Favor of the Gods and/or Divine Entitlement

I read a Facebook post today – which, to be fair, is almost always enough to make a person question their sanity, considering how much sheer stupidity is displayed on Facebook every day. Just today, I’ve read about people who pretend to be incarnations of deities, people who claim to channel deities to advance their own agendas, and, of course, the comment that has led me to write this post.

(Note: For ethical reasons, I’m not providing the name of the group or the names of the members who made these comments).

In one of the Facebook groups I’m part of, someone mentioned how he was walking home when it started hailing, and he decided to go to a shop that was past his house. As he started towards the shop, however, 3-4 bolts of lightning laced through the sky and thunder roared overhead. This continued for a solid minute before he decided to turn around, and thirty seconds after he decided to turn around, the hailing stopped completely. He said it made him feel like Thor was watching over him, like Thor had struck his hammer as hard as he could to get the guy to turn back from the shop.

Now, this story? This is amazing, and I have no problems with stories like this. In fact, it is very possible that Thor has taken an interest in this guy and was warning him about the storm. Sometimes, when the gods try to get our attention, they yell – and sometimes we listen, and we reap the benefits from paying attention.

In the comments was where I found the problem. One guy said: “If one believes that metaphysical forces and beings have a particular and personal interest in one’s welfare and fortunes, it can lead to narcissism and a tendency towards magical thinking and ‘divine entitlement.’ The Aesir, from my study of the texts, don’t operate that way. They don’t give gifts and personal protection. They provide examples for us to follow.”

There are so many things wrong with this comment that it’s hard to know where to start. The whole “but the books don’t say that” mentality – well, that smacks of monotheistic thinking that hasn’t been shaken. The gods can’t be confined to the books they are found within – the description of a god is a description, not the god in full.

And the whole thing about the gods not giving gifts and personal protection? Uh, I think this person may want to take another look at the lore – the gods gave humans the first gifts. For someone who is sticking to the lore, he sure missed the part where Odin and co. gave humans “soul, sense, and heat/goodly hue” according to the Bellows translation of the Poetic Edda. There are stories within the Sagas about gods who grant personal protection to particular people – so this person contradicts himself by first mentioning the texts and then stating the gods don’t do something they can be seen to be doing throughout the lore.

He salvages a little bit when he says “They [the gods] provide examples for us to follow” because that stands on its own. Our gods don’t give us edicts, but we honor them the best when we mimic them. Mimicry is truly the highest form of flattery, so acting as we believe the gods would act in certain situations can help us figure ways out of situations – it allows us to retain our independence from the gods, which is an irony that bears further consideration.

However, the other thing that this guy said is also not quite wrong – believing in the personal protection of metaphysical forces and gods can lend itself to narcissism, and, in extreme cases, what he calls ‘divine entitlement.’ I touched on this concept a bit, in my post about action and gratitude. The gods can be our friends, they can be close companions, and they can be our benefactors. But they are never beholden to us. We make offerings so that they may grant us their favor in return – may does not imply must.

Entitlement is entitlement, whether there is a human on the other end of your expectations or a god. For the most part, we all possess (gods and humans alike) agency and autonomy. Because autonomy plays a role in every agreement we make (gods and humans both), there is no external force applied to ensure that every agreement is kept in truth. If a friend asks me to help him clear out his garage and I agree to do so, I can decide that it is no longer in my best interest to help him clear out his garage and back out of the agreement. This might make him angry, and it might impact our relationship to some degree, but he is not entitled to my help. No one is entitled to another person’s autonomy, and, as I mentioned recently, the gods are a people of their own – we aren’t entitled to their help, either.

But we’ve all met those people who tend to assume that the first time you help them means that you’ll always be available to help them, and pretty soon, the only time that person is contacting you is when they need something from you. None of us likes this – we hate being treated like tools, and it makes us feel like we’re being taken advantage of. I can’t imagine that the gods feel much different when the only time someone calls on them is to help them with a problem. That’d annoy all of us – why do people think it wouldn’t annoy the gods?

In some ways, then, the comment actually has some good advice – it’s just been twisted in a way that makes it hard to glean that advice. The gods do offer friendship, personal protection, and gifts to humans – when those humans are respectful and treat the relationships like relationships and treat the gods like they are more than just a tool for human convenience. Relationships aren’t built out of a sense of the way you can use the other person, but out of a sense of mutual trust and respect. If you’re using a god…well, I’m just going to err on the side of caution here and say the outcome will probably end in the god’s favor.

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.

 

Requesting Quotes of a Polytheistic Nature

One of my guilty pleasures is browsing Pinterest for quotes, but there is a decided lack of quotes about Polytheism that are positive rather than calling us all primitive and backwards. I’m determined to put together a collection of quotes around Polytheism in an imgur album so that I can then upload them to Pinterest.

You can find the album here: http://imgur.com/gallery/ghXDb

I’m looking for quotes about Polytheism, about being a Polytheist, and quotes that come from the Gods via various literature sources. Anything/everything that deals with the multiplicity of the Gods – that’s what I’m looking to put in this album.

I’m sick and tired of being told that my beliefs are backwards/primitive because I happen to honor multiple gods, and I’m sure there are other polytheists who are sick of it, too. There’s only so much that social media can do to promote the intellectual rigor of polytheism, but every little bit helps.

So comment with your favorite quotes from your gods, about your gods, or about polytheism in general. Let’s get some more positive vibes going in the social media arena.

Approaching Deity

The Gods have personhood – by which I mean they have agency of their own. They are people in their own right. We often mistake the word people as being synonymous with human, as humanity is the only race on this planet that has been ascribed a level of personhood.

The Gods are of a different race than us, and they don’t normally reside in this world – though I’m sure there are a few who choose to live among us. Because the Gods don’t typically reside here, it is easy to see how people may form the impression that personhood implies being human.

Personhood, however, simply implies having agency. It implies having a mind of one’s own, and thus implies the ability to make one’s own decisions – autonomy is guaranteed. With this in mind, it becomes easier to see that the Gods are people, too. They are a different race of people, to be sure, but they are people.

That is what makes it so important that we don’t approach the Gods using the God Faucet or thinking of the Gods as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky (See Sources). These are two ways of approaching the Gods that have become commonplace, especially among those who are new to Paganism.

The God Faucet is essentially saying, “I need a god that rules x domain, so I will arbitrarily pick a name from a hat and approach that god.” The reason that this is problematic, when dealing with the Gods, is that it ignores the personhood of the Gods. We don’t approach other humans this way – why are there Pagans who believe it’s okay to approach Gods in this way? The Gods are greater than us by their very nature, yet there are Pagans who approach the Gods almost as if they are made for the convenience of humanity. Perhaps it is because we live in such a convenience-based society, as there seem to be among us those who have forgotten that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Everyone includes the Gods.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you have just gone shopping and are carrying several bags of heavy items, and you have to walk a mile back to your apartment. Let’s pretend you just moved in, so everyone you walk by by to get back to your apartment is a stranger. No one offers to help you, but you don’t expect help from those you don’t know. You certainly don’t turn to one of the strangers you walk by and ask them to help you  – you already understand there is no reason for them to help you, so you don’t ask to begin with.

Now, the next day, you’re walking down the same street, but this time, your hands are empty. You’re simply exploring. You get ready to go into a particular shop when you catch sight of someone staring into the window with a wistful expression, and you decide to strike up a conversation. The two of you start talking, find out you have a lot in common, trade names – maybe numbers – and maybe even make arrangements to hang out in the future. You’ve established a relationship.

The next time you go shopping, you happen to run into each other and start talking. However, this time, you have an established relationship. Perhaps help is offered or asked for, and help is received or denied based on the circumstances of everyone involved in the situation.

This is the way relationships between all people are formed, whether the relationship in question is between two humans, two Gods, a human and a God, two spirits, a human and a spirit, or between a spirit and a God. All relationships require an origin. Even if the only relationship you want with a God is that of patron-client, patrons are often far more willing to help those clients who make an effort to understand the patron than they are those clients who expect everything to go their way.

The God Faucet is picking out a deity and saying, “Hey, do this thing for me even though I have no pre-established relationship.” The Vending Machine works in a similar vein, although it takes it a step further by insisting that the Gods are only around for human convenience. “If I make an offering, then you have to do this for me.”

That’s not the primary purpose of offerings. The primary reason we give offerings to the Gods is so that They may give in return. May does not imply must. We offer prayer, libations, and ritual – among other things – to the Gods in order to celebrate the relationships we share with the Gods. They are the way that we hang out with deity, the same way we go to restaurants, movies, and other venues to hang out with friends. To know the Gods, you must treat them as if they are people in their own right. Not convenient shop-owners who can provide you with what you want when you give them the right coin.

Alongside being asked by newer Pagans how to know that the Gods are communicating, I also often get asked how to approach deity. The question has a simple answer, yet people seem to dislike the answer. If you want to know deity, you have to approach the Gods the way they want to be approached. They converse with us through the means they have told us to use, means that we have known about for centuries. Pray. Offer libations. Participate in ritual. If you want to know the Gods, get to know the Gods through the means they have provided for us to get to know them. If doing so makes you uncomfortable, either get over it or get used to not knowing deity.

This is one area where there’s no real alternative, though there are multiple ways that we can approach the offerings we give to the Gods. But to know deity, we have to make an effort. All human relationships take effort. Why should relationships with the Gods be any different?

 

Sources 

Kin’ani. http://tessdawson.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-god-faucet.html  Explains the idea of the God Faucet.

Kirk Thomas. “Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods.” In one of the later chapters in the books, the idea of the Great Vending Machine in the Sky is addressed.

Communicating with the Gods

The question I get asked most frequently by other Pagans is “How do you know if the Gods are speaking to you or whether you’re making it all up in your head?”

This is always an interesting question to get because the answer isn’t one many Pagans like to hear. The answer is one word: faith.

And most Pagans don’t like to hear that word because Pagan traditions are inherently orthopraxic. They rely on right practice, not right belief, so why does faith have anything to do with it?

While Pagan traditions do rely on practice – mostly through ritual – it is through those rituals that orthodoxy develops. Practice begets belief. Experience yields to faith. In turn, that faith becomes a deeper commitment to practice, and eventually, devotion to the Gods becomes second nature.

That, at least, has been my experience.

Not everyone experiences the Gods the same way, and that seems to confound a lot of people. But it’s not so confusing when you consider the fact that no one interacts with another person the same way as anyone else. Our relationships with other human beings are 100% unique. We may arrive at similar conclusions about another person’s behaviors and motivations, but we do so through different modes of thinking, and we may only generally agree with a conclusion rather than accept it completely.

If we are like that with our own species, unable to form a clear picture of anyone else that everyone else around us shares, then why should we expect the Gods to come across any clearer?

Relationships are unique. Among people, among Gods, and betwixt Gods and humans.

That’s the way that I attempt to develop relationships with the Gods. I treat them as individual beings in their own right. I look at lore as a way to get to know them, to get to see aspects of beings it is impossible for me to fully comprehend. And I respect the fact that I will never have a complete picture of a single deity, the same way I respect the fact I will never have a complete picture of another human being. It is impossible to fully comprehend the depth of anyone else – hell, we have trouble comprehending the depth of our own unique selves.

I can look at my own lack of knowledge, lack of comprehension, and not only accept it but be comfortable with it. And it is in being comfortable with that lack of knowledge that I can find the faith required to believe that the Gods are speaking to me when they seem to be doing so. Even if I sometimes feel that I’m making it all up in my head, how do I know that isn’t a method the Gods use to communicate? Why would I deny myself that potential conduit of connection? That potential avenue to develop a relationship?

I refuse to discredit any potential forms of connection, any potential conduits for the information the Gods wish to pass on to me. My goal is to listen, to understand as much as I am able, the messages that they wish to share. Because if there is anything that connects Gods and humans, it is the desire to have someone who is willing to listen.

In a world where we have become spiritually numb, spiritually blind and spiritually deaf, it is not surprising that we have become particularly inept at trusting in the spiritual messages we receive.

In answer to the question I normally receive, I don’t typically say “faith” because I know how few people listen to that answer. I’m aware of how easily people turn off their hearing when the words coming out of my mouth aren’t the ones they want to hear. Instead, I tell them that if they are hearing messages after performing a ritual for a deity, then it is highly probable that the message is coming from the deity in question. I’m saying the same thing, but removing the word “faith” makes the message somewhat more palatable.

However, it is faith that allows the communication to begin. Faith in possibilities, in potentialities, in different worlds. Faith doesn’t mean blind belief; it means keeping an open mind. Being open to the world of the Gods, to the potential existence of more than we can ever hope to understand, and being willing to listen to the messages coming from beyond our current understanding. It is the suspension of disbelief, the ultimate acceptance of personal gnosis, and the refusal to let anyone else determine the lens through which you view the world.

After all, if we can’t understand our own depths nor the depths of another person, then none of us have any business trying to determine what is the right or wrong path – spiritual or otherwise – for anyone else. And if we are all ultimately responsible for the lens through which we view the world, then we are all ultimately responsible for the development of the personal relationships we share with the Gods.

When it comes to how we communicate with the Gods and how we can be certain that the messages are coming from them and not our own psyche, this means that we have to find and/or develop means of communication that we trust to come from outside ourselves.

For many, that means of communication comes through work with different types of divination. Casting runes, reading tarot, using pendulums – all of these are methods of communication with the divine realms. Rituals also allow us to connect. These are perhaps the most readily accessible ways to communicate with the Gods. Learning to trust in the messages received through a medium can act as a stepping stone to learning to trust in the messages received mentally.

All it really takes is a desire to really listen. To truly hear. Even if the message isn’t the one you want to hear, even if it’s the last thing you want to hear…the willingness to be wrong, the willingness to be open to the potential of anything. That’s how I trust in my connection to the Gods.

And it is in that willingness to be open that I have found myself speaking to the Gods as friends, trusting in them without hesitation, and doing the things they ask of me when I am capable of doing so. That doesn’t mean I do the work without asking questions – the Gods I work with would never accept blind obedience or fawning devotion. Respect, yes. Dedication, yes. But unquestioning and unhesitating obedience? Absolutely not.

Other Gods may ask that of their followers, but I’d never work with a God that did. That is the right I have – to work with the Gods I choose. To develop relationships with the Gods I choose. Just as I reserve the right to become friends with certain types of people, I reserve the same right to become friends with certain types of Gods. We become friends most easily with those who are like us in some way, and that is a truth I’ve found that holds for both human and divine relationships.

The Importance of Sacrifice

In general, those of us who follow a Pagan faith (whether that faith be Wicca, Asatru, Religio Romana, Kemetism, Hellenism, etc) embrace orthopraxy as part of our spirituality. Which means that we participate in making sacrifices to the Gods we honor by offering alcoholic beverages, food, trinkets, and so on.

Yet it has come to my attention in the last couple of years that there are a lot of people who “sort of” follow Pagan paths rather than fully committing. And that’s fine – up until you ask a deity to interfere in your personal affairs and that deity chooses to respond favorably.

Exchange and sacrifice are an inherent understanding of Pagan faiths. When a deity acts for you, it stands to reason that there is a need to respond in kind – to acknowledge the favor the Gods have bestowed upon you.

I can’t speak for the Gods of other pantheons, but the Norse Gods seem to take a failure to offer a token of appreciation as a great insult. Especially Odin, and it’s generally not wise to offend Him, considering He is one of the darker Gods of the Norse pantheon. Interestingly enough, Odin is far more widely honored in modern times than He was in the pre-Christian era.

Anyway, in the first example – a High Priestess swore an oath to Odin. He upheld his end of the oath made, and she failed to come through. Instead of paying her debt, she did everything she could to exorcise His presence. In order to assure the debt was paid, Odin started to “haunt” the woman’s best friend until she came to me for help, wondering why this sinister, faceless man kept appearing to her on the nights she would visit her friend. Eventually, we put the story together. I don’t know if the High Priestess ever paid her debt – I was tasked only with communicating the message, not resolving the issue.

And communicating that message seems to be part and parcel of the oath I swore dedicating myself to Odin. I don’t speak of this often because I tend to assume people understand what I mean when I say I have dedicated myself to Odin, but perhaps I need to specify what I mean. When I say I am dedicated to Odin, I mean I wear the Valknut, the symbol often called the “Knot of the Slain,” and it essentially marks me as one of Odin’s chosen warriors, which means He can call me to the other side without warning.

In any case, the other example I have of a person who failed to properly appease Odin I actually learned of today – again, I was acting as His messenger. I learned that a woman’s husband had – half-jokingly – addressed one of the numerous crows we have in this area as Odin and asked Odin for help in curing his son’s illness (the boy, 3 years old, was in the hospital on a ventilator due to pneumonia, with little prognosis of getting better anytime soon). Two days after the request, the boy was off the ventilator and growing healthier each day. The woman told me that there had been increasing amounts of crows at her house – so many it has become impossible to walk out the door without seeing an entire murder of them. I asked her if she or her husband had offered a token of appreciation, and she said her husband decided to give up smoking pot for a month but wasn’t sure he had actually dedicated that sacrifice to Odin.

Granted, my knee-jerk reaction (which I avoided actually voicing) was that giving up pot for a month didn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice for a life saved. But I don’t know the woman’s husband, don’t know the hardship that giving up pot would cause him (if any), and I think it’s important to consider that each person comes to a sacrifice in a different way. If the deity to whom the sacrifice is being made accepts the offering, then the sacrifice is valid. If, however, the deity doesn’t accept the offering, something else is required. Figuring out whether the offering has or hasn’t been accepted can be difficult, but I would suggest that if you start seeing a murder of crows outside your house after offering something to Odin, then that sacrifice has most likely not been accepted.

I’m not sure if there’s an irony to the reason Odin is rarely present in my life or if it is to be expected because He in essence can call on me whenever He likes (and so rarely sees the need to do so), but every time He does show up, it always seems to be to communicate a message similar to this one.

I feel like there are a lot of Pagans out there, Heathens included (since some Heathens try to separate themselves from that umbrella) who look at the Gods as kind and benevolent figures who would never threaten or harm Their followers. While that’s a pretty ideal, it is one that completely disregards reality. The Gods are complex. They are kind, but They are also cruel. It does no one good to forget that truth.

If you’re looking for a TL:DR version (which I rarely ever offer), then this would be the catchphrase: If you ask the Gods for a favor and They grant it, pay Them back. 

 

 

Loki & Polytheism

Laine Delaney has posted a new article about Loki on her patheos blog, The Lady’s Quill, and that post can be found here.

I thought it was a good article that raised a a good point. The point she made was that it can be difficult for American Heathens who grow up in a predominantly Christian culture to transition into a polytheistic worldview. That actually echoes what I’ve been reading in the book I mentioned previously, “The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” by Jordan Paper.

In the introduction, he states, “Due to the mind-set of singularity normative to monotheistic thinking, it is difficult for beginning Western researchers of polytheistic traditions to understand that in these traditions the numinous are actually multiple. For example, a few years ago I was at an international religious studies conference in South Africa. Several graduate students studying African religions approached me regarding their problems in comprehending the fullness of these traditions. If the rituals are oriented toward the ancestors, then how can Earth, and so on, also be numinous? And what about the deities (who are dead human beings in these traditions)? What needed to be understand is that all of these can be numinous simultaneously, without contradiction and without conflict; this is the essence of polytheism.” 

That is perhaps the best way that I have ever seen the difficulty between monotheistic and polytheistic thinking explain. In her article about Loki, Laine points to the difficulty people transitioning from a monotheistic faith with a sense of absolute good and evil to a polytheistic faith where good and evil are far from absolute and every deity shares equally in both. It is far easier to scapegoat one of the gods into a figure of absolute evil than try to understand evil as a relative (rather than absolute) concept.

When put in that context, it is easy to understand why Loki gets put in a box labeled “evil, do not touch,” by so many Heathens. Monotheistic thinking and polytheistic thinking are 100% non-compatible. In the United States, where the majority of people are monotheists, the culture reflects that as the norm. It’s easy to see the monotheistic imprint of the Western world in nearly everything. The superhero movies we have that everyone loves are often set to the tone of “here’s this one guy that saves the world,” and it’s a very monotheistic way to look at the world. There are exceptions, of course, but the theme is a very familiar one.

So when a person turns away from a faith like Christianity that considers itself monotheistic, that person also has to confront an entirely new ideological framework. It is very easy to fall into the patterns of thinking that the monotheistic culture around us engenders – absolute right vs absolute wrong – and turn a god like Loki into a figure of absolute evil.

Yet, if there is one thing that a polytheist shouldn’t do it’s to try and corral their ideals into two distinct corners. I’ve come across the argument that duotheism and polytheism are separate ideologies, and I’ve been reflecting on that for awhile now in order to decide whether I agree or not. I find that I do agree – duotheism and polytheism aren’t the same type of ideology at all. “Duo” means “two,” “poly” means “many.”

It could be argued, in fact, that Christianity is a duotheistic faith rather than a monotheistic faith. Christians believe in a God and they believe in Satan. They don’t worship Satan, but they believe he exists, and because he is the Christian God’s primary adversary, he can be considered a god in his own right. That is a duotheistic framework, and that framework cannot be applied to polytheism.

When we think about polytheism, especially since we live in a monotheistic culture (or duotheistic, however you choose to look at it), we need to remember that poly means “three or more.” And once you have three deities who all differ in modality, the question of absolute right and absolute wrong disappear. Between three people, there are going to be issues where there are three separate arguments, and that doesn’t allow for a either-or type of scenario.

Yet because we live in a monotheistic culture, a lot of new Pagans (and new Heathens) try to apply the concepts of absolute right and wrong to polytheistic concepts. It’s no wonder so many people end up hopelessly confused as they try to muddle through. It took me years to fully mentally integrate myself into a polytheistic modality of thought – monotheistic thinking no longer makes sense to me. But there is definitely a transitory period that every new Pagan must experience before a polytheistic modality becomes commonplace.

That transition is made more difficult by the fact we live in a monotheistic culture. If I am out in a storm, I see Thor’s hand at work. If I see someone helping a homeless man, I see Tyr’s hand at work. When I come across beautiful poetry, I see both Odin and Bragi. When I see beautiful clothes, I see Freyja. When I meet someone whose compassion makes her an excellent mother, I see Frigga at work. When weird things happen (like snacks getting caught in a vending machine), I see Loki at work. I see all of these things because I see the world through a polytheistic lens. What monotheists see, when these things happen, is, at best, coincidence.

In my experience, polytheism eradicates the concept of coincidence. Things don’t happen just because they happen – there’s a reason for even the tiniest events. This isn’t the type of worldview that the dominant monotheistic culture in the United States employs, and that means that the majority of people cannot understand polytheism. They don’t have the foundation for a polytheistic framework, and it takes years to properly develop one after being exposed (especially if force-fed) a monotheistic doctrine.

That, I think, is why there is so much fear and misunderstanding directed towards Loki. As a God that is neither good nor evil, but amoral (some of you may remember the post I wrote about how I view the Gods to be amoral by human standards), His nature is wholly outside of the expectations and understanding of the dominant monotheistic culture. That’s probably the reason those who are called to Him are those who, in some ways, already stand outside that culture due to certain aspects of who they are, such as sexuality and gender identity.

Those of us who were part of minorities before becoming Pagan already felt like we didn’t belong to the dominant culture, which means we never fully embraced the monotheistic construct of that culture. In turn, that made it easier for us to transition from the monotheistic framework to the polytheistic one, and that is why it so much easier for us to understand Loki than it is for others.

Consequently, however, once a polytheistic framework is fully adopted, it is virtually impossible to understand the monotheistic framework so many people bring with them into polytheistic paths. That may be why so many Pagans choose Wicca over other faiths – although there are Wiccans who are polytheists, Wicca itself is a duothestic faith that operates on a God & Goddess structure. It is much easier to go from believing in one God to believing in one God and one Goddess than it is to go from believing in one God to believing in multiple deities of different genders. Then throw in the wights and spirits, and you have a recipe for a very confused new pagan.

What I have seen, over and over, throughout the years, is that for a lot of people, Wicca is a gateway spirituality. I don’t mean to discredit Wicca at all – I think Wicca is a beautiful faith, and I commend those who follow that path. But I have seen that many people start with Wicca when they turn to Paganism and then they, for a lack of better word, outgrow the faith. They need more. Two deities aren’t enough.

Even if Wicca is only ever used as a gateway spirituality, it is a vital, intrinsic tradition among Paganism. We need Wicca to serve as the foundation for a transition from monotheism to polytheism; it is the bridge between the two worlds, and it is the only one that exists. There are a lot – a LOT – of Heathens who make disparaging remarks about Wicca, and that really needs to stop.

I remember one of the very first Heathen groups I joined talking about how Wicca wasn’t a “real” religion because there was no lore. There was so much pride in the fact that Asatru has its own lore and a historical foundation, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been accompanied by a “look how much better we are than Wicca!” attitude to accompany that pride.

Back then, I was too new to Heathenry to be able to make a rational argument against that attitude, but after six years walking this path, I can make that argument today. Wicca may not have the historical foundation that Asatru does, but Asatru’s lore has been decimated by the way it was passed down through a Christian writer. Too much monotheism has bled into Asatru as a result of the lore, and it is because of that stain on our lore that gods like Loki are so misunderstood.

Being Pagan is hard enough, but to turn to Heathenry and then have to constantly reinterpret the lore through polytheistic eyes (when it was interpreted through monotheistic ones originally) that the majority of new Heathens do not yet possess – that approaches a level of insanity. The Norse myths have been rewritten for a monotheistic audience, and Heathens are, for the most part, polytheists.

Because of the difficulties found within Heathenry, I will always identify myself as a polytheist first, pagan second, and heathen third. The reason for this is that polytheism is the framework on which my spirituality is built, paganism is broad enough to encompass multiple belief systems, and heathen, for me, just lets people know that the Norse pantheon of Gods is the pantheon I put before the other pantheons.

Polytheism, like the deities themselves, is very complex, and it is important to understand that the level of complexity found within a polytheistic framework is incredibly difficult to develop when surrounded by a dominant monotheistic culture.

 

 

Communing with the Gods

I’ve seen a lot of confusion on message boards and in blog posts about what communication with the Gods feels like. Or confusion about how it’s possible to talk with the Gods at all, given that They aren’t omnipresent.

There is this highly held taboo in many Heathen circles about talking to the Gods like They are omnipresent, like they are similar in nature to the Christian God. In fact, there is so much negativity towards the very idea of communicating with the Gods in a friendly way is often harshly ridiculed.

Instead, there are recommendations made to offer sacrifices to the Gods on the necessary days in order to placate Them. Heathens, especially, are told to focus on working with the wights and ancestral spirits instead of trying to develop deeper relationships with the Gods. We’re told that the Gods only choose certain people to work with, so there’s no point in trying to pursue a relationship with one of the Gods if it’s just going to be futile.

Working with wights and ancestral spirits is wonderful – I feel like I should work more with the wights and my ancestral spirits more often, but that is a byproduct of being made to feel like I’m somehow doing something wrong by working more with the Gods than with the wights.

No one needs to feel guilty about working with the Gods. No one needs to feel that they aren’t good enough to approach the Gods. Every God has His or Her unique type of worshipers. Loki has the fringe groups. Odin has the leaders. Freyr has the nobles. Tyr has the lawmakers. Ullr has the skiers. Mani has the sensitive. Freyja has the vain. Frigga has the mothers… I could go on forever. For every role you take on, there is a God or Goddess that would be more than happy to meet you.

This idea that the Gods aren’t interested in human affairs is nonsense. Yes, the Gods are busy with Their own challenges. That doesn’t mean They don’t get the messages sent to Them. I mentioned before that the Gods aren’t omnipresent. They can’t occupy the entirety of the universe at once. But Their names are tied to Their wyrd threads, and They receive the prayers we send even when we can’t feel Them.

Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but most people can relate. You know those moments when something really good or something really bad has happened and you can feel it so deeply within your soul that you know exactly what it is and who it has happened to? That’s the type of connection that a prayer said to a God generates automatically.

Now, while there are others out there who would say not to try to talk to the Gods like Christians talk to their God, I am not going to lend my voice to theirs. Because why should it matter if we use the same technique to talk to our Gods that the Christians use to commune with their God? I highly doubt that the Christian God is going to somehow forget that he isn’t Odin, Loki, Freyr, or any other God that doesn’t share His name, so what is there to lose?

Oh, but the Gods can’t hear us if we try to talk to Them like that; they ignore us because they find it offensive. Really? Have you tried it? I talk to the Gods in my head all the time. Do They answer back? Not usually in words, but I do sometimes get impressions and sensations. It’s much easier to send an impression than a verbal message via the threads of wyrd.

I think that Heathens forget that the wyrds of men and the wyrds of Gods can and do intertwine. We are all connected through the web of wyrd, and every person has the ability to sense that web. Every person has the ability to send and receive messages through the threads of that web. If you’ve ever heard the phone ring and known who was on the other side before you saw the caller id, you’ve experienced what it feels like to receive an impression through the threads of wyrd. If anyone has ever told you that they just knew it was you on the other end or that they just knew you were going to arrive, then you have sent messages through the threads of wyrd. The Gods are part of the web of wyrd, and everyone can send and receive messages through the web, including the Gods.

On message boards, I’ve often seen it said that Heathens shouldn’t pray to the Gods because it’s too Christian of a practice. I understand that there is some leftover resentment towards Christianity because the Roman Catholic Church did its best to wipe out all polytheistic communities during the Crusades. But guess what? They failed, and they aren’t trying to wipe us out anymore. Trying to convert us, yes, but their faith requires they do that, and not all denominations of Christianity believe in forced conversions.

There is such an anti-Christian atmosphere in any Pagan circle that it’s no wonder so many Christians end up resenting us. We ostracize them; we demonize their religion the way that they used to demonize ours. And I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that – I view Christianity, for the most part, as a very cult-like faith. I tend to think people who follow Christianity are either ignorant or complacent – sheep in sheep’s clothing. But I don’t think that because of the religion itself – I think that because most of the Christians I have met don’t even try to think for themselves. They just take it as writ that the Bible has all the answers. That is what gets under my skin.

And it gets under my skin in Heathenry, too. There are Heathens who view the lore as the end-all, be-all of the way Heathenry should work. Anything outside the lore is considered taboo, nevermind the fact that the lore we have was written specifically for a Christian audience, so there’s no telling how much of the lore was altered. If you need a book to give you all the answers, then you’re not thinking hard enough.

That’s why I hate it when I see people talking about how Heathens shouldn’t offer prayers to the Gods or even approach the Gods without working deeply with the wights and ancestral spirits. I don’t know what kind of ancestral work others do, but the way I view ancestral work is this: they passed on the legacy of my bloodline to me, and now it is my responsibility to live my life to the best of my ability. I don’t need to consult with my ancestors to figure out how I should live my life – there are some ancestors I’d like to converse with just to learn more about their lives. But nothing should feel like a requirement. 

I found an article earlier about how the eight High Days are often held in the honor of a particular God or Goddess even when the practitioner (in a group or as a solitary practitioner) has no real connection with that deity. The reason that the practitioners hold these rituals are because that’s what’s expected. That’s what is required because those days are holy only to certain deities.

Just to throw this out there – no one is required to honor a deity they aren’t connected to. To me, making an offering to a deity that I’m not connected to personally in order to honor a particular High Day would horrify me because it would strike me as being incredibly rude. I don’t make offerings to Thor because we aren’t close, and He doesn’t want anything from me. I can feel Him around, sometimes, because He is still the protector of all Heathens, and I’m not exempt from His protection just because we barely get along.

That’s another thing – there are going to be Gods that don’t like you, and there are going to be Gods that you don’t like. It took me a long time to accept that one of the Gods I am never going to be able to be anything more than civil with is Thor, since He is considered one of the most important Gods within Heathenry. For a long time, I thought that the lack of His friendship meant that I could never properly be a Heathen because it seemed to me that He was the one God that all Heathens should be able to turn to.

But I don’t fall into any of the categories that most of His worshipers fall into. I’m not a farmer (and I don’t garden); I’m a scholar. I’m not a warrior, I’m a shaman. My strength isn’t borne from physical prowess, but from intellectual prowess. I’m not right for Thor’s path, and His path isn’t right for me. The paths I do walk, however – the paths of Odin, Loki, Freyr, Ullr, Mani, Freyja, Sigyn, Tyr (thus far) – are the right paths for me to walk, and I am the right person to walk them.

So many of us try to conform to the expectations of the mainstream when we don’t have to. We can forge our own paths, and we can use whatever method of communication we want to use in order to commune with the Gods. Sometimes the communication will come in the form of verbal words (that’s the rarest kind), other times it will come in the form of impressions or visualizations or impulses. Those impressions can come during ritual or just during everyday life. The Gods always get our messages, so we should never be afraid to talk to them.

I personally make it a point, when I ask for anything from the Gods, to add the condition, “If you are willing,” to the words said in ritual or prayer. I like it better than using “please,” because “please” seems too much like desperation when used within the context of a prayer. I dislike “please” because it makes me feel like I am annoying the Gods due to the pleading nature of the word. And using the phrase, “If you are willing,” makes it much easier to accept a negative response. Generally, when we say “please” in real life, we don’t expect to hear “no,” in response. That’s another reason I prefer the phrase, “If you are willing.”

Overall, however, the point I am trying to make here is that there is no wrong way to communicate with the Gods. The biggest problem people have with hearing the Gods is questioning whether they are making up the communication or really receiving a message. The only way to resolve that is to understand that the Gods can communicate through your imagination as easily as They can communicate through any other means. Once you stop trying to stop filtering out your imagination, you stop filtering out the Gods. Once you stop filtering out the Gods, you start understanding which messages come from the Gods and which messages come from your psyche trying to trip you up.

So figure out which Gods speak to you the most. Which Gods struck a chord with you when you read Their myths? Whose personality meshed the most with yours? If you don’t know where to start when it comes to approaching a God, pretend to have a conversation with that God. In your head or out loud, it doesn’t matter. If you’re interested enough in developing a real relationship with that God, and the God in question isn’t one of the more antisocial Gods, then chances are good that the deity will eventually get back in touch.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t happen instantly, even if you already understand what I mean by sending and receiving impressions of intent through the threads of wyrd. Any trained high-level Empath does this type of sending and receiving naturally, so if you’re an Empath, you have to learn how to send messages across planes (which is less difficult than it sounds, thankfully).

For those who don’t feel confident in their sending skills, it might take longer for the message to reach the God you’re trying to contact, but the message will still reach Him or Her. Think of it as writing a letter to someone that you’d really like to meet – or, conversely, write a letter and burn it as an offering to that deity. That’s one of the fastest ways to get a message to the Gods, and we have Loki to thank for that little trick.

To reiterate my main point – there is no wrong way to communicate with the Gods. No matter what type of message you send or the medium you use, the Gods will hear you. Whether or not They respond, well, that is up to Them. If They don’t respond to you, then view the non-response as the message it is: “You aren’t suited to my path, try another.” Try not to view a non-response as a negative occurrence – chances are, the Gods already know who you are, and there is a particular deity’s path that will be a perfect fit for you. Perseverance is the key in communing with the Gods – if you give up on Them, then why should They not give up on you?

 

Hearing the Gods

I see a lot of posts from people who desperately struggle to make contact with the Gods, and I’ve seen people completely turn away from Pagan paths out of frustration.

I understand that frustration because I spent ten years unable to properly connect with a pantheon. When the Norse Gods came into my life, it was a disruptive storm. Which makes sense, considering the Norse pantheon is pretty violent overall.

I think that a lot of people have been contacted by the Gods, but that those people don’t realize that the Gods are communicating with them.

A lot of people will dismiss dreams where the Gods are featured, assuming that it’s just their imagination or extreme desire to connect with the Gods creating those dreams.

To be fair, sometimes, that may be true. In my experience, dreams are where the Gods can communicate most clearly. And a dream featuring a true connection with a deity tends to leave me exhausted upon waking.

The dreams from the Gods almost never make sense. I have witnessed Odin and Loki communicating with each other as birds. Most of the dreams where Odin is featured tend to be Him revealing past lives to me. I once witnessed Thor nearly break down Loki’s door to drag Him giant hunting.

While the dreams are interesting, they aren’t the only way the Gods communicate. Each God embodies a certain type of energy. Loki is the easiest example – His energy is fiery, mischievous, and fun. He tends to delight in throwing signs of His presence out at people.

As an example, I was doodling in my notebook during class, and I was writing Loki’s name in word art, and I looked up at my teacher’s hat and the hat had the joker on the bill.

Now, it could be easy to write that off as coincidence, but the Gods love to communicate in subtle, unmistakable ways. Words are too easy to wrongly attribute.

A problem I see people have is that they attempt to approach a God thinking He or She is the one they need to work with. There are tons of people who approach Odin who are unsuited to His path due to temperament incompatibility.

It’s better to approach a God that you can easily see parts of yourself within, as They will be the easiest for you to hear. And you may be surprised at who you end up being most compatible with.

Part of the problem is that there is this desire to be patroned by the most powerful Gods, and some people aren’t suited to those paths.

Nearly every Heathen works with Thor to some degree, but the most interaction I have really had with Him is the conversation where we agreed to respect each other. I’m not suited to His path, and it would be disrespectful for me to force my way onto His path.

The thing that people forget is that a God is a God, and even the most minor Gods are far more powerful than we tend to assume. Look at Ullr, an ancient God of winter that kept Himself relevant by becoming the patron of skiers. Most people would consider Him a minor God, as there is next to no lore about Him, but He is one of the eldest Gods of the Norse pantheon.

A person doesn’t need a patron God, but most Pagans desire one and eventually end up with one. I’m in a unique situation where Odin is my patron, but He doesn’t spend much time talking to me. When He does communicate with me, it’s always important. I’m sworn to Odin, but I’m not close to Him. That’s the role He requires of me.

That’s the other mistake people make. Patrons aren’t necessarily going to be your friend – They choose you because you can fulfill a role They need filled. It’s more like a business partnership.

Now, I have relationships with other Gods, but none of Them are patrons. Loki and Sigyn take on more of a familial role, while Tyr is the one who gives me advice from time to time. Freyja helps me learn magic, and Ullr acts as a guide between worlds.

Each of the Gods I mentioned communicate with me in different ways, but I have to be willing to be open to those communications. Since there is a spark of divinity within humanity, the Gods can communicate with us, but like any spark, that connection must be nursed to life.

The Gods are Amoral

I’ve been watching the anime Noragami Aragoto, and the basic premise of the anime is that there is a god Yato attempting to get his own shrine so he can become more powerful. There was one event that happened where Yato said that it is people that decide what is right and wrong, for gods can do no wrong. And yes, an anime did set me to thinking on philosophical/religious terms. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and it probably won’t be the last. I tend to take my inspiration from the world around me, so it isn’t weird to me that something in an anime struck me as interesting.

Anyway, I started thinking about how each of the Gods are different. Odin, Loki, and Tyr all have different personalities, and each of them want different things from the world. But the Gods never question their own morality. In the myths, there is no internal struggle faced by any of the Gods over whether the course of action they are taking is right or wrong. The Gods just act. It could be said that the Gods act in their own self-interest at all times, and I don’t think that statement would be inaccurate.

Before I get further into that, I’d like to clarify what amorality is. Most people are familiar with morality and immorality. Amorality is the lack of a sense of morality altogether. If an action can be considered neither positive nor negative, then that is an amoral action. Essentially, saying that the Gods are amoral is saying that they lack a conscience that tells them wrong from right.

I’m sure that a lot of people will disagree with me, and I imagine one of the criticisms this idea will receive is the question, “If the Gods are amoral, how can they act in loving ways?”

To answer that question, however, I need to explain the difference between amorality and sociopathy. Amorality simply means that you have no sense of right or wrong. There is no distinction. A sociopath has a sense of right and wrong but chooses to disregard it. There’s a very fine line of difference between the two, but understanding the difference is the key to understanding the answer to how Gods can still act lovingly even without possessing a sense of morality.

In my mind, picturing the Gods as amoral helps resolve some difficult contradictions. It explains why the Gods can embrace Loki as one of their own – no matter what he does, he is still a God. It explains why the actions of Odin can seem sometimes noble and sometimes ignoble – he breaks oaths without much thought.

The Gods are complex – much more complex than a human being, and, let’s face it, us humans are pretty complex beings. We project our humanity onto the Gods, forgetting along the way that the Gods aren’t human. They’re Other. We have a spark of divinity inside of us, thanks to Loki, and that spark is what allows us to relate somewhat to the Gods. But I think that we too often forget that the Gods aren’t human.

So we end up painting the Gods with our own sense of morality, then get upset when the actions of the Gods don’t add up to what we have grown to expect. As an example, a large portion of pagans view Loki as evil incarnate, but Loki isn’t inherently evil. In fact, he is morally ambiguous, which is really just another way to say that he is an amoral being. Of all the Gods, it is perhaps Loki and other trickster Gods who demonstrate the truth of the amorality of Gods the most clearly.

I think the most difficult part of this concept to grasp is how the Gods can function without a sense of morality. For us, as human beings, we need a conscience. We need to distinguish between right actions and wrong actions in order to understand our paths through our lives. The idea of a lack of morality, of a lack of a conscience, is immediately alien and difficult to imagine. This is, perhaps, the reason that the Gods defy human understanding.