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.

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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.

The Inevitable Rant About Discernment

Resources on discernment are, quite emphatically, not in short supply.

And yet, despite this abundance of resources, a lot of people are really bad at discernment. When I was a new baby Heathen on Tumblr, we literally had The Discernment Talk every. Gods. Damned. Week.

And it never got better! We still had our little hysterias. (Remember, remember, the fifth of September.) We still had our sweeping trends. Some of it was just how Tumblr works as a social media site, what with the reblog button and all. But more static, self-contained areas on the internet like closed Facebook groups weren’t immune, either.

It’s just…a very persistent, wide spread problem.

We could write more discernment posts. We could simplify them. We could shove books at people. We could simplify those, too.

But none of this makes a difference if people aren’t open to it. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong. They really, really don’t like to be told they’re wrong. Even when they are wrong. Especially when they are wrong.

And nobody is going to be immune to that.

So when you finally feel like you’re successfully making contact with a god, finally seeing some evidence of their involvement in your life, finally letting yourself believe…what’s your knee-jerk reaction to being told to re-evaluate and start doubting?

You probably start getting worried. Maybe angry. Almost definitely defensive. “You don’t know me, you don’t know my life,” etc. Or the infamous “but it’s my UPG!”

Which…well, you know how I feel about that.

When someone brings up discernment, especially concerns that you need to use more of it, it’s not because someone is trying to take your spirituality away from you.

Rather, the person is usually concerned about lack of judgement, and you going on a wild goose chase and possibly hurting yourself. Because it happens. Gods are confusing at best, and sometimes deliberately misleading. Ditto for spirits pretending to be gods for the sake of messing with you.

And, whew boy do people like to make things up.

Precious little of what a god has ever conveyed to me made any sense the first time around. It is almost always tiny signs. Random objects. Sneaking suspicions. Showing up with crystal clear imagery and speech is rare. And even then it doesn’t make that much sense, because gods are confusing. Sometimes I’ll let myself act on just a hunch, which I try to save for things that seem to unambiguously fall into the “not required, but it would be nice” category. Anything that feels remotely heavier gets marked down, divined on, asked about with people I trust and respect, conditions set for clarification (e.g. more birds! Harass me with MORE BIRDS)…and then shelved if I don’t figure it out. If the gods consider it a high priority, then it falls to them to pester me about it later.

Like with more birds.

Do read that post, by the way, because it’s a great example of bad and delayed discernment on my part. All of that hassle could have been avoided if I’d bothered to just…ask, correctly, and pay better attention, instead of running off based on my own assumptions.

You know. Discernment.

Because what would having my assumptions proven wrong that early have done to me? I’d be struck with doubt about a lot of other things. But a lot of the other things I believed in at the time, uncritically, were causing me serious distress.

I was better off for being proven wrong, because it gave me a chance to rebuild my practice with a fresh and mindful perspective. I am happier. My devotion is genuine and freely given and–yes, a bit cautious! Because I’d rather be cautious than hang my assumptions on the gods and blame them for it. I’d rather not go on wild goose (or falcon) chases unless it leads me to something I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not going to tell people how to do discernment. Because, as I said at the beginning of this post, the resources are not in short supply. When I was putting together a resource list for someone a few months ago, it was harder to whittle down to a top three than it was to find anything good in the first place. I was spoiled for choice. If we keep writing more posts on the how and not the why, we’re just throwing more information at a wall.

Rather, I’m going to ask people to take notice of whether they focus or gloss over at the suggestion of discernment, or instructions on how it works, and to question themselves as to why they do that. What’s at stake? What’s threatening about it? What does it threaten to take away from you, and why is that so bad?

More importantly, what are you missing out on because of failing to use discernment? What do you stand to gain through better discernment?

To be disabused of notions that don’t serve your best interests is to be given something, and it is to be given something quite precious. The resistance to discernment only hurts you in the long run.