A Collection of Thoughts on the “Loki Ban”

The “ban” has been discussed a lot in the past year. A lot. The Rede was discussing how to handle it long before Seigfried’s stupid article kicked off the public part of that discourse again.

Before I go ranting and opining, let’s cover the facts of the situation.

The history of the “Loki ban” went like this:

  • Hailing Loki used to be a thing that went on, and there were no policies that limited this.
  • Around 2008, a policy was discussed that made Loki, certain Jotnar, and the Rokkr in general off-limits for hailing.
  • Around 2011, a different version of this was voted on by the Rede, which became the policy outlined in the Position Statement.
  • Around 2012, wording was updated and it was outlined in the FAQ.

Here are the problems related to the policy, which make the current discussion necessary:

  • The policy emerged after the hailing of Loki had already been a thing.
  • The policy is alienating to Lokeans and Loki-friendly members of the Troth, and it places an undue burden on Lokeans attending events to which the ban applies.
  • The policy created complications at Frith Forge, due to its taking place in Europe where Loki is generally viewed as a non-issue.

Basically, had another organization not stepped up to co-sponsor the event, the Troth’s rule on Loki would have applied to everyone in attendance. It would have been one American organization setting the standard for a multitude of other European organizations, and would have somewhat defeated the purpose of reaching out.

So, that’s the background.

Now for the fun part.

screencap of a YouTube video titled "here are my thoughts on the bullshit"
Continue reading A Collection of Thoughts on the “Loki Ban”
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The Inevitable Rant About Discernment

Resources on discernment are, quite emphatically, not in short supply.

And yet, despite this abundance of resources, a lot of people are really bad at discernment. When I was a new baby Heathen on Tumblr, we literally had The Discernment Talk every. Gods. Damned. Week.

And it never got better! We still had our little hysterias. (Remember, remember, the fifth of September.) We still had our sweeping trends. Some of it was just how Tumblr works as a social media site, what with the reblog button and all. But more static, self-contained areas on the internet like closed Facebook groups weren’t immune, either.

It’s just…a very persistent, wide spread problem.

We could write more discernment posts. We could simplify them. We could shove books at people. We could simplify those, too.

But none of this makes a difference if people aren’t open to it. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong. They really, really don’t like to be told they’re wrong. Even when they are wrong. Especially when they are wrong.

And nobody is going to be immune to that.

So when you finally feel like you’re successfully making contact with a god, finally seeing some evidence of their involvement in your life, finally letting yourself believe…what’s your knee-jerk reaction to being told to re-evaluate and start doubting?

You probably start getting worried. Maybe angry. Almost definitely defensive. “You don’t know me, you don’t know my life,” etc. Or the infamous “but it’s my UPG!”

Which…well, you know how I feel about that.

When someone brings up discernment, especially concerns that you need to use more of it, it’s not because someone is trying to take your spirituality away from you.

Rather, the person is usually concerned about lack of judgement, and you going on a wild goose chase and possibly hurting yourself. Because it happens. Gods are confusing at best, and sometimes deliberately misleading. Ditto for spirits pretending to be gods for the sake of messing with you.

And, whew boy do people like to make things up.

Precious little of what a god has ever conveyed to me made any sense the first time around. It is almost always tiny signs. Random objects. Sneaking suspicions. Showing up with crystal clear imagery and speech is rare. And even then it doesn’t make that much sense, because gods are confusing. Sometimes I’ll let myself act on just a hunch, which I try to save for things that seem to unambiguously fall into the “not required, but it would be nice” category. Anything that feels remotely heavier gets marked down, divined on, asked about with people I trust and respect, conditions set for clarification (e.g. more birds! Harass me with MORE BIRDS)…and then shelved if I don’t figure it out. If the gods consider it a high priority, then it falls to them to pester me about it later.

Like with more birds.

Do read that post, by the way, because it’s a great example of bad and delayed discernment on my part. All of that hassle could have been avoided if I’d bothered to just…ask, correctly, and pay better attention, instead of running off based on my own assumptions.

You know. Discernment.

Because what would having my assumptions proven wrong that early have done to me? I’d be struck with doubt about a lot of other things. But a lot of the other things I believed in at the time, uncritically, were causing me serious distress.

I was better off for being proven wrong, because it gave me a chance to rebuild my practice with a fresh and mindful perspective. I am happier. My devotion is genuine and freely given and–yes, a bit cautious! Because I’d rather be cautious than hang my assumptions on the gods and blame them for it. I’d rather not go on wild goose (or falcon) chases unless it leads me to something I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not going to tell people how to do discernment. Because, as I said at the beginning of this post, the resources are not in short supply. When I was putting together a resource list for someone a few months ago, it was harder to whittle down to a top three than it was to find anything good in the first place. I was spoiled for choice. If we keep writing more posts on the how and not the why, we’re just throwing more information at a wall.

Rather, I’m going to ask people to take notice of whether they focus or gloss over at the suggestion of discernment, or instructions on how it works, and to question themselves as to why they do that. What’s at stake? What’s threatening about it? What does it threaten to take away from you, and why is that so bad?

More importantly, what are you missing out on because of failing to use discernment? What do you stand to gain through better discernment?

To be disabused of notions that don’t serve your best interests is to be given something, and it is to be given something quite precious. The resistance to discernment only hurts you in the long run.

Shyness, Shame, and Sh*tty Broom Closet Doorknobs

I toyed with putting my face and name to the blog for a while, and even had an author photo for a week or two, and released a video, before finally pulling both.

I am not anywhere near shy about being a Heathen in person. My hammers are on display, and I’m always looking for bigger ones to wear. (There’s a dick joke in there, somewhere.) I consider it important to go about my business as a visible Heathen, and am always prepared to answer questions about what I do if I encounter someone curious. I’ve done it before.

Because it should not be shameful, and I therefore have no reason to behave shamefully. And if I cower, or hide, from visibly aligning myself with my faith, I leave more room for encroachment by dangerous extremists.

But I still compartmentalize, and keep my legal identity separate from my online, religiously focused presence. I am very comfortable with people learning about paganism through me, I’m far less comfortable with people learning about me¬†through¬†my paganism. Even in a job where I knew for a fact I was working with other pagans, I didn’t say much of anything until the end of the season, except to a customer who¬†also sported a Mjolnir.

In-person situations like moots, blots/seges, and pagan pride are wide open. My paganism is accessible to other pagans by the very nature of the situations in which I meet them. That’s a given. There’s an implicit contract that I can generally lean on, because most of us agree that revealing somebody’s practice against their will is a terrible thing to do.

I keep my face hidden not because of shame, but because I am anxious about the consequences of visibility within the wider community, where I can’t exercise even a little bit of control. On the internet in general, really. Perhaps this would be different, if I were part of a religion with far less baggage than Heathenry, and could afford to be less worried about what kinds of people I might piss off. Having had a stalker situation before (not Heathenry-related, just a creep who couldn’t fathom why repeated boundary violations made me not want to be accessible to her anymore), I’m a lot more stringent about my personal information than most people. I obsessively check and cover my online trail every few months, and make sure my info is pulled off of people-finder sites. If I ever decide to self-host and monetize this blog, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be springing for WhoIs protection.

Again, the control thing. I’ve had it taken away too many times to feel secure in surrendering a whole lot of it. But there is a very real chance that I am overestimating the risk, at least as it relates to Heathenry.

And that has me wondering a bit, as someone who’s pledge-bound to assist other Heathens as well as I can, whether I need to be the rest of the way out of the proverbial broom closet to achieve that. It’s literally a requirement for working in certain pagan-focused organizations.

And if so, at what point can I claim that’s the case?

I’m not even saying, like, “is the broom closet even¬†real” and trying to deconstruct that concept. Because, that’s experiential. And I’m experiencing that. So it’s functionally very real.

Though I don’t like the phrase “broom closet” very much, but that’s a whole other thing.

Anyway.

Realistically, as someone progressively ramping up my involvement in local Heathen scenes, someone who’s doing captioning work for panels run by Heathens, who wants to work as clergy someday, I know I cannot stay hidden forever. Especially because there have already been lapses in judgement where I link myself to my overt pagan presence online. Not often. But they’ve happened.

Even putting my social media to my legal identity when joining the Troth was an anxiety-inducing step, even though I’ve wanted to join the Troth since about February.

I hope, someday, I’ll be braver. I am a painfully shy person in real life.

…until somebody cracks a dirty joke at a moot, at least. By all means, make dirty Heathen jokes.

Doing Ritual Without Feeling Like a Pretentious Weirdo

I used to act. As a result, I¬†hate acting. Hate fake-it-til-you-make it. Hate playing the part. Hate rote actions being done “just because.”

But ritual always involves a certain amount of pageantry, and doing specific actions simply because history and trial and error have borne out that it’s the thing to do.

It’s easy to understand why pre-planned shows of devotion don’t seem to make much sense. You can’t pull religious ecstasy out of a can. It doesn’t work like that. It definitely seems like it would make more sense to wait for these spontaneous experiences, and take them as they come.

Right?

So how can we approach ritual, and accept the way it functions, without feeling like we’re faking something?

Understand the Why

Think about your birthday. Getting gifts is a standard thing, at least when you’re younger. They’re not spontaneously given, they’re given to you because on that day you’re special and that’s what they’ve learned to do. People are commemorating you successfully living through the year, and giving you something nice to congratulate you for it. And then everyone sings a song and eats some cake.

That is literally a ritual!

In that situation, you’re the important figure being celebrated. Gifts are offerings. And then there’s socializing and feasting.

Religious ritual is the same. Except instead of the birthday boy or birthday girl, you’ve got a deity. Instead of presents and well wishes, you’ve got offerings. And instead of the birthday song, you’ve got group prayer in the form of a blot. Or Sege. Or whatever the equivalent term is in your particular path.

It is normal human behavior to ritualize events. The passage of time, births and deaths, the divine, and forces we have a hard time wrapping our head around are easier to understand and approach if we have a structured and tangible representation of it.

You have your birthday whether there’s a party or not. But it feels more “real” with some kind of activity to mark it. I know that I have trouble processing that I’ve aged if I don’t mark it with something special. I also know I’m not alone in that.

That’s the purpose ritual serves.

Embrace Structure

It is very, very hard for me to do something if I don’t know the “correct” way to do it. I take tasks handed to me very seriously, and I like to do things in a proven way. Sometimes with a twist, but I need a frame of reference before I work. It’s hard to take a calculated risk if you don’t know what you’re even calculating.

That’s not a big deal when it’s cooking dinner or doing busywork. But when it comes to dealing with higher powers, the lack of structure can be¬†terrifying. Knowing that there are exact rules also helps prevent any risk of a boundary violation. Ritual, in a way, serves the role of etiquette when dealing with higher powers.

When you are shy, and new, especially in a group setting, ritual lets you know exactly what to do and what not to do. And knowing these things can actually be immensely freeing.

Don’t Underestimate the Social Component

The best rituals I’ve ever been a part of were conducted with about twenty of my closest friends. I am generously including strangers, since they’re just friends you haven’t met yet.

I really can’t emphasize the importance of the social aspect of ritual enough. When you are by yourself, or your only accompaniment is gods, you’re very limited in the feedback you can receive over your actions. It’s a toss-up whether gods will give you feedback, and we’re not particularly accurate judges of our own behavior. I’m speaking from a place of anxiety. I am a terrible judge of how I come off to people.

By contrast, when surrounded by people who are committed to giving you helpful feedback, eager to guide you in your work for the gods and community, you have a far better idea of whether your behavior is serving the right purpose.

And on top of all that, knowing that you’re in a setting where everyone is either familiar with what you’re doing, or at least respectfully curious, can be a massive relief. Nobody is going to think you’re weird. Nobody is going to judge you.

You’re allowed to relax.

Let Go

Most rituals I’ve been in involve some sort of pre-ritual that serves the purpose of grounding, and easing people into a slightly altered mental state. This is important, because it helps you feel more open, more connected, and more flexible about what will happen.

Ritual, in practice, is far less scripted than it would seem. Something will always go just a little bit wrong. Candles and torches don’t light, you get splashed with the libation, someone drums off beat, or intones the wrong rune.

It’s whatever.

You’re not doing ritual to be perfect, you’re doing it to be nice. It’s about getting people together to remind the gods they’re loved, to enjoy community with your coreligionists, and to–hopefully–put you in the state of mind where this is easier to achieve.

And maybe you’ll still feel like a weirdo for doing it! But hopefully you won’t feel pretentious. Because pretentiousness is about fluffing up our egos, and that’s not what ritual is for. Ritual will not make you pretentious.

And, hopefully, you’ll feel at peace with being weird. Because what group ritual is great for, in terms of the mundane, is reminding you that you are not alone in that weirdness.

No, Really, You Have to Do the Homework

We all know that I’m a fussy jerk about UPG, and this sort of ties into my fussy jerkitude. But I’m actually not going to go after UPG here. I’m going after a general refusal to read the lore and background info, irrespective of reason.

There was a kerfuffle in one of the Lokean groups I’m in, where someone claimed that Loki doesn’t want her to read the lore because it makes him look bad.

This strikes me as odd, that he wouldn’t want people to know about his achievements. Loki is far more helpful and productive than he’s given sufficient credit for in pop culture. Before Ragnar√∂k and the events in Lokasenna complicated everything (though I have…uh, thoughts on Lokasenna), he’s kind of charmingly annoying at worst in the mythology.

But even if your practice is driven by personal gnosis and focused solely on one god, you need to respect that these gods, the understandings of their personalities, and their stories come out of a specific cultural context. To learn that context, you really do have to read. And not just the myths! You need to read academic analysis and some history to get an understanding of the lore. The hard part is finding a good source, but that can be fixed.

There was an earlier instance in another group where a story was recommended, but it came from the Prose Edda. Which is disappointing. Nobody likes Snorri. Quite a few people didn’t like him when he was alive, either.¬†And filtering distinctly Pagan lore through a Christian sieve is a very real issue, but that’s not a reason to outright refuse to read him, like the person receiving the recommendation did.

I left the group for other reasons (failing to weed out racists being a big one), so I have to paraphrase. But it was something to the effect of “as soon as someone mentions Snorri, I’m out.”

Let’s take a minute here.

Refusing to read the Prose Edda cuts out a huge chunk of the lore. Frustration is not a reason to cut yourself off from it. That is what we have. We have to work with it. Denying yourself useful information in your spiritual practice is a very special kind of petty. And it just means you’re hurting yourself.

It’s also just…baffling to me. The majority of Lokeans I’ve seen were in fact encouraged to study, myself included. I genuinely do not understand, based on both my observations and direct experience, why you would be told to¬†actively avoid information.

My practice really languished without study. Picking up tidbits as you go only gets you so far. You can only subsist on crumbs for so long.

And the payoff is vast. Because I have a better idea of what to expect, and how to tell the difference, I don’t have to spend nearly as much time obsessively watching myself or grappling with unknowns. My scrupulosity issues have improved. I feel like my understanding of the gods has become so much deeper than it would have been if I was just locking in on the first things I heard, and waiting for direct ecstatic experience.

Because people lie. To others, and to themselves. And it is so much easier to brush off a lie if you have a robust frame of reference.

We’re a religion with homework. You have to do your homework.

“There Is More to Be Done.”

Snow in early September has never happened where I live, so I knew I was dreaming.

Loki does not show up in dreams for me unless he considers it important to bring something to my attention. He is also…ridiculously unsubtle and very heavy-handed with the imagery. I’m still not over the “Loki-but-Floki-but-also-that-guy-you-know-nicknamed-Loki shoving metaphorical spiritual death and rebirth in your face, and also, can you go pick some peonies” dream from my big, stupid dramatic runaway fit.

So hanging out in my impossibly snowy front yard at night, with Sleipnir, and looking like the spitting image of what I got used to “seeing” when I was newer…meant…something. At the very least,¬†that picking a jumble of things he knew I’d focus on would get me to pay attention.

All I remember was approaching him, and asking what was up. His response was, “there’s more to be done. Come with me.” And then the dream went back to jumbled, patchwork data sorting. Just my brain throwing everything at the wall and seeing what would stick.

Only that did.

The morbid symbolism of horse dreams aside (death by hanging–fun!) I knew this was a wakeup call. Where was I slacking?

How could I possibly have been slacking, I thought a little indignantly, considering I’d just put in a ton of work for the community like I was supposed to? I was helping take notes at Frith Works!, and volunteering for pagan pride, and captioning panels. I was welcoming a few new deities, and keeping up with altar cleanings and observing holidays and obsessively calculating my calendar…

…and not taking the time to just sit down for ordinary devotional work. Again. And slacking on shadow work. Oh, and also, when was the last time I put out food or water for Loki? Or any of the other deities? It had been a while. What was I¬†actually doing as far as research and working towards ordination lately?

Not much, shamefully.

The ridiculous part of this is that I did not assign myself a particularly heavy workload. I thought very hard when drafting my pledge about what was manageable. Wearing religious jewelry every day is absolutely doable. Cleaning the altars once a month, irrespective of when in the month, is also absolutely doable.

And these, in conjunction with work for the community, were easy to keep track of because they are also easily¬†quantifiable. Generally, we humans work to be paid.¬†It is easy to know when you’ve done something when there are results right in front of you–even compliments that you weren’t prepared for and didn’t know how to accept.

(Leadership skills? In my me?! Apparently.)

And it felt so good to be busy. It felt gratifying to have the sense of productivity it gave me.

But part of maturity, and part of really being productive, really doing work, is making an effort even when you can’t see the results. It’s forcing yourself to do things, not because they’re gratifying, but because they¬†have to be done. Because you can’t do everything for your own benefit, and you need to benefit others as well.

I can’t claim allegiance or friendship without a little quid pro quo. I can’t claim Heathenry if I don’t do my part for the gods.

Since I was volunteering with the land crew for the Draken Harald H√•rfagre when this dream happened (a gorgeous ship, and an opportunity I was blessed to have), I had already been thinking intensely about hair. Namely, its role in making promises. It’s not all bloodied drinks and adorned pits and jewelry and swords. The most famous oath in the sagas was the outright refusal to cut or comb hair until Norway was unified.

I am not shoving an entire country under my control. Don’t plan on it. But because I already had experience dedicating my hair, I could at least take away the cutting portion. Until I get ordained, I said, trying to subtly clutch my oath ring as I went to catch my train home, I must tolerate the creeping split ends and all the damage they do. Once that’s settled, I too can have fair hair.

But not until that moment.

I have to finish up the currently open tasks I’ve started for the community, and there will be more work to do at Parade of Spirits. (If you’re in the Philly area in early December, drop by!) But once my caption work is finished up and I have a few minutes to gather my massive to-do list, as soon as I have money saved up for my Troth membership, I will be getting back in the swing of things.

Go figure it would pop up around this time, though. Fall is always when I get most religious. Loki knows how to read a room.