Category Archives: paganism

Change Always Wins

I’ve been reading through some psychology articles today, trying to figure out why everyone seems so obsessed with labeling people. Apparently, it’s human nature to label things. We like to categorize. As my psychologist (who I see because I have ADHD) put it, “Humans look for patterns, even when none exist.” We weren’t talking about labels that day, but the words fit.

I found another quote that I happen to agree with quite strongly:

“A label is an attempt to assert control and manage uncertainty. It may allow us the security and comfort of a mental closure and encourage us not to think about things again. But life never comes to a closure, life is process, even mystery. Life is known only by those who have found a way to be comfortable with change and the unknown.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D,

I can’t think of a better way to define labels. Once we have a word for something, we stop exploring. We stop asking questions. For those who separate people who self-identify as pagan into multiple subgroups, what you are doing is labeling. You’re basically saying, “Stay on your side of the fence, I’ll stay on mine, and we can ignore each other.”

To me, that seems like an incredibly boring way to live. Never asking questions. Drawing lines. Building fences. I’m reminded of the refugee situation where there are countries building fences to keep Syrian refugees out because those countries are afraid of what it would mean if they admitted those refugees within their borders.

In essence, what they fear the most is change.

Change.

That is the driving force of life. The driving force of evolution. And yet, it is also the process that everyone fears. No one is immune to the fear of change. Some of us have learned to live with that fear, to accept the uncertainty of life. But not everyone has done that.

There are those who cling to their paths with desperate hands, terrified that if they let go for even the breadth of a second, the entire path will crumble before their eyes. It is no wonder, then, that the highest amount of criticism within the pagan community comes from those who feel like they have the most to lose. Because these people haven’t come to terms with their own fears, they project that fear outward, and fear turned outward tends to take the form of anger and aggression

For a long time, I have wondered why there are so many people within the pagan community who seem determined to stir up inner-community conflict by telling people what they can and can’t believe or the ways the can and can’t practice their faith. I feel like I’m finally starting to get a glimpse of the answer.

In Paganism, there are no central tenets, no answers to spiritual questions that are 100% accepted by everyone. There are an infinite number of paths to take and an infinite number of ways to get to each path. The only resources we really have are our clergy, but the truth is, all of our spiritual leaders had to forge their own paths. And none of those leaders will have the same answers as another. There is no central truth.

There is, however, a uniting fact – most of us have come into Paganism after being raised in a monotheistic faith. There are second and third generation pagans now (perhaps even more than that now, in some places), but the influence of monotheism can still be felt. Instead of acknowledging that, however, there are those who wish to cleanse paganism of all types of monotheism while claiming that the original pagans were not monotheists.

I’m sure there will be those who find me rude for saying this, but seriously? Sit up and pay attention. We are the original pagans. The polytheistic cultures of the past did not refer to themselves as pagans. We are the ones throwing that label backwards into the past, trying to make it fit to the cultural spirituality each polytheistic tradition is trying to revive.

If we want to see what a polytheistic religion looks like, the ones we need to learn from are the Hindus. They can explain polytheism better than anyone else in existence. They are the original polytheists. Hindu is one of the oldest religions in the world. They have explored questions we’ve only begun to ask ourselves. The Gods they worship may not be the ones we honor, but they still understand polytheism far better than we will ever hope to.

Instead of being humble, however, and acknowledging that there are people out there with a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a polytheist, there are some people within the pagan community that have allowed their pride to be their guide. There’s a famous Hindu saying “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”

There is an inclusivity in that saying that the pagan community should be striving to emulate. That proverb isn’t condemning the person running around the mountain ridiculing other people’s paths – it is saying that is the only path that wastes time. It doesn’t say that the path isn’t a valid one. Just a longer path.

All paths are valid. When the pagan community as a whole can come to understand this, we will grow by leaps and bounds. Right now, we are still in the adolescent years of paganism. It is no wonder, then, that there are people desperately trying to cling to their sense of identity, trying to avoid change.

But the weird thing about change – the more we try to resist it, the more determined it becomes. Change is the providence of Loki, and He will make things happen. Whether you view Him as a physical God, a primal force, or an archetype – there is no denying change. And no stopping it.

Why I’m Solitary

For a lot of people, being a solitary practitioner is a matter of circumstance. I could easily claim that I live in an area where there are few pagans and even fewer heathens and it be true, but that isn’t the primary reason I practice my faith in solitude.

I see arguments on the internet all the time (and, despite how often we roll our eyes at “internet” arguments, we still all give weight to them, although few of us care to admit to it) about what does and doesn’t make someone heathen. Like there’s some sort of dividing line that separates those who consider themselves heathen into two categories – “heathen” and “not heathen enough.”

And it isn’t something I see just in Heathenry – I see it in Wicca and in Christianity as well. I’m sure it exists in other religions as well, so we’ll include those here as a matter of course. So many times, we use the religion – the faith – that is supposed to unite us and bring us together in a common cause so that we can support one another – to divide ourselves even further. Christianity branches into hundreds of denominations. Wicca has hundreds of traditions. Heathenry has a good dozen or so branches of its own.

Instead of uniting, Christians fight over what is and isn’t correct behavior. Wiccans fight over what is and isn’t proper magick. Heathens fight over what is and isn’t acceptable. No matter what faith we follow, there is fighting over what is and isn’t right in the model we’re using to view the world.

Honestly, I got sick of the in-fighting. I was reading through some of the posts in one of the heathen groups I’m a member of on Facebook, and someone asked whether or not it was acceptable to be a solitary practitioner. The conversation derailed because of the book the original poster shared an image of (one of Galina Krassnova’s books), and the majority of the comments were people talking about how “non-Heathen” she was and how her ideas were poisonous… you get the point.

Other commentators zeroed in on how Heathenry is a tribal religion so you need community in order to be a “real” heathen. I found myself both exasperated and bemused because here was a person saying “You need a tribe to be a heathen,” but doing so in a way that was not very community-oriented.

I’ve stated over and over again that I’m not a re-constructionist, and this is part of the reason why. Creating a tribe or a kindred (whichever name you want to use for it), while respectable, is just forming a group. All of the groups we form are just subgroups within our much larger society – tribes weren’t subgroups. In countries where tribes still exist (and there are a few left, but not many), those tribes make up the entire society. That tribe is the culture.

In our society at large, religion takes a backseat to everyday decision making. Sure, people who make decisions are influenced by their religion, but a person’s church group, coven, or kindred is still only one influence in a person’s life – that person’s life does not depend on abiding by the cultural rules established by said group.

That’s probably the #1 reason I’m not a re-constructionist – in my mind, it’s ridiculous to try to recreate conditions exactly the way they were in the past. Learn from them and be inspired by them – don’t try to recreate them. Use the good practices as inspiration for the foundation, but don’t let the past be the only thing guiding your actions. Evolution is a constant process – going backwards is idiocy.

I’m aware that not everyone shares my views, and I accept that. I’m okay with other people choosing to walk a different path. I can respect other worldviews without having to give up my own principles.

Another problem people have with my views (here I become someone who falls on the “not Heathen enough” side of the line) is that I believe in living, changing Gods that interact with us on a personal level. In the same post I mentioned, there were commentators ridiculing the idea that the Gods ever interact with individuals and stating that only the ancestral spirits and wights interact with people. As someone who is God-touched (I am quite literally “plagued” with the presence of the divine and can fall into a seer’s trance on the drop of a dime), I just rolled my eyes at this comment.

For some reason, there are people out there who have this idea that Gods are distant and disinterested. While that is true for some of the Gods, that isn’t true for all of them. Loki is the most social God I have ever met, and I see the way He influences the world everyday. On the other hand, Tyr is one of the most reserved Gods I have ever met, and in the five years I’ve been honoring the Nordic Gods, I’ve only personally interacted with Him three times.

Just like people are different, Gods are different. Not every God will be interested in every person (for some reason, Thor and I have never really gotten along. It feels like he tolerates me more than anything else, and the one time I tried to wear a Mjollnir necklace, the chain broke within a month). That’s okay. Not all of us are meant to walk the same path, and Thor’s path is obviously not the right choice for me. Which, in retrospect, makes sense, considering that the main paths I walk are the paths of Loki, Odin, Tyr, Freyr, Freyja, and Sigyn. (Conversely, I’ve been wearing the same Valknut necklace for almost two years and have had zero problems).

My personal interaction with the Gods is the primary reason I am a solitary practitioner. If the majority of Heathens were more open-minded about personal gnosis, I would not be solitary. The Gods have told me repeatedly that I should take up the mantle of priestess-hood, considering how easy it is for me to world-walk. Most people would never accept some of the things the Gods have told me as truths (such as Freyr as the dragon king), and I’m not the type of person who feels it is the right course of action to try to force other people into believing what I say as being the truth.

So, for now, I’ll stick with being a solitary practitioner, and I’ll write about the truths the Gods reveal to me as they reveal themselves. That’s all I can really do right now, considering the lack of hospitality some heathens seem to take pride in showing towards those who do not believe as they do.

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.

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.