For Loki: A Lost Reflection Found

So, I found a reflection I wrote back in April when I was going through my notes on my phone. Sometimes, I forget that I write reflections on my phone, but this particular one seems relevant to share here, as it was written on April 1st, which is often considered a particularly good day to honor Loki.

I feel like I’m always dancing on the edge of every group I join, and I wonder what fitting in would feel like – would it hurt? Would it feel like truth, like coming home, like being free? Would I find acceptance? Would someone finally embrace me, with all my faults and imperfections, and tell me, finally, that I’m allowed to breathe? Or would it be just another moment of loss, of self-defeat? Would I have to give up part of myself, sacrifice a bit of me, in order to find a way to fit? 

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the truth is. I doubt I’ll ever know because the truth is, I’ll never fit. I’ve never fit, and I’ve tried. The gods know I’ve tried to fit in; I have tried to adapt. I have tried to remake myself in the image of the groups I can see parts of me in. But nothing ever sticks, not really. What does stick doesn’t quite take, doesn’t quite mold itself to my skin, doesn’t quite embed itself in my flesh, doesn’t quite mesh with my mind. Always, something holds me apart, sets me aloof – just slightly – so that a life of outside looking in is all I’ve ever been allowed to know. 

Even with my friends, I know I don’t quite mesh, don’t quite fit, don’t truly belong because everything I am is too different, too me to be adapted into something not quite right. I see how my friends try to see me, try to understand, and it hurts the most because I know they never can. They can’t reach down into my heart and pull out the truth of my soul. They can’t see the depth of the emotions running as currents between us, and I can never adequately express myself because what I feel is too deep, too primal and raw, for words to do justice.

I hang on the precipice, grasping the edge over the abyss with desperation, trying to find a way to get more than a finger-hold on the edge. I’m watching everyone else around me, seeing the way they’ve found solid ground to stand on, wishing I had what they have because I am so precariously close to falling out of this world. But I’m not angry they have it when I don’t – I’m too busy trying to figure out how to overcome the predicament I find myself in, too besieged by the problem before me to care that no one else seems to be struggling with this problem. 

Except no one else seems to notice the difficulties besieging me, and they keep asking me to create a bridge for them to cross from one solid stance on the ground to another. I am transition, and I am desperately trying to provide for everyone else and also find my own path out of the ravine I’m hanging over. No one stops to ask me if I need help, but it’s not because they don’t want to help. It’s more that they can’t see that I’m not standing on solid ground. They buy an illusion I don’t have the eyes to see, and they assume I’m standing on the ground beside them with some sort of magic peak from one piece of ground to the next. They don’t see my pain….They can’t. 

Whether they want to or not doesn’t matter because the illusion is all that they can see, so if I speak, I’m silenced because what I see….The reality I live within is an illusion to them, as theirs is an illusion to me. So, we’re always missing the point, the perspective of the other person’s life is ignored, and I find myself serving as a bridge because I can see the desperate importance in being taken at face value. Because for me, I’ve never had it. I’ve never been believed when it most matters, and that is when I am telling the most truth. Because truth doesn’t need to be distorted to be painful, and lies do nothing but enhance the illusion.

It’s no wonder I work so well with Loki….We’re both outsiders who don’t know what it’s like to simply be believed. 

 

 

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What Polytheist Priests Should Provide

One of John Beckett’s latest posts, Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy? brings up some pretty interesting points. I’m reminded a little about the post I wrote about Communicating with the Gods as it can be difficult for people to tell the difference.

Beckett makes a point to differentiate between mental health and divine communication, which I respect. In a world where everyday interaction with the gods isn’t commonplace, it’s easy to understand how sudden divine communication could be seen as a sudden bout of insanity instead. That’s generally not how mental health works, which is a good thing to know.

As someone who communicates with the divine on a regular basis, I’m highly aware of how easily it would be for someone to take the experiences I share with them and twist them around to use as an effort to prove that I’m crazy. Because our society really does not have the cultural context needed to understand what direct interaction with deity entails.

I’ve been a practicing polytheist for so long now I don’t remember what it’s like to not expect the gods to just show up on a whim. I had no cultural context for it when it started happening, and it was unnerving and unsettling mostly because I had no one to turn to, no one to rely on, no one to understand what was happening. I had to figure all of that out on my own. Well, on my own and with the help of the gods. In a way, as the gods were showing up to the point I felt like I might be losing my mind, they were also showing me how to understand them — the gods helped me understand what a polytheistic framework looks like.

I can’t say that I don’t still find it unsettling sometimes when the gods drop in, especially when the god in question is one I don’t know. But I don’t find it impossible the way I might have before I started to understand what the world looks like through the eyes of a polytheist. I have met gods in human form, seen gods channel themselves through friends who are open to the experience, held conversations with gods in dreams, and communicated with gods in rituals. They are everywhere, and they take human form when they feel the need to do so. It’s weird to talk about the experiences I’ve had with gods who choose to come to me wearing a human form, as I know I’m going to deal with people thinking I’m making things up or going crazy.

But I deal with the gods on a regular basis – that’s part of what it means to be a polytheist priest. Loki and Freyr may be the ones for whom I do the most work, but once the gods know you are willing to do work, they know they can come to you for help, and they aren’t very shy about it. I view my role as a polytheist priest as one of facilitation – helping people find the gods that are trying to find them. Forging relationships. Creating friendships. In a way, I view my role to be one of networking gods to humans, humans to gods. Considering the gods I do the most work for, that role makes sense – Loki and Freyr are both very social deities, though they tend to run in different circles. The friendship between them connects them, thus creating an expansive network. It is through the work I do as their priest that allows those aspects of the gods to echo through me and throughout the Pagan and Polytheist communities.

Because I view my role as a priest to be one of networking gods and humans and vice versa, I take the communications I receive from the gods very seriously – though sometimes they can be rather confusing and/or exasperating. I’m open about the experiences I have with the gods so that I can let people know that someone will take them seriously, even when the rest of the world is telling them they’re crazy. And I’m open so that people know that they can approach me with deity-related problems and know that I will do the best I can to help them find the way to the answers they are seeking (as I don’t believe I hold the answers – I just know how to nudge people into asking the questions they are overlooking).

Take, for example, the latest direct interaction I had with a deity. I was having lunch with a friend, and we were minding our own business, talking about different pantheons of gods (what else do polytheists talk about? :p) when a person approaches our table. As he approaches, I’m already on high alert, my shoulder blades are tensed, and I’m feeling a very strong aura of “this person is not what he appears to be” which is an energetic aura that I generally only ever feel with deities using flesh form.

He starts having a conversation with us, asks us what we’re having for lunch, and I get this nudge from Freyr to buy the person lunch. So, I give him money to get lunch, he gives me a hug, and he sits down and starts talking to us in-depth about literature. My friend was reading some Shakespeare for class, and the person goes “He was alright” and tells us he prefers a French collection of poetry called Les Fleurs de Mal, which is about Satan dreaming.

After this conversation ends, I get out my phone and instantly start doing research because by this point I’ve realized I’m dealing with a deity, and I feel a strong need to know which one (I’m fairly certain the gods aren’t allowed to give their names to humans when they show up in human form. I’m not sure why, but uh… well, the effect Jesus had when he did that may play a role). Anyway, I look up this French poetry collection, learn that the version of Satan mentioned in the poems is actually Hermes Trismegistus…which is the Greek form of the Egyptian god Tehuti (also known as Thoth).

Now, while I’ve had some run-ins with Egyptian gods (namely Bast), I’d never even met Tehuti. The friend who was with me at lunch is Kemetic, but she doesn’t do a lot for Tehuti. I tell this story to another one of my friends who is also Kemetic (and does work for Tehuti), and she confirms for me that the actions the person took were pretty much exactly how Tehuti typically behaves. Gods, like humans, have personalities, so I take her word for this. The gods do whatever they have to when they need to be noticed.

A couple days after this encounter, one of my other friends, a Hellenistic polytheist, randomly texts me about how to make proper offerings to Odin. She has apparently decided to create a business contract with Odin in order to determine where she stands with the Greek pantheon, since Odin has so much knowledge of other gods. It was an interesting direction to take, but I was curious as to why she wasn’t asking the Greek gods since she already has ties there. The answer I got was that she had asked Hermes what kind of relationship they would have, and the response she got was a lot of chaotic events – traffic tickets, small accidents, etc. She felt that it was the equivalent of being told to work for Hermes while he did everything to mess up her life.

I then explained to her that sometimes the gods don’t understand human affairs – some gods are closer to humans than others. I told her that considering Hermes Trismegistus was coming to me, in person, it was fairly obvious that Hermes wanted to work with her…and perhaps was worried that she was going to turn away from that relationship and didn’t know what to do about it.

As a polytheist priest, this is normal. This is what it means to live within a polytheist framework. Sometimes, the gods stay distant and communicate only via dreams and within specific religious contexts. Other times, they drop in to have lunch wearing a human suit. Both are perfectly natural occurrences – the gods do what they want when they want. They are everywhere – it’s only that our society has forgotten what it means to live close to the gods. Because the monotheistic bent to our world has convinced people that it is impossible to stand next to a god. Impossible to have a conversation with a god in a flesh-based form. Impossible to hear a god.

But it isn’t. The gods are very real, very present, and very willing to interact with us. We just have to learn how to interact with them again. They never forgot us – we’re the ones who forgot them. And it is up to polytheists, especially the polytheist priests, to teach people how to hear the gods again, as well as how to recognize them when they choose to walk among us (and they do this often). The gods want to be heard as much as we want to hear – but first, we have to recognize that we have the ability to hear. We have to stop convincing ourselves we’re crazy when we’re receiving a legitimate message from the gods. We have to create a framework where we can talk to the gods and the gods can talk to us without constant fear of insanity making it so people who experience the gods in direct ways have no one to turn to.

The gods are real. The experiences we have of the gods are real. Learning to live with gods who change, grow, adapt, and are fluid is perhaps the hardest part of being a polytheist. Because the gods? They don’t fit in the nice, neat boxes we call lore. They don’t fit into the character sketches we make of them from the myths we read. They don’t fit into archetypes. They are complex, sovereign beings with agency of their own – and until that understanding is reached, communicating with the gods may always cause a person to reach for the question “Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy?”

So, thank you, Beckett, for pointing out one of the glaring foundational lapses of modern-day polytheism. That is something that needs to be addressed directly instead of whispered about being closed doors. The gods are real. Your experiences are real. And there are people out there who will take you at your word and offer you the understanding you need. Polytheist priests are rare, but we do exist. And I will always make myself available for any person who finds themselves at a loss for what to do when the gods drop in without warning. That is the bare minimum of what it means to be a priest. Because being a priest – yes, it is about serving the gods. But it is also about helping people. It is a calling to both the gods and to those who honor them. Let’s not forget to help the people in our eagerness to serve the gods.

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.

The Problem with Life-Denying Faiths

A woman came up to me at work the other day and started going on and on about how all of the terrible things happening around us had been predicted by the book of revelations and how the second coming was nigh. Even when I told her that her faith wasn’t my faith (and she said that was fine, to each their own and all that), she continued to go on about the book of revelations.

When I mentioned that we were destroying our planet, she dismissed that concern, essentially saying that it didn’t matter because we wouldn’t be on the planet much longer due to the second coming. That arrogance and ignorance about the world, about the planet, incensed me. I wanted to respond to her, but I was at work. And I pride myself on my professionalism, so I said nothing. Partially because of my professionalism and partially because I knew that no matter what I said, she wouldn’t listen.

And this is one of the reasons I can’t stand Christianity or other Abrahamic faiths that preach about the second coming of the messiah who will come to the earth and take everyone off of it in some glorious moment. This ridiculous illusion is what allows people to damage the earth to the extent it has become damaged.

I watched a video the other day that put the damage we, as a species, have done to the earth into a horrifyingly clear picture. According to that video, if you condensed the age of the earth down to a 24-hour day, then, proportionally, human beings have been alive for a grand total of 3 seconds. In 3 seconds, we have decimated the beauty of this world.

Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths give their followers permission to do whatever they want to the planet around them because, after all, if the messiah comes to save them in a blazing flash of glory, then it doesn’t matter what the world around them looks like. It doesn’t matter if they destroy the planet – after all, to them, heaven is the only place worth going.

There is an ugliness in a person’s willingness to destroy the beauty of the world around them, an ugliness that cannot be erased. And yet, millions of people casually destroy the world around them without a thought. Not all of them are Christians or followers of Abrahamic faiths – some of them are atheists, and some of them are just ignorant of the amazing life of the planet that surrounds them.

I went on a hiking trip earlier this year, and I have trouble with steep hikes as I have metal rods in my leg. I mentioned that I should have thought to bring a walking stick with me, as it would have helped immensely. In response, one of my companions turned to the nearest tree and started to break off part of a limb. I physically felt the pain the tree went through, and I turned around and confronted him about it. He left the limb half-broken off of the tree, and I told him if he was going to break it, then to break it cleanly. After all, a half-detached limb can’t grow back properly. I was upset for the rest of the day because of his ignorance.

While he thought he was being kind by trying to find me a walking stick, he was actually causing a tree unnecessary pain. And yes, trees can feel pain. They are living creatures, just like we are. Every living creature can feel pain. Most people go through life ignorant of this fact, so, of course, they find it easy to cut down forests or trample flowers without a single thought to the harm they are doing.

We live in an interconnected world – all living beings are part of this immense web of life, in this biosphere. To forget that, to forsake that, is to blind yourself to the beauty of the world around you.

Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths teach an ignorance of this. They teach that humans are meant to hold dominion over the earth, over the other animals that reside here. That we are supposedly the masters of the planet.

That is a load of crap. We are masters of nothing except our own beings. So many people fail to respect the earth and the lives that reside within the earth, it is no wonder so many animals are going extinct, hunted for their fur or their tusks or their meat. It is no wonder our oceans are being filled to the brim with plastic garbage. Until we start taking responsibility, each and every one of us, for the harm we have been doing to the planet, and taking steps to correct that harm, then the earth will continue to slowly strangle under the weight of our presence.

If I had to choose one thing that ties me to Paganism, one thing that will always tie me to Paganism, it is the love I hold for the earth we live on. The earth is ancient, and it thrives with life. To ignore the wisdom of the earth is ignorance in its highest iteration. I refuse to be ignorant. I refuse to live a life waiting for some messiah to come and save me. Instead, I embrace the Old Ways, the ways that honor and cherish the life of the earth and all of the life found within it. For my faith is a life-affirming faith, and I will not deny it.

Self-Reliance: My Interpretation

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

Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is a difficult concept for me to discuss because it encompasses every part of my life. I read a lot, so I get an idea of what other people view self-reliance as being, but I don’t always agree with other people. Actually, I frequently disagree with others, and I find myself constantly re-evaluating my decisions and thoughts, trying to find a middle ground because I am good at jumping to extremes. It is because I am so prone to jumping to extremes that I search so hard for the middle ground – it is a skill I’ve had to practice, and I don’t always succeed at finding it until someone points it out to me.

From what I’ve gathered, others tend to view self-reliance as financial reliance, but I don’t care much about money and never have. If I had to place myself in a socioeconomic class, I would be considered impoverished because the only job I work is the work study I do at my school (which pays around $200-$250 a month due to the limitations placed on it), and I draw food stamps to pay for my groceries. Most of the money I make goes to gas because I still live at home with my dad – in a house that has been in my family for five generations. If I were to conform to society’s standards, I should be ashamed that I live at home, that I work a low end job, that I draw support from the government – and sometimes I do feel shame, but that doesn’t stop me from living the life I have.

The thing is, I view financial self-reliance as a means to an end. If you’re rich, then you have luxuries like sports cars, fancy entertainment systems, etcetera. Money is the fuel for luxurious living, not a means to living. Obtaining government support so that I can eat every month is a decision I made on my own without input from anyone else. Not to work more than forty hours a month at a work study job while I’m in school – another decision I made for myself. Because I know that even with the low income I have right now, I have the things that matter – I have a roof over my head, a car that runs (necessary since I live 14 miles from town), and friends/family I care about. I don’t intend to stay in this financial situation forever – I’m enrolled in school for a reason. But I don’t look at money as something that determines whether or not I’m self-reliant.

Self-reliance, in my mind, deals more with emotional, mental, and spiritual issues. If I make a decision, I commit myself to that decision. I was having a discussion earlier today with someone who jokingly said “Commitments are made to be broken.” That’s not something I felt comfortable joking about, so I replied seriously – “No. Commitments are made to be honored.” Because that, to me, is the way I live. If I say I’m going to do something, I will do it. My word is my bond, and I have to trust myself to honor my word. Self-trust is not something that comes easily to anyone, and having ADHD as I do makes it more difficult for me than most.

I believe self-reliance comes from self-trust and self-knowledge and neither of those are gained through easy methods. Taking the time to really get to know the way your own mind works, to understand what works for you and what doesn’t, to decide whether or not you will be swayed by the opinions of the people that surround you – all of that builds up and forges the foundation of a personality – experience does the rest. I’ve dealt with a lot of hardship in my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to lay down and let myself be defeated. The world isn’t an easy place to live, and if it were, living wouldn’t be worth doing.

Self-doubt and self-reliance seem like polar opposites but they go hand-in-hand. There’s not a single person out there who doesn’t doubt the decisions they make, but at some point, we have to decide whether we trust ourselves more than we doubt ourselves. I believe that it’s when we reach a point of extreme self-doubt and yet choose to trust ourselves anyways, no matter the consequences of our decision – that’s when self-reliance is truly forged. Of course, that’s just the beginning. Because the big decisions in our lives are always fueled by that extreme self-doubt, so I feel that a developed sense of self-reliance only comes from a heavy experience of self-doubt during the decisions we must make throughout our lives.

Note: I spent May 6-May 20 in Canada, so that’s why I haven’t posted anything until now, for those of you who are wondering.