Duality and Lack Thereof

 

moon and sun

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other…” – Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching was the first text of any spiritual or philosophical significance that I read after going through the books of the faith I was raised in.  It’s stayed with me, and it’s a good place to go back to.

The passage above sang to me when I first read it.  I read it in Jane English’s translation – I’m not sure how that measures up against other ones, to be honest, but it’s still my favorite – but every version of it calls back to me.  I feel it.

It comes to mind when people speak of duality.  Actually, the whole Tao Te Ching does, with the one perfect yin and one perfect yang forming the Tao.  It’s beautiful and profound and I just can’t buy it anymore.

Recently, there was an article being shared on Facebook about dealing with “Dark” deities.  While I appreciate much of what the author has to say, and even moreso I appreciate the fact that they open with how problematic it is to label a deity as “dark”, I was left with a deep frustration (which really had nothing to do with the article itself).  The fact that we are still labeling deities as “light” or “dark” gets under my skin the way any unthinking duality that we embrace does.

I’m not sure, but I think that it was in discussions regarding gender that the system of duality started to unravel for me.  There are lots of people who identify as men or women.  I identify as a woman, for instance; that’s what I am.  There are also a lot of people who identify as neither or both.  Third-gender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, there are different terms for different nonbinary identities in our society.  As soon as I was exposed to the idea it made perfect sense to me, even though as far as trans people go, I’m very binary.

I think that we get taught this binary thinking as children.  I also think that it takes a while to sink in, and before it does entirely there’s a golden period where kids just accept things as they are on whatever scale.  A friend of mine (who is nonbinary) likes to tell a story about how kids get it.  He was on a bus and a bunch of younger kids that were clustered together turned to him and asked,

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

Him: “I’m genderqueer.”

Them: “What’s that?”

Him: “It means I’m neither a boy or a girl.”

Them: “Oh.  Did those piercings hurt?”

I’m not a specialist in child development, so I really don’t know.  I don’t know if there is a point in time where it is helpful to explain things in painfully black and white terms to kids.  I have the suspicion that it’s more for the ease of the parents explaining than the ease of the childrens’ understanding, which strikes me as intellectually lazy, but I also understand that saying that raising children is difficult and a minefield of compromise.

To me, it feels like a deep-rooted damage in human perception of the world.  The idea that things fit into these neat digital on/off, black/white, good/bad, boy/girl, dark/light boxes being drilled into your head because it’s easier to explain the world that way seems like a massive disservice to everyone involved.  It’s also the root of a lot of bigoted, prejudiced, and simply wrong-headed thinking.  Boy and girl aren’t absolute boxes, they do exist, but they’re cluster points that a lot of people seem to fall close to or in.  Dark and light are guidelines and suggestions that we use, but even things that are perceived as “dark” tend to have “light” qualities as well, otherwise in their absoluteness they would be impossible for us to truly engage.

When I encounter and interact with a person, one of the things that I’ve come to do is try to gauge the degree to which they have overcome the painful dualism stamped into their mind in their youth.  Honestly, I consider that to be one of the first major signs of intellectual maturity, and it pains me that so many people are stuck in that mindset about so many things for so much if not all of their lives.  There are just boys and girls.  Things are either good or bad.  There are light Gods, and there are Dark Gods (and sometimes, charitably, the person mentions that there are “grey” Gods, which kind of still casts an emphasis on the whole duality.)  “Nothing is just anything.” is a mantra that has saved my life and sanity many times over.

I don’t think that binaries don’t exist; I just know from my experience that they are reference points between and around which exist larger spectrums, and once we break out of the binary style of thinking about a particular subject, we might notice a whole host of other meaningful reference points that we can use as well.  It frustrates me that so many people make these things into absolute oppositional polarities, and spiritual systems that insist that an oppositional polarity is the basis for the existence of the cosmos and all meaningful or powerful interaction therein make me deeply uncomfortable (I’m lookin’ at you, Kybalion.)  I see it in the insistence on calling on “Male Ancestors” and “Female Ancestors” (and I’m the wet blanket who stands up and offers to “Those Who Are Both or Neither” and makes everyone uncomfortable).  I see it in the insistence that I still see in some ADF rites that there needs to be a Goddess and a God called to “create balance” (even though in theory our organization holds no special favor for any concept of gendered polarity).  I see it in the idea that some Gods are just Dark, and some are just Light, and that you can bottle them up and divide them so very easily.

Maybe some people need to hear things that way at whatever stage in their intellectual or spiritual development they happen to be at, but it still makes me sad and frustrated, because I know that it’s not that simple, and that we’re doing a disservice to the range of wonder and beauty in our creation and existence by categorizing everything into two easy-to-divide but highly inaccurate columns.

I know a couple who raised their child without gender.  They let their kid grow, used neutral pronouns for them, bought them neutral clothes and all manner of different toys.  The kid decided pretty early on that she was a girl, which given that’s what the doctor assigned them at birth, makes them cisgender.  The fact that they (who are actually a fairly conservative Heathenish couple) did this gave me a lot of hope: they weren’t wanting their child to grow up without gender or trying to make them nonbinary, they just wanted them to make their own decisions about who and what they were, leaving their options open, which they did pretty early on.  Watching this process made me really happy.

I like to hope more people can be like that, with their children, with their other family members, with their friends, with the strangers that they meet, and yes, with their Gods.  Some Gods might end up seeming fierce and kind of dark – honestly, the way that Freyja interacts with me most of the time seems to fall into the set of qualities that people seem to attribute to “Dark” Gods, despite the fact that I can think of few who would classify Her that way.  Let them be what they are rather than trying to categorize them; if they fall into a recognizable box, great, if not, don’t try and shove them into one.  It does your own intellect and their identity and complexity a disservice to do otherwise. It also robs them of a bit of their agency (as doing so with humans does) by refusing to acknowledge how they manifest if it falls outside of the neat categories that you’ve formed in your mind.

Let all wights decide what they are for themselves.

nonbinary flag

(Image: A common nonbinary Pride flag.)

For Shame? For Shame!

The recent wash of transphobia through the Pagan community has made my bubble of safety even smaller.  I have a few things to say about it, as you might imagine.

People discounting this as “just a complex social issue” aren’t taking into account the words that are being used.  The petition that prominent Pagan Elders (and their supporters) have signed calls out trans women as dangerous and deluded.  It feeds directly into the second-wave feminist viewpoint of transgender women being men who medically alter their bodies to sneak into womens’ spaces and rape them.

The language used in that petition is as much a legitimization for violence as it is a call for separation.  It paints myself and people like me as dangerous, delusional, violent lunatics.  This is not just “someones’ opinion” – this is an attack.  I am not a rapist, I am only dangerous in that I like challenging peoples’ ideas (and not even really about gender) and if I’m delusional, it’s never harmed anymore, much less myself.  Making these generalizations about trans women includes me.

If you are willing to use the authority and respect gained by being an acknowledged Elder in the Pagan community to spread this message, then you are encouraging an extant culture in which actual physical violence against me and people like me is overlooked, ignored, and encouraged.  You are using your weight as an Elder to encourage people to think of me and people like me as dangerous, delusional, violent molesters.  You are using the power granted you by virtue of the fact that people trust your words and look up to legitimize violence against people like me.

And then you have the nerve to complain when people like me speak out against your words.

I have no problem speaking out against and even shaming people who use their authority to encourage people to spread lies that will make the world less safe for me and my kin.  I think people should be ashamed of spreading lies that encourage violence and separation against a group that already faces enough problems with violence.  Far too often we die by someones’ hand, either our own because we’re told we have no place in this world, or others’ because they’re told that we’re acceptable targets.

Trans people, and especially trans women, are acceptable targets still.  If this had been a petition that used the same language against people of color or gay folks then no one would be calling them out for shaming them.  Instead we have members of our own community rallying to their side, speaking out against those of us who are crying out in pain and fear, telling us that we should keep quiet, keep our heads down, and listen to the Elders that encourage violence against us, apparently out of love and  compassion.  We are still acceptable targets, and those very same lies that are being told about us have (and in some cases still are) been used against the other (sometimes overlapping) minorities mentioned above.

Call me out on shaming people who use the trust that others have in them to add public support to a campaign that legitimizes violence against me, and I’ll call you out as well.  You should be ashamed, whether you’re supporting this petition or those who sign it without thought of consequence to real, living human beings like me who I guarantee you aren’t lying, insane, violent rapists and monsters.  You should be ashamed, you who preach tolerance of human variety, in making one of the few cultural spaces that are even somewhat safe for us less so.

That is making war on (like, as in, actual violent war) myself and my people, and that is not something that I’m going to meekly bow and turn the other cheek to.

So Maybe I’m Just a Really Bad Heathen

(Originally, it was just apologies to Molly.  Now it’s apologies to Naf too, my words were ill-used and harmful.)

(Apologies to Molly).

Yeah, I am.  I admit it.

All of those things I’ve talked about before, all of the objections that I have to the way that mainstream Heathenry is presented, all of those stand.  They’ve been reinforced by the attitude I read in a recent article on how to present Heathenry at a Pagan Pride day.  The author came off as paranoid and xenophobic, a deliberate outsider in a place where he didn’t identify with anyone or feel comfortable.  It became clear over the course of the article that he had come to try and guide poor, lost Heathens away from the vile, lie-spewing spawn of Loki that populate Norse Paganism.  Like a good shepherd, he became enraged at the dangerous wolf lurking among the sheep (in the form of someone who had bought books by a Northern Tradition author, who are all apparently *despised* by right-thinking Heathens everywhere, which reminds me, I need to get published).

I realized that I was reading the words of a man who would likely not share a horn with me, or if he did it would be under glaring brows and by setting aside deep-seated hatred.  Things like this make me want to make devil horns and claim to be Rokkatru and worship thurses just to watch people have strokes; the reason that I don’t is because I still kind of feel that thurses are scary and bad (I’ve explained how I feel about that before; if hospitality demands I’ll pour to them but I’ll keep my distance in general), I’m not remotely Rokkatru (unless pouring for Loki when you pour for Odhinn counts), and devil horns would only be ironic and pointless (and bad for my arthritis).

It hurts, you know?  It hurts to know that people who love the same Gods or wave the same banner seethe with hatred when they think of you.  That if they couldn’t convince you to follow their one true Heathenry they’d spit on you and nidh you.  It hurts to see such unreasoning fear, distrust, and paranoia.

Jesus Christ, this must be what being a progressive Christian must feel like.

Right now I can hear the chorus of Utgard.net-Trolls cackling about me and how it’s right, how I should be ashamed because Heathenry is a culture of shame, where it’s each person’s job to join in on the dogpile of reminding unpopular folks why they suck.  How every misspoken word and every misunderstood concept and every disagreement of interpretation requires a good, solid flyting because that’s how the Norse did it.

Fuck your bully culture.

Maybe it makes me a bad Heathen to think that hospitality includes anyone who wanders into your space rather than just the ones who make offering (but not to Gods, never to Gods) at the High Holy Temple of Sturluson.  Maybe it makes me a bad Heathen to think that someone who walks around, constantly wary and distrusting of others is a paranoid asshole.  Maybe it makes me a bad Heathen to think that someone who goes to a festival full of people he seems to have a deep-rooted discomfort with and a distinct sense of alienation from shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t get all the people all upons converting to Proper Heathenry.  I’m quite sure that it makes me a bad Heathen to have UPG at all, much less share it on the Internet where other people might be able to learn that you can talk to Gods and sometimes they talk back (blasphemy!)  Maybe it makes me a bad Heathen to be all the things that I’ve done: speaking out against oppression, bigotry, and racism, seeking genuine spiritual experiences, having non-white Ancestors, praying to eeeebil furrin’ Gods…  Maybe it does.

Maybe I’ll just have to be all right with that.  Maybe I’m okay with being a bad Heathen.

I’m not going to stop being Heathen – that’s not where I am in life and maybe it never will be.  I know who and what I am.  I’m not going to stop being any of the other things that encourage Proper Heathen Rage-Walrus Mustache Shaking, because those are part of who I am too.

It’s not that I don’t understand the “Heathen mindset”.  A lot of the core important parts of it (as described by many) are important to me.  I just don’t agree with the ones that I don’t agree with, which also makes me a bad Heathen, because the most important rule of Heathenry is absolute, unquestioning obedience to other people when they tell you how to think, how to feel and how to live your life.  No Norseman ever deviated from the strict rules of Viking culture, which were uniform in all Germanic lands and never changed with time or circumstance.  That’s why Heathenry is such a successful modern religion – we have an absolute path where everyone knows their place, follows the rules (set down exclusively by men) exactly, and live in perfect harmony with each other except when they have to rise up to strike each other down because of a slight of honor.

Wait, that’s not Heathenry, that’s the Qun.  Or maybe Klingons?  No, Klingons don’t even believe that everyone should live by their Perfect Ancient Holy Texts Exactly.  Heathens don’t even have holy texts, they have poetry recorded by people who didn’t even worship their Gods.

Now that that’s out of my system…

I can tell that the man who wrote that article had good intentions.  I’ve heard about hell but not about Hel’s road being paved with those (her road is paved with everything, though).  I don’t understand why people who don’t consider themselves Pagan (and there are plenty of Heathens who do) would want to come to a Pagan festival to proselytize.  If I saw someone giving a lecture on Christianity and how it’s not a part of the Pagan faiths but here’s why it’s awesome and better than your faiths at a Pagan festival I’d back slowly away and talk to someone with authority about it later (or maybe just savagely blog about it and complain to friends).  It seems out of place, odd, and intrusive, just as it seemed uncomfortable to the fellow in question to be there.  I know that he’s trying to guide people to what he believes to be a better faith, and a better way of life, but wouldn’t it make sense to have someone who didn’t have a hate on for people who believe differently from himself be the one presenting?  Honestly, can’t you understand why that would hurt or drive folks away?

Though to his credit, I suppose if he wants to draw people in, there’s no better way than publicly performing the mental gymnastics required to describe Folkishness as not being racist.  It shows a remarkable amount of intellectual and moral flexibility.  It’s also comforting to know that racists are incapable of being sexually attracted to people of color.  I used to be worried that Antebellum landowners might have been racist, but they are proven otherwise by the trysts and (far more common) rapes of their slaves.  Pfew, what was that war about again?

He’s right about maturing into a Heathen worldview.  I certainly look back with some embarassment on the years after the first time I met someone like this and they scared me into running screaming from Heathenry.  I should have been all upons (sorry, it’s been a thing lately, I need to get it out of my system) and being my ergi/argr, wooheaded self and helped some Heathenry grow in a different direction.  I should have staked my garth, called my kin, cared for them and loved them and protected them.

I have a lot of kin among Heathens, I’ve been discovering.  I have a lot of people who don’t fit the racist, close-minded, reactionary mold this fellow presents as the One True Heathenry.  We have our communities, our own Inner Yards.  I belong to groups for transgender and other queer Heathens online and maybe will someday in person.  I belong to communities of Heathens unashamed (imagine, a Heathen not ashamed of themselves for doing what they believe is right) to discuss their UPG amongst themselves.  I belong to groups of Heathens, both online and in real life, who worship Gods and actually listen when they speak back instead of talking over them.

That’s not just one Inner-Yard.  That’s an encampment, a town, a neighborhood.  It used to be a ghetto of Heathen Hights but it’s been expanding and gentrifying.  Thank the Gods.

Or maybe he’s right about maturing into a Heathen mindset in the way he thinks he is and look back on this ten years later thinking about what a sad, deluded person I was.  I’m really not going to bet on it, though.

Hail Loki! (Sorry, Lady, I had to).

What Are We Really Afraid Of?

“Three rules I try to live by:

Always assume the best of other people.

Always plan for the worst in any situation.

Always keep your spirituality untamed.” – Morgan Daimler

The Nokean Bingo and Godspouse Bingo and similar conversations (as well as things going on in my own spiritual life) have had the wheels in my brain a-turning.  People all around me in the flesh as well as online are having personal experiences with their deities and spirits (something that Real Heathens say Never Ever Happens Except To Heroes Which No One Today Is Because Not Enough Swords and Slaughter or something like that).  People I know are awakening to all sorts of things as we open our minds both through study and technique, crack our skulls and barriers against things that we’re told aren’t possible and real, and (perhaps most significantly) have experiences that we’ve never asked for thrust upon us.

Reading about and witnessing how people react to Godspousery (I’m using this as a specific and pertinent example; apply broadly to other spiritual experiences that people who have’t had them label as fads or psychoses) I’ve come to witness a familiar pattern.  It often starts with a small voice inside someone saying “I thought I was the only one.”.  It is often followed by euphoria at feeling a connection to other people that you find that share similar experiences (which is followed by confusion and sometimes disillusionment when you realize that outside of your common experiences you’re probably very different from the folks that you encounter).

It continues with people who haven’t had the same experiences insulting you and trying to invalidate you (whether or not you needed validation).  It comes ripe full of blatant misogyny if you’re a woman, or reactive misogyny if you’re a man (you’re whipped by a Goddess?) and probably something similar for nonbinary folks.

People who have shared a similar experience will often stand up for each other and shake their fists at the accusers.  Sometimes they will turn on each other: having received qualifications for validation from respected outside sources, they feel it necessary to police others to help them maintain their own identity and credentials.

People are afraid of talking about it.  It’s either because they still think that they are the only one, or they don’t want to be associated with “those” people.  Even when those people are people just like them.

I suspect  you’ve heard some of this from me recently.  The question that is bedeviling me is “What are we really afraid of?”

Are we afraid that our experiences aren’t real?  In Clive Barker’s epic Imajica novels, one of the greatest curses that can be leveled by one magician to another is “May everything be as it seems.” (I wish I had the book handy to share the eloquent explanation given as to why, but I don’t have a copy with me).  The short of it is; because if everything were always as it seemed the world would be mud and your lives dust, meaningless, pointless, empty.  If we’re afraid that all of these voices are just in our heads, and all that we are is a bunch of chemicals artfully pushing around other bunches of chemicals (I agree that that is part of what we are, though I disagree with it being the whole) then we have nothing to fear, because we have no way to change that.  If all we are is nothing and all that is comes to nothing, then embrace the richness of your experiences.  Sure, make sure that they have some value and positive effect on your life, but if they don’t, simply ignore them.  After all, if they aren’t real they’ll fade like mist in the morning sun.  If you are misleading people, then what?   Humanity will end without truly affecting anything, either through planetary trauma, self-harm, or whatever end the physicists by and large agree on nowadays.  No harm, no foul, right?

Most of us know that that isn’t the case, though.

Are we afraid of being hurt?  Of being insulted?  These are real fears.  Words tear at our sense of self, they flay our egos.  Despite what Stephen Fry and every other bully on the planet thinks, there are words than can hurt any human being.  If I knew you well enough I could find words that would make you doubt yourself, that would make you harm yourself, that would make you weep and feel empty, that could remove your ability to keep trying.  I was raised in a family that used words as weapons and know that no matter your armor, there are holes and flaws.  I can be a cold, sharp, jagged, hurtful bitch when I need to be and anyone who knows me well has seen that side of me (though few who know me well have had to be on the receiving end).

Those insults come from people who either aren’t sure themselves, and thus need to put you in your place, or who are sure. and you can tell those from how they argue themselves in circles trying to disprove something that they can’t even experience.  They come to get you to stop saying things that tear at their own egos. To them, saying that a God loves you in a special way is saying that a God talks to you (which they know could never happen because you’re not them… I mean, a hero) or that that God doesn’t love them.  These assumptions hurt their self-images, and as I learned from Laverne Cox, “Hurt people hurt people.”  The places where they strike from indicate where their weaknesses are, for knowing or not you’ve landed a blow against them.

Are we afraid of being seen like other people that we may have an unknowing prejudice against?  I know that I am.  I’ve had some experiences recently that tread close to the ground of Godspousery.  My first reaction was, “I can’t be a Godspouse… I can’t be one of THOSE people.”  Then I thought about it and realized that some of the people I identify as Godspouses are people that I respect and admire.  I’d love to be like them in some ways.  I was reacting to the ridicule hurled at them by folks so insecure in their own beliefs that they can’t handle someone else claiming an experience that they have not had.

Are we afraid of being right?  I think we are.  I think we’re terrified of that.  I think that we’re afraid that the experiences that we’ve had are real because we’ve been raised to believe that they aren’t and we don’t have any guidebooks or manuals to help us with them (yet … I predict Llewellyn 2017 will be the Year of the Godspouse or something… or not, it might be too Polytheist or something even for them).  I think a lot of people are afraid that what they have going on is real and that they’ll have no way to prove it, and no way to *gasp* make money off of it (because when you get down to it, that is still the way the majority of people in our society gauge the worth of any sort of practice, knowledge or experience).  I think we’re afraid of screwing it up and having angry whatevers messing with us.  I think were afraid of being right but being unable to stop society from throwing us into straightjackets and padded rooms (or refusing us employment and help and treating us to old school exile/shunning) for something that they can’t see and thus don’t care about.

What do you have to lose?  I’m not saying that you have nothing to lose, but is what you might lose worth keeping things bottled up?  Is it worth feeling like you’re living a lie?  Is it worth that terrible weight upon your chest and the heart-rending anxiety?

It isn’t.  Trust me, it isn’t.  As someone who has kept a secret from everyone that she knew for close to thirty-five years for many of the reasons provided above, it isn’t worth it.  It’s important to pick your battles, surely, but it’s worth it.

You know what I’ve seen from people who speak up and live their truth (when they’re ready)?  I’ve seen them lose friends and relatives, jobs and livelihood, careers and children.  You know what else I’ve seen?  I’ve seen them gain respect from those who value honesty.  I’ve seen people who were their friends before becoming allies as well, and I’ve seen people who weren’t their friends before flock to them because of their inspirational example.  I’ve seen them being stronger, happier, and more honest.  I’ve seen them become better people.

So what is my advice for when Odhinn pops the question and wants you to share it with others?  For when you’ve had a journey to Vanaheim that gave you great insight into what most might consider minor mythological figure?  For when some kind of crazy woo happens to you and you don’t know if you should share it or not?

Consider it.  Consider who you’re presenting it too, but more importantly, consider your words.  Don’t overthink it, though, just be careful to say what you honestly mean.  Prepare yourself.  Also, consider Morgan’s rules and my corollaries:

Corollary to Morgan’s first rule: People will surprise you more often than not; you *will* be surprised by who will take it well and embrace you.  They will inevitably get it wrong and misunderstand, so be prepared to find other ways of explaining it and correct them with a will, but know that more often than not it comes from a position of ignorance, not malice.

Corollary to Morgan’s second rule: Try and have a support network.  At best, find real-life people who will be supportive; this can be hard, though, because coming out to them can be more difficult than folks online.  Find folks online.  You’re not alone.  I don’t care if you’ve discovered you’re the spawn of a Pleidian Dolphin Princess, trust me, you are not alone.

Corollary to Morgan’s third rule: Don’t pussyfoot around it when it comes to dealing with yourself.  Qualify it all you want to.  Take care and be as skeptical as you like with your own experiences, but when you know something is going on don’t lie to yourself about it.  Embrace your spirituality, live it, let it ring in your bones, set your heart aflame, and pour from your mouth like molten gold.  Holding it back will stunt you, and you don’t need a bonsai spirit, you need to grow and have your spirit be like a swaying willow, a mighty oak, a Yggdrasil-like yew.  You will only regret it if you try to tame your spirituality.

Lest anyone think that I’m speaking against spiritual discipline or discernment, let me correct you: discipline is needed for healthy growth, and discernment is needed for protection both internal and external.  Your tree won’t grow unless it’s put in a healthy place and kept safe from the prying teeth of the hungry harts until it’s big enough to handle it.

If you need to keep it quiet while it grows, then do so.  There will almost certainly come a time, though, when it will need to burst forth from its former confines and keeping it it hidden will only weaken and sicken it.  Seeing another person be confident and public or at least up front about their spirituality will help yours to grow; be sure to return the favor if you can afford to.  If you do, all of these trees that we’re growing will some day be the best kind of forest: full of wildlife, unrestrained, untamed, beautiful, powerful, dangerous, terrible, sublime, and a cradle of new life.

As I said earlier, I’m not a Godspouse, but if I’m going to be honest about it it’s only by a matter of degree.  I haven’t discussed it publicly because it involves experiences that I’m working hard to process and find the right words for.  If that’s a title that my circumstance and spirituality end up putting me into I will proudly claim it and happily discuss it – with people who genuinely want to discuss it or are dealing with it themselves (as opposed to Utgart.net-Trolls).  I am a seeress and have been wandering between worlds and talking to beings that aren’t visible to the eye (usually) all of my life, and the only reason I haven’t shared more of what I’ve seen is context and need.  You’d better believe that if there’s a good reason I will be up front about it.

You are not alone.  You are not crazy.  You should not be ashamed to live your truth, whether you do so quietly or with loudspeakers and a parade.  The more of us who do, the more the voices of the insecure fools that lash out at us will be drowned out, if not by our voices then by the thunder and the earthquake of our many feet.

What do you really have to be afraid of?

Why I Am Not An Heathen 2: What Can You Do?

I was surprised by the volume and quality of response to my previous post.  I was truly not expecting it.  Many people both on WordPress and Facebook came forward, often in agreement with some of the points I raised.  Molly Khan wrote an excellent response on Patheos Pagan.  There were no vicious comments, though there was a lot of missing the point in a lot of places, and thus there are some things that I wanted to clarify.

I’m not not calling myself a Heathen as some sort of form of rebellion.  I want to respect the doctrinal guidelines and suggestions provided by the Heathens that I’ve spoken to, both on line and in person.  Some of those guidelines for what is considered Heathen versus what is not include several of the points I raised and more: Havamal must be the origin of your morality or at least considered in every situation, UPG is not to be trusted or given voice or attention, honoring the Gods outside of community functions and community rites runs counter to the spirit of Heathenry, innovation in ritual (i.e. performing religious practices that we are not sure were performed by the ancestors), honoring beings that are considered questionable (including Loki), in some cases honoring the Gods at all rather than the wights and Ancestors as some believe the Gods to be distant, troublesome and non-traditional focuses for veneration, etc.

These are things that Heathens who I’ve interacted with since the early 2000’s (again, both in person and online) have included among the boundaries of Heathen practice, in other words, if you want to call yourself Heathen you can not stray outside of them.  Call yourself Pagan if you wish, but according to some you cannot claim the mantle of Heathenry without adhering to the above and further strictures.

Obviously, not everyone agrees.  I do feel that Heathens have a right to define Heathenry, though.  Of course, it gets sticky when there are self-identified Heathens who don’t agree with all or most of these principles, but by and large the Heathens that I’ve met and discussed it with agree with some of the above.  I’m personally not going to try and join a faith and then tell people that are already practicing it that they’re doing it incorrectly when they have already established guidelines and boundaries for it.

The misogyny, racism, and multiple ‘phobias are things that are definitely worth working against in modern Heathenry.  I’m glad that there are more and more voices speaking up against them, because whether I wear the label or not I’m still going to be coming to your rites and share in mead and offerings for as long as I’m welcome, and would like not to have to deal with that.  Those are the things that I spoke of that “insulted my soul” the most.

So at the end of my last post I said that I would discuss the options that I’ve found, considered, and in some cases embraced.   What’s a wooey, non-doctrinarian, solitary, non-racist, lover of the Norse Gods call them selves?  Under what banners can they come together?  How can they reconcile their beliefs and practices with larger Heathen culture?

Being Heathen Anyway

This by far seems to be most people’s answer.  Unswayed by the insistence that their practice, beliefs, ancestry, virtues, or favorite brand of toothpaste renders them mere pagans or heathens rather than actual Heathens(tm), these bold individuals choose to identify as Heathens, and to Jotunheim with anyone who disagrees.  I’ve heard a lot of people express some variation of this sentiment, including Molly Khan in her response to my original post (linked above).

I appreciate this approach because the culture of a faith can’t change without people who feel differently standing up and speaking out.  The main reason that I haven’t embraced this path myself is that I feel Heathens have a right to decide the boundaries of their identity, faith, and doctrine, and I honestly respect it enough not to appropriate the name if it’s not… appropriate.

Is it?  Who decides who can use that title?  As many are fond of saying, there is no Asapope.  As of now there’s been no High Moot of All Heathens that’s decided what the exact boundaries of that term are.  If this movement lasts more than a few hundred years, there will be.  There might even be one sooner than that.  It might be good for all those to whom it matters to make sure that their voices are heard at yonder hypothetical HMAH.

Just “Polytheist”, Thank You

The other day I was thinking while I was out on a walk.  “Huh.  I wonder if there’s a word for being specifically devoted to multiple Gods.  Kind of like polyamory but for devotional worship.  What would you call it though… poly..theistry?…wait…”

I hate it when what I think is a stroke of brilliance ends in a facepalm.

A fair number of responses to my posts included folks who identified that way.  There’s a growing movement of polytheists who eschew (or at least de-emphasize) a particular cultural focus and respond to the Powers that call to them.  To be fair, I fit that well myself.  I try to commune with the Powers that I do through rites that have some of the appropriate cultural trappings sometimes (I’m generally speaking about European or Egyptian deities here; part of the reason that I rarely work with Gods of living cultures is a desire to try and avoid blatant appropriation when I don’t have proper cultural immersion) – but was there ever a culture where folks simply didn’t call out to their Gods in times of need or thanksgiving?  I know that there are few cultures and faiths where there are no forms of offerings or sacrifice.  Often my prayers and offerings are less umpty-ump alliterative poetry and a mead horn than they are simple gestures of adoration, pleas for help, or offering of gifts.  I don’t don an apron dress every time I want to honor Freyja and Freyr (I don’t even own one, sadly) and in ancient Rome I would not have any right to offer to Jove (as I understand their practices).  That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it anyway.  A lot of these trappings are artifacts of the time and culture that they were in, and the materials and concepts were more accessible to the people who used them.

The Gods seem to appreciate it when you do try to recreate the old stuff, or maybe that just puts us into a better framework to interact with them, or maybe they’re waxing nostalgic (“It’s been over a millennium since I’ve seen a Volva with a proper staff and catskin gloves.  Good girl!”).  Whatever the reason, those touches do seem to help on some level with signal clarity and reception.  However, if our devotion to communion with the Powers is going to be part of our day-to-day life, we need to either wear apron dresses all the time (Which would be totally fine by me.  Yes, I’ve been obsessing over them lately.  Hush.) or we need to adapt our polytheism to fit our culture.  At least for Pagans in the US, that means a culture that accepts that there are many kinds of people with many kinds of Gods and thus no one pantheon (in theory, at least).  For Pagans in the modern world in general, if you’re not part of the dominant cultural faith anyway (which is likely some brand of Christianity or Islam, depending on your neck of the woods) there’s no reason that you should be limited to one pantheon or one form of cultural expression.  There, I’ve said it.  I warned you that I could be pretty darned eclectic.

So just Polytheist works for quite a few folks, many of whom accompany it with “Pagan”.

Other Groups

For purposes of community (and I’m a pretty social person; even when I’m solitary in practice I like having community) I’ve found a couple of groups that work well, and heard of others that I haven’t approached.

I’m a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin or ADF.  ADF was started in the distant mists of the past probably around the time I still thought that the Goonies was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.  It’s been a good community for a Norsey non-Heathen like me.  Individual members and Groves are encouraged to embrace “Hearth Cultures” which are cultural applications to the general framework of ADF rite and practice.  The community for the Norse Health Culture is large, diverse, and well-educated, while generally taking what I’d consider a pragmatic stance towards UPG.   Lore is emphasized as the basis of understanding but no there are no official rules or restrictions on UPG other than it’s not usable for the reading material for coursework.

It’s great for a heretic like myself because there is no policing of private practice, either: official ADF rites have to be public, but what you do outside of official ADF rites has no bearing on whether or not you can perform or participate in them.  It tries hard to emphasize orthopraxy (we all perform the same rites or in a similar fashion) over orthodoxy (we all believe the same thing) and while I don’t feel that it’s possible to be entirely one without the other it does a good job at keeping the policing of belief to a minimum.  ADF does have its own brand of sacred tech that I’ve incorporated into my own work, and its focus on scholarship and excellence make it an organization that I’m proud to be a part of.  Plus, I can be in it, worship the Vanir and Aesir, and not have to conform to Heathen culture.

Pardon me while I put on these goggles and duck behind this blast shield.  Can you still hear me?  Ahem…

Northern Tradition Paganism is what seems to be a loose affiliation of solitary practitioners and a few Kindreds of Norsey Pagan people.  They make the distinction of being “reconstruction derived” rather than strictly reconstructionist, meaning that they start with what they can find and work from there rather than sticking with the basics of what can be reconstructed, which pretty well matches what I’ve seen in ADF Norse Hearth culture, too.  They have an emphasis on personal devotion, shamanism and spirit working.  They also don’t restrict which Gods people worship – they are fine with people worshiping the Jotnar and their kin (though that’s not a requirement – it’s been explained to me that there are NTP people who don’t, but anyone who calls themselves NTP is required to drink when they’re honored at someone elses’ rite, which is just good hospitality/ghosti as far as I’m concerned.)

Throw in that they have a pretty queer membership overall, that their founders/leaders are super-controversial in the Heathen community primarily because of Jotun worship, wild rumors, and not putting up with Havamalier-Than-Thou talk from Heathen Elders, and they make the perfect Heathen boogeyman.  There is no better way to throw a monkey wrench into an Asatru conversation than to bring up Raven Kaldera or Galina Krasskova!

So no one should be surprised that I consider myself Northern Tradtion as well.  Although the idea of making offering to Fenris or Surt or Thrym or Jormugandr gives me the altogether willies, they’re Powers too, and even if they don’t particularly care about humanity, there are humans who care about them, and if I’m at someone’s table and they drink to them I will too to honor my host and be a good guest.  I’ve felt very comfortable with the NTP folks that I’ve met and interacted with and hope that I hear more NTP voices in the future.

Norse Wicca is a thing, also.  I don’t have a lot of exposure to it or a history with it, except insofar as I honored the Norse Gods while still considering myself Wiccan.  If there is an organized tradition of it in any way I’m unaware of it, although I’d be happy to learn and share more.  I don’t connect well to some aspects of Wicca anymore (especially the painful – to me – emphasis on binary gender) so I haven’t considered it an option myself, but I’m sure that there are people who find fulfillment in it.

I don’t know what else is out here, but I’d love it if in the comments here or on Facebook, or on your own blogs or articles discuss the paths that you’ve taken to negotiate this quandary.  The conversation has begun, and I’d like to encourage it to continue, because from the responses that I’ve had it feels like there is a real need.

 Why is all of this even important?  Why put so much thought into it?  Well, I’ve been trying to find community that I resonate with, that I can join, that I can be a part of and that I can be a voice in.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found a couple of labels that stick after a few days’ wear-and-tear.  I do feel that Heathenry is often a bit exclusionary, but again, I’m in favor of people setting their own boundaries.  I want to know where I fit in, and it seems now like a lot of other people feel the same.

We need the community builders.  We need the legalists.  We need the loremasters.  We need the Godhis and Gydhjas.  We need the craftspeople.  We need the seidhkon, the volvas, the vitkis, the mad and the touched and the inspired.  We need the people that just want to go to the rites, connect with the Powers, and go home and not think about it.  We need the poets and taletellers.  We need the passionate speakers and activists.  We need the people sitting outside the ring around the fire, occasionally getting passed the mead and acting as the peanut gallery (which is kind of where I’m sitting right now).  When I refer to “we” I don’t just mean self-identified Heathens and their many subsects – I mean all of us who honor the Norse and Germanic powers and/or embrace the richness of Northern European Paganism in all of its contexts and aspects.  If “Heathen” doesn’t apply to all of us, we need a term that does form a proper umbrella, because there are things that we all share, and things that we can all teach each other and it will help us remember that on some level we’re all in this together, Heathen and heretic alike.

That’s that for now.  I’m going to Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring tomorrow, one of ADF’s primary annual gatherings.  The inimitable Patricia Lafayllve will be there with her ve to Freya and performing a seidh rite, and the Norse kin have a lunch at some point when the schedule settles.  I also hope to explore my conflicts regarding queer space vs. gendered space, and come back with more answers and questions on that and many other things.  If there’s wifi there I’ll be trying to make blog updates and report on location.  I’m excited – I’ve never been to Wellspring before!

Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

This (long) post has been a long time coming.  I’ve referenced my feelings about personal background and development in some other articles and have been spending a lot of time trying to explore myself in relation to the modern Pagan movement and Heathenry.  Although the title was inspired by Bertrand Russel’s piece “Why I am Not A Christian” I won’t, as he does, seek to deconstruct the idea of a particular deity.  I will, as he does, explain why the values expressed in the religion in question do not fit mine, and why that leaves me in a difficult place.

Let me begin by explaining that I’ve had a love for the Aesir and Vanir since childhood.  I first read of them in children’s fiction when I was four or five and rapidly advanced to reading more adult storybooks about them.  Later on I discovered source material like the Eddas and Sagas and buried myself in them.  I love the tales and I love the Gods.  However, I cannot love the Gods within the same framework that so many others do as in many ways it (in the words of Walt Whitman) insults my soul.

Havamal

When speaking to Heathens about where they derive the virtues that they form their community on, Havamal inevitably arises as the primary source.  While I cannot (and do not) argue with the value of the Nine Noble Virtues, I have irreconcilable differences with some of the source material.

It starts with the misogyny.  Hearing Har proclaim that “The speech of a maiden should no man trust, nor the words which a woman says, for their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel and falsehood fixed in their breasts.” (83), and having “women’s bed-talk” and “witch’s flattery” being included in the list of things that none should trust scored me sorely.  I’m a woman of integrity and honor, and sweeping statements about my sex do no credit to my many sisters that stand by their words and honor their oaths and debts.

While we’re on the matter of integrity, allow me to raise this verse: “But hast thou one whom thou trustest ill
yet from whom thou cravest good?  Thou shalt speak him fair, but falsely think, and leasing pay for a lie.”  For some, this may be honor.  The other has breached honor and integrity, after all, both should be allowed to do it.

I can’t sit by this myself.  Whether or not another has been untrustworthy with you, I still consider if false to be false to them.  I know that the Allfather isn’t always known for fair dealings himself, and I take that into account when I read this.  However, I cannot use a philosophy like that as a basis for my own ethical beliefs.

Likewise, there are many verses that caution people against being too trusting.  While I understand them (having been a person who has trusted the wrong sorts of people in the past) they also feel paranoid.  I can’t base my behavior around a document that tells me not to trust people; trust builds trust and integrity builds integrity.

I love Havamal, and much of the advice found within is timeless and sound.  The tale of Odhinn and the runes makes my hair stand on end whenever it is recited (especially when recited in Norse).  However, I feel that that advice should be considered on a case-by-base basis, and not necessarily used as a be-all-end-all guide to human behavior and social interaction.  I think that that emphasis helps to account for the undercurrents of misogyny and xenophobia that I have encountered in Asatru and Heathenry – if devotion to Har’s sayings is unquestioned, the environment that is created will attract many sorts of people that I find questionable.

Dismissal of UPG

There are several problems that can arise from lack of grounding in lore in any polytheist tradition.  It is possible to think that you are honoring the Gods with ancient practices that turn out to be not so ancient.  It’s possible to be mislead by spirits and entities that may claim the identity or name of a deity to gain your attention or trust, and a grounding in the lore helps with discernment in the identification of wights that you deal with.  It’s even possible to look like a complete idiot in the face of scholars (Pagan and otherwise) who know better than you and can fill in the blanks while you trip over words trying to explain or discuss aspects of your faith.

I never met Snorri Sturluson (at least, not that I remember).  I can say that the window that he has provided us into the beliefs and poems of his time are invaluable.  I know that without him countless deities and tales would be forgotten, and as a storyteller and a Pagan I suppose that that makes him something of a hero of mine.

However, I don’t know him.  I don’t know the measure of his worth as a person, I haven’t seen his integrity in action, and I don’t know entirely why he did what he did.  What I do know is that even as a teenager reading the Eddas I recognized Christian influence in the tales, occasionally in a rather heavy-handed way.  I do know that Snorri made some odd claims about the ancestry of the Gods, and I do not agree with his suggestion that all deities were once human heroes.

The fact is, his work, and the Sagas we’ve kept in other ways, and hearsay are all we have to inform us of how people at the time when they were first written down felt about the Gods, and what they knew about the Gods, and what they did about those feelings.  Without this work reconstructionists wouldn’t have made it as far as they have.

I believe that the Eddas and the Sagas should be the first word, but not necessarily the last, and certainly not the most important.  The world that we live in is radically different from the world that those who recorded these things lived in.  We see it through different eyes, hear it through different ears, and filter it through different brains.

Yet some of us feel the call of the Gods and spirits from across whatever barrier of perception or dimension or both separates us.  Among those there are folks like myself, who find that the practices that have been reconstructed do not work as well for us as other techniques that we’ve learned or practiced, or who wish to supplement their practices.

Heathenry involves a degree of cultural reconstruction as well, and the awesomeness of Viking apron dresses aside, there are aspects to reconstructed Heathen culture that don’t fit with every person who honors the Aesir and Vanir.  There are those who don’t feel that we need to revisit age-old mores to create good relationships with the Gods.  There are even those like myself that feel that Gods might be okay with not being honored within a certain cultural context; that they might even care far less about human culture than we do.

I have been and perhaps still am a witch and a seeress and a priestess.  I know many others who fit into those and similar categories.  If I trust the person as a person I will tend to trust their words when speaking about their experiences with the Gods, the Wights, and the Ancestors.  I know that sometimes even honorable people lie, and that sometimes everyone is wrong, especially when feeling for signals from the spirits.

At the same time, if I am to truly believe in the Gods as real beings who really can communicate with us, I cannot ignore the gnosis of my fellow priestesses, seeresses, and spirit workers.  “UPG” or “Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” is often used interchangeably with “MUS” or “Made Up Shit” in modern Heathen discussion and dismissed out of hand.  Even when it is not it is treated with quite a bit of suspicion.

Like the layers of a pearl that form around an irritant, so do religions form around spiritual experiences.  Somewhere along the line, someone called that redgold Goddess “Freyja” for the first time.  Someone heard her voice, felt her presence, and decided to name her “Lady.”  Without that time-lost incident we also would not have the faith we had today, nor would Snorri and others have been able to write record what they had.

All religion starts with gnosis, both personal and shared.  Though the lore states nowhere that Freyja likes chocolate, I’ll challenge you to find a Freyjaswoman or Freyjasman who would argue that it’s not a worthy offering for her.  If someone said something confusing like “Freyja likes being offered bug spray.” I might be skeptical, but if many voices devoted to her spoke up for her love of pesticides I’d have to practice my own discernment and divination on the matter and see if that was part of my relationship with her.

At what point does “UPG” pass the threshold into accepted belief?   In a community where personal spiritual experiences of living worshipers are never considered to be of equal worth to the writings of those long gone, how can our understanding of the Gods evolve?  As our understanding of the physical universe and social realities of humankind evolve, so should our spiritual understanding and awareness.  Chaining this to modern interpretations of static words will put us into the same trap of stagnancy, corruption, and materialism as many other religions.

Rejection of Neopaganism

This takes many flavors and comes about for many reasons, but the majority of Heathens that I’ve spoken with do not consider Heathenry to be part of neopaganism.  Some claim that it is not a new religion, that it is an unbroken tradition (which I cannot answer to but I am always suspicious of those claims).  Some feel that the Gods and Ancestors are dishonored by association with deities and practices of other pantheons and cultures (regular readers know how I feel about that one).  Some claim that Heathenry is different enough in values and practice that Heathens don’t fit in to big umbrella Paganism.

I could take on any one of these individual points, and I understand the arguments both for and against them.  Personally, however, I do identify with the Neopagan community, because there are a great many within it that love the Aesir and the Vanir, the Landwights, Elves and Ancestors.  Our practices may be different, and our individual -theism or lack thereof may cause disagreements, but we all seek to revere the Gods dear to our hearts.  I would rather be exposed to a wide variety of practices and experiences with the Gods that I love, than to be in a strictly formulaic practice that allows no deviation.

The vitriol I’ve seen directed at those who identify as Pagan by those who identify as Heathen is excessive and shows a lack of willingness to assume good will or intent.  The fact that being called “Wiccatru” (a label I’ve seen applied to modern Heathen leaders and scholars who have a mystical or spiritual bent in practice) is considered an acceptable way to dismiss someone’s scholarship and practice brings me sorrow, as the many Pagan paths have quite a bit to teach one another.

Disregard for the Spiritual

As one of the God-bothered, a person who has always had experiences with spirits, I can’t reject or turn away from spiritual realities.  I’ve always lurked about and taken part in religions to help me find useful frameworks and techniques to deal with and make good use of my experiences.  Many of those experiences happen to be with the Aesir and Vanir and associated wights.

Thus it always baffles me when I encounter people who seem very devoted to religion or at least to religious identity but who mock spiritual experiences.  You know, the folks who claim that the runes were never used for magic (haven’t you read Sigridfumal?) or feel that the Gods don’t care about us or wish to interact with us personally (Ottar in the Lay of Hyndla?).  I’ve seen this in the Episcopalianism and Islam of my youth, and I’ve seen it in the Heathenry of my adulthood.  It’s a cultural attitude whose origins I am uncertain of but seems uncharacteristic of the people whose faith we’re trying to reconstruct or build on.  The sagas are full of tales of magick and seers and vitki and ghosts and spirits and Gods.  Why is it acceptable in our tales but not in our lives?

I’ve been told by at least one Heathen that Heathenry is an excuse to get drunk and dress like Vikings (and had pretty much the same words said by others).  If I wanted to get drunk and dress like a Viking I would not come up with such an elaborate excuse; I would have a Get Drunk And Dress Like A Viking Party.  I wouldn’t put work into reading lore.  I sure as anything wouldn’t be making offerings if I didn’t believe that anyone was on the receiving end.  I want a living faith that honors and builds relationships with the Gods and Spirits that I love dearly, not a frat party.

Community Focus (or Solitary Exclusionary)

Time and time again, it has been emphasized to me that Heathenry is community oriented, that without a community there is no purpose to it, that’s it’s not genuine, that’s it’s not right.

How nice for you.

Really, though, it’s nice to have community.  It’s affirming and validating and helpful when you have other people going through the same things with you.  It’s good to have people to be there for you through all of life’s transitions and vicissitudes.

However, not everyone can find communities that they fit into.  I struggle with both the Pagan and larger world community because of my trans status.  I struggle with the trans community because I have a religion that isn’t watered down non-spiritual Christianity or nihilistic modern American Buddhism.  I have to carve niches for myself wherever I go, and sometimes I don’t have that option.  I’m not alone in that, either.  There are a lot of people who, for reasons above or others (including the paucity of available Heathen communities in general) can’t find a Kindred or Hearth to belong to.

So when you don’t have a Kindred should you stop honoring the Ancestors and the wights and the Gods?  Should you just give them the shove and stop calling yourself Heathen because you don’t have a community?  “Well, I was Heathen but my Kindred broke up, so I’m an atheist until I can find another one.  No, following another religious tradition would be ‘drinking from someone elses’ well’, so I can’t do that either.  Just have to wait for another Kindred to form or form a new one before I can be a Heathen again.”

Which brings me to:

Folkish, Tribalist, Racialist, and other words that are used to say, “I’m not racist but…”

You know the story – your spiritual ancestry is carried in your DNA.  Only those whose blood is pure will receive blessing from the Norse Gods.  Only those of Pure European Heritage With Ancestors Who Were Never From Anywhere Else Ever Can Venerate Them.  Also, if you’re from Northern Europe, you shouldn’t pay any attention to any Gods or Spirits that aren’t in the Eddas or Sagas, because that’s “drinking from anothers’ well”.  You have different DNA, and that means that you are totally spiritually incompatible.  They either aren’t reaching out to you, or they are because they want to corrupt you, because foreign things are evil.

After all, the many races of the world are like instruments in an orchestra.  Each musician plays their own instruments; if you try and play the wrong instrument for you, all that will come out is a horrible sound and it will totally screw up the orchestra.  Also, unlike in the orchestra analogy, you can never learn to use an instrument that you are not designated to play at birth by skin color and last name on your birth certificate.

Godhi, please.

The concept of race is a dead one and should stay that way.  The idea that humans have distinct and pure bloodlines breaks down really quickly once you study any one person’s genealogy going back more than a century or so.  Throughout history, people have traveled, met other people, made war or trade with them, and whether it was war or trade also made babies with them.

There are ethnic enclaves that have been geographically isolated for long periods of time (like Tibet was up til around the 1950’s) where it could be argued that “pure” lineages developed.  Their ancestors still came from elsewhere, though.  As a Voudoun priestess once said to me, “It’s okay if you’re white; we all come from Africa, baby.”

I’ve studied my family genealogy.  This fat white girl from suburban America has black and native ancestors within the last two hundred years, and was raised by an Egyptian stepfather in an ethnically-mixed household.  I tan dark enough to look Italian in the summer (if you’re going to go by something as lame as skin color) – I know people from North Africa and the Levant who are paler than me.  I was raised on a combination of hummus, ta’amayah and the Qur’an on one side and white guilt, Tolkein, and liberal Episcopalianism on the other side.  Tell me, what faith do my genes or upbringing want me to follow?

I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.  I think that they favor who they choose to favor, regardless of their ethnic or genetic background.  These beliefs come from observation and experience, both mine and those of folks who I know.  I’ve had a Kemetic Goddess (who I worship mostly in Her Greco-Roman aspects) tell me in a Norse oracular rite to join an organization that bills itself as Druidic.

As such, I can’t be okay with “racialism”, “folkishness” or “tribalism”.  I’m an educated person of my time who knows that no blood is unmixed, who knows that no “race” is pure or even really exists, and who has enough of a mixed background that were I to limit my spiritual practices only to one tradition I would be leaving out other, important things.

When I formally approached The Ancestors, my Ancestors, as a whole for the first time and asked them what they wanted me to know, I was taken out of myself, or rather back through myself.  I followed and spread out through endless lives like branching worm casts, spreading more and more until I couldn’t count or even pay attention to the details that were passing by me.  All life is my ancestry, every being who has lived has contributed to who I am today.  It’s the same for you, dear reader.  They are all part of you.

However, taking issue with folkishness (aka Heathen racism) is somehow naughty because Frith.  Because we should all be peaceful and safe with one another and trust one another.  Because we need to reach across the aisle and embrace all Heathens, regardless of what they believe.

This mutt, this mud-blooded, racially mixed lover of the Vanir and Aesir has no inclination to do so.  I’ll not share a space with those who discount me, or would discount my sisters or any of my family or loved ones because of their ancestry.  I’ll not drink with those who wouldn’t drink with me (or would because my skin is pale, but wouldn’t with my little sisters because theirs is not).  I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t have a problem with it, or that I think that pandering to folkish beliefs is in any way acceptable to me.  But, because people are afraid to stand up to their own beliefs and cover cowardice with Frith and make peace with people who would take our Gods away because of our ancestry (if they could) I don’t fit with any but the most stringently liberal of the Universalist/Folkish divide.

Not to mention the queer and trans thing.  That doesn’t go over too well either.

So where do I go from here?  What options does this non-Heathen have?  What space is there for a polytheist who wants to honor the Vanir and Aesir (and maybe a couple of the friendlier Jotnar like Gerda and Skadhi) but can’t abide many things that grate upon her in popular Heathen culture?  Stay tuned; my next post is going to explore all of the options that I’ve found and considered.

Praying the Gay Away

I recently read a copy of Raven Kaldera’s open letter to transgender spirit workers ) to a good friend of mine.  (Warning: the language is dated, and some may find it offensive, he apologizes for it but refuses to change it because it is an artifact of another time and he thinks it should stand as a record and I honor that decision.  It’s still very much worth reading if you’re transgender, a spirit worker, an ally of either or some combination thereof.) We both wept, and both knew what he was talking about, as we’d both felt it.  We’ve felt the Kindreds tear at us until we acknowledged who we are.  We’ve heard the howls of rage and fear and sorrow of the transgender dead, the demand of “Let me be the last one!”.  We’ve felt alone, and we’ve told other people that they’re not alone.  In light of Equality and Justice Day in New York and the recent efforts being made against conversion therapy nationally and worldwide, along with Raven’s letter, I wrote this:

I believe that you can pray the gay away.  Wait, hold on, don’t make any assumptions and listen to what I have to say.

I believe it because it happened to me.  No, seriously, please hear me out.  This is not what you may think it sounds like.

Well, it wasn’t “the Gay”, it was “the Trans” but I was so poorly educated on the subject back in the early 2000’s I didn’t know the difference.  I hadn’t been exposed to the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation were separate things.  Indeed, everyone that I knew conflated the two things (too many still do).  So I thought that I was a gay (or maybe bisexual) man who had some kind of confusion about their gender.  I was desperately wrong and painfully confused and I didn’t know any safe or healthy ways to manifest my nature and identity.

So I did something that I’ve been good at over my life.  I prayed.

I prayed and prayed to my Goddess, begging Her to take this from me.  Despite the fact that I had felt her be supportive of the part of me that knew that I was a woman, I asked her to strip me of it, to cut me off from it, to let it go.  I felt Her asking if I was sure that I wanted this, and I, in pain and miserable, assured Her that I did.

So she did.

I don’t know how it happened.  I’m not sure what exactly happened, other than that when I woke up the next morning, I had no issue reconciling with my body.  I went about life as a man with absolutely no conflict or issue with my body.  For a few hours it felt all right, even good.  It was a relief.  A relief to not have to think or worry about it.

Over time I started to notice a flatness to my perceptions.  A creeping emptiness started to invade my heart.  Over time it felt like color and with it meaning and value were being leeched from the world.  It crushed me like a slow vise.  At first I thought that it was something that I just had to tough through, but I discovered that there was nothing that I could “tough” with.  I was missing the essence that held me firm, the djed  of my soul.  I suppose if there was any turning point it was when I realized that I was missing an essential part of myself – that the part of myself that I was cut off from was truly essential.  I was dying inside.

I finally broke and begged Her to give it back to me.  I apologized for my foolishness and plead ignorance.  My Lady is a forgiving one and let me feel myself and live again.  I felt an ineffable, irreplaceable part of my Self flood back into contact with the rest of me and I collapsed in tears and gratitude.  I knew from that moment on that I couldn’t get rid of it without getting rid of myself, something that I was not willing to do.

This is much gentler than experiences that other trans spirit-workers have reported when they try to keep their gender locked into a box and deny it.  I have faced depression, loss, self-destructive urges and even potential suicide in my journey.  Living and overcoming those things did not have as much of an effect on me as this experience did.  That deep-rooted knowledge that my gender identity was an inseparable part of who I am was something that helped carry me through the darkest of times.  There had to be a way to reconcile with it.

That’s why Raven’s letter resonates so very strongly with me.  I’ve heard the Gods and Spirits for as long as I can remember, some times better than others.  I’ve learned to work with them through childhood trial and error and adult study and practice.  I know that my community needs people like me to help us through some of the most difficult periods of their lives.  It’s not to say that I won’t help anyone who asks if I have the spoons and know that that’s what you need.  I will help anyone that I can if they need it.

It does mean that I will go out of my way to help other trans and gender-variant people if given the opportunity.  Like with other professions, so many of us are turned away by those who reject our identities and our selves.  Many of us also encounter those who are willing to help but in the end are unhelpful because they simply can’t understand our experiences, not having lived them themselves.  I have been a trans person all my life (though my coming out was more recent) and have heard from the Kindreds all my life as well.  If you feel that you need someone that fits those qualifications I will do whatever I can.  If I feel that I can’t help you, I will do my best to find someone who can.  As my Matron is my witness, I promise this to you; may She help me remember and fulfill my promise should I ever forget or slack off.  I will be there for you.  You are not alone.

– For Asteysa.

Oaths and Integrity

I’m choosing to use the word, “Oaths” for this post because, upon looking at given definitions it won out over vow or promise.  One of the definitions I found (on Google, sorry!) of Oath contained the wording, “A solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.” and decided that that was the most appropriate.

Oaths are vital to myself and my practice because how they intersect with a few different principles that are important to me: integrity, sovereignty, and relationship-building.

Integrity is a person’s “wholeness”.  We all start with a clean slate regarding this, but when we discover the ability for duplicity we discover a way that we can manipulate outcomes at the price of damage to the egos of ourselves and others.  My experience has been that lying is damaging to a person’s sense of self, as well as to that of those who are being lied to (or in some cases, about).

When we use words to define an experience and send it out to other humans (or other beings) we are making a statement about ourselves (“This happened to me.”) and often about others (“This happened/is happening/will happen to you/someone else”).  These words and definitions imprint themselves on human psyches constantly.  They build our identities both personally and collectively.

When someone lies or breaks an oath, they are using inferior materials for ego construction.  This effects the liar on a daily basis, as they know and absorb that much of how they define themselves or their lives is false.  This affects those that they lie to by breaking down their sense of reality when they discover the truth.  I can’t imagine that there is a person out there that hasn’t felt the world spinning or the ground dropping out from under their feet when a concealed truth was revealed or a lifelong promise shattered.  That sensation is made up of parts of your world, created by yourself and others in concert, being torn away.  Lies tear at the integrity of our being and identity.

Some say that personal integrity is a requirement for magickal power.  I only disagree with that because there are many well-known magicians in both lore and the modern day who are known for both their wisdom and their lies.  So much of what happens to us with magickal work is personal and subjective that it’s hard to check every thaumaturges’ claims.  Besides, the last thing we need are occult paparazzi!

Despite that I feel that while it may not be necessary, personal integrity is important and helpful to magickal practice (as well as to being a good human being).  Building a reality out of solid (or at least flexible) material helps to give you protections against the ego-storms that are sure to come, and helps to provide a quality of authority and personal sovereignty, both of which are invaluable in magickal work.

When I was young I was a liar.  Children learn to lie at a young age, and teenagers turn it into an art, and some people never grow out of it.  I lied artfully, creating palaces out of clouds and obtaining much of what I thought I needed through deceit.  As I matured, though, I realized that I had more and more trouble with self-control and self image and began to suspect that that was tied to my habits.  I eventually reached a breaking point where I I had no foundation on which to build my world.  I lost respect, friends, and community.  I lost confidence in my magick and my relationships with the Gods.  It took me a while to connect the dots and own the fact that I had done this to myself.  Once you’ve fallen so far, though, it’s hard to imagine a way to get out.

I had a friend who had successfully quit smoking, and when I asked him what he had done, and he told me, “Never break a promise to a God with a spear.”  This provoked me to consider the benefits and importance of oaths and promises.  Doing them simply out of fear of the one with whom the bargain is made seemed unattractive.  Nevertheless, I needed to find ways to control my behavior and improve my situation.

I started by making small promises to myself (working on my to-do list, refraining from talking about a situation, washing dishes after use).  The effect that making and keeping those promises had on my sense of self and my identity was subtle but built up over time.

Then I decided to make some oaths sacred and involve the Gods in them.  Following my friend’s example I chose things that needed to be done in my life that I had great difficulty gathering the willpower to do, and made oaths to complete them as devotional acts.  I could practically feel the bonds between myself and the Powers tighten as I completed fulfilled these oaths.

With each oath kept, whether made to myself, another human, or a spirit or God, I felt my sense of self and wholeness return.  The changes that these oaths made in me and my relationships (and if you know me at this point you know how important the web of relationships is to me) became obvious.  People started to trust me again, and I acquired a reputation for being reliable after years of being considered a flake.  Devotional relationships deepened and acquired nuance that they had previously lacked.  I was more confident, happier, and carried myself better than before.

I must emphasize that this process took years.  Like with physical exercise or meditation practice the day-to-day benefits came so slowly and built so gradually that I only noticed them once I had been doing it for a while.  It took a little faith and determination to keep with my integrity building practice, but it has become one of the cornerstones of the work that I do in life.

In my personal practice, I call upon Var to witness all of my oaths.  As it says in Gylfaginning:

“…she listens to people’s oaths and private agreements that women and men make between each other. Thus these contracts are called varar. She also punishes those who break them”

As I have great affection for Frigga’s handmaidens (among whom Var is numbered), because she is a warden and keeper of oaths, and because the utterance of her name with any oath renders it sacred I reach out to her when I make promises.  In my experience she is neutral and very firm but understanding – she won’t let you slide on a technicality but doesn’t seem to hold failure to maintain an oath personally.  She has also provided assistance when I’ve had trouble maintaining an oath.  It seems that she far prefers an oath to be honored and kept than to have to punish those who fail.

So while I may not jive with many aspects of modern Heathenry, I very much appreciate the emphasis on oaths and their importance.  I feel that the creation and maintenance of oaths, vows, and promises is a powerful magick for self-improvement and strengthening of the Great Web and our own selves and identities.  They serve as a cure for and inoculation against much of the ego sickness that pervades the modern world.

(This post was a draft that sat there for many months.  I decided to complete it and release it as a devotional act to Thor on his day.  Thor has often been called upon to witness oaths and sanctify oaths as well, and in many ways he embodies the concepts of integrity and sovereignty that I value and that oaths help to create and maintain.  Hail Thor, Thunderer, Friend of Man and Guardian of Midgard!)

Finding Our Space (Trans Women and Pagan Culture)

rainbow female symbol

(***Edit/Update*** MY conflict regarding ADF’s Chenille Canopy below has been resolved; it’s not only trans inclusive but trans welcoming.  All women are encouraged to join.  More detail on that in my Wellspring 2015 post.)

The reason that I’ve been absent for weeks has mainly revolved around my need to post this and the endless revisions I’ve put it through.  I’ve finally put my foot down and told my Virgo self “Good enough!” (something that I have to do all too often).

The first time I was accepted into women’s space it was in 2002, for a study group on women’s spirituality.  This was long before I came out as transgender.  This is long before anyone had anything other I than an inkling.  Yet, without me asking first I was approached by friends who were starting the group and asked to join.

What could I say?  I was still terrified of being “out” and being myself.  They only had vague reasons as to why they invited me.  “You have a feminine spirit.”  “I think that you could contribute a lot of important things.”  We had a ceremony where we each received a necklace of red beads – mine was the darkest, the color of older, drying blood.  “You have the knowledge and the experience.”  I was told.  “You’re our Crone.”

Without ever identifying myself, other spiritual-type people picked me out and came to me, knowing who was looking out from behind my eyes.  No tests or justifications were needed.  The warm spirit of sisterhood that filled that relatively short-lived group will stay with me always.  There were no divisions made based on the shape of people’s genitals.  We were all women seeking the feminine divine in our lives, our histories, and our identities.

Spirit has always pushed me forward in being true to myself.  My Matron allowed me to take my time, her only encouragements gentle and heavily laden with awareness of consent.  Frejya, on the other hand, was far more direct.  In a meditative rite to greet her as a Goddess, I saw myself as I truly am, and she was seriously no-nonesense about it.  “Yes, you’re a woman.  What did you think?”  She encouraged me to stop pretending, and taught me a way to give my heart and feelings and desires fire and strength that they had not had before.

So why is it that I feel uncomfortable in so many women’s spaces nowadays?  You might imagine that given my history I would want to embrace every women’s space that will have me (given that trans women aren’t always welcome).  It’s pretty simple: I need to justify my presence there nowadays.

When I was invited to the women’s spirituality study group, there was no question from anyone of whether or not I deserved to be there.  Now, even if the official rules of an organization and the majority of their members approve of me (or even better consider it a non-issue) there will be people there who feel that I don’t belong.  The sideways glares and stares, the whispers… all of these things that I have to put up with in public (on a bad day) in my day-to-day life … I go to special spaces to escape that sort of thing!

The reason that this is coming to a head now is that I’ve been invited to attend the Chenille Canopy event at Wellspring (one of ADF’s big festivals).  The Chenille Canopy started as an ADF women’s retreat and has since evolved into a sub-organization, open to all who identify as women.  I don’t know how I feel about it – I don’t want to venture into another women’s space and have to justify myself all over again.

Due in part to response to a very real need for women to learn to embrace their identities and their bodies and have their own space and power, Pagan culture has become very binary.  The sexual polarity embraced by Wicca and many non-Wiccan Pagan offshoots is responsible for still more of it.  Both things are signs of where we’ve come from and as such should be honored, but the social binary that they reinforce creates difficult situations for people like me.  Folks who are very much into polarity often feel the need to impose their own definitions of a person’s gender onto someone who knows better about themselves, often for reasons as (and yes, I’m woo-ier than many but still) vague as how a person’s energy feels to them.  Space for women to feel empowered based on their identity that discriminates against women like me isn’t space that’s truly inclusive.  I have body shame issues from coping with gender dysphoria as well as a dozen other factors, and I also need space where I can overcome them and start healing under sacred aegis and with community.  Between those two factors and the background radiation of patriarchal values and bone-deep misogyny that everyone in our society needs to contend with, I find myself feeling less and less welcome in spaces that accept me.

I don’t expect there to be any consensus on this.  Trans people are as varied as cisgender people.  Whatever it is that makes people trans does not seem to cluster too much around any particular set of characteristics that I can determine.  We’ll have different needs and different opinions and different levels of comfort when it comes to direct confrontation of authority.  I do want people to think about it, though, because we’re still Pagan and not going away any time soon.  As more and more people feel safe coming out and being themselves, more and more communities and spaces are going to need to find ways to integrate us respectfully.

I don’t know where to go with this, but it’s important.   I will follow up with more thoughts and potential solutions later; I needed to get this post done so that I could get it out of my head and move on to other things.  Please share this with anyone who you might think might be interested in the discussion – there are a lot of us trans pagans out there, so boosting signal strength would be helpful.

celebrated