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
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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)

Inclusive Heathenry is Accessible Heathenry

Go figure, stanza 71 of Havamal is my favorite:

A limping man can ride a horse,
A handless man can herd,
A deaf man can fight and win.
It is better even to be blind,
than fuel for the funeral pyre;
what can a dead man do?

From the Jackson Crawford translation.
Continue reading Inclusive Heathenry is Accessible Heathenry

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.

Things to Consider Before Making Pledges and Oaths

This is going to be geared towards a context of devoting oneself to a deity. It’s also going to be long. This is something I consider really important to read as much as you can about, before you act on it.

I also want to get what I feel is the most important bit of information out in the open, right away.

You do not have to formally devote yourself to a god. Any of them. There is zero obligation. And if you already know that and still strongly feel that it is important, it then becomes equally important to examine your motivations and potential obligations.

Examine Why

What do you think making a pledge, a vow, or an oath is going to give you? (Those are all different things, by the way, and the distinctions between them matter.) Be frank with yourself about whether you think it will make you more “legitimate,” or if it feels like the thing to do.

Are you motivated to make that dedication because you feel it grants you some kind of prestige? Is there something unique to formal dedications that feels “better” than the devotion and work expected of you as a garden-variety devotee?

There’s nothing wrong with garden variety, for the record. There’s a reason certain plants grow in so many gardens. Laity are still vastly important to the function of a faith.

Alternately, are you absolutely certain that you’re not just caught up in the moment? Are you thinking clearly and critically? Are you able to take the potential downsides seriously and accept them without minimizing them? It is so easy to leap into major commitments when you’re wrapped up in a state of spiritual limerence.

For my part, my motivation was mostly lighting a fire under my own ass, because I had a genuine desire to work harder for the gods, but I just wasn’t making it happen.

Examine What

Another thing you need to consider is whether you have done sufficient research.

When I was bitten by the pledge-bug, I was digging for everything I could find on the process, up to and including picking through someone’s ~300 page doctoral thesis to make sure I totally understood my word choice. (What I had been calling a potential oath was, in fact, a pledge. So I’m glad I read it.) Part of this was that I was dealing with Loki, who kind of has a reputation for being opportunistic, so I wanted to be as unambiguous as possible about what was going to happen.

You also need to evaluate the terms of the dedication itself. That is, the expectations the god(s) are entitled to have for you, and the expectations you have from your god(s). Dedications, if you’re not just handing yourself over as a complete package, are going to have certain restrictions. Personally, I hope you want certain restrictions on what the gods are allowed to expect from you. You shouldn’t be afraid of your gods, but there is such a thing as healthy caution.

It’s tempting to be The Best Devotee Ever and promise to clean the shrines, and pray, and make an offering every single day. But nobody is the best devotee ever. That’s because nobody can be the best devotee ever. It’s usually impractical to do too much more than bread-winning and basic survival every day, and even that’s a legitimate burden for some people.

It benefits you to seriously examine your capacity to do an act even once, let alone daily, or even weekly or monthly.

On the flip side, what rights do you retain after dedication? Are you prepared for circumstances that would force you to break your promise? Can you avoid breaking these promises by accounting for those possibilities? I’m still a little uncertain whether this is How Things Are Done, even though this is how I did it, but it may be worth injecting a few “however” clauses. For example, I’m required to wear my pledge ring during waking hours, but there are built-in exceptions for it being removed such as medical necessity, or it being forcibly removed. I can’t take it into an MRI machine, and if someone’s got a gun to my head unless I hand it over, it’s better to just go with it. I am absolutely useless to any god but Hel if I’m dead.

A lot of people don’t think about these potentialities, but I’m a nervous wreck, so outright catastrophe was already on my radar. Your exceptions don’t have to be anywhere near as severe.

Most importantly, I think: Did you write it all down? If you have the memory of a lawspeaker, you can skip this step. But a long-term pledge, or an oath, is going to require memorizing your expectations, rights and responsibilities for a long time. The terms of my pledge are kept in my phone so I can check in on what I need to be doing–especially my choice of words, because that matters.

The last thing I want you to know is that your god(s) will enforce it–but it’s not all bad. They want what you’ve offered. My experience since March has shown they can, and do, pave the way to make sure you’ll give it and check in to keep you on task. The road kind of rises up to meet you.

Just be prepared to hit it running.

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.

Doing Ritual Without Feeling Like a Pretentious Weirdo

I used to act. As a result, I hate acting. Hate fake-it-til-you-make it. Hate playing the part. Hate rote actions being done “just because.”

But ritual always involves a certain amount of pageantry, and doing specific actions simply because history and trial and error have borne out that it’s the thing to do.

It’s easy to understand why pre-planned shows of devotion don’t seem to make much sense. You can’t pull religious ecstasy out of a can. It doesn’t work like that. It definitely seems like it would make more sense to wait for these spontaneous experiences, and take them as they come.

Right?

So how can we approach ritual, and accept the way it functions, without feeling like we’re faking something?

Understand the Why

Think about your birthday. Getting gifts is a standard thing, at least when you’re younger. They’re not spontaneously given, they’re given to you because on that day you’re special and that’s what they’ve learned to do. People are commemorating you successfully living through the year, and giving you something nice to congratulate you for it. And then everyone sings a song and eats some cake.

That is literally a ritual!

In that situation, you’re the important figure being celebrated. Gifts are offerings. And then there’s socializing and feasting.

Religious ritual is the same. Except instead of the birthday boy or birthday girl, you’ve got a deity. Instead of presents and well wishes, you’ve got offerings. And instead of the birthday song, you’ve got group prayer in the form of a blot. Or Sege. Or whatever the equivalent term is in your particular path.

It is normal human behavior to ritualize events. The passage of time, births and deaths, the divine, and forces we have a hard time wrapping our head around are easier to understand and approach if we have a structured and tangible representation of it.

You have your birthday whether there’s a party or not. But it feels more “real” with some kind of activity to mark it. I know that I have trouble processing that I’ve aged if I don’t mark it with something special. I also know I’m not alone in that.

That’s the purpose ritual serves.

Embrace Structure

It is very, very hard for me to do something if I don’t know the “correct” way to do it. I take tasks handed to me very seriously, and I like to do things in a proven way. Sometimes with a twist, but I need a frame of reference before I work. It’s hard to take a calculated risk if you don’t know what you’re even calculating.

That’s not a big deal when it’s cooking dinner or doing busywork. But when it comes to dealing with higher powers, the lack of structure can be terrifying. Knowing that there are exact rules also helps prevent any risk of a boundary violation. Ritual, in a way, serves the role of etiquette when dealing with higher powers.

When you are shy, and new, especially in a group setting, ritual lets you know exactly what to do and what not to do. And knowing these things can actually be immensely freeing.

Don’t Underestimate the Social Component

The best rituals I’ve ever been a part of were conducted with about twenty of my closest friends. I am generously including strangers, since they’re just friends you haven’t met yet.

I really can’t emphasize the importance of the social aspect of ritual enough. When you are by yourself, or your only accompaniment is gods, you’re very limited in the feedback you can receive over your actions. It’s a toss-up whether gods will give you feedback, and we’re not particularly accurate judges of our own behavior. I’m speaking from a place of anxiety. I am a terrible judge of how I come off to people.

By contrast, when surrounded by people who are committed to giving you helpful feedback, eager to guide you in your work for the gods and community, you have a far better idea of whether your behavior is serving the right purpose.

And on top of all that, knowing that you’re in a setting where everyone is either familiar with what you’re doing, or at least respectfully curious, can be a massive relief. Nobody is going to think you’re weird. Nobody is going to judge you.

You’re allowed to relax.

Let Go

Most rituals I’ve been in involve some sort of pre-ritual that serves the purpose of grounding, and easing people into a slightly altered mental state. This is important, because it helps you feel more open, more connected, and more flexible about what will happen.

Ritual, in practice, is far less scripted than it would seem. Something will always go just a little bit wrong. Candles and torches don’t light, you get splashed with the libation, someone drums off beat, or intones the wrong rune.

It’s whatever.

You’re not doing ritual to be perfect, you’re doing it to be nice. It’s about getting people together to remind the gods they’re loved, to enjoy community with your coreligionists, and to–hopefully–put you in the state of mind where this is easier to achieve.

And maybe you’ll still feel like a weirdo for doing it! But hopefully you won’t feel pretentious. Because pretentiousness is about fluffing up our egos, and that’s not what ritual is for. Ritual will not make you pretentious.

And, hopefully, you’ll feel at peace with being weird. Because what group ritual is great for, in terms of the mundane, is reminding you that you are not alone in that weirdness.