Odin’s Path: Connection

I read somewhere that Odin’s wisdom is found in the ability to make plans that are successful – in other words, his wisdom is found in strategy. I don’t dispute this, as he is a war god and therefore needs the ability to think strategically, but I don’t think it fully captures his wisdom (and I’m not sure it’s possible to do so).

Strategy and making plans – those are both very important skills, but I think there’s more to wisdom than that. To make good plans, you have to understand people at a very deep level, and to understand other people requires a lot of patience and the ability to listen. It also requires the ability to trust in a person’s own experience of the world without feeling the need to negate it based on the experiences you’ve had yourself.

In my experience, understanding another person necessitates the suspension of disbelief. Each person we meet, no matter how crazy or far-fetched the story may sound to us, has their own story to tell, and we all believe in our own stories. They are, after all, what we are comprised of. They are the world we are made of – our stories define us in a way nothing else can.

To deny another person their story is to deny them their identity – it isn’t simply a case of whether or not we believe that the story that they tell us is a true one. That’s where understanding gets lost. People are worlds in themselves, and each world has its own unique set of rules. What those rules are vary from world to world, from person to person, and there is nothing more wrong or right about any particular set of rules that govern these worlds, these people.

This is the type of thinking that shamans must master in order to find the connections that link worlds, that link people, together. It is in these connections that we find the commonalities, the threads that tie us to one another and to the gods. If someone asked me for a definition of shaman, I don’t know if I would have had a proper answer even a year ago – it took me awhile to realize that the work I’ve always done as an empath has always been the work of a shaman. In some ways, they are the same, as the shamanism I practice is inherently empathic in nature (this is, of course, not true of all shamans nor is it true of all empaths).

Now, I would define my shamanism as the empathy required to forge links between worlds – knowing as I do now that every person is their own world. What people don’t understand – or at least don’t like to believe – is that I connect with gods as easily as I do people, and I have ever since I started to comprehend them as having agency in their own right, as having their own type of personhood. The links between gods and humans are a little bit different, a little more slippery, but they do exist – they always have.

It is because of these links that I tell people, when they ask me which deities they should try to work with (and believe me, I get this question quite often), that the deities they need to look towards first are those that most resemble them in personality. Not the deities they admire the most or the ones they think will be most beneficial – the deities with personalities that echo the personalities of the humans who ask me this question.

Because those are the deities that we can connect with most easily – those threads are most accessible to us. Odin is my patron, I am sworn to his path, and yet he is not a deity I converse with easily. Nor is he a deity whom I consult often – the relationship I have with Odin is a very complex one, and it is in the complexity of his personality and the complexity of my own that we meet. It is not a relationship I could ever hope to properly explain to someone else, but I trust in the relationship we share despite the oddness of its shape.

Loki is also my patron, and I am one of his priests. Unlike Odin, however, I converse easily with Loki. Among the gods I work with, he is one of my best friends. On the surface, he can seem irresponsible and whimsical, but there is a depth of emotional maturity to him that most don’t see in him because they don’t look past the surface. I understand on a very real level what it is like to be seen by others without truly being seen by them, and it is on this understanding that the link between me and Loki is founded.

I honor and work with many other deities, and all of those relationships are founded on different commonalities, different threads that link the world of who I am to the world of that particular deity. With Tyr, it is the understanding of stepping forward into responsibility when no one else will. With Freyja, it is the understanding that female and weak aren’t equal terms, that there is a depth of strength in femininity that is vastly different than the strength found in masculinity. With Sigyn, it is the understanding of the depth of love a person must feel for another to stand loyally by them despite the pain they endure. With Mani, it is a depth of compassion. With Ullr, it is a love of competition. With Freyr, it is an understanding of what nobility truly means. With Bragi, it is a love of words.

With all the gods – with all humans as well – there are links of understanding. It is upon those links that relationships may be best forged. Think about the friends you cherish – what first made you friends? What link of understanding does that friendship center around? And how many of your friends are your friends for the same reason? Because I know the relationships I share with my friends are defined very differently from person to person, from god to god. No relationship is the same as another – for good reason, as that would teach us nothing and also be incredibly boring.

I started writing this because I wanted to talk about how Odin’s wisdom encompasses so much more than simply the ability to make plans – he is the penultimate shaman. He sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and he sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the runes. His path is a path of sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve found myself making is setting aside my own sight to pick up the sight of another.

That means suspending disbelief, keeping your own prejudices and default biases under wraps as you listen to the stories of the people around you. I have heard stories that most would view as beyond the realm of belief because I have taken the time to set aside my doubts and trust that a person’s story, when they tell it to me, is true enough for them.

Archetypes are Idols, not Gods

In Pagan traditions, idols are common. We use symbols, statues, candles, and a multitude of other items as stand-ins for the Gods. There is a difference, however, between using an idol to forge a connection with a deity and viewing that idol as the actual God being represented. Properly used, idols are tools that help strengthen the connection between the human realm and the divine realm. Improperly used, idols become the focus of worship.

Every religion uses idols, even those faiths that forbid idolatry. For Christians, the most common idol used is the figure of Jesus on the cross. Even without Jesus on it, however, the cross is still an idol. Christians may argue this and say that the cross is symbolic, but a symbol is an idol. A symbol is used to forge a connection between the symbol and the meaning it projects.

In Wicca, it is common to use God and Goddess figurines during rituals, or, barring that, candles to represent the God and Goddess. And rituals generally take place within a circle, tools being placed at the correct corner directions – if done correctly, and viewed from the outside, the ritual itself takes on the shape of the pentacle (a pentagram enclosed within a circle). The ritual serves as a conduit from the human realm to the divine realm.

In Heathenry, there are similar practices. Blots are generally opened with the hammer rite,hallowing the ground. The connection between the human realm and the divine realm occurs at the moment a libation is poured onto the ground. First, the ground is hallowed, and then an offering is made, rendering the offering sacred and forging a divine connection.

There are other types of rituals within Pagan practices, each imbued with unique purpose. The end goal, however, is a sacred connection. And that is how idols are meant to be used. To help forge those connections.

For some, visualization techniques don’t work. Some people need the visual aid an idol offers in a ritual in order to create the connection. Once the connection is made, however, the work of the idol is finished. I suppose a good way to look at an idol would be to view it as a bridge constructed over a creek. You can walk over such a bridge and avoid getting your feet wet, or you can slosh through it. Either way, you will reach the other side.

Idols aren’t necessary to form a sacred connection, but they do make the task easier. There is a danger in using idols, however, and that danger is, perhaps, the reason certain faiths condemn the practice (even whilst unknowingly engaging in it).

The danger of using an idol is the danger of coming to see that idol as a sacred being in and of itself. Instead of using the idol as a bridge, there are some who will come to worship the bridge itself. As an example, say you are standing on side of the creek and one of the Gods is standing on the other side. To get to that God, you can use the idol – you can take the bridge. But as you cross over that bridge, you become so fascinated with the architecture that you forget all about the God waiting for you on the other side of it.

That is the danger inherent in using idols. Idols are symbols, and there are some out there who would turn symbols into deities. An example of this would be viewing the archetypes developed by Carl Jung for use in analytical psychology as gods. The archetypes are psychological constructs, fluid and fleeting. There are Gods out there who operate the way that certain archetypes do within the psyche, but, unlike the archetypes, which are fluid and can blend with each other, the Gods don’t blend. Each God is always uniquely Himself or Herself, not a mix between two or more Gods.

That is the problem I have with the concept of Jungian polytheism. The archetypes were never intended to replace the idea of divinity – Jung himself stated that they were to be used solely as a method in analytical psychology. Jung was not a theologian, and he never set out to replace religion. In fact, he said that it would be absurd for someone to only view the divine spark within and deny the divinity without.

I think that the archetypes themselves are fascinating concepts, fascinating constructs that occur within the psyche of every human being. That doesn’t mean the archetypes are gods or should be treated as such. Choosing to worship an archetype is choosing to worship the idol, and doing so will rob a person of their ability to forge a strong connection with the divine realms.

For this reason, I cannot support the idea of a polytheism that centers around Jungian archetypes as Gods. A polytheist who views the archetypes as ways of accessing the Gods of their tradition – that, I can support. That is using idols the way they are meant to be used, as tools to forge a connection. But to worship an idol is to worship a tool, and tools are meant to be used, not prayed to.