Tag Archives: Odin

The Lokean Stigma

The last time I gave an offering to Odin, I asked him for some advice on my path. I used the runes to divine the answer to that question, as Odin is one of the gods I have a harder time hearing through a godphone. I pulled Ansuz and Perthro, a rune I associate with Odin followed by one I associate with Loki. Through that, I got the message – the work I do for Odin is the work I do for Loki. Or, put another way, the work I do for Loki is the work Odin has set before me – set before us both, perhaps.

The other work I do for Odin mostly comes from people asking me about him and informing those people of his path. Most of that happens in the form of emails that I receive. I don’t receive many emails from people who visit this blog, yet those who email me almost always ask me about Odin. It only took a few emails of that sort to realize that communication was the work that Odin had set before me.

The work I do for Loki comes through the communities I have helped build, including the Loki’s Wyrdlings Facebook page, the creation of Loki University, and the publication of Loki’s Torch. Since I started my work for Loki, I have seen the Lokean community expand ever outward, with more and more Lokean communities forming and Lokeans in general gaining more acceptance among other Heathens. I have seen the Troth lift the ban against hailing Loki at Troth-sponsored events, and I have witnessed the defense of Lokeans in many organizations.

For all the growth, however, there is still more work to do. Not all Heathen organizations are accepting of Lokeans, nor are all kindreds or all Heathens. Even though we all practice the same religion, the fact that we worship Loki serves to set us apart from our communities. We are still forced to live on the fringes of Heathenry, as if Loki himself was never considered part of the Aesir (despite evidence to the contrary).

In the wider Heathen world, especially in communities where Lokeans are barely heard of or discussed, there are several dominant beliefs that hurt Lokeans – some of which are based in truth, though that truth is often distorted. Some of those distorted beliefs include the following:

  1. Lokeans are just Marvel fan-girls looking for attention
  2. People just worship Loki so they can have an excuse to become a god-spouse
  3. Lokeans worship an evil god so they must also be evil
  4. Lokeans are naïve because they only see the “good” face of Loki and never deal with his darker aspects

With the exception of #3, the Lokean community itself contributes to the wide spread of these misinformed, distorted beliefs. The 3rd one disproves itself, as anyone with an understanding of Norse religion would understand that Loki was never viewed as evil, and that the Norse didn’t actually have a concept of good vs. evil.

The other three, however, are perpetuated because many people in the wider Heathen world generally end up interacting with Lokeans who fit into one of the other three categories – Marvel Lokeans, godspouses, and Lokeans who refuse to deal with the harsher aspects of our god.

From what I’ve seen over the last few years, as the Lokean community has grown, there are two types of Marvel Lokeans. There are the ones who view Marvel Loki as another guise of Loki, another tool he uses to get his message across to the world. These are the Lokeans who willfully and dutifully engage with the lore and learn more about Loki and expand their understanding of the god they follow. These are the Lokeans who see Marvel Loki as a potential form Loki assumes rather than seeing Tom Hiddleston as Loki. These are the Lokeans I respect.

The other set of Marvel Lokeans are exactly what they are accused of being – fans of Marvel who are attracted to Tom Hiddleston and have warped their understanding of religion to make it work. These are the ones who refuse to engage with the myths, who refuse to see past the character of a comic book to the truth underneath it. I cannot stand this type of Lokean because their practice is anathema to everything Loki represents – dispelling illusions, grasping deeper truths, illuminating the reality behind the falsehoods presented.

So many people talk about how everyone has a right to their own path to deity, their own path to their religious truth – and yes, that is true. There are millions of right ways to reach the gods, ways I cannot even pretend to understand. But if there are millions of right ways, there are also millions of wrong ways. This idea that there is no wrong way that has been perpetuated in Pagan circles for the last decade is ridiculous. More right ways mean more wrong ways, not fewer.

I’m sure that, eventually, some of the second types of Lokeans find their ways to the myths and become the first type of Lokeans – if they really are dedicated to Loki and not the comic universe, Loki will get them there himself if he feels the need to do so. I have no doubt that Loki will find the followers he needs, and that he will do what he needs to in order to procure them.

It is, however, not Loki I am worried about. I do not need to worry about the gods – they have their own agendas, their own methods. They do what they need to.

No, what I worry about is the state of Lokeans and their acceptance in the wider Heathen community. Because we will always be fighting a battle against prejudice to be accepted into it, especially when we live in a world where so many people rely on text rather than experiences to find their truths. And so many of those texts paint Loki as evil, so Lokeans get the same label.

There are actual obstacles to being accepted by the larger Heathen community, and one of those is the fact that we have Marvel Lokeans of the second variety. That creates a stigma about the Lokean community, and it isn’t one we can get rid of because so many Lokeans of that variety seem determined to prove that their religion is as valid as everyone else’s.

It’s also interesting that we live in a world where we proclaim so much acceptance for each individual’s interpretation, despite the fact that most religious understanding is communal, historically speaking. Old Norse society was communal, and many Heathen organizations have tried to imitate that. That’s one of the reasons that Loki and Lokeans gaining acceptance has taken so long – beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum. How a community believes affects what that community experiences.

When I talk about how Marvel Lokeans – and I mean only the second variety – hurt the Lokean community, I’m not talking about a couple of people who hold delusional beliefs. That is easier to handle; those people tend to be pushed out of societies altogether. No, I’m talking about a sizeable portion of the community – maybe a 5th – that truly believes Tom Hiddleston and Loki are one and the same. People who refuse to deal with myth, who refuse to learn to see Loki through any other lens than that of the MCU version. These people are hurting our community, and yet so many people leap to their defense that it’s almost impossible to say anything against them.

Well, here I am, speaking out against them. Because they are one of the reasons that Lokeans have a harder time gaining acceptance in the wider Heathen community. I’m sick of being asked, every time someone learns that I’m Loki’s priest, the same question: “Do you mean Marvel Loki?” I’m sick of that being the first question that someone asks about the work I do for the multi-faceted god Loki truly is. It makes me feel heart-sick, that question.

I’m tired of having to correct people and explain the difference between Loki and MCU Loki. Every time someone meets a 2nd-variety Marvel Lokean, and then meet me, I have to untangle everything that person has heard about Lokeans and explain what it really means to work for Loki, all over again. It’s a lot of work, and I do it, because I am devoted to Loki and the work he asks of me, but it is a ridiculous amount of effort. The community damages itself, and then I have to work even harder to undo some of that damage.

Moving on to the second reason that Lokeans struggle to find acceptance, many Heathens assume that Lokeans are only Lokeans because that allows them to be god-spouses. That is a faulty assumption, of course, and god-spousery is 100% a valid relationship to hold with a god.

That said, it’s clear to see where that assumption comes from because there are more Lokean god-spouses than non-Lokean god-spouses. It’s hard to know if that is because Loki just really likes having god-spouses, if it’s because people lack discernment and think they have a relationship they don’t, or if Lokeans are more willing to engage in personal relationships with deities that other Heathens aren’t. The only thing I can do there is speculate, so there’s no real answer to give.

The most problematic thing about Lokean god-spouses is all the damned in-fighting I’ve seen. I’ve seen god-spouses say that Loki prefers a particular body type to another, that Loki likes one person better than another, and all other sorts of insidious jealousy. It’s the in-fighting that makes the god-spousery within the Lokean community seem so toxic and unhealthy to the wider Heathen community. The Lokean community is also the only one I’ve seen where god-spouses will make their own smaller community, which seems unwise to me considering the level of jealousy we’re capable of towards other people. It takes a special type of person to be comfortable in polyamorous/polygamous relationships, and very few people have that mindset. Honestly, if we could get rid of the in-fighting among god-spouses, the Lokean community would probably have an easier time in the wider Heathen community.

Anyway, moving on to the last distorted belief – the one about Lokeans refusing to deal with the darker aspects of Loki – is one that is true and false at the same time. Because there are a handful of Lokeans, myself included, willing and able to engage with the darkest sides of Loki.

There are other Lokeans who refuse to see him as anything but a fun prankster or a friend to joke with. That is understandable – there are also people who refuse to see Odin as anything but a grandfather-like figure. Some people cannot handle the darker aspects of their gods. I can respect that.

That said, however, Loki is a lord of the liminal, a god that resides in the in-between spaces. He is light and dark, order and chaos, all the opposites commingled. It is not possible to grasp a deeper relationship with Loki without engaging with the harsher aspects. His light is only possible because of his darkness. The order he brings comes from the chaos he wreaks. His kindness comes from the pain he’s experienced. His cruelty comes from the love he holds. These are things that can only be understood by engaging with the myths and reflecting upon them, meditating about his complexities.

That is why Lokeans need to do a better job at engaging with the myths. That is why we need to work on shifting the 2nd-variety Marvel Lokeans to the 1st type – the ones who read the myths. Because Loki is a complex god, and Lokeans are complex people. When we speak to people in the wider Heathen community, we must speak both of Loki and his followers. Because, at the end of the day, a Lokean is a representative of Loki. We are his eyes, his ears, and his voice – though we must never claim to speak as Him, never claim our interests or causes as His. We may ask Him to bless our events, to champion our causes, but we must never assume that He has done these things. To do so is to speak for a god, and our gods speak for themselves. They speak through us in our actions, and we do not need to claim they do so for it to be so.

That is the Old Way – to live in imitation of the gods you follow. So, let us imitate Loki in dispelling the illusions around our communities about what it means to be a Lokean. Let us dispel the falsehoods that we find in our lives every day. Let us offer healing to those who think themselves broken, and harm to those who think to break others. As Lokeans, let us walk through life the way we believe Loki would and never dare to say that we speak for Him. We can never speak for the gods – but we can live for them.




Personal Gnosis: How Humans Came to Be

I asked Loki, in his guise of Lodurr, about the day that the gods made humans. He indulged me, and he told me the following story.

Note: This is 100% my own personal gnosis, so please take it as you will. 

Walking along the coast one day, Odin, Hoenir, and Lodurr came across two pieces of driftwood moored upon the sand. The shape of the wood reminded Odin of the monkeys he had just seen while visiting Tehuti in Egypt. “Perhaps we should create a being to inhabit our world the way the Egyptians have,” he said.

“We cannot recreate the monkeys from Egypt,” Hoenir said, ever practical. “They would not survive the harsh winters of our world.”

Lodurr, always keen to solve problems when they presented themselves, offered a suggestion. “Perhaps instead of recreating the monkeys, we can combine the idea of them with the trees the wood came from. That way, they will not struggle with the climate here.”

“If we do that, we will have trees that look like monkeys stuck forever in one place. What kind of life would that be to give them?” Hoenir asked.

“Then let us give them the ability to move, so that they are not rooted,” Lodurr said.

“It would be good to have intelligent life in our world,” Odin said. “I think Lodurr is right. We should combine the two. By doing that, they will be as mobile as monkeys but as adaptable to the climate as the trees are.”

Saying that, he pulled the pieces of driftwood from their moorings and set about shaping the wood. Lodurr and Hoenir helped and, soon, they had crafted two remarkable beings that looked similar to the monkeys Odin had referenced. Because those monkeys had two sexes, the gods crafted the driftwood into two distinct sexes. If life were to flourish, then the beings would need a way to procreate so that the gods did not have to continuously shape new pieces of driftwood they stumbled across.

Once the beings were crafted, Odin laid his hands on each of their shoulders in turn and blew a note that turned into breath and entered the creatures. Soon, both of them began breathing on their own. Next, Hoenir stepped forward and laid a finger on each head. He traced an ancient symbol across their foreheads and pushed the capacity to think into their heads.

Once that was done, Lodurr placed his palm over each creature’s heart. He sent fire racing down his arms, igniting passion in the hearts that beat within each breath. Inadvertently, however, he also singed away half of the hair that had covered the creatures. Once he had burnt something, it could not be recovered, so the creatures were stuck with a fine layer of hair rather than the coarse layer the gods had originally intended. In apology for destroying the work of the other gods, Lodurr blew color into their cheeks, giving them a rosy hue. He also set blood flowing in their limbs, giving them strength to move on their own.

Hoenir noticed that, when Lodurr had singed the hair off the creatures, he had completely removed it from their palms and the soles of their feet. That uncovered the lines of the wood that the gods had worked so hard to remove. Hoenir started to smooth out the flesh there, but Odin stopped him.

“Let the lines stay,” Odin said. “It will serve as a reminder for them that they came from the trees. As long as it remains with them, this knowledge will keep them in awe of the trees and prevent them from burning down the forest. They have minds of their own, free will, and the ability to use tools. We do not know what they will do, so let us give them as much knowledge as is safe to provide.”

Hoenir, unhappy that he could not ply his craft to the extent that he wanted, removed his hands from the creatures and walked away from the other gods.

Lodurr and Odin stood in silence until Lodurr spoke. “Did you mean that?” he asked. “About providing them knowledge?”

“I did.”

“They will grow to hate us,” Lodurr said. “They will know that they were a curiosity we made on a whim. That doesn’t distress you?”

“No,” Odin said. “Because even though many of them may grow to hate us, some will grow to love us without measure. It is that love that will sustain us, as we sustain them.”

Lodurr snorted. “Now you sound like Freyja.”

“She is wiser than you give her credit for,” Odin said. “Without her teachings, I could not have done what I did today. She is the one who taught me how to use the breath of life and how to both give and take it away.”

“I know she is wise,” Lodurr said. “It is her wisdom that makes it difficult for me to be who I am. She too often looks through me.”

Odin looked at the humans they had just crafted. “Perhaps you should focus on making friends elsewhere,” he said.

“Amongst the humans?” Lodurr asked, surprised by the suggestion.

“You hold more knowledge than the other gods give you credit for, old friend,” Odin said. “It is you who can teach them how to survive in this world. I know of no one better suited.”

Lodurr smiled. “Thank you, brother. I may just do that.”



Analysis of “Óðinn: A Queer týr?”

Analysis of “Óðinn: A Queer týr? A Study of Óðinn’s Function as a Queer Deity in Iron Age Scandinavia,” a Master’s Thesis by Amy Franks

First Chapter Analysis
Her comparison between mana and hamingja is a pretty big stretch, considering they are vastly different concepts from two very different cultures. The way she tries to tie mana into the spectrum between gods and humans makes no sense, especially when mana has nothing to do with Scandinavian religion. Here, she really should have worked harder to understand the concepts of wyrd and hamingja.

Second Chapter Analysis
She is using queer theory, which is a particular theoretical lens. This, by itself, is not problematic. She is also correct in stating that queer theory is “inherently distrustful of categories.” It is well-known within sociology that gender is a social and historical construct, so this argument on its own is fine. Her citing Ghisleni’s argument to say that studying third genders/sexes someone ignores the nature of personhood is a huge stretch, and it also makes me question how well she vetted her own sources. That argument is logically fallacious from the beginning.

I’ll agree that analyzing Odin through his semantic center is a good methodology, and I can buy that Odin’s semantic center is that of knowledge and its acquisition. Her conclusion is that gender was never a key part of his semantic center, which is an accurate statement. The insertion of her personal belief that he has elements of queerness does not really belong in an academic paper.

Third Chapter Analysis
One of her arguments in the conclusion of this chapter, that warrior groups don’t exist in a male vacuum, is a solid argument. But the evidence she offers is incredibly weak and reaching. As for her main argument, that battle-oriented spirits like the einherjar/valkyrjur are linked to Odin’s presence and gender is problematic only because of the “and gender.” Obviously, battle-oriented spirits are linked to Odin’s presence. His gender has nothing to do with his orientation to battle or anything else, generally speaking.

Overall Analysis
I mean, I honestly feel like this entire thesis rests on a very shaky assumption that gods have a gender to begin with rather than being ascribed a gender. Considering that the gods themselves are not beholden to human concepts like morality, it makes no sense to make an argument based on the concept that a god has a gender in the first place. In addition to that, stating that a god’s perceived gender puts that deity into a particular gender/sexual category is another fundamental misunderstanding about the separation that exists between the nature of the gods and the nature of human beings.

In conclusion? This is an atrocious paper founded on, at best, a very flimsy argument.

For those interested in doing their own analysis, here’s the link to the paper:
Óðinn: A Queer týr

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?

Odin’s Path: Connection

I read somewhere that Odin’s wisdom is found in the ability to make plans that are successful – in other words, his wisdom is found in strategy. I don’t dispute this, as he is a war god and therefore needs the ability to think strategically, but I don’t think it fully captures his wisdom (and I’m not sure it’s possible to do so).

Strategy and making plans – those are both very important skills, but I think there’s more to wisdom than that. To make good plans, you have to understand people at a very deep level, and to understand other people requires a lot of patience and the ability to listen. It also requires the ability to trust in a person’s own experience of the world without feeling the need to negate it based on the experiences you’ve had yourself.

In my experience, understanding another person necessitates the suspension of disbelief. Each person we meet, no matter how crazy or far-fetched the story may sound to us, has their own story to tell, and we all believe in our own stories. They are, after all, what we are comprised of. They are the world we are made of – our stories define us in a way nothing else can.

To deny another person their story is to deny them their identity – it isn’t simply a case of whether or not we believe that the story that they tell us is a true one. That’s where understanding gets lost. People are worlds in themselves, and each world has its own unique set of rules. What those rules are vary from world to world, from person to person, and there is nothing more wrong or right about any particular set of rules that govern these worlds, these people.

This is the type of thinking that shamans must master in order to find the connections that link worlds, that link people, together. It is in these connections that we find the commonalities, the threads that tie us to one another and to the gods. If someone asked me for a definition of shaman, I don’t know if I would have had a proper answer even a year ago – it took me awhile to realize that the work I’ve always done as an empath has always been the work of a shaman. In some ways, they are the same, as the shamanism I practice is inherently empathic in nature (this is, of course, not true of all shamans nor is it true of all empaths).

Now, I would define my shamanism as the empathy required to forge links between worlds – knowing as I do now that every person is their own world. What people don’t understand – or at least don’t like to believe – is that I connect with gods as easily as I do people, and I have ever since I started to comprehend them as having agency in their own right, as having their own type of personhood. The links between gods and humans are a little bit different, a little more slippery, but they do exist – they always have.

It is because of these links that I tell people, when they ask me which deities they should try to work with (and believe me, I get this question quite often), that the deities they need to look towards first are those that most resemble them in personality. Not the deities they admire the most or the ones they think will be most beneficial – the deities with personalities that echo the personalities of the humans who ask me this question.

Because those are the deities that we can connect with most easily – those threads are most accessible to us. Odin is my patron, I am sworn to his path, and yet he is not a deity I converse with easily. Nor is he a deity whom I consult often – the relationship I have with Odin is a very complex one, and it is in the complexity of his personality and the complexity of my own that we meet. It is not a relationship I could ever hope to properly explain to someone else, but I trust in the relationship we share despite the oddness of its shape.

Loki is also my patron, and I am one of his priests. Unlike Odin, however, I converse easily with Loki. Among the gods I work with, he is one of my best friends. On the surface, he can seem irresponsible and whimsical, but there is a depth of emotional maturity to him that most don’t see in him because they don’t look past the surface. I understand on a very real level what it is like to be seen by others without truly being seen by them, and it is on this understanding that the link between me and Loki is founded.

I honor and work with many other deities, and all of those relationships are founded on different commonalities, different threads that link the world of who I am to the world of that particular deity. With Tyr, it is the understanding of stepping forward into responsibility when no one else will. With Freyja, it is the understanding that female and weak aren’t equal terms, that there is a depth of strength in femininity that is vastly different than the strength found in masculinity. With Sigyn, it is the understanding of the depth of love a person must feel for another to stand loyally by them despite the pain they endure. With Mani, it is a depth of compassion. With Ullr, it is a love of competition. With Freyr, it is an understanding of what nobility truly means. With Bragi, it is a love of words.

With all the gods – with all humans as well – there are links of understanding. It is upon those links that relationships may be best forged. Think about the friends you cherish – what first made you friends? What link of understanding does that friendship center around? And how many of your friends are your friends for the same reason? Because I know the relationships I share with my friends are defined very differently from person to person, from god to god. No relationship is the same as another – for good reason, as that would teach us nothing and also be incredibly boring.

I started writing this because I wanted to talk about how Odin’s wisdom encompasses so much more than simply the ability to make plans – he is the penultimate shaman. He sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and he sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the runes. His path is a path of sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve found myself making is setting aside my own sight to pick up the sight of another.

That means suspending disbelief, keeping your own prejudices and default biases under wraps as you listen to the stories of the people around you. I have heard stories that most would view as beyond the realm of belief because I have taken the time to set aside my doubts and trust that a person’s story, when they tell it to me, is true enough for them.

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.


On the Nature of the Norse Gods

I’ve mentioned before how the Norse Pantheon is comprised of war gods – there isn’t a single deity that cannot be connected, in some way, to war. I’ve just started reading Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion by Edward P. Butler, and it already has me thinking – a sign that it is an excellent book.

He mentions using Sallustius’s five models of interpretations for myth with a heavy focus on the theological interpretation. The five models are theological, physical, psychical, material, and mixed. What is meant by the theological interpretation is the way that the very essence of the gods can be considered. Butler states, “The total body of myths belonging to a culture forms a comprehensive paradigm of the cosmos as expressed within that cultural sphere.”

I wrote awhile ago on the avenues I personally feel need to be explored in order to fully comprehend a polytheistic tradition, which you can read here, and one of the avenues I mentioned is cosmogony.

I’ve been thinking about the Norse creation myth recently, and as I was reading through part of Butler’s work, I made connections that I wasn’t really expecting to make but which made sense upon reflection.

As I said, the Norse gods are gods of war, and that nature can be seen within the creation myth itself. Life emerges from conflict, from the meeting of elements of opposite natures. Fire and ice merge to create life, which is ironic as both elements are more than capable of destroying life as well. Both are so powerful in their own right that they cannot retain their own forms in the presence of the other, so they are forever altered by the interaction, and life comes forth in the shape of an asexual giant.

In some ways, Ymir can be viewed as the personification of the force of ice, as he is the first frost giant ever born. Audhumla comes forth as well, and she nourishes Ymir. She provides him with the sustenance to sustain his life. While doing so, she uncovers the first god in the ice, bringing him forth into being. She is able to melt the ice, and so it may be possible to view her as the personification of the force of fire. The two primeval beings created from the two primeval elements after coming into contact with one another. Buri, the first of the gods, may represent the first combination of the two elements in a single form. He is born of both fire and ice – encased in ice, frozen in time, he is given life by Audhumla’s actions, making him the first being to be created from a combination of elements.

Of course, while Audhumla is freeing Buri from the ice, Ymir is busy asexually reproducing more frost giants. The giants born from him are, like him, born entirely of ice. We aren’t told that Audhumla frees anyone else from the ice, so there’s no way to know for sure if Buri is the only god that she brings to life this way. What is noted next is that Buri has a son Bor (whose origin is never mentioned) and that Bor marries a giant named Bestla and the two of them give birth to Odin, Vili, and Ve.

Whether Buri has Bor through procreation or asexual reproduction is never mentioned, so it is hard to make any inferences from the fact that Bor is Buri’s son. On the other hand, we know that Bor marries Bestla – a god with a giant – and that’s that first real indication we have of the mixing of gods and giants. Bestla, as a giant, most likely came into existence through Ymir’s asexual reproductive habits, and it can be presumed that she, like all other frost giants at the time, is representative of the primeval power of the element of ice. At the same time, Bor has a mixture of both fire and ice within him, as he is the son of Buri who is also of mixed elements. Through the introduction of the mixed elements of fire and ice into the giant’s gene pool, the Aesir gods are born.

The fire within Bor introduced to Bestla ran contrary to her nature – as a being of pure ice, any form of fire should not have been able to take hold. And yet it did. And through that conflict, the Aesir gods come into being. They are birthed through the conflict of primeval elements at war with one another.

A conflict which continues with the problem that Odin, Vili, and Ve have with Ymir that results in his death. I’ve read a couple of theories as to why Ymir was seen as a threat. One theory is that he was overpopulating the world with frost giants with his asexual reproduction and needed to be stopped. Another theory is that he became so greedy for the sustenance Audhumla provided him that he killed her, and the gods killed him in revenge. The first seems more plausible to me, as I can’t fathom why anyone would kill their only source of sustenance – it’d be counter to the survival instinct.

Either theory can be viewed in the light of a conflict between the two creative/destructive elements of ice and fire. The gods, who have the power of creation and thus represent an embodiment of fire, have a power of creation very different from that of the frost giants. Ymir’s asexual reproduction can be seen as a type of creative power that was quickly spiraling out of control and becoming destructive,if utilizing the theory that the Aesir trio killed him because of the overpopulation of the world. The creative power the Aesir have is much more controlled, which can be seen in the way they carefully craft the earth out of Ymir’s remnants after they slay him. Nothing goes to waste – everything is re-purposed.

If, however, we view the myth from the angle that Ymir becomes so greedy he cannot control himself and kills Audhumla, we also see the destructive power of ice. The Aesir trio may have killed him to avenge Audhumla, but it is more likely that they killed him to prevent any further destruction. In this case, as well, we see the creative power of the element of ice being overtaken by its destructive power.

The Aesir are able to halt the destruction because they have both fire and ice elements within them. For that reason, they can slow the destructive nature of the primeval ice world that flows within their veins, and they can use the power of fire to restructure the world. Fire is a crafting power when used creatively, but it also has the ability to overwhelm its creative power through its destructive power. It is through the mix of the two elements that the gods are able to stay the destructive powers of both elements and utilize the constructive powers of each.

And they use those powers to craft worlds out of Ymir’s remains. Ymir’s blood floods the world, and only two giants are able to escape the aftermath. A sign, perhaps, that the primordial element of ice cannot be entirely eliminated from the world, especially as it was one of the elements that helped create the world. The gods use every piece of Ymir to create Midgard, letting nothing go to waste. Out of the conflict they had with him, they create something new. Out of conflict and destruction, creation and construction emerge.

Through all of this, of course, there’s a backdrop – the Ginnungagap. The Void. The Nothingness of Non-Existence through which the elements of both Muspellheim and Niflheim must pass in order to come into contact with one another to allow for life to take shape at all. It is the Unknowable Mystery, and the concept of such a Non-Existence is impenetrable, as our minds slide around it as we try to grasp it. Trying to do so, in actuality, might drive someone insane. Because it is not possible to know non-existence, as non-existence, in our reality, does not exist, and, therefore, the concept of it is not easily (or ever) grasped.

But it is this concept that the gods are intimately familiar with, as they originally live within the Ginnungagap. It is to the center of this place that they take Ymir’s body and use his remains to create Midgard. It is from this Non-Existence that physical reality emerges, the place from which Midgard comes forth. There is an inherent contradiction there that is not possible to resolve because it is a concept that we cannot grasp – that existence comes from non-existence, and that non-existence itself in some form exists. Our minds aren’t readily made to deal with such concepts…if they were, then the contemplation of the existence of non-existence wouldn’t have the potential to drive us mad.

For the gods, however, they existed within the Ginnungagap at the beginning. They dealt with the conflict between the two primordial worlds of fire and ice and saw the results of having the two elements mixed. They were born into a world of conflict, a world at war with itself, and it seems natural that they became deities of war because of that. In some ways, it could perhaps be argued that the Norse gods are gods at war with themselves, as they possess the inherent properties of the creative and destructive nature of fire, ice, and non-existence. It is a testament to how complex the nature of the gods are that it is so difficult to get a firm grasp on what may be the essence that defines them, the essence that sets them apart from us and makes them gods instead of men.

I find it fascinating to find such a connection to the Aesir as gods of war through the cosmogony of the Norse tradition, and I enjoy analyzing myths from multiple vantage points. I will not say that this is the only interpretation of this myth that is plausible, nor that it defines the nature of the gods. This is only one of my own interpretations – I don’t limit myself to a singular interpretation of any myth (notice, I even explored two different theories in this one about Ymir) – and it is not meant to be reflective of anyone else’s experiences, practices, or beliefs.