A Deal With Gods

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.

I’d have to be old-fashioned about it. Hence, buying a torc.

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.

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That was not a metaphor.

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.

So am I.

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Counting My Feathers, as the Bells Toll

I hated the people in Austin, but I loved the birds. So with the exception of the loons, the big, shiny grackles and the feral parrots, I was relieved to get out.

I was also delirious from lack of proper sleep, and overwhelmed by the feeling that my heart was going to explode, which had stuck around after angrily pulling at my pashmina tassels for lack of prayer beads. No amount of study, prayer and trying to space out in the overly spacious bathtub at my disposal managed to shut it off. (Instead, this happened.)

It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s exhausting and extremely difficult to pass for a normal person when these feelings flare up. (And I’m already weird. Too weird for Austin, apparently.) I felt like a mistreated show dog any time I had to rein it in to shield my sister’s sensibilities.

But she’s never really grokked to my personality, so whatever…I guess.

After an encounter with a wonderfully helpful stewardess, I was staggering around my designated terminal, desperately trying to find a way to take the edge of the sensation of pulling apart at the seams. I wandered past a gift shop, and realized I hadn’t bought any souvenirs. I had lofty plans about Stetson hats, but I knew damn well I’d never be Dr. Crawford (or Dr. Quinn?) and the price of food in Austin had blown a hole in my budget.

But a collection of copper cuffs caught my eye, marked at around $12. That wasn’t going to kill me, and they looked like they were stereotypically Texan enough at first blush. I rushed in to get a better look, circling the rack for something that was bland enough for me to take home, when one snapped into focus.

Go figure.

I’d been eyeing bracelets like this to swear my oath on, and I no longer have the luxury of coincidence. I dug out my wallet, snatched it off the rack and tried to approach the till casually, even though my seams were ripping and I thought I was going to die.

The cashier did not pick up on this in the slightest.

“Whoah,” he said appreciatively. “This thing is gonna give you, like, plus-one-thousand coolness points.”

Don’t fucking DO THIS to me, I thought. I stopped talking like this in 2011. Was this person younger than me? By how much? What is it like to live as though Diablo Cody writes your lines and Edgar Wright fine-tunes the delivery? I was fascinated, and in my ridiculous state I was so oddly offended.

“Thanks! I think so too,” I said.

I left the newsstand-sized store, shaking off that weird and involuntary throwback to being fresh out of high school. I didn’t have the energy to be confronted with being in my early late twenties. Not right now.

Doing Weird Pagan Shit isn’t like in the movies, especially not ones that feel like Wes Andersen called the shots. The cuff didn’t glow, or vibrate, or tingle. I couldn’t worry about whether something had gone wrong because of my failure to pay attention, though in my floppy and highly suggestible state that was unlikely.

I got my first answer in Houston, when my jacket went missing after changing my shirt and changing my mind about washing the mustard off of my pashmina. It was the first week of January. The entirety of Texas was freezing. Philly is already like the surface of Mars this time of year, especially so when you’re landing there at night. I needed all four layers to survive.

There was no time to eat, drink, or nap, and definitely no time to go searching for the interfaith chapel. (Austin doesn’t have one.) I would have to find that jacket real damn fast.

After wasting valuable time walking around in circles, I eventually ran back to the bathroom to find it still by the sink, untouched. Given my strict time limit, I sprinted back to the gate, nearly bumping into people, to find that my flight had been delayed.

Cue a very loopy Sally Fields moment:

By now I was running on about 3 hours of atrocious sleep, dehydrated, and sweating like a racehorse. There’s a joke in there, somewhere. I stumbled getting onto the plane, and when a flight attendant saw me limply fanning myself, she handed me a cup of water. She even came back to check on me when the drink cart came around to make sure I was feeling better. I’m not sure if having my sleeves rolled up and the air conditioning on full blast was a ringing endorsement of my state, but it made her feel better.

After 5 hours of clutching the little leather pouch that held my pocket altar and new oath ring, I deplaned in Philly and walked right into this:

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Never in my life would I have predicted feeling personally attacked by a Paul Santoleri mural.

The thing about signs is that they are always, at least superficially, mundane. Falcons hang out in trees because they’re birds. Airport stores stock bracelets because they make good gifts–with feather motifs, because it’s the Southwest. Planes get delayed for all kinds of reasons. There are murals in the Philadelphia airport because it’s Philadelphia.

The key component is that you notice them, or that the timing is suspiciously convenient. It’s often not the object of your gaze being manipulated, but your gaze itself. It is far easier to commandeer a vehicle that you already have permission to drive. (And, yes, Baader-Meinhoff phenomena factor in, too.)

Either way, as I was being sent on a detour around a glitchy exit gate, it all seemed like approval to me. When I finally got home, I awkwardly placed the cuff on Loki’s altar, and climbed into bed.

Part of my brain was still revving, thinking “what have I done,” but the rest of me was just relieved to be somewhere familiar, where my gods and I had personal space, and to have this step out of the way because my recon side called for a piece of metal on my arm. I would worry about that once I had some actual sleep.