Many Vs. One – Crucial Paradigms

I had a conversation with a Christian today that didn’t devolve into an argument. I understand enough about Christianity and monotheism in general that I understand that the gods within those systems tend to work with a supremacy clause – either:I am the only god in existence” or “I am the only god worthy of worship” or a combination of the two. For all the Abrahamic faiths, I’d say it’s generally a combination.

Anyway, she was attempting to understand my views and beliefs – after telling me that she didn’t view my religion as a religion at all – which is such a knee-jerk, commonplace reaction that I no longer get angry, but I still roll my eyes at it (if I got angry every time it happened, I’d be perpetually angry, and, as I said to a friend recently, I refuse to invest in anger). She said that she understood that people used to believe in there being gods for everything, that they saw the moon as a god, the sun as a god, the wind as a god, etc. And I give her credit – she was trying so hard to understand, but she was doing so from a monotheistic worldview.

Polytheism is difficult, at best, for even us, as polytheists, to articulate. Because it comes in so many flavors, so many varieties – for some polytheists, maybe the moon is a god. For some of us, there are multiple gods who are associated and/or responsible for the moon. For others, there may only be a single moon god – who knows? The possibilities, the varieties, are endless. To explain those varieties to a monotheist who clings to the Bible as the literal truth (that was expressed during the conversation) is virtually impossible.

The most interesting part of the conversation, however, happened when she asked about the concept of sin. And I tried to explain that sin doesn’t really exist – I mean, there are technically two “sins” in the Norse framework (oath-breaking and kin-killing), but there is no concept of humanity being inherently flawed. I’m not sure that there is a concept of sin at all in the Hellenistic world – I think the closest one comes is in accumulating an overabundance of miasma, but that can be cleansed. And I honestly just don’t know if the concept of sin exists outside of Abrahamic religions at all – which made that a difficult topic. I guess it’s an area I need to do more research in, so that when Christians ask that question, I can properly answer it. I just wasn’t expecting such an in-depth inquiry.

And then we got to a question that illustrates one of the fundamental differences between Abrahamic faiths and polytheistic faiths. She asked, “So what do your gods tell you to do?” Like she expected me to list out a set of edicts and commands that the gods had set forth to be followed. Maybe the gods of monotheism want their followers to do everything to the letter, to be perfect little soldiers, but those aren’t the gods I know. And I wouldn’t – and don’t – follow gods that demand perfect obedience from me.

The gods I honor have never demanded perfect obedience from me. In fact, they have never demanded my loyalty, my friendship, or the sacrifices I make for them. Everything I have done for the gods – and continue to do for them – is done because I made a choice. Odin didn’t ask me to swear an oath to him, to become one of his warriors – he made an offer, and I accepted it. I swore fealty to him on my own, bound myself to him of my own volition. It was never a command.

I didn’t become Loki’s priest because he commanded me to do so. He asked me if I wanted to do it, and I chose. I stepped into the opportunity he offered – I made the decision on my own. I was never forced into the position. Loki would never force anyone into anything – that’s just not who he is.

I have never done anything for the gods I call friends, whom I honor with my offerings, prayers, libations, and rituals, against my will. I have never been presented with an ultimatum from any of them. I have been offered hard choices, and I have always been told that the path I choose to walk is my own.

Perhaps, in this, my Celtic ancestry shows through. I am loyal to the gods who have never attempted to command it, in the same way Celtic warriors were loyal only to the men who proved themselves worthy of the title of warlord. Those men never demanded loyalty from their warriors – they simply earned it. That reflects the way that I have come to know the Norse gods. I’m not loyal to them because they demand it – I am loyal to them because they have inspired me to it.

But to explain that to a Christian who views the Bible as the literal truth, other religions (and therefore other gods) as falsehoods, and cannot envision a god who doesn’t command – well, there’s the crux of the problem. We don’t have gods who lead us through our lives with laid-out commands or promise us impossible rewards. We have gods who will throw us out of nests to teach us to fly and show us that the benefits in life can be reaped only after the ordeals we endure.

To be a polytheist is to embrace a multitude of experience, of perspectives, and of the way life itself is lived. Monotheists can’t think that way – their religions promote a singular truth, a single perspective, a single experience. Tunnel vision is a problem only monotheists have – there’s truth to the statement that polytheism can easily incorporate monotheism, but monotheism leaves no room for anything but itself. Because of that, finding acceptance in the monotheistic society we live within may prove to be close to impossible, but that’s one battle I refuse to stop fighting. That’s the mistake the polytheists of old made, and it’s one I won’t repeat – our polytheistic religions are valid. And I will not back down from any monotheist who tries to convince me that I am somehow less human than them because I’m not like them. If there’s any cause in the world I’ll raise a banner for, it’s for polytheists.

 

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.