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 Ragnarök 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.

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“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 Hårfagre 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.

The Pagan Experience: “E” is for “Erntfescht”

Grundsau Burrow

cornucopiaThis post was inspired by a prompt at The Pagan Experience suggesting writing for the letters “E” or “F”.

The calendars of many polytheistic religions are filled with agricultural rites, and Urglaawe is no exception. The holiday of Erntfescht, celebrated on the Autumn Equinox, is known as “Harvest Home” in English. You’ll find this holiday still celebrated today in Deitsch communities, by Christian and Heathen adherents alike. This “original Thanksgiving” was a time for communities to come together, celebrate the harvest, and share with one another what they had to give. This was particularly a time for the community to assist those who were less fortunate, such as families whose crops had failed, or who had lost a family member over the past year.

In modern Urglaawe celebrations, there is a focus on donations to food banks and the like to help those in need. The deities honored at this…

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Info-gathering Tips for Heathens

Getting your hands on good information for Heathenry is difficult, for a few reasons.

The problem with a lot of easily-accessible sources is that they are heavily peppered with subjective interpretations and put together by people who aren’t, at minimum, well-read. You don’t need a doctorate to know what you’re talking about, but you do need to know how to collect, sort and interpret information. (Which, incidentally, are the skills that get you degrees.) Anyone who doesn’t have those skills is a questionable source.

But resources put together by people with these skills tend to be locked behind paywalls or out of print. So what are your options?

Continue reading Info-gathering Tips for Heathens

Havamal Reflection Journals by Heathan Woman/ A Polytheistic Life

I’ve put together a reflection journal of the first 95 stanzas of the Havamal that anyone who is interested can download and print to use. There are various colors available.

via Havamal Reflection Journals | A Polytheistic Life

The Spongecake is a Lie

Lokeans have a reputation for drama. Like, it’s one of the first things that comes up when I share that I’m Lokean out in offline Heathen spaces.

It’s really awkward, and uncomfortable. And I wish it was well and truly unsubstantiated, but I converted a week after Spongecakegate, to the day. So I’d witnessed the bitter pastry fights and the general weirdness, and watched a lot of stupid controversies pop up over the following few years. Like the Mjölnir Panty Raid. Lokeans Ruin Everything/”Loki got assfucked by a horse.” The Astral Babies Incident. The Coffee is Ruining Polytheism (?!?!) Kerfuffle. I’m fabricating a few of the names, but unfortunately I directly witnessed these events.

Even made some memes about it.

As a result, a lot of people know Lokeans as “those high-strung weirdos who fought over cake.” And not even in the Sans-Culottes way, which would at least make us feisty revolutionaries. This is all the more ridiculous when you realize Spongecakegate was not about the cake.

Take out all the woo, all the recontructionist vs. eclectic vs. deconstructionist (???) discourse, all the arguments about socioeconomic class, and it was just a garden-variety pissing contest. People were being high-strung, yappy puppies.

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How dare you, you borking elitist prick! (Sauce.)

People were being insecure and vain. That’s what Spongecakegate was about. That’s why people felt compelled to derail with absurd and irrelevant information, and bizarre theories about divinity. (No, seriously. I looked back at the original thread, someone was trying to claim Loki was a Celtic god? He’s not Lugh.)

People absolutely detest being contradicted. It’s not an internet issue. It is definitely not an issue specific to Lokeans, on or off Tumblr. It’s a human psychology issue. How many heated arguments actually address the central problem? Next time you witness a fight break out online, grab some popcorn and do a quick inventory. How many people furiously pounding their keyboards are lashing out an an easily perceivable scapegoat, instead of attacking the genuine source of their anger?

And granted, it’s not like the defensiveness isn’t acquired honestly, but it’s still ridiculous. I know Lokeans are not well-liked, to a point of absurdity. I know it is intensely frustrating to have your god maligned–my blood pressure definitely rises when I hear people trot out the “chaos god”/”basically the Devil” spiel. And, yes, this makes us more likely to perceive things as an attack, or to perceive attacks more intensely than would seem rational. You learn to anticipate a certain kind of interaction.

But a huge part of my work with, and for, him has been picking apart and examining the things that cause me pain. This is part and parcel to learning not to take things personally. (Though I still do, I have at least learned I don’t have to RSVP to every conflict I’m invited to.) It’s necessary for learning not to take things seriously. Because when Loki is doing Loki Things you can’t afford to take it all seriously. You have to find humor in the tangled thread and smashed eggs, because if you don’t, you’ll lose your damn mind.

And part of this is learning how to tune out people who are being ridiculous.

Because it’s not about the spongecake. It’s about our egos, our assumptions, and our unexamined baggage.

If I Like Science So Much, Why Am I Still Religious?

The idea that science and religion are incompatible concepts has almost always bugged me.

It doesn’t seem to me like a particularly accurate assumption in practice, given that most of the people educated enough to pursue science in its early stages were people of faith or outright clergy. Hans Christian Lyngbye, for example, was studying pilot whales and other marine life in the Faroe Islands when he recorded Lokka Tattur.

It is still absolutely true that Tycho Brahe fudged the numbers in the name of Geocentrism, and modern fundamentalists rail against simple biology and geology. And, speaking for myself, I absolutely detest plastic shamans who believe herbal medicine is inherently safe compared to pharmacological medicine.

Raw apricot kernels aren’t gonna cure cancer.

But I think, ultimately, that behavior comes down to a failure to understand the source material of their spirituality, rather than a failure inherent to the spirituality itself.

And I’ve written before about how science (specifically, astrobiology) got me even more fired up about my faith. When you learn that gold on Earth is the remnants of supernovae, it’s a little hard not to have intense feelings about firey regenerative patterns and Gullveig. And when you learn that the earliest life on Earth emerged from a literal union of volcanic heat and frigid moisture, the Voluspa suddenly has a lot more gravity.

That was not a physics pun, but we can pretend it is.

Science is about figuring out how and why things work. So too, before science as we know it existed, was religion. To me, it makes perfect sense that those who admire and seek to glorify their gods would want to understand the underlying patterns, which are complex and astoundingly interdependent.

It is difficult, as is, to go investigate the stars. We now know what many of them are made of, how hot they are, how old they are now and how old they will get to be; because we have spectrometers, probes and satellite cameras. Earlier humans didn’t have this luxury. They didn’t know what hydrogen was (it wasn’t properly identified until the late 1700s), or that it is the most abundant gas in the universe, or possibly that there was a universe–not as we now know it, at least; that designation emerged in 1925.

But what they did know was that there were firey orbs in the sky, and they had to get there somewhere.

A Norseman looking for an explanation would look at the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini, and reach the very logical conclusion that the gods put them there. Specifically, they were Thjazi’s eyes, and their placement in the sky was weregild paid to his infuriated daughter Skaði. Even knowing these stars are a good deal farther apart than they look, and their categorization emerges from a simple human need for pattern-matching, there is no loss of wonder staring into them. If anything, knowing the vastness of space adds to the fear and wonder of staring into Thjazi’s eyes. He would have had to be terribly mighty.

These people weren’t being stupid. And I don’t think an assertion of ignorance is particularly fair, either, because it’s not like Vikings could have gone to space. (Not until the late 1970s, of course. Hachacha.)

Our stories were best guesses–and very logical guesses!–in their time. New information does not invalidate religion, so long as you have the right approach. And this is why fundamentalist and literal approaches are the problem. Clinging fiercely to literal interpretations allows for the whole thing to be picked apart, disproven and eventually destroyed.

And people of faith generally don’t want that. I sure don’t.

While I believe the gods literally exist (maybe not physically, and to be honest I’ve never really laid the whole thing out in detail), these stories are still viable metaphorical explanations. Mythology was already heavily metaphorical, even in a context where it was understood literally. These people believing in this kind of thing weren’t being stupid, they were using a specific model to approach the objective and observable.

I’ve joked in a few Heathen-geared comment sections that I don’t have the “personality” for godlessness. And it’s true. The set of personality traits that are common among the faithful occur in me as well. Science explains phenomena in a way that I find perfectly accurate and satisfactory (like why people might perceive and strive to interact with the divine in the first place), but I need a strongly emotional outlet to experiencing and processing the world. Science gets me very enthusiastic about dirt, and birds, and trees, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room to tell the trees I love them.

Further, science–at least hard science–doesn’t contribute to our personal growth. Our comparative intelligence as humans complicates our lives. Rather than just a struggle to keep our place in the ecosystem and survive, our lives are filled with purpose-seeking and contemplation. That is a solely emotional process, even though science is eager to explain how it came about. Which is absolutely fair, because the same laws that govern anything else allowed for it to happen.

But the laws of physics, chemistry and biology are indifferent to us. They are not invested in us. They explain our existence in the context of lawful chance. They are neutral baselines for how the observable universe works, and they don’t care about us.

The gods do.