What Polytheist Priests Should Provide

One of John Beckett’s latest posts, Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy? brings up some pretty interesting points. I’m reminded a little about the post I wrote about Communicating with the Gods as it can be difficult for people to tell the difference.

Beckett makes a point to differentiate between mental health and divine communication, which I respect. In a world where everyday interaction with the gods isn’t commonplace, it’s easy to understand how sudden divine communication could be seen as a sudden bout of insanity instead. That’s generally not how mental health works, which is a good thing to know.

As someone who communicates with the divine on a regular basis, I’m highly aware of how easily it would be for someone to take the experiences I share with them and twist them around to use as an effort to prove that I’m crazy. Because our society really does not have the cultural context needed to understand what direct interaction with deity entails.

I’ve been a practicing polytheist for so long now I don’t remember what it’s like to not expect the gods to just show up on a whim. I had no cultural context for it when it started happening, and it was unnerving and unsettling mostly because I had no one to turn to, no one to rely on, no one to understand what was happening. I had to figure all of that out on my own. Well, on my own and with the help of the gods. In a way, as the gods were showing up to the point I felt like I might be losing my mind, they were also showing me how to understand them — the gods helped me understand what a polytheistic framework looks like.

I can’t say that I don’t still find it unsettling sometimes when the gods drop in, especially when the god in question is one I don’t know. But I don’t find it impossible the way I might have before I started to understand what the world looks like through the eyes of a polytheist. I have met gods in human form, seen gods channel themselves through friends who are open to the experience, held conversations with gods in dreams, and communicated with gods in rituals. They are everywhere, and they take human form when they feel the need to do so. It’s weird to talk about the experiences I’ve had with gods who choose to come to me wearing a human form, as I know I’m going to deal with people thinking I’m making things up or going crazy.

But I deal with the gods on a regular basis – that’s part of what it means to be a polytheist priest. Loki and Freyr may be the ones for whom I do the most work, but once the gods know you are willing to do work, they know they can come to you for help, and they aren’t very shy about it. I view my role as a polytheist priest as one of facilitation – helping people find the gods that are trying to find them. Forging relationships. Creating friendships. In a way, I view my role to be one of networking gods to humans, humans to gods. Considering the gods I do the most work for, that role makes sense – Loki and Freyr are both very social deities, though they tend to run in different circles. The friendship between them connects them, thus creating an expansive network. It is through the work I do as their priest that allows those aspects of the gods to echo through me and throughout the Pagan and Polytheist communities.

Because I view my role as a priest to be one of networking gods and humans and vice versa, I take the communications I receive from the gods very seriously – though sometimes they can be rather confusing and/or exasperating. I’m open about the experiences I have with the gods so that I can let people know that someone will take them seriously, even when the rest of the world is telling them they’re crazy. And I’m open so that people know that they can approach me with deity-related problems and know that I will do the best I can to help them find the way to the answers they are seeking (as I don’t believe I hold the answers – I just know how to nudge people into asking the questions they are overlooking).

Take, for example, the latest direct interaction I had with a deity. I was having lunch with a friend, and we were minding our own business, talking about different pantheons of gods (what else do polytheists talk about? :p) when a person approaches our table. As he approaches, I’m already on high alert, my shoulder blades are tensed, and I’m feeling a very strong aura of “this person is not what he appears to be” which is an energetic aura that I generally only ever feel with deities using flesh form.

He starts having a conversation with us, asks us what we’re having for lunch, and I get this nudge from Freyr to buy the person lunch. So, I give him money to get lunch, he gives me a hug, and he sits down and starts talking to us in-depth about literature. My friend was reading some Shakespeare for class, and the person goes “He was alright” and tells us he prefers a French collection of poetry called Les Fleurs de Mal, which is about Satan dreaming.

After this conversation ends, I get out my phone and instantly start doing research because by this point I’ve realized I’m dealing with a deity, and I feel a strong need to know which one (I’m fairly certain the gods aren’t allowed to give their names to humans when they show up in human form. I’m not sure why, but uh… well, the effect Jesus had when he did that may play a role). Anyway, I look up this French poetry collection, learn that the version of Satan mentioned in the poems is actually Hermes Trismegistus…which is the Greek form of the Egyptian god Tehuti (also known as Thoth).

Now, while I’ve had some run-ins with Egyptian gods (namely Bast), I’d never even met Tehuti. The friend who was with me at lunch is Kemetic, but she doesn’t do a lot for Tehuti. I tell this story to another one of my friends who is also Kemetic (and does work for Tehuti), and she confirms for me that the actions the person took were pretty much exactly how Tehuti typically behaves. Gods, like humans, have personalities, so I take her word for this. The gods do whatever they have to when they need to be noticed.

A couple days after this encounter, one of my other friends, a Hellenistic polytheist, randomly texts me about how to make proper offerings to Odin. She has apparently decided to create a business contract with Odin in order to determine where she stands with the Greek pantheon, since Odin has so much knowledge of other gods. It was an interesting direction to take, but I was curious as to why she wasn’t asking the Greek gods since she already has ties there. The answer I got was that she had asked Hermes what kind of relationship they would have, and the response she got was a lot of chaotic events – traffic tickets, small accidents, etc. She felt that it was the equivalent of being told to work for Hermes while he did everything to mess up her life.

I then explained to her that sometimes the gods don’t understand human affairs – some gods are closer to humans than others. I told her that considering Hermes Trismegistus was coming to me, in person, it was fairly obvious that Hermes wanted to work with her…and perhaps was worried that she was going to turn away from that relationship and didn’t know what to do about it.

As a polytheist priest, this is normal. This is what it means to live within a polytheist framework. Sometimes, the gods stay distant and communicate only via dreams and within specific religious contexts. Other times, they drop in to have lunch wearing a human suit. Both are perfectly natural occurrences – the gods do what they want when they want. They are everywhere – it’s only that our society has forgotten what it means to live close to the gods. Because the monotheistic bent to our world has convinced people that it is impossible to stand next to a god. Impossible to have a conversation with a god in a flesh-based form. Impossible to hear a god.

But it isn’t. The gods are very real, very present, and very willing to interact with us. We just have to learn how to interact with them again. They never forgot us – we’re the ones who forgot them. And it is up to polytheists, especially the polytheist priests, to teach people how to hear the gods again, as well as how to recognize them when they choose to walk among us (and they do this often). The gods want to be heard as much as we want to hear – but first, we have to recognize that we have the ability to hear. We have to stop convincing ourselves we’re crazy when we’re receiving a legitimate message from the gods. We have to create a framework where we can talk to the gods and the gods can talk to us without constant fear of insanity making it so people who experience the gods in direct ways have no one to turn to.

The gods are real. The experiences we have of the gods are real. Learning to live with gods who change, grow, adapt, and are fluid is perhaps the hardest part of being a polytheist. Because the gods? They don’t fit in the nice, neat boxes we call lore. They don’t fit into the character sketches we make of them from the myths we read. They don’t fit into archetypes. They are complex, sovereign beings with agency of their own – and until that understanding is reached, communicating with the gods may always cause a person to reach for the question “Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy?”

So, thank you, Beckett, for pointing out one of the glaring foundational lapses of modern-day polytheism. That is something that needs to be addressed directly instead of whispered about being closed doors. The gods are real. Your experiences are real. And there are people out there who will take you at your word and offer you the understanding you need. Polytheist priests are rare, but we do exist. And I will always make myself available for any person who finds themselves at a loss for what to do when the gods drop in without warning. That is the bare minimum of what it means to be a priest. Because being a priest – yes, it is about serving the gods. But it is also about helping people. It is a calling to both the gods and to those who honor them. Let’s not forget to help the people in our eagerness to serve the gods.

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.

 

Polytheistic Theology: Avenue of Avenues

When we think of theology, we typically think of monotheistic theology, especially the structures found within Abrahamic faiths. But theology itself is not inherently monotheistic – in fact, theology is simply the study of deity. Because most polytheistic faiths are inherently pluralistic, it is safe to say that it is impossible to identify a single theology that unifies polytheistic belief. That’s part of what makes polytheistic faiths so beautiful.

It’s easy to prove how impossible it is to identify a single theology for polytheistic faiths. Take Hinduism, for example, and examine the way many sects of Hinduism base their faith around the idea of a unified plurality – there are multiple deities, but those deities are all aspects of the greater whole. Then take another polytheistic faith, like Asatru, that bases faith around the concept of multiple distinct deities, all separate and completely unique from one another. While there are certainly connections between polytheistic faiths like Hinduism and Asatru, the way that deity is approached is distinct between them.

Because of that distinction, a singular approach to theology – the study of deity – is impossible. However, I do think that it is possible, within each polytheistic faith, to approach deity through multiple strands of exploration. That is what I propose is the best way to approach the study of deity through polytheistic faiths, and I am proposing a framework for a polytheist to use in their own study of deity within their own religions, rather than proposing that deity can be understood the same way through all polytheistic faiths.

Note: When I say deity, I mean the essence of deity or what makes a god a god (what makes gods gods).

I believe the following components can be explored through all polytheistic faiths:

  • Cosmogony
  • Cosmology
  • Theogony
  • Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices
  • Eschatology
  • Axiology
  • Pneumatology
  • Psychology
  • Semiotics & Symbology
  • Sexology
  • Sophology
  • Occultology

Cosmogony is the study of the creation of the universe (or multiverse). Studying how the cosmos originated in accordance with a particular polytheistic tradition through myths and legends allows us to begin to develop a framework with which to approach deity through our respective faiths.

Cosmology is the study of the universe (or multiverse). Different faiths propose different models of the world. For example, in many shamanistic traditions, there are three worlds while in the Norse view, there are nine worlds. Understanding the cosmos is a necessary foundation before exploring what deity actually is can really get underway.

Theogony refers to the lineage of the gods. Every pantheon has a unique structure and hierarchy (though it can be argued that some pantheons aren’t hierarchal). It seems self-evident that the pursuit of theology requires the understanding of theogony.

Sacred Calendars, Rites, and Practices. This particular component is really three-in-one, but every polytheistic faith has a calendar of sacred rites and practices. Since most (if not all) polytheistic faiths are orthopraxic (focused on right practice), this is the most direct route of exploring theology – again, when I say theology here, I mean the pursuit of the understanding of deity.

Eschatology is the study of death, judgment, and final destination. In essence, it is the study of the afterlife. Every faith has an idea of what happens to a person after they pass from this world. Not all polytheistic faiths believe in a final judgment, but some do. This is an area where the greatest discrepancies between faiths exist, and it may also be an area where the greatest insights into the nature of deity can be found.

Axiology is the study of values and ethics. In other words, the study of morality. At first glance, it may not be obvious what this has to do with theology. However, the myths and legends of each tradition shape the morality of the people who follow those traditions. Understanding the ethics held by a particular culture can enhance the pursuit of theology.

Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena. Beliefs about mythical creatures like dragons, sirens, mermaids, brownies, kelpies, the Fae, ghosts, landvaettir, etc. This is where understanding the cosmology of a polytheistic faith comes into play as well, as some traditions have worlds set aside specifically for certain types of entities.

Psychology is the study of the soul, and it is the closest term I could find to describe what I actually mean. When I say psychology here, I don’t mean the traditional Western version of the study of the human psyche. I wish there were a better term (so if someone has an idea for one, I’m all for suggestions). What I mean is the study of the constructs of the soul-the parts of the soul. Many polytheistic traditions propose that the soul is not a singularity but a plurality, constructed of a myriad of parts that are meant for particular purposes. Understanding the way in which the soul is viewed is vital in the pursuit of theology, as the soul is the expression of the most inherent divinity a living being has in its possession.

Semiotics & Symbology is the study of signs, symbols, and their interpretations and uses. This includes things like the study of divination and omens. While some symbols are fairly universal – like the serpent that represents wisdom – others are not as clear-cut. Understanding the way that a particular tradition utilizes semiotics & symbology helps create a clearer path towards the understanding of deity.

Sexology is the study of sex. Each religion approaches sex in different ways, and in many traditions, the act of sex is one the most powerful ways to experience divinity. There aren’t many polytheistic faiths that view sex in a negative light, and I say that simply because there may be a few that do – I do not proclaim to be an expert on all the polytheistic faiths that exist, and I do not wish to potentially exclude even one.

Sophology is the study of wisdom. Defining wisdom is a very difficult thing to do, as it is a very abstract concept. Generally speaking, it is the ability to take acquired knowledge and put it to good use. In many polytheistic traditions, the study of wisdom is equated with the study of the myths and the cultures with which the traditions started. But because wisdom relies on application, it assumes that a person will take the myths and cultural learning they have developed and will incorporate it into their own practices. Applying the knowledge gained of deity through the myths is, perhaps, one of the most direct ways to approach theology, although it is by no means the only way.

Occultology is the study of the occult, meaning mystery or secret. It is generally associated with magic, and there are several polytheistic traditions that incorporate magic into their practice. There are many different types of magic, but the one that deals most directly with deity is Theurgy, which is magic done with the aid of deity.

Many of these components, on their own, require extensive research, and many of them weave in and out of one another. These are the strands that I see throughout every polytheistic faith – though each faith has its own unique set of these strands.

I’ve read multiple books on polytheistic theology, and every time, I see the same problem arise – there is no unified set of principles that underlie every polytheistic tradition. Some polytheistic traditions venerate ancestors, others don’t. Some believe in pluralistic deities, others in unified plurality.

So this is my attempt to address that issue – rather than looking for underlying principles that exist in all polytheistic traditions, I decided to look for the categories of principles that weave through all polytheistic traditions. Sometimes, to simplify, you have to complicate, and looking at categories instead of principles isn’t an obvious thing to do. The stark truth is that we still live in a predominantly monotheistic culture, and we all often fall into the trap of trying to collapse things down into smaller parts.

As polytheists, we need to work on expanding outward, breaking things into larger pieces rather than collapsing things down into smaller ones. So what I have done here is propose a framework, an avenue of avenues of exploration for those who are interested in the pursuit of theology from a polytheistic perspective.

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.

Loki’s Stave and Facebook Group

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Loki’s Stave 

Dagulf Loptson

*

Listen to the words of the closer, the blazing one,

I who have borne witness to human evolution

since man first claimed my power.

 *

You have no cause to fear me, for I am already within you.

I speak to you from the depths of your intellect,

I call to you from your secret desires,

I sleep within the blood in your veins.

 *

My voice is in the crackle of the flame,

and the laughter of the innocent,

and the hiss of the serpent.

 *

I am the bright companion of thunder,

and I strike with inspiration.

I am the spark of genius that drives you towards greatness;

To abandon me is to embrace the darkness of ignorance.

 *

I am an all-consuming pleasure

that reddens your flesh with my embrace;

I give you the color of gods

so you’ll remember that you are divine.

 *

I excite your nerves and heighten your senses,

Driving you toward divine madness and the bliss of chaos.

To love me is to be consumed by me on a holy pyre,

where I devour your repose, to give you rebirth.

 *

I am the vulture who strips away that which is putrid

and makes bones white and new.

I am the dark brother who illuminates,

I am the wise fool who knows all and believes nothing.

 *

I am the rising star Sirius

who walks upon the bridge of heaven:

The harbinger of life and the harbinger of death.

I am the space between boundaries

who belongs everywhere and nowhere.

I am the spider in the web

and master of my own fate.

 *

I am the battler of gatekeepers,

for I know that all boundaries are illusions.

I end the world to prove there are no endings.

There can be no lies if there is no truth.

 *

I am the father of the broken.

I am the mother of the monstrous.

I comfort my children with the warmth

and avenge them with my flames;

for I know what it means to suffer.

 *

I am the primordial serpent

Who writhes in the abyss.

To conquer me is to win the wyrm’s hoard:

gleaming gold, which is the fire of knowledge.

 *

I am the father of witches

and the master of molding and shaping;

place crude metal in my forge

and I will give you treasure in return.

 *

If you understand nothing else,

remember this secret:

To know me is to know yourself

And to know yourself is to know my ecstasy.

 


I’ve created a  facebook group for those who are interested in discussing Loki and the Lokean path. It is also meant for Pagans/Heathens who are on the fringes of the mainstream community. Feel free to join and download your own copy of the “Loki’s Stave” poem with some nifty formatting.

Loki apparently wants more publicity, so we might as well give it to Him. 😉

As for the formatting of this page, it’s either WordPress being a pain or Loki just having some fun.

Doubts and Limits

I have this awareness that people see me as more confident and assured than I actually am, and I often wonder how it is that I can be so anxious internally and yet seem so confident to the people around me.

The truth is, I’m plagued by doubt. If there was a doubting disorder, I would have it. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be skeptical (I feel that falls more in the domain of atheism). I don’t have trouble believing that the gods exist – I can feel Them. No, my doubts center around whether I’m honoring the gods correctly and if I’m imparting the right messages to the right people.

Part of that worry – the “is it okay to do this in order to honor the gods?” is, admittedly, leftover from growing up in a Southern Baptist household. Part of it, therefore, is the remnant of fear of punishment for getting things wrong. That fear, however, is compounded by the fact that I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent and have to fight a daily battle not to succumb to the double-bind type of thinking that I never knew I was doing until I was in my 20s.

A double-bind, for those who don’t know, is a situation where the only choices you can make are bad ones (both outcomes are terrible) and having to still choose one of them. Double-bind thinking is always seeing things from the perspective of having to choose the lesser of two evils. Because of the way I grew up, I learned that no matter what choice I made – even when the choice, in a typical household, would be a good choice with a good outcome – I never won.

An example that comes to mind is my mother’s reactions to my grades. In general, I’m a straight A student because I love learning, so doing well in classes reflects one of my passions more than it does anything else (I could go on about how I think grades are incredibly limiting, but I digress). Anyway, I came home one day (I was in 4th or 5th grade) and I had an A- in a subject. Instead of being happy that I had an A of any type, my mom thought it was better to lecture me for two hours so that she could tell me how disappointed she was that I didn’t make an A+.

Most people can see how harmful that would be to a child – I took it at face value, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have maladaptive perfectionism. I also have ADHD, and with the combination of the two, my frustration level is incredibly low. I have to work incredibly hard to keep myself from being irritated by the little imperfections that are part and parcel of everyday life.

Because of that, I love structured systems. I love grammar and I love math because the structure is always there. Sure, both of those structures are complex, but both systems are very, very efficient. In everyday life, an appreciation of systems is fine. When it comes to religion, however, it is much more difficult to find a system that is both adaptive and rigid the way that the systems of math and grammar are both adaptive and rigid.

That’s one of the largest reasons that I’m a polytheist, although to describe it that way makes me sound like a nerd (which, okay, I readily admit to  – I’m currently wearing a Hogwarts shirt with the logos of all four houses because it’s awesome). But monotheism is too rigid for me – one god with all these rules that have to be obeyed or be punished forever more in an eternal hell of fire and damnation (I’d like to point out to any Christians who read my blog that I live in a Southern Baptist bible belt, so that’s not an exaggeration of the attitudes of the Christians around here). Aside from the rigidity, the system is tyrannical – do it my way or else – and I’ve no need to return to the mental anguish that my mother’s insane expectations inflicted upon me.

Generic Paganism, on the other hand, is far too flexible. Anything goes, and there’s only one rule (generally pulled from Wicca, as most mainstream Pagans are Wiccans) – harm no one. Okay, how would you like me to go about making sure I don’t hurt anyone? What about situations where I have to hurt someone in order to help them? Doesn’t that invalidate the rule? If you say there are exceptions, then it’s not a rule – it’s a guideline. And guidelines are great, but using only “harm none” and “the threefold law” as guidelines isn’t rigid enough. There are too many questions those guidelines don’t answer.

Also, generic Paganism embraces all pantheons of Gods, and there are plenty of Pagans out there who mix pantheons and worship the Greek Gods alongside the Norse Gods. And that’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with that. But say something happens where it’s obvious that a harvest god/goddess has intervened – how do you know for sure whether it’s Demeter or Freyr? If it isn’t the one that you have assumed it to be, will they get offended? Will the one that actually helped stop stepping in because they are offended that you didn’t recognize their hand?

Yes, these are the kinds of things that I worry about. That’s why I primarily stick to the Norse Gods. I’m not adverse to gods from other pantheons; I would just really need to be able to distinguish their auras in order to feel comfortable honoring them. For example, Thor has a very particular energy that I could never confuse with, say, the aura of Hercules even though they are both gods of strength.

However, I am fully comfortable with the aura of Hercules because I grew up watching tons of shows about him. Still, I don’t honor him the same way I do Thor – Thor is the protector of the Norse Gods; in that sense, He deserves my loyalty, as the Norse Gods are my Gods. Perhaps making that distinction is unnecessary, but I am a fiercely loyal person.

We all have friends that we share everything with and friends that we just sorta talk to when they are around (and don’t really hang out with). I am fiercely loyal to the people I share everything with, but I can’t offer the same strength of loyalty to those people who are my friends but not my confidants. For me, that is the major difference between the Norse pantheon and other pantheons. Gods from other pantheons are interesting, but the Norse Gods have my undivided loyalty.

And, of course, the reason for that loyalty I have mentioned before – the Norse Gods came to me and essentially pulled me onto their path. When I discovered that Asatru existed, I was fascinated by two things – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” Asatru was my first exposure to Heathenry, but I don’t think I can claim to be a proper Asatruar because I’m not a reconstructionist.

With my love of systems, I’m sure there are those who find it ironic that I’m not a reconstructionist, but I find the reconstructionist system seriously flawed. For many, many reasons, of course, but the major ones are that 1) Truly recreating an ancient faith is impossible without having the exact environment that existed in the time period when it was practiced, and 2) Reconstructionism ignores the evolution of spirituality because practices like prayer, meditation, and anything that falls out of the blot/sumbel format is often rejected as inadequate forms of worship. Essentially, reconstructionism is too rigid a system.

I will call myself Asatru and Heathen as I see fit, however, because Asatru literally means, “true to the Aesir.” And that is true of me – I am loyal to the Aesir. I am also loyal to the Vanir. As a note, Loki is part of the Aesir, although there are a lot of Heathens who would argue that point. Odin and Loki are brothers-by-blood-oath – there is no stronger bond than that.

What I like about Heathenry are the two things I first discovered in Asatru – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” The Nine Noble Virtues are guidelines that create a solid foundation of living. Instead of being told “if it harm none, do what ye will,” there is a code of honor. To act with courage, to preserve through the hard times, to be hospitable even when it hurts, to be disciplined in action, etc. These are guidelines that work. They aren’t easy to adhere to, but there is no punishment for failing to meet them (except self-flagellation, which we all engage in from time-to-time, despite how terrible it makes us feel when we beat ourselves up). On top of that, we are defined by what we do; we are held accountable for our actions.

In Heathenry, I found a medium between rigidity and adaptability that is beautiful. There are consequences to my actions, and the only person responsible for those actions is the one living inside my skin. But there is no external torment waiting for me should I fail – I can recover from my failures and come back stronger than I was before. I can change without feeling like I’m doing something wrong because I’m not behaving perfectly according to some set of commandments. I don’t feel like I’m floundering because I have the virtues to guide me when I find myself confused.

So, even though I still have doubts sometimes when I go to make offerings – the type of doubts that ask “Am I doing this right? Will this God be mad that I’m not offering something better? Will this offering even be accepted?” – I know that my doubts aren’t about whether the Gods exist. That hasn’t been a question in my mind in many, many years. My doubts are about whether or not the path I’m walking is the right one and whether what I’m doing for the Gods is good enough. Perhaps I’ll always be plagued by doubts about not being perfect, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be perfect, and I’ve started to accept that.

That’s why I have such a hard time with Heathen traditions that insist the only correct path is reconstructionism or, conversely, that only hard polytheists should be allowed within certain traditions. Where does the lore say that believers must conform to certain practices? Where in the Nine Noble Virtues or in the creed “We are our deeds,” can you find a guideline that says only reconstructionists or hard polytheists should be allowed to worship the Gods? Don’t you guys get it yet? The Gods don’t care about the shit we make up to fight about. They’re too busy with their own problems.

I read an interesting article a few weeks ago about how Heathenry is Godless in some ways because there are many Heathens who have never even felt the presence of one of the Gods. The point being made in that article (I wish I had saved it to share the link) was that Heathenry is Godless because Heathens make it more about research than devotion. Heathens make it more about scholarly pursuits and academia and science than about the Gods themselves. And, because of that, it was no wonder that Heathens had trouble connecting to the Gods.

The author had a good point, and, to add to that: if you want to connect with a God, you have to connect with a God. You can’t just do research and hope to understand the ideas behind a God. The Gods aren’t just ideas and concepts on paper. They are real, breathing entities with emotions and desires of Their own, each more complex than a human being (and we’re pretty damn complicated). Trying to convey the essence of a God on paper – no, trying to understand the essence of a God through the written word – is impossible. Why do you think so many Christians have such a limited understanding of their own God? The answer is simple – they rely too heavily on the written word and too little on the spiritual connection.

So work on connecting more and worry about the how less. The best way to connect to the Gods is to learn to see them as people. Read the stories as if the Gods you are reading about are standing beside you telling you Their own version of things. Use your imagination. The Gods can connect to us through any path we choose to receive them. They are limitless. And, as learned earlier today in Calculus, it’s impossible to limit the unlimitless.

Alternate Views

Alternate Views

I’ve created a page to house links to the various articles I read on other blogs that are thought-provoking or intriguing. Some deal with the debates within the Pagan community, while others deal with the way different people walk their own paths.

If there is an article / blog post that you think I should take a look at and/or respond to, let me know.

Hearing the Gods

I see a lot of posts from people who desperately struggle to make contact with the Gods, and I’ve seen people completely turn away from Pagan paths out of frustration.

I understand that frustration because I spent ten years unable to properly connect with a pantheon. When the Norse Gods came into my life, it was a disruptive storm. Which makes sense, considering the Norse pantheon is pretty violent overall.

I think that a lot of people have been contacted by the Gods, but that those people don’t realize that the Gods are communicating with them.

A lot of people will dismiss dreams where the Gods are featured, assuming that it’s just their imagination or extreme desire to connect with the Gods creating those dreams.

To be fair, sometimes, that may be true. In my experience, dreams are where the Gods can communicate most clearly. And a dream featuring a true connection with a deity tends to leave me exhausted upon waking.

The dreams from the Gods almost never make sense. I have witnessed Odin and Loki communicating with each other as birds. Most of the dreams where Odin is featured tend to be Him revealing past lives to me. I once witnessed Thor nearly break down Loki’s door to drag Him giant hunting.

While the dreams are interesting, they aren’t the only way the Gods communicate. Each God embodies a certain type of energy. Loki is the easiest example – His energy is fiery, mischievous, and fun. He tends to delight in throwing signs of His presence out at people.

As an example, I was doodling in my notebook during class, and I was writing Loki’s name in word art, and I looked up at my teacher’s hat and the hat had the joker on the bill.

Now, it could be easy to write that off as coincidence, but the Gods love to communicate in subtle, unmistakable ways. Words are too easy to wrongly attribute.

A problem I see people have is that they attempt to approach a God thinking He or She is the one they need to work with. There are tons of people who approach Odin who are unsuited to His path due to temperament incompatibility.

It’s better to approach a God that you can easily see parts of yourself within, as They will be the easiest for you to hear. And you may be surprised at who you end up being most compatible with.

Part of the problem is that there is this desire to be patroned by the most powerful Gods, and some people aren’t suited to those paths.

Nearly every Heathen works with Thor to some degree, but the most interaction I have really had with Him is the conversation where we agreed to respect each other. I’m not suited to His path, and it would be disrespectful for me to force my way onto His path.

The thing that people forget is that a God is a God, and even the most minor Gods are far more powerful than we tend to assume. Look at Ullr, an ancient God of winter that kept Himself relevant by becoming the patron of skiers. Most people would consider Him a minor God, as there is next to no lore about Him, but He is one of the eldest Gods of the Norse pantheon.

A person doesn’t need a patron God, but most Pagans desire one and eventually end up with one. I’m in a unique situation where Odin is my patron, but He doesn’t spend much time talking to me. When He does communicate with me, it’s always important. I’m sworn to Odin, but I’m not close to Him. That’s the role He requires of me.

That’s the other mistake people make. Patrons aren’t necessarily going to be your friend – They choose you because you can fulfill a role They need filled. It’s more like a business partnership.

Now, I have relationships with other Gods, but none of Them are patrons. Loki and Sigyn take on more of a familial role, while Tyr is the one who gives me advice from time to time. Freyja helps me learn magic, and Ullr acts as a guide between worlds.

Each of the Gods I mentioned communicate with me in different ways, but I have to be willing to be open to those communications. Since there is a spark of divinity within humanity, the Gods can communicate with us, but like any spark, that connection must be nursed to life.

Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy

Many definitions exist for both the term “Orthopraxy” and the term “Orthodoxy.”

Orthopraxy can be defined as “right living, right practice, right action, right path.”

Orthodoxy can be defined as “right doctrine, right thought, right worship, right honor, right knowledge, right belief.”

The two are generally seen as being opposites of one another, and these are words that get people of all faiths – polytheistic and monotheistic – arguing amongst one another.

I’ve been reading about Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy through various sources, some Pagan, some Christian, some Jewish – there is the same debate in every religion: which is more important? Right thought or right practice?

Most Pagans (but not all) will say Orthopraxy is more important than Orthodoxy, making them more stubborn than the monotheists out there, which is kind of an ironic twist to me.

The Jews and Christians seem to have come to the conclusion that Orthopraxy without Orthodoxy is a hollow practice, and that to perform rituals without understanding the underlying beliefs or reasons for those rituals is to fail to connect with the Divine, and thus that turns the Othropraxic behavior into sinful behavior.

There was one long definition of Orthopraxy I found here that I found interesting: “The application of orthodox beliefs in the form of rituals and customs.”

There are some Pagans out there who seem to take offense with anything a Christian says, on the principle that anything a Christian says must be invalid simply because that person is Christian.

To be honest, I dislike Christianity as a religion as a whole – I dislike all monotheistic faiths because I think their doctrine is poisonous to the world – but I can still see the value in the points that are made and I can translate those points across faiths.

There are also some Pagans, some Heathens especially, who think that anything that echoes Christianity in some way is anti-Heathen or anti-Pagan, which is, frankly speaking, ridiculous. I’ll get on my soapbox about cultural and religious appropriation in a later post.

To get back on topic, I found this statement on a Jewish blog, here: “The Orthoprax will do good works, but those are socially useful and divorced from any sense of divine worship.” The author goes on to discuss how going through the motions doesn’t allow a person to connect to the divine, and there is a hollowness to the faith when a person only engages in correct practices.

In another blog, this time a Pagan one, I found this statement: “If religion is only concerned with correct practice, an outward form, without concern for some kind of belief or understanding, using ordinary logic one can see that such a religion would be based on a shell, a façade. It is what is concealed within the outside that must be important, the very heart of it, for there to be intrinsic value in a religion.”

In a Methodist blog, I found this: ” What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them ,end up changing your consciousness.”

Here, I found this: “Orthopraxis was identified as a key component in Indian religions, the character of which is not proclaim a system of knowledge but rather a precise system of salvific ritual acts embracing the whole of life. Modern understandings of orthopraxis, on the other hand, tend to exclude from their understanding the authentic Indian concept of religious ritual, reducing it to a matter of ethics or political criticism.”

In other words, there tends to be an agreement between all faiths that Orthopraxy without Orthodoxy is hollow. Unlike monotheistic faiths, however, Pagan faiths do have to contend with the fact that there is very little doctrine for us to use to base our practices upon.

Because of that, there is an increased focus on reconstruction, and to me, it seems almost a desperate struggle to revive the practices of an ancient faith where the framework of thought for the ancient peoples isn’t really understood.

No matter how many artifacts we unearth and how much educated guesswork we do, the fact remains that we will never understand the thought patterns of the ancient peoples whose religion we attempt to reconstruct.

For monotheistic faiths, the argument will always be which is more important – adhering to the doctrine laid down in their holy books, or doing the work of their God in the way He asks, even when what He asks violates what their doctrine says.

For Pagans, the truth is, we don’t have a doctrine. None of our Gods have books that we can consult when we feel lost. Many Heathens will contest this and say that we have the Poetic and Prose Eddas, but those books aren’t doctrines.

At best, the Eddas are stories. Histories and myths that have been preserved, and preserved through the eyes of the monotheistic man who recorded them. The Eddas and the Sagas are stories. They show us hints of what life was like for the ancient Norse, but they don’t give us a solid framework for their thoughts and beliefs.

The closest we have to the doctrine of one of our Gods is the Havamal, the words of Odin. At best, that book is a book of proverbs, of advice, of suggestions.

The truth is, we do not have the tools we need to be an Orthodox-focused religion, and we never will. Each Heathen, each Pagan, is tasked with the formidable challenge of developing their own Orthodoxy through their use of Orthopraxy.

While monotheists can focus on what is more important in their religion, we do not have that luxury. Because of the Catholic conquest of the ancient world, most – if not all – of the doctrines of our Gods have been destroyed and are forever lost to us.

That is why we must be willing to look to other polytheistic faiths whose doctrines are still in-tact in order to learn what a polytheistic framework of thought actually looks like.

While we can base our practices on the archaeological evidence that has been found and on the practices we find in the Eddas and Sagas, the truth is that those practices may never feel as fulfilling as we wish because we don’t have an understanding of the underpinning beliefs of the ancient peoples whose religions we keep trying to reconstruct.

What we need to do is study religions like Hinduism and Shinto to understand the way the oldest polytheistic religions in the world view the relationship between humans and Gods. I’m not saying that we need to adopt their practices, but if we can research those faiths so that we can understand more fully what it means to be polytheists, that will give us a firmer ground to stand on as we work on discovering the doctrines of our Gods.

The truth is, each of the Gods has a different perspective on how things should be done and what is expected. That can be discovered through ritual practice, but it takes time, and it takes patience, and a lot of people don’t have the type of patience it takes. On top of that, a lot of people don’t understand how to interpret the messages the Gods send them.

Until you are open to seeing the influences of each of the Gods in the realms they inhabit, connecting ritual practice (orthopraxy) to belief (orthodoxy) may forever be out of your reach. Orthopraxy flows into Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy flows back into Orthopraxy, and when you can see the beauty of the way that works, what you are really seeing is the influence of the God of balance and harmony, which, in the Norse pantheon, is Tyr.

In my next post, I’ll discuss cultural appropriation and stir up some real controversy (and if you can’t see Loki in that statement, you’re really not paying attention!).

 

 

The Gods are Amoral

I’ve been watching the anime Noragami Aragoto, and the basic premise of the anime is that there is a god Yato attempting to get his own shrine so he can become more powerful. There was one event that happened where Yato said that it is people that decide what is right and wrong, for gods can do no wrong. And yes, an anime did set me to thinking on philosophical/religious terms. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and it probably won’t be the last. I tend to take my inspiration from the world around me, so it isn’t weird to me that something in an anime struck me as interesting.

Anyway, I started thinking about how each of the Gods are different. Odin, Loki, and Tyr all have different personalities, and each of them want different things from the world. But the Gods never question their own morality. In the myths, there is no internal struggle faced by any of the Gods over whether the course of action they are taking is right or wrong. The Gods just act. It could be said that the Gods act in their own self-interest at all times, and I don’t think that statement would be inaccurate.

Before I get further into that, I’d like to clarify what amorality is. Most people are familiar with morality and immorality. Amorality is the lack of a sense of morality altogether. If an action can be considered neither positive nor negative, then that is an amoral action. Essentially, saying that the Gods are amoral is saying that they lack a conscience that tells them wrong from right.

I’m sure that a lot of people will disagree with me, and I imagine one of the criticisms this idea will receive is the question, “If the Gods are amoral, how can they act in loving ways?”

To answer that question, however, I need to explain the difference between amorality and sociopathy. Amorality simply means that you have no sense of right or wrong. There is no distinction. A sociopath has a sense of right and wrong but chooses to disregard it. There’s a very fine line of difference between the two, but understanding the difference is the key to understanding the answer to how Gods can still act lovingly even without possessing a sense of morality.

In my mind, picturing the Gods as amoral helps resolve some difficult contradictions. It explains why the Gods can embrace Loki as one of their own – no matter what he does, he is still a God. It explains why the actions of Odin can seem sometimes noble and sometimes ignoble – he breaks oaths without much thought.

The Gods are complex – much more complex than a human being, and, let’s face it, us humans are pretty complex beings. We project our humanity onto the Gods, forgetting along the way that the Gods aren’t human. They’re Other. We have a spark of divinity inside of us, thanks to Loki, and that spark is what allows us to relate somewhat to the Gods. But I think that we too often forget that the Gods aren’t human.

So we end up painting the Gods with our own sense of morality, then get upset when the actions of the Gods don’t add up to what we have grown to expect. As an example, a large portion of pagans view Loki as evil incarnate, but Loki isn’t inherently evil. In fact, he is morally ambiguous, which is really just another way to say that he is an amoral being. Of all the Gods, it is perhaps Loki and other trickster Gods who demonstrate the truth of the amorality of Gods the most clearly.

I think the most difficult part of this concept to grasp is how the Gods can function without a sense of morality. For us, as human beings, we need a conscience. We need to distinguish between right actions and wrong actions in order to understand our paths through our lives. The idea of a lack of morality, of a lack of a conscience, is immediately alien and difficult to imagine. This is, perhaps, the reason that the Gods defy human understanding.