In trying to be more open, and heal, I did speak to my mom about these essays. I haven’t read them to her, obviously, but she knows they exist, and maybe a few small bits and pieces. It’s worth noting I reached out to the person who inspired the Hvitakrist and Folkish Heathens poem, too, though I never received a response. I’m not sure if I expected to. In many ways, though, it was an apology on my part - she’s grown far, far beyond that now. I know what that’s like. Growing up, I was indoctrinated so heavily with conservative Christian ideals that I brought up the abortion debate as a seven year old in a second grade classroom, refusing to read any article that mentioned President Bill Clinton because “he murders babies.”
I… feel sorry for my teacher in hindsight. I never got to apologize to her, but I did get to apologize to a more moderate Baptist pastor my parents were very rude to and judged - and I along with them - for his stance on the topic. After my miscarriage, I ran into him for the first time in years at random. The gods work in mysterious ways - and I managed to apologize. He was shocked. He had no idea I had been that bitter towards him, but it was still a burden lifted off my soul. Many are drawn to say the past is the past, burn the past, but the past has two purposes you can't ignore in many ways - cleaning up past mistakes, and good things and lessons you need to take with you.
In many ways, I chose neither my Protestantism or Catholicism fully freely. I was under pressure. The latter proved essential to my physical survival however, as did still having Pagan ties. I stayed with Catholic and Pagan friends alike for a time - and wouldn’t have had food, medicine, or a place to sleep without both. The bad parts of Catholicism majorly contributed to our current hellscape, but good parts helped me with $10k worth of food, shelter,, & medical care & saved my physical life once when homeless. Help others if you can.
At the end of the day though, I wouldn't have met Serilda if not for the Catholics, or Andy. The details of my emotional healing from all that is also part of why I was drawn to Sigyn and Loki. So in some ways, it likely made finding the Norse gods easier. It seems the Aesir even used that. Even as a Catholic, though, I sometimes joked that out of all my Wiccan past, considering I had tried to reach out to Freya even in those days, I’d make an exception for the odds of the Aesir existing, again because Snorri gave me the leeway.
Over the years in and out of various types of Paganism and witchy groups, I have run into groups that restrict what pantheons one can interact with, especially among Heathens. I’m still uncomfortable with that. Brigid, for example, would be a little sad to totally lose. She still saved my life, or at least saved me from double head injury. It was a pendant dedicated to her that got tangled and twisted in the gears of that student athlete’s bike that day when they struck me. In other interfaith interactions… it also might be funny to occasionally ask Jesus to save me, not so much from sin, but *from his followers* casting stones. Heh.
One thing I do dwell on as a result of my upbringing is how shallow some things can be. A lot of people really do only care about hedonistic and consumeristic concerns, or so it seems sometimes. I can’t deny that sometimes when someone is particularly crass, caught up in addictions or treating sexual partners badly, it makes me pause and wonder if the fundis werent completely wrong. Then it clicks, the same stuff that would make one of them say, “Oh, so and so is living an unfulfilled life full of sin and hedonism…” those are often the same pastors and leaders who also often turn to alcoholism or drug addiction or misusing sex. Quite often, they even do this in ways that are far more perverted and depraved and actually harmful, such as the criminals who abuse children. Maybe, just maybe, it's because they're repressing the actually sacred.
What cultural appropriators do to some sorts of spirituality they do with sex…They think they understand it, that they know what it is, but all they’ve seen is a fake, plastic, mass marketed version, and they never let themselves learn or be bothered to ask what authenticity looks like, so of course they’re going to mistreat what can and should be treated with reverence. The same goes for people who abuse substances that might best be used therapeutically or in ritual. There are many powerful things in this world, and disrespecting them can lead to harm. Even simple trees fall into this category. At the end of the day, it’s not about some sinful action or substance, or some ancient rule… It's about treating ourselves, others, and the abundance and dangers of the natural world around us kindly or carelessly.
Speaking of, the same exposition that works for getting Biblical fundamentalists to rethink their positions on LGBTQ discrimination can also work in Islam. Their scriptures weirdly have some of the same plot holes for the story of Sodom, where one cans see that it’s actually about hospitality and not about homosexuality. So… there’s direct value to interfaith dialogue in making a more caring, tolerant world for future generations.
Also there’s a few important things Heathens can learn from liberal Muslims. For example, unlike the fundamentalist literalist view, to a liberal, “jihad” refers to ones personal inner battles and the fight to grow as a human being. We can also see how people who see that as weak, and that it should be taken literally even outside of self defense, are usually creepy traditionalist nationalist assholes, like Folkish Heathens.
The inherent negatives of trying to equivocate all Christians as being dominionist nationalists should also be self-evident in this light, because many Muslims do not want to live under Sharia law. When you get upset at Abrahamic or monotheistic religion overall and make that your enemy... a third of the people on the planet are Christians, and another quarter are Muslims. Do you really want to fight nearly 60% of the humans on the planet that badly? Do you really think 60% of the global population are in favor of the worst policies of those who share their general overall faith? Or would you rather find the Allies you can to show the assholes they speak for no one, and rob them of what little power they can try to claim?
It’s like the Heilung song "Kriegsgaldr"…. How can I reason with you if you insist on using violence and not reason? The answer to that is often dark. So even if in the end, as many mystics from many paths say, All Will Be Well, there is a walk through fire to be endured. There is a cycle of death and rebirth, a cycle of trials, learning, wisdom, beauty and, yes, pain, that winds up taking us there. There is no easy way to wholeness. It is neither love and light, nor cold and unforgiving.
There's a song I learned as a fundamentalist Christian that surprised me, because a lot of people in the context I learned it in would likely find it blasphemous. It beautifully also describes how those who have had to deconstruct that upbringing can still meet others from it with compassion, however -
"Break the cross and carve crutches for the crippled.
Pull the nails, and build houses for the homeless.
Tear his robes into bandages to bind their wounds.
Carve the stone, and build bridges to a world in need."
I learned that I was not alone in this interest - the Troth have been doing a lot of interfaith dialogue recently.
This isn’t quite new for them, either. Troth Elder Diana Paxon, in contributing to the book “Jesus through Pagan Eyes,” wrote an essay in which she hypothesized - much like I used to about Mary and the Shekhina as a Christopagan - that Jesus was first and foremost best understood by Pagans as a gifted healer and tranceworker. Much like others from various anamistic faiths, that incorporate altered states of consciousness, can “horse” their deities, embodying them, allowing their bodies and senses and voices to be used by deities as their bodies and senses and voices, she hypothesized that Jesus was simply functionally doing the same for his god, El / Yaw.
Heilung's "ritual intro" draws from similar themes too -
Remember, that we all are brothers
All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind
We all descend from the one great being
That was always there
Before people lived and named it
Before the first seed sprouted
Why is that underlying unity important to me?
Well, for one thing, it’s something we have more “proof” of than most things in spirituality.
Why, so often, do I insist on being where I may not be wanted? Because it feels like life itself may not want me, and I’m fighting to belong on this planet and be seen as human and not just a useful meatsack to consume content made by others, breathe my way through pain with the smallest bits of beauty that do make it through, and then die and scatter back into the remnants of that beauty.
As destructive as humans can be, I want to have hope that love still exists, and as defeated as nature can seem in the face of our destruction, I want to believe that the gods still have Some power to help life find a way.
It's important to me, that inherent feeling of connection, of weaving together, of seeing that even if one isn't anthropomorphizing other animals, there is something there in their consciousness that is in All consciousness. There's a Being-ness there, bringing with it a capacity for pleasure, suffering, and subjective experiences, in such a way that seems universal, that seems like a oneness seen through many eyes. It's an interconnection of all matter and energy, with a warning that what affects some affects all in the end.
If evil is simply the lack of continuation of the cycle of life, a void without a new beginning or big bang, in essence all that is needed to defeat it is a belief in that Beingness and in love. It’s about hope - the gods do have a Ground of Being to them. It’s about faith - faith that what brought all of this into being can bring it into being again. It really does make love a common ground for all spirit and life, and the answer to evil, without having to fight it in any other way per say, except perhaps survival.
Becker’s Denial of Death theory would make these two conflict, but if one can put aside the ego and focus on the survival of, and identification with, Life as Life, and not just one’s own petty opinions or even culture, since we are talking about life beyond just human life, then there is hope. Lovingkindness, Metta, whatever one calls it, seems to be the key to a spirituality that really means something in this universe.
Maybe we can meet our monotheist neighbors through our animism - at the point of loving Being-ness and our neighbors of all sorts, human, animal, and landvaettir. Tyr met the jaws of Fenrir with an outstretched hand, knowing it might delay Ragnarok. No one said it was easy.
Maybe instead of Jormagandr or Ginungagap, it's Nidhogg. You can almost hear it, need hog, the need to consume and destroy until there is nothing left... that would fit with a Howling Void of thermodynamic equilibrium as a spiritual force. At the same time, I tend to interpret the dragon Nidhogg as a source of limited destruction in my own UPG so far, and always of the worst in a person or even the universe - the rot, which gives way to better growth.
Maybe that’s part of the rot, and it truly is contained. Maybe, as my poem noted, even if absolute thermodynamic equilibrium is the fate of this current universe, the stuff sucked into black holes really does become new universes. There can always be life and creation somewhere - after all, it had a start here, and this universe came from somewhere. It is matter and energy born from somewhere, so surely it goes elsewhere, and something new is born there. Even some of the same scientists, who would say the universe ends with all matter in black holes and all that remains are a few last photons, dancing around like fireworks in the void... would posit that absolute thermodynamic equilibrium is unlikely to occur outside of a lab. We don’t even know what dark matter or energy is, or does, yet, after all. Change... change is constant. And change means a hope that life can evolve.
I had a debate about all of this recently that troubled me. So much of it on the other side boiled down to "Boltzmann brains can't be a thing, consciousness requires meat and anything else is bullshit." Why would the macrocosm not also follow cyclical patterns if the rest of nature also does? It's elegant. It makes sense.
(They're also literally putting their fingers in their ears about disembodied consciousness... and the things that make them call it "likely wrong" also don't account for dark matter/energy at all, so... that honestly is just a matter of favoring nihilism over panpsychism, which in the end is a matter of opinion.
I also used to be okay with the concept of the end of time though, and didn't view that as destruction either. So maybe even that is okay, if it all dies, even the stars themselves, as long as time dies with it, and the clocks stop - so to speak since there won't be clocks anymore. But still, I was okay with this as a Christian. As a Heathen, I’ve sometimes hypothesized that there are places where the Gods might go when they die during Ragnarok, before they might be reborn like Baldr. These include the mentioned but never described Andlang and Vidblain, and I wonder if it’s possible that the spiritual dimensions there could be such that they bend the idea of human understandings of Space-Time, and may be outside of it with a different concept altogether that makes three dimensional movement in our space-time look like a drawing in a book. This is all just my own UPG, of course, using elements from the lore to speculate. Still, it's wyrd enough that just as Ragnarok seems to be the end but isn't, so too may be the story of our universe.
While in the past, my philosophy for thinking through this wound up pretty similar to that found in Hinduism before I realized it, I'm not a soft Polytheist and the more I explore animism the more it turns towards panpsychism. At the same time, it's still not too different from the Tao, of the Tao te Ching, or even Dust from His Dark Materials.. If I do personify it, I do so as Odr, Freya's husband. Considering his name implies ecstasy itself, beyond form, there’s something of a state of mystical rapture about the entire concept, and considering Freyja is a Seidr practitioner… it just fits, at least to me.
I also learned the term “omnist” around this time, and rather like it - it reminds me of the Unitarian Universalists, but more polytheist friendly, since it completely ignores even needing to have a Trinitarian vs Unitarian “debate” since it’s not grounded in Christian perceptual framework. I was also given cause to think through language of the idea of spirits being “emanations” in some sort of Neo-Platonic sense. The Hindu idea of this intrigues me, but the Neo-Platonic one not so much. The artists who shape the clay are not the clay. The clay is not the artists. Gods are the artists. Clay is the spirit or consciousness that permeates all things. In the framework of this analogy, I suppose I see Odr as god of the clay.
Many mystics, across religions, tend to have very similar experiences. It makes me wonder, how would a never interrupted Heathenry have dealt with Buddhists? Considering we have found Buddha statues even as events played out, among other artifacts at Viking era sites, and knowing that Buddhists didn’t exactly have the imperialistic or missionary interests Christians did, it's not unreasonable to see they could find common philosophical ground in places.
In many ways, my own encounters with Buddhism made me more comfortable with notions of Fate - and thus with Heathen cosmology - where Christianity had pushed me away from the concept. Beyond grounding, there’s a sort of “amnesia of the moment.” If you suddenly found yourself without the baggage of the past - in an amnesia state - would this moment be so bad? What possibilities would open up that you don’t see otherwise? Redirecting that with your will, which I’ve sometimes heard as “cutting through at a right angle to fate,” “layers” the concept of Free Will over Determinism. In the Heathen sense, this is why our actions are relevant in our Luck, and our Luck is relevant in our actions. Thinking that we shouldn’t make so little of this concept leads right back to what Heathenry can lend the interfaith conversation.
It’s also related to what I like to call the “pinball machine explanation of magic.” Essentially, a lot of stuff has determinism and fate at play - the sum total of what time period, family, country, culture, religious beliefs, spoken language, genetics, etc you were born into, determines a lot about your life. Everything from health and disabilities to abusive cycles to what concepts, art, ethical notions, and more are available to have early exposure to and have bouncing around in the brain are set up by these things. Who lives near you, what communication capabilities you have, who it is possible for you to encounter to influence your thinking… all these things are both a little bit of chance, and a large portion the result of past factors you have no control over. We have some choices, the launcher spring, the paddles we use to smack the pinball, so to speak. Those are obviously ours, but a lot of the obstacles are just… There. Magic? Magic can’t change the board, but it CAN smack the sides of the machine and give you just a little nudge in the direction you’re hoping to go. This also explains why magic alone can't dismantle oppression overnight and why people in poverty can have “real” magic and still be poor. (I have such imposter syndrome over that…)
Speaking of the magical and the rational, I’ve noticed that even the sorts of bodily “energy” that are scientifically provable can feel very subjective. When my wearable health monitor vibrates, or I feel the currents during nerve conduction studies done on my arms, or I undergo electric muscle stimulation to help some of my disabilities, it feels almost as subtle as supposed “energy work.” Tai Chi was important in some ways on my original journey from fundamentalism. What I felt and experienced while learning such things certainly felt about as real as the sleep paralysis I learned to catch myself in while experimenting with lucid dreams. It was also tied with a working tactic I managed to develop to get myself out of said sleep paralysis. I did this by imagining myself, my energy, spirit, dream self, what have you, slipping back into my body like a hand into a glove.
In addition, my first out of body experiences, so to speak, were as a child. I had several thoughts and dreams reminiscent of later Samhain meditations, especially when trying to connect with my deceased father. I also had a bit of an OBE where I thought I had encountered Jehovah, but perhaps it wasn’t. It could just as easily have been the All Father, based on the little I remember. It was enough to make the entire process of Lucid Dreaming and altered consciousness work familiar and easier when I did it over a decade later, on purpose, as a witch. It’s also enough to make me ask myself if these interactions with this pantheon have been there all along.
Twice in the past year, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt like I had the family and community I’d always wanted, even if not at the same time. Yet for most of this time, the medication dose was still stabilizing. That little OCD imp of the mind was planting worries, telling me I’d be the worst step-mom… but I still remember a lecture where a psychologist was discussing that usually, that means someone like me will take extra caution to be the opposite of what their fears are telling them. So I can take solace knowing I would probably have done really well in that role. It still stings, you don’t dangle that in front of someone who can't have kids and even gave up on having kids, when that was something they wanted even more than some good career out of life, and then rip that away. I know Freyja and Frigga and even Loki also hurt for me on my behalf with that one. They know what it is to have family and hope ripped away. There’s a parallel with spiritual community too… to go from feeling like I finally found people who deeply understood me, to finding a place where I belonged, to feeling like all along I was just some sort of annoying reject.
So often I feel like a monster and genuinely don’t know what I did. I know a lot of people may not be sincere when they say this, but I welcome more info to grow. At this point, I’m worried I can't even go into other communities to try again. If I go to an event my seminary helps sponsor, like Mystic South, someday, am I violating some sort of unspoken restraining order to be there? What if I join some server that to my knowledge is run by some unknown tumblr person and more than the ones I think are in there are in there, and I somehow make the same mistakes again? But even trying to ask these questions is apparently how I got in trouble in the first place.
It’s little wonder I feel damaged in my relationship with the entire Heathen community from this in some way. It might also clarify past interactions to realize that outside of being aware of the stuff I listed above, I wasn’t much of a fan before I talked to any of them as people. I was someone who just wanted to feel less alone, and found a link where I thought there might be a few Heathens who weren’t crypto folkists like that kindred I visited back in the day - which I only stuck around with because Valky, who is a member of one of the very groups open folkists tend to discriminate against, was in the kindred with them. She was also the one who had made the comments about Odin sometimes showing up as Black in her UPG, they just didn’t know it was hers and she wasn't there that day. I don’t know the answer for neuroatypical people and situations like mine. Some situations really are toxic, and I can't blame people for using best judgment, but not everyone is able to express things eloquently and some really did crawl out from under a rock, so to speak, like I did.
In many ways though, I do feel more belonging than I did a year ago. Even if I can’t meet with them, I also still have the possibility of zoom rituals with my old Pagan group I’ve known for a decade. I still have Serilda and Valky, as well as other loose, unlabeled community. If it wasn’t for the first few people from The Keyboard Hall who responded to me elsewhere on social media, I admit, I would have been tempted to think I should just go back to the Agnostic-Buddhists. My relationship with social media is complex, though. Honestly, I hated twitter with a passion when it first came out. I refused to join it until a college class made me do so. I also see and share a lot of concerns about TikTok now… but I also feel like these two forms of social media speak to where I’m at, so I’ll probably wind up joining TikTok soon, just as I did twitter years ago. I get others not wanting to see my 3AM “shower thoughts” on other social media that shall not be named. Twitter and TikTok force me to condense my thoughts instead of rambling on in an “infodump.” Learning to communicate in small doses is, as far as I can tell, something that promises to be good for my growth in the long run. It’s also been recently reinforced to me that maybe part of why people don’t like me is that I talk too much, and I’m bad at small talk. Dropping my argument with the world includes these forms of “popular” social media too.
Other pop culture things have also helped me feel a sense of belonging, and positive nostalgia. Getting more into Viking metal this year (carefully avoiding Folkish bands, as with all things Viking) lets me remember some of my Catholic friends who happen to be metalheads. I have good memories of sitting with Serlida and both of us telling them the actual mythology surrounding Ymir, and the looks on their faces, and their comments about how metal that myth is. Getting into it myself lets me embrace the memories from a more Heathen angle. I’m also pretty sure, speaking of Heilung earlier, and their genre’s connection to metal, that the friend who introduced me to them may have found them through their music being on a video game soundtrack. Certain video games are a bit of a safe space for me, and always will be.
If there’s one bit of baggage that’s as much from my goth days as my Christian days, though, it’s bashing on pop culture. While there are consumerist and problematic elements to that, at least it strikes up a conversation. I’ve even spent time in all this wondering why I’m harsher on Gaiman than on Marvel? Yes, I suppose I should own up that, at least in the past, I liked “MarvelGard,” as friends and I called it. That said, my inner goth snob would like to point out I watched the 2011 Thor movie out of curiosity because I had already gone Heathen, and not the other way round. I was there for it when Vikings Season 1 came out as well. The crypto-folkish group assumed right from the pilot that Ragnar would convert to Christianity and watched no more of it. Admittedly, I’m trying to not do the same with Vikings: Valhalla, and I’m resistant to watching the last episodes of the first season. Being willing to take that sort of media with good humor is a positive thing, to me. Some of my favorite Christians like Life of Brian, for example. Are they stronger than Heathens are? Though it would be nice if more Christians knew how to take a joke as well, so to speak. At least even this sort of Hollywood examination gives some awareness of figures like Odin and Thor, even if the misinformation they spread is a pain.
Years back, a “classic hippie” metaphysical shopkeeper I knew, who ran the tarot meetup I was in for awhile, told a group I was sitting in that “the only rule should be there are no rules.” I kinda frowned. “You’re… a shopkeeper. Surely the rule of not stealing is important to you?” She gave me the dirtiest look. But I’m still that person who lives in the gray areas. It's easy to think the only rule should be “no rules” until you're confronted with what “no rules” actually means.... but that also doesn't mean go “lawful stupid.” It’s not an excuse for tyranny, but an argument for ethics.
I definitely do worry. To quote myself in a past tweet, “why don't you see me talk about Declaration of Deeds? To be to the letter I'd have to disown my mom, economically and socially, because she's homophobic, but I plan to do good with some stuff from her after she passes someday. So, the whole "if you talk to a problematic person you are one" stance is…” difficult for me, to say the least. It’s also a great example of why I was easily misinterpreted in my confusions and need for clarification in other contexts and places like The Keyboard Hall. I do try my best, but, as my mother herself ironically put it, I tend to “argue like a Jesuit” - even with myself, in my own brain.
This is what I came up with chatting with my spiritual director -
It's basically the don't be a dick rule.
There's no wrong way to Pagan -
unless you're a dick.
Being a dick is the wrong way to Pagan.
(Unless you're Freyr. Then just be Freyr.)
Looking back, I’ve come a long way. This time last year, before the meds, before reconnecting with Eric, The Keyboard Hall, and through them the gods, I wrote things that look like they came from a completely different person. “I find myself questioning if my own pain is real, if everyone is in this much pain all the time, if pain itself actually exists or matters or if everyone who claims to feel it is a wimp. I hurt myself and wonder if there is even a self to hurt. What is suffering? What is a self?” So… clearly Buddhist thinking wasn’t quite a healthy way to handle where I was at, but it certainly serves as a benchmark for how much my life has changed. I’m only sorry that the very people who helped me through it might forever think of me that way.
Coming through all that I have in 2022 thus far, which I’m only slightly jokingly calling my “Odinic Ordeal,” in some ways it feels like my whole life prepared me for this. I’ve handled so many things badly due to my mental health issues over the years, but I’m really proud of how I’ve dealt with these things, even if others can’t see that growth. My purpose in writing these “Deconstruction Essays” was, first and foremost, to finally find my voice, and to communicate better with those who misunderstood me in the Pagan community in the past. Secondly, it also stands as an apology to those who felt judged, even if I wasn’t judging them, as well as those whom I actually did judge, whether or not they knew it. Thirdly, it’s a thank you to those who helped me grow along the way.
I’m only about halfway to 72 as I write this, and I’m realizing life is too short to care about cringe. Yes, you can currently starve in the US if people find you too weird to hire, but that’s honestly a horrible thing, and not a reason to be hard on myself, or anyone else. If anything, sometimes I do have kicked puppy syndrome. Are dogs monsters? No! Sometimes I find myself going back to my original position in my healing process - I'm a monster and should accept that. I’m trying to turn that around and own it, and be proud that I am essentially a cryptid if that is the case, and just scare the villagers on purpose.
If anyone else feels the same… Be badass okay?
Live laugh lurk.
Choose yourself and move forward.
Freedom can also mean the freedom to walk the path alone.
Freyja needs no one to complete her on the battlefield.
If you wind up standing before the gods on your own, do so with your head held high.
I’ll close with this, from my journal on 7/8/22 -
So thinking about how Thor can bring thunder and lightning, yet also be the protector, maybe they thought he was the one who had it strike trees instead of homes, and protected the people from being hit and hitting stronger things that could take the punch while bringing fire and rain for hearths and food. I ended up just saying maybe that's the Protector I needed when I was scared I would be killed with thunder for what that Pastor's kid did and was praying the rosary long ago as a young child. And That is when I kinda really connected to Thor in a new way... And as the grin spread across my face, I shit you not, the lightning between the clouds that night? ... it flashed in a way that Looked like Pertho.