Back in 2014, I gave Loki my hair. It was going to be covered and not cut, dyed or otherwise altered for a fixed period of six months–equinox to equinox.
And I…never really took it back. It was mine the following spring, and I threw some red hair dye on it, but there was a shift in my mentality. I hadn’t bothered to bleach it beforehand, because I didn’t want to damage it.
This was abnormal, for me.
For a long time, my hair was just this tedious, scratchy nonsense that needed constant trimming, bleaching, coloring, combing, and especially constant washing, because it’s stick-straight. I treated my hair like garbage. Up to and including buzzing it off, because I lost my patience while trimming my bangs.
Oh yeah, there were Sinead O’Connor jokes for a while.
But I like it, now. I like how an act of servitude granted me an outward symbol of liberty and good health. I like braiding it, or rolling it up and fastening it with handmade hair sticks that sit on the shrine.
Most of all, I like how I have a constant mark of devotion that goes everywhere with me.
External Holiness is not really A Thing™ in Heathenry. Especially recon Heathenry. The only historically or mythologically proven example we have is the wearing of Mjölnir pendants, which increased after Christian contact. More multireligious contact begat more signalling of faith. But I digress.
I digress a lot.
I don’t think a lack of historical basis should be a deal breaker when it comes to showing devotion through our bodies. If doing something harmless (or minimally harmful) to our bodies make our gods happy, and is acceptable to us…why not? These are things that take effort, and in the case of body mods, cause brief pain and long-term changes in appearance. (Tattoos and piercings are decorative, carefully inflicted wounds after all.) Growing out my hair, and now planning to grow it to its terminal length, is a long term and high maintenance show of devotion.
But if I’m lucky, it won’t be dragging on the floor. No amount of ecstasy and devotion is going to make me tolerate dirty leaves in my hair.
He is kind of afraid of some things, like children–because one fell on him. Or horses–which are objectively spooky anyway. He’ll behave defensively, but it never gets beyond a growl and making room. He’s made amazing progress on the child fear, and he even lets kids pet him now. Not happily, but he’ll do it.
By and large, he is laid back to a fault. Masks don’t bother him, emergency vehicles merely annoy him, and he has almost no reaction to fireworks or the vacuum cleaner. He has absolutely no fear of other dogs, and he loves postal workers.
But if he were to hear thunder or heavy rain, he would shake like a leaf and hide under the nearest piece of furniture. We tried deep pressure, Benadryl to make him nap through the storm, improvised doggy panic rooms to muffle the sound and hide the lightning, and politely ignoring his behavior in the hopes that he would stop reacting and learn to cope by chance. (I hated this approach, but we had to rule out unwittingly teaching him to be fearful.) Nothing quite helped, except for maybe music to cover the noise.
My dog’s favorite song is “Never Gonna Give You Up.” I wish that was an elaborate joke, but we all get rickrolled when Thor comes a-calling.
Obviously, because doggy-Xanax is an extreme treatment, and the pre-doggy-Xanax methods were exhausted, I decided to take my chances with less scientific approaches. Specifically, spiritual.
I don’t even know what religion my dog is. He could be Bhuddist for all I know.
Actually, definitely not Bhuddist, with the way he guards bones. Definitely not Jain, either, because he’s way too enthusiastic about carrots. I don’t think he knows what Hellenismos or Religio Romana even are, and he wasn’t thrilled when I tried to include Epona in my practice early on–so Celtic Paganism is right out.
Either way, I usually don’t deliberately include him in my practice. He’s a clever little dude, so I figure he’s smart enough to be spiritually autonomous. Or whatever. Maybe he’s agnostic and stays up late wondering if there really is a dog.
But because of the lack of mundane options, and because dog is man’s best friend and man is Thor’s best friend, I figured I could try and mediate between the noisy joyrides and my very stressed out dog.
I think, partly because our dynamic with the gods is a lot like the one between us and our pets, it is easy for them to empathize with the love and concern we feel for our companion animals. Indeed, Thor himself is fiercely defensive of his goats. It also wasn’t the first time the gods came to my aid in helping my dog.
So I took the Stein I’d bought for Thor years ago and set up a little space on the first clear surface I had. When another loud storm came through, I would pick up my dog, take him over to it, and drop a coin in. I would then point at my dog and say “please drive carefully, you’re scaring my fuzzy child.”
I’m, uh, not eloquent with prayer.
There was no miraculous breakthrough. My dog was not cured overnight. But I did find, little by little, that if we bribed Thor and went back to playing Rick Astley, he did slightly better. The storms seemed quieter. He would even nap through less intense storms, without having to take Benadryl first.
There’s millions of explanations, like desensitization and…yeah, Rick Astley. But my dog eventually calmed down enough that heavy rain didn’t cause him distress. If he hears thunder, he’ll still seek me out to make sure he has protection and 80s pop. But he doesn’t cry and run for cover until the thunder shakes the house.
And by that point, I figure it doesn’t count as anxiety and is just a normal level of fear. Even the humans are bugging out, and this is part of the idea behind praying to Thor in the first place. So I consider that as good as cured.
For all of my fussing and gnashing of teeth, I’ve ended up going into this oath thing pretty serenely (for me) since March came around. Paranoias that I was possibly being duped by something masquerading as Loki (something I saw happening to other people when I was new) have finally started fading. Not gone, hence setting up a trial period before the permanent committment, but fading.
And anyway, I volunteered. I’m just…very high-strung.
Initially, the idea to offer up an oath happened on the 5-year mark of converting, September 12th. But I had just started a semester of college and realized it probably needed to be rescheduled. The previous April, I had asked, while digging through my rune bag, what Loki thought of a dedicated piercing.
I got Wunjo and Isa. “That makes me happy, but wait.”
While doing research on healing times for the piercing I had in mind (a helix, since lip piercings don’t really suit my face) I learned that it could take up to a year, and cost as much as a small tattoo without the benefit of being concealable. So we bounced the tattoo idea around for a while, with lofty ideas about falcon feathers or astrological symbols for Sirius, until I realized I was not going to realistically have the funds for either of these. Placement had been hashed out, but there was no progress to be made in that regard simply because of money.
The date was set for the 20th, a Tuesday. I wondered if we might invite Týr to supervise, but got a bad feeling off of that (go figure, that would be awkward with Loki) and suggested Vár instead. This one was accepted. I had experimented with fitting my oath ring to my wrist, figuring if this accidentally came off as an oath it didn’t really matter anymore. What difference is three weeks, practically speaking?
By day of, my supply list was written, my ritual and supplies were hashed out, and I stood in my kitchen watching crows harass every other bird in my yard (there was a lot of outrage from the blue jays), with my bag packed and my knees rattling. I had planned to wander off into the woods in search of an ideal location.
But man plans and the gods laugh, to paraphrase the Yiddish adage. The snow had already started, I couldn’t bring the dogs with me, and nobody was going to be home. I ended up setting everything up in my back yard on a log and hoping for the best.
“The best” involved sleet and wind. My feather fan for wafting smoke was repeatedly swept off the log, along with my match box, and Loki’s clove cigars, and my little evergreen twig for applying the libation to my face. (Not flicking, because it’s hard to cast an aspersion on yourself–I think I picked up the “painting” from Urglaawer.) Candles wouldn’t light, or stay lit, the cloves wouldn’t stay lit, my juniper smoke-cleansing stick wouldn’t stay lit. It was a hassle, especially because I had a wreath to burn for Vár to invoke the symbolism of an oath ring. I had an adorably symbolic bit planned where I would use both Loki and Vár’s candles to light one representing me. Didn’t work, because they kept being blown out, so I had to transfer the light from Loki’s candle to Vár’s with a match, and then finally light mine for the first time.
I stumbled over my prewritten speech, I went off-script, my teeth chattered, my hands froze, I got wax on my scarf. The painted wine dripped down my face more than anticipated, because I forgot little evergreen twigs hold a surprising amount of liquid. My wreath for Vár and my votive poem took five different attempts to burn most of the way through.
Close enough. You do what you can.
And I think doing it at home ended up making more sense, because it cut out a lot of extra effort and gave me the option to run back inside and warm up when I was done. It’s also easier to go through a transitional event, which this was, in a familiar setting. Even if the specific setting was familiar mostly because that’s where I set Loki’s stale spaghetti on fire last week.
I had expected to feel very different from how I do now, typing this. My impression of myself is that I don’t handle change well. Theoretically that means I’ve picked the wrong god, because hoo boy does Loki like shuffling things around. But, I suspect he picked me, and that disruptive tendency of his has done amazing things for me. I think that was absolutely vital to getting used to a change that, by all means, should have been intense and kind of terrifying once it was actually happening even if it was totally voluntary. Despite my constant frustrations in trying to keep things running at least a little smoothly, I felt myself settling and calming as the ritual went on.
By the time I had poured out my libations on the ash tree from which I’d cut my first rune set, and washed it off with water to keep the landvaettir happy, I felt content. I fitted my oath ring on, gathered up all of the remaining unburned supplies and brought them inside to set them on the indoor shrine. With five candles burning and keeping the space bright and sparkling (because of Loki’s faux-hammered-copper pedestal bowl catching the light), I get the impression that Loki’s rather pleased.
But piety is not my issue. I know a lot of people have weird baggage with the idea of piety, but piety just means understanding the gods are bigger than you, and acting accordingly. It does me no harm to recognize the gods as having authority over me, and most of them warrant vigilance but can ultimately be trusted. It’s a non-issue.
Scrupulosity is more like a weird kind of arrogance. Scrupulosity is meticulously counting what you did or didn’t do correctly and flipping out about the ensuing consequences, which is marked by anxiety and distrust. It’s a tedious and backwards way of trying to take control of a situation, while pretending to submit to it.
And it’s terrible for your well-being. Especially if you’re like me, with raging obsessive-compulsive tendencies to begin with.
My scrupulosity is mostly moral at this point, not religious. But it used to be. I used to constantly worry that the gods would monitor every little thing I do and lash out at me if it didn’t please them. It wasn’t even a Christian baggage thing, because I wasn’t Christian for very long before my first crisis of faith. It’s just a really unfortunate and exhausting part of who I am as a person–high strung, self-loathing and terrified of screwing up because I know how unreasonable and terrible people can be.
Even something as ultimately meaningless and inconsequential as looking at weird stuff on the internet (which is what the internet is for) would fill me with dread. I’d catch myself tilting my screen away from my altars, as if that would achieve anything. I was terrified by the idea that gods potentially had access to me all the time, let alone any hint that they’d be omnipresent, if not omnipotent.
And this is what I mean when I say scrupulosity is a weird kind of arrogance. What makes me so important that Loki is going to take the time to, like, kinkshame me or something? And why would he? He got up to all kinds of weird nonsense in the lore, and now works based on that are all over the internet.
He knows! He knows there’s weird stuff on the internet, and that humans are curious about all kinds of things. Especially weird things! Looking at weird stuff on the internet is how I even ended up working with Loki. But my glitchy little brain didn’t care about that, because anxiety is fundamentally irrational. If simple logic was going to help me not be terrified of tiny dents in cans, or letting my dog out of my sight for two whole seconds, or saying something stupid to someone and spending two weeks trying to figure out if they hate me, I wouldn’t have these problems at all.
It took my runaway fit, and being coaxed back into service, to realize Loki maybe doesn’t hate me and might actually, like, love me or at least want me around. Being nudged into doing shadow work was vital to breaking my ridiculous fixation on divine punishment.
The moral part of my scrupulosity is still debilitating, and going to moots and rituals becomes exhausting. It takes an astonishing amount of energy to reassure yourself that, no, you’re not gonna start blurting out weird, socially unacceptable shit, and the fact that you’re concerned is actually proof of that. Part of me suspects that this is why Loki is nudging me to go out into the community and deal with people. I have a long history of people disappointing and harming me, and of doing the same in return because I just didn’t know better and assumed that this is just how People-ing works. (It does not.) And the anxieties I picked up from that really awful pattern are something I desperately have to work through, if I want to have a fighting chance at succeeding in life. Especially if I want to work in, and for, the Heathen community at large.
It is disappointing that so much of the psychological resources for scrupulosity are focused on anxiety-afflicted Christians, and especially Catholics. I’ve seen it manifest in entirely secular contexts. And I think, for all people of faith, we’re all at risk of paranoia about our gods and our spiritual health, and the subsequent damage to our mental health. I see new pagans have this struggle all the time, and it’s bizarrely lonely even though it’s so common.