Tag Archives: devotion

In Contemplation of the Gods

Since my 2nd semester of graduate school is wrapping up – I have one more presentation to give on Tuesday – I have spent some quality time on the Pagan blogosphere in the last few days. It made me realize just how much I have missed due to the busy school schedule I have, and I am a little frustrated and a bit overwhelmed by how much there is to catch up on. Overall, though, I’m glad I have so much to read through because it means I will have a lot to think about – and therefore write about.

One of the blog articles I read today was Ted Czukor’s “A Contemplation on Caregiving and Karma” over on PaganSquare. One particular passage jumped out at me:

The very act of being born exposes us to pain. To joy and pleasure, yes, but also to grief and pain. We purchased the whole package, and it was unfair to keep pestering God to change the rules. In fact…in fact…it may be that the gods themselves are subject to pain. And they have no one to pray to, to take it away.

This is not something that we usually consider, preferring to imagine ourselves hard done-by and taken advantage-of by powers superior to us. But think about it for a moment: If the price of human life is to be exposed to such pain as this – then what must be the price of attaining Godhead?

This passage actually slammed into me, as if opening my eyes to a new potential reality, and I literally had to spend about ten minutes digesting this before I could process it. That is generally the reaction I have to something when I come across new insights that ring as divinely inspired and profoundly true.

The idea that the Gods themselves feel pain is not a new one to me – I have explained before that the Worldbreaker face of Loki seems to me to be his grief transformed into rage, the pain of his loss an unnameable pain that drives him to the edge of despair and forces him into his role of the Destroyer of Worlds.

What actually hit me here was the idea that the Gods themselves have no one to turn to in order to unburden themselves of the pain they hold the way that we are able to turn to them and unburden ourselves. They bear their pain and our pain alongside it, and few of us ever notice that the Gods themselves carry incredible burdens, generally without a word of complaint.

Czukor makes a strong point, too, when they point out that many people who honor deities tend to blame those gods for the wrongs that fall into their lives. Over the years, I have seen many people blame the Gods for the misfortune that falls upon them, thinking that the misfortune itself is divinely inspired when the truth is that their actions have led them to the misfortunes they face.

I have also seen people grow distraught and even angry at the thought that one of their gods has abandoned them, that they have been left bereft of their gods as if being punished for whatever they have potentially done wrong. This is a thought that comes from arrogance, for the Gods are ever around us – when they seem to abandon us, it is only because we have stopped straining to hear them, too caught up in our own pain and blinded too much by the problems in our own lives to properly cherish the relationships we have with the Gods.

The Gods, who I have learned, are incredibly patient, will wait for decades, if not longer, to draw the right followers to them so that they may craft the best relationships they can with the people they feel are best suited to their paths. One of the things that I have been told by the Gods in the past is that my effort to truly hear them does not go unnoticed. How frustrating it must be to be constantly ignored!

The reason, incidentally, that I shifted my thinking from a monotheistic to a polytheistic framework is one evening that I spent at my ancestral home, contemplating the nature of the existence of a singular God. What came from that meditation was the understanding that the existence of such a God would be unbearably, unspeakably lonely – I empathized to the point I almost felt the need to escape that loneliness by any means necessary. That was the day that I realized that there had to be more than one God, and that was when the shift towards polytheistic understanding really began for me.

The question Czukor poses at the end – what is the price of obtaining Godhead – is not a question with an easy answer, nor a question that can be answered with any real degree of knowledge. There is a method of apotheosis in every religion, although some of those methods are lost to time, and it is the aim of many magical practices to eventually achieve apotheosis.

What kind of sacrifice would such a path require? What kind of hardship would a person face if they chose to walk that path? How many of the Gods are humans who simply reached Godhood? We know of a few – Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, the Dalai Lama – that became Gods in their own right. There have been many more, I am certain of this, but their names have either been lost to time or conferred to us as the names of the Gods we now worship.

I have heard as many people praise the Gods as damn them, failing to understand that the Gods themselves have agency and that having agency means that they, too, are capable of feeling. So, the next time you find yourself blaming a god for the problems you face, perhaps take a step back and contemplate the kind of pain you might be causing them.

Religion and Worship are NOT Dirty Words

I came across a question about whether Lokeanism itself can be called a religion, and there were quite a few commenters uncomfortable with the idea that Lokeanism could potentially fit into the umbrella category of religions.

I personally find it odd to refer to my personal practice as Lokeanism. To me, that suggests that I only honor Loki and follow a henotheistic path rather than the polytheistic one I actually follow. Being a Lokean, to me, simply means that I am a person who does dedicated work for Loki.

With that logic, I am also an Odins-person, a Tyrs-person, a Freyrs-person… etc, and so on. I’m not entirely sure where the title Lokean originated, but it honestly seems to be a title Lokeans use as identifiers so other Lokeans can find each other.

In all honesty, the question the person intended was more along the lines of “Does working with Loki mean being religious?”

The short answer is yes. Yes, it does.

I do not know when the idea that the very words “religion” and “worship” are anathema to Paganism began, but it is not a healthy way to view relationships with the gods and other spirits.

Religion is a complicated concept, one so complicated that even the longest definition is still too simple to fully define it. One of the best definitions I’ve come across for religion comes from Vexen Crabtree, and their definition of religion is as follows:

Religions are shared collections of transcendental beliefs that have been passed on from believers to converts, that are held by adherents to be actively meaningful and serious and either based on (1) formally documented doctrine (organized religion) or (2) established cultural practices (folk religion). In both forms, there are religious professionals who embody formal aspects of the religion and who act in positions of leadership and governance, and there are certain rituals reserved for them to carry out. The beliefs generate practical implications for how life should be lived.

Religions often include: spiritual explanations of our place in the world in an attempt to answer questions about “why we are here”; worship of deities and/or supernatural entities (including ancestors); conceptions of “holy” and “sacred” activities ideas and objects; set rituals, calendar events based on the changing seasons, distinctive dress codes (especially for religious professionals), codes of morality and action that are given a mandate from a supernaturally great being, from a supernatural force or from the will of the Universe itself; and, a caste of privileged and exalted professionals who have particular claims to be in touch with transcendental forces.

Using this definition as a guide, working with Loki or any other deity falls under the category of folk religion. We have clergy – I cannot be a priest for a god that has no religion. That doesn’t even begin to make sense.

Now, the cultural practices and the codes of morality for those who work with Loki are generally the same as those that guide the religion of Heathenry. It is actually incredibly important to work with a deity through the cultural context of that god, as such a practice lends itself to a clearer understanding of that god and a better relationship.

That said, polytheistic religions are generally a) orthopraxic – based on practice rather than doctrine and b) reciprocal – the gods give to us and we give to them in a neverending cycle of exchange. That’s a severely reduced explanation and doesn’t necessarily apply to all polytheistic religions (there are too many to do that type of assessment).

There also seems to be this impression among Heathens in general, which carries over to Lokaens – that worshipping the gods is a horrific idea. Like, how dare we kneel before beings and supplicate ourselves? That is also ridiculous. Worship literally means “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” That’s the dictionary definition.

That means every time you feel affection for a god, you are offering that god your worship. Every time you are in awe of the sheer strength of the gods you honor, you offer them worship. With every libation you pour, every prayer you utter, every ritual you do, you offer them worship. That is what worship is – what devotion looks like. That is what it means to serve the gods.

If you serve the gods, you are part of a religion. There are millions upon millions of religions. Don’t let the ones that caused you harm in the past keep you from experiencing the fullness of the religious life you could lead now, on the path you have chosen for yourself, where you are surrounded by people who have chosen similar roads.

Religion and worship are not dirty words. Let’s stop pretending that what we’re doing is anything other than what it is – let’s stop lying to ourselves and others about the work we do for the gods we love.

Sources:

What is Religion? http://www.humanreligions.info/what_is_religion.html 

Google Dictionary search for “worship”

 

 

Devotional Poem: The God I Know

The God I Know

If only you could see the god I do,

See the way he shines with the radiance of the sun

And the kindness of its warmth in spring

 

Maybe then you would understand why

I have chosen to follow the path he has

Laid before me and asked me to walk down.

 

He laid a mantle before me and asked me,

His voice gentle and his eyes kind,

If I would be his priest, his friend.

 

I told him yes and the work began,

and then he showed me where to start.

 

He showed me people all mixed up,

Unable to find a place to call their own,

Hated simply for loving him.

 

They found themselves hated for their worship,

Because all anyone else saw in that choice

Was a choice to honor cruelty and hatred.

 

They saw Him as a coward; a cruel devil

Who deceived his way into the ranks of the gods

Only to murder the one they most beloved.

 

They tried to paint him as a figment,

A scholarly invention of a terrific villain,

And failed to read between the lines.

 

It is between the lines that I found this god,

The god whose friendship I cherish,

Whose path I walk with love and pride.

 

Loki lives in the in-between places,

Swims through the liminal as he shifts

Shape into the forms he holds dear.

 

In those liminal spaces, I see Him,

Caught between life and death,

Magnifying all opposites.

 

He is the laughter through tears,

The sanity in madness, the clarity

In confusion, the order in chaos

And everything in reverse.

 

He has many names and many sides,

And he brings many gifts to those

Who dare to walk beside him.

 

He shows me who I am and

Where I am going and why I matter

And reminds me how to be human.

 

He is the one who asked me to build,

And so I built a shelter for those who

Needed a place they could call home.

 

A place they could escape the judging eyes

Of those who refused to see Loki except

Through the lenses of hatred and fear.

 

I tried to build a refuge for those who

Needed a space to just be themselves,

To just breathe without fear.

 

Even now, that such space exists,

I know my work is not done –

It may never be done.

 

Because there is too much hatred,

Too much pride, and too much fear

In the eyes of those who hate a god.

 

They hate a god they do not know,

Make assumptions they cannot prove,

And criticize those who dare to trust Loki.

 

Few gods inspire as much fear as Loki

Which is ironic considering how much love

He holds for all of those who come to him.

 

He is one of the gods closest to people,

One that understands humans better

Than some of the other gods I know.

 

He has more patience and love than

I can ever express, and he is willing

To wait for a person to learn to trust.

 

Those who come to Loki, who really

See him, know that he is a god of self-truth,

And that he will not let you lie to yourself.

 

There are people who cannot abide that,

Who would delude themselves instead of

Face themselves – these are not Loki’s people.

 

Loki’s people are full of love and passion,

A zest for life that cannot be matched, and

A fire that burns for truth and revelation.

 

We are the spark that lights the match,

That sets the wheels in motion, that keeps

The world turning around us.

 

We take our inspiration from the world,

Even as the world tries to break us down,

And we keep rebuilding, hoping that,

One day, people will stop knocking us down.

 

Hoping that, one day, people will see

The Loki that we see. The Loki that

We have all come to love.

 

Devotional Primer

Some of the questions I have heard lately have centered around devotion. In particular, I have heard questions about how to offer devotion to the gods in everyday life.  

I usually focus more on the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of my practice, so I could easily go into a long discussion about why libations and offerings are the mainstays of polytheistic religions because of the way they allow us to maintain reciprocal relationships with the gods.

Rather than do that (though I certainly can if there is interest in that), I’m going to provide a brief sketch of how to get started and then list a few different activities people can undertake as devotional acts.

Getting Started

  • Choose tradition/religion to study.
  • Study that tradition/religion for a year before dedicating yourself to that path.
  • Set up an altar to the god/s that calls to you
    • Note: Figure out whether the god/s that call to you are actually interested in working with you. If they aren’t, don’t force yourself on them. Just like how we aren’t compatible with all people, we aren’t compatible with all gods. If a god comes to you that makes you uncomfortable, you can ask them to back off and leave you alone. You are not required to work with every spirit/deity that shows up. Same goes for the gods – they aren’t required to work with every human who takes an interest in them.

Altar Essentials

  • Altar cloth – this can be as simple as a bandana or as complex as a tapestry.
  • Image of the deity – there are tons of options for this one
    • Printed picture from a Google search (if money is tight!)
    • Carved statue of the god (check Etsy)
    • A hand-drawn rendition of the god (either self-done or commissioned)
    • Etc.
  • Offering dishes– there are also tons of options for this one
    • Any extra small cups/bowls that you happen to have sitting around
    • Buy a small cup/bowl from a thrift store or Etsy if you can afford it
    • Etc.

As you get more familiar with the god/s that you’re working with, you’ll start feeling pulled towards certain items that the deities want on their altars. Whether or not you can afford it – well, if you can’t, ask them to help you get it for them. If a god wants something badly enough, they will make it happen.

Daily Practice Options

  • Prayer
    • You can find tons of pre-written prayers for most deities on the internet. It is okay to copy a few down and use them. Generally, you kneel (or stand, if your ability makes kneeling too painful)before your altar and offer the prayer to the god by reading it out loud. You can also write your own prayers.
  • Libation
    • Generally, libations are alcoholic. It might take some research to figure out what the god/s that you’re working with like to drink. It might take trial/error. To do a simple libation, you simply pour the drink into the offering bowl, invite the deity to partake, and then drink afterward and offer a brief word of thanks or hail the god. What you do with the drink afterward is tradition-dependent, but it is fairly standard to simply take it outside and pour it on the ground. If you have absolutely no other option, pouring the remaining liquid down the sink drain is okay – but this is if you live in an area that makes pouring the libation on the ground unrealistic and/or if your physical ability prevents this kind of moving around.
    • If you cannot afford alcohol, water is always an acceptable libation. After all, water is life. I have never heard of a deity that would reject water, and I have never experienced the rejection of such a libation.
  • Divination
    • Do a daily rune or tarot reading related to your relationship with the god/s in question.

Long-term Devotional Acts

  • Continuously reading all the information you can on your religion/tradition and the gods you honor
  • Creating art for the gods
  • Dedicating a particular event or community service to the gods
  • Taking an oath in the service of the gods
  • Becoming a devotee, godspouse, or clergy

I hope this has given those who needed it a basic outline that will allow them to move forward with their devotional practice.

Trading with Tyr

I feel that the relationships I have with all the Gods are interesting, but I have to admit that my experience with Tyr today was fairly intriguing. Usually when one of the Gods wants something from me, I get a feeling about what offering they would like. Loki likes sweets. Odin seems fairly impartial, but he does like an occasional drink. Freyja likes candles. In any case, all of the Gods like different things. When one of the Gods wants something from me, I try to acquiesce with their desires.

Today was the first time Tyr really asked me for anything. As I was leaving school today, I got this sense that Tyr really wanted me to stop at the Mexican restaurant where one of my friends works. He wanted Mexican food, so I went in and sat down. My friend was working and she came up to me and asked what I wanted. I had no idea what Tyr wanted, so I decided to leave it up to Him by telling my friend to order whatever she thought was best. I ended up with a chicken chimicanga with rice and guacamole salad. Tyr didn’t want the chimichanga, but He did want the rice and salad along with the tortilla chips that come as an appetizer.

As I ate my portion of the meal, my friend came and sat with me and asked me if I would go by Wal-Mart and get her some queso fresco because she hadn’t eaten all day and she really wanted some queso fresco. I told her I would, and she said that she would give me the chimichanga meal in return. When she asked me, I wasn’t expecting a trade of any sort – she suggested it, and I realized that Tyr was making His presence felt through the trade. Finding a balance is what He does best, after all.

So I finished eating and boxed up what Tyr wanted to bring Him as an offering when I got home, then went to Wal-Mart and bought my friend her queso fresco. When I got home, I found a tree and laid the food out beside the tree, then covered it with the leaves that surrounded it. That is how I normally leave food offerings because I feel it honors both the Gods and the land spirits where I live when I do so. Tyr was happy with that, so I felt fulfilled. I don’t know about other people, but when I leave offerings that are accepted, I get this sense of what is almost bliss.

Anyway, I started thinking about what I had to go through in order to obtain Tyr’s food, and I think that part of the offering itself was the trade that was enacted between me and my friend. I do find it interesting, though, that Tyr wanted Mexican food but didn’t just ask me to pick Him something up the way the other Gods might. It makes me wonder if all of the offerings I end up giving Him are going to be preceded by some sort of barter like the one that occurred between me and my friend. I’m okay with the answer to that question being yes because the experience was another one confirming the very real presence of the Gods in my life, and I count all such experiences as blessings.