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.

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The Etymology of the word God

One of the strongest beliefs I hold is that the original form and meaning of a word contains the most accurate depiction of that word. I believe that the spark humanity contains of divinity is seen most clearly in our unique ability to use language. While animals can communicate with each other, language is unique to humans.  For that reason, I believe that the original form of a word contains the purest meaning. In a word’s original form, no dilution has taken place. As a species, we have a tendency to redefine words to suit our purposes, and the meaning of a word can morph.

While I’ve done research on the etymology of the names of a handful of the Norse Gods, I have never researched the etymology of the term “God.” Perhaps because it seemed to me like the meaning should be clear – a God is a deity, and a deity is a divine being. In retrospect, those are concepts that I intuitively understand, but what a God actually is has always been open to interpretation.

So I decided to look into the etymology of “God” and I found a few interesting articles.

The following excerpt comes from https://wahiduddin.net/words/name_god.htm

Oddly, the exact history of the word God is unknown.

All that we know for certain is that the word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judeo-Christian scripture manuscripts which were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.

This situation is quite remarkable, since there is a long history of people arguing and fighting over the name of God, yet we don’t even know where the word came from!

According to the best efforts of linguists and researchers, the most common theory is that the root of the present word God is the Sanskrit word hu which means to call upon, invoke, implore.

Nonetheless, it is also interesting to note the strong similarity to the ancient Persian word for God which is Khoda (or Khuda).

I find it fascinating to learn that the word God was never used in any of the original Judeo-Christian scriptures. That implies that the word God isn’t Judeo-Christian in origin, which is intriguing (and ironic), considering how synonymous the term God has become with the Judeo-Christian theology.

Seeing that the most common theory about the etymology of God being the Sanskrit word hu, meaning “to call upon, invoke, or implore,” is interesting because it’s verbal in nature. If a God can be defined as a process, that makes exploring the nature of a God much more complex.

The other theory mentioned was that the word God is very similar to the Persian Khoda/Khuda.

The etymology of Khuda is as follows:

The term derives from Middle Iranian xvatay, xwadag meaning “lord”, “ruler”, “master” (written as Parthian kwdy, Middle Persian kwdy, Sogdian kwdy, etc.). It is the Middle Iranian reflex of Avestan xva-dhata- “self-defined; autocrat”, an epithet of Ahura Mazda. The Pashto term Xwdāi (خدای) is a New Iranian cognate.

There isn’t enough evidence in support of this theory for me to view it as being the best one to invest in – from what I could gather, the term Khuda is synonymous with the word God as it is used today, but research into its etymology shows no direct link between the word khuda and the word God.

Turning back to the potential etymology for the word God, I went to the Etymology Online Dictionary, which is a great place to begin any research into the etymology of a word.

Old English god “supreme being, deity; the Christian God; image of a god; godlike person,” from Proto-Germanic *guthan (cognates: Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch god, Old High German got, German Gott, Old Norse guð, Gothic guþ), from PIE *ghut- “that which is invoked” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic zovo “to call,” Sanskrit huta- “invoked,” an epithet of Indra), from root *gheu(e)- “to call, invoke.”

But some trace it to PIE *ghu-to- “poured,” from root *gheu- “to pour, pour a libation” (source of Greek khein “to pour,” also in the phrase khute gaia “poured earth,” referring to a burial mound; see found (v.2)). “Given the Greek facts, the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound” [Watkins]. See also Zeus. In either case, not related to good.

Popular etymology has long derived God from good; but a comparison of the forms … shows this to be an error. Moreover, the notion of goodness is not conspicuous in the heathen conception of deity, and in good itself the ethical sense is comparatively late. [Century Dictionary, 1902]

Originally a neuter noun in Germanic, the gender shifted to masculine after the coming of Christianity. Old English god probably was closer in sense to Latin numen. A better word to translate deus might have been Proto-Germanic *ansuz, but this was used only of the highest deities in the Germanic religion, and not of foreign gods, and it was never used of the Christian God. It survives in English mainly in the personal names beginning in Os-.

I have to admit that I have a fondness for etymological dictionaries, as they are much more reliable sources than common dictionaries due to how much research must go into every term.

Since the Sanskrit word huta has been mentioned before, let’s start by taking a look at the fact that the word huta is an epithet of Indra.

Indra is the supreme God of the Vedic Gods. He is a war God born to a sky God and an earth Goddess. According to this article, Indra is a Hammer God, which closely relates Him to Thor.

What I am seeing through the lens of etymology is that the term God comes from the Sanskrit huta, (as it is the most supported theory via research from what I have been able to gather), and that the term huta refers to Indra, one of the first Gods of the Vedic religion – a polytheistic religion that predates Hinduism.

In essence, the word God can be traced directly back to one of the oldest Gods of one of the oldest polytheistic religions in the world. That, to me, is a fascinating truth.

How The Gods Found Me

When I came to Paganism back in 2002, I expected to find a pantheon immediately. That didn’t happen, and it was discouraging. I had finally found a spiritual framework that I could live within, and I set out to explore it as fully as I could.

As the majority of those who come to Paganism from a Christian background, the first path I explored was Wicca. I never felt comfortable with the extensive rituals, and, while I could agree with the duality of the God and Goddess, I was never able to accept the lack of balance. The favoring of the Goddess over the God went against my sense of necessary equality, and I was never able to connect with those deities.

I spent about a year trying to understand Paganism from the Wiccan perspective, but I never felt like Wicca was the right path for me. I gave up pursuing that path and turned to more esoteric paths. I was always fascinated with divination, so I learned about astrology, numerology, and the runes (the runes, are, of course, much more than a divinatory tool). I tried tarot, but I never connected with the cards. I have a lot of respect for those who are able to utilize tarot, but I have a feeling that the concept of “cards” is a very air-element type of ability, and I have no affinity whatsoever with the air element. Conversely, I have a very strong connection with the runes, especially those carved on gemstones, which combines fire, earth, and water – all elements that I can work with well.

In any case, I spent the next nine years learning about esoteric practices and researching different Pagan faiths. I found myself wondering, quite often, if I was ever going to find a pantheon to honor or if I was going to be godless for the rest of my life. The idea of being godless was incredibly upsetting to me, as I have never been an atheist. Even when I turned away from Christianity when I was a child, my claims of being “atheist” were more of a reaction against a God that turned out to be exclusive – I felt betrayed, and it’s impossible to feel betrayed by a God if you doubt that God’s existence.

I used the betrayal I felt to fuel the search for a new faith, a new God, per se, that would provide the direction and guidance I needed without the cruelty I’d experienced at the hands of the first one I ever believed in. There are a lot of pagans out there who discount Christianity and the Christian God, essentially saying that the Christian God doesn’t exist. I’ve never felt this way – to me, the Christian God has always been just as real as all of the other deities I’ve known, but I choose not to follow His path. It’s not the right one for me.

I’ve told people time and time again that I believe that all Gods that could exist do exist, even if that seems counter-intuitive. Today, I wouldn’t say that I separate from the Christian God because He is an exclusive God, the way I did when I was younger. Instead, I would say that I don’t follow His path because I see the extremes taken by His followers and the lack of thought they employ when dealing with those of other faiths. I believe that it is important for those who honor a God of any sort to honor that God by emulation, and I would never be able to emulate the Christian God and keep my moral conscience clear. On top of that, I don’t agree or believe in most of the teachings that makes Christianity what it is, so it doesn’t make sense for me to go down that path.

That may seem irrelevant, but I struggled a lot over the first ten years of being pagan because I didn’t have a pantheon to follow. I had people doing their best to pull me back into the folds of Christianity by inviting me to various churches. I went to those churches because I was looking for a way to understand my own spirituality, and there was no one to teach me what path I should take.

Every time I went to a church, I hoped I would hear something that would magically assuage the wounds I had received from the Christian God, but everything I heard just pushed those barbs deeper. The lack of inclusivity, the cruel gossip that the church members engaged in – I could never go back to that. I would see rare instances of support that would make me wonder if I could overlook the cruelties for the small kindnesses occasionally garnished, but I realized fairly quickly that overlooking even a small breach of hospitality is a far worse moral violation than the celebration of a small kindness could ever hope to overcome.

I don’t talk much about the struggle I faced to stay away from Christianity when it seemed the universe was conspiring to get me back into the folds of the religion I had purposefully turned away from. And the reason I don’t talk about it is that it was the darkest time in my life – I had no religious support from any corner, not from other people and not from any of the Gods I honor now.

It was the darkest time in my life because I had to struggle with concepts of faith on my own without anyone to guide me. I had people who tried to convince me that Christianity was the right path for me, but I already knew it wasn’t. I suppose it could be said that those people were counter-guides. They are the reason I hate the idea of ever trying to push any set of beliefs onto another human being.

I had to fight with every ounce of my soul against people who were determined to convince me to return to the Christian path. I had to fight against the small desire I had to be a part of a group that was supportive because I knew that I would end up engaging in immoral behavior and hating myself if I ever did go back. When you’re completely alone in the world like that, with no gods and no friends who understand that type of struggle, fighting against the people who seem desperate to enfold you within their own faith is so incredibly hard that I don’t even have the words to describe how difficult it was.

Perhaps this is where you’re expecting me to say that in my darkest hour is where I found the Norse Gods, but that isn’t what happened. No one rescued me from that struggle – I had to overcome the situation alone without help. Do I resent the fact that there was no one to help me? I don’t, but I do resent the fact there are people out there who are determined to destroy other people’s sense of spirituality by trying to force their faith on non-believers. They were the root of the problem, so it is towards them that my resentment stays directed.

I overcame the struggle on my own, however, as I did enough reading of enough spiritual texts (from many different faiths) that I realized that the path I walked didn’t matter as long as I stuck to my own principles. That realization wasn’t an easy one to come to, and I questioned it for a long time, but I eventually accepted it as the truth. I realized that it didn’t matter if I had a pantheon to follow or whether I decided to follow a monotheistic, polytheistic, or atheistic path. What mattered, in the long run, was the way I chose to live my life. What mattered was what I did rather than what I believed, and orthopraxy is the core of pagan belief. For those who are unaware of the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it’s fairly simple – orthodoxy means “right belief” and orthopraxy means “right practice.” Most monotheistic faiths are orthodox in nature whereas most pagan faiths are orthopraxic.

Once I realized that I fell firmly into the orthopraxic camp, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Breaking the orthodox thought pattern instilled by a Christian upbringing was what allowed me to win the battle I was fighting with myself on a daily basis. I stopped caring about what I believed and started focusing on how I behaved. I started focusing on my relationships with other people and I started to learn how to lead. I stopped worrying about whether or not I would ever find a pantheon to follow and started focusing on how I lived my life.  

It was during this period of my life – when I had stopped searching – that the Norse Gods came into my life. I didn’t approach Them – They came to me. This is why I can’t agree with those who say that the Gods don’t interact with individuals. My first experience with the Gods was a very individual interaction, and I had no knowledge of Them before-hand.

When I say no knowledge, I mean I had never read any of the Norse myths, I had never seen or heard of the Poetic Edda, and I had only the vaguest idea of Their existence. Yet I ended up meeting a heathen at my work, and he told me what heathenry was and what his oath-ring meant, but he never discussed the Gods in-depth with me. After a couple conversations with him, I started having very vivid dreams with the Valknut featured (I learned from that heathen what the symbol was). And, at first, I was absolutely terrified.

I mean, here I was, 22 years old, content to live my life without worrying too much about what I believed. And, instead of being allowed to continue to live that way, I found myself being pulled into heathenry by Odin Himself. I did some research into heathenry and was disquieted by how well it fit what I believed (minus the reconstructionist part). In fact, I purposefully ignored heathenry for a good six months because I was so unsettled by how well everything fit. It freaked me out, but I eventually felt compelled enough to return to doing research.

Keep in mind, when I came to heathenry, I had never read the myths. I knew nothing about the Gods, yet They were appearing to me anyway. This is the largest reason that I don’t look at the lore or the historical information as the only way to approach the Gods. It is why I believe in Gods that are living, evolving beings who have Their own agendas. None of the Gods fit within the boxes people use to try to contain Them, and I am aware that the interactions I share with the Gods aren’t going to be the same type of interactions the Gods share with others. Thinking about this logically, when I interact with my friends, I behave differently depending on which friend I am hanging out with – it’s like this with the Gods, too.

The Gods didn’t come to me until after I had struggled significantly with my own spirituality, and, when They did appear to me, it was after I had stopped searching for Them. Because of this, the way I interact with Them is much different than the way others interact with Them. Some heathens seek out the Gods and are answered because those people suit those Gods. Others are found by the Gods. The former is much more common than the latter, although it still makes me uncomfortable when the Gods tell me that I’m spiritually unique and that they want me to take up the mantle of priestess-hood. I am actually working on doing that, but I can’t say I’m going about it in a traditional way. Which, in retrospect, is no real surprise, when you consider which Gods it is whose paths I follow.

Loki’s Path: Non-conformity

I’ve talked before about how Loki’s path revolves around change. While that’s a large part of walking His path, there’s a lot more to it. To walk Loki’s path, you really need to be comfortable with ambiguity and abstraction, and you need to have a sense of humor because weird things are going to happen to you. A lot of weird things, in fact. That’s just Loki being affectionate, and it’s really important to learn to look at the weird obstacles life throws at you as Loki’s way of letting you know He’s around.

To walk Loki’s path, it’s definitely necessary to be comfortable with weird. He has a tendency to turn the status quo on its head, and He doesn’t care at all what society has to say about who He should be. He just does His own thing, consequences be damned.

That’s one reason that I think that the Loki portrayed in the Thor movies is just another aspect of Loki. Of all the Gods, He is the one who tends to appear the most in fictional settings. Tricksters lend themselves to the screen. Granted, I don’t view Loki as a villain the way the Thor movies try to paint Him, and the mythology is all wrong, but a movie is just fiction adapted to the screen.

I’ve read articles upon articles about how falsely portraying Norse mythology to the millions of people who watched the Thor movies was misleading and how that representation of the mythology was a “crime” against Norse pagans. I, however, have the audacity (if you will) to disagree with that assessment. I look at those movies as the Gods saying, “Hey, we’re still around, and we’re not going to let any of you forget about it.”

Other articles, of course, have condemned Marvel for “Christianizing” the myths with the way Odin kicks Thor out of Asgard. Getting upset by that is counterproductive, however, as it is a fact of life that Christianity is the major religion in the United States, so more people are going to respond to movies that represent that “savior” mentality. Instead of looking at Marvel as the bad guy, I feel like it makes more sense to say the Gods know how to make Their presence known by adapting to what will appeal to more people. In some ways, the Gods are marketing Themselves, if only to announce that They are still around. If a person is meant to find the Norse Gods, then that person will find Them, whether it is through reading the Poetic Edda, the Norse myths, or watching the Thor movies.

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me and want to argue that point, but honestly, I’m fed up with every person who feels that the path they walk can only be walked in one way. Every path walked in life has branches, just like Yggdrasil branches into nine worlds. Loki’s path is about exploring the smaller branches, about seeing what is out there, and about not making assumptions.

I remember doing an assignment for a history class a couple semesters back where I had to find information about people who were infamous for being monsters. I found a striking resemblance between the people I researched and Loki because a lot of the people I researched were branded monsters simply because they went against the mainstream culture of their day.

Loki, I suppose, can be called the face of counter-culture, of true nonconformity. Anyone who identifies as pagan in a Christian culture is at least slightly nonconformist to begin with, but that isn’t what I mean by nonconformity. Nor am I referring to the group that most people assume is meant by the term nonconformist, which is generally the goth group.

No, what I mean by nonconformity is more internal. Nonconformists tend to look like everyone else – there’s no need to announce that you don’t agree with mainstream society – but the opinions and beliefs held are radically different than the mainstream of any particular group.

While being pagan is a non-conformist action towards the larger mainstream religious society of Christianity, there is a mainstream group in paganism, and that is Wicca. There’s nothing wrong with people who identify with Wicca – I don’t mean to imply that. But to experience Wicca as the only pagan path and arbitrarily decide that it is the right path without a solid reason as to why it’s the right path is a type of conformity.

If you are Wiccan and you can explain exactly why you are Wiccan, then you aren’t Wiccan just because the majority of pagans are Wiccan. You have deeply seated beliefs and reasons that you can explain, and those reasons are incredibly personal. Nonconformity, at its deepest level, is about putting your personal beliefs and principles over the principle beliefs and ideals put forth by the society you find yourself within, whether we are talking about mainstream American culture or mainstream religious culture.

Even in Asatru, there’s a mainstream way to do things, and if you fail to do them, there’s a tendency to find yourself shunned. Many kindreds disavow Loki, not including Him in their practice, and those kindreds sow distrust towards Loki in their members.

In general terms, Asatru is a religion that is seen as having a practical grounding, and magic (excluding seidr and galdr) are seen as ridiculous, frivolous, and unrealistic. To voice dissenting opinions on this is to invite criticism at best and outright hostility at worse.

The truth is, the mainstream Asatruars expect every other Asatruar to follow certain unwritten guidelines of behavior. Choosing to deviate from that pattern of behavior can result in ostracizing others, and people who are ostracized tend to look for other, easier paths to follow. No one wants to feel ostracized for their beliefs, and, in some ways, mainstream Asatruar tend to chase people away. It is a much more exclusive pagan faith than Wicca, although Wicca has its own set of mainstream expectations.

With Loki being the face of nonconformity, it’s fairly easy to see how a Lokean can feel alienated and ostracized and why Loki is considered by many the God of outsiders, or of society’s misfits. We have a tendency not to fit into the molds that people shove our way, telling us we need to behave in a particular way or believe certain things.

Loki looks at all of those “you should” comments and dismisses them. He doesn’t even bother to ask why, just goes on about the business of being Himself. And that’s what Loki’s path is ultimately about – having the courage to be who you are, no matter what. So, for those people out there who think of Loki as a coward, I have this to say – there is nothing more frightening than standing outside the mold society has prepared for you, knowing that people are going to shun you for daring to be yourself, and then being yourself anyway.

Trading with Tyr

I feel that the relationships I have with all the Gods are interesting, but I have to admit that my experience with Tyr today was fairly intriguing. Usually when one of the Gods wants something from me, I get a feeling about what offering they would like. Loki likes sweets. Odin seems fairly impartial, but he does like an occasional drink. Freyja likes candles. In any case, all of the Gods like different things. When one of the Gods wants something from me, I try to acquiesce with their desires.

Today was the first time Tyr really asked me for anything. As I was leaving school today, I got this sense that Tyr really wanted me to stop at the Mexican restaurant where one of my friends works. He wanted Mexican food, so I went in and sat down. My friend was working and she came up to me and asked what I wanted. I had no idea what Tyr wanted, so I decided to leave it up to Him by telling my friend to order whatever she thought was best. I ended up with a chicken chimicanga with rice and guacamole salad. Tyr didn’t want the chimichanga, but He did want the rice and salad along with the tortilla chips that come as an appetizer.

As I ate my portion of the meal, my friend came and sat with me and asked me if I would go by Wal-Mart and get her some queso fresco because she hadn’t eaten all day and she really wanted some queso fresco. I told her I would, and she said that she would give me the chimichanga meal in return. When she asked me, I wasn’t expecting a trade of any sort – she suggested it, and I realized that Tyr was making His presence felt through the trade. Finding a balance is what He does best, after all.

So I finished eating and boxed up what Tyr wanted to bring Him as an offering when I got home, then went to Wal-Mart and bought my friend her queso fresco. When I got home, I found a tree and laid the food out beside the tree, then covered it with the leaves that surrounded it. That is how I normally leave food offerings because I feel it honors both the Gods and the land spirits where I live when I do so. Tyr was happy with that, so I felt fulfilled. I don’t know about other people, but when I leave offerings that are accepted, I get this sense of what is almost bliss.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I had to go through in order to obtain Tyr’s food, and I think that part of the offering itself was the trade that was enacted between me and my friend. I do find it interesting, though, that Tyr wanted Mexican food but didn’t just ask me to pick Him something up the way the other Gods might. It makes me wonder if all of the offerings I end up giving Him are going to be preceded by some sort of barter like the one that occurred between me and my friend. I’m okay with the answer to that question being yes because the experience was another one confirming the very real presence of the Gods in my life, and I count all such experiences as blessings.

Perseverance: My Interpretation

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

Perseverance

Perseverance is interesting because it’s the “get up no matter how many times you get knocked down” attitude towards life. That isn’t easy to do, and Asatru isn’t an easy path to follow. The Norse Gods, I’ve learned, aren’t easy to follow, and it can be tempting to give into the world around me, the world that screams oppression from almost every corner. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with, but perseverance is what carries me through it. Because even though the Norse Gods are hard to follow, they are worth following.

There are a lot of heathens out there who swear by reconstructionist philosophies, and I’ve been told by a few people that I can’t be a true Asatruar because I’m not a reconstructionist. The idea that there is one right way to be heathen doesn’t sit well with me, and I feel like a lot of Christian ideology has snuck into Asatru that doesn’t belong there. The idea that a person has to believe a certain way to be considered a “true” heathen disturbs me – pagan faiths are supposed to be inclusive. Not exclusive. But here, it is the people of the faith acting exclusive, and not the Gods themselves.

I have issues with reconstructionism because I feel that it’s not really possible to reconstruct a religion. I think you can take the basis of what is left and build something new, expand upon that foundation, but I don’t think that it’s wise to go backwards. From my experiences with heathens, it seems that a lot of Asatruar want to focus solely on the historical aspects of our faith. And I see nothing wrong with that, not until someone tells me I’m not a “true” heathen because I happen to disagree with the reconstructionist model. I don’t enjoy the idea of a static faith, one stuck in the past.

Honor the past, yes. We should definitely do that. As my mom was fond of saying, “Those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.” So the knowledge is important, but the paths we derive from that knowledge don’t need to be the same ones taken by our ancestors. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to honor our ancestors is to derive from the path they took during their lifetime. Here, I speak from personal experience because my mother was an alcoholic – an extreme one. So extreme, actually, that she passed away when I was fifteen because of her lifestyle choices. If I chose her path, that would dishonor her memory.

Now, I’m not saying reconstructionist is a bad path. I don’t think it is. I think it’s one path among many, and I think people tend to forget that Asatru and pagan faiths in general aren’t about who’s more right than someone else – that’s the Christian ideology that seems to cling to every pagan faith. Erasing it will take time, and the stain may never wash out. Because Christianity is ingrained into American culture – seriously, it’s impossible to escape dealing with a reference to the Christian God for even a single day. I’ve tried, and it’s just not possible. Someone or something always points it out, even if it’s in a subtle way.

And it’s understandable, since Christianity is America’s most followed religion, that we see it everywhere. Following a minority religion when there is so much pressure from that faith to convert requires a strong heart, a strong mind, unshakeable belief in the Norse Gods, and a great deal of perseverance. A lot of pagans don’t like to talk about the fact that Christianity is so prevalent, or even voice the fact that they struggle with the pressure that faith exerts, but honesty is necessary between us all if we are ever going to find a way to crawl out from underneath the oppressive hand of the Christian faith.