deity is ritual. Making a video, a film, or creating a play for a particular deity is ritual. Doing service or volunteer work dedicated to a particular deity is ritual. There are millions of ways to do ritual, just as there are millions of ways to celebrate the friendships we have with other people. Ritual is a celebration of the friendships we have with the gods, and I think there is a misunderstanding of this that creates Pagans and Polytheists alike who are often afraid to engage in ritual.

There is a great fear that doing a ritual wrong is not permitted. That making a mistake is unrecoverable. But we do rituals for fallible gods and spirits, entities who make mistakes in their own right. We can make mistakes – in fact, we will. That doesn’t mean we can’t brush ourselves off, get back up, and try again. We aren’t perfect, but that’s okay – neither are our gods. Neither are our friends. When we can all think of the gods as the most respected and admired friends we hold, then ritual will become second-nature. Until then, I guess we will keep arguing amongst each other as to who has the right view of the gods. Because proving each other wrong – that certainly matters more than the relationships we hold with our gods. Or, at least, that’s the way it seems.

For that reason alone, I’ve kept to my solitary practice. I’m comfortable in the small group I have joined now because it isn’t a group of one path. It isn’t a named group, it’s just a group of friends who happen to share a respect for the gods meeting and performing ritual. It is a very informal group, with decently formalized rituals, and that is the reason I find it comfortable. I don’t feel like I have to defend my practices or my beliefs to my friends – I can walk my own path, secure in the knowledge that those around me are walking theirs and that all of us are respecting each other. This small group is a perfect example of what inclusive polytheistic practice looks like, and it is something I would love to see spread throughout the Pagan community. Because, from my standpoint, one of the biggest lies in the community is that Paganism is an inclusive faith. It is what brought me to Paganism originally, but it has taken me seventeen years to find even a small group of people who really understand what inclusiveness even looks like.

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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.

 

What is Morality?

I stumbled across this question today: ” When it comes to questions about ethics what is the yardstick in Asatru to measure if something is right or wrong?”

And there is no good answer because morality is relative. It boils down to the question, “If killing one person would prevent the deaths of millions, would you kill the one to save the many or save the one?”

In my experience, most people faced with this ethical dilemma will choose to save the one person they know they can save and hope that something will happen to keep the person from killing millions of others. It’s the whole, “If you could go back and time and kill Hitler, if by doing so you would save millions of lives, would you?”

Most people say no to that question because there is an inherent understanding that changing the past is somehow intrinsically wrong. There are a few people who say yes, but the majority say no, even though Hitler did incredibly horrible things. In some ways, Hitler taught us who we don’t want to be, which is just as important as learning who we do want to be.

I think, in Heathenry, acting morally comes down to a decision – your own sense of ethics vs. the community’s sense of ethics. There are times when a community’s sense of ethics are flawed, when persecution is embraced, and that’s when you can’t allow yourself to be fully swayed by the ethics of the society you live within.

At the same time, if your sense of morality tells you that a man should be killed for killing someone else, but the community thinks that imprisonment is a more viable option, then your sense of ethics needs to be put aside in favor of the community’s.

Figuring out when your ethics should be embraced over the community’s sense of ethics and when you should embrace the community’s sense of ethics is, in my mind, what defines morality.

I might think it a kindness to allow terminally ill patients to euthanize themselves, but society says that it’s cruel and illegal, so I abide by that decision. Laws are, for the most part, what guide the overall framework for society’s moral stance.

Morality is an incredibly hard concept to define because it’s more than a simple right vs. wrong argument. Because sometimes what seems right is the wrong thing to do, and sometimes what seems wrong is the right thing to do. We don’t live in a world where right and wrong are so clear-cut that mistakes can’t be made. But it’s through those mistakes that we learn where we stand on moral issues, and it’s also how we grow into our own humanity.

Loki’s Wyrdlings

I mentioned in my last post that I started a facebook group called Loki’s Wyrdlings that is meant for Lokeans and other Heathens/Pagans on the fringes of the mainstream traditions. I’d like to thank Karlesha Silverros for planting the idea in my head.

The group was really started by both me and Karlesha, and the response has been amazing (and terrible in places). I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but we started the group last night, and we already have 17 members. The fact that so many people have joined within 24 hours of the launch of the group is humbling.

And it’s humbling because it speaks to the need that exists. It isn’t that I wasn’t aware of the need before – I was. But where that fact was an abstract awareness before, it is a concrete awareness now. People need this group. We need this group in order to offer support to those who are often turned away from other places.

I posted in the Asatru Community facebook group about the new Loki’s Wyrdlings group and was told that those who worship Loki should “get out.” Apparently, much harsher and ruder things were said, but I was preoccupied with doing schoolwork and attending an awesome broadcast on leadership delivered by Kat Cole which I went to because I am a member of the National Society of Leadership.

In another facebook group where I posted about the group, I was told that I was “in the wrong place,” and that a more appropriate place for the post would be “in a bog.”

There is a lot of hatred towards Loki and a lot of persecution of Lokeans. I saw another poster mention that the term “worship” is often attacked when it is used in place of the word “honor,” and I recognized the truth of it because I have seen those attacks and been the recipient of them myself.

Now, while the post I placed in the Asatru Community was taken down, the admin who initially approved it did write a long apology for the behavior of those who had been offensive in their replies (which then got the post removed). I appreciated her willingness to apologize for behavior she hadn’t extended, although I didn’t think she needed to apologize for the behavior of other group members. I’m a strong believer that each person is only responsible for the actions they take, not for the actions of those around them. Still, it was commendable.

That the apology was necessary to begin with was the sad part. It demonstrated to me just how much Loki is misunderstood and hated. Which I already knew, but seeing that sort of resentment directed towards an entire group instead of just an individual is much scarier than dealing with resentment on a one-on-one basis.

Anyway, I’d like to ask any of the Lokeans who read my blog to promote the group on their own blogs, if you all are willing to do that. It would be greatly appreciated, and I have a feeling it is something our community desperately needs.

 

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.

Hospitality: My Interpretation

Here’s my sixth essay on the Nine Noble Virtues.

Hospitality

To be hospitable is to be respectful. Hospitality is the willingness to share what we can afford to share with others. In some ways, it’s a sacrifice of the self for the good of the whole. Since Asatru puts a very high value on community, acting in a way that benefits the community is necessary.

Some people assume that hospitality refers to just their immediate in-groups, but I think hospitality refers to people in general. If I meet someone new, then I am not going to make assumptions about them, not on any front. And I’m not going to judge them based on the choices they’ve chosen to take in life. I may ask about them, in order to learn what path they have walked, and, perhaps, learn something in the process. But I do my best to stay respectful.

I think, in a lot of ways, that American society has taught us to be cruel without realizing our cruelty. I’ve heard teachers laugh at certain students when they talk about certain types of dreams, and it saddens me. Because why laugh at someone else’s dream? There is no kindness in that, and there is no respect.

Hospitality means reserving judgment. If someone tells me that their dream is to become a famous athlete, politician, writer, or anything else, why should I laugh at their dreams? At their aspirations? Even if it’s a hard truth that few people ever aspire to their dreams, why should I actively seek to disparage dreamers? The truth is, none of us know who will and won’t achieve their dreams. Some of us aren’t even sure what it is we seek in life, and we wander down many paths, just waiting for something to click.

I think that’s part of the reason I follow Odin. He is the wanderer, after all. Restless in spirit, always moving around, always learning something new – I connect with him on an incredibly deep level, and I don’t always have the words I need to say the things I mean. I sometimes read the forums on Asatru Lore, just to see what’s going on there, and I came across a post the other day about a guy asking how to spell the word “Outsider” in runes for a tattoo. He got a lot of backlash from the community. A lot of people told him that to brand himself as an outsider was to reject community, and that if they ever saw him, they would instantly avoid him.

The response I saw made me incredibly sad because no one really tried to understand where he was coming from. No one really tried to discover the story he had to tell, or uncover the reason why he felt like such an outsider he wanted to brand himself as one. They just pointed out that it isn’t very “heathen” to be an outsider, since heathens are very community focused. None of what they were saying was technically wrong, but it wasn’t a very respectful way to act. The poster even commented on how he was being disrespected (and he was), but the reply to his comment was that he couldn’t come onto an internet board and expect respect, that respect is earned.

That is, frankly speaking, bullshit. Not the part about respect being earned – it is earned. But as the old saying goes, “Give respect to get respect.” Just because the method of communication was via an internet forum, it seems people think it gives them a license to act without considering the fact the person on the other side is human.

Hospitality has to extend to all realms, whether it’s in our own homes, in our communities, or over the internet. Respect should be given to everyone until they do or say something that warrants the loss of that respect. If a person comes into my home, then I am going to offer them drink and refreshment. If someone at my school asks me for help, then I am going to try to help them, if I am able to do so. And if someone asks for advice on an internet forum, I am going to be honest but tactful about how the phrasing comes out. Because we are all human, and we all view the world in different ways. And I, personally, feel that it is vital that we respect the differences that define us. To me, that is the soul of hospitality.