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Self-Reliance: My Interpretation

Here’s my ninth essay on the Nine Noble Virtues.

Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is a difficult concept for me to discuss because it encompasses every part of my life. I read a lot, so I get an idea of what other people view self-reliance as being, but I don’t always agree with other people. Actually, I frequently disagree with others, and I find myself constantly re-evaluating my decisions and thoughts, trying to find a middle ground because I am good at jumping to extremes. It is because I am so prone to jumping to extremes that I search so hard for the middle ground – it is a skill I’ve had to practice, and I don’t always succeed at finding it until someone points it out to me.

From what I’ve gathered, others tend to view self-reliance as financial reliance, but I don’t care much about money and never have. If I had to place myself in a socioeconomic class, I would be considered impoverished because the only job I work is the work study I do at my school (which pays around $200-$250 a month due to the limitations placed on it), and I draw food stamps to pay for my groceries. Most of the money I make goes to gas because I still live at home with my dad – in a house that has been in my family for five generations. If I were to conform to society’s standards, I should be ashamed that I live at home, that I work a low end job, that I draw support from the government – and sometimes I do feel shame, but that doesn’t stop me from living the life I have.

The thing is, I view financial self-reliance as a means to an end. If you’re rich, then you have luxuries like sports cars, fancy entertainment systems, etcetera. Money is the fuel for luxurious living, not a means to living. Obtaining government support so that I can eat every month is a decision I made on my own without input from anyone else. Not to work more than forty hours a month at a work study job while I’m in school – another decision I made for myself. Because I know that even with the low income I have right now, I have the things that matter – I have a roof over my head, a car that runs (necessary since I live 14 miles from town), and friends/family I care about. I don’t intend to stay in this financial situation forever – I’m enrolled in school for a reason. But I don’t look at money as something that determines whether or not I’m self-reliant.

Self-reliance, in my mind, deals more with emotional, mental, and spiritual issues. If I make a decision, I commit myself to that decision. I was having a discussion earlier today with someone who jokingly said “Commitments are made to be broken.” That’s not something I felt comfortable joking about, so I replied seriously – “No. Commitments are made to be honored.” Because that, to me, is the way I live. If I say I’m going to do something, I will do it. My word is my bond, and I have to trust myself to honor my word. Self-trust is not something that comes easily to anyone, and having ADHD as I do makes it more difficult for me than most.

I believe self-reliance comes from self-trust and self-knowledge and neither of those are gained through easy methods. Taking the time to really get to know the way your own mind works, to understand what works for you and what doesn’t, to decide whether or not you will be swayed by the opinions of the people that surround you – all of that builds up and forges the foundation of a personality – experience does the rest. I’ve dealt with a lot of hardship in my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to lay down and let myself be defeated. The world isn’t an easy place to live, and if it were, living wouldn’t be worth doing.

Self-doubt and self-reliance seem like polar opposites but they go hand-in-hand. There’s not a single person out there who doesn’t doubt the decisions they make, but at some point, we have to decide whether we trust ourselves more than we doubt ourselves. I believe that it’s when we reach a point of extreme self-doubt and yet choose to trust ourselves anyways, no matter the consequences of our decision – that’s when self-reliance is truly forged. Of course, that’s just the beginning. Because the big decisions in our lives are always fueled by that extreme self-doubt, so I feel that a developed sense of self-reliance only comes from a heavy experience of self-doubt during the decisions we must make throughout our lives.

Note: I spent May 6-May 20 in Canada, so that’s why I haven’t posted anything until now, for those of you who are wondering.

Perseverance: My Interpretation

Here’s my eighth essay on the Nine Noble Virtues.

Perseverance

Perseverance is interesting because it’s the “get up no matter how many times you get knocked down” attitude towards life. That isn’t easy to do, and Asatru isn’t an easy path to follow. The Norse Gods, I’ve learned, aren’t easy to follow, and it can be tempting to give into the world around me, the world that screams oppression from almost every corner. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with, but perseverance is what carries me through it. Because even though the Norse Gods are hard to follow, they are worth following.

There are a lot of heathens out there who swear by reconstructionist philosophies, and I’ve been told by a few people that I can’t be a true Asatruar because I’m not a reconstructionist. The idea that there is one right way to be heathen doesn’t sit well with me, and I feel like a lot of Christian ideology has snuck into Asatru that doesn’t belong there. The idea that a person has to believe a certain way to be considered a “true” heathen disturbs me – pagan faiths are supposed to be inclusive. Not exclusive. But here, it is the people of the faith acting exclusive, and not the Gods themselves.

I have issues with reconstructionism because I feel that it’s not really possible to reconstruct a religion. I think you can take the basis of what is left and build something new, expand upon that foundation, but I don’t think that it’s wise to go backwards. From my experiences with heathens, it seems that a lot of Asatruar want to focus solely on the historical aspects of our faith. And I see nothing wrong with that, not until someone tells me I’m not a “true” heathen because I happen to disagree with the reconstructionist model. I don’t enjoy the idea of a static faith, one stuck in the past.

Honor the past, yes. We should definitely do that. As my mom was fond of saying, “Those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.” So the knowledge is important, but the paths we derive from that knowledge don’t need to be the same ones taken by our ancestors. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to honor our ancestors is to derive from the path they took during their lifetime. Here, I speak from personal experience because my mother was an alcoholic – an extreme one. So extreme, actually, that she passed away when I was fifteen because of her lifestyle choices. If I chose her path, that would dishonor her memory.

Now, I’m not saying reconstructionist is a bad path. I don’t think it is. I think it’s one path among many, and I think people tend to forget that Asatru and pagan faiths in general aren’t about who’s more right than someone else – that’s the Christian ideology that seems to cling to every pagan faith. Erasing it will take time, and the stain may never wash out. Because Christianity is ingrained into American culture – seriously, it’s impossible to escape dealing with a reference to the Christian God for even a single day. I’ve tried, and it’s just not possible. Someone or something always points it out, even if it’s in a subtle way.

And it’s understandable, since Christianity is America’s most followed religion, that we see it everywhere. Following a minority religion when there is so much pressure from that faith to convert requires a strong heart, a strong mind, unshakeable belief in the Norse Gods, and a great deal of perseverance. A lot of pagans don’t like to talk about the fact that Christianity is so prevalent, or even voice the fact that they struggle with the pressure that faith exerts, but honesty is necessary between us all if we are ever going to find a way to crawl out from underneath the oppressive hand of the Christian faith.

Industriousness: My Interpretation

Here’s my seventh essay on the Nine Noble Virtues.

Industriousness 

It’s interesting that industrious ends up being the essay I write today, of all days, considering how much work I’ve done today. Industriousness is the willingness to work hard at the tasks at hand. But it goes deeper than that. I don’t think industriousness is just hard work because anyone can work hard – I think it’s hard work with a good attitude. Being negative while working sets a bad example, so I think it’s important to do the best I can to be positive when I work. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I do my best to maintain a positive attitude.

Today was interesting, though. I ended up having quite a bit of work to do. At my job, I ended up replacing some old documents and taking inventory, which took around an hour and a half. Since I do a work study, I don’t have many hours of work, so I did that and left to go discuss my math homework with my teacher. I’m currently taking precalculus, and we just started the unit on conic sections, and it’s a little bit difficult to grasp. I’m confident I will understand it, though, as long as I work at it until it “clicks.”

After that, I ran into my friend, Holly, who had just taken a Stats test. She asked if I wanted to get lunch, and I agreed, so I had a nice lunch break with her and helped her de-stress a little. She has pretty bad test anxiety, even though she understands the subject fine, and a break from schoolwork was exactly what she needed.

When I got back from my lunch break, I finished up my last hour of work for the day, then headed to my precalculus class. I struggled through the lab the teacher assigned, but I kept at it until I finished it. Then I went to Spanish, and we never really do much in my Spanish class, so that was fine.

Afterwards, I went to the Academic Support Center (or tutoring place) with Ben, my co-president in the Global Students Club. We spent three hours coming up with the fall schedule for our club and creating flyers and infographics for the Spring Fling tomorrow. Even though it was a lot of work, I had a lot of fun working on the stuff for the club. We have a lot of fun events planned for the fall semester, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things turn out.

I’ve also been working pretty diligently on this blog, and, thus, my own spiritual studies, though I hesitate to call them something so serious. But I have fun with it, which is the real point I’m making here. Work doesn’t have to be serious – it can also be fun. I think that’s also true about spiritual work, and, in fact, I think that it’s almost required.

I actually have to work at having fun sometimes because I can get way too serious – I actually had a friend tell me that she wanted to call me Serene Moon (back in elementary school when we were all obsessed with Mercedes Lackey books) because I was always brooding. I think it’s a little ironic, that I have to work at having fun, but I mean, hey – life wouldn’t be life if it wasn’t full of ironic twists and turns.

 

Hospitality: My Interpretation

Here’s my sixth essay on the Nine Noble Virtues.

Hospitality

To be hospitable is to be respectful. Hospitality is the willingness to share what we can afford to share with others. In some ways, it’s a sacrifice of the self for the good of the whole. Since Asatru puts a very high value on community, acting in a way that benefits the community is necessary.

Some people assume that hospitality refers to just their immediate in-groups, but I think hospitality refers to people in general. If I meet someone new, then I am not going to make assumptions about them, not on any front. And I’m not going to judge them based on the choices they’ve chosen to take in life. I may ask about them, in order to learn what path they have walked, and, perhaps, learn something in the process. But I do my best to stay respectful.

I think, in a lot of ways, that American society has taught us to be cruel without realizing our cruelty. I’ve heard teachers laugh at certain students when they talk about certain types of dreams, and it saddens me. Because why laugh at someone else’s dream? There is no kindness in that, and there is no respect.

Hospitality means reserving judgment. If someone tells me that their dream is to become a famous athlete, politician, writer, or anything else, why should I laugh at their dreams? At their aspirations? Even if it’s a hard truth that few people ever aspire to their dreams, why should I actively seek to disparage dreamers? The truth is, none of us know who will and won’t achieve their dreams. Some of us aren’t even sure what it is we seek in life, and we wander down many paths, just waiting for something to click.

I think that’s part of the reason I follow Odin. He is the wanderer, after all. Restless in spirit, always moving around, always learning something new – I connect with him on an incredibly deep level, and I don’t always have the words I need to say the things I mean. I sometimes read the forums on Asatru Lore, just to see what’s going on there, and I came across a post the other day about a guy asking how to spell the word “Outsider” in runes for a tattoo. He got a lot of backlash from the community. A lot of people told him that to brand himself as an outsider was to reject community, and that if they ever saw him, they would instantly avoid him.

The response I saw made me incredibly sad because no one really tried to understand where he was coming from. No one really tried to discover the story he had to tell, or uncover the reason why he felt like such an outsider he wanted to brand himself as one. They just pointed out that it isn’t very “heathen” to be an outsider, since heathens are very community focused. None of what they were saying was technically wrong, but it wasn’t a very respectful way to act. The poster even commented on how he was being disrespected (and he was), but the reply to his comment was that he couldn’t come onto an internet board and expect respect, that respect is earned.

That is, frankly speaking, bullshit. Not the part about respect being earned – it is earned. But as the old saying goes, “Give respect to get respect.” Just because the method of communication was via an internet forum, it seems people think it gives them a license to act without considering the fact the person on the other side is human.

Hospitality has to extend to all realms, whether it’s in our own homes, in our communities, or over the internet. Respect should be given to everyone until they do or say something that warrants the loss of that respect. If a person comes into my home, then I am going to offer them drink and refreshment. If someone at my school asks me for help, then I am going to try to help them, if I am able to do so. And if someone asks for advice on an internet forum, I am going to be honest but tactful about how the phrasing comes out. Because we are all human, and we all view the world in different ways. And I, personally, feel that it is vital that we respect the differences that define us. To me, that is the soul of hospitality.

Fidelity: My Interpretation

Here’s the 4th of my essays on the 9 Noble Virtues.

Fidelity 

To me, fidelity is loyalty. Loyalty to family, to friends, to the Gods I follow. I don’t always agree with my friends or family, and I don’t get along with all the Gods. But disagreements are common in all families, whether those families are blood families, friend families, or god families. And when I disagree with someone in any of my families, I still always acknowledge that my ties to them, my loyalty to them, is more important than the argument.

I’ve never understood how families can estrange themselves. How parents can disown their children or how children can refuse to talk to their parents for years. Perhaps that’s because I lost my mother when I was 15. Perhaps her loss taught me just how much family matters. Because even though there were things I hated about her, like her alcoholism, I still loved her. She was still my mother.

I’ve had friends, over the years, who were estranged from their parents for various reasons, and I always tried to encourage them to eliminate that distance without blatantly interfering. It’s not my place to decide which path another person walks, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly wrap my head around complete estrangement from family.

Family is incredibly important to me, despite the difficulties I’ve faced throughout my life that are directly tied to my family. But those difficulties aren’t the only things that define my relationship with my family. There is a lot more than that, but I don’t know how to express the depth or complexity of my family dynamics without writing a book, and I’m not sure I’m ready to write a book about my life just yet – even though my grandmother keeps urging me to write one.

But I have more ties than just familial ones. There are also the ties I have to my friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but my real friends are like family to me. If they need me, I’m there, even if I’m in the middle of my own problems. My friends are the people who have seen me at my worst and at my best and have stuck around. To me, that is what defines loyalty. Not a lack of disagreements, but the ability to compromise and move past them. And I have three incredibly close friends, despite the fact we all live incredibly far away from one another, that I trust completely. I’m reminded of the verse in the Havamal that reads:

“Crooked and far | is the way to a foe,

Though his house on the highway be;

But wide and straight | is the way to a friend,

Though far away he fare.”

That’s verse 34 of the Havamal and it comes from the Henry Adams Bellows translation, which happens to be my preferred translation of the Poetic Edda. And I agree with the sentiment, since two of my closest friends live in different countries, and the third lives 18 hours away from me. The distance doesn’t matter, though, as the four of us have been close for five years. Distance, time – all those things are relative.

As well as family and friends, my loyalty to the Gods is an important aspect of my life. I can and will discuss my faith with anyone, even when doing so is a little bit scary. A couple weeks ago, at work, a man came in and started basically going on and on about Jesus – a total zealot. I listened to him patiently for about 30 minutes because he just talked on and on without giving anyone a chance to say anything. But when I found an opening, I told him that I have a lot of respect for people who are dedicated to their own path, but that I wasn’t Christian. When I told him I was pagan, he turned around and left, but I didn’t hide it. One of my co-workers, who was standing beside me and heard the whole thing, told me she was glad that I spoke up about my beliefs. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

And I’ve had other interesting encounters. At one of my previous jobs, I was reading a book on the history of the Vikings, and a co-worker came up to me and asked why I was reading the book. I told her that I was reading it because it pertained to my faith, and I explained what my faith was. She instantly started trying to witness to me, but it stopped her cold when I told her that I’d read the Bible all the way through, and that Christianity didn’t appeal to me. She was incredulous that I’d read the Bible and wasn’t Christian, and she kept trying to push the faith on me, until I finally asked her if she had read the book. When she said no, I told her that if she wanted to continue the conversation, she needed to go read the Bible herself before trying to witness to me. Later that day, I found out that she had never met someone who wasn’t either Christian or an atheist before, and it really shook up her worldview. I was pretty amused when I found that out, of course, because by being honest, I acted as a catalyst for her to realize the world wasn’t as black and white as she thought.

And that’s what I try to do – I try to behave in ways I feel emulate the Gods I follow. I see Odin as a warrior scholar, so I do a lot of research and I also have firm opinions. I’m willing to defend myself if I ever have need to, and I do defend myself when the need arises – even if the battle is just one of wits. I see Loki as a catalyst for change and the seeker of buried truths, so I keep my mind as open as possible, trying to look at things from every perspective without allowing other people’s opinions or beliefs to define my own. Tyr I see as a noble warrior who mediates without flinching if his own well-being comes into the process. And these are the three paths I mainly attempt to walk, though I am slowly learning other paths as well. That’s the truly difficult part of being a polytheist – there’s no way to walk a single path, not when the path of each God is different.

So fidelity, for me, is walking the paths the Gods have set before me, staying true to my friends, and staying true to my family. In my mind, this is probably the simplest of the nine virtues, but loyalty, to spite its seeming simplicity, is actually incredibly complex. Because it’s not always easy to stay loyal to your friends, your family, or the Gods you follow. No wonder, then, that oaths, once made, are so heavily weighed.  

 

Truth: My Interpretation

Here’s my third essay on the Nine Noble Virtues, this time discussing Truth.

Truth

Truth is a relative concept, especially in matters of faith. What I believe to be true, others believe to be false, and vice versa. In this regard, I believe it’s better to accept everyone’s beliefs as valid, even if I don’t agree with them. When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a friend once, and I ended up telling her that I believed every path was valid. That every path leads to the same destination, so it doesn’t matter which faith you follow – nothing can be proven true or false, so everything might as well be true.

I’ve never been able to properly explain that belief because it’s incredibly complex, despite how simple it seems. I’ve had people ask me how it’s possible for every path to be true when certain faiths teach that only one path is correct. That isn’t a question I can really answer, but I still think all faiths are viable paths through life. I think that we all choose our own paths through life, though, and I feel it’s important to respect the decisions other people make.

I recognized a long time ago that my truth is not everyone else’s truth, and I have accepted that. There are billions of people in the world, and if we all walked the same path, life would be incredibly boring. And I don’t want to live in a boring world – I think we can all agree on that.

I’ve also learned, however, that my beliefs are rather unique. I’ve yet to meet another person who sees the world the way I do, and that’s actually pretty awesome. Because that means I have met a lot of people who see the world in ways I don’t, and I love seeing how other people see the world.

I follow Asatru, but I’m not a reconstructionist. A lot of people have jumped on me for daring to claim that faith when I don’t believe in Reconstructionism, but Asatru is so much more than just rebuilding a religion to me. I could easily say Norse Paganism, but that isn’t as accurate.

The main issue with reconstruction, for me, is that history and archaeology, despite how fascinating they are, require a lot of guesswork. Educated guesswork, sure, but guesswork all the same. I would personally prefer not to base my own practices on guesswork. In a way, I guess, I let intuition guide me.

And that’s probably because I spent ten years as an eclectic pagan before I ever discovered Asatru – well, I should say before it discovered me. I met a Heathen for the first time when I was 22, and we started discussing worldviews, and after that, I started having incredibly powerful dreams. Dreams that were directly linking me to Odin and the Norse Gods. It was the first time, in my entire pagan experience, that I’d felt the call of a particular pantheon so strongly.

Still, I wasn’t about to abandon everything I’d believed for ten years and embrace a completely new faith. I did research, and I learned that most of my beliefs fit within the Asatru framework. Everything except the reconstructionist part, but I’ve never believed in reconstruction. As I said, history and archaeology is just educated guesswork, and historical accounts can’t always be trusted – my experience with the school system has taught me that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like learning about the history – it just means I take everything with a grain of salt, and if I agree with something, I adopt it. If I don’t, I do further research into it, and if I still don’t find it relevant for me, I discard it.

In any case, I believe our truths define us. When someone asks me what I believe and are looking for a more in-depth answer, I’m always forced to tell them that it’s complicated. Because to other people, my beliefs seem to contradict themselves. I’ll try to explain, but I have yet to find a way to properly articulate this, so bear with me.

I follow the Norse pantheon, but I believe that all Gods that could exist do exist – I just don’t follow all of them. I believe that the Gods are real entities, but I also believe they are the embodiment of different concepts, and each God embodies more than one concept. For example, Odin is the embodiment of wisdom, poetry, travel, etc. Loki is the embodiment of change, of catalysts, of fire, of laughter… etc. Tyr is the embodiment of balance, harmony, honor, courage…etc. And I could go on for each of the Gods and Goddesses, but that’s the general gist of it.

Then there’s the fact that I believe in one unifying cosmic source. That the Gods and Goddesses all spring from the cosmic source and are aspects of that source, split into many pieces in order to make it easier for people to comprehend that source. That’s probably the most difficult thing to explain to people because while I’m a polytheist, I’m also a pantheist and animist. The idea that the universe is everything in one and one in everything is a pantheistic idea, and a lot of people assume that pantheism and polytheism are incompatible. For others, I’m sure that’s true. For me, it works.

And that, to me, is what truth is. Truth is relative. Everyone views the world in a different light, and we all have our own truths. My truths are not going to be the same as someone else’s truths, and I’m okay with that. Truth is not only a singular concept but also a plural one. There can be one truth, but there can also be many truths. Otherwise it wouldn’t be possible for so many different faiths proclaiming so many different truths to exist in the world. Truth is relative to who each person is individually, to the way a person is raised, and to the culture that a person belongs to. We are a complex species. So, too, are our truths.

Honor: My Interpretation

Here’s my second essay on the Nine Noble Virtues, the one on Honor.

Honor

Honor is probably the most difficult of all of the virtues to define because it is such an intangible idea. Socrates said “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be,” and I think that captures honor – the way I understand it – pretty well.

Every society has its own view of morality, and staying true to the moral code or ethical code is generally perceived as being honorable. But I think that honor is more than that – I think it has to be more than that, as the moral code our society embraces is not always one I view as being honorable.

For me, being honorable is equivalent to being trustworthy and worthy of the respect you gain through your own efforts. It is an essential quality of life, and I think if you replace the word “honor” with “respect” the idea becomes a little easier to grasp. Respect is something we earn through our deeds – as is honor. And to defend the reputation we gain after establishing that respect is required if we wish to maintain that respect.

But we all wear a mask. We all pretend to be something – a particular quality, perhaps, like honest, or trustworthy. And it may start out as pretense, or as an exercise to try and better ourselves. The pursuit of self-improvement is an honorable one, and, if we maintain the pretense long enough, it starts to become our truth. The idea that we can “fake it til we make it,” seems like a cop-out, but it isn’t.

Like any muscle must be worked in order to keep it from atrophying, we must work our moral muscles as well. If we wish to be honest people, then we must practice being honest. If we wish to be kind, then we must practice being kind. If we wish to be noble, then we must practice being noble. Our species is one that learns by mimicking others.

If we grow up watching others steal, then we admire thievery and seek to establish ourselves as thieves. If we grow up watching others lie, then we admire deceit and seek to establish ourselves as great manipulators. But if we grow up watching others be honest, then we learn to admire honesty and seek to establish ourselves as truth-tellers. If we grow up watching others be kind, then we learn to admire kindness, and seek to establish ourselves as compassionate.

Honor, therefore, is a very personal thing. What I view as an honorable act may seem dishonorable to someone else because we had vastly different learning experiences growing up, and thus value different actions. For example, a person who has developed a reputation as a great thief will put his honor on the line for a great heist – if he fails, then his reputation (and thus his honor) is destroyed, but if he succeeds, he becomes even more of a legend. For a great detective, catching such a thief will allow him to maintain his honor, but failing to do so will destroy his reputation.

So honor is different for every person – we all view morality in different lights. On my part, I admire great teachers, and I aim to become a great teacher myself, after obtaining the necessary education. But I’ve already started to build a reputation as a good teacher because I teach my classmates when they need help, and I’ve established a trust with them. I can easily lose that trust if I fail to adhere to my own understanding of what makes a teacher a good one.

And that’s an important fact about honor – it can be gained, maintained, and lost easily. It takes effort to maintain a good reputation, and if a person’s not willing to put in the work required to create a good reputation or maintain it after it’s achieved, then the honor is lost. Respect is lost. And once you lose someone’s respect, part of your honor is destroyed, and there’s no real way to repair that rift.

Courage: My Interpretation

For awhile now, I’ve been looking for a really good program of study for Asatru. I’ve read the Poetic Edda, the Norse myths, and some of the Sagas. I’ve also tried to read some of the historical texts, but I never really felt like I was doing anything productive. And then I happened to stumble across this study program. I like the way it’s set up, and I like that it’s a program designed to be done at  your own pace.

Still, I never even thought about starting with the Nine Noble Virtues. Probably because they seem so basic. But I am going to start following this program and see where it leads. So here’s my first essay. I doubt that the designer of the program intended for each virtue to have its own in-depth essay, but I personally feel like each virtue deserves its own special recognition.

Courage 

Courage is the willingness to put everything on the line. It is the willingness to stand up and say, “This is who I am, this is what I believe,” and refuse to give in. It takes courage to be honest, and it takes courage to face life head-on. One of the quotes I was inspired by, growing up, was the quote “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” I don’t know who first said this, but I’ve found it to be an ample guide throughout my life. And I think it speaks to courage more than it does truth because the quote itself expresses fear. Being honest takes courage. Living up to your own ideals takes courage. Refusing to bend to the will of the masses takes courage. Everything in life takes courage.

Another one of my favorite quotes about courage is: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear,” said by Nelson Mandela. To me, this is exactly what courage is. Everyone is afraid of something. I have fears that I come face to face with every day. Fear is, perhaps, an intrinsic part of the human condition. I feel like I’ve been forced to confront fear on a daily basis since I was very young. I grew up in a house where my mother’s mood swings were unpredictable, and I was always terrified of her when she was in a bad mood. Especially because those moods were exacerbated by her drinking. I always felt like I was walking on glass around her, never knowing when I was going to find a shard stuck in my foot. I read, somewhere, that people who grow up around alcoholics grow up in a war zone, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.

Growing up in that kind of environment, I had to learn how to survive. And I did. I learned that the best way to avoid being hit was to blend in. To never question my mother’s decisions, even though the lack of understanding I felt tore me up inside. I learned to stay on the “good side” of authority figures because that’s what I learned to do in order to survive. Stepping out of that role, out of that structure, was terrifying for me. But I still did it. And I didn’t do it because I felt a need to stand out or be different. I stepped out of the structure I was in because I realized it didn’t work for me. When my mom died, I no longer needed to survive. Instead, I was free to live my life. For the first time, I could live the way I chose to live without being absolutely terrified all the time.

Stepping out of a situation like that is difficult for anyone, so it was difficult for me. I didn’t grow up with a firm grounding in Christianity, but I was raised Christian. Insomuch as a person who goes to Vacation Bible School every summer can really be raised Christian. Breaking away from Christianity wasn’t difficult for me – I did that when my mom was still alive. She always encouraged me to find my own truths – up until they didn’t mesh with what she believed in, of course. I had a friend who practiced witchcraft when I was 10 years old, and when my mom found out that he’d been teaching me, she told me that I wasn’t allowed to do anything like that because it was “devil’s work.”

My mom was agnostic, but she obviously had a lot of Christian morals. So it’s no surprise she forbade me to practice witchcraft, but she didn’t care if I read fantasy novels. When the Harry Potter books came out and people made a big deal out of them being “of the devil,” my mom scoffed at that and let me read them. Everything about her confused me. On one hand, she was okay with magic, but on the other, it was evil.

Anyway, I decided to attend Sunday school once, and that was all it took. At first, the lesson was a good one – that people are judged on the basis of their deeds – but it quickly turned sour. The lesson quickly turned into a “but only if you’re Christian” one, and I hated it. I hated the idea of exclusivity so much I decided, that very afternoon, that I was going to be an atheist. That lasted for a few weeks until I met a Jehovah’s Witness and started speaking to her. When my mom found out about that, I had to be really secretive about my friendship with the girl, but I quickly learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in Hell. I also quickly learned that they really hated pagans.

I wanted to know who these pagans were that had inspired such hatred, so I started doing research. I needed to see for myself if this hatred was justified. I was surprised, of course, that everything I read seemed to point at exactly the opposite. In fact, paganism was life-affirming, and most paths were nature-based. So I immediately stopped discussing theology with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I poured myself into studying everything I could about paganism. I couldn’t get enough. I don’t think I ever told my mom. I’d finally found a life path that made sense for me, and I didn’t want to share it with anyone. I finally had my own identity.

It wasn’t until a decade passed that I found myself exploring Asatru. I tried Wicca for three months, and discarded it. Instead, I took up the mantle of eclectic pagan, and I pulled from every source imaginable. I did exactly what I’d been told NOT to do my entire life – I made my own “Bible.” I defined my own morality, set my own compass, and let life guide me. I was always questioning my decision, though, to throw off the Christian mantle. I wondered if I hadn’t been too hasty, considering I’d been all of 12 years old when I decided Christianity wasn’t my thing.

So I tried it out again, just to see. I went to some churches, and I read the Bible – all of it. I even did some study groups, and I tried to convince myself that Christianity made sense. But the more I read, the more wrong it felt. And I realized, finally, that I could never be happy being Christian. I wish, sometimes, that I could be happy being docile, because then at least I’d have a large community to belong to. The idea of having my own group is incredibly important to me, but I know I can’t be happy in the Christian faith – I’ve already tried.

I rejected Christianity because I was never happy in that faith. I always felt stifled, constricted – I read somewhere that Christianity promotes weakness, and I have to agree with that. The idea that someone else is responsible for my actions, that there is some “devil” that plagues me with ills – that is the very definition of fear. And rather than live under the yoke of that fear, I broke free of it. To do that, when I live in the middle of a Bible Belt, took more courage than I can recount here. To this day, I get nervous when people ask me what the Valknut around my neck means, but I always, always tell them the truth. When I swore myself to Odin, I knew exactly what it meant, and I have never refused to give him the honor he deserves. I always acknowledge him, even when I am shaking in fear that the person who has asked is going to mock me – or worse.

Odin’s Path: Wearing the Valknut

The Valknut is a symbolic representation of Odin. It has two other names – Hrungnir’s Heart and the Knot of the Slain. The reason the Valknut is known as Hrungnir’s Heart is that the Prose Edda mentions a legend that claims Hrungnir, a frost giant, had a heart as strong as stone that ended in three sharp points. It’s generally assumed that the Valknut and Hrungnir’s heart is the same symbol, so general consensus wins out on this issue for me.

For anyone who doesn’t know what the Valknut is, this is the symbol:

Image result for Hrungnir's Heart

A lot of mystery surrounds the Valknut, and it is known as the “Knot of the Slain” because those who wear it tend to die violent deaths. The idea that a piece of jewelry could cause you to die is ridiculous (unless it’s cursed, of course), and the Valknut isn’t cursed.

The truth is, the Valknut is Odin’s symbol – only those who follow Odin’s path specifically will wear this symbol. All Asatru/Heathen (whatever you want to call yourself) will pay homage to Odin, but there aren’t people lining up outside Odin’s door saying “Hey, your path looks nice and comfy. Let me have some fun and try it out!”

Odin’s path isn’t simple, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Odin’s path demands self-sacrifice – the part Odin plays in the mythology practically shouts that. But it is also a path of leadership, and leadership often requires you to make ruthless decisions that tear you apart. Leading has rewards, of course, but leadership is not easy.

Odin’s path is that of challenge. In quite a few of the myths, Odin goes out to wander the world in order to test himself against opponents – he wants to know where he stands in the world, and so, in that way, walking is path is walking towards self-identification through competition. Not only does Odin put challenges before you, but you are encouraged to seek challenge out yourself. A challenge isn’t necessarily a physical battle – there are other types of challenges, after all, and Odin is especially fond of wit-matching challenges. You definitely see that in the way he pits himself against Loki, Thor, and others in the lays of the Poetic Edda.

Challenge, of course, is where the real difficulty of walking Odin’s path comes in. Because challenges upset people. No one likes to lose, and there are a lot of sore losers in the world. Dangerous fights break out; people die. There are also people who choose to walk Odin’s path without truly understanding the path that they are committing themselves to walking. Odin’s path is probably one of the hardest paths to walk because walking it requires putting yourself out there where the world can make or break you.

The biggest danger people face when they choose to walk Odin’s path is that a lot of people misunderstand Odin. Odin is a warrior scholar, and it’s when you can wrap those two concepts together instead of separating them that he begins to make more sense. But then you have to throw in the fact that he’s also a god of magic, and well, chaos ensues.

This is why I personally believe that walking Odin’s path and Loki’s path together is necessary. Loki teaches you how to handle chaos. He throws change at you from every direction and says “here, catch,” and you adapt or die. In contrast, Odin teaches you how to prepare yourself for the unpredictable by educating yourself to the best of your ability. Odin teaches you how to face Loki, and Loki teaches you how to please Odin. After all, chaos is almost guaranteed when you start to seek out challengers (whatever type they may be).

So how does this all tie back to the Valknut? Well, that’s the easy part. The Valknut is the “Knot of the Slain” because Odin’s followers tend to die violent deaths. Odin’s followers don’t die violent deaths because of the Valknut. They die violent deaths because they follow Odin, and the only way to get into Odin’s hall, Valhalla, is to die in battle.

So while donning a Valknut won’t kill you, you shouldn’t wear one if you don’t plan to walk Odin’s path. Symbols are powerful, and the Valknut is an ancient symbol. It’s best to be respectful of ancient symbols – after all, runes are ancient symbols too, and they hold incredible power.

Now, I’m not trying to scare anyone away from Odin. I just happen to be an intense person, and I really want people to think about what they are doing before they give an oath to follow a God that they may regret. Because oaths to Gods – well, you don’t break those easily. And Gods don’t forgive easily, either. Better to know what you’re getting into before you get stuck.

As for me, I’m ready to take the next step – I am ready to transition from a Valknut pendant to a Valknut tattoo, once I can afford the ink. The Valknut is meant to be inked onto your skin. For a man, the Valknut should be worn above the heart – according to ancient lore. Women, on the other hand, shouldn’t get tattoos on their breasts. I don’t know why this is, and I wish I had the source for it now so I could share it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the link. When I do get it inked, I may get it on the back of my right hand. And, at the same time I get the Valknut, I will also get Jormungand around my wrist.

Tats aside, there’s an easy way to figure out whether you are fit for Odin’s path. Buy a Valknut pendant. Wear it for a month. See if you can handle what happens afterwards. And, until you are certain you can handle a life like that, don’t swear yourself to Odin. After all, Odin is the chieftain of all the other gods. If you piss him off, who are you going to turn to? Some might feel like being smart here and saying “Loki,” but I’ll tell you one important thing everyone should know about Loki – he doesn’t like being second choice. That’s why, for me, Odin and Loki are equivalent gods, and I try to dedicate myself to walking both of their paths as evenly as I can. It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t be following Odin and Loki if I wanted an easy path to walk.

Now, in conclusion, I’d like to share one of Michaela Macha’s poems, all of which can be found on the Odin’s Gift website. As a quick reference note, “valknot” is an alternative spelling of valknut. This poem is called “Wearing the Valknot.”

Wearing the Valknot

Michaela Macha

As I close the clasp of my valknot chain
I offer my neck to the noose again
And bind myself with the trifold triangle
To Hár, and wyrd´s tight-woven tangle.

With points and sides of three times three
As Ygg´s nine nights upon the Tree
It marks me willing sacrifice,
Rewarded as I pay the price;

As I pass ecstasy and pain
I lose myself, myself to gain;
This sign of fire, way and aim,
Leads me through darkness and through flame.

I pledge the fullness of my life,
My fealty to the Lord of Strife,
I choose to wear the knot of death
And give myself with every breath.

Striking Similarities

I believe that it is important to look at all stories in order to unearth the truth of things. For this reason, I don’t stick to simply reading the so-called “approved” lore. I read English translations of Greek and Latin poems and myths. I read fairy/folk tales. I read Indian stories – I am interested in all of it. To be more accurate, I am interested in finding the common threads that run between. Because I think that the truth gets scattered, breaks apart, and certain forms of it lodge in different faiths.

In some faiths, the truth gets distorted until it can no longer be recognized as what it once was. I had a conversation with one of my Christian friends the other day, and we were discussing whether or not Hell was even mentioned in the Bible. Because even though I’m pagan/heathen (whatever the hell you want to label me), I have read the Bible. Like I said, I try to read everything I can that relates to spirituality in some way. I don’t try to put myself inside a box when I am doing my own exploration – I will put myself in a box to make it easier to explain to other people what I believe because it’s a lot easier to say “I’m pagan” than it is to explain that I am a pantheist, polytheist, animist, eclectic pagan who primarily follows the Norse gods.

Anyway, as we were discussing the fact that the Bible doesn’t mention Hell – seriously, we researched it to make sure we were remembering correctly – and what we found was that except for 1 or 2 instances, the word “Hell” was originally translated as “Hades.” And “Hades,” for those unaware, was the Greek underworld, and was synonymous with the word “grave.” So, why are so many Christians so adamant about not going to Hell? Because a truth – the word Hades/grave – has been distorted until it’s no longer recognizable as the truth it originated as.

And that truth is that everyone dies, that everyone goes to the grave – that is pretty much the sole way it is used throughout the entire Christian Bible. But try to mention that to any Christian (who isn’t liberally minded like my friend), and they will either laugh in your face or go on this long spiel about the fire-and-brimstone type of hell that (especially) Southern Baptists are so fond of.

But the Christian Bible isn’t the only place we can find bits of truths. Every faith has something in it that is accurate, and sometimes the similarities can be striking. In the Poetic Edda, in the Voluspo, the Seer details the creation of the world. Below, this is what the Latin Ovid had to say on the matter:

OF bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with coelestial heat;
‘Till I my long laborious work compleat:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhimes,
Deduc’d from Nature’s birth, to Caesar’s times.
The Creation of Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
the World And Heav’n’s high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion’d, and unfram’d,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam’d.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois’d, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water’s dark abyss unnavigable.
No certain form on any was imprest;
All were confus’d, and each disturb’d the rest.
For hot and cold were in one body fixt;
And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
But God, or Nature, while they thus contend,
To these intestine discords put an end:
Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv’n,
And grosser air sunk from aetherial Heav’n.
Thus disembroil’d, they take their proper place;
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder’d, by a larger space.
The force of fire ascended first on high,
And took its dwelling in the vaulted sky:
Then air succeeds, in lightness next to fire;
Whose atoms from unactive earth retire.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num’rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
About her coasts, unruly waters roar;
And rising, on a ridge, insult the shore.
Thus when the God, whatever God was he,
Had form’d the whole, and made the parts agree,
That no unequal portions might be found,
He moulded Earth into a spacious round:
Then with a breath, he gave the winds to blow;
And bad the congregated waters flow.
He adds the running springs, and standing lakes;
And bounding banks for winding rivers makes.
Some part, in Earth are swallow’d up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu’d, are lost.
He shades the woods, the vallies he restrains
With rocky mountains, and extends the plains.
And as five zones th’ aetherial regions bind,
Five, correspondent, are to Earth assign’d:
The sun with rays, directly darting down,
Fires all beneath, and fries the middle zone:
The two beneath the distant poles, complain
Of endless winter, and perpetual rain.
Betwixt th’ extreams, two happier climates hold
The temper that partakes of hot, and cold.
The fields of liquid air, inclosing all,
Surround the compass of this earthly ball:
The lighter parts lye next the fires above;
The grosser near the watry surface move:
Thick clouds are spread, and storms engender there,
And thunder’s voice, which wretched mortals fear,
And winds that on their wings cold winter bear.
Nor were those blustring brethren left at large,
On seas, and shores, their fury to discharge:
Bound as they are, and circumscrib’d in place,
They rend the world, resistless, where they pass;
And mighty marks of mischief leave behind;
Such is the rage of their tempestuous kind.
First Eurus to the rising morn is sent
(The regions of the balmy continent);
And Eastern realms, where early Persians run,
To greet the blest appearance of the sun.
Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
Pleas’d with the remnants of departing light:
Fierce Boreas, with his off-spring, issues forth
T’ invade the frozen waggon of the North.
While frowning Auster seeks the Southern sphere;
And rots, with endless rain, th’ unwholsom year.
High o’er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
The God a clearer space for Heav’n design’d;
Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
Purg’d from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
Scarce had the Pow’r distinguish’d these, when streight
The stars, no longer overlaid with weight,
Exert their heads, from underneath the mass;
And upward shoot, and kindle as they pass,
And with diffusive light adorn their heav’nly place.
Then, every void of Nature to supply,
With forms of Gods he fills the vacant sky:
New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:
New colonies of birds, to people air:
And to their oozy beds, the finny fish repair.
A creature of a more exalted kind
Was wanting yet, and then was Man design’d:
Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast,
For empire form’d, and fit to rule the rest:
Whether with particles of heav’nly fire
The God of Nature did his soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain’d th’ aetherial energy:
Which wise Prometheus temper’d into paste,
And, mixt with living streams, the godlike image cast.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos’d into Man.

From Metamorphoses: Book I

Now, it’s important to understand that the Romans and the Greeks were pantheists before they were polytheists. A lot of people mistakenly assume that the Romans/Greeks simply believed in multiple gods, but that isn’t exactly true.

A pantheist is a person who believes in the idea of a single deity who can be found reflected in everything else. It’s generally referred to as the All-in-One and One-in-All theory, but I’ll try to expand on it a little in relation to the Greeks and Romans.

Most people are aware that the Greeks and Romans worshiped multiple gods, but what those same people don’t realize is that they viewed each of those gods as an embodied aspect of a greater being – the Source. In Indian lore, the Source is referred to as the Great Spirit. Very few peoples who we have been taught believed in a polytheistic pantheon viewed themselves as polytheists because they believed that everything was intertwined and interconnected. That each separated “deity” was simply an aspect of the Greater Deity.

It is for this reason that polytheism and monotheism are not really separate – people who identify as pure polytheists do not believe in the All-in-One (as a general statement). Most pure polytheists believe that there are multiple gods, perhaps related to each other, but separate in all the ways that matter. A pantheistic polytheist, on the other hand, believes that there are multiple god aspects of a single Greater Deity – the All-in-One approach.

Now that I’ve given you that background, if you review Ovid’s poem, then read the Voluspo in the Poetic Edda, there are striking similarities. Chaos is the Ginnungagap. The story of the giants is different, but it can be seen reflected in both places. And, if you are then courageous enough to review Genesis in the Christian Bible, you will see reflections there as well. (As a note, the “God created man in His image” is properly translated “God created man in OUR image” – do your own research if you don’t believe me).

And it is the startling similarities between the stories of different faiths that keeps me digging into them – because the stories, for the most part, are identical. Names change, the geographical locations change, but the plot of the stories, for the most part, is the same plot. To me, the fracturing of these stories – the lines that separate us – is an echo of the past. An echo that whispers to me of a time when there were no fractured lines – a time when people didn’t fight over what faith was “right” and what was “wrong.” A time when people lived in harmony. And it makes my heart ache. Because what was it that caused that splintering? What tragedy befell our world to throw us into this much chaos? The answer, I fear, is one that may forever elude me.