Odin’s Path: Connection

I read somewhere that Odin’s wisdom is found in the ability to make plans that are successful – in other words, his wisdom is found in strategy. I don’t dispute this, as he is a war god and therefore needs the ability to think strategically, but I don’t think it fully captures his wisdom (and I’m not sure it’s possible to do so).

Strategy and making plans – those are both very important skills, but I think there’s more to wisdom than that. To make good plans, you have to understand people at a very deep level, and to understand other people requires a lot of patience and the ability to listen. It also requires the ability to trust in a person’s own experience of the world without feeling the need to negate it based on the experiences you’ve had yourself.

In my experience, understanding another person necessitates the suspension of disbelief. Each person we meet, no matter how crazy or far-fetched the story may sound to us, has their own story to tell, and we all believe in our own stories. They are, after all, what we are comprised of. They are the world we are made of – our stories define us in a way nothing else can.

To deny another person their story is to deny them their identity – it isn’t simply a case of whether or not we believe that the story that they tell us is a true one. That’s where understanding gets lost. People are worlds in themselves, and each world has its own unique set of rules. What those rules are vary from world to world, from person to person, and there is nothing more wrong or right about any particular set of rules that govern these worlds, these people.

This is the type of thinking that shamans must master in order to find the connections that link worlds, that link people, together. It is in these connections that we find the commonalities, the threads that tie us to one another and to the gods. If someone asked me for a definition of shaman, I don’t know if I would have had a proper answer even a year ago – it took me awhile to realize that the work I’ve always done as an empath has always been the work of a shaman. In some ways, they are the same, as the shamanism I practice is inherently empathic in nature (this is, of course, not true of all shamans nor is it true of all empaths).

Now, I would define my shamanism as the empathy required to forge links between worlds – knowing as I do now that every person is their own world. What people don’t understand – or at least don’t like to believe – is that I connect with gods as easily as I do people, and I have ever since I started to comprehend them as having agency in their own right, as having their own type of personhood. The links between gods and humans are a little bit different, a little more slippery, but they do exist – they always have.

It is because of these links that I tell people, when they ask me which deities they should try to work with (and believe me, I get this question quite often), that the deities they need to look towards first are those that most resemble them in personality. Not the deities they admire the most or the ones they think will be most beneficial – the deities with personalities that echo the personalities of the humans who ask me this question.

Because those are the deities that we can connect with most easily – those threads are most accessible to us. Odin is my patron, I am sworn to his path, and yet he is not a deity I converse with easily. Nor is he a deity whom I consult often – the relationship I have with Odin is a very complex one, and it is in the complexity of his personality and the complexity of my own that we meet. It is not a relationship I could ever hope to properly explain to someone else, but I trust in the relationship we share despite the oddness of its shape.

Loki is also my patron, and I am one of his priests. Unlike Odin, however, I converse easily with Loki. Among the gods I work with, he is one of my best friends. On the surface, he can seem irresponsible and whimsical, but there is a depth of emotional maturity to him that most don’t see in him because they don’t look past the surface. I understand on a very real level what it is like to be seen by others without truly being seen by them, and it is on this understanding that the link between me and Loki is founded.

I honor and work with many other deities, and all of those relationships are founded on different commonalities, different threads that link the world of who I am to the world of that particular deity. With Tyr, it is the understanding of stepping forward into responsibility when no one else will. With Freyja, it is the understanding that female and weak aren’t equal terms, that there is a depth of strength in femininity that is vastly different than the strength found in masculinity. With Sigyn, it is the understanding of the depth of love a person must feel for another to stand loyally by them despite the pain they endure. With Mani, it is a depth of compassion. With Ullr, it is a love of competition. With Freyr, it is an understanding of what nobility truly means. With Bragi, it is a love of words.

With all the gods – with all humans as well – there are links of understanding. It is upon those links that relationships may be best forged. Think about the friends you cherish – what first made you friends? What link of understanding does that friendship center around? And how many of your friends are your friends for the same reason? Because I know the relationships I share with my friends are defined very differently from person to person, from god to god. No relationship is the same as another – for good reason, as that would teach us nothing and also be incredibly boring.

I started writing this because I wanted to talk about how Odin’s wisdom encompasses so much more than simply the ability to make plans – he is the penultimate shaman. He sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and he sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the runes. His path is a path of sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve found myself making is setting aside my own sight to pick up the sight of another.

That means suspending disbelief, keeping your own prejudices and default biases under wraps as you listen to the stories of the people around you. I have heard stories that most would view as beyond the realm of belief because I have taken the time to set aside my doubts and trust that a person’s story, when they tell it to me, is true enough for them.

The Fine Line

I’ve talked before about how a lot of the practices I employ are shamanistic in nature. For those who are unaware, I was born into a family of Empath-shamans and was raised learning how to employ shamanistic techniques. I grew up thinking that the techniques were Empath techniques until I met a few Empaths and realized that the major work that Empaths do was the basis of all the work that I do. In other words, I take empathy into the realm of shamanistic practice because that is what I was raised being taught to do. My teacher was my mother, and, in my family, the shamanistic gift is passed through the maternal line (through the paternal line comes the gift of prophecy).

There were three very important lessons that I was taught when I first started learning. The first was that it was vital that I learn not to judge others for things they couldn’t control. I was taught that everyone was different, that different people viewed the world in different ways, and I needed to learn how to see the world through many, many perspectives.

That lesson may seem pretty straightforward, but it isn’t. When my mom told me that I had to learn to see the world through many different perspectives, she didn’t just mean I needed to consider the situation of each person I came across. She meant I had to learn what it felt like to live within their skin. I had to learn to merge my aura with the auras of others, and I had to learn how to compartmentalize my mind so that I could truly shift into the mentality of another person. I can’t say much more than that, however, as the techniques I use are ancestral ones.

That actually brings me to the second lesson I was taught, which was that the more I discussed a technique with others (those outside my family), the weaker the ability would become. For years, I was terrified of talking to people about being an empath (I didn’t know I was using shaman techniques until I was in my 20’s). I eventually learned that it was okay to talk about empathy – that is the surface level of the type of shamanism that I have inherited – but I have to be careful not to discuss the unique techniques I use that are purely shamanic in nature.

For example, I can teach people the process of learning how to dreamwalk, but I can’t disclose the methods I use to cross from this realm to another realm – it feels forbidden. And it’s a feeling that resonates in my soul – it’s not a feeling that comes from any sort of external source. There are methods I can suggest to others because they are common knowledge, and they do work, but they aren’t as effective.

It can be rather frustrating to not be able to talk about certain things because sometimes I’d really like to share the things I know. I’m the kind of person who always wants to share everything. It took me until I was in 4th grade before I realized that when people said things to me about other people, I was supposed to keep those comments to myself. To be fair, I grew up in a household where I was taught that if I wasn’t comfortable saying something to someone’s face, I shouldn’t say it behind their back. When I was younger, I thought everyone behaved that way, so the idea of keeping secrets was incredibly foreign.

I love to share. I love to tell people about the things that I experience whether those stories come from my mundane life or my spiritual life (which are very intertwined). But I can’t. When I go world-walking, I am oath-bound not to reveal what is going on in the nine realms without explicit permission from the deities involved. In some cases, I am not permitted to even give the names of the deities who have asked for my help. The most I can say about what is going on in the nine realms is “Things are hectic right now, so the Gods may take longer to respond than usual,” which is what I would have said at the beginning of the year. Crazy things were happening – bad things. Things that threatened to shake the stability of certain realms. Things which are currently in the process of being mended, which is why the Gods are hanging around a bit more than They were.

And I hate that I can’t be more specific – I had to rewrite the last three lines until the Gods were satisfied I wasn’t giving too much away. I’d love to be able to tell everyone exactly what is going on, but I can’t. The oaths that bind me aren’t ones that I myself have given the Gods, but oaths that originate with far-distant ancestors.

I mostly wanted to bring this up (I’m sure some of you are asking why I’m talking about something I can’t actually talk about) because I feel it important to explain why shamans and certain godhis/godhas don’t share all the UPGs they experience. I’m sure it’s just as frustrating for those on the receiving end of comments like, “I can’t tell you that,” or, “All I can tell you is its hectic/calm/etc,” as it is for me when I have to make those kinds of comments. It’s really difficult when I come across UPGs that don’t match what I’ve seen while worldwalking or when I come across UPGs that are true but revealed without evidence that thought has gone into the decision to share them or not.

I’ve been thinking about this since I started reading “The Deites are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” by Jordan Paper, and I was struck by the part in the introduction where he explicitly says that there are some things that he absolutely cannot talk about. When I read that, I was astonished to find someone else who understands the difficulty of sharing without sharing too much. So far, the book is amazing.

Now, if you’ll remember, I mentioned three rules, and I’ve only discussed two. The third rule my mother taught me was that the most difficult people to understand are those we are closest to because we tend to blind ourselves to their faults (especially lovers and close friends). Because of that, there is an intrinsic instability to energy work performed on the behalf of other family members or incredibly close friends (i.e. you would die for them type of close). It isn’t impossible, it’s just very, very difficult.

The main reason it’s so difficult is because we make assumptions about family members that we don’t make about outsiders. Most of us assume that our families will support us, and when that assumption proves false, it is devastating. We have certain concepts of their behavior and personalities which make it difficult to truly understand what they need or desire out of life.

In general, people tend to think that it is the opposite – that energy work is easier when done for family members. In reality, however, it is much easier to wreak havoc by trying to help out where we aren’t wanted. I’m reminded of the section of the Havamal where it says (paraphrased), “Often he saves for a foe what he has planned for a friend, for much goes worse than we wish.” Or to put in terms everyone will understand, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s the same concept.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the most important lessons that I was taught that still underlies the framework of the shamanic work I do today. I will answer questions, where I can, but please be aware that there are some things that I just can’t tell you. It isn’t that I won’t tell you – it’s that I’m oath-bound not to share certain things. And the one thing I don’t do is break my oaths (even when those oaths are ones made by my ancestors).

Violent Dreams and Magic

I’ve talked about dreamwalking, but I’ve rarely discuss the price I pay for being able to bilocate while I sleep. On the nights when I do bilocate, I end up waking up exhausted – after all, I haven’t really been sleeping.

On some of the nights that I don’t dreamwalk, however, I have violent dreams. To the point that I struggle hard to fall asleep and struggle from insomnia because falling asleep for me has negative connotations. Unless I sleep in daylight hours, I am guaranteed to have violent dreams or nightmares.

So yeah, there’s a part of me that’s afraid of my dreams. Not the dreamwalking – while that can certainly get violent, that is generally within my control. I’m talking about the type of nightmares that leave you shaken for days afterwards because they seem so damn real why they are happening.

I had one that woke me up this morning, which is why I’m sitting here writing before 7 am and feeling a little cranky (as I went to bed at 1 am). At least I got six hours of sleep, I guess.

Anyway, in my dream/nightmare or whatever you want to call it, I had a friend over at my house. In particular, I had my friend over who is in a wheelchair, so this dream was very inaccurate. I don’t usually have people over (I live over 15 miles from town, so it’s easier for me to go to other people) and my house isn’t wheelchair accessible at all. Yet somehow she was over and while she was there, she arranged a date with a guy.

She gave directions to the house, and the guy came and picked her up and everything seemed normal, but when she left, I had this pit feeling in my stomach, and I locked two locks on the front door (there’s only one on my actual door). When I lay down to sleep (yay, dream within dreams. I fucking hate them), I was woken up by a phone call from her cell, and I picked up and assumed I was talking to her because I was still asleep. Then I realized I was actually talking to a nurse at a hospital, and I found out that my friend had been badly beaten.

I got up and got dressed to go to the hospital, but something didn’t sit right with me, so I grabbed my escrima sticks and cautiously approached the front door. Outside the glass panel on my door, I could see a brown rustic panwagon, which I knew was the truck the guy drove. And through my curtain, I could see his silhouette and the outline of a weapon – I knew he was there to attack me.

If I were someone else, this would probably be the part of the dream where I did something smart, like…I dunno, call the cops. But being who I am, I nudged the door open and got ready to attack him to see who would come out on top. He didn’t swing when he realized I had a weapon, and he actually had two baseball bats in hand. When he saw me, he laughed, and then offered me one of the bats. I don’t think he was really prepared for what happened next because I wasn’t either.

When I have dreams within dreams, they feel terrifyingly real, so my instinct upon seeing him was to call upon Odin. Since I’ve never been in any situations like that before, it was weird because I was able to call the berserker rage into me. Yeah, in my sleep. That’s actually what allowed me to wake up because I could feel my blood boiling. Needless to say, I kicked the guy’s ass before I woke up, but experiencing that kind of intensity in my sleep was a little weird.

Even though the dream was violent near the end, I also learned that I am capable of calling the rage. I’ve never needed to call upon it at all in my waking life, and I wasn’t sure I had the talent for it. Even though Odin came to me and chose me, I guess there was a part of me that still doubted whether He actually wanted me because, despite appearances, I do struggle with self-doubt and self-esteem. I think, to some degree, we all do. Being able to access that rage put an end to those doubts, however. And it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt in my life.

I’ve read some information about berserkers and how that rage affects people today, and there’s always a lack of control indicated by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to invoking certain entities (and yes, I do mean invoking, as in horsing/housing) that I didn’t experience a lack of control. Instead, what I experienced was a form of pure rage that coursed through my blood and made my blood feel like it was liquid lava. I never lost control of myself, but I can see that it would be easy to lose control of that type of power if you lost sight, for one second, of the reason for invoking the rage.

The truth is, my talent in the world of magic is so strong that it scares me, and I use it despite that. I know that I can access worlds most people can’t see, and I know that there are people out there who wish they could do what I  can. And even though my strength sometimes scares me because I’ve read over and over again that people can’t have the types of skills I do without having been properly taught, it’s like those rules don’t apply to me. I can’t find a proper teacher because all the people I’ve met who teach any type of magic aren’t strong enough.

And I’m aware that that could sound arrogant – it’s not meant to. It’s more frustration than anything else. I’ve learned more about my magic from the entities that I have contracts with and from the gods than I ever have from other people. In most magic circles, the fact that I can naturally invoke deities without ever having been properly trained to do it would be cause for alarm. It isn’t alarming to me. Annoying and exhausting sometimes, but not alarming.

The truth is, even though people complain about the use of the term, I have all the abilities of the shamans of old. I was born with spirit contracts already in place. I dreamwalk without effort, and I can invoke entities and spirits without having had the training. Perhaps it is blood-based, as I was born into a family where I was trained as an empath. Which isn’t exactly the same as a shaman, since empaths usually don’t deal with other planes of existence.

Yet there are people out there who say that it’s impossible to be born with magic, just a talent for it. I was world walking before I knew what world walking was by the time I was five years old. Mirrors still freak me out to some degree because I know that they can be used to access other planes – I walked through one when I was a child, and that’s how I came to be aware of the spirit contracts I carried over from a past life into this one.

And I would love to find a proper teacher, but so far, all I’ve managed to find are people who don’t think being born with magic is actually possible and people who aren’t nearly as strong as they think they are. I’m frustrated and scared because I need someone to teach me – instead of settling down as I get older, it’s like my powers keep getting stronger. And I don’t know how long I will be able to handle them on my own.

In general, people in the pagan community say that magic is supposed to take time to work. That sometimes you need to do repeated rituals in order to see progress. I wouldn’t know because I don’t need rituals. As an example, when you cleanse a gemstone of negative energy after using it to store the negative energy around it, most people will do some sort of cleansing ritual that lasts overnight in order to cleanse the stone.

I had a friend whose protective amulet was near to breaking because she hadn’t cleansed it in almost two months. I asked her to let me cleanse it for her, as it doesn’t take me more than a few seconds to do a cleansing. When I gave it back to her, she was surprised because the gemstone had dulled from the bright orange that it was (the sign it was near breaking). I didn’t actually notice that the color had changed and was afraid that the cleansing hadn’t held when she pointed out the change.  That’s what I mean by strength. The only things I was ever taught growing up were the simplest things an empath needs to know – how to center, how to ground, how to shield, and how to cleanse. Those four methods make up the cornerstone of my this-world magic, and I’ve honed all of those techniques, especially shielding. I have to do protective magic every night to keep certain entities out because I attract things without intention.

But I can’t really properly talk about my experiences with others, not even those in the pagan community. There are too many people out there who insist that there are no harmful entities lurking in the shadows to understand what it means to live a life knowing that they are always there. I envy those who can’t sense it, but I’m always aware of that weight. Especially because I have spirit contracts with very different entities, two of which would be considered demons by today’s terms, another that is a demi-goddess, and others that are spirits. From what I understand from the conversations I’ve held with them, I’ve had these contracts for millions of years over countless reincarnations.

I don’t know what those contracts mean for me overall, but I do know that I end up getting pulled into the other worlds to deal with some of the major things that happen there. I’ve had to help disentangle friends who have found themselves caught in a demon’s snare over vast distances. I have yet to find an actual distance limitation on my power, and that is also somewhat terrifying.

And the power isn’t scary because it’s so vast – it’s scary because of how much responsibility it means I have. I’m sure everyone has heard the quote “With great power comes great responsibility” and that is especially true in magic. The things I know, the deeper stuff, I’m not allowed to teach to other people. Even though I would if I could, the universe feels wrong when I consider sharing that…like somehow there are secrets that are too powerful for everyone to know. What I can share, I do so willingly. It’s just weird, seeing how close some people get to the things that I’ve been taught by the Gods and other entities and also seeing how far away they always are from the complete truth of a particular mystery.

I don’t really know what the point of writing this was, except perhaps to acknowledge that I now have another power I need to be careful of using with the berserker rage. I won’t ever turn away from magic because I am a born shaman, and I have things I have to do in this world and others that defy logical comprehension (which honestly frustrates me because I don’t like not being able to explain things with logic). That drive never goes away, and I think my magic is the reason that Odin and the others were drawn to me.

Part of me thinks that everything I write sounds insane, but I know that part of that is the fact I grew up in a culture that idealizes science and logic and tends to reject the things that can’t be explained away using those processes. I sometimes feel like I walk a tightrope between being stable and being insane, and I think that is just another part of the price I pay.

Walking Odin’s Path

Odin’s path is, in some ways, the most complicated of the many paths I walk. He is a leader, a warrior, a scholar, a poet, and a shaman. That’s a lot of roles to fill, and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times. it can be easy to fall into mainstream thinking because it’s easier to do – easier to just let things be easy and to go with the crowd. Even on pagan paths, there’s a mainstream. Ironic, really, that there’s a mainstream way of doing things in a minority religion, but it’s not really that surprising.

Asatru, in particular, is notorious for the self-righteous heathens that make up a large percentage of the faith. There’s a very narrow definition of what is and isn’t okay in Asatru. I’ve been told that the only acceptable religious practices in Asatru are those that are found within the lore, but the lore doesn’t actually contain a lot of information. Mostly, the lore is a bunch of stories. Important stories, for sure, but they don’t contain the entire truth.

In some ways, Asatru tries too hard to cling to the idea of being a lore-based pagan faith. There are claims like, “Asatru is the only pagan faith that has lore that survived the crusades,” which isn’t true. The Greek and Roman myths survived, as did the Egyptian myths and the Celtic myths (and I’m sure far more). And those myths weren’t tarnished by Christian hands the way the Poetic Edda and Sagas were tarnished. That is often forgotten.

Anyway, the reason I brought that up is that I started wondering if Asatru was really the path Odin meant for me to walk, or if defining myself as an eclectic heathen would be more appropriate. As I started thinking about it, I kept coming back to this passage in the Havamal:

Happy is he who hath in himself

praise and wisdom in life;

for oft doth a man ill counsel get

when ’tis born in another’s breast. 

And, as I continued to think about it, I started seeing the Othala rune in my mind. The Othala rune indicates inheritance, and it can be either physical or spiritual. On the rune-secrets site, the quote that goes with the rune is “We inherit ourselves.” I felt like I was being guided to the answers I sought, and the answer was pretty clear.

The truth is, I will never fit into any particular path because it is not what I am meant to do. I’m still figuring out what exactly it is that I am meant to do, but I know that it’s going to entail an intermingling of different paths. Odin’s path is the path of many paths, considering all the roles he takes, but the most important of those roles is sage – or seeker of wisdom.

To seek wisdom means to seek it wherever it can be found, no matter where the path may lead me. That requires sacrifice, and, as Odin is also the god of sacrifice, it makes sense that his path requires it. As for the answer to my question, I am starting to embrace the idea of identifying as an eclectic heathen. After all, the only opinions that should sway me, in matters of faith, are the opinions of the gods themselves.

My Thoughts on UPGs

UPG stands for Unverifiable Personal Gnosis, and it is essentially a personal interaction with any deity that doesn’t have any basis in the lore. I am going to say right now that I adore UPG because it is how I interact with the Gods. And I have no problem with others who have UPGs because I believe everyone’s path is different, so ridiculing someone else’s beliefs is a little counterproductive.

While I think that UPG can enrich a person’s spiritual practice, I don’t think that UPGs should be used as the foundation of a communal faith. When a faith is shared, then there needs to be shared practices and traditions that are embraced in communal settings because the sharing of those practices is what allows a faith to flourish. In this particular aspect of life, I agree with traditional reconstructionists. Public blots and sumbels should be done in a way that is as close as possible to the way they were originally done. In this one area, I embrace reconstruction.

In almost every other area, I shed it. In my personal practices, I feel no need to stick to the traditional format of the blot because I believe in cultivating personal relationships with the Gods and Goddesses I follow. How I choose to cultivate those relationships is difficult to relate except to say that it is largely done through UPG. And most of that UPG is done through dreams.

I dream a lot. I don’t remember every dream I have, but I have about half a dozen dreams every night that I can remember in glimpses. I also dreamwalk – I hesitate to call it a shamanic practice due to the difficulties talking about shamanism in general can invoke. I’ve read many sites and books that claim shamans no longer exist, that there are just people who try to emulate shamanic practices from other cultures, and that claiming to be a shaman doesn’t make you one. Which isn’t surprising, considering no one seems to agree on what a shaman is supposed to actually be, other than some kind of medicinal herbal healer who walks in the spirit world.

The truth is, though, that what I’ve been doing my entire life echoes everything I’ve ever read in books and websites about shamanism, and I trance as easily as I breathe. I was trained as an empath by my mother, and the more research I do, the more similarities exist between empaths and shamans, so I am okay with either term though I tend to use empath since it is more widely understood and accepted.

So when I say I dreamwalk, I mean I walk through the worlds when I sleep. I don’t necessarily do it by intention – I can fall asleep and “wake up” somewhere else. I know there are people who would love to have the gifts I do, but the gifts do come with a price. I struggle to fall asleep – I have insomnia – and I do not wake feeling rested when I dreamwalk because I am fully conscious while sleeping.

But is through my dreamwalking that I experience UPGs. It was UPG that pulled me into the world of the Nordic Gods to begin with. In that particular dream, I was a man, drowning in an ocean, trying to make sure my children were safe, and the boats above my head were Viking longboats that somehow perfectly formed a triangle. In interpreting that dream (which I do myself because dream interpretations are 100% specific to an individual), I found myself drawn to Odin and heathenry.

I don’t often share the UPGs I’ve had because they are usually incredibly personal, but some of them are random glimpses of the Gods. I had one dream where I was walking up a snow-covered bank watching Odin climb up the hill in front of me. Even though he never turned around, I knew he was aware I was there, and it was a rather somber moment.

Those UPGs don’t mean anything to anyone besides myself, and I would never try to use a UPG in order to convince someone that the way I see certain Gods is the only way to see them. In any case, if anyone has a UPG they are comfortable with sharing, I’d love to hear it. I’m also willing to entertain questions about the dreamwalking, as I have been teaching a couple people how to do it.