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.

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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.

Prestige and Puppy Love

Paganism is exciting when it’s new. There are gods! A whole bunch! Gods you can talk to! Sometimes they talk back and leave you cryptic notes!

And then you get used to it. Discernment gets better. You realize there is vastly less godphone going on than you thought–if you even have godphone, because sometimes your brain is giving you a helping hand by reinterpreting a very potent urge to do the thing. Your brain is supposed to pattern-match and fill in the blanks. You’re experiencing a feature, not a bug.

It is tempting (as I have regrettably done) to try and get more attention. Be it through harder work, expanding your skillset or just straight up pleading. After all, your gods love you, right?

Well, yeah. But not the way we love them. They’re bigger than us, and given the fact that we don’t interact with them like other beings, I imagine they keep a certain distance. Even in a framework where the gods are everywhere, and in everything, we don’t often get to carry a conversation with them like we do with humans. They function differently. And I think this distance is maintained out of love and respect for their willing servants.

Getting close, really close, to a deity is kind of (extremely) terrifying. They’re big compared to us. Not physically, per se. I don’t know how one can measure that by any acceptable metric. But it stands to reason among spiritual types that any entity that can tweak circumstances in your favor, when you can’t, must be more powerful than you. I can remember what I consider the first time I properly met Loki, where I said “prove it” and suddenly realized I could not breathe. I cried uncle and stopped trying to be sassy. I was not harmed, but I was definitely spooked.

I mention this because, while ecstatic experiences definitely give you a high better than drugs, they have an equal and opposite comedown. That drop will happen no matter what you do, and the further you prolong the inevitable, the worse it will get. It’s a balance thing. Balance isn’t constantly remaining in one state, it’s the fluctuation necessary to maintain the average. And you can soften where you fall through taking the steps to prepare for those experiences, but the fall itself is non-negotiable.

It sucks, but we’re physical creatures and tightly bound by the laws of physics. Managing an abnormal experience, which religious experiences are, sucks up our energy. That energy comes from the matter in our bodies and we suffer when it disturbs our equilibrium. Again, gods don’t function the way we do.

Sometimes our gods will wound us. Sometimes it’s discipline. Sometimes it’s by accident. Sometimes, for the very unlucky, it’s cruelty. But our gods will wound us if we get close enough. So will our community members, for all of the same reasons.

I’m sure it’s exciting to have the attention (from god and human alike) and subsequent community prestige that being able to claim these kinds of experiences brings. But I think it’s important for people to understand that this doesn’t inherently make something worthwhile. There is a lot of pageantry, braggadocio and just plain bullshit in the online pagan community. (Case in point, ain’t them some sparkly five-dollar words?) And because humans are social creatures, and social approval is such a vital part of our survival, we are going to feel terrible if we don’t measure up. We’re going to feel compelled to try and keep up with the neighbors. It’s a compulsion better not followed.

Because if your paganism doesn’t serve your higher powers, who is it actually for?


Quick housekeeping note: As of today, the blog is switching to a fortnightly schedule. In other words, posts will be every other Thursday until further notice.