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.

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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.

On the Nature of the Norse Gods

I’ve mentioned before how the Norse Pantheon is comprised of war gods – there isn’t a single deity that cannot be connected, in some way, to war. I’ve just started reading Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion by Edward P. Butler, and it already has me thinking – a sign that it is an excellent book.

He mentions using Sallustius’s five models of interpretations for myth with a heavy focus on the theological interpretation. The five models are theological, physical, psychical, material, and mixed. What is meant by the theological interpretation is the way that the very essence of the gods can be considered. Butler states, “The total body of myths belonging to a culture forms a comprehensive paradigm of the cosmos as expressed within that cultural sphere.”

I wrote awhile ago on the avenues I personally feel need to be explored in order to fully comprehend a polytheistic tradition, which you can read here, and one of the avenues I mentioned is cosmogony.

I’ve been thinking about the Norse creation myth recently, and as I was reading through part of Butler’s work, I made connections that I wasn’t really expecting to make but which made sense upon reflection.

As I said, the Norse gods are gods of war, and that nature can be seen within the creation myth itself. Life emerges from conflict, from the meeting of elements of opposite natures. Fire and ice merge to create life, which is ironic as both elements are more than capable of destroying life as well. Both are so powerful in their own right that they cannot retain their own forms in the presence of the other, so they are forever altered by the interaction, and life comes forth in the shape of an asexual giant.

In some ways, Ymir can be viewed as the personification of the force of ice, as he is the first frost giant ever born. Audhumla comes forth as well, and she nourishes Ymir. She provides him with the sustenance to sustain his life. While doing so, she uncovers the first god in the ice, bringing him forth into being. She is able to melt the ice, and so it may be possible to view her as the personification of the force of fire. The two primeval beings created from the two primeval elements after coming into contact with one another. Buri, the first of the gods, may represent the first combination of the two elements in a single form. He is born of both fire and ice – encased in ice, frozen in time, he is given life by Audhumla’s actions, making him the first being to be created from a combination of elements.

Of course, while Audhumla is freeing Buri from the ice, Ymir is busy asexually reproducing more frost giants. The giants born from him are, like him, born entirely of ice. We aren’t told that Audhumla frees anyone else from the ice, so there’s no way to know for sure if Buri is the only god that she brings to life this way. What is noted next is that Buri has a son Bor (whose origin is never mentioned) and that Bor marries a giant named Bestla and the two of them give birth to Odin, Vili, and Ve.

Whether Buri has Bor through procreation or asexual reproduction is never mentioned, so it is hard to make any inferences from the fact that Bor is Buri’s son. On the other hand, we know that Bor marries Bestla – a god with a giant – and that’s that first real indication we have of the mixing of gods and giants. Bestla, as a giant, most likely came into existence through Ymir’s asexual reproductive habits, and it can be presumed that she, like all other frost giants at the time, is representative of the primeval power of the element of ice. At the same time, Bor has a mixture of both fire and ice within him, as he is the son of Buri who is also of mixed elements. Through the introduction of the mixed elements of fire and ice into the giant’s gene pool, the Aesir gods are born.

The fire within Bor introduced to Bestla ran contrary to her nature – as a being of pure ice, any form of fire should not have been able to take hold. And yet it did. And through that conflict, the Aesir gods come into being. They are birthed through the conflict of primeval elements at war with one another.

A conflict which continues with the problem that Odin, Vili, and Ve have with Ymir that results in his death. I’ve read a couple of theories as to why Ymir was seen as a threat. One theory is that he was overpopulating the world with frost giants with his asexual reproduction and needed to be stopped. Another theory is that he became so greedy for the sustenance Audhumla provided him that he killed her, and the gods killed him in revenge. The first seems more plausible to me, as I can’t fathom why anyone would kill their only source of sustenance – it’d be counter to the survival instinct.

Either theory can be viewed in the light of a conflict between the two creative/destructive elements of ice and fire. The gods, who have the power of creation and thus represent an embodiment of fire, have a power of creation very different from that of the frost giants. Ymir’s asexual reproduction can be seen as a type of creative power that was quickly spiraling out of control and becoming destructive,if utilizing the theory that the Aesir trio killed him because of the overpopulation of the world. The creative power the Aesir have is much more controlled, which can be seen in the way they carefully craft the earth out of Ymir’s remnants after they slay him. Nothing goes to waste – everything is re-purposed.

If, however, we view the myth from the angle that Ymir becomes so greedy he cannot control himself and kills Audhumla, we also see the destructive power of ice. The Aesir trio may have killed him to avenge Audhumla, but it is more likely that they killed him to prevent any further destruction. In this case, as well, we see the creative power of the element of ice being overtaken by its destructive power.

The Aesir are able to halt the destruction because they have both fire and ice elements within them. For that reason, they can slow the destructive nature of the primeval ice world that flows within their veins, and they can use the power of fire to restructure the world. Fire is a crafting power when used creatively, but it also has the ability to overwhelm its creative power through its destructive power. It is through the mix of the two elements that the gods are able to stay the destructive powers of both elements and utilize the constructive powers of each.

And they use those powers to craft worlds out of Ymir’s remains. Ymir’s blood floods the world, and only two giants are able to escape the aftermath. A sign, perhaps, that the primordial element of ice cannot be entirely eliminated from the world, especially as it was one of the elements that helped create the world. The gods use every piece of Ymir to create Midgard, letting nothing go to waste. Out of the conflict they had with him, they create something new. Out of conflict and destruction, creation and construction emerge.

Through all of this, of course, there’s a backdrop – the Ginnungagap. The Void. The Nothingness of Non-Existence through which the elements of both Muspellheim and Niflheim must pass in order to come into contact with one another to allow for life to take shape at all. It is the Unknowable Mystery, and the concept of such a Non-Existence is impenetrable, as our minds slide around it as we try to grasp it. Trying to do so, in actuality, might drive someone insane. Because it is not possible to know non-existence, as non-existence, in our reality, does not exist, and, therefore, the concept of it is not easily (or ever) grasped.

But it is this concept that the gods are intimately familiar with, as they originally live within the Ginnungagap. It is to the center of this place that they take Ymir’s body and use his remains to create Midgard. It is from this Non-Existence that physical reality emerges, the place from which Midgard comes forth. There is an inherent contradiction there that is not possible to resolve because it is a concept that we cannot grasp – that existence comes from non-existence, and that non-existence itself in some form exists. Our minds aren’t readily made to deal with such concepts…if they were, then the contemplation of the existence of non-existence wouldn’t have the potential to drive us mad.

For the gods, however, they existed within the Ginnungagap at the beginning. They dealt with the conflict between the two primordial worlds of fire and ice and saw the results of having the two elements mixed. They were born into a world of conflict, a world at war with itself, and it seems natural that they became deities of war because of that. In some ways, it could perhaps be argued that the Norse gods are gods at war with themselves, as they possess the inherent properties of the creative and destructive nature of fire, ice, and non-existence. It is a testament to how complex the nature of the gods are that it is so difficult to get a firm grasp on what may be the essence that defines them, the essence that sets them apart from us and makes them gods instead of men.

I find it fascinating to find such a connection to the Aesir as gods of war through the cosmogony of the Norse tradition, and I enjoy analyzing myths from multiple vantage points. I will not say that this is the only interpretation of this myth that is plausible, nor that it defines the nature of the gods. This is only one of my own interpretations – I don’t limit myself to a singular interpretation of any myth (notice, I even explored two different theories in this one about Ymir) – and it is not meant to be reflective of anyone else’s experiences, practices, or beliefs.

On Being an Eclectic Heathen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loki’s Path: Essential Marginality

I read an article called “Loki’s Mythological Function in the Tripartite System” by Jerold C. Frakes that was published in the Journal of English and Germanic Philosophy in 1987. I found some pretty interesting excerpts.

“In attempting to come to terms with Loki as a functional element in the mythological system, his essential marginality may well by the key. He is external to the system, but essential to its function, and thus it is as a mediator between the outside and inside, partaking of both, that he operates.”

And

“Loki manifests his essential mythological function as anti-function. And as such his role is necessary to complete the semiotic structure of the mythological system. For it is only by the means of an anti-function that the functions, and by means of the margin and that which is marginalized that the center, are ultimately delimited and defined. Loki defines the functions in a number of ways – as their tester and usurper, subverter and destroyer. On the margin, he has equally ambiguous ties to the realms both of the gods and of the giants, but is at home with neither. His offspring are also creatures of the margin.”

I really like the line “His essential marginality may well be the key” because it fits. It really does.

Loki is the god of the fringes. Of the margins. Of the marginalized. All of us who stand in the margins of society for one reason or another understand that we are outside of the system, yet essential to the way the system functions. We understand what it is like to be both on the inside and the outside of the system, never quite fitting in one way or the other, but still somehow getting by with what we manage to grab hold of. That’s what Loki’s path really is. The flitting back and forth over the boundary of the inside and outside. And it’s hard to explain exactly what that feels like, but it is a lot less fluid than it sounds, and a lot more difficult to deal with emotionally than those who aren’t part of a marginalized group will ever understand.

“Understanding Loki” Book Update

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

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

Here is the interview:

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

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

 

Surviving Odin’s Path

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an abusive home, but I’ve come to recognize the signs of when someone has come close to their breaking point. Actually, I would say it is because I grew up in an abusive home. I learned to recognize the body language my mom exhibited when she was close to her breaking point, and I learned to tiptoe around it.

In essence, I learned how to manipulate because I had to learn how to do so in order to survive. Saying the wrong thing led to places I didn’t want to go, and acting the wrong way – well, let’s suffice to say that the results of that were even less pleasant. I learned to maneuver myself in ways that meant I could present myself to others without ever having them think of me as a threat, or, conversely, I could make myself seem a bigger threat than I was. Essentially, I learned to relate to others through the body language they showed me, and I learned to portray what they expected to see.

And, for a long time, I hated that about myself. I hated that I used manipulation without even thinking about it, and I used to insist that I would never manipulate anyone else and that I didn’t do it at all. But that was more to counter the hatred I had of the way I had been forced to learn to manipulate in order to survive than it was hatred of the manipulation itself.

It’s ironic, though, that society in general looks at manipulation in a negative light – the word carries tons of negative connotations. But manipulation can be used in a positive way, and if that wasn’t true, I would never have been able to learn how to manipulate myself in order to help heal from the mental wounds my mother inflicted on me. I had to relearn how to think, had to manipulate my thinking patterns into new pathways, and I had to create my own honor code that could accept that I had the ability to manipulate others but that I could choose to do it in a kind way rather than a cruel one.

Generally, manipulation is thought of as a tool to get others to go along with what you want or to get what you want. But it can also be used to convince others that they have more potential than they think they do, can help rally others to a cause that they themselves believe in, and provide a way for those whose minds have been damaged to heal themselves.

But the kind of damage that a person must undergo to need manipulation to heal themselves leaves terrible scars, and that damage instills in a person a hardness and steadfastness that is equivalent to the battle hardness found in soldiers. I will never forget the day I spent talking to a man who did three tours in Iraq about my past or his words about how I had survived a war zone that existed outside of the battlefield.

There are obligations that parents have to children that my parents rarely met, and I learned to do what I had to in order to survive at a very early age. I learned that the only person who would ever properly care for me was myself, and I learned not to expect anyone around me to offer me support. I grew up hard, and I’ve lost none of that. I don’t think you can lose it once you’ve gained it.

However, that hardness – that strength – is what allows me to walk Odin’s path because I know that it requires sacrifice, more sacrifice than most realize. I know that it means I will watch others I care about die because Odin is a death-god (and so many are so quick to forget that), and I know that it means I will not die an easy death. But I have not had an easy life, and I see no reason to go easily into death. I was walking Odin’s path before I even knew that there was such a path to walk, so it made sense to continue following it when Odin came into my life.

But it was Odin who helped me realize that I had the strength needed to follow His path, that I could give up what I needed to give up in order to gain the blessings He bestows on those who follow Him.

A few people have told me that they could never follow Odin because they were afraid of how much they would have to give up, and I can appreciate their candor. Of all the paths I walk, Odin’s is the most difficult. Because while the blessings received are always worth the pain wrought (because there is always pain, whether it is physical or emotional), the level of that pain is not to be underestimated. Odin is a dark God; he is a War God, a Death God, and of Shamanistic magic. Those aspects are enhanced by, not balanced by, His provinces of poetry and wisdom.

There are many who try to portray Odin as a light God of laughter and love and majesty. He is none of those things, although He can seem them when He wishes to. I think Pagans often forget that any deity who deals in death deals with the Dark side of life. While death is part of life – in fact, life couldn’t exist without it – death isn’t light.

What is so ironic, here, to me, is that Odin is so well-worshiped among modern Heathens while Loki is so despised. Loki is light. He is laughter and fire and passion and all of the things that balance out the dark path that belongs to Odin. Loki is the one who provides the means to survive Odin’s path without succumbing to the dark completely. That’s why I can’t understand those Heathens who insist on worshiping Odin and refuting Loki – if Loki’s path didn’t balance out Odin’s path, I don’t know how I would have made it through the last six years of my life. I don’t know how I would even make it through a day.

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.

 

 

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.