Tag Archives: polytheist

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.

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.

d5qxalh-bcd3b5c5-ff62-4d17-a701-d250518fe8fd by ofools
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.

Worldbreaker: The Price of Liminality

I have been putting off writing this post because it requires me to deal with things that still make me uncomfortable to admit. That’s the nature of life though, and I did say I would write about my experience with Loki in his Worldbreaker aspect.

First, a little backstory. When I was around four or five years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD. At the time, my mother refused to let the doctors put me on Ritalin, as she strongly believed the condition could be managed without it. In addition, she told me (when I was around nine) that the reason she wouldn’t let them put on medication was that our family had a history of mood disorders, and Ritalin can worsen depression. My mother herself suffered from clinical depression and started drinking heavily by the time I was eight years old. By the time I was fifteen, she had died from cirrhosis of the liver, also known as Hepatitis C. She also had pernicious anemia, which the alcoholism exacerbated.[1]

So, growing up, I was given a lot of different tools to help manage the ADHD. Mostly, I was taught self-discipline and self-accountability. From a young age, my parents told me that I was responsible for the consequences of the decisions I made, so I grew up knowing that my actions directly impacted the people and the world around me.

When my mom died, I was a week away from being fifteen. Everything I had ever been taught about the world was swept out from under me. Suddenly, all the confidence I had in navigating my life was stolen from me, and I started feeling like the world was against me, and I started living with that preset notion in my head. My mother was gone, my dad was basically never home because he worked 80 hours a week, and my younger sister treated me like a convenient emotional punching bag. The only person in my life that really seemed to be there for me was my maternal grandmother – if she hadn’t been there for me, I don’t know that I could have made it through high school at all.

When I graduated high school, I ended up moving to Virginia for a couple months with my fiancé. We ended up in a really bad car accident that left me with two metal rods in my right leg. I moved back home shortly after that, and it wasn’t even a few months after that, I learned that my fiancé was sleeping around behind my back. Even worse? It was with my sister. I was so desperate for love that I didn’t break up with him; I put up with it going on in my house for nearly a year before I finally couldn’t take it anymore. The relationship with him was never healthy, but I didn’t realize that back then because I had grown up in an abusive home that made me think any affection at all was better than none.

A few years passed, and I ended up dating a guy online who moved up here to be with me. Except, within six months (we had dated for three years online), we were constantly fighting because he refused to get work and resented me for making him move. We broke up, and not even a week afterwards, he was dating my sister (incidentally, they are still together today). That said, however, I do give him credit in one area – he had the decency to break up with me first. We’ve had a difficult and tense relationship ever since then, but my sister and I have mostly repaired ours. Mostly because she stopped treating me like her emotional punching bag, matured, and actually became a respectable human being. It’s amazing what a decade will do for some people’s personalities.

I started working with Loki between the two horrendous relationships mentioned above, and I had started to really communicate with the gods. The situation at home (where I lived with my dad, my sister, and my ex she was dating) got so bad that I finally petitioned Loki for help. One day, a dog came into our house, and my sister gave him Loki’s name. Two months later, the dog was gone (they returned him to the humane society), and my sister and her boyfriend were living in California.

I chose to petition Loki for help because I felt like I was breaking. I couldn’t get away from the stressful emotional environment, and I didn’t feel like any of the other gods could affect change to the same magnitude I felt Loki could. So, I asked him for help getting them out of the house. I didn’t ask for anything specific, just told him I really, really needed some space from them so I could heal. He essentially sent them to California, where they lived with one of my sister’s friends and worked for two years. Nothing untoward happened to them there; Loki wasn’t cruel about the change he worked into their lives.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could breathe. I was struggling pretty hard, especially because a few months prior, I’d been told by my ex that I was the craziest bitch he’d ever met. That actually hit me so hard that I decided to start seeing a therapist. Because I thought maybe he was right. I’d spent my teenage years moving from job to job, after all, unable to stay at one more than three or four months at a time (I quit jobs often as a teenager because I got bored). I also felt like I couldn’t maintain healthy relationships with other people, whether they were friends or partners. In addition, I had defaulted on student loans from the online college I obtained my AA in Business Administration from, and I was mired in student debt (still am, as I’m in graduate school). For the most part, I had given up on ever getting anything good into my life. That statement from my ex, though – that broke through my depressive haze, and I decided that I needed to do something about it.

Oh, and as a note? I didn’t start working with the Norse gods until I was in my early twenties. My life before Loki was FUBAR, and I freely acknowledge that. The majority of that was the fact I grew up in a home that was emotionally, verbally, physically, and mentally abusive. I had to unlearn a lot of toxic behavior, and, to this day, I have to continuously monitor my thought patterns to prevent myself from falling back into old ones. I had to become metacognitive to survive my childhood – it is as much curse as gift, as I can never stop analyzing the situations and people around me, looking for where the next threat might come from. I may never experience a life where I’m not hyper-vigilant.

I’ve discussed some of my experiences with combat-tested soldiers who told me my childhood sounded as heinous as some of the war zones they’ve been in. I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone, not even the people who put me through the hell that it was. In case it isn’t clear, this is the primary reason I chose to swear the oath Odin asked from me. I was already a warrior, already dealing with the terrors of warfare, when he came into my life. Hell, for all I know, he was the one orchestrating from behind the scenes to ensure my entry into his service. I’ve made my peace with that, for the most part.

Loki entering my life helped stabilize it. Yes, he introduced a lot of change in a short amount of time. I started therapy, and I had an Adult ADHD diagnosis within four months. Once I had the diagnosis and my therapist had suggested I might want to try medication, I set up a meeting with a physician to talk about prescriptions. I chose to see a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist because my mother, along with alcohol, loved popping narcotics down her throat like they were candy. I didn’t want to risk that, and it took a long time, and obsessive research, for me to actually decide to try pills. I decided on Adderall.

The first few months on the medication seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to me. It was like, suddenly, I could actually process what was going on around me in a way that made sense. I started combining the cognitive behavioral tools my psychologist had given me with the medication, and my life seemed to come together. I brought my student loans out of default, had my Title IV rights restored, and enrolled in the local community college. I continued going to therapy and taking medication – for about five months.

I stopped taking the medication because my online friends from World of Warcraft – a game I had played for eight years by that time – told me I was acting aggressive. I was leading a guild at the time – I’ve led quite a few – and that was the one and only experience I’ve ever had where my officers actually arranged a meeting with me to tell me that my aggression was getting so out-of-hand that they felt I needed to step down from the GM position.

That bothered me at a level I cannot express – I have honed my leadership skills over the last decade and a half, and I know that, while I will never be the best leader that I want to be, I am a pretty kickass leader. I generally treat the people I lead like they are my family. The family I wish I had had growing up, I mean, because I really like other people. I genuinely enjoy being around other humans. I genuinely care for other people. To have my best friends telling me that I was getting so aggressive that I was hurting people hurt me. I stopped taking the Adderall.

I continued using the tools I had been given, but I also stopped going to therapy. I focused on my schoolwork, and I thrived in school. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I find challenging material frustrating but generally worth doing. The only exception to that is physics. It is the one field I’ve found where my brain just refuses to wrap itself around the concepts. Annoyingly, my dad understands physics almost inherently. That still kinda pisses me off.

Anyway, I end up finishing my Associate in Arts (it had been about 8 years since my AA in Business Administration, and I didn’t feel comfortable going straight into university). Once I finished my AA, I transferred to the local university. Once there, I decided I should take Adderall again, and I started therapy again. I only used the meds for about a month before deciding that it was a bad idea. I finished my BA in History without relying on them.

When I graduated, I decided to find a job, and I found one working for a hotel as a night auditor. I remembered how hard I had found working as a teenager, so I decided that maybe what I needed to do was use Adderall for work and not school. I started taking the medication again and resumed therapy – a person who has ADHD needs to be seeing a therapist if they are taking meds; it’s not recommended to just take meds by themselves. Now, this job was supposed to just be a summer job because I knew I was starting grad school in the fall. Just as a note, I was accepted into the graduate program at my alma mater when I wasn’t taking Adderall, and I scored in the 67th percentile (Verbal) and 25th percentile (Math) with a 5.5/6 (Writing) on the GRE without studying – I took 21 credits my last semester in undergrad, so I literally didn’t have time to study. All of that, no meds. Like I said before though, school was never a problem for me because I have always loved to learn.

Anyway, I started this job at the hotel, and I even helped get my friend a job there. It took them under two months to fire me, and I still don’t know why. They never gave me a direct reason, even though I asked them directly why. They just said, “We don’t think we’re a good fit,” which is a terrible reason. I was really upset over it for a good week; I had actually really enjoyed the job and the people there, even though I hated the hours (it was a 3rd shift job). I still remember most of the people there affectionately, and I don’t bear anyone there any ill will.

I ended up working a temp job in the bookstore before school started back, and that went well. Then graduate school started, and it seemed to me like everything was going fine. My classes went well, and I was TAing without a problem. Yet, one day, about halfway through the semester, one of my friends tells me that I have been a complete bitch for the entire semester and that one of our mutual friends had basically become afraid of telling me when he disagreed with me or when he didn’t want to do something. Essentially, I was starting to treat my friends like they owed me their time.

I didn’t really trust what this friend told me, as we had had a huge fight over the summer and were still struggling to regain our feet with each other. I had, however, become uncomfortable with the fact that I could tell that I was hurting the mutual friend she had mentioned (who is my ritually adopted brother and the heir to my familial spiritual tradition). I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I devised a test that was designed to essentially navigate around any of the blinders my brain was throwing up.

I didn’t really trust anyone around me, at that point, but I still retained the absolute trust I have in my best friend in the world, who lives in Texas. So, I sent him a question to see if he could answer it. I figured, if he could answer the question I sent him, it would give me a good baseline to use as the test with my other friend. I had started to genuinely doubt that my brother-friend even cared about being friends with me, so I had to find a way to determine whether or not he cared at all. So, I sent the question to my Texan friend who had no problem answering it. Then, I asked my brother-friend the question. I legitimately expected him to be unable to answer it, but he answered it without pausing.

At that moment, it was like a cold bucket of ice washed over me. I realized that the only thing that had changed since the previous year was that I was taking Adderall. I texted my roommate and told her to find it and throw it out because I didn’t even want to see it again. I spent the next week obsessively researching rare side effects of the medication. Turns out, in about 0.02% of people, the medication can induce persecutory delusions.

The medication that was supposed to be making me better was causing me to distrust my friends. It was the cause – Adderall is a psychotropic drug, meaning it literally changes a person’s brain chemistry. I had worried, from the beginning, that taking a psychotropic drug would change my personality and make me a different person. My therapist had assured me it would not do that; rather, it would just unlock the potential my disorder had kept me from using. He was wrong, but I do not fault him for that. The side effect I experienced happens in 0.02% of people; it is rare, and I did not expect to be one of those people.

Once I realized what had happened, I had a conversation with my sister about it. She told me there was a day where I told her I was genuinely afraid that her boyfriend would kill me if I got in a car with him. I don’t remember this conversation taking place, but I don’t doubt it happened. I was, after all, convinced that one of my best friends, who is literally my ritually adopted brother, was never a friend to me at all and was really just acting like my friend so that he could turn around and hurt me later. That’s what persecutory delusions are. They are insidious and terrifying. I walked on the verge of insanity. It is not a place I ever want to visit again.

Throughout this entire experience, I was continuing to do my work for the gods. I was honoring Loki regularly, and I didn’t feel like anything was amiss. It was when I realized that I had been suffering those delusions that I realized that I had been given a gift. Loki had given me the experience of knowing what it is like to stand on the precipice between extreme opposites. He showed me how hard it can be to resist the pull towards insanity/destruction/disorder and how vigilant a person has to be to guard against that pull.

I’ve discussed elsewhere how Loki can be seen as a god of the in-between, of liminal spaces. The thing about the liminal? It isn’t an energy that can be controlled. When Loki appears as the Worldbreaker that brings about Ragnarok, he is no longer in control of his own abilities. He is, instead, caught up in the force of his own power. In many ways, this greatly echoes how Shiva ends up destroying the world in Hindu mythology.

I understand at a level that I cannot adequately express what it means to be beyond your own control. I thank the gods, and Loki foremost of all, that I found a way to trick my brain so that I could see through, even for a moment, the delusions that the Adderall induced in me. If Loki hadn’t taught me how to find the loopholes, how to look for solutions to problems in places that other people may never consider, I may have been subsumed. There’s no telling who I would have become if that happened, but I doubt I would have liked myself very much.

So, did Loki wreak havoc in my life? Absolutely not. I made the choices. I am the one accountable for the actions I took, and the consequences of those actions are not Loki’s fault nor his responsibility. Did Loki have a hand in showing me how hard it is to live within the liminal? Yes, but I cannot state that experience was one he intentionally showed me or one that I just recognized as a lesson he would try to teach to people, if they were willing to listen. I’m generally willing to listen, so I end up heavily analyzing situations I find myself in.

What Loki really helped me do here was see through the delusions and the illusions around me. He is a god of guile, and it was sly maneuvering that allowed me to solve the problem that threatened to destroy my life. Loki taught me how to see past illusions to the truth. Without that knowledge, I have no idea how that situation would have turned out, but I can’t see it ending well. I have been incredibly lucky that my friends have been so understanding about the entire situation, and I have worked hard to rectify the mistakes I made with my friends during that entire fiasco.

There’s a reason it took me so long to write this post. This is not a chapter of my life that I am proud of; it isn’t an easy thing to share. The hardest truths, however, are the ones that lay the deepest inside us. The ones that hurt the most to expose are the ones most valuable to share. I risk next to nothing by sharing this story on the internet, yet, in some ways, I risk everything because I risk being seen. Really seen. And that has always, and may always, terrify me. Yet here I am, stepping forward.

Take from my story what you will.


[1] Pernicious anemia is a disease caused by the lack of intrinsic factor, which is what people need to properly absorb the vitamin B12. Alcohol prevents absorption of even the B12 shots used to treat the condition. Before B12 was available as an injection and/or supplement (studies vary on the effectiveness), pernicious anemia was a fatal disease.

Loki as Thresholder: Loki opens doors, but we walk through them

Thresholds are liminal spaces that exist between two spaces. A threshold can be as simple as the one between two rooms in your house or as complex as the boundary between two worlds. No matter how simple or complex a threshold is, they are liminal spaces.

Liminal spaces are the “in-between” of everything that exists. This is the area where Loki draws his power. He is a god of liminality, and he can always be found in the in-between spaces.

Thresholds, however, are not meant to be dwelled in. We don’t live in our doorways, after all. Doorways, like thresholds, are meant to be used as crossing points from one place to another.

Threshold magic is also some of the most dangerous, as it is impossible to control liminality. Conducting rituals in a liminal space typically means you are allowing wyrd to take over and determine the outcome, no matter what the desired outcome is that you hold. It can be terrifying, and it is not a type of magic that should be practiced by everyone. Giving yourself over to wyrd is difficult to do, as we all, to some degree, want to maintain control over our lives and not feel subjected to whims that are not our own. It takes a lot of trust that we generally don’t inherently have towards the unknown.

In a way, working with Loki is similar to doing threshold magic. Because he is a god of liminality, it is impossible to know what aspect he will show you on any given day. The fact that he is also a shapeshifter doubles the uncertainty, and that pretty much means there’s no guarantee what form he will take.

In my experience with him, he generally takes on his more renowned human form with red hair and green eyes. But I have also seen him appear as a black widow, a black dog, a falcon, a butterfly, and as other human forms. I have never seen him appear as Marvel Loki, as I have a pretty strong distaste towards viewing him in that way.

That distaste originates from the fact that Tom Hiddleston is an actor portraying a role, and while he may be portraying Loki, he is 100% human, which means he cannot actually be Loki. There’s no reason for me to see Tom Hiddleston and go “omg, that’s Loki.” From my perspective, that’s absolutely ridiculous because Hiddleston is human and Loki is 100% deity.

Do I believe Loki can take on the guise of Hiddleston? Absolutely. Loki is a god, and deities can assume any form they want to. It seems to be a trait inherent to deity – assuming the forms that work best to get our attention.

So why do so many people seem to be stuck on the image of Loki as Tom Hiddleston? Honestly, I think this happens because people get stuck on the threshold.

From my perspective, when Loki appears to someone as Tom Hiddleston, it is more because he is opening the only door he can find into that person’s life. If it is the only way he can get someone’s attention, and he feels the need to get their attention, he is probably going to open that door and step through it.

Doors, however, open in two directions. If we refuse to step through the door he opens, we learn nothing about him except that he exists. Those who see nothing but the Loki of Marvel learn only an aspect Loki used to gain their attention. They are not stepping through the door that Loki is opening to learn more about him.

By not stepping through the door, they never learn the real depths that lurk within the god. Maybe they get glimpses, but unless they step through the door, they ignore the glimpses they get.

It is well-known and understood that the best way to gain knowledge about the gods is to research them. Read the myths and stories associated with them. Find the patterns that consistently arise in their interactions with others. Learn to distinguish and discern so that you can trust the personal experiences and UPGs that you have.

Loki is a god of thresholds and liminality. He can and will stay in the in-between spaces. He is a catalyzer of change, not change itself. He may open the door, but we are the ones who have to make the choice to walk through them.

After all, we don’t live in the in-between.

That means we have to make a choice. We can continue to stay on the path we’re on, or we can choose to walk down the new path Loki opens up to us. Change is almost always for the better, but it is almost never comfortable or easy.

So, if you are the kind of Lokean who only sees Loki as Tom Hiddleston, ask yourself if you are willing to go further. Read the myths. Learn the lore. Explore the differences. Get comfortable with the difficult and darker aspects of Loki. Learn to embrace ambiguity and the unknown.

If you want to know Loki, you have to get to know him. Getting to know anyone, god or human, means learning things about them that you might not like. Even our closest human friends are flawed – that doesn’t mean we don’t love them.

If you are the kind of person who refuses to engage with the myths, ask yourself why. What are you afraid you might learn? What truths are you afraid to confront about Loki and/or about yourself?

Loki is a loving and compassionate deity, but that does not make him safe. He is a god of liminality, and liminal spaces are inherently chaotic and dangerous. To expect otherwise is to delude yourself.

We cannot live in the threshold, but we can certainly hold awe for the gods like Loki who not only live in liminal spaces but draw their power from them.

For Loki: A Lost Reflection Found

So, I found a reflection I wrote back in April when I was going through my notes on my phone. Sometimes, I forget that I write reflections on my phone, but this particular one seems relevant to share here, as it was written on April 1st, which is often considered a particularly good day to honor Loki.

I feel like I’m always dancing on the edge of every group I join, and I wonder what fitting in would feel like – would it hurt? Would it feel like truth, like coming home, like being free? Would I find acceptance? Would someone finally embrace me, with all my faults and imperfections, and tell me, finally, that I’m allowed to breathe? Or would it be just another moment of loss, of self-defeat? Would I have to give up part of myself, sacrifice a bit of me, in order to find a way to fit? 

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the truth is. I doubt I’ll ever know because the truth is, I’ll never fit. I’ve never fit, and I’ve tried. The gods know I’ve tried to fit in; I have tried to adapt. I have tried to remake myself in the image of the groups I can see parts of me in. But nothing ever sticks, not really. What does stick doesn’t quite take, doesn’t quite mold itself to my skin, doesn’t quite embed itself in my flesh, doesn’t quite mesh with my mind. Always, something holds me apart, sets me aloof – just slightly – so that a life of outside looking in is all I’ve ever been allowed to know. 

Even with my friends, I know I don’t quite mesh, don’t quite fit, don’t truly belong because everything I am is too different, too me to be adapted into something not quite right. I see how my friends try to see me, try to understand, and it hurts the most because I know they never can. They can’t reach down into my heart and pull out the truth of my soul. They can’t see the depth of the emotions running as currents between us, and I can never adequately express myself because what I feel is too deep, too primal and raw, for words to do justice.

I hang on the precipice, grasping the edge over the abyss with desperation, trying to find a way to get more than a finger-hold on the edge. I’m watching everyone else around me, seeing the way they’ve found solid ground to stand on, wishing I had what they have because I am so precariously close to falling out of this world. But I’m not angry they have it when I don’t – I’m too busy trying to figure out how to overcome the predicament I find myself in, too besieged by the problem before me to care that no one else seems to be struggling with this problem. 

Except no one else seems to notice the difficulties besieging me, and they keep asking me to create a bridge for them to cross from one solid stance on the ground to another. I am transition, and I am desperately trying to provide for everyone else and also find my own path out of the ravine I’m hanging over. No one stops to ask me if I need help, but it’s not because they don’t want to help. It’s more that they can’t see that I’m not standing on solid ground. They buy an illusion I don’t have the eyes to see, and they assume I’m standing on the ground beside them with some sort of magic peak from one piece of ground to the next. They don’t see my pain….They can’t. 

Whether they want to or not doesn’t matter because the illusion is all that they can see, so if I speak, I’m silenced because what I see….The reality I live within is an illusion to them, as theirs is an illusion to me. So, we’re always missing the point, the perspective of the other person’s life is ignored, and I find myself serving as a bridge because I can see the desperate importance in being taken at face value. Because for me, I’ve never had it. I’ve never been believed when it most matters, and that is when I am telling the most truth. Because truth doesn’t need to be distorted to be painful, and lies do nothing but enhance the illusion.

It’s no wonder I work so well with Loki….We’re both outsiders who don’t know what it’s like to simply be believed. 

 

 

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.

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.