Yule 2014: Mother’s Night

There is a lot of debate about how Yule should be celebrated and whether Mother’s Night is heathen in origin. I honestly don’t care if it is a traditional Norse holiday or not. In all honesty, most pagan traditions are intertwined – the Celts, the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans – all worshiped different deities and celebrated at different times during the year. All we have to go off of now is the way we piece together what we glimpse of the past, but as I’ve stated previously, I’m not a re-constructionist.

I view my faith in a progressive way, and I believe the gods and goddesses change with the times. So, for me, Mother’s Night isn’t a day I celebrate because it was something that someone else celebrated long ago. But a day that I celebrate because I honor the life given to me by the earth – there is a reason, after all, that all people, regardless of creed, call the ecosystem we live within “Mother Nature.” Because there is an all-pervading sense of fertility and motherness that governs the earth. The planet thrums under our feet with vitality, producing the life-bearing oxygen we need to survive.

Some people dismiss the power of the Earth – try to convince themselves that humanity has conquered nature. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Mother Nature is much more powerful than the threat humanity poses. Sure, as a collective whole, we are disrupting climate and causing harm – but Mother Nature rises in defense of the planet every time – it’s why we’ve seen such an increase in natural disasters over the past few decades. Because Nature restores balance however she can, and I, for one, respect the earth I live on far too much to let the way I honor the gods and goddesses of my faith be dictated by the re-constructionists and nay-sayers.

For me, in a lot of ways, the Earth is the only true Mother I’ve ever known. Because my human mother drank, and when she drank, she was abusive. The Earth has always been the Mother I’ve turned to, long after everyone else has gone – the groves and the rocks around my house has offered me the solace no human has ever been able to provide for me. When I walk outside, the ground under my feet feels like home, and I feel like the whole world is underneath me, supporting me, not judging me – and that is why for me, Mother’s night is about honoring the goddess of the earth in all her aspects. And it is in honor of her that I have created this:

Frigga and her Handmaidens

On a Whim: Loki’s Way

Over the last couple months, Loki has become more insistent that I follow him properly. Or improperly, since he’s not exactly known for his conventionality.

Granted, most people think of Loki as dangerous and/or scary, but he isn’t. He’s more like the kid who pulls the fire alarm just to see what it does, and, in the process, manages to create school-wide panic. There’s no real cruelty in his actions, just a childlike wonder. At least, this is the side you see of him when you trust that he’s not evil.

The truth is, Loki has been hurt by the gods, by his family, in a way that few Heathens acknowledge. Perhaps that is the reason so many misfits are drawn to him. I understand him because my family has hurt me more than anyone else in my life, despite everything I’ve done to try and keep things from falling apart. And, considering human lives pale in comparison to the lives that gods lead, I can’t be surprised by the sadness Loki feels.

The story in the Lokabrenna, about him crashing the feast, gets taken the wrong way, and the majority of people side against Loki. But, reading that story carefully, it’s easy to see the bitterness Loki feels about being denied an invitation to the feast, and how that results in his acidic wit coming out to play. He’s deeply hurt, and his harsh words reflect the depth of the pain he feels.

There are tons of arguments out there for why Loki is the god of chaos, of fire, even of rain (that one I don’t get), but the way I understand him best is as the god of change. And being the god of change means he cannot help the disruptive influence he has – change is insidious that way. So, when the other gods refuse to invite him to the feast, they refuse him because of the very thing that defines him – his personality, his inability to not cause change.

When viewing the Lokabrenna from that angle, Loki’s nature becomes clear. He isn’t evil or someone to be feared – he’s actually rather eager to make friends with those who can see him for who he is. Because despite all the hurt he’s been caused, he still believes that there are people out there who will love him for who he is. So is it really any wonder that misfits are the ones most drawn to him? After all, us misfits are the ones who understand what that feels like.

Being able to understand Loki doesn’t make him easy to follow, not by any means. He is the god of change, so following him means that you have to be able to deal with a lot of change. He cannot help changing situations, and a lot of people end up resenting him and turn from his path because they cannot deal with the type of change he introduces into a person’s life.

Some weeks are more intense than others, and I’ll give an example by relating the week I’ve had so far:

Sunday, I got into an argument with a guild member on World of Warcraft that lasted 45 minutes about why I should change the raiding schedule to fit his schedule, even though doing so would not be beneficial for the other 9 people in the raid.

Monday: I left my house to go to the ESL Class (I help out with it on my campus; runs 10am -12pm on Mondays), got stuck behind a horse trailer before I got to town, got to town and got stuck behind an Appalcart (bus), got through town and got stuck in the middle of road clean-up. Ended up being 30 minutes late to the class, but that’s a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things.

Tuesday: After my English class, I was supposed to go to Developmental Psychology, but I was having trouble with the teacher all semester due to his overbearing, condescending attitude. On a whim, I decided to consult an Academic Adviser about the situation, and, despite holding a solid A in the class, I dropped the class.

That night, when I left the ESL class (runs from 6-8pm on Tuesday nights), it was raining pretty hard outside. I don’t have the best headlights, I live about 15 miles out of town, and there’s no good place to pull off the road until 13 miles into the trip. I wasn’t driving fast, due to not being able to see properly, and I slowed way down at the two passing zones on the road to encourage people to go by me. Some people did, but this one guy refused to pass me, no matter what.

When I got to the fire department – the one good place to pull off the road – to let the guy go by, he pulled in behind me, got out of his car, and started walking toward me. I’ve seen enough horror movies (and know enough about human rage) to know that I didn’t want to stick around, so while he was walking toward me, I peeled out of the parking lot and drove the 2 miles to my house. I have to go through two gates to get through my house (my neighbor owns the land beneath our property, and he uses the land for his cattle), so the whole time this was happening, I was terrified out of my mind that the guy was following me.

And when I got to the top of my driveway, a car pulled in at the bottom, and, since it was pitch dark, I didn’t know who it was. So I got my stuff and threw myself out of my car, ran inside my house, locked both the doors, and grabbed one of my escrima sticks (used in Kali, an open-handed mixed martial art), and waited. The person coming up the driveway ended up being my dad, but, given the situation, I knew I hadn’t acted irrationally.

In fact, when I mentioned the incident to a co-worker on Wednesday, she asked me why I hadn’t called the cops. The truth is, doing that never even occurred to me because I can defend myself, there was one assailant, and well, I don’t trust other people to handle my problems.

Wednesday: Not much happened Wednesday – I have this hunch it’s Loki’s day off because Odin was definitely around. I say definitely because it’s only when Odin’s presence is the strongest in my life that I start thinking in rhyme. Nearly every thought I had that day was in poetic form. The only time Loki showed up was during my History class, where my Monsters paper was due. We had an assignment to write about four monstrous criminals from the past and determine whether they were fact or fiction. The instructor said he had one girl who was bothered by the material, then another woman spoke up and said that the assignment had bothered her to because the criminals had committed such horrific, graphic crimes. She said that she didn’t understand the point of the assignment, that she felt it was too graphic, and so she didn’t put much effort into the paper.

As an Empath, who is extremely disturbed by violence, I had no problem with the paper because I was taught it is imperative for an Empath to understand what people are capable of in order to properly understand them. Understanding why someone is willing to go so far is more important than that they go so far – the motive is what matters. So, after she said that, I felt compelled to speak up – Loki had a huge influence on the paper I wrote because he directed me to source after source that demonstrated the innocence of nearly every one of the “monsters.” I told the instructor, in front of the entire class (so she would hear the words) that I didn’t feel he should change the assignment or give extra options just because people need to learn the truth about the world and what others are capable of in extreme situations.

Thursday: I got in an argument with my English teacher about the points she took off an assignment. She requires students write at a 10th grade level – I turned in a paper written at a 15.7 grade level, and she took off points because I chose to use the word “done” and used “as” where she would have used “because.” As a published author, I know when “as” can be used as a stand-in for “because” (rare, but it does happen), and “done,” while not the strongest verb, was the appropriate one for the sentence I used it in. Taking off points for word choice is NOT objective grading, and that pissed me off more than I can properly express here.

Thursday night, I talked to the officers in my guild and we decided to remove the person who caused problems on Sunday. He apologized, asked for a second chance, so we demoted him instead. Unsurprisingly, less than an hour later, he left the guild on his own accord. However, I managed to recruit a boomkin, and the guild overall has plans to deal with the loss of that member once the expansion drops.

Friday: I did math homework, worked on leveling my monk, and then decided to make food. What I originally planned to make was rice and broccoli, but Loki decided he wanted me to make something weird. Still cooked the rice and broccoli, but salt, garlic salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and AI sauce got added to the mix. Surprisingly, it turned out to be delicious, and I have the first recipe I can claim as uniquely my own (with Loki’s help, of course!).

Today, I have a writing workshop to run, so we’ll see how that goes. But, as you can probably tell from reading this (if you make it all the way through!), Loki’s path is full of twists and turns and plot holes, so if you can’t handle a lot of change in your life, don’t waste your time, or Loki’s, trying to follow him down it.

Odin and Loki

When I went to my optometrist last year, the woman who did the routine tests saw the Valknut necklace I wear and asked me about it. I told her it was Odin’s symbol, and that led her into reciting a story about cats.

She said that before she’d moved to Boone, she had met a woman who had two cats-one named Odin, the other named Loki. Apparently, the cats got along tremendously well, even though the woman had expected that, with those names, they would have fought.

Her story reminded me of the Odin and Loki that I am familiar with. Odin doesn’t “put up with Loki,” like I’ve seen others suggest. No, Odin and Loki are friends. Inseparable best friends who delight in each other, respect each other, and give each other the most crap. After all, that’s what being friends is all about.

When you can call someone on their bullshit without permanently offending them, and then turn around and have their back when needed — that’s friendship. And Odin and Loki have that.

Sure, Loki drives Odin crazy because he’s always getting into trouble and doing crazy things, but Odin doesn’t try and stop him. There’s one story where Odin and Loki are traveling to Jotunheim and are getting weak from hunger because nothing they try to cook will actually cook.

Odin decides to go back to Asgard and leaves Loki, who is getting angrier by the minute that the meat won’t cook, and stubbornly insists on continuing to try and make it work (even though the methods aren’t working). Because of this, a giant ends up entrapping him and forcing him to agree to kidnap Idunna before releasing Loki from the trap.

Loki is nothing if not a survivor, so he agrees, and keeps his word to kidnap Idunna. But then he also goes and retrieves her, and, while they are being chased (both of them in bird form) to Asgard, Loki manages to trick the giant into killing himself.

In the story, the reason that Odin and Loki are traveling to Jotunheim isn’t fully explained. With the tactical maneuvers at the end of the story, however, it’s easy to imagine that events could have enfolded in this way:

Odin and Loki are traveling to Asgard to spy on the giants because they are worried about the repercussions the oath they broke concerning the building of Asgard’s wall will be. When they get hungry and cook food (or try to), Odin decides it may be a trap and leaves Loki behind knowing this– and maybe even explaining this to Loki– and then Loki continues to act like an idiot (which he really isn’t) and get caught by the giant. He sees a way to turn the giant’s plot to kidnap Idunna into a strategic method for the Asgardians to defeat one of the giants, and takes a calculated risk. Then, back at Asgard, when Odin “discovers” what he did (and there’s every possibility Loki went and told Odin himself), Loki is then “forced” to recover her, and when he does so, kills the giant who was the most likely to cause the Asgardians problems.

A lot of the stories tend to portray Loki as the “evil guy” or the “bad guy,” because without a villain, stories fall apart. But when I read the stories carefully that deal with how Odin and Loki interact with each other, I feel that there is much more going on under the surface than is being told.

Odin can’t take the risks Loki can– he can’t be the sneaky strategist/tactician because that would undermine his role as the leader of the Asgardians. But Loki can take on that role, be the hated shadow (and really, read enough fantasy novels, and you start to realize how common it is for kings to have a shadow hand they can never play in public, but who always works to the benefit of the kingdom by the king’s behest).

Loki and Odin are closer than brothers; they know each others darkest secrets and most painful truths. That is alluded to in the Lokabrenna, and Odin is the only one who doesn’t take immediate offense to Loki’s words to him, but rather returns them in kind. That kind of volley is possible only between people who are close.

So I don’t prescribe to the idea that Loki is the “evil god” of the pantheon, or that he is the Heathen version of “the devil,” (which gets suggested a lot). Loki is a catalyst of change, and Odin is the leader who has the vision of a world Loki wishes to see as well.

As for the story about Baldur, well, I am not entirely convinced that it wasn’t written by someone trying to convert the pagan populace into Christians, as there are too many overtones of the Lazarus myth in it for me to view it as an accurate portrayal of Loki’s character.

Loki does what Odin can’t, and Odin trusts him. I mean, he’s the only god who Odin swore himself to as a blood brother, as far as I’m aware, and that’s not an oath undertaken lightly. Perhaps that is what people who tend to ostracize Loki should consider before automatically lumping him in with the so-called “bad guys.”

UPG: Loki and the Power of Names

A UPG is an Unverified Personal Gnosis. What that means is that a person has an experience with a god, whether it’s in a dream or in real life, that cannot be perpetuated by the Lore or historical precedent.

It’s pretty difficult to corroborate a UPG as they are unique experiences.

For me, the UPG I had was a physical one.

About a month ago, my sister bought a new puppy and couldn’t decide on a name for him. She bounced ideas for names around between me and her boyfriend.

When she asked me, the first thing that popped into my mind was Loki. Just looking at the puppy made me feel like that name was appropriate, but I couldn’t give you a reason. I’ve gone off gut instincts like that for years.

I suggested the name, of course, and it took her a few days to decide. I made sure to tell her, when I gave her the suggestion, that naming an animal after a god can have repercussions. I’ve always believed in the power of names.

She laughed it off, which is typical for the relationship we have with each other. She’s aware that I’m Heathen, but doesn’t particularly care as she has no religious leanings at all. Her response was that she didn’t believe in names holding power like that and I just shrugged it off.

My sister ended up choosing to name the puppy Loki. That puppy was mischievous and playful but there always seemed to be just a little something other about him to me.

After a couple weeks of having the puppy around, my sister’s friend offered to fly her and her boyfriend out to California to live. He said he’d support them by renting them an apartment and he’s wealthy enough to do it. She decided to take him up on the offer and ended up returning Loki to the Humane Society.

Loki, more than any other god, is the god of change. He is a natural shapeshifter, so it makes sense to me that my first physical experience with him occurred in this way.

My sister’s presence in my life has been a difficult one for various reasons I’ll not share, but the quick in-and-out Loki made has given me the opportunity to change everything.

Some people would write the event off as coincidental or accuse me of assigning meaning to things that I shouldn’t.

As to the first, I don’t believe in coincidence.

And to the second? A pup named Loki blows into my life for a few weeks. While he’s a part of it, my sister’s friend offers to move her to California. She agrees. Change for the better in my life occurs. Loki leaves.

It’s pretty hard not to assign meaning to something that blatant. And for me, it’s the event that has put to rest all of the remaining doubts I had about the existence of the gods.

They are very real, present, and accessible. The gods take care of their own. And that is something to cherish.

My View on the Lore

The Eddas and the Sagas, to me, are stories. Stories written by men in ages long past. Some were written to conserve poetic forms. Others were written so that the knowledge of the gods might not be lost.

And that is great. I love that we have access to the Eddas and the Sagas and that there are people out there who have done extensive historical research into the practices of the days long past.

But I don’t believe in following the practices of the long dead. Not because I feel their ways were invalid– in fact, I’d argue that the methods they used to honor the gods are some of the strongest because they were the closest to the gods.

The truth, however, is that copying someone else’s methods without understanding them just leads to confusion and spirals into arguments about what is or isn’t correct.

Most of the arguments I’ve witnessed in that vein have the same flavor. Person A knows all about the historical evidence supporting the method they’re using and wants to prove to Person B that it’s the best method to use, completely undermining the fact that Person B finds it easier to get close to the gods doing something unsupported by historical research.

Arguing over how to worship the gods is stupid, pointless, and disrespectful. Rather than argue over how to worship the gods, let each person honor the gods in their own way. What works for Person A won’t work for Person B.

I have a personal dislike for following practices based on historical research because historical facts based on archaeological digs come from guesswork. Educated guesswork, sure. But it’s still guesswork.

And there’s no way to prove that the gods want to be honored in the same way today as they did in the past. I’m sure even the gods get bored of hearing and seeing the same thing all the time.

That brings me to the second part of the unconventional view I hold towards the Lore.

To me, the Eddas and Sagas are stories. Just stories. Allegorical stories, perhaps, but still just stories.

I don’t like relying on books to tell me what to do, how to feel, or what to think. I’m capable of making those decisions on my own.

And the Lore, by itself, is harmless. Because stories are, for the most part, harmless. It’s when people start taking those stories and making claims like “Well it says this in this part, so it must be the best thing to do!” that gets to me.

There are a lot of Heathens out there who do this. I don’t know if they’ve forgotten, but the Sagas and the Eddas were written by Christians and therefore have a Christian flavor.

That, to me, makes them even less reliable. I turned away from Christianity when I was 12 years old (I’m now 26) because I couldn’t abide the idea of an exclusive God who punished and played with his “flock.” Not to mention the abject humiliation of being referred to as a “sheep.”

The truth is, I love the stories in the Eddas and Sagas. I love the insight they provide into the gods’ personalities. Their thirst for knowledge, their lust of adventure, their enjoyment of conflict both physical and verbal. It’s a great collection of stories.

But stories are meant to be told in new ways. They are meant to be rewoven, rewritten, respun. The gods have always adapted to the world as it changes around them, so I see no reason to refuse to adapt my practices to fit the world around me.

I’d rather change with the times than be stuck in the past, because it’s in the present that my life occurs. Present events may unfold because of the web my past has woven behind me, but it is still in the present that I must face the decisions I make and the actions I take.

My vision of the Lore is a simple, though unpopular one. The Eddas/Sagas give me a glimpse into the personalities of the gods I follow, but they don’t dictate the way I live my life.

The gods are complex. They are people, like us, on a much larger scale. There is no human being on earth that is exactly the same as another human being. Most humans share qualities with each other and that’s what creates relationships.

Gods are like that, too. They can be similar to each other, different from another, love each other, hate each other…they are people and they are complex.

Trying to limit a god to the personality they have in the stories stored in the Eddas/Sagas is, in my mind, disrespectful. 

Everyone has a life story, but we are all more than our stories. The same holds true for the gods. Stories can only tell you so much about a person. And gods are people.

The gods are our family. We don’t force our family members to exist within the stories that other people tell us about them. And I will never understand why there are so many Heathens out there that think trying to constrain the gods to their Lore personalities is anything but rude.

Creation Part 1

This is my attempt to modernize the Norse Creation Myth. It is also written in a way that I feel would be accessible to children. I read, somewhere, that if you can’t explain something to a six year old, you have no business trying to do so.

And stories are supposed to be alive. They are meant to be spoken. They are meant to be told. I think, sometimes, that people forget that, and put too much emphasis on telling ancient stories in ancient ways.

But it is my sincere belief that stories, like people, are meant to grow and evolve into new shapes and forms. It is, in this way, that we keep the Gods alive. By bringing them from the past into the present by using the forms of the present to access the past. A little like the working of wyrd, interestingly enough.

Anyway, on to the story!

The Story: 

In the beginning, there were three worlds. The first of those worlds was the world of the void. In this world, nothing existed. There was no life of any sort and everything was still. Not even the wind blew within its borders.

On its northern border there was the second world, the world of ice. In its midst lay the Roaring Kettle. From the Kettle all the rivers of life poured forth, slowly making their way southward into the world of the void. The water from the rivers were empty of life. The temperature in the world of ice was too low for any life form to survive.

On the southern border of the world of the void lay the third world, the world of fire. The temperature of the world of fire was so great that only those born natively into the world could bear its heat and live. Due to the immense heat it gave off, it began to warm the southern part of the world of the void that lay beyond its borders.

The rivers from the world of ice slowly trickled into the world of the void. Where the rivers stopped, they froze into blocks of ice and rime, a type of poison.

As eons passed, the heat from the world of fire slowly reached the blocks of ice that had formed in the middle of the world of the void. Where the heat reached the ice, the world of the void became moderate in temperature. It was not too hot or too cold. The warm temperature made it possible for life to emerge.

The heat from the world of fire slowly began to melt the blocks of ice. As it did so, the first frost giant, Ymir, came into being. Ymir was unique, because he was able to produce children through his sweat glands. While he slept, two more giants came into existence, formed from the sweat under his arms. Their names were Mimir and Bestla. It is from them that the few good frost giants are descended.

Ymir had another son, created by the sweat produced when he rubbed his feet together. That son was born strange, with three heads, and the three-headed giant had another son named Bergelmir. It is from Bergelmir’s line that all the evil frost giants are descended.

Ymir, however, wasn’t the only life form to spring into being when the heat from the world of fire melted the ice in the middle of the world of the void.

From the second block of melted ice there came Audhumla, the great cow. From her udders flowed four rivers of milk which sustained the frost giants and allowed them to live, as the rime from the blocks of ice were like poison to them.

But for her, the rime from the ice was food. She licked the blocks of ice for sustenance. The first day that she did this, she discovered the hair of a man in the block of ice she’d chosen. By the end of the next day, she’d uncovered his entire head. She kept licking the ice the next day, and by the third day, she’d uncovered an entire man!

That man was Buri, and he was the first of the gods. Buri fed from the rivers of milk that Audhumla provided and that fertile milk gifted him with a son named Burr. Burr took Bestla, the frost giant, as his wife, and the two of them gave birth to Odin, Vili, and Ve.

Now, when life emerged in the world of the void, a new fountain sprang up. Mimir, the wisest of the wise, laid claim to it and, to this day, it bears his name. Mimir’s well is said to hold the water of wisdom, a place where all knowledge can be found.

It is into this well that a golden seed fell and from that seed, a great tree grew. That tree was Yggdrasil, the great World Tree. It has three great roots, one that can be found underneath Mimir’s well. Another can be found under the Roaring Kettle, where a dragon named Nidhogg does its best to gnaw through the great tree’s root. The third root of the great tree is found under the Well of Wyrd, where the Norns reside and preside over the fates of men and gods alike.

As the tree grew, more and more worlds came into being in its branches. The great tree serves as a great pillar, keeping the worlds from falling into the world of the void below.

Yggdrasil is a beautiful tree that cannot be seen by human eyes. Its trunk, branches, and roots are all silver-white, and its root-threads, foliage, and fruits are red-gold. It produces apples that the gods eat when they grow old in order to keep themselves young.

Despite its beauty, Yggdrasil suffers greatly from the creatures around it. The dragon that gnaws on one of its major roots is just one of the difficulties it faces. At the very top of it sits an eagle and a squirrel runs between the dragon and the eagle, carrying cruel messages between the two. When the dragon receives a message from the eagle, delivered by the squirrel, it becomes more vicious in its assault on the great tree’s root.

There are many serpents that gnaw on it, never seeming to tire in their pursuit of destruction of the great tree. Four harts run along its trunk, feeding off the foliage at the top of the tree. For all the destruction caused by the animals, there is another difficulty-the trunk of the great tree is slowly rotting. It is said that eventually the dragon that gnaws on its root will be successful at cutting through it and that the great tree will become unbalanced.

But no one knows what will cause the great tree to fall. It cannot be felled by either fire or iron and, while the dragon will someday unbalance it, there is no way to know for sure if that will make the great tree fall.

 

 

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