When I came to Paganism back in 2002, I expected to find a pantheon immediately. That didn’t happen, and it was discouraging. I had finally found a spiritual framework that I could live within, and I set out to explore it as fully as I could.
As the majority of those who come to Paganism from a Christian background, the first path I explored was Wicca. I never felt comfortable with the extensive rituals, and, while I could agree with the duality of the God and Goddess, I was never able to accept the lack of balance. The favoring of the Goddess over the God went against my sense of necessary equality, and I was never able to connect with those deities.
I spent about a year trying to understand Paganism from the Wiccan perspective, but I never felt like Wicca was the right path for me. I gave up pursuing that path and turned to more esoteric paths. I was always fascinated with divination, so I learned about astrology, numerology, and the runes (the runes, are, of course, much more than a divinatory tool). I tried tarot, but I never connected with the cards. I have a lot of respect for those who are able to utilize tarot, but I have a feeling that the concept of “cards” is a very air-element type of ability, and I have no affinity whatsoever with the air element. Conversely, I have a very strong connection with the runes, especially those carved on gemstones, which combines fire, earth, and water – all elements that I can work with well.
In any case, I spent the next nine years learning about esoteric practices and researching different Pagan faiths. I found myself wondering, quite often, if I was ever going to find a pantheon to honor or if I was going to be godless for the rest of my life. The idea of being godless was incredibly upsetting to me, as I have never been an atheist. Even when I turned away from Christianity when I was a child, my claims of being “atheist” were more of a reaction against a God that turned out to be exclusive – I felt betrayed, and it’s impossible to feel betrayed by a God if you doubt that God’s existence.
I used the betrayal I felt to fuel the search for a new faith, a new God, per se, that would provide the direction and guidance I needed without the cruelty I’d experienced at the hands of the first one I ever believed in. There are a lot of pagans out there who discount Christianity and the Christian God, essentially saying that the Christian God doesn’t exist. I’ve never felt this way – to me, the Christian God has always been just as real as all of the other deities I’ve known, but I choose not to follow His path. It’s not the right one for me.
I’ve told people time and time again that I believe that all Gods that could exist do exist, even if that seems counter-intuitive. Today, I wouldn’t say that I separate from the Christian God because He is an exclusive God, the way I did when I was younger. Instead, I would say that I don’t follow His path because I see the extremes taken by His followers and the lack of thought they employ when dealing with those of other faiths. I believe that it is important for those who honor a God of any sort to honor that God by emulation, and I would never be able to emulate the Christian God and keep my moral conscience clear. On top of that, I don’t agree or believe in most of the teachings that makes Christianity what it is, so it doesn’t make sense for me to go down that path.
That may seem irrelevant, but I struggled a lot over the first ten years of being pagan because I didn’t have a pantheon to follow. I had people doing their best to pull me back into the folds of Christianity by inviting me to various churches. I went to those churches because I was looking for a way to understand my own spirituality, and there was no one to teach me what path I should take.
Every time I went to a church, I hoped I would hear something that would magically assuage the wounds I had received from the Christian God, but everything I heard just pushed those barbs deeper. The lack of inclusivity, the cruel gossip that the church members engaged in – I could never go back to that. I would see rare instances of support that would make me wonder if I could overlook the cruelties for the small kindnesses occasionally garnished, but I realized fairly quickly that overlooking even a small breach of hospitality is a far worse moral violation than the celebration of a small kindness could ever hope to overcome.
I don’t talk much about the struggle I faced to stay away from Christianity when it seemed the universe was conspiring to get me back into the folds of the religion I had purposefully turned away from. And the reason I don’t talk about it is that it was the darkest time in my life – I had no religious support from any corner, not from other people and not from any of the Gods I honor now.
It was the darkest time in my life because I had to struggle with concepts of faith on my own without anyone to guide me. I had people who tried to convince me that Christianity was the right path for me, but I already knew it wasn’t. I suppose it could be said that those people were counter-guides. They are the reason I hate the idea of ever trying to push any set of beliefs onto another human being.
I had to fight with every ounce of my soul against people who were determined to convince me to return to the Christian path. I had to fight against the small desire I had to be a part of a group that was supportive because I knew that I would end up engaging in immoral behavior and hating myself if I ever did go back. When you’re completely alone in the world like that, with no gods and no friends who understand that type of struggle, fighting against the people who seem desperate to enfold you within their own faith is so incredibly hard that I don’t even have the words to describe how difficult it was.
Perhaps this is where you’re expecting me to say that in my darkest hour is where I found the Norse Gods, but that isn’t what happened. No one rescued me from that struggle – I had to overcome the situation alone without help. Do I resent the fact that there was no one to help me? I don’t, but I do resent the fact there are people out there who are determined to destroy other people’s sense of spirituality by trying to force their faith on non-believers. They were the root of the problem, so it is towards them that my resentment stays directed.
I overcame the struggle on my own, however, as I did enough reading of enough spiritual texts (from many different faiths) that I realized that the path I walked didn’t matter as long as I stuck to my own principles. That realization wasn’t an easy one to come to, and I questioned it for a long time, but I eventually accepted it as the truth. I realized that it didn’t matter if I had a pantheon to follow or whether I decided to follow a monotheistic, polytheistic, or atheistic path. What mattered, in the long run, was the way I chose to live my life. What mattered was what I did rather than what I believed, and orthopraxy is the core of pagan belief. For those who are unaware of the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it’s fairly simple – orthodoxy means “right belief” and orthopraxy means “right practice.” Most monotheistic faiths are orthodox in nature whereas most pagan faiths are orthopraxic.
Once I realized that I fell firmly into the orthopraxic camp, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Breaking the orthodox thought pattern instilled by a Christian upbringing was what allowed me to win the battle I was fighting with myself on a daily basis. I stopped caring about what I believed and started focusing on how I behaved. I started focusing on my relationships with other people and I started to learn how to lead. I stopped worrying about whether or not I would ever find a pantheon to follow and started focusing on how I lived my life.
It was during this period of my life – when I had stopped searching – that the Norse Gods came into my life. I didn’t approach Them – They came to me. This is why I can’t agree with those who say that the Gods don’t interact with individuals. My first experience with the Gods was a very individual interaction, and I had no knowledge of Them before-hand.
When I say no knowledge, I mean I had never read any of the Norse myths, I had never seen or heard of the Poetic Edda, and I had only the vaguest idea of Their existence. Yet I ended up meeting a heathen at my work, and he told me what heathenry was and what his oath-ring meant, but he never discussed the Gods in-depth with me. After a couple conversations with him, I started having very vivid dreams with the Valknut featured (I learned from that heathen what the symbol was). And, at first, I was absolutely terrified.
I mean, here I was, 22 years old, content to live my life without worrying too much about what I believed. And, instead of being allowed to continue to live that way, I found myself being pulled into heathenry by Odin Himself. I did some research into heathenry and was disquieted by how well it fit what I believed (minus the reconstructionist part). In fact, I purposefully ignored heathenry for a good six months because I was so unsettled by how well everything fit. It freaked me out, but I eventually felt compelled enough to return to doing research.
Keep in mind, when I came to heathenry, I had never read the myths. I knew nothing about the Gods, yet They were appearing to me anyway. This is the largest reason that I don’t look at the lore or the historical information as the only way to approach the Gods. It is why I believe in Gods that are living, evolving beings who have Their own agendas. None of the Gods fit within the boxes people use to try to contain Them, and I am aware that the interactions I share with the Gods aren’t going to be the same type of interactions the Gods share with others. Thinking about this logically, when I interact with my friends, I behave differently depending on which friend I am hanging out with – it’s like this with the Gods, too.
The Gods didn’t come to me until after I had struggled significantly with my own spirituality, and, when They did appear to me, it was after I had stopped searching for Them. Because of this, the way I interact with Them is much different than the way others interact with Them. Some heathens seek out the Gods and are answered because those people suit those Gods. Others are found by the Gods. The former is much more common than the latter, although it still makes me uncomfortable when the Gods tell me that I’m spiritually unique and that they want me to take up the mantle of priestess-hood. I am actually working on doing that, but I can’t say I’m going about it in a traditional way. Which, in retrospect, is no real surprise, when you consider which Gods it is whose paths I follow.