Why I Schedule Devotional Work

Executive dysfunction sucks.

You can spend the entire day working and yet get nothing done. Either you work doggedly with no progress on a singular thing you keep drifting away from, or you get literally everything else done, but with nothing crossed off your actual to-do list to make you feel accomplished despite your clean house.

Case in point, while writing this post I made dinner, emptied the dish rack, painted my nails and then saw my post outline and kicked myself.

And then kept painting my nails, while being upset with myself, as if this was going to change anything.

I was diagnosed pretty early in the game with ADHD. If not much else, it helped me sit with that information long enough that I’m able to be at least a little self-compassionate about it.

However, this doesn’t stop me from getting frustrated if I’ve taken the steps to prevent getting sidetracked, and if I’ve tried to be disciplined (though I’ve got some contrarian ideas about discipline), and I still haven’t achieved what seems like it should be a simple task. Or, if I’ve wasted time trying to finish that task at the expense of other things I could have done.

If left to my own devices, I am not very good at figuring out how the Important/Urgent/Not Important/Not Urgent matrix looks with my life neatly sorted into it. I know perfectly well that “I don’t have to write that down, I’ll remember it” is a ridiculous lie, and I do it anyway. I spend more time overthinking how to optimize daily tasks instead of just getting them done.

Overthinking, for the record, is neither important nor urgent. But my anxiety doesn’t agree, and my ADHD means I don’t catch it and redirect like I ideally would.

The overlapping brain problems are definitely a factor in my struggle to get things done.

I have a limited tolerance for things being out of place in communal areas, I am constantly forgetful and easily sidetracked, and I have to strike a balance between compensating for that forgetfulness and learning to just leave things alone so I don’t start developing new compulsions. Everything from remembering to put lip balm in my pockets before leaving the house to keeping up with dishes to somehow singlehandedly halting the climate crisis (…well) feels equally pressing without a set schedule.

Overwhelm is immanent without structure. It’s also immanent if there’s too much of it.

When I see people share what their devotional practice looks like, the visible and easy to spot examples are often on a spontaneous basis, spurred by ecstatic experience or spiritual contact, or scheduled daily devotionals.

Logically, there’s a quiet spectrum between these two. A blend of spontaneous and regimented. Something more frequent than getting god-poked, and less frequent than a daily task.

But I don’t hear about them very often. Again, an abundance of logical explanations exist. Whatever is more common kind of goes without saying. We don’t announce every trip to the grocery store, or every time we hit the ATM, or every trip to go fetch the mail. They don’t stand out. So what isn’t typical is going to stand out when we talk about it online.

But that does have an effect on people. Media, which absolutely includes social media, influences and helps shape our concepts of what is normal.

As someone who ended up being a lot more blockheaded than I initially thought when I started doing the whole Heathenry thing, and as someone who has never considered myself particularly good at getting things done, sometimes it does get to me. Hitting the 5-year mark of starting to work with Loki back in September 2017, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. That absolutely influenced the decision to formally create an obligation, because when asked about my motivations, my answer is almost always, “to light a fire under my ass.”

Which was true! I had these big lofty goals of turning my religious values and practices towards making the world suck less, like ritual protest and prison ministry. I had sat down and laid out all of the steps involved in making this happen. And then I proceeded to get nothing but networking done.

And while projects are often a weak spot, I also really just can not do daily devotionals considering how often I forget very basic things like eating something, anything, before dinner. So daily or weekly tasks were out of the question. I touched on this, though not in great detail, in my post on things to consider before making sworn agreements with gods.

So when I made my pledge, I agreed to both projects and a few regular tasks. One of them was altar cleaning at least once a month. Didn’t matter when in the month. Didn’t matter how many times in the month. The frequency just had to be greater than zero. In practice, that often means moot day is altar-cleaning day, or during months I don’t go to moot it ends up being the very last day of the month.

I do, very often, put it off and then scramble. Just like with writing fortnightly blog posts.

But, having something where the obligation only exists once every few weeks means I have predictable boundaries around when I actually have to do something, and therefore have an easier time prioritizing. I am not constantly carrying a running list of tasks in my head, or spewing it into Workflowy and then trying to figure out how to sort tasks into their larger projects, or what to pull for my daily to-do list.

Rather, it becomes “this is the task, this is the deadline.” There is much less room for overwhelm.

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.

What Heathens can (Indirectly) do About Climate Change

An estimated four million people participated in the climate strike. September 20th was the first day in months I didn’t get hit with eco-anxiety and I actually felt a certain amount of hope. Maybe Ragnarök won’t actually come yet, you know?

But there’s no getting around that even the very best case scenario is going to be rough. Beats the frighteningly likely alternative by a long shot. But where we are now is not great. And where we will be in ten years will not be an improvement.

I don’t know if there’s anything we, as common people, can concretely do for Jörð beyond giving her the love she’s entitled to, and continuing to raise the alarm on her behalf, but there’s plenty we can do for each other.

Heathenry is about the people as much as it is about the gods–if not more so. That was the idea behind the rituals we’ve been writing for trans empowerment. We identified the aspects of ritual that had psychological benefits (with some help from a trained professional who prefers to be anonymous in this whole thing), and then provided an avenue for them to help a vulnerable population.

Therapeutic ritual can honor Jörð (or Nerthus, or Erde–whatever name she has in your tradition) while providing space for humans to share their love and grief. We can hold vigils. We can collectively plant and consecrate trees. Publicly scold and raise scorn poles against oil execs.

These do not change the actual physics or economics of the situation. But those of us aware of the problem, desperate to solve it and not equipped to make massive change, are constantly carrying rage and grief and terror inside of us. It’s rendering us less able to do anything for ourselves and for each other.

Competently crafted ritual provides a safe setting in which to experience emotions that are frightening–because the situation is objectively terrifying. And the community aspect of Heathen ritual, in particular, allows us to seek and give support while we push through these feelings.

The benefit of outright feeling your feelings is that tolerance can only be built through exposure. And while adjusting is usually cautioned against, I think that’s unsound advice. This is a situation that we cannot opt out of, and constant distress means burnout. And burnout means fewer resources to improve the situation.

My therapist, when I came in asking how best to manage the anxiety, had to remind me that buying Oreos is not going to single-handedly end the world–nor is avoiding them going to save it. Even if there is a lot of non-recyclable plastic in the packaging.

Energy spent on trying to minimize impact entirely, rather than letting myself settle for informed compromises once in a while, is energy that can’t be spent on activism.

And there’s a lot of energy in a package of Oreos.

So you do what keeps you sane, you muster strength in numbers. You direct those numbers where it can work some magic.

Literally, in the case of scorn poles.

When we have this emotional need met, we’re more able to focus on one another. We can develop groups and systems of mutual material support, or get on board with existing ones. We really don’t need a specialized, purpose-built and specifically Heathen approach to this.

That second step isn’t about us, but rather about our values. It’s not about being seen as Heathens, not about the P.R., not about the reclaimed symbolism and the patching up of our reputations–all of which, frankly, I’m tired of and I think is overemphasized.

It is about half a loaf and a tipped cup. It’s about displaced people taking their chances and hoping for your hospitality. It’s about whether we believe in the things we say, or if we’re just a bunch of pretentious dicks who mistake drinking mead for a personality trait.

I am not going to tell you to find clever ways to reduce your consumption and resource footprint. These are things I do because they help me, the individual, feel better. They are legitimate choices as coping skills, because they provide both a healthy outlet and distracting challenge. As long as they’re approached sanely, they’ll keep you sane.

Rather, I will point you towards resources that cover what I’ve touched on here–how we can adapt emotionally and materially while we scramble to slow the world going headlong.


Coping With Climate Change: A walkthrough for managing the fear and uncertainty of humanity’s greatest crisis, by Ben Sayler

Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance from the American Psychological Association. (PDF)

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a national organization for providing direct aid to communities affected by disaster. See if an organization near you works with MADR.

Food Not Bombs is an obvious choice, when our goal is to assist vulnerable people and build partnerships that allow for survival. Not all chapters are known to the people maintaining this site, you may have to ask around locally. Check your local anarchist bookshops or community spaces, they’ll probably know.

The Troth’s Red Hammer program provides financial support to those affected by disaster, violence and hate crimes–direct aid is a future goal of Red Hammer. Currently, they’re fundraising for people affected by Hurricane Dorian.

“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.

So, Your Pagan Event Is Getting Picketed – Here’s What You Can Do

Pagan pride season is coming up again. There are, as you may already know, certain groups who will go out of their way to try and crash your events.  It helps to know how these groups operate and how to get rid of them–without legally jeopardizing your own event. Mass gatherings like pagan pride require the organizers–and the attendees, by extension–to remain in the good graces of the powers that be.

Not the gods, but the people issuing your permit to gather. Or the people you called to alert that an event too small for permits was happening.

Picketers can throw off the energy and momentum of your event, and they often attract a crowd. The gathering of a crowd means that picketers now have an audience, and having access to more people means that they’ll stick around for longer because they like the attention and have more people to target.

Drawing a crowd also presents two possible dangers for your event: one, that it will drag attendees away from your event to go yell at the picketers, and two, increase the likelihood of someone doing something dangerous or illegal because they’re pissed off.

Which can result in forceful legal intervention, a horrendous lawsuit, and will create issues with organizing the next event. We don’t want that.

So we’ve established that debate, argument and heckling don’t work. Fighting and forcing picketers away also doesn’t work, for slightly different reasons. Provocative groups are often, as a rule, lawyer happy.

So what does work?

Cut off their attention supply, and bore them to tears.

warning - live trolls do not feed

You usually can’t force them to leave unless they encroach on the area you have a permit for–and even then, public property can’t be monopolized, and free speech is a demo derby. That can make picketers virtually untouchable.

Don’t touch them, by the way–because again, these people are prone to filing lawsuits.

Before you Start:

Step zero, which has to happen before any response can be planned, is to have the permission of the event organizers. In the case of Philly Pagan Pride, the idea was from the organizers, so we didn’t have to worry about this. With Seasons of Transition Pt II, we had volunteers from within the community who approached me first and ran tactics they had in mind by me.

But it is absolutely necessary that you are working with the event, to prevent any possibility of accidentally working against the interests of the event. Make sure you understand what the event permit allows–or what’s allowed when you hold an event sans permit.

Once this is sorted out, you’re free to proceed to step one.

Continue reading So, Your Pagan Event Is Getting Picketed – Here’s What You Can Do

Pledging: One Year In (or Just About)

On March 20th of 2018 I swore a pledge in which I guaranteed 5 more years of service to Loki.

Within even just the first six months (i.e., from spring to fall equinox) my practice underwent some massive and overwhelmingly positive changes. Which is awesome, because part of my motivation for doing this was to light a fire under my ass.

So here’s my progress report, I suppose.

The terms of my pledge (which I think I might be publishing for the first time, actually) are as follows:

  • Oath ring must be worn during waking hours,
  • Religious jewelry should also be worn under similar circumstances.
  • Altars must be cleaned properly at least once per month.
  • Celebrate all major heathen holidays with a proven historical basis, plus Lokabrenna.
  • I must make a concerted effort to pursue ordination.
  • I must participate in and contribute to my local Heathen community, to the best of my ability.
  • I must continue studying the lore and language, and do any further research that will improve my service to my gods and my religious community.
  • No cutting hair until ordination. (This was added later.)

Continue reading Pledging: One Year In (or Just About)

Where Heathenry and OCD Collide (and Heathenry Helps)

I have OCD.

There. Done. Official. Out in the open.

I described some of my symptoms in my post on scrupulosity, but that was before diagnosis and beginning treatment, back when I thought I just had subclinical symptoms and no compulsive behaviors.

I was very compulsive. I just didn’t realize it until the OCD kept me from eating. Which I was aware of, but didn’t register fully until a counselor on my campus noted my weight loss and, instead of complimenting me, worked out a bulk meal plan with safe foods.

And I didn’t even properly acknowledge the obsessive aspect before it got that bad, because I’d always had distressing intrusive thoughts, and upon reading the criteria thought, “big fucking deal.”

Which…I mean, it is, actually.

OCD involves a lot of horrible thoughts. You are not in charge of these thoughts. You, with strenuous effort, get to be in charge of whether these thoughts are in charge of you. But you are not in charge of the thoughts. And these thoughts always center around disaster.

Somehow I have it in my head that eating out of a can that hasn’t been meticulously inspected for dents spells instant death for me. Never mind that statistics overwhelmingly favor me never getting botulism. Never mind that modern medicine overwhelmingly favors me surviving if I do somehow get botulism. Never mind that botulism can take several hours or sometimes even days to even become a deadly problem.

Instant death. My frantic little brain is sure of it.

So imagine carrying the baggage of the end of the world as you know it. You put in a lot of work getting things to where they are, and now you find out it’s all going to be ripped apart and set on fire. And, oh, also, you’re going to be mauled by a huge wolf. Who is your nephew. And die horribly. But there’s a vain and frantic hope that you can avert it if you learn every single way you can stave off tragedy, be it ripping labels off of cans and checking for dents, or making sure the door is locked, or learning forbidden magical skills, or fishing for information in riddle contests, or binding the wolf, or, or, or…

Suddenly, ritual suicide to learn the alphabet makes a lot more sense. Odin reads obsessive-compulsive as hell.

This doesn’t show so blatantly in works like Havamal, which is ostensibly written from Odin’s perspective and full of moderate, common-sense approaches to life’s worries. Up to and including criticism of the habit of staying up late obsessing over your problems. (Don’t come for me like this!) This is a man who, while consumed by fear and acting to assuage it, understands on the rational level that the behavior is largely irrational…in other people, at least.

I made a self-deprecating comment once about rational mind vs. emotional mind in therapy. And my therapist explained that neither is superior nor inferior, but rather are two halves of a whole that make up the Wise Mind.

Which, quite frankly, sounds an awful lot like Odin.

But I’m not Odin.

You won’t catch me playing godly hangman because I’m a high-strung bundle of broken nerves who thinks all mistakes are unfixable, permanent stains on my personhood, and who doesn’t trust myself to ensure anyone else’s survival and who is terrified of getting sick.

So that’s the other place Heathenry comes in. Our ritual structure involves a lot of sharing germs. Every single ritual event I go to involves knowingly taking the risk that I will get sick. This becomes doubly true in the middle of winter, or when people bring their kids.

Sharing the Stein isn’t just sharing space and blending our lives together in ritual. It’s a safe, comforting space where I am secure among friends and I’m sharing their germs.

yeah.

We don’t really talk or think too intensely about the germs thing.

Listen, though. When I went to my first Distelfink event, I was terrified that people weren’t going to like me. I was a stranger to everyone but Rob–who, bless him, drove me. Because I wasn’t driving at the time. Because I was too anxious. Because of course I was.

I was too anxious to share the Stein, overwhelmed with the fear of other people’s microbes and somehow tangling their Wurt with my spooky controversial Lokean-ness.

Now, just over a year into my involvement with Distelfink Sippschaft, I have gotten comfortable enough to use the communal Stein, and go for the high-octane libation. To the point where I was…crying and…flipping bottles…and dabbing at dogs…at Yuulsege.

I’m going low-octane for a while just because my alcohol tolerance is so low. But to even get to the point where I was okay with risking drunkenness, crying in front of people who are not paid to put up with my feelings but still aren’t going to shame me, to get comfortable with driving (sober! Not after sipping too much high-octane!), let alone driving somebody else’s car in the kindred…

That is a lot of progress.

I was so, so sure that nobody in Distelfink was going to like me. I felt like an intruder in their lives. And now I have friends.

Friends! Friends who teach me how to spin, and knead bread, and speak Deitsch, and drive stick. Who are baffled that I would ever think they wouldn’t like me.

The intrusive thoughts, quite obviously, have not gone away. But Heathenry gave me a comforting frame of reference and multiple opportunities to teach myself how to be calm.

…and maybe someone will help me be a little calmer about cans.