Things to Consider Before Making Pledges and Oaths

This is going to be geared towards a context of devoting oneself to a deity. It’s also going to be long. This is something I consider really important to read as much as you can about, before you act on it.

I also want to get what I feel is the most important bit of information out in the open, right away.

You do not have to formally devote yourself to a god. Any of them. There is zero obligation. And if you already know that and still strongly feel that it is important, it then becomes equally important to examine your motivations and potential obligations.

Examine Why

What do you think making a pledge, a vow, or an oath is going to give you? (Those are all different things, by the way, and the distinctions between them matter.) Be frank with yourself about whether you think it will make you more “legitimate,” or if it feels like the thing to do.

Are you motivated to make that dedication because you feel it grants you some kind of prestige? Is there something unique to formal dedications that feels “better” than the devotion and work expected of you as a garden-variety devotee?

There’s nothing wrong with garden variety, for the record. There’s a reason certain plants grow in so many gardens. Laity are still vastly important to the function of a faith.

Alternately, are you absolutely certain that you’re not just caught up in the moment? Are you thinking clearly and critically? Are you able to take the potential downsides seriously and¬†accept them¬†without minimizing them?¬†It is¬†so easy to leap into major commitments when you’re wrapped up in a state of spiritual limerence.

For my part, my motivation was mostly lighting a fire under my own ass, because I had a genuine desire to work harder for the gods, but I just wasn’t making it happen.

Examine What

Another thing you need to consider is whether you have done sufficient research.

When I was bitten by the pledge-bug, I was digging for everything I could find on the process, up to and including picking through someone’s ~300 page doctoral thesis to make sure I totally understood my word choice. (What I had been calling a potential oath was, in fact, a pledge. So I’m glad I read it.) Part of this was that I was dealing with Loki, who kind of has a reputation for being opportunistic, so I wanted to be as unambiguous as possible about what was going to happen.

You also need to evaluate the terms of the dedication itself. That is, the expectations the god(s) are entitled to have for you, and the expectations you have from your god(s). Dedications, if you’re not just handing yourself over as a complete package, are going to have certain restrictions. Personally, I hope you¬†want certain restrictions on what the gods are allowed to expect from you. You shouldn’t be afraid of your gods, but there is such a thing as healthy caution.

It’s tempting to be The Best Devotee Ever and promise to clean the shrines, and pray, and make an offering every single day.¬†But nobody is the best devotee ever. That’s because nobody¬†can be the best devotee ever. It’s usually impractical to do too much more than bread-winning and basic survival every day, and even that’s a legitimate burden for some people.

It benefits you to seriously examine your capacity to do an act even once, let alone daily, or even weekly or monthly.

On the flip side, what rights do you retain after dedication? Are you prepared for circumstances that would force you to break your promise? Can you avoid breaking these promises by accounting for those possibilities? I’m still a little uncertain whether this is How Things Are Done, even though this is how I did it, but it may be worth injecting a few “however” clauses. For example, I’m required to wear my pledge ring during waking hours, but there are built-in exceptions for it being removed such as medical necessity, or it being forcibly removed. I can’t take it into an MRI machine, and if someone’s got a gun to my head unless I hand it over, it’s better to just go with it. I am absolutely¬†useless to any god but Hel if I’m dead.

A lot of people don’t think about these potentialities, but I’m a nervous wreck, so outright catastrophe was already on my radar. Your exceptions don’t have to be anywhere near as severe.

Most importantly, I think: Did you write it all down? If you have the memory of a lawspeaker, you can skip this step. But a long-term pledge, or an oath, is going to require memorizing your expectations, rights and responsibilities for a long time. The terms of my pledge are kept in my phone so I can check in on what I need to be doing–especially my choice of words, because that matters.

The last thing I want you to know is that your god(s)¬†will enforce it–but it’s not all bad. They want what you’ve offered. My experience since March has shown they can, and do, pave the way to make sure you’ll give it and check in to keep you on task. The road kind of rises up to meet you.

Just be prepared to hit it running.

Advertisements

The Other Half of Discernment is Disclosure

We talk so much about discernment when it comes to information coming to you, and probably nowhere near enough about when that information comes from you.

Your discernment work isn’t done the instant you’ve processed information.

Maybe it’s a generational, or cultural, or whatever kind of thing. Maybe it’s one of those “dammit, human,” things. But there’s so much information that you just do not have to share when it comes to your personal practice. And there is a definite difference in the mentality regarding how information is shared, what sense of authority it’s shared with, etc. when I compare online communities to real-life communities.

But I’m ragging on the internet Heathens, here. Because the internet is where you claim to ferociously guard your privacy while spewing deeply personal thoughts. We all do it. My blog is pseudonymous and I share weird stuff here. I’m extremely guilty of Doing The Thing.

But I post very few of the more ~*woo*~ things that happen in my practice to this blog. The Bird Harassment Saga and the There is More To Be Done anecdotes only made it onto the blog because there was a broader, relevant point that I thought was important to share. And it wouldn’t have made any sense to post these things without the–frankly, silly and very weird–backstories.

Also, to a certain extent, word count. So I’m not blameless. But vanity’s a dumb excuse.

And that’s my main concern. It was part of where “Prestige and Puppy Love” was headed, but the idea behind it hadn’t been fully developed when that one went live.

Even if you are absolutely certain of what you’ve experienced, and you’ve done the work to confirm what you’ve experienced, you don’t have to share things. In all honesty, you usually shouldn’t. I’ve already said my piece about how UPG is unverified and personal.

At the very least, there should be some kind of cost-benefit analysis going on before you blast your ideas in front of the gods and everyone.

Who’s benefiting from your disclosure? You, or your listener? Are you looking for feedback or help? Are you providing help? Is this about a mutual effort to foster spiritual growth?

Or is the only thing flourishing your own ego?

So much of what I see thrown into the internet void is bizarre at the absolute best, whether that be because it’s an entirely foreign combination of concepts, runs in direct opposition to established beliefs, or is all over the place. Viewers and readers, naturally, find themselves doubtful or annoyed. But that doubt or annoyance is greeted with hostility.

What did you expect to happen?

No, really. What were you trying to get out of the interaction? What script were you hoping people would follow when you blurted something out? The anger at not getting a reaction you were hoping for is because of an expectation, however unconscious and hard to spot, that you were going to get a certain kind of response. You probably wanted validation or attention, and you didn’t get it.

And it is okay to want these things. (There you go! Validation!) But these are not things that other people are required to give you just because they’re present.

Expecting someone to pay attention to you, and validate you by default, when you don’t take the time to pick the appropriate person to give you these things, is squarely in the realm of A You Problem.

And possibly a control problem, to boot.

Why did you feel the need to share something in a setting as wide open and uncontrollable as the internet, if you were only hoping for a specific outcome? Why did everyone likely to stumble upon it have to know about it?

And why is validation necessary, anyway?

This isn’t even necessarily a “don’t do the thing” post. I’m not the boss of you, and I’m sure there’s plenty of people who will be more than happy to remind me of that fact. (And, well, in posting this I sign up for that kind of response.)

Rather, the call to action here is to think carefully before you share a belief, a fleeting thought, a snippet of UPG and so on. When I lament the way a conversation went to my therapist, he often asks me “what was the goal of that interaction?”

That’s the main thing I’m hoping to pass on. What is your goal when sharing ~*woo*~ online? Who benefits from the interaction? Are you open to the possible outcomes? Why or why not?

There’s a handful of people I speak to very frankly about weird, unverifiable ~*woo*~ things. I choose them for their experience, their openness, and for the fact that the setting is private and they’re trustworthy.

The things you share on the internet about your practice can and will cross the paths of people who are unreceptive at best, and eager to mock you or harm you at worst. Know who you’re talking to.

But more importantly, know why.


Similar posts:

Prestige and Puppy Love, to which this post is probably the disappointing sequel. (And has some ~*woo*~ in it, to boot.)

On the Responsibility of Harsh Truths, which touches on other forms of disclosure.

The Merit of Teachable Moments, on when disclosure benefits everybody.

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”

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.