Category Archives: spirituality

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.

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.

Unsettled

I’m keenly aware of the variety of paths people can walk through life and most of those paths don’t unsettle me. I’m referring specifically to pagan paths, by the way – I need to make that distinction, otherwise the number of paths is infinite. (It’s still infinite within paganism, but it is a larger magnitude of infinity… yeah, math terms. Anyway, you get the point).

I’ve had friends who are god-touched, who are god-spouses, who don’t believe in the gods but still practice within a pagan context, and those who believe but don’t get as much one-on-one interaction with the gods. None of that unsettles me. But I came across something today that does unsettle me. There are people out there who adopt the names of the gods – that’s fine. It’s when those people start claiming to also be an aspect of the gods themselves that I start to get sick. Not physically sick, but spiritually.

Because people who claim to be the gods at all times, rather than just an occasional medium for those gods – really upset me. I am not entirely sure why, but as I read more and more written by a man who calls himself Loki (and believes he is Loki), I felt more and more nauseous. At times, the things he had to say made sense to me because what he was writing about jives with what I have learned while walking Loki’s path. Other times, however, the things he would talk about seemed very non-Lokean to me. I tried to wrap my head around it, thinking “okay, maybe this is just another aspect of Loki here,” but I felt spiritually ill even attempting to reconcile what I was reading with my own understanding of Loki.

The only time I ever feel spiritually ill is when something is wrong. And I don’t mean in the sense of something being right or wrong – those are moral guidelines. I mean wrong in the way it feels. There is evil in this world, though few of us care to acknowledge it. And this felt like that. Slimy, inappropriate, disturbing – twisted in a way that is irrecoverable. Someone’s soul gone wrong. 

I don’t know what causes some people’s souls to twist, but it is never pretty to see. Or to feel. That’s what I felt when I was reading this person’s material – a twisted soul. Because there were times where this person, calling himself Loki, would say things that made it obvious that he was power hungry. And Loki, for those unaware of Him, is completely uninterested in gaining power. He doesn’t seem to need more than what He already has, and He seems pretty content with the considerable amount of power He has.

If I had to guess at what caused that person’s soul to twist into what I felt from reading his material, it would be that he allowed himself to be a conduit for Loki for too long. Channeling deities is dangerous – Gods are powerful forces way beyond our control, and there are a lot of people out there who end up hurting themselves by playing around with powers they cannot begin to comprehend. It’s almost like the man, at one point, chose to open himself up to Loki as a medium but he never closed the channel. He never ended the connection, so he started to believe that he actually was Loki, but that isn’t feasible.

From what I know of the Gods, our bodies – human bodies – cannot house Them for long periods of time. Neither can we house other entities for long periods of time. As someone who is naturally capable of being a horse (although I am not fond of this term) – meaning I can handle having deities within me for a certain period of time – I know this first-hand. This horsing, or channeling, doesn’t happen often, and when it ends, I often have mini-seizures afterwards (these are so minute that most people would not recognize them as seizures, just extreme shivering).

If a channeling like that goes wrong, it is possible for a “shard” of a deity to get tangled up with a mortal’s essence, and I shy away from people who claim to be shards of deities. Having a small portion of a deity’s essence inside you can warp your soul and drive you insane.

Even as I’m writing about this, I know that there are many pagans out there who are dabbling in the occult without understanding what they are getting into, especially those who are solitary practitioners. I’ve been world-walking since I was born and I have soul contracts with several entities, not all of them savory beings, that were formed upon the moment of my birth. And it is only because of the soul contracts I share that my own soul hasn’t become twisted. The other worlds are dangerous, yet people set out to walk them without ever considering the consequences.

That is why I try to warn people about following the paths that I do – they aren’t safe. There is no such thing as an easy God to follow, and there is no such thing as a God without immense stores of power. The failure of so many to realize this truth is what scares me. Because while it’s true that the Gods often behave in loving ways, it is also true that they can each act in anger. No God is all love and peace – you can’t have love and peace without their opposites. Life doesn’t exist in a vacuum and balance between chaos and order cannot exist if all that exists is order.

For every person who is gods-touched, there is someone out there who is god-warped. For every devout religious nut-job out there (no matter the faith), there is an equally non-devout atheist. For every good deed done, a bad one is done to keep things balanced. Coming into contact with those who counter-balance us is unsettling, and I think I have the answer as to why coming into contact with that particular person affected me so much.

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.