“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.

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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.

b7e
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.

Lokabrenna: the Historical, the Modern…and the Boring Math.

While I don’t participate in #JulyForLoki as originally intended–that of a daily blogging project–I did choose to turn the focus of the blog more on Loki than usual. My other project, when I asked, seemed to throw a lot of harvest-y stuff at me. Apparently I am supposed to lovingly stare at my pumpkins…devotionally? Or give Loki a pumpkin? Who knows.

Frey and Thor are getting pumpkins. Loki can have one too. Especially since I made fish emulsion for the pumpkins out of freebie lox that got nasty. Symbolism.

Anyway.

The Historical

Lokabrenna as a holiday is a thoroughly modern invention, popular among Lokeans for the fact that Loki doesn’t really get any feast days, days of the week, (no, Saturday is not Lokadagr) or any special mention at known rituals from the historical record. But irrespective of whether he was worshipped then, he’s worshipped now. I am a fussy jerk about many things, and get more recon as time goes by, but honoring Loki is…well, honoring Loki.

The name of that celebration, and therefore the reason for the season, comes from the Old Icelandic name for the star Sirius. I’ve seen translations of the name run from the matter-of-fact and charming “Loki’s Torch” to the more severe “Conflagration of [as in “made by”] Loki,” which seems to reference Ragnarok. There doesn’t seem to be any surviving lore contemporaneous with the original heathen practice that totally clarifies this, beyond the implication of Ragnarok.

For more thorough overviews of the history of Sirius’s association with Loki, I’d recommend Lokavinr’s post on the subject, and the Lokabrenna tag on GrumpyLokeanElder’s WordPress archive.

The Modern

Because Lokabrenna is named for Loki, and there was a precedent for celebrating the heliacal rising of Sirius in a few other cultures (the Egyptians, for example–though other cultures have other heliacal risings of note), a modern celebration was put together to honor Sirius’s supposed contribution to the heat of the dog days. The idea being, allegedly, that Sirius being out during the day in the summer would enhance the daytime heat. Its rising just before the sun signals the beginning of its reappearance in the night sky–and therefore the return of cooler weather.

Personally, I’m down for this, as someone who likes to pick out the clusters of stars that would have been constellations known to the Vikings. (The VikingAnswerLady page on that is worth a look.) And it would have almost exclusively been stars visible in winter, given that summer means near-constant sunlight.

Because the dog days are variable, but do tend to take up most of July, devoting the entire month to Loki in anticipation of Sirius/Lokabrenna’s rising is a simplification for practicality’s sake. Not everyone has the time, patience, or even just the spoons to calculate the exact time, and then have a ritual on top of that.

If you happen to be one of those people who does like to figure out exact times, though…

The Boring Math

The Heliacal Rising of a star is (as previously mentioned) the event in which it rises just prior to the sun after having been absent from the night sky. Heliacal risings mark the transition from the star’s invisibility during daytime hours, to its resumed visibility in the night sky.

There’s a handful of tools available that will vastly simplify the process for you. The one I am most familiar with is the Heliacal Rising Simulator, which allows you to punch in your latitude, choose from marking twilight (astronomical) or sunrise as a frame of reference, and fiddle with a date slider to figure out which date most closely aligns with Sirius’s heliacal rising. I would recommend dawn as your frame of reference, though nautical or civil dawn may be more practical than astronomical dawn.

There will be many, many tabs open while you research this.

SO MANY TABS
UuuuuUUUUUUUUGUHGGHGHHG

It will be worth it. I promise. There is nothing quite like witnessing a star’s return for yourself. And then you have the added benefit of having a whole bunch of free time, because you got up before the sun.

So when you’ve picked your date and you’re ready to head out, brew yourself a big pot of coffee. Pour Loki a cup while you’re at it.

“Loki Did It!”

For most of us, pop culture and kid-friendly reinterpretations of mythology are the very first exposure to pagan deities. With that comes a lot of oversimplifications and misinterpretations of their stories, so that they fit more comfortably into modern biases and are easier to understand.

The downside of this is that people tend to lock in on first impressions, and therefore they lock in on the oversimplifications. Speaking for myself, Loki was that weird guy who made mischief, and who forced Jim Carrey to behave like…well, Jim Carrey, but cranked to 11.

The Mask (and the majority of his other portrayals) really didn’t care to go into the complexity of the Trickster archetype, or the fact that Loki isn’t quite a trickster–he deviates strongly into and out of quite a few archetypes.

And I think it’s the oversimplification of Loki’s character that sets people up with the wrong idea about what Loki actually does to, for, and with humans.

Which leads to a lot of annoyances and bizarre incidents being chalked up to “Loki did it!”

norsecrisisflowchart
via Myths Retold

Computer glitching? LOKI DID IT. Power went out? LOKI DID IT. Vase fell off the table when you bumped it? LOKI DID IT. It snowed and now you have to shovel your driveway? LOKI DID IT, even though that’s more of a Thorri and Skaði thing. Souffle deflated? LOKI DID IT. SHOULDA GIVEN HIM SPONGECAKE.

It saves time, I guess, but it reflects a lack of discernment and doesn’t acknowledge Loki as a complex being–despite his being defined by complexity.

There have been incidents where it was extremely obvious that Loki was doing something. I’m talking about the falcon thing, or dropping feathers in my path. Or the time he threw a turtle shell off of the bookcase where I keep my shrines, after I blew out a candle I knew he wanted lit. Or breaking my bed. (There’s a whole story on that, but since it happened on Christmas, the post is queued for December.) Or the time he responded to my constant demands that he “teach me something,” by knocking a carton of eggs out of my hands. I learned that you can’t get egg whites out of an unsealed wood floor, and to be less of a nag.

There were also less obvious incidents that snuck up on me long after the fact–like the feather thing, initially, because I was unaware of the folk tradition claiming that he “harvests” feathers from birds.

None of these things were random, daily annoyances. Most of them weren’t even inconveniences, really, except for the egg incident and the bed incident. With the sole exception of the feather thing, probably, they all happened in situations that directly and unambiguously involved him. He was either initiating or continuing a conversation. Something was being communicated.

That’s a big part of why, even with my persistently glitchy keyboard problems, my instinct isn’t “Loki must be doing this.” My laptop is a workhorse that runs resource-intensive programs on a regular basis. I spilled a large jar of water on it back in 2014. I’ve spilled the juice for my e-cig on that keyboard more times than I can count. And it wasn’t during interactions with Loki, but just me minding my own clumsy business. Of course the thing’s acting weird. It’s a miracle it still works at all. If there was somehow a hidden message in my laptop ghost-typing 8’s and +’s all the time, I wouldn’t be able to decipher it, anyway.

So, no. Let’s not blame things on Loki without checking the context first. The Norse Crisis Flowchart is not a substitute.

On the Responsibility of Harsh Truths

It is often said that Loki is a bringer of harsh truths, as shown in the Lokasenna and the personal experiences of his devotees. Hence, his title of bölva smiðr, bale-smith. One who crafts those things that hurt to hear.

I don’t doubt this. I’ve experienced it directly.

It is also said by many of these same people that it falls to us, as Lokeans, to also bring harsh truths.

This gives me pause, for several reasons.

For one, Loki, as a god, is ancient. He has been given thousands of years (at minimum) to observe the follies and vanities of his peers and of humans. He knows how we tick. Our human lifetimes are fairly long, at 80+ years in a sufficiently cushy environment. But they’re still astronomically shorter than a god’s lifespan. We have far shorter windows of opportunity for studying each other, and we have to develop ourselves simultaneously. It’s a lot to juggle at once.

By extension, while our gods are fallible, they are more experienced and more mature than we, as humans, will probably ever get to be. They can spot our dishonesty and our arrogance faster than we detect it in others, and especially in ourselves. This is what harsh truths, by necessity, destroy.

Picture someone you know who pointedly announces that they are honest. When they insult you or talk down to you, their excuse for this behavior is that they’re just so honest. They call them as they see them. Fine, I guess. But what does that achieve? Did you actually learn something useful about yourself? Does this person examine their own worldview like that?

Doubtful. These kinds of people are usually just annoying and making excuses. Also, stop befriending whale biologists.

Unlike your average “but I’m just being honest!” type, Loki is tactical. This is literally the minimum requirement for a trickster-adjacent god. (“Trickster” is a bit of an oversimplification, but that’s for another day.) You don’t get a reputation for being cunning and sly if you don’t exercise good judgement. Good judgement does not have room for arrogance, vanity and just plain being a dick.

Loki is also accountable, whether he likes it or not. When he suggests letting the giant builder use his horse, it’s him who has to go sabotage the wall to save The Sun, The Moon and Freyja when this proves to be a bad idea. When he tries to get out of surrendering his head to the dwarves who crafted Mjölnir, his mouth is stitched shut; by refusing to pay the promised fee, he opens himself up for punishment. The Lokasenna ends in his punishment, too, even as he spends several stanzas calling his peers out on their faults. (I also think it’s easy to forget, in this day and age, that Lokasenna is a comedy piece.) He tries to wiggle out of both of these, literally in the second case, but to no avail.

In short, our actions have consequences.

I don’t think we do justice by this supposed obligation to the harsh truth when we are not tactical and accountable. We are not tactical if we call them as we see them, every time we see them. There are time, place and manner considerations. Power dynamics do not magically melt away, and if we take this task seriously, we must also be ready to face the consequences of uttering these harsh truths. Reactions are not always justified, but they’re harsh truths. They will rarely, if ever, be received well.

And maybe harsh doesn’t suit the situation. Maybe it’s not even our job, because not all of us are qualified. Maybe it’s a skill that has to be developed.

We must also be similarly willing to turn this on ourselves, because if we don’t examine and work on ourselves, work on our natural impulse to stir the pot before figuring out if it really serves the greater good, we can’t trust that the message is given in good faith. We have to be ready to ask ourselves why this needs to be shared, what good it does, and if we’re ready for the consequences. How can you know you’re telling the truth to others if you’re still lying to yourself?

I don’t want to imply that I am somehow immune to this, either. The entire point is that nobody is. We will probably never ditch the instinct for arrogance, but we can at least be aware it’s there, so we’re prepared to resist it.


Further reading:

On the Responsibility of Being Lokean, by Del Tashlin.

Let’s Talk About Incarcerated Heathens

The general population does not have a very high opinion of people who are, or have been, in prison. I remember being as young as 12 and hearing rumors about plastic surgery, niche therapy and otherwise non-essential care being provided to people on death row. These were all told with the heavy implication that these people are worthless and have it “too good.”

The reality is very different. There’s hoops to jump through just to get a tooth pulled, no matter what your conviction was about.

This perception doesn’t improve once people are released. Employers often refuse to hire convicted felons, but having a steady job is a requirement of parole in most areas. Being in prison leaves large gaps in your life that are, at best, awkward to explain. There is a huge social stigma attached to it, which creates a serious barrier to resuming a normal life. Incarceration often traumatizes people, creating yet another barrier to reintegrating with society because trauma is a profoundly alienating and lonely experience. It’s really not surprising in these circumstances that over half of all people released from prison eventually go back, often for a parole violation. Personality and habit alone do not explain this.

The prison system theoretically isn’t supposed to make people magically disappear. But a lot of people behave as if they assume or wish this were the case.

One would hope, as members of a religious minority that is often either invisible or stigmatized, we’d be a little more charitable to people paddling up the same creek in a different boat. This is not often the case. Obsessive Tru Warrior types are all too glad to slap these people with the label of níðing, proclaim them oath-breakers and discard them as dishonorable.

I hate this approach.

The vast majority of people sent to prison are eventually released. Approximately 90% of all people currently in prison in the US will eventually leave it. That means that many Heathens in prison right now, statistically speaking, will eventually be back in our communities. We can choose to make that our problem, or make it an opportunity. Either way, it is of our concern.

There is also a strong tendency among the prison population to become religious. It is vital for people in prison to have some kind of support structure, and anyone involved in Heathenry (on the inside or outside) can attest that the gods and a good community do wonders for our well-being. Remember how I said over half of all people released from prison eventually go back? The rate of recidivism is lower for inmates who receive competent religious or spiritual care. Religious organizations have an incredibly important role in the reintegration process, and society directly benefits from ensuring that incarcerated Heathens have these needs met.

This is true of all faiths, but Heathens in particular are under-served.

There’s a few complications with resolving this, as with anything. A declaration of faith often dictates your social circle in prison, and there’s a definite correlation between white supremacy and putting some form of Heathenry on your paperwork as a result. This is made worse by the fact that various racist organizations both in and outside of prison feed off of this. And then the DOC shuts down Heathen volunteer programs out of (unfortunately, justified) concerns for gang activity.

For sincere Heathens who aren’t seeking community for a social life or an ego trip, but out of devotion for the gods, this sucks. Prison is not a pleasant place to be. It’s not meant to be, but these Heathens are denied a very necessary service that would drastically improve their experience and behavior on the inside, and their chances upon release.

Because, yes, on top of reducing recidivism rates, competent spiritual care reduces the number of infractions while in prison.

Universalist/Inclusive Heathens have an important job to do when it comes to reducing the amount of racism in our religion. Tactics may differ, but they all require work. Prison ministry is a valuable opportunity to redirect people in a bad situation to a healing and progressive framework. Even if we can’t make people stop being racist, supporting inclusive Heathen prison ministry at least means we have a better chance of preventing further indoctrination from Heathen organizations with a malicious, racist agenda.

Robert L. Schreiwer tackles this in the In-Reach Charter (all emphasis mine):

*Whether inmates have access to positive Heathen influences is part of a larger issue that has an impact on the whole of the Heathen community.* In many cases, the perception of Heathenry is defined by radical racist elements from the prison population.

The administrators are not blindly or randomly inventing their perceptions; the perceptions have formed from the presence of race-based books, tattoos, and gang behaviors that have been found among the Heathen prison population. A radicalization based on race and/or ethnicity is taking place in some facilities. When these radical racists are released into the general population, the history of their experience and influence will become an even bigger problem for us than it is now. Thus, *prison outreach efforts are a frithful move to protect the folk from this destructive radicalization.* This program meets a need that supersedes the unpaid debt of individual prisoners.

Programs like In-Reach have stepped up to the plate, now armed with this knowledge, and with the goal of ensuring that incarcerated Heathens have competent spiritual advisors. Appalachian Pagan Ministry is doing the same.

This is a big part of why pursuing ordination is one of my major life goals. This kind of work is immensely important.