“There Is More to Be Done.”

Snow in early September has never happened where I live, so I knew I was dreaming.

Loki does not show up in dreams for me unless he considers it important to bring something to my attention. He is also…ridiculously unsubtle and very heavy-handed with the imagery. I’m still not over the “Loki-but-Floki-but-also-that-guy-you-know-nicknamed-Loki shoving metaphorical spiritual death and rebirth in your face, and also, can you go pick some peonies” dream from my big, stupid dramatic runaway fit.

So hanging out in my impossibly snowy front yard at night, with Sleipnir, and looking like the spitting image of what I got used to “seeing” when I was newer…meant…something. At the very least, that picking a jumble of things he knew I’d focus on would get me to pay attention.

All I remember was approaching him, and asking what was up. His response was, “there’s more to be done. Come with me.” And then the dream went back to jumbled, patchwork data sorting. Just my brain throwing everything at the wall and seeing what would stick.

Only that did.

The morbid symbolism of horse dreams aside (death by hanging–fun!) I knew this was a wakeup call. Where was I slacking?

How could I possibly have been slacking, I thought a little indignantly, considering I’d just put in a ton of work for the community like I was supposed to? I was helping take notes at Frith Works!, and volunteering for pagan pride, and captioning panels. I was welcoming a few new deities, and keeping up with altar cleanings and observing holidays and obsessively calculating my calendar…

…and not taking the time to just sit down for ordinary devotional work. Again. And slacking on shadow work. Oh, and also, when was the last time I put out food or water for Loki? Or any of the other deities? It had been a while. What was I actually doing as far as research and working towards ordination lately?

Not much, shamefully.

The ridiculous part of this is that I did not assign myself a particularly heavy workload. I thought very hard when drafting my pledge about what was manageable. Wearing religious jewelry every day is absolutely doable. Cleaning the altars once a month, irrespective of when in the month, is also absolutely doable.

And these, in conjunction with work for the community, were easy to keep track of because they are also easily quantifiable. Generally, we humans work to be paid. It is easy to know when you’ve done something when there are results right in front of you–even compliments that you weren’t prepared for and didn’t know how to accept.

(Leadership skills? In my me?! Apparently.)

And it felt so good to be busy. It felt gratifying to have the sense of productivity it gave me.

But part of maturity, and part of really being productive, really doing work, is making an effort even when you can’t see the results. It’s forcing yourself to do things, not because they’re gratifying, but because they have to be done. Because you can’t do everything for your own benefit, and you need to benefit others as well.

I can’t claim allegiance or friendship without a little quid pro quo. I can’t claim Heathenry if I don’t do my part for the gods.

Since I was volunteering with the land crew for the Draken Harald Hårfagre when this dream happened (a gorgeous ship, and an opportunity I was blessed to have), I had already been thinking intensely about hair. Namely, its role in making promises. It’s not all bloodied drinks and adorned pits and jewelry and swords. The most famous oath in the sagas was the outright refusal to cut or comb hair until Norway was unified.

I am not shoving an entire country under my control. Don’t plan on it. But because I already had experience dedicating my hair, I could at least take away the cutting portion. Until I get ordained, I said, trying to subtly clutch my oath ring as I went to catch my train home, I must tolerate the creeping split ends and all the damage they do. Once that’s settled, I too can have fair hair.

But not until that moment.

I have to finish up the currently open tasks I’ve started for the community, and there will be more work to do at Parade of Spirits. (If you’re in the Philly area in early December, drop by!) But once my caption work is finished up and I have a few minutes to gather my massive to-do list, as soon as I have money saved up for my Troth membership, I will be getting back in the swing of things.

Go figure it would pop up around this time, though. Fall is always when I get most religious. Loki knows how to read a room.

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Info-gathering Tips for Heathens

Getting your hands on good information for Heathenry is difficult, for a few reasons.

The problem with a lot of easily-accessible sources is that they are heavily peppered with subjective interpretations and put together by people who aren’t, at minimum, well-read. You don’t need a doctorate to know what you’re talking about, but you do need to know how to collect, sort and interpret information. (Which, incidentally, are the skills that get you degrees.) Anyone who doesn’t have those skills is a questionable source.

But resources put together by people with these skills tend to be locked behind paywalls or out of print. So what are your options?

Continue reading Info-gathering Tips for Heathens

If I Like Science So Much, Why Am I Still Religious?

The idea that science and religion are incompatible concepts has almost always bugged me.

It doesn’t seem to me like a particularly accurate assumption in practice, given that most of the people educated enough to pursue science in its early stages were people of faith or outright clergy. Hans Christian Lyngbye, for example, was studying pilot whales and other marine life in the Faroe Islands when he recorded Lokka Tattur.

It is still absolutely true that Tycho Brahe fudged the numbers in the name of Geocentrism, and modern fundamentalists rail against simple biology and geology. And, speaking for myself, I absolutely detest plastic shamans who believe herbal medicine is inherently safe compared to pharmacological medicine.

Raw apricot kernels aren’t gonna cure cancer.

But I think, ultimately, that behavior comes down to a failure to understand the source material of their spirituality, rather than a failure inherent to the spirituality itself.

And I’ve written before about how science (specifically, astrobiology) got me even more fired up about my faith. When you learn that gold on Earth is the remnants of supernovae, it’s a little hard not to have intense feelings about firey regenerative patterns and Gullveig. And when you learn that the earliest life on Earth emerged from a literal union of volcanic heat and frigid moisture, the Voluspa suddenly has a lot more gravity.

That was not a physics pun, but we can pretend it is.

Science is about figuring out how and why things work. So too, before science as we know it existed, was religion. To me, it makes perfect sense that those who admire and seek to glorify their gods would want to understand the underlying patterns, which are complex and astoundingly interdependent.

It is difficult, as is, to go investigate the stars. We now know what many of them are made of, how hot they are, how old they are now and how old they will get to be; because we have spectrometers, probes and satellite cameras. Earlier humans didn’t have this luxury. They didn’t know what hydrogen was (it wasn’t properly identified until the late 1700s), or that it is the most abundant gas in the universe, or possibly that there was a universe–not as we now know it, at least; that designation emerged in 1925.

But what they did know was that there were firey orbs in the sky, and they had to get there somewhere.

A Norseman looking for an explanation would look at the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini, and reach the very logical conclusion that the gods put them there. Specifically, they were Thjazi’s eyes, and their placement in the sky was weregild paid to his infuriated daughter Skaði. Even knowing these stars are a good deal farther apart than they look, and their categorization emerges from a simple human need for pattern-matching, there is no loss of wonder staring into them. If anything, knowing the vastness of space adds to the fear and wonder of staring into Thjazi’s eyes. He would have had to be terribly mighty.

These people weren’t being stupid. And I don’t think an assertion of ignorance is particularly fair, either, because it’s not like Vikings could have gone to space. (Not until the late 1970s, of course. Hachacha.)

Our stories were best guesses–and very logical guesses!–in their time. New information does not invalidate religion, so long as you have the right approach. And this is why fundamentalist and literal approaches are the problem. Clinging fiercely to literal interpretations allows for the whole thing to be picked apart, disproven and eventually destroyed.

And people of faith generally don’t want that. I sure don’t.

While I believe the gods literally exist (maybe not physically, and to be honest I’ve never really laid the whole thing out in detail), these stories are still viable metaphorical explanations. Mythology was already heavily metaphorical, even in a context where it was understood literally. These people believing in this kind of thing weren’t being stupid, they were using a specific model to approach the objective and observable.

I’ve joked in a few Heathen-geared comment sections that I don’t have the “personality” for godlessness. And it’s true. The set of personality traits that are common among the faithful occur in me as well. Science explains phenomena in a way that I find perfectly accurate and satisfactory (like why people might perceive and strive to interact with the divine in the first place), but I need a strongly emotional outlet to experiencing and processing the world. Science gets me very enthusiastic about dirt, and birds, and trees, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room to tell the trees I love them.

Further, science–at least hard science–doesn’t contribute to our personal growth. Our comparative intelligence as humans complicates our lives. Rather than just a struggle to keep our place in the ecosystem and survive, our lives are filled with purpose-seeking and contemplation. That is a solely emotional process, even though science is eager to explain how it came about. Which is absolutely fair, because the same laws that govern anything else allowed for it to happen.

But the laws of physics, chemistry and biology are indifferent to us. They are not invested in us. They explain our existence in the context of lawful chance. They are neutral baselines for how the observable universe works, and they don’t care about us.

The gods do.

Prestige and Puppy Love

Paganism is exciting when it’s new. There are gods! A whole bunch! Gods you can talk to! Sometimes they talk back and leave you cryptic notes!

And then you get used to it. Discernment gets better. You realize there is vastly less godphone going on than you thought–if you even have godphone, because sometimes your brain is giving you a helping hand by reinterpreting a very potent urge to do the thing. Your brain is supposed to pattern-match and fill in the blanks. You’re experiencing a feature, not a bug.

It is tempting (as I have regrettably done) to try and get more attention. Be it through harder work, expanding your skillset or just straight up pleading. After all, your gods love you, right?

Well, yeah. But not the way we love them. They’re bigger than us, and given the fact that we don’t interact with them like other beings, I imagine they keep a certain distance. Even in a framework where the gods are everywhere, and in everything, we don’t often get to carry a conversation with them like we do with humans. They function differently. And I think this distance is maintained out of love and respect for their willing servants.

Getting close, really close, to a deity is kind of (extremely) terrifying. They’re big compared to us. Not physically, per se. I don’t know how one can measure that by any acceptable metric. But it stands to reason among spiritual types that any entity that can tweak circumstances in your favor, when you can’t, must be more powerful than you. I can remember what I consider the first time I properly met Loki, where I said “prove it” and suddenly realized I could not breathe. I cried uncle and stopped trying to be sassy. I was not harmed, but I was definitely spooked.

I mention this because, while ecstatic experiences definitely give you a high better than drugs, they have an equal and opposite comedown. That drop will happen no matter what you do, and the further you prolong the inevitable, the worse it will get. It’s a balance thing. Balance isn’t constantly remaining in one state, it’s the fluctuation necessary to maintain the average. And you can soften where you fall through taking the steps to prepare for those experiences, but the fall itself is non-negotiable.

It sucks, but we’re physical creatures and tightly bound by the laws of physics. Managing an abnormal experience, which religious experiences are, sucks up our energy. That energy comes from the matter in our bodies and we suffer when it disturbs our equilibrium. Again, gods don’t function the way we do.

Sometimes our gods will wound us. Sometimes it’s discipline. Sometimes it’s by accident. Sometimes, for the very unlucky, it’s cruelty. But our gods will wound us if we get close enough. So will our community members, for all of the same reasons.

I’m sure it’s exciting to have the attention (from god and human alike) and subsequent community prestige that being able to claim these kinds of experiences brings. But I think it’s important for people to understand that this doesn’t inherently make something worthwhile. There is a lot of pageantry, braggadocio and just plain bullshit in the online pagan community. (Case in point, ain’t them some sparkly five-dollar words?) And because humans are social creatures, and social approval is such a vital part of our survival, we are going to feel terrible if we don’t measure up. We’re going to feel compelled to try and keep up with the neighbors. It’s a compulsion better not followed.

Because if your paganism doesn’t serve your higher powers, who is it actually for?


Quick housekeeping note: As of today, the blog is switching to a fortnightly schedule. In other words, posts will be every other Thursday until further notice.

Lokabrenna: the Historical, the Modern…and the Boring Math.

While I don’t participate in #JulyForLoki as originally intended–that of a daily blogging project–I did choose to turn the focus of the blog more on Loki than usual. My other project, when I asked, seemed to throw a lot of harvest-y stuff at me. Apparently I am supposed to lovingly stare at my pumpkins…devotionally? Or give Loki a pumpkin? Who knows.

Frey and Thor are getting pumpkins. Loki can have one too. Especially since I made fish emulsion for the pumpkins out of freebie lox that got nasty. Symbolism.

Anyway.

The Historical

Lokabrenna as a holiday is a thoroughly modern invention, popular among Lokeans for the fact that Loki doesn’t really get any feast days, days of the week, (no, Saturday is not Lokadagr) or any special mention at known rituals from the historical record. But irrespective of whether he was worshipped then, he’s worshipped now. I am a fussy jerk about many things, and get more recon as time goes by, but honoring Loki is…well, honoring Loki.

The name of that celebration, and therefore the reason for the season, comes from the Old Icelandic name for the star Sirius. I’ve seen translations of the name run from the matter-of-fact and charming “Loki’s Torch” to the more severe “Conflagration of [as in “made by”] Loki,” which seems to reference Ragnarok. There doesn’t seem to be any surviving lore contemporaneous with the original heathen practice that totally clarifies this, beyond the implication of Ragnarok.

For more thorough overviews of the history of Sirius’s association with Loki, I’d recommend Lokavinr’s post on the subject, and the Lokabrenna tag on GrumpyLokeanElder’s WordPress archive.

The Modern

Because Lokabrenna is named for Loki, and there was a precedent for celebrating the heliacal rising of Sirius in a few other cultures (the Egyptians, for example–though other cultures have other heliacal risings of note), a modern celebration was put together to honor Sirius’s supposed contribution to the heat of the dog days. The idea being, allegedly, that Sirius being out during the day in the summer would enhance the daytime heat. Its rising just before the sun signals the beginning of its reappearance in the night sky–and therefore the return of cooler weather.

Personally, I’m down for this, as someone who likes to pick out the clusters of stars that would have been constellations known to the Vikings. (The VikingAnswerLady page on that is worth a look.) And it would have almost exclusively been stars visible in winter, given that summer means near-constant sunlight.

Because the dog days are variable, but do tend to take up most of July, devoting the entire month to Loki in anticipation of Sirius/Lokabrenna’s rising is a simplification for practicality’s sake. Not everyone has the time, patience, or even just the spoons to calculate the exact time, and then have a ritual on top of that.

If you happen to be one of those people who does like to figure out exact times, though…

The Boring Math

The Heliacal Rising of a star is (as previously mentioned) the event in which it rises just prior to the sun after having been absent from the night sky. Heliacal risings mark the transition from the star’s invisibility during daytime hours, to its resumed visibility in the night sky.

There’s a handful of tools available that will vastly simplify the process for you. The one I am most familiar with is the Heliacal Rising Simulator, which allows you to punch in your latitude, choose from marking twilight (astronomical) or sunrise as a frame of reference, and fiddle with a date slider to figure out which date most closely aligns with Sirius’s heliacal rising. I would recommend dawn as your frame of reference, though nautical or civil dawn may be more practical than astronomical dawn.

There will be many, many tabs open while you research this.

SO MANY TABS
UuuuuUUUUUUUUGUHGGHGHHG

It will be worth it. I promise. There is nothing quite like witnessing a star’s return for yourself. And then you have the added benefit of having a whole bunch of free time, because you got up before the sun.

So when you’ve picked your date and you’re ready to head out, brew yourself a big pot of coffee. Pour Loki a cup while you’re at it.

“Loki Did It!”

For most of us, pop culture and kid-friendly reinterpretations of mythology are the very first exposure to pagan deities. With that comes a lot of oversimplifications and misinterpretations of their stories, so that they fit more comfortably into modern biases and are easier to understand.

The downside of this is that people tend to lock in on first impressions, and therefore they lock in on the oversimplifications. Speaking for myself, Loki was that weird guy who made mischief, and who forced Jim Carrey to behave like…well, Jim Carrey, but cranked to 11.

The Mask (and the majority of his other portrayals) really didn’t care to go into the complexity of the Trickster archetype, or the fact that Loki isn’t quite a trickster–he deviates strongly into and out of quite a few archetypes.

And I think it’s the oversimplification of Loki’s character that sets people up with the wrong idea about what Loki actually does to, for, and with humans.

Which leads to a lot of annoyances and bizarre incidents being chalked up to “Loki did it!”

norsecrisisflowchart
via Myths Retold

Computer glitching? LOKI DID IT. Power went out? LOKI DID IT. Vase fell off the table when you bumped it? LOKI DID IT. It snowed and now you have to shovel your driveway? LOKI DID IT, even though that’s more of a Thorri and Skaði thing. Souffle deflated? LOKI DID IT. SHOULDA GIVEN HIM SPONGECAKE.

It saves time, I guess, but it reflects a lack of discernment and doesn’t acknowledge Loki as a complex being–despite his being defined by complexity.

There have been incidents where it was extremely obvious that Loki was doing something. I’m talking about the falcon thing, or dropping feathers in my path. Or the time he threw a turtle shell off of the bookcase where I keep my shrines, after I blew out a candle I knew he wanted lit. Or breaking my bed. (There’s a whole story on that, but since it happened on Christmas, the post is queued for December.) Or the time he responded to my constant demands that he “teach me something,” by knocking a carton of eggs out of my hands. I learned that you can’t get egg whites out of an unsealed wood floor, and to be less of a nag.

There were also less obvious incidents that snuck up on me long after the fact–like the feather thing, initially, because I was unaware of the folk tradition claiming that he “harvests” feathers from birds.

None of these things were random, daily annoyances. Most of them weren’t even inconveniences, really, except for the egg incident and the bed incident. With the sole exception of the feather thing, probably, they all happened in situations that directly and unambiguously involved him. He was either initiating or continuing a conversation. Something was being communicated.

That’s a big part of why, even with my persistently glitchy keyboard problems, my instinct isn’t “Loki must be doing this.” My laptop is a workhorse that runs resource-intensive programs on a regular basis. I spilled a large jar of water on it back in 2014. I’ve spilled the juice for my e-cig on that keyboard more times than I can count. And it wasn’t during interactions with Loki, but just me minding my own clumsy business. Of course the thing’s acting weird. It’s a miracle it still works at all. If there was somehow a hidden message in my laptop ghost-typing 8’s and +’s all the time, I wouldn’t be able to decipher it, anyway.

So, no. Let’s not blame things on Loki without checking the context first. The Norse Crisis Flowchart is not a substitute.

Reporting on Heathenry, Responsibly

This would probably be considered a companion post to the role we can play in improving the image of Heathenry.


We know Heathenry has a racism problem. Anti-racist Heathens, myself included, consider this a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Our religion continuing to be hijacked by extremists, violent gangs and white supremacists is a really big deal.

But I am conflicted about the way journalism portrays Heathens. Racism seems to be all anyone wants to focus on, even though there’s a whole lot more going on. Most of the time I find a news article about a Heathen that’s not from a specifically pagan-geared source, it seems the writers go out of their way to mention–or talk to–the racist Heathen contingent.

Take Dylan Sprouse, who may very well be the most visible celebrity Heathen. Here’s an interview about when he started a mead brewery.

Somehow the writer thought it was necessary to drag in a mention of Stephen MacNallen, even though Stephen MacNallen has nothing to do with brewing mead. The writer openly admits that Sprouse satisfactorily addressed their concerns, and still brings it up anyway.

And sure, Sprouse citing his ancestry as what drew him to the faith can signal a cause for concern. It’s certainly one of the doors where racists get in, and we should be mindful of that.

But there are plenty of decent, inclusive and perfectly safe Heathens who are drawn to Heathenry by that, or who discover it after the fact–including Heathens that are as anti-racist as you can get. That is a very different phenomenon from saying only people with the “right” ancestry are allowed to participate. The former is an interesting coincidence, the latter is blatant racism.

These things warrant further investigation, not leaping to formulaic conclusions.

In the spirit of investigation, I scoured Dylan Sprouse’s social media for this post, using the same metrics I use for evaluating whether any other heathen is “safe.” I like to think I’m pretty good at picking up on signs of danger like that, and I turned up absolutely nothing. The only troubling thing I found was that he loves Hidden Valley Ranch dressing way too much.

And that’s not even harmful, it’s just…odd. Like, I checked. Ranch dressing isn’t a known dogwhistle for anything. He just really, honest to gods, loves ranch dressing.

Journalists approaching Heathenry also seem to give more text and time to folkists and white supremacists. That one recent New York Times article (“Who Owns the Vikings?”) was a particularly infuriating example. It failed to even answer its own question about who Heathenry belongs to (though I recognize that it is usually editors, not writers, who choose the headline), and spent most of the article length talking about the nationalist Heathen group. Somehow the article had room for an unfinished tangent about recruitment in farmer’s markets (?), but not enough for more than a few token paragraphs about Forn Sed–the vastly more progressive group of the two mentioned in the article.

I am angry about it.

Inclusivist and anti-racist Heathens exist. Often loudly. We go out of our way to educate people on why racism has no place in our faith, and to drive the point home that Heathenry is wide open for anyone willing to do the work. We have exhaustively explained, time and time again, exactly why Heathenry is open. The bolder among us take it upon themselves to confront racist Heathens more directly.

We don’t do this for our health, and we sure as Hel don’t do it for fun. We do it because it’s important, and it’s unfortunately necessary.

So why aren’t they talking to us?

The things that scare us also tend to fascinate us. I suspect that is what drives that tendency to bring up or focus on extremists, no matter how irrelevant they are to the actual subject matter. Journalists are human, and racism is frightening. Rightly so. Nobody should be comfortable about something that is objectively dangerous.

But journalists are also professionals with a responsibility to tell the truth, or at least be sincere about their biases, and to be fair and balanced in their coverage.

When journalists fixate on interviewing nationalists and supremacists, they amplify those voices. They help that agenda spread, and they do this at the expense of progressive voices actively working against it. This is in spite of inclusivist Heathens actively reaching out to journalists to provide fact-checks and guidance. When journalists mention racist Heathen organizations and gang activity apropos of nothing, they actively participate in conflating our religion with violence and destruction.

Heathens do not have the benefit of widespread social acceptance. Nor do we have strength in numbers, with a diffuse worldwide total in the lower tens-of-thousands.

I hesitate to say that Heathens are oppressed. In the US, there are no laws that meaningfully restrict my religious practice. My neighbors know of my faith, and don’t feel compelled to cause me trouble. Nobody has physically assaulted me because of Heathenry’s association with racial terrorism. My family and friends have not disowned me. Your mileage may vary on that last one, because it’s a surface-level form of aggression, and very easy to do.

We are, however, definitely marginalized on the basis of numbers, and the lack of awareness and acceptance that go with it. Actively perpetuating a stereotype does nothing for us, and works against us.

Failing to do the research and make the effort is irresponsible.