Tag Archives: deities

Loki’s Multifaceted Nature

Over the last two weeks, I have seen a lot of people arguing for their depiction of Loki over another or claiming that one type of relationship is better than another. I find those arguments both exasperating and amusing because Loki is, ultimately, a shapeshifter. He is a god that can take on many, many forms, and gods are not limited in the type of relationships they can have with us.

Because I have seen so many comments like those, I decided to go on a hunt for artwork that depicts Loki in a variety of aspects. The pieces I have selected are not all aspects that I personally see or work with, but I understand them, to a point.

This first one, Loki the Shifter, by samflegal, captures Loki’s essential nature as a shapeshifter. I love how so many different forms are captured in this picture, and it definitely serves as a reminder that Loki is not beholden to human form.

Loki the Shifter
Loki the Shifter, by samflegal, captures Loki’s essence as a shapeshifter.

This next piece, Mother of Sleipnir, by develv, depicts Loki in her guise as Sleipnir’s mother after she has shifted back to a human form. Aside from the stunning amount of work that went into the creation of this piece, there’s an aspect of Loki that is rarely discussed.

I have seen many Lokeans shy away from discussing Loki and the relations he had with a horse that allowed the birth of Sleipnir to occur. Some people have assumed that the entire incident was nonconsensual; others make awkward jokes about it. There’s a lot of layers to myth, so it’s hard to know where to fall in that spectrum.

In any case, what I really appreciate about this particular depiction of Loki is that it focuses on Sleipnir and Loki in her aspect as Mother.

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Mother of Sleipnir, by develv depicts Loki in Her aspect as Mother.

I think that this next piece, Loki Dancing, by ejlowell, captures Loki as a god of dance, of knowledge, and of cultural exchange. This, to me, is the social Loki, the one that enjoys being around humans and laughing with friends. This Loki is also the one who likes to show off and tries to draw you into the fun he’s having. This is the Loki of parties, the one most of us love having around. I also have an impression of this Loki in his guise as the god of air, and I am reminded of another of his names – Loptr (Skytreader).

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Loki Dancing, by ejlowell, captures Loki as a god of dance, of knowledge, and of cultural exchange

The next piece, Shaman, by LoranDeSore, is the illustration that comes the closest to the aspect of Loki I generally work with. To me, this reflects Loki as a teacher, a friend, and as a battle-hardened warrior who doesn’t desert those who stand with him. To me, this is the aspect of Loki at his most competent, and this is the aspect of Loki that faces the truth without fail.

In this guise, he takes the reality around him in stride, makes decisions, and acts on them with the full weight of his being. This is the Loki who tells the truth, even when the gods and humans don’t want to face it. Again, this is the illustration that comes closest to how I generally see Loki, so I admit I’m a bit biased.

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 Shaman, by LoranDeSore reflects Loki as a teacher, a friend, and as a battle-hardened warrior.

The next aspect I want to touch on is the Worldbreaker aspect, and it took me a bit of searching to find an illustration that wasn’t overly reminiscent of Tom Hiddleston, who is a human and therefore not someone I view as an accurate depiction of Loki nor an aspect of the god.

In any case, Loki, by Oren Miller is, to me, the most representative version of Loki as Worldbreaker that I have managed to find thus far. This is Loki plotting revenge, on the brink of tearing down everything that matters, of rending the universe itself if he has to. This is the Loki that will break every barrier you have to self-knowledge if you are brave enough to ask him. This is the Loki that has no patience for lies that serve no purpose but to avoid the truth. This is the Loki that essentially says you’ve had enough time to get things together the slow and easy way, but now it’s time for the hard and fast way.

I have faced Loki in his Worldbreaker aspect a few times, and it’s always difficult but always worth it in the end. Still, I prefer the Loki pictured above – the aspect I usually deal with – because there’s a lot more patience and a lot more trust. At least, that’s how I feel about it.

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 Loki, by Oren Miller is a representation of Loki in His guise as Worldbreaker

The last aspect I feel a need to discuss is Loki as Destroyer, which I feel is best encapsulated in the piece Chaos Incarnate by OFools. In his guise as Destroyer, Loki brings Ragnarok around. The way I understand this aspect, Loki is the one responsible for ensuring that the current world ends so that a new one can begin. He is the catalyst, the one that keeps the gods from stagnating. In order to create, he must first destroy. To do that, his fire has to destroy him, consume him until there is nothing left but the rage needed to cause the end of one world to make way for the new.

This is Loki at his most destructive, at his most terrifying – and this is the aspect of Loki that non-Lokeans tend to assume is the only one Loki has. This is all they see, but they do not see that the destruction is necessary. The Norse dichotomy wasn’t order vs. chaos or good vs. evil – although those are easy shorthands – but action vs. stagnation. Loki is the god that makes sure the universe never stalls, never stagnates. Order vs. chaos comes close to that dichotomy, but it isn’t quite accurate (I highly recommend reading Culture of the Teutons by Vilhelm Grønbech if you want to learn more).

The reason I insist on discussing this aspect of Loki is that many Lokeans shy away from discussing this aspect, just like many shy away from discussing his aspect as Worldbreaker. They are not the same aspect, as Loki still retains his sanity in his Worldbreaker aspect. He still has enough control to be angry, ruthless, and methodical. Though I have not experienced his aspect as Destroyer, I feel as though that aspect is the one that he embodies only when Ragnarok occurs – when his rage has grown past his ability to control it, and he is consumed by his own flames.

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Chaos Incarnate by OFools captures Loki in His guise as Destroyer

These are only a few of the aspects Loki holds. He is a god of infinite form, and everyone who venerates Him will work with different aspects. Some may only work with one – others with many. These are a few I felt needed to be discussed, as they seem to be the more well-known of his aspects.

That said, I leave you with the customary disclaimer: The views here are my own, and only mine. I do not claim to speak for Loki or any of the other gods. Please take the time to think critically and decide what is and isn’t true for you yourself.

The Change Loki Wreaks

Loki can bring cataclysmic change into the lives of those who follow him, and that may be the hardest aspect of Loki to deal with, especially for those who are unprepared for what exactly that can mean.

In the Loki’s Wyrdlings Facebook group I run with Karlesha Silverros, a member asked what happens after Loki introduces cataclysmic change into a person’s life and whether Loki stays around to provide comfort and soothing during the change.

In my experience, Loki only introduces change to that degree when there are truths inside a person they have refused to acknowledge for too long. The hardest work we will ever do with Loki is learning to face ourselves. I’d say if Loki had a single piece of advice to give to everyone who follows him, it would simply be the old Greek tenet of “Know thyself.”

It is when we forget to acknowledge the deepest truths of our inner self that Loki introduces truly chaotic levels of change, as he is rather intolerant of people hiding from themselves. A simple acknowledgment that you do lie to yourself about certain things can go a long way in mitigating the level of chaos, as it suggests a willingness to come to terms with the truth of your own life.

From my perspective, I’d say a person who comes to Loki and sees a cataclysmic change in a small period of time is a person who has lied to themselves, repressed their feelings, and put themselves last in their own lives for far longer than they realize. It is easy to delude ourselves into believing that we are happy with the lives we’re leading, but the gods, and Loki especially, see the truths we refuse to admit to ourselves.

This is why so many people stay in relationships they know are unhealthy far past the time they should have pulled out. It is why people stay at jobs that go nowhere, refusing to chase the dreams they hold dearest to them because it’s safer to risk nothing than to chase a dream and fail – yet the most rewarding of those two options is to chase the dream. Whether you fail or succeed matters far less than the effort you put forth to realize your dreams. It is why people who are often discouraged in academics drop out of school so often rather than pursuing the opportunity to prove the people around them wrong.

Loki, as Lothur, gave us passion. To see us fail to utilize that – what else would he be compelled to do but introduce change to see the gift he gave us put to use?

From my perspective, the best way to be close with Loki is to be real with yourself, to be honest about your dreams, and to pursue them with as much passion as you can bring forth.

As for the other question asked, about being comforted during a change that Loki has introduced, why would he comfort someone over an action he has taken? Loki generally has reasons for the things he does, as all gods do, and to ask him to comfort us over change he has brought to us is, from my perspective, a bit insulting. It is like asking a fire to be supportive of the fact that you’re too hot sitting next to it.

Our gods aren’t safe, and inviting Loki into your life automatically means inviting the potential for a cataclysmic level of change in every aspect of your life.

The changes he brings are always for the better, assuming that you are able to make yourself face up to the truths you’ve denied for too long. We live in a society that doesn’t really encourage self-reflection or self-knowledge, and it is an essential skill to develop if you plan to work with any god, but it is doubly essential if you wish to work with Loki.

I reiterate – our gods are not safe.

Who Goes to Valhalla? Or, Odin is a God of War AND Wisdom, not War Alone

It seems to me that every Heathen group eventually has a conversation about who is worthy to go to Valhalla. Someone inevitably insists that only warriors who fall in battle can enter Valhalla, and they decide it’s disrespectful to believe otherwise.

Perhaps the reason that conversation comes up so frequently is that warriors falling in battle and ending up in Valhalla is frequently mentioned by the lore left to us. Once a warrior falls in battle, Freya and Odin split the fallen between them.

There are a couple of considerations the people who posit the argument that Odin only accepts fallen warriors into Valhalla fail to make.

The first of those is that the lore we have available to us in the Eddas and Sagas contain myths that have been rewritten in the hands of Christian writers. It is very possible that the reason Snorri mentioned Valhalla as the heaven for those who die in battle was due to the Christian ideal of fighting for the kingdom of god, which was a prevalent ideal at the time he recorded the stories. Snorri may have simply excluded information from the Eddas because he was writing for a Christian audience – we have no way of knowing with any certainty that Valhalla was restricted to only warriors who fell in battle.

The second of those considerations is that Odin is a god of war and wisdom. It is hard to imagine a god of both qualities stacking his army with a single type of soldier. The best armies, in the human world, are comprised of a vast array of professionals alongside combatants. In American armies, there are professionals that focus on mechanics, engineering, technology, scientific research, historical research, and the list continues. Not everyone who enlists in the military will face combat – there are plenty of units that are noncombatant. That does not mean they are irrelevant to the functioning of the military; it just means they are best suited to working behind the front lines. If human intelligence has taught us that the best militaries are comprised of multiple units with a great number of professionals, who are we to say that Odin would only take combatants in Valhalla?

To try and determine who Odin would or would not take is arrogance at its finest. It’s like people forget, when arguing anything slightly theological, that we are not gods and we cannot speak for them. The only one capable of deciding who can be accepted into Valhalla is Odin himself.

To those who believe only warriors can enter those halls, I wonder what would happen if they entered the hall and found themselves face-to-face with noncombatants. At that point, would the fighters find themselves angry with Odin for daring to accept noncombatants into his hall?  Isn’t this far more disrespectful than the people who believe that Odin can and will accept whoever he wants?

I think there are questions that people fail to ask themselves, and they get caught up in Odin’s aspect as a deity of war and all too often forget that he is also a deity of wisdom. There isn’t a single military on earth comprised of just fighters. Why in the nine realms would Odin exhibit less wisdom than humanity in putting together his own?

What Polytheist Priests Should Provide

One of John Beckett’s latest posts, Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy? brings up some pretty interesting points. I’m reminded a little about the post I wrote about Communicating with the Gods as it can be difficult for people to tell the difference.

Beckett makes a point to differentiate between mental health and divine communication, which I respect. In a world where everyday interaction with the gods isn’t commonplace, it’s easy to understand how sudden divine communication could be seen as a sudden bout of insanity instead. That’s generally not how mental health works, which is a good thing to know.

As someone who communicates with the divine on a regular basis, I’m highly aware of how easily it would be for someone to take the experiences I share with them and twist them around to use as an effort to prove that I’m crazy. Because our society really does not have the cultural context needed to understand what direct interaction with deity entails.

I’ve been a practicing polytheist for so long now I don’t remember what it’s like to not expect the gods to just show up on a whim. I had no cultural context for it when it started happening, and it was unnerving and unsettling mostly because I had no one to turn to, no one to rely on, no one to understand what was happening. I had to figure all of that out on my own. Well, on my own and with the help of the gods. In a way, as the gods were showing up to the point I felt like I might be losing my mind, they were also showing me how to understand them — the gods helped me understand what a polytheistic framework looks like.

I can’t say that I don’t still find it unsettling sometimes when the gods drop in, especially when the god in question is one I don’t know. But I don’t find it impossible the way I might have before I started to understand what the world looks like through the eyes of a polytheist. I have met gods in human form, seen gods channel themselves through friends who are open to the experience, held conversations with gods in dreams, and communicated with gods in rituals. They are everywhere, and they take human form when they feel the need to do so. It’s weird to talk about the experiences I’ve had with gods who choose to come to me wearing a human form, as I know I’m going to deal with people thinking I’m making things up or going crazy.

But I deal with the gods on a regular basis – that’s part of what it means to be a polytheist priest. Loki and Freyr may be the ones for whom I do the most work, but once the gods know you are willing to do work, they know they can come to you for help, and they aren’t very shy about it. I view my role as a polytheist priest as one of facilitation – helping people find the gods that are trying to find them. Forging relationships. Creating friendships. In a way, I view my role to be one of networking gods to humans, humans to gods. Considering the gods I do the most work for, that role makes sense – Loki and Freyr are both very social deities, though they tend to run in different circles. The friendship between them connects them, thus creating an expansive network. It is through the work I do as their priest that allows those aspects of the gods to echo through me and throughout the Pagan and Polytheist communities.

Because I view my role as a priest to be one of networking gods and humans and vice versa, I take the communications I receive from the gods very seriously – though sometimes they can be rather confusing and/or exasperating. I’m open about the experiences I have with the gods so that I can let people know that someone will take them seriously, even when the rest of the world is telling them they’re crazy. And I’m open so that people know that they can approach me with deity-related problems and know that I will do the best I can to help them find the way to the answers they are seeking (as I don’t believe I hold the answers – I just know how to nudge people into asking the questions they are overlooking).

Take, for example, the latest direct interaction I had with a deity. I was having lunch with a friend, and we were minding our own business, talking about different pantheons of gods (what else do polytheists talk about? :p) when a person approaches our table. As he approaches, I’m already on high alert, my shoulder blades are tensed, and I’m feeling a very strong aura of “this person is not what he appears to be” which is an energetic aura that I generally only ever feel with deities using flesh form.

He starts having a conversation with us, asks us what we’re having for lunch, and I get this nudge from Freyr to buy the person lunch. So, I give him money to get lunch, he gives me a hug, and he sits down and starts talking to us in-depth about literature. My friend was reading some Shakespeare for class, and the person goes “He was alright” and tells us he prefers a French collection of poetry called Les Fleurs de Mal, which is about Satan dreaming.

After this conversation ends, I get out my phone and instantly start doing research because by this point I’ve realized I’m dealing with a deity, and I feel a strong need to know which one (I’m fairly certain the gods aren’t allowed to give their names to humans when they show up in human form. I’m not sure why, but uh… well, the effect Jesus had when he did that may play a role). Anyway, I look up this French poetry collection, learn that the version of Satan mentioned in the poems is actually Hermes Trismegistus…which is the Greek form of the Egyptian god Tehuti (also known as Thoth).

Now, while I’ve had some run-ins with Egyptian gods (namely Bast), I’d never even met Tehuti. The friend who was with me at lunch is Kemetic, but she doesn’t do a lot for Tehuti. I tell this story to another one of my friends who is also Kemetic (and does work for Tehuti), and she confirms for me that the actions the person took were pretty much exactly how Tehuti typically behaves. Gods, like humans, have personalities, so I take her word for this. The gods do whatever they have to when they need to be noticed.

A couple days after this encounter, one of my other friends, a Hellenistic polytheist, randomly texts me about how to make proper offerings to Odin. She has apparently decided to create a business contract with Odin in order to determine where she stands with the Greek pantheon, since Odin has so much knowledge of other gods. It was an interesting direction to take, but I was curious as to why she wasn’t asking the Greek gods since she already has ties there. The answer I got was that she had asked Hermes what kind of relationship they would have, and the response she got was a lot of chaotic events – traffic tickets, small accidents, etc. She felt that it was the equivalent of being told to work for Hermes while he did everything to mess up her life.

I then explained to her that sometimes the gods don’t understand human affairs – some gods are closer to humans than others. I told her that considering Hermes Trismegistus was coming to me, in person, it was fairly obvious that Hermes wanted to work with her…and perhaps was worried that she was going to turn away from that relationship and didn’t know what to do about it.

As a polytheist priest, this is normal. This is what it means to live within a polytheist framework. Sometimes, the gods stay distant and communicate only via dreams and within specific religious contexts. Other times, they drop in to have lunch wearing a human suit. Both are perfectly natural occurrences – the gods do what they want when they want. They are everywhere – it’s only that our society has forgotten what it means to live close to the gods. Because the monotheistic bent to our world has convinced people that it is impossible to stand next to a god. Impossible to have a conversation with a god in a flesh-based form. Impossible to hear a god.

But it isn’t. The gods are very real, very present, and very willing to interact with us. We just have to learn how to interact with them again. They never forgot us – we’re the ones who forgot them. And it is up to polytheists, especially the polytheist priests, to teach people how to hear the gods again, as well as how to recognize them when they choose to walk among us (and they do this often). The gods want to be heard as much as we want to hear – but first, we have to recognize that we have the ability to hear. We have to stop convincing ourselves we’re crazy when we’re receiving a legitimate message from the gods. We have to create a framework where we can talk to the gods and the gods can talk to us without constant fear of insanity making it so people who experience the gods in direct ways have no one to turn to.

The gods are real. The experiences we have of the gods are real. Learning to live with gods who change, grow, adapt, and are fluid is perhaps the hardest part of being a polytheist. Because the gods? They don’t fit in the nice, neat boxes we call lore. They don’t fit into the character sketches we make of them from the myths we read. They don’t fit into archetypes. They are complex, sovereign beings with agency of their own – and until that understanding is reached, communicating with the gods may always cause a person to reach for the question “Am I Hearing a God or Am I Going Crazy?”

So, thank you, Beckett, for pointing out one of the glaring foundational lapses of modern-day polytheism. That is something that needs to be addressed directly instead of whispered about being closed doors. The gods are real. Your experiences are real. And there are people out there who will take you at your word and offer you the understanding you need. Polytheist priests are rare, but we do exist. And I will always make myself available for any person who finds themselves at a loss for what to do when the gods drop in without warning. That is the bare minimum of what it means to be a priest. Because being a priest – yes, it is about serving the gods. But it is also about helping people. It is a calling to both the gods and to those who honor them. Let’s not forget to help the people in our eagerness to serve the gods.

Favor of the Gods and/or Divine Entitlement

I read a Facebook post today – which, to be fair, is almost always enough to make a person question their sanity, considering how much sheer stupidity is displayed on Facebook every day. Just today, I’ve read about people who pretend to be incarnations of deities, people who claim to channel deities to advance their own agendas, and, of course, the comment that has led me to write this post.

(Note: For ethical reasons, I’m not providing the name of the group or the names of the members who made these comments).

In one of the Facebook groups I’m part of, someone mentioned how he was walking home when it started hailing, and he decided to go to a shop that was past his house. As he started towards the shop, however, 3-4 bolts of lightning laced through the sky and thunder roared overhead. This continued for a solid minute before he decided to turn around, and thirty seconds after he decided to turn around, the hailing stopped completely. He said it made him feel like Thor was watching over him, like Thor had struck his hammer as hard as he could to get the guy to turn back from the shop.

Now, this story? This is amazing, and I have no problems with stories like this. In fact, it is very possible that Thor has taken an interest in this guy and was warning him about the storm. Sometimes, when the gods try to get our attention, they yell – and sometimes we listen, and we reap the benefits from paying attention.

In the comments was where I found the problem. One guy said: “If one believes that metaphysical forces and beings have a particular and personal interest in one’s welfare and fortunes, it can lead to narcissism and a tendency towards magical thinking and ‘divine entitlement.’ The Aesir, from my study of the texts, don’t operate that way. They don’t give gifts and personal protection. They provide examples for us to follow.”

There are so many things wrong with this comment that it’s hard to know where to start. The whole “but the books don’t say that” mentality – well, that smacks of monotheistic thinking that hasn’t been shaken. The gods can’t be confined to the books they are found within – the description of a god is a description, not the god in full.

And the whole thing about the gods not giving gifts and personal protection? Uh, I think this person may want to take another look at the lore – the gods gave humans the first gifts. For someone who is sticking to the lore, he sure missed the part where Odin and co. gave humans “soul, sense, and heat/goodly hue” according to the Bellows translation of the Poetic Edda. There are stories within the Sagas about gods who grant personal protection to particular people – so this person contradicts himself by first mentioning the texts and then stating the gods don’t do something they can be seen to be doing throughout the lore.

He salvages a little bit when he says “They [the gods] provide examples for us to follow” because that stands on its own. Our gods don’t give us edicts, but we honor them the best when we mimic them. Mimicry is truly the highest form of flattery, so acting as we believe the gods would act in certain situations can help us figure ways out of situations – it allows us to retain our independence from the gods, which is an irony that bears further consideration.

However, the other thing that this guy said is also not quite wrong – believing in the personal protection of metaphysical forces and gods can lend itself to narcissism, and, in extreme cases, what he calls ‘divine entitlement.’ I touched on this concept a bit, in my post about action and gratitude. The gods can be our friends, they can be close companions, and they can be our benefactors. But they are never beholden to us. We make offerings so that they may grant us their favor in return – may does not imply must.

Entitlement is entitlement, whether there is a human on the other end of your expectations or a god. For the most part, we all possess (gods and humans alike) agency and autonomy. Because autonomy plays a role in every agreement we make (gods and humans both), there is no external force applied to ensure that every agreement is kept in truth. If a friend asks me to help him clear out his garage and I agree to do so, I can decide that it is no longer in my best interest to help him clear out his garage and back out of the agreement. This might make him angry, and it might impact our relationship to some degree, but he is not entitled to my help. No one is entitled to another person’s autonomy, and, as I mentioned recently, the gods are a people of their own – we aren’t entitled to their help, either.

But we’ve all met those people who tend to assume that the first time you help them means that you’ll always be available to help them, and pretty soon, the only time that person is contacting you is when they need something from you. None of us likes this – we hate being treated like tools, and it makes us feel like we’re being taken advantage of. I can’t imagine that the gods feel much different when the only time someone calls on them is to help them with a problem. That’d annoy all of us – why do people think it wouldn’t annoy the gods?

In some ways, then, the comment actually has some good advice – it’s just been twisted in a way that makes it hard to glean that advice. The gods do offer friendship, personal protection, and gifts to humans – when those humans are respectful and treat the relationships like relationships and treat the gods like they are more than just a tool for human convenience. Relationships aren’t built out of a sense of the way you can use the other person, but out of a sense of mutual trust and respect. If you’re using a god…well, I’m just going to err on the side of caution here and say the outcome will probably end in the god’s favor.

Many Vs. One – Crucial Paradigms

I had a conversation with a Christian today that didn’t devolve into an argument. I understand enough about Christianity and monotheism in general that I understand that the gods within those systems tend to work with a supremacy clause – either:I am the only god in existence” or “I am the only god worthy of worship” or a combination of the two. For all the Abrahamic faiths, I’d say it’s generally a combination.

Anyway, she was attempting to understand my views and beliefs – after telling me that she didn’t view my religion as a religion at all – which is such a knee-jerk, commonplace reaction that I no longer get angry, but I still roll my eyes at it (if I got angry every time it happened, I’d be perpetually angry, and, as I said to a friend recently, I refuse to invest in anger). She said that she understood that people used to believe in there being gods for everything, that they saw the moon as a god, the sun as a god, the wind as a god, etc. And I give her credit – she was trying so hard to understand, but she was doing so from a monotheistic worldview.

Polytheism is difficult, at best, for even us, as polytheists, to articulate. Because it comes in so many flavors, so many varieties – for some polytheists, maybe the moon is a god. For some of us, there are multiple gods who are associated and/or responsible for the moon. For others, there may only be a single moon god – who knows? The possibilities, the varieties, are endless. To explain those varieties to a monotheist who clings to the Bible as the literal truth (that was expressed during the conversation) is virtually impossible.

The most interesting part of the conversation, however, happened when she asked about the concept of sin. And I tried to explain that sin doesn’t really exist – I mean, there are technically two “sins” in the Norse framework (oath-breaking and kin-killing), but there is no concept of humanity being inherently flawed. I’m not sure that there is a concept of sin at all in the Hellenistic world – I think the closest one comes is in accumulating an overabundance of miasma, but that can be cleansed. And I honestly just don’t know if the concept of sin exists outside of Abrahamic religions at all – which made that a difficult topic. I guess it’s an area I need to do more research in, so that when Christians ask that question, I can properly answer it. I just wasn’t expecting such an in-depth inquiry.

And then we got to a question that illustrates one of the fundamental differences between Abrahamic faiths and polytheistic faiths. She asked, “So what do your gods tell you to do?” Like she expected me to list out a set of edicts and commands that the gods had set forth to be followed. Maybe the gods of monotheism want their followers to do everything to the letter, to be perfect little soldiers, but those aren’t the gods I know. And I wouldn’t – and don’t – follow gods that demand perfect obedience from me.

The gods I honor have never demanded perfect obedience from me. In fact, they have never demanded my loyalty, my friendship, or the sacrifices I make for them. Everything I have done for the gods – and continue to do for them – is done because I made a choice. Odin didn’t ask me to swear an oath to him, to become one of his warriors – he made an offer, and I accepted it. I swore fealty to him on my own, bound myself to him of my own volition. It was never a command.

I didn’t become Loki’s priest because he commanded me to do so. He asked me if I wanted to do it, and I chose. I stepped into the opportunity he offered – I made the decision on my own. I was never forced into the position. Loki would never force anyone into anything – that’s just not who he is.

I have never done anything for the gods I call friends, whom I honor with my offerings, prayers, libations, and rituals, against my will. I have never been presented with an ultimatum from any of them. I have been offered hard choices, and I have always been told that the path I choose to walk is my own.

Perhaps, in this, my Celtic ancestry shows through. I am loyal to the gods who have never attempted to command it, in the same way Celtic warriors were loyal only to the men who proved themselves worthy of the title of warlord. Those men never demanded loyalty from their warriors – they simply earned it. That reflects the way that I have come to know the Norse gods. I’m not loyal to them because they demand it – I am loyal to them because they have inspired me to it.

But to explain that to a Christian who views the Bible as the literal truth, other religions (and therefore other gods) as falsehoods, and cannot envision a god who doesn’t command – well, there’s the crux of the problem. We don’t have gods who lead us through our lives with laid-out commands or promise us impossible rewards. We have gods who will throw us out of nests to teach us to fly and show us that the benefits in life can be reaped only after the ordeals we endure.

To be a polytheist is to embrace a multitude of experience, of perspectives, and of the way life itself is lived. Monotheists can’t think that way – their religions promote a singular truth, a single perspective, a single experience. Tunnel vision is a problem only monotheists have – there’s truth to the statement that polytheism can easily incorporate monotheism, but monotheism leaves no room for anything but itself. Because of that, finding acceptance in the monotheistic society we live within may prove to be close to impossible, but that’s one battle I refuse to stop fighting. That’s the mistake the polytheists of old made, and it’s one I won’t repeat – our polytheistic religions are valid. And I will not back down from any monotheist who tries to convince me that I am somehow less human than them because I’m not like them. If there’s any cause in the world I’ll raise a banner for, it’s for polytheists.

 

Approaching Deity

The Gods have personhood – by which I mean they have agency of their own. They are people in their own right. We often mistake the word people as being synonymous with human, as humanity is the only race on this planet that has been ascribed a level of personhood.

The Gods are of a different race than us, and they don’t normally reside in this world – though I’m sure there are a few who choose to live among us. Because the Gods don’t typically reside here, it is easy to see how people may form the impression that personhood implies being human.

Personhood, however, simply implies having agency. It implies having a mind of one’s own, and thus implies the ability to make one’s own decisions – autonomy is guaranteed. With this in mind, it becomes easier to see that the Gods are people, too. They are a different race of people, to be sure, but they are people.

That is what makes it so important that we don’t approach the Gods using the God Faucet or thinking of the Gods as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky (See Sources). These are two ways of approaching the Gods that have become commonplace, especially among those who are new to Paganism.

The God Faucet is essentially saying, “I need a god that rules x domain, so I will arbitrarily pick a name from a hat and approach that god.” The reason that this is problematic, when dealing with the Gods, is that it ignores the personhood of the Gods. We don’t approach other humans this way – why are there Pagans who believe it’s okay to approach Gods in this way? The Gods are greater than us by their very nature, yet there are Pagans who approach the Gods almost as if they are made for the convenience of humanity. Perhaps it is because we live in such a convenience-based society, as there seem to be among us those who have forgotten that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Everyone includes the Gods.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you have just gone shopping and are carrying several bags of heavy items, and you have to walk a mile back to your apartment. Let’s pretend you just moved in, so everyone you walk by by to get back to your apartment is a stranger. No one offers to help you, but you don’t expect help from those you don’t know. You certainly don’t turn to one of the strangers you walk by and ask them to help you  – you already understand there is no reason for them to help you, so you don’t ask to begin with.

Now, the next day, you’re walking down the same street, but this time, your hands are empty. You’re simply exploring. You get ready to go into a particular shop when you catch sight of someone staring into the window with a wistful expression, and you decide to strike up a conversation. The two of you start talking, find out you have a lot in common, trade names – maybe numbers – and maybe even make arrangements to hang out in the future. You’ve established a relationship.

The next time you go shopping, you happen to run into each other and start talking. However, this time, you have an established relationship. Perhaps help is offered or asked for, and help is received or denied based on the circumstances of everyone involved in the situation.

This is the way relationships between all people are formed, whether the relationship in question is between two humans, two Gods, a human and a God, two spirits, a human and a spirit, or between a spirit and a God. All relationships require an origin. Even if the only relationship you want with a God is that of patron-client, patrons are often far more willing to help those clients who make an effort to understand the patron than they are those clients who expect everything to go their way.

The God Faucet is picking out a deity and saying, “Hey, do this thing for me even though I have no pre-established relationship.” The Vending Machine works in a similar vein, although it takes it a step further by insisting that the Gods are only around for human convenience. “If I make an offering, then you have to do this for me.”

That’s not the primary purpose of offerings. The primary reason we give offerings to the Gods is so that They may give in return. May does not imply must. We offer prayer, libations, and ritual – among other things – to the Gods in order to celebrate the relationships we share with the Gods. They are the way that we hang out with deity, the same way we go to restaurants, movies, and other venues to hang out with friends. To know the Gods, you must treat them as if they are people in their own right. Not convenient shop-owners who can provide you with what you want when you give them the right coin.

Alongside being asked by newer Pagans how to know that the Gods are communicating, I also often get asked how to approach deity. The question has a simple answer, yet people seem to dislike the answer. If you want to know deity, you have to approach the Gods the way they want to be approached. They converse with us through the means they have told us to use, means that we have known about for centuries. Pray. Offer libations. Participate in ritual. If you want to know the Gods, get to know the Gods through the means they have provided for us to get to know them. If doing so makes you uncomfortable, either get over it or get used to not knowing deity.

This is one area where there’s no real alternative, though there are multiple ways that we can approach the offerings we give to the Gods. But to know deity, we have to make an effort. All human relationships take effort. Why should relationships with the Gods be any different?

 

Sources 

Kin’ani. http://tessdawson.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-god-faucet.html  Explains the idea of the God Faucet.

Kirk Thomas. “Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods.” In one of the later chapters in the books, the idea of the Great Vending Machine in the Sky is addressed.