Things We Lost in the (Sacrificial Jól) Fire

January 21st was Jól, if you calculate your calendar with the Lunisolar method.

Bonfire

That is, the second full moon after the winter solstice. The first full moon after solstice starts the year, but I was observing the Urglaawisch Yuulsege that day.

…and tearfully toasting my new ex during Sammel. And accidentally drinking too much. And flipping bottles to try and impress the hostess’s dog.

The dog is 7. He’s Gen Z. I figured he’d think it was lit. But he’s a dog. He’s not going to dab appreciatively.

Ugh.

Anyway, the thing about my ex.

I ended a 9½ year (to the day) relationship at the end of November. I am not going to go too deeply into why it ended. But my official (and honest) explanation is that it just wasn’t going anywhere. During the phone call where we broke things off, my ex and I agreed that it was sad, but a relief.

But it is sad, dammit.

I sent a Christmas card wishing my ex well, but carefully avoided leaving any crumbs of false hope. I never heard back. Not that I particularly expected to, though I do hope the silly anecdote about the Harambe Christmas sweater brought some holiday cheer.

So I left it at that, and returned to making decisions about all the artifacts left behind. Among the items was the first, and only, bouquet I had ever gotten.

They were a gift brought along when my ex came to see me for Easter. When my ex went back home, I dried the flowers and put them back in the vase, where I gladly woke up to see them for seven more years.

And then after the breakup I woke up every day to see those flowers and hate myself. Look what you’ve done, I would tell myself. This person loved you enough to get you flowers and you threw it all away.

I had legitimate reasons for leaving. None of those reasons made my ex a bad person, just the wrong person. And it just wasn’t something Easter flowers were going to fix.

Another item was a small ragdoll I had made to look like my ex, because we were in a long distance relationship and it was nice to have something to cuddle or sleep next to. I held on to this, very literally, for the first week after the breakup when I couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually, I realized items either needed to be contained or removed if I was going to recover and stop stumbling on random things from my ex.

The ragdoll went in a box in the closet for a while, because it was far too specific to the now-absent relationship. I was only keeping it to make a decision on it, and I knew it was going to have to be removed from my life eventually, along with the flowers.

These things were lovely, but their purpose had been fulfilled and it was time for them to go.

I wanted it to be sacred and purposeful.

Both Yuul and Jol mark times of stagnation and introspection. There is nothing to be planted and precious little reason to go outside. Anything that hasn’t died off yet is just holding on. And it’s miserable, which is why we have so many winter holidays in the first place.

So when we aren’t socializing and reinforcing how important community is, we go into our homes. We go into ourselves. We burn through our stores and scrape our cupboards and learn to survive without. Even though many of us are living post-scarcity, it’s probably the best possible time to get a feel for what you do and don’t truly need.

I didn’t fully grasp this during Yuul, between the usual rune headache and accidentally drinking too much of the libation, but I was being unsubtly whacked over the head with the idea of life transitions.

I’m not dead. Sure as hell felt like it between a severe cold and the breakup and the general misery of winter. And the future I thought I was going to have may be gone, but that leaves room for different ones.

Where I flip bottles and dab at middle-aged dogs, apparently.

But, also a future where I approach compromises with a better grasp on what I want. Where I establish myself on my own terms, and not based on a foregone conclusion, because guarantees make me lazy.

…and where I reckon with uncertainty. Which is kind of a big deal in all other aspects of my life, these days.

So along with onions I grew in my experimental scrap garden, little bits of goldenrod, and cast-offs from the altars that were due to be burned…my little ragdoll and first ever bouquet went up in flames.

I want a good harvest. In more ways than one. And I am hoping that I am able to continue to do the work it takes to make that happen. And to trust the process of digging around in literal dirt, and emotional dirt, and pulling weeds, and handling my responsibilities in a way that I can reap the benefits but also accept a certain amount of failure.

As I’m finishing up this post, I’m caught in a squall and getting snowed in. Buried, but halfway through winter. Soon I’ll be able to say I was planted instead. My onions and squash and lettuce will grow, hopefully I will too.

To a good year, and to peace.

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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.

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.