Tag Archives: worship

In Contemplation of the Gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion and Worship are NOT Dirty Words

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

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

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

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

The short answer is yes. Yes, it does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Google Dictionary search for “worship”

 

 

Loki & Polytheism

Laine Delaney has posted a new article about Loki on her patheos blog, The Lady’s Quill, and that post can be found here.

I thought it was a good article that raised a a good point. The point she made was that it can be difficult for American Heathens who grow up in a predominantly Christian culture to transition into a polytheistic worldview. That actually echoes what I’ve been reading in the book I mentioned previously, “The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” by Jordan Paper.

In the introduction, he states, “Due to the mind-set of singularity normative to monotheistic thinking, it is difficult for beginning Western researchers of polytheistic traditions to understand that in these traditions the numinous are actually multiple. For example, a few years ago I was at an international religious studies conference in South Africa. Several graduate students studying African religions approached me regarding their problems in comprehending the fullness of these traditions. If the rituals are oriented toward the ancestors, then how can Earth, and so on, also be numinous? And what about the deities (who are dead human beings in these traditions)? What needed to be understand is that all of these can be numinous simultaneously, without contradiction and without conflict; this is the essence of polytheism.” 

That is perhaps the best way that I have ever seen the difficulty between monotheistic and polytheistic thinking explain. In her article about Loki, Laine points to the difficulty people transitioning from a monotheistic faith with a sense of absolute good and evil to a polytheistic faith where good and evil are far from absolute and every deity shares equally in both. It is far easier to scapegoat one of the gods into a figure of absolute evil than try to understand evil as a relative (rather than absolute) concept.

When put in that context, it is easy to understand why Loki gets put in a box labeled “evil, do not touch,” by so many Heathens. Monotheistic thinking and polytheistic thinking are 100% non-compatible. In the United States, where the majority of people are monotheists, the culture reflects that as the norm. It’s easy to see the monotheistic imprint of the Western world in nearly everything. The superhero movies we have that everyone loves are often set to the tone of “here’s this one guy that saves the world,” and it’s a very monotheistic way to look at the world. There are exceptions, of course, but the theme is a very familiar one.

So when a person turns away from a faith like Christianity that considers itself monotheistic, that person also has to confront an entirely new ideological framework. It is very easy to fall into the patterns of thinking that the monotheistic culture around us engenders – absolute right vs absolute wrong – and turn a god like Loki into a figure of absolute evil.

Yet, if there is one thing that a polytheist shouldn’t do it’s to try and corral their ideals into two distinct corners. I’ve come across the argument that duotheism and polytheism are separate ideologies, and I’ve been reflecting on that for awhile now in order to decide whether I agree or not. I find that I do agree – duotheism and polytheism aren’t the same type of ideology at all. “Duo” means “two,” “poly” means “many.”

It could be argued, in fact, that Christianity is a duotheistic faith rather than a monotheistic faith. Christians believe in a God and they believe in Satan. They don’t worship Satan, but they believe he exists, and because he is the Christian God’s primary adversary, he can be considered a god in his own right. That is a duotheistic framework, and that framework cannot be applied to polytheism.

When we think about polytheism, especially since we live in a monotheistic culture (or duotheistic, however you choose to look at it), we need to remember that poly means “three or more.” And once you have three deities who all differ in modality, the question of absolute right and absolute wrong disappear. Between three people, there are going to be issues where there are three separate arguments, and that doesn’t allow for a either-or type of scenario.

Yet because we live in a monotheistic culture, a lot of new Pagans (and new Heathens) try to apply the concepts of absolute right and wrong to polytheistic concepts. It’s no wonder so many people end up hopelessly confused as they try to muddle through. It took me years to fully mentally integrate myself into a polytheistic modality of thought – monotheistic thinking no longer makes sense to me. But there is definitely a transitory period that every new Pagan must experience before a polytheistic modality becomes commonplace.

That transition is made more difficult by the fact we live in a monotheistic culture. If I am out in a storm, I see Thor’s hand at work. If I see someone helping a homeless man, I see Tyr’s hand at work. When I come across beautiful poetry, I see both Odin and Bragi. When I see beautiful clothes, I see Freyja. When I meet someone whose compassion makes her an excellent mother, I see Frigga at work. When weird things happen (like snacks getting caught in a vending machine), I see Loki at work. I see all of these things because I see the world through a polytheistic lens. What monotheists see, when these things happen, is, at best, coincidence.

In my experience, polytheism eradicates the concept of coincidence. Things don’t happen just because they happen – there’s a reason for even the tiniest events. This isn’t the type of worldview that the dominant monotheistic culture in the United States employs, and that means that the majority of people cannot understand polytheism. They don’t have the foundation for a polytheistic framework, and it takes years to properly develop one after being exposed (especially if force-fed) a monotheistic doctrine.

That, I think, is why there is so much fear and misunderstanding directed towards Loki. As a God that is neither good nor evil, but amoral (some of you may remember the post I wrote about how I view the Gods to be amoral by human standards), His nature is wholly outside of the expectations and understanding of the dominant monotheistic culture. That’s probably the reason those who are called to Him are those who, in some ways, already stand outside that culture due to certain aspects of who they are, such as sexuality and gender identity.

Those of us who were part of minorities before becoming Pagan already felt like we didn’t belong to the dominant culture, which means we never fully embraced the monotheistic construct of that culture. In turn, that made it easier for us to transition from the monotheistic framework to the polytheistic one, and that is why it so much easier for us to understand Loki than it is for others.

Consequently, however, once a polytheistic framework is fully adopted, it is virtually impossible to understand the monotheistic framework so many people bring with them into polytheistic paths. That may be why so many Pagans choose Wicca over other faiths – although there are Wiccans who are polytheists, Wicca itself is a duothestic faith that operates on a God & Goddess structure. It is much easier to go from believing in one God to believing in one God and one Goddess than it is to go from believing in one God to believing in multiple deities of different genders. Then throw in the wights and spirits, and you have a recipe for a very confused new pagan.

What I have seen, over and over, throughout the years, is that for a lot of people, Wicca is a gateway spirituality. I don’t mean to discredit Wicca at all – I think Wicca is a beautiful faith, and I commend those who follow that path. But I have seen that many people start with Wicca when they turn to Paganism and then they, for a lack of better word, outgrow the faith. They need more. Two deities aren’t enough.

Even if Wicca is only ever used as a gateway spirituality, it is a vital, intrinsic tradition among Paganism. We need Wicca to serve as the foundation for a transition from monotheism to polytheism; it is the bridge between the two worlds, and it is the only one that exists. There are a lot – a LOT – of Heathens who make disparaging remarks about Wicca, and that really needs to stop.

I remember one of the very first Heathen groups I joined talking about how Wicca wasn’t a “real” religion because there was no lore. There was so much pride in the fact that Asatru has its own lore and a historical foundation, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been accompanied by a “look how much better we are than Wicca!” attitude to accompany that pride.

Back then, I was too new to Heathenry to be able to make a rational argument against that attitude, but after six years walking this path, I can make that argument today. Wicca may not have the historical foundation that Asatru does, but Asatru’s lore has been decimated by the way it was passed down through a Christian writer. Too much monotheism has bled into Asatru as a result of the lore, and it is because of that stain on our lore that gods like Loki are so misunderstood.

Being Pagan is hard enough, but to turn to Heathenry and then have to constantly reinterpret the lore through polytheistic eyes (when it was interpreted through monotheistic ones originally) that the majority of new Heathens do not yet possess – that approaches a level of insanity. The Norse myths have been rewritten for a monotheistic audience, and Heathens are, for the most part, polytheists.

Because of the difficulties found within Heathenry, I will always identify myself as a polytheist first, pagan second, and heathen third. The reason for this is that polytheism is the framework on which my spirituality is built, paganism is broad enough to encompass multiple belief systems, and heathen, for me, just lets people know that the Norse pantheon of Gods is the pantheon I put before the other pantheons.

Polytheism, like the deities themselves, is very complex, and it is important to understand that the level of complexity found within a polytheistic framework is incredibly difficult to develop when surrounded by a dominant monotheistic culture.