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)

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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.

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.