Rachel, Jack and Loki Too

If you haven’t seen the “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” episode of Black Mirror (S5E3), then the next few paragraphs contain vague spoilers.

“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” was the story of a pop star straining against being turned into a commodity. Except a whole ton of technology has to be involved in this, because it’s Black Mirror. One of these high-tech commodities was a robot toy named Ashley Too, which holds conversations, sings and dances to Ashley O songs, and spouts a bunch of inspirational pre-recorded phrases. Basically, a way for superfans to have their own little personal Ashleys.

When Ashley stopped voluntarily producing, she was put into a coma by her manager, leaving behind a consciousness uploaded into a ton of mass-produced machines, and a bunch of songs translated from brainwaves and carefully filtered through some chirpy demon vocaloid.

Because, apparently, going full Zechariah Sitchin but then putting in a firewall (or something?) was more cost-effective.

An adoring fan and her sister hacked her toy robot, basically liberated that digitized consciousness, liberated the real Ashley, exposed the evil manager, and everyone lived happily ever after except, sorta, for Rachel.

Wikipedia has a far more thorough synopsis.

When I was watching this episode, I thought a lot about the conversations I and another friend would have every time the typical weirdness would go down in a Lokean group we helped moderate. Or, tried to moderate. We were undermined a lot.

A theme we would hit upon fairly regularly was that we seemed to be dealing with a very different Loki than a lot of the more outspoken types were.

The Loki described in many of these posts was very one-dimensional. Suspiciously convenient in how annoying, or involved, or loving or helpful he was. Always available, always clearly recognizable, flawless visuals and audio, always somehow exactly what the poster wanted. Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

Yes, even when they’re getting pranked or driven up the wall, because people derive gratification from the aesthetics of hardship.

Our pet theory was that, assuming it was an external entity and not just their imaginations, these people were dealing with a very well-fed thought form. Ashley Too was a dumbed-down product that provided access to a beloved figure like Ashley O, without any of the threats involved in genuine interaction like incompatibility, rejection or pesky little boundaries. These people were talking about a Loki Too, basically.

Irrespective of whether people were interacting with some kind of egregore, or if they were all simply allowing their imaginations to align, they related to Loki as an instrument to get their needs met. He’s commodified. He’s a sanitized product with all the rough edges sanded off, and simplified to this lazy idea of some red-headed iron woobie, who likes to relentlessly prank everyone and endlessly tolerate being blamed for it, because trickster.

That’s not how it works. And even the trickster label is an oversimplification. They get pigeonholed as villains, or “chaos,” or whatever is most convenient for the audience at that particular moment. Every so often I will come across very simplistic assumptions based on Loki being variable. “He’s whatever he needs to be,” and “well, he’s a shapeshifter,” may be true. But they also miss the point entirely when we are talking about people projecting their own desires onto a god.

Which happens a lot.

But, why did it so often happen that whatever Loki allegedly needed to be somehow lined up so perfectly with what people, very obviously reaching out for attention, needed him to be? How does someone like Loki become a cosmic vending machine that you can just endlessly take from, without any regard for reciprocation, or compensation, or autonomy? How does Loki become a product for consumption?

I don’t think it’s coincidence that literal products based on the gods have been rather popular for the past eight years, and Loki just so happened to have a spike in popularity that fits in that timeline.

Not every Lokean is in this for Hiddles. Obviously. But we can’t pretend like these two things don’t have a definite correlation, and probably a causative correlation. And quite frankly, if people lack the discernment skills to tell the difference between “Marvel is involved” (what I am saying) and “you’re not a real Heathen” (what I’m not saying), then I’m no longer interested in their bruised egos.

The simple fact is that the suits and desk-jockeys at Marvel headquarters are not your friends.

They do not care about you, or your gods, or your practice, or your dreams, or your amusing anecdotes, or your UPG. They want your money.

They want your fics and your fanart and your fandom fights and your Marvel Loki figurines on your shrine, because they’re free advertising. They profit off of your emotional responses and your defensiveness.

When we allow our gods to be simplified and packaged for sale, we are allowing them to be forgotten as fully-formed personalities. We allow them to be stripped of their individualities, their complexities, and our ability to think of them as entire entities. We allow our gods to disappear into a list of attributes and correspondences and listicles of the top five most fucked up incidents in Norse Mythology.

We allow our gods to become objects.

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.

The Utterly Ridiculous Tale of How I Became a Lokean

Picture it: the Delaware Valley, 2012…

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It was during the roaring Marvel Cineverse Zeitgeist. I didn’t really care for Tom Hiddleston’s face, but damn if an angry scapegoated child (ugh, the horns) didn’t eventually get to me on some profound level. I also had a bad habit of reading fanfiction involving…uh. Really specific tropes. That are mythologically canon.

I’m talking about How is Horse Babby Formed.

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Fight me, you greasy bitch.

Between really creepy fangirls and bad fic research, though, I decided I was going to write a well-researched but absurdist fic for the purposes of trolling the fandom. I had nearly boundless options, but, because I’m a one-trick pony, I apparently just had to go and choose How is Horse Babby Formed.

Thor fought an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. Odin and Loki kinkshamed each other for a full page, as is the time-honored tradition. Beck–yes, that Beck–lived in Loki’s closet, because he liked the acoustics. Also, he had stitch-n-bitch sessions with Thor. They knitted Sleipnir a soccer jersey. Odin gave Loki a bit gag at the baby shower. It was glorious.

…and I never finished it.

In between brainstorming horrendous puns and dutifully checking the actual mythology, I had picked up an even worse habit of trolling Omegle, roleplaying as Sleipnir in the “Loki” tag and yelling “MOM IT’S ME” at every single match. This usually either made people extremely mad (mission accomplished!) or led to becoming Tumblr mutuals. (Awkward!)

I’d been aware that Ásatrú was a thing for a while, but had some serious baggage to unpack about it. I was also vaguely aware that Lokeans were a thing, but this was the week following Spongecakegate, so the Tumblr tag was…in a strange state at the time.

I definitely remember someone posting pictures of a horse penis in the tag, is what I’m saying.

Yeah.

So, in the process of Slippytrolling, on a day where my dad said out loud that he hoped I would drop my interest in Norse Mythology as soon as possible (HAH. HAHAHA.), I eventually stumbled on a real live Lokean! On the internet! I had a lot of questions. Specifically, “Why is everyone trying to bone Cosmic Hiddlesypiddles, and also, why is there horse dingus in your tag, you frickin’ weirdos?”

Turns out that had been a troll, and horse jokes were a subject of debate. Alright, so maybe these Lokeans weren’t so weird after all. I mean, as far as people who quarrel about pastry go. But foodies pick bizarre fights too, no big deal.

Omegle conversations led to me ending up on that Spongecake Chat, and after realizing this religion had a built in community where everyone was at least kind of odd, I got a boost of confidence. Kinda like what my ex said Rave culture was like when it was good, except nobody was thizzing (hopefully) or smearing Vicks on each other. I figured, fuck it, I’ll make my first offering. Loki likes sweets, right? It’s 3 am, but I’ve got some brownie mix.

This is also sort of the story of the time I almost fell into my oven in the wee hours of the morning.

Brownies were finally finished, and I suddenly realized I had no idea if this deity I was literally inviting into my kitchen was particular about them. Corner pieces? Edge pieces? Or the weird gooey middle part? I stuck out my hand, hoping some Weird Pagan Shit would happen. I got some vague vibe in favor of corner pieces, but I just plated a little bit of each and set them on the table by my laptop, since there was no altar set up yet. How do offerings even work? Do I just let the food…sit there? Someone recommend contemplatively eating them. Really, really slowly. So I did that.

I had never eaten a brownie slowly in my life. It was weird.

3AM rolled around, and upon realizing I had stayed up all night doing Weird Pagan Shit, I decided to go to bed. I stuck the remaining brownies in the fridge so other people could try them, packed up my laptop, and was in the process of stepping out of the kitchen when I heard a CD fall.

It was 2012 and I’m a bit of a Luddite. Stay with me.

The boom box was across the room from me and the CDs had been stable in their stack on top of it, I thought. But this seemed exactly like the kind of thing Loki would do, to my limited knowledge. It was one of my albums, so I picked it up to flip it over and make sure the case didn’t crack.

Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes.

Well that’s weird, considering I was thinking about Sigyn on my way out of the room. But it wasn’t damaged, so I put the CD back on the boombox, willing it to stay in place, and headed upstairs.

And then somehow, despite Astral Babygate, and the Mjölnir Panty Raid, Ruining Polytheism and a bunch of other overblown, weird controversies that escaped my attention, I somehow stuck around for 7 whole years other than the fugue that ended with a lot of–to me–proof that the gods were very much real. And then got nudged into a positive in-person community, and rapidly expanded my practice. And then swore a whole damn pledge. And I’m not seeing any signs of stopping. Not that I am allowed to, anyway. Because pledge. But I’m not planning to, either.

Happy Heath-a-versary to me.

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)

A Collection of Thoughts on the “Loki Ban”

The “ban” has been discussed a lot in the past year. A lot. The Rede was discussing how to handle it long before Seigfried’s stupid article kicked off the public part of that discourse again.

Before I go ranting and opining, let’s cover the facts of the situation.

The history of the “Loki ban” went like this:

  • Hailing Loki used to be a thing that went on, and there were no policies that limited this.
  • Around 2008, a policy was discussed that made Loki, certain Jotnar, and the Rokkr in general off-limits for hailing.
  • Around 2011, a different version of this was voted on by the Rede, which became the policy outlined in the Position Statement.
  • Around 2012, wording was updated and it was outlined in the FAQ.

Here are the problems related to the policy, which make the current discussion necessary:

  • The policy emerged after the hailing of Loki had already been a thing.
  • The policy is alienating to Lokeans and Loki-friendly members of the Troth, and it places an undue burden on Lokeans attending events to which the ban applies.
  • The policy created complications at Frith Forge, due to its taking place in Europe where Loki is generally viewed as a non-issue.

Basically, had another organization not stepped up to co-sponsor the event, the Troth’s rule on Loki would have applied to everyone in attendance. It would have been one American organization setting the standard for a multitude of other European organizations, and would have somewhat defeated the purpose of reaching out.

So, that’s the background.

Now for the fun part.

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Continue reading A Collection of Thoughts on the “Loki Ban”

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.

No, Really, You Have to Do the Homework

We all know that I’m a fussy jerk about UPG, and this sort of ties into my fussy jerkitude. But I’m actually not going to go after UPG here. I’m going after a general refusal to read the lore and background info, irrespective of reason.

There was a kerfuffle in one of the Lokean groups I’m in, where someone claimed that Loki doesn’t want her to read the lore because it makes him look bad.

This strikes me as odd, that he wouldn’t want people to know about his achievements. Loki is far more helpful and productive than he’s given sufficient credit for in pop culture. Before Ragnarök and the events in Lokasenna complicated everything (though I have…uh, thoughts on Lokasenna), he’s kind of charmingly annoying at worst in the mythology.

But even if your practice is driven by personal gnosis and focused solely on one god, you need to respect that these gods, the understandings of their personalities, and their stories come out of a specific cultural context. To learn that context, you really do have to read. And not just the myths! You need to read academic analysis and some history to get an understanding of the lore. The hard part is finding a good source, but that can be fixed.

There was an earlier instance in another group where a story was recommended, but it came from the Prose Edda. Which is disappointing. Nobody likes Snorri. Quite a few people didn’t like him when he was alive, either. And filtering distinctly Pagan lore through a Christian sieve is a very real issue, but that’s not a reason to outright refuse to read him, like the person receiving the recommendation did.

I left the group for other reasons (failing to weed out racists being a big one), so I have to paraphrase. But it was something to the effect of “as soon as someone mentions Snorri, I’m out.”

Let’s take a minute here.

Refusing to read the Prose Edda cuts out a huge chunk of the lore. Frustration is not a reason to cut yourself off from it. That is what we have. We have to work with it. Denying yourself useful information in your spiritual practice is a very special kind of petty. And it just means you’re hurting yourself.

It’s also just…baffling to me. The majority of Lokeans I’ve seen were in fact encouraged to study, myself included. I genuinely do not understand, based on both my observations and direct experience, why you would be told to actively avoid information.

My practice really languished without study. Picking up tidbits as you go only gets you so far. You can only subsist on crumbs for so long.

And the payoff is vast. Because I have a better idea of what to expect, and how to tell the difference, I don’t have to spend nearly as much time obsessively watching myself or grappling with unknowns. My scrupulosity issues have improved. I feel like my understanding of the gods has become so much deeper than it would have been if I was just locking in on the first things I heard, and waiting for direct ecstatic experience.

Because people lie. To others, and to themselves. And it is so much easier to brush off a lie if you have a robust frame of reference.

We’re a religion with homework. You have to do your homework.