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.

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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.)

Divination Issues

I’m having some difficulty writing the next post for this blog, because it’s giving me an uneasy feeling – not content-wise but responsibility wise. The short story is that I had a rather confusing divination session recently, and I haven’t decided what to do about it. It’s sort of put my spiritual life on hold (of which the blog is a part), because, while my daily practices are the same, I don’t know how to proceed with my future growth. (I might honestly end up sharing it here, I’m so dumbfounded. At the very least I’m going to contact a friend or two and maybe a pro.)

I have like 20 drafts in progress on topics of my Gods and how I worship Them, on holidays, ethics and natural harmony, monasticism and service. I’m also reading a book (read: lengthy academic tome) which is not pagan per se, but involves the Celtic Revival and reconnecting to one’s lost heritage. While I am reading it for non-religious reasons, I immediately recognized the tie to myself individually, and it is coincidentally highly relevant, I think, to certain political issues in the US currently. So I want to do a big review of it, specifically in a polytheist context, because I hope it can provide maybe a new level of insight on the “sociology” of connecting to the Ancestors, as well as practical suggestions.

Blessed Imbolc to All

I made a promise to the Hearth Mother that I would make at least some effort to do something of value today, for She appreciates nothing like Hard Work. I wrote three poems today, which for me is a deluge. None of them were to Her though, oops! I’ll try to remedy that tonight. Eventually, when I have a good “themed” collection going, I plan to gather them into little hand-bound booklets, probably sometime this year. I’m hoping they will each be dedicated to specific deities, but I may not be that prolific. (These booklets are going to be really cool, just wait.)

For Imbolc every year, besides some general baking, I always try to spend some time spinning, a hobby I don’t get to do as often any more. I have some arthritis in my hands, so my yarn-crafts are only occasional and extremely drawn-out affairs. But since spinning is especially sacred to the Hearth Mother, and other Godesses around this time, I make a special effort to offer this work as a gift of contemplative worship, and later use the yarn in a sacred or magic project – usually practical things like binding herbs or what have you.

There’s a special anecdote, though, that goes with my holiday spinning. Several years ago (six?) I spent a lot of time walking, many miles a day. I’m a big fan of thrift shops, so I was a regular at the Goodwill about 2 miles from my home at the time. One particular walk, I was delighted to discover two lovely drop-spindles in perfect condition for something like $10, and these models were not cheap when new. Guess what day I happened to be taking that walk?? Yes, Imbolc.

Hail to the Hearth Mother, everlasting,
Her head shall ever be crowned in gold, 
may She purify my heart as would the flame!

Sooo one thing I haven’t had the chance to go into yet is the nature of my “pantheon”, which is unfortunately a rather essential topic in my writings here. I want to do that before I start getting specific on each Deity, which is why I’m kind of skirting around this Holyday in this post. I’m going to go work on that post right now, which is partway finished and sitting in my drafts, and maybe I’ll have it up sometime within, oh, the next century.

(I’m also avoiding political talk here. I promise I cannot shut up about it elsewhere.)


Edit 2/4/17: I’ve finished another post, but I’m scheduling it to post next Thursday, on 2/9. No sense in posting in sudden deluges separated by vast droughts. 

(hello)

Yes, hello, I’m still alive. 2016 was a totally shitty year, wasn’t it? I’ve been super busy with both the normal holidays and my Total Life Overhaul, impending my return to college next week. A half-apology for the blog, but that’s life.

A huge part of my future degree is writing. In fact, that’s most of it. As part of this, I’m going to be slowly developing a more regular writing practice, and this blog is going to play a part in it. So I hope to complete all my “Drafts” sometime in the next few months as I get settled into a new routine.

I’ve also started working on several “Online Shrines” to some of my particular Deities. The first is to Iðunn, who I am close to and who I think is vastly underappreciated! I’ll be posting these as I collect and construct them.

Other than that, I hope everyone had a blessed Winter holiday to recoup from the mess of 2016.

Oh, and today is my birthday. I’m 33 today. That’s a thing.