Favor of the Gods and/or Divine Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching Deity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources 

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

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

Communicating with the Gods

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

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

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

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

That, at least, has been my experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Action and Gratitude

When you work as closely with deities as I do, you start treating them like close, but respected, friends. And you usually don’t think too hard about asking friends for favors. In the case of deities, of course, you request favors via prayer.

In a society predominantly Christian, it can be easy to backslide into the mentality of expecting things to happen. And then, when things don’t go accordingly, it’s easy to get upset with the gods.

Backsliding happens to everyone, whether you’re willing to own up to it or not. It’s hard to constantly live in a polytheistic paradigm when the world around you is shouting monotheism at the top of its lungs.

Still, prayers to deities that consist of specific requests can only come to fruition if, once you have asked, you do absolutely everything in your own power to make it happen. The gods come in and add an extra umph at the end, but if you don’t even start, then why should they do the work for you?

It’s the same with spellwork. If you do a spell to get a new job, then refuse to put it in any work to find a new job, you’re not going to land a new job very easily. Intent matters, both in spell and prayer – in my experience, prayer and spell are basically synonyms. Spellwork is just a little more elaborate.

And, after you’ve done everything in your power to accomplish what you asked for – whether it’s money, a new job, or help finding a partner – it’s important to remember to do a ritual of gratitude. It’s the equivalent of sending a thank you note to someone for their effort, especially when that person (or deity, as the case may be) was never obligated to helping you or granting you any favors.

The Havamal tells us “A gift for a gift” and it also emphasizes hospitality, where a gracious manner is essential. The gods have given us so much already – when we ask for more, it’s only right that we work as hard as we can to accomplish what we can on our own and then offer our gratitude when they come in and lend a hand to cross us over the finish line, so to speak.

These are things that are very easy to forget…and yet, these are the things that are at the very heart of Pagan faiths. Action and gratitude. That’s all it takes.

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.

An Eclectic Type of Courage

Like anyone who walks an eclectic path, I have my own worries and anxieties to contend with. But the greatest fear I deal with is the fear of never finding a place where I fit or a place that fits me. Being eclectic is terrifying because it means that you are constantly rejecting what other people are telling you, discarding certain things that others insist are true because you realize that those things aren’t true for you. It means you are constantly picking things up that others are rejecting as false, realizing that what others see as false sometimes rings true for you. Walking an eclectic path becomes an art of pulling truths from many different paths and discarding some and retaining others until you have created a mosaic of truth for yourself.

As you look at other paths, however, you can’t help asking yourself if you’re doing the right thing. Can’t help wondering if it’s somehow wrong or unnatural to pull from so many different traditions. Can’t help thinking that maybe other people are right about sticking to one tradition. That maybe there is one path better than another. That voice is always there. Maybe that voice comes from growing up in a culture that is largely influenced by monotheistic faiths, or maybe it is an intrinsic human quality. Whether culture-derived or inherently human, all of us wonder occasionally if what we are doing is right.

And, if you’re like me, you often find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to find a place where other people will truly accept you as you are. You wonder if you’ll ever find a place where you feel safe. Where no one is going to single you out as the one exception to the norm. And, for me, it doesn’t just happen in my spiritual life. I’ve been singled out for a lot of things in my life. Some of them good, all of them awkward. Because every time someone singles me out for something, whether it’s done with good intentions or ill ones, I am made aware, yet again, of how different I am from the people around me.

There’s a type of despair that comes with that. An exasperation for people who are blinded by their own abilities to recognize and celebrate difference. But that exasperation is one born from fear. Fear that the people around me are right. Fear that maybe there is no place for me here. No place for me to forge my own path. Fear that I may have to cave and follow someone else’s rules just for a chance at companionship.

There are many people out there, of many different faiths, who reject eclecticism out of hand, and, so, reject anyone who follows an eclectic path. Many faiths, many traditions teach that religion isn’t something you can scrapbook together, that there are defining concepts of a particular spiritual path that absolutely cannot be laid to the side in favor of another concept. And most people who follow those faiths are entirely agreeable with the major concepts of those paths. But some of us – some of us aren’t.

Some of us attend the rituals of our chosen path with trepidation, wondering if the people we are chanting with would accept us if they knew that we didn’t agree with everything. In the case of other eclectic heathens, wondering what the group will do if it comes out that we honor Loki. That one little discrepancy among a group can get a person thrown out of it. People who are supposed to be kin turn on each other because the paths look a little different. Perhaps it doesn’t always happen that way – in fact, it probably rarely does. But that doesn’t diminish the fear. The terror of being found out.

And it doesn’t diminish the truth that we have, yet again, found something that makes us different. Something that keeps us separate. Because even as we crave companionship and kinship with those that walk similar paths to ours, we understand, as eclectics, one of the hardest truths of all. That the only person who can walk a spiritual path, even when following the teachings and guidance of others, is the person themselves. We are all solitaries when it comes to our pursuit of truth. It’s just that, as eclectics, we tend to spend more time walking the solitary road than our friends who walk the more well-worn paths.

That doesn’t, however, diminish the fear of walking a path completely of our own making. As an eclectic, the decisions made about the spiritual path you walk are completely your own. Being able to look at multiple concepts presented as spiritual truths, all of them conflicting, and say “This one is right for me,” requires an extreme amount of trust in yourself, the world around you, and the presence of the divine in your life. To walk an eclectic path requires some of the greatest courage to be found, as an eclectic must, every day, look into the abyss of the unknown and decide what route to take.

On Being an Eclectic Heathen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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