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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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.

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.

 

Venturing Beyond the Solitary Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyr’s Path: Need for Balance

First post of the new year, and I’m thinking a lot about balance. What it means, how to find it. How to structure my life without overwhelming myself and also leaving enough room in it for spontaneity. It’s a very Tyrian way of thinking, as Tyr is the deity that presides over cosmic balance.

Most paint him as the deity that presides over justice. In the Norse pantheon, that is actually Forseti, and he is the one to call on for courtly disputes. Tyr does work with justice, but on a cosmic level. As the ultimate balancing agent. He is the peacekeeper who will wage war to bring about harmony. He does what is needed in order to keep the worlds from colliding.

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about how the Otherworld is leaking through into ours, how the veils between this world and the next are shredded. But I’m not quite sure shredded is the right word. Thinner, perhaps, but I’m not sure that’s a negative . Yes, I had to deal with more otherwordly encounters last year than before, but I can’t view that as being a bad thing.

Others are concerned…I guess I’m a little concerned myself, but it’s more a concern about what it is I need to know in order to face whatever ends up in this world. Science can’t explain a lot about the spiritual phenomena we encounter every day, and that may always be true. While I don’t believe science and magic are incompatible, a balance between the two has yet to be properly struck.

Anyway, it’s not just in the greater schemata of the universe that I am sensing a need for balance. There’s also a bit of a deficit of it in my own life. That’s not really too surprising, since I work with both Odin and Loki (extreme order, extreme chaos). It’s hard to seesaw back and forth between the two of them without someone else to help balance out those two very strong forces, and that’s where I find it necessary to turn to Tyr.

Very little is known about Tyr, aside from the bravery he showed when he did what was necessary to keep the peace in the realms by binding Fenrir and losing his hand in the process. it’s not as clear-cut as saying the ends justify the means, but rather that the right ends (namely, peace and frith between the worlds) justify the means, even if those means happens to require the betrayal of a great friend. It becomes a study in how sacrificing one for the sake of the many can be done, and, sometimes, how it should be done. One life versus one hundred. One realm versus nine. There are no easy answers. But the questions must be posed, and it is only in weighing the odds that balance is found.

 

Loki’s Path – the Non-Binary World

When most people think non-binary, they think gender. Because the LGBTQ+ community (of which I am a proud member) has done a wonderful job of promoting gender awareness. The community has spread awareness that there are more genders than just male and female – there’s a difference between biological sex and gender, which is, of course, a social construct.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about non-binary gender identity because I realized a few days ago that I don’t really have a gender identity. Yes, I was born female – biologically, that’s my sex. But I don’t identify as a woman insomuch as society tells me I am one because there’s still this confusion between sex and gender. I also don’t identify as a male, nor do I identify as trans… it took me awhile to realize that my gender identity is agender – I don’t identify with any gender at all.

To be fair, the last time I was proactively engaged in the LGBTQ+ community was in high school – over ten years ago – and after I graduated high school, I got too busy with work, figuring out my religion, and relationship dramas to really engage in the community. I was too busy with life to worry or care about what my sexuality or gender identities might be.

I mean, yes, in high school, I came out as bisexual. But I did that almost by accident. I wrote a letter to a friend asking her what she thought about homosexuality and got back a four page response accusing me of being a lesbian and telling me that we could no longer be friends because I was going to go to hell for being a terrible sinner. I was shocked at the reaction a simple question had provoked, but I let her spread the rumor that I was a lesbian without disputing it unless someone asked (upon which I said I was bisexual). I honestly didn’t care what people thought about my sexuality. I never have. My sexuality isn’t anyone’s business but mine, yet it caused my high school to react with a high dramatic flair. I had two girls follow me around my freshman year, taunting me about how I was going to hell, only to have those self-same girls come up to me my senior year and ask me what it was like to be with a girl. People are fickle. That’s what I learned.

Prior to this year of university, my engagement with the LGBTQ+ community was via friends I had who were also part of the community, talking to people online, and reading news stories. That was all the exposure I had. Until this year, I didn’t realize how large the local LGBTQ+ community really is, and I had very little experience with non-binary gender identities. I knew I’d never have a problem with transgender – that was the only one I’d even heard of before – because I can easily understand why someone born as one sex can feel like the opposite gender than the gender they were assigned at birth. That never confused me. I’ve never felt uncomfortable being in the body of a woman, but I’ve never really felt like a woman. It just happens to be the sex I was born as.

I’d never heard of gender neutral pronouns until about a year ago when I first met someone who used the they/them/their pronouns. It was a little weird to get used to using the pronouns as singular rather than plural – especially as a writer – but I’ve always been an advocate of supporting the way that others identify themselves. Now, if I know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns and a friend slips up when talking about said person, I immediately correct my friend. I understand the disconnect from the binary.

And, for the first time since high school, I took the exploration of my own sexual and gender orientation off the back-burner and really started considering it. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t bisexual, I was pansexual. There’s not a single gender that I’m averse to – a person is much more than their gender. In some ways, that makes me gender blind, but in others… I understand that gender is a very important part of who they are, and I’d never downplay someone else’s gender identification.

But figuring out my own gender – that was more difficult. I already knew that gender was a social construct. I’ve taken enough psychology courses to know that. When it came to figuring out my gender, however, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t know there were more genders to choose from than just male, female, and transgender. I thought those were the only three. I’ve since done a lot more research – I’m pretty quick to correct gaps in my knowledge when I feel the need – and I realized pretty quickly that I identify most strongly with the agender identification. I still use feminine pronouns because I genuinely don’t care how others view my gender. I don’t identify as any gender, so why would I care? Others who identify as agender may care – that’s fine. I don’t, and I can only speak for myself.

Now,  you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Loki, but honestly, it should be fairly obvious. Loki is, perhaps, the most gender fluid of all the Norse deities. Loki shows up as female, as male, and anything/everything in-between. He also takes on animal forms. He has no qualms showing up in whatever form suits him.

On top of that, he is also the deity who pushes the hardest for those who honor him to embrace every aspect of themselves. No matter how hard it is, Loki says “Face yourself. Figure out who you are. Embrace yourself.” There’s a reason Loki is often the patron of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Of all the deities in the Norse pantheon, he may be the least non-judgmental.

In the Heathen community as a whole, being part of it while also being queer? That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when there’s tons of essays and books written about proper feminine and masculine roles within old Norse societies. If I have one major complaint about the behaviors of those in the Heathen community, then it’s directed at those who insist that traditional roles need to be upheld because Heathenry is a “family-oriented faith.” But you know something? When you identify a family unit as headed by a husband-wife couple, you are perpetuating a binary. You are saying the world is black and white -you are creating a world where family can’t be two women at the helm, two men at the helm, two trans at the helm, etc… you are invalidating a ton of diverse family units, and for what?

For some distorted notion of what family should be?

But when you do that, when you insist on a single type of family unit, you’re doing the same thing that monotheists do when they insist on a single type of deity. We’re polytheists. We honor many deities. We shift perspectives on a daily basis because we have to. So why do I see so many polytheists stuck in this binary of what a family can and can’t be? Of what gender is and isn’t? Of whether Loki deserves to be honored or not? Why can’t we just make room for it all?

After all – that’s what polytheists of old did. They made room. They included. So stop dividing, stop creating lines to create divisions just for the sake of having sides to stand on. And start paying attention to the humanity of the person standing next to you.Try appreciating the things that make you different rather than dismissing them.

If you don’t understand why anyone would honor Loki – that’s okay. No one is asking you to honor him. All we’re asking is that you stand aside and let us honor him instead of condemning us for our spiritual practices.

Over the years, even on the outskirts of the Heathen community, I have felt a sense of exclusion. Because I don’t fit the mold. I don’t adhere to rigid reconstructionist lines. I incorporate other practices outside of Heathenry. I work with druidic and shamanic practices, too. I’m not bound by these imaginary lines that the community has drawn because community? That’s something I can create for myself.

There’s this mistaken idea in all societies that in order to be an accepted part of a community, you have to obey all the social norms. Toe the line. Do the exactly expected thing. Never step out of the box. If you do, you become outcast. And nothing’s worse than being cast out. At least, that’s what the community says.

But take some time – read the Poetic Edda. Read Odin’s words. He never says “Conform.” None of the deities ever say “Conform.” And while Loki may have done quite a few mischievous things, in general, the other gods trusted him at their side (barring the myth of Balder, which is controversial for a lot of reasons). Loki broke social norms all the time. He broke the binary. He said, “Look, there are other ways to do things than the way they have always been done.” And the other gods, when they had a problem, turned to Loki and asked, “How do we solve this?” Because they trusted him to think outside the binary. They trusted his ability to find new ways to view the world and to come up with solutions that worked, however unorthodox those solutions might be.

So, if you need a reason for why I work with Loki – that’s the best one I have to give. Loki pushes me to be a better person, to be the best version of me that I can be, and he pushes me to accept myself, no matter what truths I find. And he says it’s okay to be outside the norm, outside the binary. Loki doesn’t make me choose – none of the gods do. The only ones who keep telling me to decide between this or that, between one thing and another – the ones who keep telling me to embrace binary spectrums – are humans. The gods don’t care.

And community? Community isn’t found with just those who share your faith. That’s just another binary world, and I reject it out of hand. Because I don’t live in a binary world. To me, that’s an incredibly boring place to live. If I wanted binary, I’d have stuck with monotheism. I’d have stuck with atheism. I’d have chosen an either-or path. But that’s not what I chose. That’s not what spoke to me, not what called me home. No, polytheism spoke to me. The myriad, the plentiful – the non-binary – world of thousands upon thousands of deities. Why would I choose anything else?

A Lokean Type of Courage

One of the biggest groups of people who tend to find themselves interacting with Loki are those who have been abused in some way. The ones who have lost themselves and need to be guided back – who need to learn who they are again. Loki teaches us that it’s okay to not be okay. He teaches us that it’s okay to be wounded and feel the wound so that it can heal properly.

Until Loki came into my life, I had pushed the abuse that I dealt with growing up to the back of my mind. Learned to suppress it, to minimize it, to rationalize it into being less bad than it actually was. To some extent, I still do that. Because there’s the fear that follows me around that people are going to think less of me if they understand what I went through. That they are going to think me weak because I didn’t stop it, that they won’t understand that I couldn’t stop it.

It’s easy to tell people that I grew up in an alcoholic home and let them draw their own conclusions from there. It’s harder to explain the stark terror that I felt when my mother started drinking. The more alcohol consumed, the more violent and unreasonable she became. She would yell terrible things at me, telling me that no one would ever love me, that I was the reason she drank, that I could do nothing right. And I took that all to heart.

Because when my mother started drinking, I was eight years old. Up until that point, my mother had been the most incredible, doting mother that a child could ask for. She taught me how to read. She waited with me in the freezing cold for the bus to school. She made me snacks for when I got home from school. There was no one in the world that I loved more.

And then, like someone had flipped a switch, she became someone I didn’t know. Someone who terrified me because I couldn’t understand where my mother had gone. My life became a pursuit of escaping the terror she inflicted in me. I wanted to be anywhere but near her. Because I took what she said about her drinking being my fault to heart – I believed that I had caused the change.

So I did everything I could to be the perfect child. I performed well academically. I did my chores without complaining. I wanted my mother to be proud of me because I had this idea in my head that if I just did enough well enough that I could fix her. And I wanted to fix her because I missed the woman who had spent hours teaching me to read. Who had cared enough about me to stand beside me in the winter to make sure I got to school okay.

Occasionally, there would be flashes. Moments of sobriety where I would see her. In those moments, she taught me how to keep from being bullied. She taught me how to spot potential threats and how to guard against them. She also taught me how to deal with my empathic gift. And I loved her during those moments because that was the woman who I recognized as my mother. There was her, and then there was the woman she became when she drank.

She became domineering – everything was micromanaged. I had to fetch her drinks and fix them perfectly – eight ice cubes in each glass of water. I had to bring her glasses full of vodka. To this day, I cannot stomach the smell of pure vodka. If it’s in a mixed drink, I can always taste it. I told one of my ex-boyfriends this. He didn’t believe me, made a drink without telling me what he put in it, and I took one sip and handed it back to him. There was less than a thimbleful of vodka in the glass. The reason I can always taste it – the first time I ever tasted vodka, my mother forced it down my throat. I was twelve years old.

When I didn’t do something to her satisfaction, her favorite method of discipline was to use the handle of a broom as a cane. Compliance is pretty much guaranteed when you know that disobedience results in that level of pain. Because of that threat, as well as the continuous emotional abuse she threw at me, I lived in perpetual fear. I learned how to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I didn’t want to risk her ire – it was a matter of survival.

I constantly felt pulled in two directions – I loved her and I hated her. I wanted her to die, I wanted her to be better. She was in and out of the hospital up until I turned fifteen, when she passed away. With her death, my entire world fell apart. I blamed myself because I had occasionally wished for it to happen. I was tormented by guilt, feeling responsible for her death as well as feeling guilty for feeling relieved because she was gone. My beloved tormenter was gone forever.

What I didn’t realize until years later was that she had left me with incredible emotional scars. I couldn’t trust people properly – I went into relationships expecting them to fail. I was defensive, scared that people could see the me underneath – the broken, flawed me. The one who felt like she was falling apart. I pushed people away in a twisted effort to test their ability to handle my brokenness. No matter how successful I was at what I did, no matter what accomplishments I laid claim to, I always felt hollow. Empty. Because being successful meant nothing to me if I wasn’t the most successful. My mother succeeded in turning me into a perfectionist, incapable of appreciating my own success without feeling inferior for not being the best. And I hated it because I knew that other people would be happy doing the things I’d done. They would appreciate them. And all I had was this bitterness towards not being the best, about failing to win the best and most impressive awards.

To say that I don’t still contend with these feelings today would be dishonest. I still struggle with maladaptive perfectionism. I still struggle with the double-bind thinking that was dumped on me by my alcoholic mother. And I still sometimes feel that I will never be good enough. Not for myself, not for other people. But now, rather than have them define my life, they are just the bad days. The ones that fall in-between the mostly good ones.

Because Loki, when he came into my life, he made me face my past. He made me own up to myself. He forced me to stop minimizing the damage that had been done because wounds left untreated tend to fester. Facing my past wasn’t an easy thing to do. Learning to trust wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially because I had to learn to trust the world again. I learned to distrust it as soon as my mother started drinking. Started being afraid that everything I saw and felt wasn’t real, that there was an illusion separating truth from fiction because in no real world would my mother become what she became. I stopped trusting myself.

And self-trust is the first step in self-knowledge. How can you know yourself if you can’t trust yourself to distinguish reality from illusion, truth from deceit? I still struggle to trust myself. I may always struggle with that, but that’s okay. I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be perfect. That it’s okay to have wounds, as long as you are actively seeking to close them (festering wounds do no one any good), and I have learned that there’s a strength in me that few people can match because I had to go through hell to get to where I am today.

So when I say that the biggest group of people who are drawn to Loki’s path are those who have been abused, please understand that I say this with the understanding of someone who has gone through hell and come out the other side. You can’t come out unscathed – you come out scarred and battle-hardened. Lokeans are some of the fiercest people, some of the hardiest warriors, on the face of the planet because we’ve all lived through our share of wars.

When other people point to Loki and make claims that he isn’t a god, that he’s a Norse devil, or that he only finds purchase among the weirdest and fluffiest of people, it infuriates me. Because I’m not a fluffy person – no one who goes through what I’ve been through comes out of it and becomes the happy-go-lucky rainbows-and-unicorns kind of person that “fluffy” implies – and none of the Lokeans I know are very fluffy either. Scared, yes. Vulnerable, sometimes. But being willing and able to admit to fear and vulnerability isn’t a weakness – it’s one of the greatest strengths that we possess because being honest about fear? There’s no greater courage.

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.