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.

Samhain

Since today is Samhain, it seems appropriate to discuss why I celebrate it, since I’m Heathen. There are a lot of Heathens who don’t celebrate Samhain which I can understand, as it’s not a Nordic holiday. There are others that do – Lucius honors Hela, as it is the day most sacred to Her.

It is, however, rare to find a Heathen who celebrates the holiday as Samhain – it doesn’t really fit into the Nordic calendar. For me, I celebrate it as Samhain because my ancestry is more Scottish than Nordic. As a descendant of the MacGregor clan, I have direct ancestral links to the Caledonians (generally referred to as Picts), so it makes sense for me to honor my ancestors during a Celtic holiday.

Interestingly enough, Tacitus suggested in Agricola that the Caledoninans, due to their reddish hair and large limbs, were of Germanic descent. In my ancestral background (I’ve seen the DNA report that they can do now; my uncle is a genealogist), I have both Scottish and Nordic blood.

Now, the reason I’m explaining why I celebrate Samhain is because my celebration of Celtic holidays tends to be something the general Heathen community absolutely hates. It’s okay if I celebrate the Norse holidays, but celebrating the Celtic ones is, in some way, dishonoring the Gods.

I’ve never agreed with that way of thinking. I also don’t think that to be Heathen it’s necessary to only honor the Norse Gods. I think that it requires a primary focus on the Norse Gods, but not an exclusive one, and that is one of the beliefs I hold that the general Heathen community may never accept as tenable. Considering my ancestry, however, and the fact that polytheistic traditions are by necessity ancestral ones, failing to celebrate Samhain would be an incredible insult to those who came before me.

I Have My Answers

In my previous post, “Thoughts on the Article that Started it All,” I discussed part of the situation that has arisen that has been dubbed “The Atheist Wars.” Originally, I was planning on writing a long series of posts to hash everything out, but I actually ended up talking to Halstead over facebook.

Since he was responding to my post via comments and he offered an apology for the insensitive comment he left on Lucius’s blog, I was willing to engage him in conversation. He linked me all the articles that others had written condemning him as well as the articles he himself had written – that’s a respectable act. He offered me the viewpoints of his opponents first. Few people will stand up and say, “Here’s what my critics say. Now see what I have to say.”

And Halstead did not attempt once during our conversation to convince me that he was in the right. All he did was link me the articles, ask me “Are you sure you want to read all of this?” and left me to come to my own conclusions. For that, I have to commend him.

Now, as I went through all of the articles, what became obvious to me was that the entire problem centered on the definition of polytheism. There was a lot of debate over what was and wasn’t polytheism. Ugh. It made me want to tear my hair out. Polytheism is the belief and veneration of many gods. That is as far as I’m willing to define it. I don’t care if you believe all those gods are one god, in the end. If you honor them separately, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a polytheist. I hate the separation of hard and soft polytheism – I absolutely loathe it.

If I have to qualify myself, however, I’m a “hard” polytheist. I don’t believe the gods are a unified being. But Hinduism, which is the oldest polytheistic tradition alive today, believes that all gods are a unified being. Yes. Let’s argue with the oldest living polytheistic tradition in existence today and tell them they aren’t “real” polytheists. Spare me the headache.

Now, as I continued my conversation with Halstead, he linked me the articles where he explains his Jungian version of spirituality. Essentially, he views the archetypes developed by Jung as being internal gods that represent the higher self, or the universal consciousness. Thus, in  a way, he can be said to be a type of polytheist, in a very loose sense of the term. Here’s how he explains Jungian polytheism. He explains how he understands his gods here and here. If you actually take the time to read the articles, it becomes pretty clear that he practices a very unusual type of (soft) polytheism.

However, he is also an atheist because he doesn’t hold any belief in external gods. He believes that all the gods come from within – a unified consciousness with archetypal projections that can be referred to as gods. It’s a type of (soft) polytheism but is also atheistic in nature because there is no external source. If everything comes from within, then nothing comes from without.

Now, while I definitely don’t follow this path or believe the same things that Halstead does – not remotely – I do think it’s an interesting path. He is sitting neatly on the fringes of two vastly different groups of people, never quite fitting into either one. I think a lot of us can relate to that, and we all need to remember that the people we are criticizing are real people with real feelings. I think, sometimes, we forget that the people we are dealing with over the internet are real human beings. We should treat each other with respect at all times, even when – especially when – we are disagreeing with someone or criticizing the way they walk their path through life.

Thoughts on the Article that Started it All

While I usually try and stay out of the drama that happens within the online pagan community, I feel that I really need to wrap my head around this entire issue with Halstead and his atheist wars. I suppose it’s the atheist – polytheist war that he has incited, although I hesitate to call it a war. The reason for that hesitation is that I’m a polytheist and one of my closest friends is an atheist. Granted, he’s not an atheist who follows pagan practices, so I suppose that’s the reason we don’t have any real problems.

At the same time, however, one of the coolest things to me about paganism has been that it is orthopraxic, meaning that atheists can be practicing pagans without having to believe in the Gods. That’s a controversial view, especially considering what’s going on right now, but it’s the way I look at the world. There is room enough for all of us to walk the paths meant for us. For some of us, that means being polytheists (and I hate the separation that has cropped up between “hard” and “soft” polytheism – to me, both are polytheistic, but I digress). For others, that means being atheists who practice within a pagan context.

I’m not that big of a fan of labels, as labels tend to separate rather than to unite, and the more labels we create for ourselves, the more tears we create in our own community. For that reason, I tend to stick to the dictionary definition of pagan – someone who isn’t practicing an Abrahamic faith. Whether you are a polytheist or an atheist, you fit this definition.

That being said, if you are an atheist, you have no right whatsoever to comment on polytheistic practices as if you know exactly what you’re talking about. I have known many atheists with very different sets of moral principles and beliefs, and I do not pretend to understand what it means to be an atheist.

Halstead’s article, which set everything off, demonstrates his lack of understanding of what it means to be a polytheist.

Because I want to fully explore this “war,” I’m going to start by examining the article that set everything in motion. The catalyst, if you will.

Halstead writes:

To me, it seems that a god-motivated concern for the earth — whether polytheist or monotheist — is more fragile than a concern that grows directly out of one’s relationship with the earth itself — for the same reason that stewardship models of environmentalism don’t go as deep as those that recognize our inherent interconnectedness.

Perhaps this is because Halstead fails to understand that being polytheistic is to recognize that inherent interconnectedness. The divine and the mundane. The profound and the profane. Everything is found within its opposite. For many polytheists, the Gods represent natural forces in one (or more) of their aspects – the way Thor is said to represent the force of thunder, Loki of fire (sometimes lightning – both highly debated), Freyr and Freyja of the earth, Njord of the sea, etc.

Halstead:

What happens to our ecology when the gods are silent, as they sometimes are?  Or what happens when the will of the gods do not align with the needs of our planet?  John admits that “… we aren’t the primary concern of the Gods …”  Well, if we are not, and if this planet is not, then I wonder what is their primary concern?  No doubt someone will tell me that the ways of the gods are mysterious or their ways are not our ways — but I’ve heard all that before, from my former religion.  I’m left wondering, if the gods are not concerned with us and with the other lifeforms on this earth, why we should worship them at all?  The mere fact of their existence seems to be insufficient reason to justify placing them before everything else.

None of the polytheists I have met believe that the ecology of the planet is the sole responsibility of the Gods. The earth is our home, and it is our job to take care of it. As for the primary concerns of the Gods, that can be seen in the individual nature of each God. The Gods aren’t mysterious – Their personalities are painted in full color in every story handed down through the generations. What They are concerned with is very clear to those of us who are polytheistic, and we choose the paths of those Gods whose concerns align with our own concerns.

As an example, Loki is one of the Gods that I honor by walking His path, and His main concerns include uncovering hidden truths and regulating pride. As a second example, Tyr’s main concern is creating balance. As a polytheist, I honor the Gods by emulating Them – that’s what it means to walk the path of a God. However, walking those paths doesn’t mean that my own concerns and desires get thrown to the wayside. The Gods inhabit a different realm than we do – why would They be concerned about the earth? We are the ones that must consider our own homes, the way They consider Their homes. Self-accountability is a virtue for a reason, and to ask the Gods to clean up the mess we have made of our planet is beyond disrespectful.

That’s the end of my response to Halstead’s first article, and I have to admit that I’m slightly amazed at how much scorn underlies his writing, and all of his scorn is directed towards polytheists who put their Gods first.

I think the major problem here is that Halstead doesn’t understand what it means to be a polytheist, and he has jumped to the conclusion that polytheists don’t practice a “this-world” faith. That is simply not true. I have never met a polytheist who is so eager to get to the afterlife that they refuse to take responsibility for their lives on this planet. While we discuss the afterlife, none of us polytheists are sitting around waiting on some shining white knight to come rescue us from our sins. That falls firmly in the providence of monotheistic faiths, so stop confusing polytheistic beliefs with monotheistic ones.

Note: This is my response to the first part of this “war.” I’ll be going through all of the posts that Lucius has referenced on his blog so that I may provide all of my thoughts on this “war.”

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.

How The Gods Found Me

When I came to Paganism back in 2002, I expected to find a pantheon immediately. That didn’t happen, and it was discouraging. I had finally found a spiritual framework that I could live within, and I set out to explore it as fully as I could.

As the majority of those who come to Paganism from a Christian background, the first path I explored was Wicca. I never felt comfortable with the extensive rituals, and, while I could agree with the duality of the God and Goddess, I was never able to accept the lack of balance. The favoring of the Goddess over the God went against my sense of necessary equality, and I was never able to connect with those deities.

I spent about a year trying to understand Paganism from the Wiccan perspective, but I never felt like Wicca was the right path for me. I gave up pursuing that path and turned to more esoteric paths. I was always fascinated with divination, so I learned about astrology, numerology, and the runes (the runes, are, of course, much more than a divinatory tool). I tried tarot, but I never connected with the cards. I have a lot of respect for those who are able to utilize tarot, but I have a feeling that the concept of “cards” is a very air-element type of ability, and I have no affinity whatsoever with the air element. Conversely, I have a very strong connection with the runes, especially those carved on gemstones, which combines fire, earth, and water – all elements that I can work with well.

In any case, I spent the next nine years learning about esoteric practices and researching different Pagan faiths. I found myself wondering, quite often, if I was ever going to find a pantheon to honor or if I was going to be godless for the rest of my life. The idea of being godless was incredibly upsetting to me, as I have never been an atheist. Even when I turned away from Christianity when I was a child, my claims of being “atheist” were more of a reaction against a God that turned out to be exclusive – I felt betrayed, and it’s impossible to feel betrayed by a God if you doubt that God’s existence.

I used the betrayal I felt to fuel the search for a new faith, a new God, per se, that would provide the direction and guidance I needed without the cruelty I’d experienced at the hands of the first one I ever believed in. There are a lot of pagans out there who discount Christianity and the Christian God, essentially saying that the Christian God doesn’t exist. I’ve never felt this way – to me, the Christian God has always been just as real as all of the other deities I’ve known, but I choose not to follow His path. It’s not the right one for me.

I’ve told people time and time again that I believe that all Gods that could exist do exist, even if that seems counter-intuitive. Today, I wouldn’t say that I separate from the Christian God because He is an exclusive God, the way I did when I was younger. Instead, I would say that I don’t follow His path because I see the extremes taken by His followers and the lack of thought they employ when dealing with those of other faiths. I believe that it is important for those who honor a God of any sort to honor that God by emulation, and I would never be able to emulate the Christian God and keep my moral conscience clear. On top of that, I don’t agree or believe in most of the teachings that makes Christianity what it is, so it doesn’t make sense for me to go down that path.

That may seem irrelevant, but I struggled a lot over the first ten years of being pagan because I didn’t have a pantheon to follow. I had people doing their best to pull me back into the folds of Christianity by inviting me to various churches. I went to those churches because I was looking for a way to understand my own spirituality, and there was no one to teach me what path I should take.

Every time I went to a church, I hoped I would hear something that would magically assuage the wounds I had received from the Christian God, but everything I heard just pushed those barbs deeper. The lack of inclusivity, the cruel gossip that the church members engaged in – I could never go back to that. I would see rare instances of support that would make me wonder if I could overlook the cruelties for the small kindnesses occasionally garnished, but I realized fairly quickly that overlooking even a small breach of hospitality is a far worse moral violation than the celebration of a small kindness could ever hope to overcome.

I don’t talk much about the struggle I faced to stay away from Christianity when it seemed the universe was conspiring to get me back into the folds of the religion I had purposefully turned away from. And the reason I don’t talk about it is that it was the darkest time in my life – I had no religious support from any corner, not from other people and not from any of the Gods I honor now.

It was the darkest time in my life because I had to struggle with concepts of faith on my own without anyone to guide me. I had people who tried to convince me that Christianity was the right path for me, but I already knew it wasn’t. I suppose it could be said that those people were counter-guides. They are the reason I hate the idea of ever trying to push any set of beliefs onto another human being.

I had to fight with every ounce of my soul against people who were determined to convince me to return to the Christian path. I had to fight against the small desire I had to be a part of a group that was supportive because I knew that I would end up engaging in immoral behavior and hating myself if I ever did go back. When you’re completely alone in the world like that, with no gods and no friends who understand that type of struggle, fighting against the people who seem desperate to enfold you within their own faith is so incredibly hard that I don’t even have the words to describe how difficult it was.

Perhaps this is where you’re expecting me to say that in my darkest hour is where I found the Norse Gods, but that isn’t what happened. No one rescued me from that struggle – I had to overcome the situation alone without help. Do I resent the fact that there was no one to help me? I don’t, but I do resent the fact there are people out there who are determined to destroy other people’s sense of spirituality by trying to force their faith on non-believers. They were the root of the problem, so it is towards them that my resentment stays directed.

I overcame the struggle on my own, however, as I did enough reading of enough spiritual texts (from many different faiths) that I realized that the path I walked didn’t matter as long as I stuck to my own principles. That realization wasn’t an easy one to come to, and I questioned it for a long time, but I eventually accepted it as the truth. I realized that it didn’t matter if I had a pantheon to follow or whether I decided to follow a monotheistic, polytheistic, or atheistic path. What mattered, in the long run, was the way I chose to live my life. What mattered was what I did rather than what I believed, and orthopraxy is the core of pagan belief. For those who are unaware of the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it’s fairly simple – orthodoxy means “right belief” and orthopraxy means “right practice.” Most monotheistic faiths are orthodox in nature whereas most pagan faiths are orthopraxic.

Once I realized that I fell firmly into the orthopraxic camp, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Breaking the orthodox thought pattern instilled by a Christian upbringing was what allowed me to win the battle I was fighting with myself on a daily basis. I stopped caring about what I believed and started focusing on how I behaved. I started focusing on my relationships with other people and I started to learn how to lead. I stopped worrying about whether or not I would ever find a pantheon to follow and started focusing on how I lived my life.  

It was during this period of my life – when I had stopped searching – that the Norse Gods came into my life. I didn’t approach Them – They came to me. This is why I can’t agree with those who say that the Gods don’t interact with individuals. My first experience with the Gods was a very individual interaction, and I had no knowledge of Them before-hand.

When I say no knowledge, I mean I had never read any of the Norse myths, I had never seen or heard of the Poetic Edda, and I had only the vaguest idea of Their existence. Yet I ended up meeting a heathen at my work, and he told me what heathenry was and what his oath-ring meant, but he never discussed the Gods in-depth with me. After a couple conversations with him, I started having very vivid dreams with the Valknut featured (I learned from that heathen what the symbol was). And, at first, I was absolutely terrified.

I mean, here I was, 22 years old, content to live my life without worrying too much about what I believed. And, instead of being allowed to continue to live that way, I found myself being pulled into heathenry by Odin Himself. I did some research into heathenry and was disquieted by how well it fit what I believed (minus the reconstructionist part). In fact, I purposefully ignored heathenry for a good six months because I was so unsettled by how well everything fit. It freaked me out, but I eventually felt compelled enough to return to doing research.

Keep in mind, when I came to heathenry, I had never read the myths. I knew nothing about the Gods, yet They were appearing to me anyway. This is the largest reason that I don’t look at the lore or the historical information as the only way to approach the Gods. It is why I believe in Gods that are living, evolving beings who have Their own agendas. None of the Gods fit within the boxes people use to try to contain Them, and I am aware that the interactions I share with the Gods aren’t going to be the same type of interactions the Gods share with others. Thinking about this logically, when I interact with my friends, I behave differently depending on which friend I am hanging out with – it’s like this with the Gods, too.

The Gods didn’t come to me until after I had struggled significantly with my own spirituality, and, when They did appear to me, it was after I had stopped searching for Them. Because of this, the way I interact with Them is much different than the way others interact with Them. Some heathens seek out the Gods and are answered because those people suit those Gods. Others are found by the Gods. The former is much more common than the latter, although it still makes me uncomfortable when the Gods tell me that I’m spiritually unique and that they want me to take up the mantle of priestess-hood. I am actually working on doing that, but I can’t say I’m going about it in a traditional way. Which, in retrospect, is no real surprise, when you consider which Gods it is whose paths I follow.

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.

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