Category Archives: pagan

Life and Death

Considering today is Wednesday, the topic of death seems a fitting one to discuss. Or, rather, the power of life and death. There has been a considerable amount of drama centering around Kim Davis recently and her refusal to issue marriage licenses. Apparently, there is a similar debate occurring about whether doctors in hospitals should be able to deny patients surgeries that violate the religious beliefs of the doctors.

My immediate and gut-wrenching response is to say, “Absolutely not.” Doctors are public servants, and hospitals are secular institutions.

That isn’t strictly accurate, however, as there are hospitals with religious affiliations in the private sector. Generally, those hospitals are affiliated with Catholicism. In a Catholic hospital, I don’t think that doctors should be expected to perform surgeries that violate the tenets of their faith. The hospital is a private religious hospital – it is a holy place. While it may not be a place that I would ever go, I can respect that the people working in that hospital view it as an extension of their church.

There are varied reactions to the idea of a doctor denying a patient a surgery that violates their religious views, but there are two main camps. There’s the “Doctors shouldn’t even be allowed to practice medicine if they aren’t willing to perform procedures that violate their religious beliefs,” side of things, and then there’s the other side, where I stand.

I don’t think it’s right to ask anyone to act in a manner that violates their beliefs – or their code of ethics, for the atheists out there. Once we disrespect a single person in that manner, once we invalidate one person’s set of morality and beliefs, we open ourselves up to the persecution of our own religious paths.

In a secular hospital, doctors can refer patients to other doctors who are willing to perform the procedures they aren’t willing to do themselves. In a non-secular hospital, that isn’t going to happen. When a patient finds themselves in a situation where they need an operation that a non-secular doctor isn’t willing to perform, the burden of responsibility should then transfer to the patient – the responsibility to find someone who is willing to do the procedure without violating their own set of ethics.

However, when I tried to explain this reasoning to someone else earlier today, the response I received was “Only God has the power to decide life and death,” and that set me to thinking. Because I have heard that phrase my entire life, growing up in a Bible Belt and all (I still live in one, frustratingly enough), but I have always dismissed it as ridiculous. To me, it’s equally as ridiculous as saying “God works in mysterious ways.”

I’m aware that both of those phrases refer to the Christian God, but the fact that the person invoked the “power of life and death” really got under my skin. Because that’s one argument I’ve never seen in paganism – whether or not the Gods are the only ones with power over life and death.

Perhaps the reason I’ve never seen that argument is because it’s ridiculous to say it when polytheistic faiths are sacrificial faiths. Yes, we have stopped sacrificing animals (in most parts of the world. I’m aware there are still a few groups who practice animal sacrifice), but the history of the cultures where our traditions originated were rife with sacrifice.

The power of life and death is sacred, yes, but I think it’s ridiculous to say that any God of any faith has complete power over who lives and dies. We sentence people to death every day. Our legal system kills people every day. The fact that there are people out there who have still not acknowledged that about the world we live in irks me.

Tyr’s Path: Boundaries

Generally, when people think of Tyr, they see Him as the god of cosmic justice, but there is more to Him than that. He is also the brave warrior who offered His arm to Fenrir when no one else stepped forward. He has a strong sense of honor, and He is also the law-maker. There are theories out there that say Tyr was originally the god in charge of the Aesir and then some sort of power exchange took place with Odin taking the helm. Tyr is also a war god, but He seems to be much calmer about the wars He engages in than Odin.

Out of all the gods I follow, Tyr seems to have the most patience and seems to be the calmest. I suppose for someone whose main responsibility is to keep things balanced, that type of patience is necessary. While Tyr works to keep things balanced, He is also the one who makes the laws – sets boundaries. In some ways, Tyr is the antithesis of Loki (although the two of them seem to have mutual respect for the other, for the most part) as Loki breaks boundaries and Tyr establishes them. I guess one way to look at the respect between them is to look at the respect a security systems expert has for the hacker who keeps managing to get through the firewall.

In any case, I was having some trouble with a guy who I’ve just started to be friends with. He’s a gamer, so he’s not really used to a lot of social interaction, and his manners were lacking a bit (I absolutely hate bad manners). He usually takes the bus home from school, but I’ve been giving him rides recently, and it got to the point where he was acting almost as if he expected me to always be available to give him a ride and we hadn’t established that as a rule and he hadn’t asked if I minded. That is inappropriate behavior for anyone, so I talked to him about that concern and a few of the other concerns I had, as honesty is an incredibly important part of any relationship.

While I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conversation – as it was our first “confrontation” (there was no fight, thus the quotation marks), the last thing I expected was for him to thank me for setting boundaries. I had been worried that I would offend him by telling him what was bothering me, and I got a response far removed from that. I have a feeling that if I had chosen a day besides a Tuesday to have that conversation, the result may have been a little bit different :p

Who is Loki?

There are a lot of theories out there about what kind of god Loki is, and there are theories out there that say He isn’t a god at all. Some theories claim that He is a god of fire, of chaos, destruction. He has been called the Norse equivalent of the Christian devil, although that is a pretty easily discredited claim.

Of all the gods, there is perhaps no other god with so many contradictory theories as to their identity. Ironically enough, this is perhaps the best indication of the type of god Loki is. He is a god of cataclysmic change and of ambiguity. He defies being explained by conventional means. To walk Loki’s path is to be confronted with difficult truths and constant change. No wonder, then, that so many heathens are afraid of contending with Loki.

Change tends to make people uncomfortable, and Loki, as a master of ambiguity, often leaves people disquieted, and that is perhaps the main reason that so many people try to force him into this mold of “evil trickster.” But tricksters aren’t inherently evil, and Loki is unique among tricksters.

Loki has been called the closer because He gets things done. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve always viewed Loki as Odin’s shadow. Not his literal shadow, but the one doing the dirty deeds Odin Himself can’t do. Loki can go places that Odin can’t, and He won’t be judged for it – or, rather, His reputation is already in such disarray that He can’t really tarnish it further – and so, Loki can do things that the other gods can’t do.

Loki’s morality is very situational, and I think that is perhaps one of the strongest reasons I am drawn to Him as much as I am. I am drawn to Odin because he represents the ideal, but Loki represents reality. Odin can’t be seen as less than ideal among the gods he leads, as a leader with a tarnished reputation tends to quickly fall out of a leadership role, but Odin knows that it is impossible to do things above-board 100% of the time. That is, I believe, where Loki comes into play.

Even though Loki’s morality may be more situational than Odin’s, I do think that Loki has his own moral code. There are lines that even Loki won’t cross, and I think it’s important to understand what those lines are. He never hurts children, and, while he plays tricks on some of the goddesses, he never hurts them. In fact, except for shredding someone’s dignity, Loki is a fairly non-violent god. I wouldn’t say he’s a peaceful god, however, as he does love to stir things up, and he did play a role in Baldr’s death. He’s not rainbows and sunshine, but he’s not doom and gloom either.

I think, in terms of personality, Loki falls somewhere between the two extremes. Or, rather, he takes the two extremes and bends them and forces them to meet in the middle. He is the master of extremes and adept at creating a middle ground. In some ways, I’d say Loki is not only the god of change and ambiguity, but also the god of compromise.

Still, the question, “Who is Loki?” is not a question easily answered. The truth is, Loki has a million different aspects, and He shows only the aspects that are necessary to each person that approaches Him. The Loki I am familiar with may not be the Loki any other heathen is familiar with because Loki is such a versatile god. That is the real difficulty of following a trickster god – there’s no way to truly define Him, as there’s no way Loki will ever let Himself get pinned down to a single definition.

Loki and Limits

I don’t think I’ve ever explained why I feel so drawn to Loki, aside from the fact that he’s a lot of fun, of course. The first time I really felt drawn to him was the first time I read the Lokasenna (a.k.a. Lokabrenna). Sure, he’s crashing a party and insulting everyone, but the reason he’s crashing the party is because he didn’t receive an invite – an insult of its own. I can’t really blame him for taking offense. But in the Lokasenna, Loki wields the truth as his weapon and gets accused of being a liar. I think this is mostly because Gods and humans alike don’t like having their dirty laundry aired in public – Loki has no qualms about airing it for them.

The draw though, was that he was telling the truth and being called a liar. That is something that I can relate to incredibly well, and I have a few memorable stories to illustrate that fact. When I was young – around 9 or 10, me and my sister were horsing around, and she kicked a ceiling tile loose above the top bunk of our bunk bed. I was honest with my mother, but my sister had lied and said I did it, and then I ended up getting in trouble for lying.

As a child, I used to sprain my ankle a lot, but I’ve never been one that cries when I’m in pain. I used to get called a liar a lot for that. Just to illustrate my level of pain tolerance – I have two metal rods in my right leg from a car accident from ~ten years ago. I was told that I screamed when I got pulled out of the vehicle, but I didn’t cry at all. I did go into shock (thus the not remembering the screaming).

The worst experience I had with being called a liar – I was 22 (about 6 years ago now), and I had gallstones. One night, I was in terrible pain, and I took two Vicodin (then prescribed for the metal rods in my leg) hoping they would help. They didn’t. I sat up all night, unable to sleep. In the morning, when my roommate woke up, I asked her to take me to the hospital. She refused, and it was fairly clear that she didn’t believe I was in as much pain as I said I was. I gave up trying to get her to take me, and I drove myself to the hospital. When I got there, the doctor who saw me rushed me into surgery right away – I had to have my gallbladder removed.

So, I have had quite a few experiences in life where I’ve been accused of lying even when I’ve told the truth. To say I never lie would, of course, be a lie, but I don’t go out of my way to lie. For the most part, I am honest. I’m not even a fan of white lies. Luckily, I’m not often asked for fashion advice, so I don’t have to worry about the “Do I look fat in this?” type of questions. Plus, people generally don’t ask those types of questions anyway.

So, I found myself drawn to Loki because I felt we both had experiences with telling the truth yet being called a liar, and we kind of instantly clicked. I mean, he likes to “steal” my socks (he always gives them back), and that’s not something that anyone but a friend would do. That doesn’t mean Loki lets me get away with lying to myself, though – I think he detests self-deceit more than the other Gods do.

What I find kind of ironic, however, is that I have a natural dislike of boundaries. I hate being told what I can and cannot do. Usually, if someone tells me I can’t do something, I find myself wanting to prove them wrong. That has gotten me into trouble over the years, but it has also gotten me out of some tight spots. The ironic part of this is that I am very good at designing boundaries. I can set rules and create systems that work astonishingly well because I am very, very good at finding the loopholes. Granted, I have trouble making myself abide by the systems that I create, but I have seen first-hand how effective they are with other people (I ran a guild on World of Warcraft for awhile, and I am currently the President of the Global Students Club at my school).

In this way, I feel that I emulate Loki. Because Loki doesn’t have a problem with rules – he just doesn’t obey them. In fact, I think the slogan “Rules were made to be broken” may have originally been a Lokean saying. There are some areas, though, where even Loki won’t break the rules. Except I think that it’s more that he doesn’t see a need to break the rules in those areas than a desire to abide by them. I have areas like that too – I will abide by certain rules until I see a need to break them. Or until the rules start to feel stifling.

I think it’s because of how similar our temperaments are, in some respects, that I find it much easier to relate to Loki than I do some of the other Gods. Loki is also much more actively involved in the human realm – I think he enjoys the human world.

Anyway, that’s my take on Loki, telling the truth, and the irony of limits. I hope I didn’t ramble too much and that all of this made sense! If it didn’t, let me know, and I will be more than willing to clarify.

Discipline: My Interpretation

Here’s my fifth essay regarding the Nine Noble Virtues.

Discipline 

The concept of discipline is a simple one, but self-discipline takes an incredible amount of self-knowledge. I think self-control is the best word to use as a synonym for discipline. Because self-control implies a type of self-knowledge, and it also implies a type of wisdom. It implies an understanding of when to act and when to wait, and it lies between impulse and responsibility. I think discipline is the tightrope we all walk, and I think nearly every person tries to act in a disciplined manner. Not everyone succeeds, of course, but I think disciplined behavior is where honor springs from.

If I decide to act in a certain manner in certain situations, then I must choose to act in that manner in every situation that arises that fits the criteria in order to act with discipline. For example, if I choose to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, even when I disagree with those beliefs, then I must act in a respectful manner towards others without allowing myself to be drawn into a battle of superiority. I must resist the urge to say that my faith is better, and I must allow myself to acknowledge that the other person’s truth is unique to them, and that to respect their truth, I must be respectful of their right to believe as they wish.

To me, that’s a large portion of what it means to act with discipline, but it extends further than faith. If I choose to act with kindness, then I must be kind in order to behave with discipline. If I choose to be courageous, then I must act with courage in order to behave in a disciplined manner. In essence, discipline comes down to being the person I already am, or the person I am trying to become, in reference to the moral code I follow. Thus, the behavior born of discipline eventually becomes the baseline for a person’s honor. To act with honor, a person must behave with discipline. To display discipline is to display honor. The two are linked, and I believe honor and discipline fit like sword in sheath. Without discipline, there is no honor. And no honorable person can act without discipline.