Loki’s voice from the Runes (and frustrated screaming from elsewhere)

OH WOW. I fucked up. Or at least that was my reaction last night.

The last couple days I’ve been reading lots of blog material from polytheists and heathens. I don’t remember what started that trip (hello 50 tabs) but it was a change of pace from a previous stint of Hindu philosophy stemming from a history class last term.  I always fear being a “spiritual tourist”, which is a serious problem in the West stemming from a variety of issues, but I also feel that intelligent philosophers see value in everything (plus it’s related to my major, of course). But anyway.

Yesterday I came across an old post from a prolific polytheist blogger which encourages people to tell their story. I was reminded of why I started this blog, which was a similar reason to what they described: so few of us “confess” to the ups and downs of devotional practice that we are rather marginalized in the pagan world (well, one of the reasons for it).* I am always embarrassed to share the messy stuff, especially in regards to my emotional well-being, because I’m painfully aware of the fact it’s used as an excuse to delegitimize pagan opinions. (And any individual’s opinions, really.) But, if we don’t talk about it, out loud and visible, it perpetuates the problem. So yes, this is one of those posts.

(*Though eclectic ‘hard’ polytheists are often rejected as New Age Woo and mentally unstable, we’re simultaneously somehow held up as being “more real” than a variety of other types of pagans, by dint of being more mystical/spirit-worky. Both of these are aspects of being “othered”. You can see the same thing happen in the Norse tales themselves, of course, where outsides are both reviled as perverse and treated with awe for their mysterious powers. Humans have been the same for a long time. Oh, humans. When will we grow up.)

I also read post elsewhere on being approached by one of the less common aspects of Loki than are often addressed by, and their UPG was quite similar to mine. Always an interesting and validating phenomenon, of course. I get a serious, quiet, inscrutable side of Him, not a jovial nor blunt-taskmaster version. This blogger felt this His Destroyer of Worlds side, which has interesting implications. (I’ll probably talk more about this later.)

It occurred to me at some point that my imagination has rotted. This is, well, kind of a traumatic revelation, even though it sounds like not so big a deal. No wonder I don’t have any ideas any more. My creativity has been beaten down by life for so long that it’s broken and limping. I haven’t read a fiction book in probably two years. I don’t watch TV so there’s no element there. I haven’t written anything creative or fictional in years as well. I used to be constantly in my head, imagining story after story. But I felt that “other people” were telling me it was an immature coping mechanism….so I started resisting it. I am far worse off for that. What I didn’t realize is there’s a difference between trying to mature mentally versus killing an aspect of yourself that others, especially “normies”, don’t like because they don’t like being inconvenienced by the world not conforming to their understanding of it.

Fuck other people, by the way. I’ve reached new levels of “not give a damn” recently. I’m tied of other people telling me how to live — and I’m tired of subconsciously bending to them. No more.

Anyway, I have been struggling for quite a while now to have good visualization , to write meaningful rituals, to work on my devotional art and poetry, and so on. Some of it is busyness + stress + depression, but a big reason is I’ve eliminated the positive emotional skill of dealing with negative emotions via creativity.

It’s also worth noting that last week I had an absolutely awful Tarot reading. I’m still unsure on the details of parts of it, but the general theme was that I was doing something very wrong. It was really upsetting, partly because I didn’t know what the problem even was, but I’ve been so busy with the mundane (packing/unpacking, doctor visits, prep for next term) that I put it aside to address later.

-ᛒ-

Birch has the greenest leaves of any shrub;
Loki was fortunate in his deceit.

…….So that’s the place my brain was at when something I read pushed me to do some divination. Oddly I was told to use Runes, which are not my main one, so someone wanted something in particular. I thought it would be quick, but it was not. While pondering how to word my question, I was struck how I consider the Runes to be Odin’s domain, but that I never quite “clicked” with the All-Seer. This seems really, uh, odd, given my interests and basic personality, and while it’s certainly possible Odin isn’t interested it’s also clear I have some blocks. (One obvious one is authority figures, but there’s surely others.) For me, Odin and Loki are two sides of a coin in many ways, and my perennial outsider-status obviously should link me with Loki, what of Odin and his mystic, wandering, seeking ways? It occurred to me that perhaps Odin kept his distance because Loki had already called dibs on me. (I hear they’re having a big of a “devotee count contest”.) So I asked.

I don’t have a set spread for Runes, but a list of simple ones I’ve picked up from various sources over the years. I did a 4-rune “relationship” spread I learned from a website (uhhhh link?) which of course I use for supernatural relationships. It is (1) the situation or base of the issue, (2) and (3) are the forces/emotions at play, but I tend to view them as confirmation of the Spirit or Deity, and the current obstacle or direction, and (4) the conclusion or outcome if I tackle the issue. (I never share my divination results here, though I always mean to, so here’s some finally.)

I pulled ᚷ (gebo), ᚦ (thurs reversed), ᚾ (nyd reversed), and ᛋ (sowilo). Gebo is sensible, as I am asking about my bonds to and responsibilities towards the Gods, and theirs to mine. I interpreted thurs reversed as indeed confirming Loki. (Remember I see Him in a dark aspect.) Nyd is not a fun rune to get; there is a lot of painful change here, hard work, and poverty of all kinds. There’s kind of an implication here that resisting wyrd is a cause of problems; that the resistance is caused due to fear, confusion, and emotional deprivation. (In the situation I’m reading for, you may surmise I was disturbed by this.) However, interestingly, my conclusion is blessed sol, persistence and honor. I interpreted this reading as there needing to be something done for Loki that involved a lot of emotional work on my part (and maybe physical work), but is clearly worth the effort. I’m not sure if it really answers my question on Odin, but since He tends to be ambiguous I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

I think Loki has been trying to get my attention by taking on other guises recently. I need to get better about my discernment there. So I switched to Tarot to get more details on my spiritual growth path. I’m not going to lay this one out here, but let’s just say — it was bad. It confirmed the block on my “hearing”; I’m cowing to the dogmatic, and the outcome is the Chariot Reversed. Loki came up again, and apparently He has indeed initiated something. I am stuck, the Great Work incomplete, my beloved Hermit is currently reversed. Bad. I was given the advice of bearing the weight of responsibility but not taking on more than I can handle, and to focus on my intuition and emotional security.

To find out what Loki is trying to get me to do, I laid a second Tarot spread, another more complex relationship reading. (Tarot is arguably my strongest skill, and this is one of those reading that was eerily accurate.) Short version: it confirmed my side of the ‘relationship’. and that I certainly feel my poor health has lead to my willpower degrading. What was shocking was Loki’s feelings and opinions towards me: the Three of Swords (reversed) and the Devil. Woaaah. He’s upset, to say the least. I’m surprised/emotional about it, I’ll be honest. The Three represents sorrow, heartbreak, and rejection: it’s being let down, deserted, hurt. Reversed, there is the implication of forgiveness, but the idea that I have Hurt him so deeply is, uh, well, I’m reeling. Apparently I had forgotten how deeply the Gods do feel for us. He recognizes I am trapped, despairing, caught up in mundane and avoiding the spiritual, but also blind to or hiding from the truth.

This shit is serious. Errors have been made somewhere. I am missing some big puzzle piece either because it is hidden in darkness or I’m avoiding it. Presumably it’s an answer to the issue in my post back in May (gosh, has it been that long?). Loki did indeed come to ask me for something, and when I was unable to discern what it was, I did not have the dedication or determination to continue. I acknowledge this failure and will act to correct it.

Interestingly, this reading gave one piece of advice: the Ace of Pentacles. While this is a card implying practicality and the tangible, it also implies nature, perseverance, as well as faith and trust.

I asked Loki for one last piece of advice on what direction to proceed in to repair our relationship. I pulled ᛇ (iwaz), the Yew. This is read differently to different people: on the one hand, it’s endurance, defense, purpose. On the other hand there is its connection to death, mystery, and vision. There are some….interesting interpretations here. I mean, it’s obvious I’m supposed to re-dedicate myself, as it were. But this rune is the symbol of Yggdrasill, the needle-ash, associated with Odin, and has “shamanic” implications. Among other things. Certain hermits were noted to carry Yew staves in Britain, I hear. The Icelandic rune poem mentions Loki’s father, Farbauti, as the arrow launched from a Yew bow. Recall that Loki’s parents might represent the act of lighting striking pine tinder to create the wildfire…..What if the needles of Nal are not pine needles, but those of the Yew? Pause to note that Laufey was already on my radar this week (she’s also my phone wallpaper right now!), and toxic plants are always in my circle. Hmm.

IMG_2058An image of the coniferous yew branch, up close, with red berries. I loved these trees as a child playing in my grandparents’ yard.

So yeah, as usual, there’s no conclusion to this post. I have some ideas of what I must “do”, but I need to tread carefully lest my ideas turn into a neurotic need to control everything. If anyone has “Loki advice” to pass on that seems relevant to this particular issue, please do let me know (or if you’re up for a divination trade perhaps). With all the packing/unpacking I’ve decided to rebuild my main shrine/altar area, because the cabinet I obtained originally to be a butsudan-type shrine isn’t doing it for me. I was considering painting some images to hang. I guess I know who to start with.

Oh, and I obtained a couple new fiction books. I need to wake my brain up.

Also “coincidentally”, July is normally Loki’s dedication month for a lot of folks; I consider him more a January fellow personally, but it’s fine. I’m going to try to get a few posts out for it. After all, I have this blog about the Gods and then I never seem to talk about the Gods. Let’s remedy that.

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Quick Edit: WordPress apparently isn’t notifying me in the navigation bar when I get comments. Just FYI.

 

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Step Back

Every time I think of pressing “publish” on a post, I hesitate. By the Gods and my Ancestors, I will publish this one.

Image: screencap of wordpress backend with 60 drafts in progress.For folks who don’t use WordPress, those are my drafts of blog posts.

There are a lot of posts in the last week or so concerning self-identity, and a (re-)embracing of the personal path. I certainly relate to these, absolutely. For the last year or so, I’ve seen a lot of writers (and certainly myself) all getting wrapped up in “how do I practice the right way”  and by “right” I mean “visually right for other people’s approval”. I’m over it. There’s nothing I hate more than the insidiousness of performing for other people’s comfort.

But the fact is, my basic needs are not met right now. I’m talking physical life mundane needs, as well as those of the mental health variety.

I am unhappy to say that this issue means that stuff like concocting elaborate rituals and writing philosophical essays is not just “extra”, it’s starting to be a detriment. Or at least an expression of un-health. I have a pressing, manic need to Do All The things in search of the Grand Unification Theory of Everything, including the reading of every anthropological work ever written, despite the fact that my concentration and cognitive ability are currently in the shitter. It is time to hit “eject”. (Do things even eject in technology any more?)

So I’m going to step away from basically everything “extra” in my spiritual practice for a while, and go back to the “healthy” core parts: daily meditation with the spirits and honors at the altar. I’m doing everything I can for the mundane side of things, so right now, for my soul-side, I just need to sit within the Gods’ presence and feel that connection and nothing more.

🙟

I am going to leave you with this inspirational story I’ve been meaning to share with everyone. It was written by Sivananda Saraswati, a Hindu spiritual teacher and founder of the Divine Life Society. It features the worship of Lord Shiva, but I think it is applicable to polytheists in general. Source.

Puran Chand’s Guru had initiated him into the Narayana Mantra and given him a small Murti (idol) of Lord Narayana for worship. Puran was regular in his worship and did not omit repetition of the sacred Mantra, but there was no sign of the idol blessing him; so he went to his Guru and asked him the reason. The Guru smiled at Puran and said, “Well son, take this idol of Lord Siva. I shall initiate you into the Siva Mantra. Worship Lord Siva with faith and devotion. He is considered as Bhole Nath and is easily propitiable; He will bless you soon.”

The next six months saw Puran Chand immersed in Japa and worship of Lord Siva. The idol of Lord Narayana was placed on a dusty shelf in the puja room. After many months, Puran Chand once more went to his Guru and complained that his worship of Siva had brought him no result. He begged him to give him the Murti (idol of god) and Mantra of a Devata (idol of goddess) that would bless him.

The Guru smiled again; the time for enlightenment had come, yet he felt the disciple would learn from experience. So he said, “Good son, in this Yuga, Mother Kali is Pratyaksha Devata. Worship this image of Her and repeat the Navarna Mantra and you will obtain Her Grace.” This time, Puran Chand had no misgivings whatsoever; he had full faith.

Kali worship commenced; Siva joined company with Narayana on the shelf. With devotion, Puran was waving incense before the image of Mother Kali when the fumes rose up and reached the shelf where the other two idols were kept. Puran was enraged. What right had Siva to inhale the incense intended for Mother Kali? He had refused to be propitiated when he had tirelessly worshipped Him; it was Mother Kali whom he now worshipped. In great anger he took down the image of Siva in his hands and began to insert cotton wool in His nose to stop Him from inhaling the incense. Before he could accomplish his task, however, the idol disappeared and before him stood the Lord, smiling in all His mercy and compassion. Speechless with wonder and amazement, Puran prostrated himself before the Lord who told him to ask for any boon as He was immensely pleased with his devotion.

Puran answered, “My Lord, I am much perplexed. You did not deign to bless me when I devoutly worshipped You and repeated the Panchakshara Mantra for six months. But You suddenly chose to reveal yourself to me when I had discarded Your image and given up Your worship. What is this mystery, O Lord?”

The Lord answered, “My child, there is no mystery to be explained; how could I reveal Myself when you treated Me as a mere image, as a mere piece of metal worshipped or thrown away according to your whim? Today you treated My image as a living presence when you wanted to plug the nostrils with cotton wool; thus you revealed that you recognized My living presence in the idol and I could no longer withhold Myself from you.”

Speechless and enlightened, Puran bowed once more and was immersed in His Love. He could ask for no greater boon, for in His love he found fulfillment.

A Test

Quoting John Beckett:

Tests can confirm your commitment to the Gods. My experience with the Gods – or at least, with the handful I’m familiar with – has been very straightforward. They ask people They think can help Them to do the things They want done. Show you can handle that and They’ll keep giving you more. Tell them “no” and They’ll move on to someone else. Tell them “yes” and then don’t keep your word and things will get unpleasant. But in all this, I’ve never been told “first prove you’re worthy.”

I have been thinking about this topic lately. Some years ago, maybe about 6 or so, I decided to take my polytheism more seriously. I had daily impromptu prayers and regular rituals, and by way of magic attempted to incorporate the Gods more actively in my daily life. I gave worshipful oblations to various Deities of my “pantheon”, including the Allfather, and told Them I wanted to serve. I asked: what is it You would have me do?

I did not get an answer.

I decided that this problem was due to my inexperience and lack of “listening skills”. I thought that perhaps I was rushing forward too much (especially after a couple attempts at more complex rituals resulted in bad luck and poor omens). I decided to focus not just on my skill set, but on developing a closer devotional relationship to the Gods. This meant regular practice of pure worship, acts with no purpose but to honor the glory of the Gods, and an attempt to sharpen the clarity of Their messages. I also learned new styles of divination, including taking some “formal” training, specifically to channel Their voice. Sometimes, perhaps twice a year, I would petition Them again: I want to serve. What is it you would have me do?

I got an answer now. It was the same answer every time I asked. It stayed the same for many years. It was: “Not now. Maybe later.”

I tried not to be disappointed with this answer, and it’s perfectly reasonable to think in retrospect that the Gods could see I was headed for a rough patch of life in terms of my health, my finances, and certain future-altering decision (like my return to college). I kept going anyway, partly because I felt it was the right thing to do, partly because their answers said I should keep going and be patient, but also because it seemed to be a test. I needed to prove my dedication to Them, my reliability, before They would trust me with anything more. If I put in the leg work to get close to Them, then They would, one day, give me direction in life.

(You can maybe picture me gritting my teeth here, though.)

I began to languish. It is near impossible to continue to do work while feeling isolated and alone. I do not really have a Heathen group I can go to during the fallow times, or whatever it is else that other folks have which sustains them. But more importantly, I did not feel wanted or needed by the Gods. I wasn’t asking for any special boon, but I just wanted to feel Them, to know They are there for me. Why do we worship Them if They do not offer us this emotional refuge? It’s the same as desiring recognition for your work as opposed to expecting reward for it. How can a person work day after day without any end in sight, and not even warrant a “thank you”? If I was willing to serve for so long, trying to hone my patience for Them, how was it that I had not yet “passed the test”? It means either I had failed, or was unwanted. You cannot stay in a relationship without love. My worship just wasn’t good enough.

As I stagnated, I began to get slightly different divinatory readings, which should have energized me perhaps, but they just lead to frustration. I even consulted with outside diviners for second opinion. They essentially seemed to say that I no longer should continue on with the same repetition of the last few years, and should instead do…something. Someone wanted me to do something. So I asked Who. I asked What. I asked How. I asked to be pointed in some kind of direction, anything, just so I could know what it was to do next.

None of these questions were ever answered. Even the other diviners only got glimmers of this Someone wanting Something.

Then I had a vision.

campfire at nightCampfire at night. I couldn’t find who made this image, apologies. 

I’m going to break the narrative here a moment, because I want to caution my gentle readers: this story doesn’t end how you might be thinking. Actually, it doesn’t even end at all. I feel like this should all be leading to some tidy wrap-up, some pious lesson, or mystical revelation, or a kind of warning, or at least a “wow relatable!” kind of post. But really, I’m just documenting this series of events so that maybe someone somewhere will make some sense of it and give me some insight. Because there is no cherry on top, poisoned or otherwise.

As I mentioned a post or two ago (I think?) my spiritual practice really died off over the last year. Some of it was due to health and mundane matters, but my frustration with “no answers and no help” extended to Gods and mortals alike. If the Gods really just wanted basic, respectful worship out of me for the rest of my life, and nothing more, that would be fine — if They said so. But I got nothing, nothing, nothing for years, and when I finally did, it came with no reassurances, no direction, no assistance, no support. I thought I didn’t believe the Gods gave “tests”, but I also couldn’t see how it could possibly be Them “mistreating” me. So I blamed myself.

Now I’m supposed to put the lesson here, something about self-compassion, or about trust. Or something. I don’t have that lesson, sorry.

In one of my now-rather-rare big rituals, I laid out a welcome offering, inviting the Gods to join me in hospitality, and sat down to do some meditation, as part of my (now lax) skill building of sensing Their presence. I had one of the more vivid visions I’ve experienced, one where I felt I was being lead, as opposed to just intentionally visualizing (i.e. imagining) stuff. A God — I’m still not sure if it’s the original God in question — met me by a crackling nighttime campfire, wrapped in cloaks and skins. Surrounding us in the blackness swirled a violent, impenetrable snow storm. He told me, if I needed Him, I could come to the fire at any time. I actually wept with happiness. That was all I wanted in the first place.

But, after that, it never happened again. I could not go back.

After multiple attempts, the excitement from this one event was not enough to get me to keep trying to obtain it again. Ephemeral. If I ask about practical mundane matters I still get extremely accurate tarot results, as I always did. But I continue to get the same vague answers when I ask about anything related to the Gods or spiritual matters.

I don’t know how to feel or what to do. Part of me feels like I’ve been lied to. A small part of me reminds me of the possibility that the Gods aren’t even real and this is all some convoluted self-trickery. But part of me blames myself for not trying hard enough and failing. I have the tendency to presume most readers would do so as well (if not to my face, then to themselves). After all, most people’s spiritual failures are generally their own fault, right? I gave up when the going got tough, right? And yet I demand the Gods just give me stuff, even after I have the gall to consider blaming Them? I’m an uppity bigmouth, or something. Whatever.

Worship feels very hollow right now. I gaze at it from afar, feeling the same longing, wishing I could participate. But the Gods are on pause for now.

Beckett’s quote at the top of the article struck me today, because while I agreed with it, it’s very clear that I’ve felt I was being “tested” by Them for many, many years. In my defense, I did try to shift this perspective, to believe the Gods weren’t testing but were rather pushing me to deepen my practice and develop my skills, for my benefit. But unfortunately, I’ve also never believed in power-for-power’s-sake, and so I suppose I defaulted to “it’s a test”. But Beckett’s experience here also causes me a deep disquiet, because this entire time, I was never really given a yes/no choice because I was never given a Task in the first place. I always had to make up tasks myself. And when I would ask for something — not even asking for a task, but simply a hint of direction to go in — I was given answers that sounded an awful lot like being tested. “Be patient” is a test.  Because if you can’t be patient, well, the Gods don’t want you.

It didn’t occur to me to blame my mundane problems on my lack of worship, because I’d actually been quite good/regular just prior to the latest health spiral. I can certainly see how others might view it as “punishment” though. I don’t believe in divine punishment like that, only in cause-and-effect. But without any positive response or regard from Them, when the going go tough in the mundane, I no longer had the emotional resources to continue all alone.

The Hermit by Reinhard SchmidDer Eremit (The Hermit) by German artist Reinhard Schmid. I’m still considering dressing like this every day, btw. 

So what’s the conclusion to all this gibberish? Well, I don’t know. I continue to scratch my beard and dabble in my many plans and devotional projects — the written prayers, the art pieces, the articles and posts, the shrine decorations, the divination sessions, the devotional collections (ha!). I work on them because I maintain the sliver of hope that I’ll again feel the Divine Touch and find the inspiration to continue. I keep working because the work interests me. But, part of me struggles to justify the energy spent, both physical and emotional, on something that seems useless to both me and the Gods, especially when I have so little energy left to spend.

If I ever complete anything, after the Gods, my ever-patient readers with be the next to know.

I’m probably going to make another attempt at daily meditation again; I already do zazen most days as well as a basic yoga routine. I would like to do a nighttime show of hospitality to the Gods (and the ancestors and wights). But I don’t really know what else to do, since “continue plodding on” hasn’t really been working for me for, like, ages. I’d be grateful if anyone has any suggestions for connecting to and understanding Them.

 

 


A general note on mundane matters: some of my most pressing financial issues have been temporarily taken care of by my generous family. My health, both physical and mental, are in the continued (and frequent) care of professionals, so hopefully those will continue to make headway. My various infections are gone and I’m back to being as functional as I ever was. Due to my high GPA and good record, the school situation is resolving much better than anticipated, and I am still enrolled and pressing on. I am still extremely busy with appointments and chores and paperwork and job-searching and everything. The fact that I could even make this post is small evidence that at least some aspects of my situation have improved a bit. May the Gods protect me from more mishaps and misfortunes.

Thank you to my readers for your sincere prayers and kind words.

Dead Zone

Hello folks, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. Life is not going well. I wanted to give an update for the record. This is a woe-filled list of complaints, so feel free to skip it if you’re bored. I’m mostly just screaming into the wind, here.

Since last summer, I have been sliding down into a severe depressive episode which has impacted my productivity. As I mentioned last time, I had been seeking treatment for a mysterious autoimmune disorder for about 10 years now; if you know anything about autoimmunity, the tests are often strange, cyclical, and difficult to diagnose clearly. The conclusion is I have undifferentiated autoimmunity — but this was described to me as being “not sick enough” to have Lupus, and that therefore I cannot get treatment for it, or even any sort of recognition.

It is hard to say whether my “depression” was instigated by an increase of autoimmune systems, the “bad news” about their treatment, or if it simply came back all on its own. Neither here nor there at this point, of course. At the request of my primary care doc, I am back in therapy now but it will be at least a month before I can see a psychiatrist.

(I am bitter about therapy. I have never found talk therapy particularly useful. But more importantly, I have been denied access to mental health care in the past, so I am not best pleased about being “forced” to go now.)

Coincidentally, I had a transgender-related surgery schedules at the end of March, which was incredibly poor timing. While I’m mostly pleased with having had it, everything post-surgery has not gone well at all. Opiates are terrible and I don’t tolerate them well, and I basically didn’t eat for a week. Two days after surgery I was in agony, and had severe back-spasms which tore at my stitches. They only gave me enough for about 2.5 days, so I had to request more (I switched to Tylanol as soon as I could). About a week after, I developed a pus-filled infection and fever and did an antibiotic round. That meant more weeks of being basically bedridden.

In the middle of that, my next school term started. Most people are recovered enough at that point to continue non-strenuous activities, but clearly I was not. I registered at the school to have accommodations made, which should have been enough. But….

This week I’ve developed another (the same?) infection, as well as some kind of chest cold or bronchitis. Since I am leaking pus from an incision that’s supposed to be healed, the nurse help-line sent me to urgent care. It’s not too bad (yet) but I’m on a new round of different antibiotics, and feel like overall crap.

On top of these things, for the past year I have struggled to find work. Out of 50 job applications, I have received 4 return calls to say “no”, the others I never heard from again. I am baffled as to why. It’s been suggested to me that one of my references is badmouthing me, but there’s no way I can confirm. Even without that, there are a lot of obstacles for “suitable” work that allows for my school schedule, transportation needs, and health. I don’t qualify for most forms of public assistance, due to being a (non-working) student. I was given an emergency grant for one of my rents, and have borrowed the rest from family more than once this year. But the pool is drying up. And of course, with my more “emergency” status of health since the surgery I haven’t been able to do school let alone work on top of it.

All of that means that I am going to have to quit school. No school means no income. I will have to find a temp job for a while, despite my poor health and search difficulties. But getting a temporary job with the idea of returning to school will also likely mean no more health insurance. It is simply not physically possible for me to work full time AND go to school; I wasn’t capable of that even when I was physically and mentally at my peak last year.

And finally, my partner and I are filing for divorce. I haven’t gone into my relationship situation before, I think, because it compromises his privacy. But yeah.

The divorce, the infection, the bronchitis, and starting the process of withdrawing from school have all just been in the last 5 days.

I don’t really know what I’m going to do or what’s going to happen to me. None of the choices I have are good.

I don’t know what this means in relation to the Gods. I think it’s human self-righteousness to say “bad things happen to you as punishment”; the divine isn’t spiteful. But I fail to see how a life of repeated poverty, declining health, and severe isolation are pushing my soul towards greatness. My soul is very, very tired.

Not Feeling Well

As the title states. I have been dealing with chronic health issues which come and go as they please, and they’ve taken a downturn the last six months. I’ve had a battery of tests recently, and my doctor (with less-than tactful bedside manner) has basically told me if nothing comes up, not only can there be no treatment, there will be no way to access even basic life accommodations without an on-paper diagnosis (and no sympathy either, apparently). Without going into the details, this is basically a strong threat of homelessness. Safe to say I’m “rather upset”.

I confess I am also not feeling well about the “community”, currently, or at least my place in it. I think I mentioned before, but I have a very difficult time connecting to people in groups, and paganism is one area I’ve really struggled in, for decades. I’ve rarely found a pagan/heathen group I feel I can identify closely with….and recently, the more I read (blogs and pagan news and such), the more alienated I feel. I seem to have a very different view on theology and ideology than, well, most everyone. While theological debate is certainly going to happen within an active, living religion, when an entire community seems to have very different goals for their choices, it is hard to stay engaged.

I’m extremely turned off by the increased politicization of many groups over the years as well. No, this is not saying politics are unimportant. But religion for me is a refuge, a place to collect oneself, to give pause, to re-grow, to knit the wounds of daily battle so that one may strongly face another. Muscles weaken and fail when they are not given time to heal between exertion. The strongest know that time to step away is a necessity, not a cowardice. But this does not seem to be the purpose of religion or religious groups for others. It seems that majority of people just want the aesthetics of a badass Viking, and attempt to claim ownership of that image via ethnic or cultural heritage, with no greater purpose than to summarily declare oneself righteous.

I’m turned off by the Identity Games. Everyone, no matter their political bent, seems to be using Heathenism/Paganism as an ego-prop or costume, something that makes them feel good because it validates their sense of in-group belonging. This is an extremely different religious goal than mine, where “belonging” is a nice benefit  In any religion the majority will always consist of “C&E Christians” (folks who only show up on holidays) and “Once-a-weekers” (folks who claim membership but aren’t very deeply interested)…. and that is fine, because that is clearly the role religion needs to fill for most humans. But this is creating two problems, particularly in Heathenry but also related Paganisms. First, I feel these people are having too much…clout. They being swayed by our culture’s “identity politics” issue, and are now chiming in enthusiastically…but without a deep level of investment, meaning they are shaping something which doesn’t impact anything more than their image. Second, and worse, is that people who are invested, who are educated, and do have clout, are falling for this identity imagery as well. I see copious posts about political views, and next to nothing that deepens the practice. I’m seeing that same 90’s “wicca” thing, where there are a thousand discussions on Pagan 101, a daily debate on proving who is and who isn’t racist, and nothing else. What is the purpose of addressing political issues to defend a religion with no substance?

I’m turned off by the lack of education — real education. Most of the individuals and groups I follow do a lot of respectful work, both academically and in terms of the mundane. But, I see an increased amount of political bias in this work  which is affecting its quality….essentially, there is what I’d call “academic dishonesty” where people are leaving out facts which are inconvenient to their political positions. I have an in-progress post about the history of Runic studies which confronts this issue. I also want to craft a rebuttal to a response on certain Iðunn interpretations, from an otherwise well-researched essay which rightfully addressed misinformation, but which (intentionally?)  misrepresented the original argument by leaving out the central piece of evidence completely. I also wanted to chime in on the yearly Ēostre debate, though I doubt I’ll be timely with that. And so on. However, I’m already very tired in the mundane sense, so I don’t have a lot of energy for screaming into the wind (or maybe it’s pissing into the sea?) when I’m disheartened. Though I realize some of these issues can’t easily be put to rest, I feel that the only time they’re even being addressed is when a writer finds it useful to push a political view. (Or occasionally when it’s just a mundane misinfo-correction , which I definitely don’t mind, but it always falls short of examining what that info means theologically or spiritually.)

lingadhyaksha-shiva-behind-shivling But really, all these issues return to the differences in religious goals. The reason I started this blog was two-fold: to perhaps connect to like minds (a partial success), and to help create some kind of religious structure that I find lacking in current Western polytheism. That is, I wanted to create a structure for myself, and offer it up, in the hopes that others would find it valuable. But that structure is entirely based on what I feel are the goals of religion, particularly for a serious-minded person. And unfortunately, I see few individuals with similar views. It is confusing, frustrating, and disappointing.

Engaging with religion as a group participant leaves me tired. I get the most out of daily, solitary practice. But something feels missing, as ever. My soul feels stuck in a rut. Is it merely depression blinding me to the joy of the Gods? Or is it a failure of my practice? I fear it will turn out to be the latter.

 

(Lord Shiva has been on my mind lately, due to some Religions class reading. No other reason for His image here really. Hail the Lord of Peace and Destruction, may He bless us with His compassion.)

I salute that Shiva, who burns the sorrow of poverty,
Who is the lord of the universe,
Who helps us to cross the sea of hell

—Expert of a prayer by the great sage Vasishtha, translated by P. R. Ramachander, source

The Locked Doors

The Hávamál has long been a source of practical wisdom for we Heathens, an excellent piece to refer back to regularly, to remind us of Odin’s wisdom.

A witless man, when he meets with men,
Had best in silence abide;
For no one shall find that nothing he knows,
If his mouth is not open too much.
(But a man knows not, if nothing he knows,
When his mouth has been open too much.)

⊕ “Hávamál”, Codex Regius (Poetic Edda), ln 27.

Hail to the Allfather, Lord of Mysteries. His lessons are His blessing on us.

(This is a facetious post. I haven’t posted in ages because I locked myself out of my blog accidentally. I have many words to spew forth in the near future.)

Positive Asceticism

I am a very distractible person. I tend to huff at the general overuse of ADHD, but if you know me IRL then you know I am a constantly shifting tide, physically and mentally. So in my draft blog writing I’ve been hopping around, because I don’t have an established writing practice (working on it). So, I’m once again jumping topics, because this one happened to be what I finished first. Apologies for being abrupt and out of sequence.

A theme I’m going to explore, probably regularly, is the concept of “polytheist monasticism”. I am part of a loose network of pagans (etc) with this interest, and I am certainly not the first. (More on the concept and on established groups in another post.) This post is somewhat of a an off-shoot of that topic.

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For reasons I only half understand, there is an active undercurrent against “asceticism” withing pagan and polytheist discussion. Typically verbalized as “paganism is about embracing life!”, it is a reaction generally to what practices are perceived as toxic leftovers of Christianity. Asceticism is viewed as a denial of reality, a rejection of the natural body, and therefore of the natural spiritual body and one’s place on Earth — a foolish, often elitist self-view born of the idea that humans are superior to “animals”. This goes against what is arguably the core tenet of (neo-)paganism, which is the reverence for “Nature”. Additionally, this Christian-based image of ascetic practice-as-denial smacks of servitude and slavery, self-flagellation, and shame-filled suffering, done in order to punish oneself as commanded by the superior Deity for one’s Sin. Sin has a greater weight to it than simply a failure, mistake, or inferiority; it has a connotation of disease, malignancy, a deformity of one’s very soul. Applying a moral toxicity to the natural body and natural world goes against what is considered healthy and “right” to most everyone in the pagan-umbrella, and often plays a part in those who “leave” Christianity, and certainly is anathema to most people raised in pagan families.

The view of asceticism as a negative ideology/practice seems to me to stem partly from a lack of understanding or experience with ascetic practices, and partly from an internalization of our Western culture’s materialistic values, which are so ubiquitously promoted. Indeed in the US, consumerism is considered a “national trait”, in a positive sense, and even those who verbally deride it actively participate in its mores without awareness. We are taught that our possessions speak for us, represent us, reflect our core selves – and so materialism is no just the norm, it is almost a necessity. For pagans, it seems to be an overwhelming idea that asceticism is always an expression of the Christian self-abuse seen above, an extreme — or even essential — practice of denial of the natural body.

What is asceticism? Here’s a general description from Wikipedia:

Asceticism…is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, characterised by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures, and time spent fasting while concentrating on the practice of religion or reflection upon spiritual matters.

It goes on to quote Wimbush and Valantasis, who describe ascetic practices in two categories “natural” and “unnatural”. The former is a “lifestyle” based on a minimalization of materialism. The latter “is defined as a practice that involves body mortification and self infliction of pain”. I think this distinction is interesting, because it reveals a flaw in the thinking of the “embrace life!” pagans of the first paragraph; clearly their intent is not necessarily to promote hedonism, and in fact a brief glance at pagan lives will clearly show that many practices in the “natural asceticism” category are frequent. These include things like morally-guided dietary restrictions, meditation, and a rejection of many materialist aspects of modern-day life which non-pagans, including the majority of Christians, consider “necessities”. While I do think there is a pagan push against minimalism in the general idealistic sense (part of natural asceticism here defined), it’s very clear that the rejection of “asceticism” is targeted to those practices loosely defined as “unnatural”.

What are some “unnatural” ascetic practices? I am not so sure this line between natural/unnatural is so easily drawn. I doubt that the average pagan (if there is an average) would consider meditation or occasional fasting to be extreme or unnatural, however I’d presume they think hours-long meditation/prayer and lengthy starvation-level fasting certainly is. (Note that I’ve also seen people say that any sort of fasting perused for the purpose of spirituality, rather than health, is unacceptably unnatural.) Chastity and celibacy are usually denounced outright by pagan, as they are believed to be prudishly antiquated, or morally anti-sex. While many pagans wear symbols of their faith, few have religious-based restrictions on their clothing like modesty or even theme (1). (Discounting those folks who are also vegan and avoid animal products, which is sometimes morally driven but not religious per se.) Other practices are “self-imposed poverty, sleep deprivation, and secluding oneself in the wilderness”, and also taboos or commitments such as nonviolence, standing while eating, avoiding medical procedures, sleeping uncomfortably, exposing oneself to the elements, and so on.

Very, very few pagans pursue “body mortification” and intentionally self-inflicted pain, and those that do are considered fringe whack-jobs by the mainstream pagan community; the word “cult” has been seen applied here. However, lesser forms of asceticism are still regarded as “fringe”, particularly the idea that one would spend the majority of one’s daily life focused on one’s spirituality. For the majority of pagans (and witches and polytheists and heathens, et al), spirituality is only one aspect of their lives, and while it may be an important part, it is not the dominant focus of their lives.

310px-EmaciatedBuddha[Image: Gautama Buddha during his ascetic period,
emaciated from starvation. Would you like a sandwich?]

Religion is used by most people as an enhancement on life, not as the driving force of their lifestyle. In the United States, and basically most of the Western world, the idea of dedication of one’s life to religious pursuit is, frankly, sneered at. You don’t want to be too religious: that means you’re either old-fashioned and “backwards”, unenlightened by superior modern civilization — or you’re just nuts. We have a view of über-religious types as generally goofballs, and conjure up images of certain antisocial Baptist protesters, nefarious megachurch televangelists, starry-eyed New Age hippies waiting for the Space Brothers….and of course the weeping self-tortured monk whipping his own back with thorns. (To be extreme is considered pathetic and scornful in our society; the same reaction is given to other counter-cultural practices, too.) Religion, somewhat rightfully, is associated with the shittiest parts of human behavior, and in the US it is intrinsically linked with bigotry and violence of all kinds, as well as individual psychological repression.

And so as pagans in general are reactionary against this effect that Abrahamic Monotheism and religious essentialism has had on our culture (we can note that pagans almost to a one will tell you there is no One Right Way or One True Religion), while still recognizing the need for a spiritual dimension in human life. But again I ask: where is the line drawn? How much meditation or fasting is “right”? How much religion is “too much”? Perhaps it is more important to analyze how we draw the line between natural/unnatural, because in general I do not think most people do so with a critical eye; after all, it’s already seen that some ascetic practices are perfectly accepted by pagans, their benefits recognized. I think this paradoxical rejection of some ascetic practices as “unnatural” stems directly from a push-back against (toxic) Christianity, and indirectly from our cultural socialization to be anti-religious.

A brief interlude….I confess that asceticism has always interested me. I am a type of person who desires to have some “goal” in life, some sort of guiding philosophy which encompasses all of my daily actions. As such monasticism and asceticism are attractive to me, because I perceive them as specific work done to achieve concrete result, as opposed to just “life”, which is a meandering aimlessly. This is clearly just a personal part of my psychology, and I expect some others with interest in such thinks feel similarly. I do find it frustrating that this life-view, which I don’t impose on anyone else, is so derided and sneered at. But separate from my personal feelings, I think the automatic assumption of asceticism as negative is false and ill-informed. 

maxresdefault[Image: Hotei, the Laughing Buddha. This fellow seems much
more level-headed. But he wandered around with an empty bag.]

Perhaps it is because I’m more aware of Eastern philosophies, but I think ascetic practices can be applicable to us (speaking as a polytheist). Properly used (de-Christianized) asceticism is not self-punishment or self-denial. These acts are intended to increase spiritual awareness and strengthen one’s connection to the Powers.  They can be a means of showing devotion and dedication. They can be methods of putting oneself into “headspace” or trance, to open oneself to Divine communication. They can be a way to disconnect from the toxic aspects of material culture, at least temporarily, so one can shift their viewpoint towards better spiritual understanding. Asceticism, even much of the painful bits, is not some way to create a suffering believed to be deserved, but a way to create an experience that enhances.

Almost every very devoted person engages in some of this: purity rituals, exhausting prayers, excruciating writing projects (ahem), and so on. I suggest that for people who feel they are “missing something” in their paganism/polytheism, one option to explore is the use of ascetic practices. Positive Asceticism can be seen if one steps away from the stereotyped images of flagellating friars. For complex reasons, self-discipline is much maligned in the West recently, confusingly totally backwards to the ideal of “American Independence”, I think…but it probably stems from the “speed” of our society, the fact that almost everything it a click away. Self-discipline isn’t self-punishment. It is skill building. Specifically, self-discipline is a form of repetitious practice to build the emotional skill of handling frustration, which is what makes accomplishing long-term goals possible. It is the same for spirituality: the only way to reach the depths and heights are long-term dedicated practice. Some (most?) people will not get there by merely baking on Yule and wearing a necklace.

And yes – some people don’t want that depth. There are lots of ways of worship and they are all valid. But if you do want depth, as people interested in monasticism presumably are, then you might consider re-thinking your view on asceticism.

As mentioned, there will be concrete evidence that such acts as self-imposed poverty or strict “rules” are actually beneficial to the individual, in terms of their psychological health. We do not picture the chanting Japanese priest standing under the frigid waterfall to afterward return to the monastery in a depressed, self-hating state. Rather, he is improved, strengthened, more open to compassion for the world, more connected to nature and to his own body, and more connected to his Gods. Isn’t that what we, as pagans and polytheists, aim to achieve?

Misogi[Image: a man praying and chanting beneath a
winter waterfall. I think I need a warm shower now.]

While all this is probably rhetorical for folks with no interest in monasticism, for those of us interested in creating and maintaining polytheistic Orders, I think the understanding of ascetic value is essential. In fact, I would argue it’s the entire point of monasticism. You’re right, self-punishment and denial of the body have no place in a pagan space. But the reason a person creates/joins a monastery or becomes clergy is because they want to dedicate the majority of their time and energy to religious practice. This will automatically mean a reduction of “worldly” things — they take up too much time. As a group, following the same rules and schedules and modes of dress are to create a sense of group identity, which in turn enhances the ability to stay in a spiritually-focused state. When your life is devoted to simplicity, it removes the need to spend huge amounts of personal energy into material-based decision making (what to wear, what to eat, what to buy, etc). It helps self-identity too, because there is no worrying about fashion trends, social standing, body-image, and so on. You are solidly who you are: a Dedicant.

Similarly, I think the awareness of what more seemingly-hard practices can do should be examined and put to use for monastic-minded polytheists. Experiencing harshness and pain does not have to be a denial of Nature. Tattoos hurt – are you “suffering” when you get one? Are you denying nature or your body? Unlikely. Spirituality is no different. In fact, am of the personal view that asceticism, and excess, are flip sides of the same coin. You can be obsessively excessively ascetic, which will result in unhealthy pathology (there is a clear difference between religious fasting and Anorexia Nervosa). I believe that some ascetic practices can actually be an embracing of the body and of Nature, that testing the limits of the body, and experiencing extreme conditions of Nature, creates a greater understanding of one’s place as a part of the natural world.

Overall I think the false and unnecessary rejection of ascetic practices is a knee-jerk reaction against Christianity, not a critical analysis (3). I do not think this rejection holds with history (for those of us who are historically based or inspired) — and I also do not think that any practice is automatically “unnatural”, because the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and it will be apparent in an individual whether “extreme” asceticism is having a positive or negative effect on them. Asceticism is not a rejection of the Natural; rejection of the Natural can take many forms. And so can the embracement of life.

In an up-coming post I delve into polytheistic monasticism, which certainly incorporates some level of (“natural”) ascetic lifestyle. I want to talk on a more personal level about how I practice my own form of “polytheist monk life”. And other topics, including the 15 drafts I have going….

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(1) There are increasing numbers of polytheists practicing religious clothing restrictions. I like this and have been working to include this practice myself; however I watch this behavior with some trepidation because, in my experience, it seems to be predominantly practiced by women. If the practice of, for example, headcovering or hair-wearing is limited only to one gender, it runs the risk of reinforcing systematic sexism which has direct impact on people’s lives. We need to encourage non-gendered and universal forms of polytheistic symbols, particularly among men. (I tend to feel that the Amish, for example, are far less sexist in this specific area, since while the clothing itself is gendered due to tradition, modesty of dress is universal.)

(2) Perhaps you noticed that I used non-Christian and non-pagan images in this post??? The Christo-centric and European focus we have in our discussions is very noticeable, sometimes, and I think it skews our viewpoints, even when the topic is itself ethnocentric. Asceticism has been practiced all over the world, of course. I think we can learn a lot about the practical and healthy applications of some of these practices by comparison to other models besides just Christianity. 

(3) But I’ll also note, there are plenty examples of positive asceticism in Christianity as well. This post isn’t intended as Christian-bashing, merely critical analysis of toxic elements of Christianity.