Rachel, Jack and Loki Too

If you haven’t seen the “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” episode of Black Mirror (S5E3), then the next few paragraphs contain vague spoilers.

“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” was the story of a pop star straining against being turned into a commodity. Except a whole ton of technology has to be involved in this, because it’s Black Mirror. One of these high-tech commodities was a robot toy named Ashley Too, which holds conversations, sings and dances to Ashley O songs, and spouts a bunch of inspirational pre-recorded phrases. Basically, a way for superfans to have their own little personal Ashleys.

When Ashley stopped voluntarily producing, she was put into a coma by her manager, leaving behind a consciousness uploaded into a ton of mass-produced machines, and a bunch of songs translated from brainwaves and carefully filtered through some chirpy demon vocaloid.

Because, apparently, going full Zechariah Sitchin but then putting in a firewall (or something?) was more cost-effective.

An adoring fan and her sister hacked her toy robot, basically liberated that digitized consciousness, liberated the real Ashley, exposed the evil manager, and everyone lived happily ever after except, sorta, for Rachel.

Wikipedia has a far more thorough synopsis.

When I was watching this episode, I thought a lot about the conversations I and another friend would have every time the typical weirdness would go down in a Lokean group we helped moderate. Or, tried to moderate. We were undermined a lot.

A theme we would hit upon fairly regularly was that we seemed to be dealing with a very different Loki than a lot of the more outspoken types were.

The Loki described in many of these posts was very one-dimensional. Suspiciously convenient in how annoying, or involved, or loving or helpful he was. Always available, always clearly recognizable, flawless visuals and audio, always somehow exactly what the poster wanted. Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

Yes, even when they’re getting pranked or driven up the wall, because people derive gratification from the aesthetics of hardship.

Our pet theory was that, assuming it was an external entity and not just their imaginations, these people were dealing with a very well-fed thought form. Ashley Too was a dumbed-down product that provided access to a beloved figure like Ashley O, without any of the threats involved in genuine interaction like incompatibility, rejection or pesky little boundaries. These people were talking about a Loki Too, basically.

Irrespective of whether people were interacting with some kind of egregore, or if they were all simply allowing their imaginations to align, they related to Loki as an instrument to get their needs met. He’s commodified. He’s a sanitized product with all the rough edges sanded off, and simplified to this lazy idea of some red-headed iron woobie, who likes to relentlessly prank everyone and endlessly tolerate being blamed for it, because trickster.

That’s not how it works. And even the trickster label is an oversimplification. They get pigeonholed as villains, or “chaos,” or whatever is most convenient for the audience at that particular moment. Every so often I will come across very simplistic assumptions based on Loki being variable. “He’s whatever he needs to be,” and “well, he’s a shapeshifter,” may be true. But they also miss the point entirely when we are talking about people projecting their own desires onto a god.

Which happens a lot.

But, why did it so often happen that whatever Loki allegedly needed to be somehow lined up so perfectly with what people, very obviously reaching out for attention, needed him to be? How does someone like Loki become a cosmic vending machine that you can just endlessly take from, without any regard for reciprocation, or compensation, or autonomy? How does Loki become a product for consumption?

I don’t think it’s coincidence that literal products based on the gods have been rather popular for the past eight years, and Loki just so happened to have a spike in popularity that fits in that timeline.

Not every Lokean is in this for Hiddles. Obviously. But we can’t pretend like these two things don’t have a definite correlation, and probably a causative correlation. And quite frankly, if people lack the discernment skills to tell the difference between “Marvel is involved” (what I am saying) and “you’re not a real Heathen” (what I’m not saying), then I’m no longer interested in their bruised egos.

The simple fact is that the suits and desk-jockeys at Marvel headquarters are not your friends.

They do not care about you, or your gods, or your practice, or your dreams, or your amusing anecdotes, or your UPG. They want your money.

They want your fics and your fanart and your fandom fights and your Marvel Loki figurines on your shrine, because they’re free advertising. They profit off of your emotional responses and your defensiveness.

When we allow our gods to be simplified and packaged for sale, we are allowing them to be forgotten as fully-formed personalities. We allow them to be stripped of their individualities, their complexities, and our ability to think of them as entire entities. We allow our gods to disappear into a list of attributes and correspondences and listicles of the top five most fucked up incidents in Norse Mythology.

We allow our gods to become objects.

Goddess Worship Doesn’t Replace Feminist Praxis

There’s an assumption that pagan faiths tend to be more feminist than Christianity.

A lot of us also like to pretend that sub-cultures, such as the pagan community, are less misogynistic. Because if we’re questioning one or two societal beliefs, the rest fall like dominoes, right?

Except they don’t.

The overwhelming majority of pagans were raised either in specifically Christian households, or in secular households where the culture was distinctly Christian in character. If you live in basically any “western” country, that means you. You get time off for Christian holidays by default. The social mores you are expected to comply with are mostly of Christian origin. Your surprised utterances namedrop Jesus.

You are culturally Christian, and you carry Christian ideas into your paganism if you don’t examine them and pick them apart.

Similarly, you grow up in a patriarchy. You live in a society where men have decision-making power that is disproportionate to their actual needs and membership in the population. Ideas about men and women make appeals to a meaningless biological authority (and this is to say nothing about trans and/or non-binary people; patriarchy doesn’t consider them). Women are considered simply less capable, less intelligent, less rational, less trustworthy–less worthy, in general. Your angry utterances compare women to depersonalized body parts and dogs.

And pagan communities are not going to be an exception to this because, as religions full of converts, full of people raised in culturally Christian kyriarchy, we have been receiving that kind of training since we were born. It does not disappear without deliberate effort, and it definitely doesn’t disappear overnight.

The presence of a capital-G-Goddess, or a multitude of goddesses, would seemingly point to a collection of religious traditions in which women are valued. Women are more likely to have leadership roles in pagan communities, certainly, and we have a strong historical precedent for it in the traditions we’re trying to revive in modern paganism. It’d be out of line for me to say that’s not at least a little better than Christianity.

But if the existence of goddesses and gythjas was going to eliminate misogyny, don’t you think Heathens, who have more goddesses than gods, would have been the most feminist-y feminists to ever femin-exist?

And they’re not. A lot of those goddesses are known solely from a list of names. And if anything, we’re probably considered particularly misogynistic by pagan standards, which has a lot to do with the two centuries of our mythology being used and corrupted by the pan-Germanists. And the Theosophists. And the nationalists. And the Literal Fucking Nazis.

And this ties directly into the idea of woman-as-resource, woman-as-object, woman-as-weapon, woman-as-poison. Mentalities in which women are both a threat and a resource to be controlled and contained.

Because Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on being used as an instrument of hegemony, either.

But misogyny isn’t always that overt, that aggro, that in your face. Sometimes it’s subtle–if only because we are only trained to recognize and push back on the obvious, allegedly-abolished misogyny.

Your goddess-worship might not only be a distraction from the task of ending misogyny, but also a vehicle for misogyny.

Which seems impossible, at first glance. It’s very logical to argue that by recognizing the authority of a woman, you hold a mentality that women are worth listening to and taking instruction from.

But there is a very common mentality in people who want Feminist Ally Brownie Points without having to really change anything, who repeat certain ideas as if they were magical incantations. They respect women. Why, in fact, women are better! Smarter! More competent and capable! Except this role-reversal simply flips the script instead of addressing the underlying dynamics–which is that one class of person must be suppressed so that another class of person can flourish. And it also fails to acknowledge how misogyny pushes women to adapt by exceeding the standards that men are expected to meet, instead chalking it up to an inherent trait of being a woman.

Which is gender-essentialist bullshit, by the way, and only further entrenches the dynamic because it frames the goodness of women in terms of instrumentality.

Your worship is not worth a good goddess-damn if you do not relate to human women as people.

We will probably be in better shape if we give up all hope of a better past, especially when that hope manifests as nostalgia for some golden age of singular goddess-worship that never existed.

What we don’t have to do is try to dress it up in ways that make it palatable to beliefs and sensibilities we have in the present. We cannot make something empowering, let alone liberating, without recognizing the limitations of our source material and that it’s a product of the culture from which it originated.

Obviously, pagan traditions have much to offer, and plenty of potential for good works. “Protest is prayer” is a whole damn thing for me. It just doesn’t behoove us to act like the paganism is the work, or a proxy for the work, when the human work on human problems isn’t also being done.

The “Godbothered” Hairshirt

I’m seven years into this whole Heathenry thing, so I’ve encountered the “godbothered” phenomenon. I have also sat through the discernment discourse, through the admonitions to never, ever invalidate which quickly turned into never, ever express any semblance of doubt about the things people tell you…

And I’m tired. I am tired of the idea that we can’t call people out on blatant, self-serving lies–with the added veneer of helplessness and nobility. A high-fashion Heathen Hairshirt constructed of piety and narcissism.

When people go on and on and on about “the gods want this, that, these, those, and it’s so much work you guys” it almost always is finished with an unspoken, “look how special I am! The gods like me! I’m chosen and special!”

The gods want plenty of things. It doesn’t mean you have to hand them over. You’re not helpless.

I catch myself still kind of doing this, more than I would care to admit. I strolled through the same bookshop near my work, where I special-ordered an Edda translation simply because I felt like it, and then impulse-bought an ornament because it had feathers on it and a cutesy quote about “adventure!” that read to me as a wry joke, and, clearly, “Loki wants this.”

I wanted it, to go put it on Loki’s shrine. I balked a little at the fact that it was $6. I bargained with myself to justify getting it. I have zero indication that Loki was involved in this purchase at all. No weird bird sightings. No weird dreams. No suspicious inconveniences.

Just…feathers and a cute quote.

And, the fact that a quote about making every day an adventure read to me as a wry joke kind of illustrates the point. Like, yeah, Loki can and will do weird shit. The mythology is chock full of that. I am pulled out of my comfort zone on a fairly regular basis because of situations I suspect he had hand in.

It’s unhealthy, and honestly kind of ridiculous, for me to parse this as some kind of hardship. At worst, I am very inconvenienced. Usually, I benefit.

And also, anyway, Loki didn’t make me buy the damn ornament.

A lot of people in the pagan community seem to struggle with the idea that they can simply want things. And as someone who struggles with the idea that I can simply want things, I get it. As someone who has absolutely projected my own desires onto the gods, I get it.

But hanging it on the gods is when it’s time to stop.

Your willfulness, your ability to exert that willfulness, and your right to do so in the form of having even the simplest boundaries, doesn’t magically disappear just because you had some kind of godly contact. If you even had godly contact. Because in this woe-is-me-the-gods-want-something bullshit, there’s a failure to admit that maybe, just maybe, the gods aren’t that fixated on us.

They have other things to do than pester you.

This almost always boils down to simple human behavior. Wanting to be special, and happening upon a way to do it that our social groups allow. Lacking, or refusing to develop, the self-awareness that would make us stop doing this. Accountability issues, combined with an awareness that a human can be made to answer for their behavior, but a deity is an awful lot harder to pin down.

And so we get a situation where a human is very obviously out of line, but countering that behavior opens oneself up to questions of piety, ideological purity, rightness of thought and action. All of which are threatening. Nobody wants to be at the mercy of a wrathful god or kindred.

And people eager to manipulate are very aware of how many people buy into that.

When I was at Trothmoot, listening to Mindless Self Indulgence and getting drunk in the Loki ve because I didn’t want to go to the possessory rite, a dude with blatant boundary issues tried to pull “Loki wants you to go to this,” with a straight face.

“Sucks to be him, then,” I said. “Because I don’t feel like it.”

He didn’t seem like he knew what to do with that answer. He paced around the ve grumbling angrily and drinking wine for several more minutes. Eventually he went to the rite by himself, did a hilariously bad job faking possession by Loki, picked a fight because ~Loki made him do it~, I guess, and then got thrown out.

None of which surprised me.

You really can just tell a god “no,” or to come back later, or to leave you alone. There’s no guarantee they’ll respect any boundary you set. But humans aren’t any different, and we still give that advice for interpersonal issues all the time. You’re not a hapless victim of all the stupid little whims of a noncorporeal being just because they’re bigger than you. And the godbothered humblebrag doesn’t impress anyone whose opinion is actually going to matter.

Turn your hairshirt right side in.

“Inclusive” Isn’t Enough

I refuse to be friendly with people who think Heathenry is only open to the “right” kind of people. I refuse to be civil with people who advocate for harm to marginalized racial, ethnic and religious groups. I will not tolerate anyone supporting an ideology that endangers LGBT+ people, or who think gender roles are a rigid and non-negotiable truth. (Because they’re not.) I have absolutely no patience for people who cannot accept that disability is going to be something they’ll just have to deal with seeing in their lives. They’re in the wrong faith anyway, with our one-eyed and one-handed gods.

But it’s not enough to just say so. An inclusive stance is a reflection of your ethics, and any ethical stance without a standard of behavior and action to back it up loses its legitimacy. This is literally a fundamental rule of ethics. A non-prescriptive philosophy is an inactionable philosophy, and therefore useless.

Which is to say, you don’t simply make that announcement of inclusivity, or sign Declaration 127, and call it a day. Any kind of real change takes more time and work than just saying you’re safe. It’s a start. But you have to prove that. If you want to be trusted, you have to accept that people will distrust you until their concerns are satisfactorily addressed.

And I’m not saying you have to go physically fight people–diversity of tactics has a vital place. The point is, do what you are capable of, but do something.

We have a responsibility, as inclusivist Heathens, to vet people carefully. And then keep paying attention. It’s tiring. It takes time and effort. I keep an eye on people for several days or dig through months worth of their content before I reach out to them. I’m more obsessive about it, because I didn’t trust my judgement before. But it’s not unreasonable to spend 10 minutes skimming someone’s online trail to see what turns up. It really does need to be done.

It’s not just the Asatru Folk Assembly and Odinic Rite contributing to the problem, because not every racist or hateful Heathen is affiliated with them. Some of them are still hanging on in organizations that would love to think they’re progressive. And not all contributions to a problem are morally equivalent, either. Idealogical Puritanism is a destructive mentality that shuts out imperfect but promising allies, and misguided people who could be easily redirected. But it behooves us to know what’s going on, and what people’s concerns are, so we can address them effectively.

And the big thing is white supremacy. If we don’t learn to recognize it, we let them network unchecked and continue to use Heathenry as a weapon. And it’s vital to remember that white supremacy is a value of the dominant culture and we all get trained to participate–if we don’t examine our own selves, and each other, we will end up perpetuating it. If we unwittingly broadcast that message, not knowing the underlying meaning, we help the more obviously aggressive and dangerous white supremacists do this. If we do not take the time to consider the source of our information, and we repeat standard white supremacist rhetoric, we become an active participant.

And people cannot trust us, though that’s among the lesser of our problems.

People won’t want to be part of our supposedly inclusive faith if we don’t work to make sure they feel welcome. If we boost messages from the racist contingent, intentionally or not, people won’t be able to tell who can actually be approached. If we let racists into the same spaces and events as marginalized people who are curious about, or already practicing our faith, we are enabling the former and endangering the latter. If we don’t make the effort to prove that we don’t tolerate that behavior, we can only blame ourselves if people don’t trust us. If we make it about ourselves, we’re failing to walk our talk.

When we create Heathen spaces, we take on the role of hosts. Our job is to set a nice table and give visitors somewhere comfortable to settle in.

Inviting people in without meeting their needs does not include them. It ultimately imposes upon them. And that’s bad hospitality.

Do better.

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 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.