What is my religion?

Try and explain or describe your religion/tradition/praxis without using negation or comparison, in your own words. –from this post

I follow the Norse gods and goddesses throughout a year of sacred holidays. I believe in the gifting cycle between myself, the ancestors, deities, land wights, and house wights. I try and uphold sacred hospitality and frith in my daily actions.

As of late, I have been drawing closer to the jotun or giants. So, I believe in celebrating the dark, the monstrous, and the unseen. Loki is my hearthfire.

The Wild Hunt guides my year. It begins in October and ends in April. I propitiate to Odin, Sleipnir, and the Hunt at the beginning and end of the Hunt. In the spring and summer, the Vanir come forth to bring sunshine, fertility, and merriment (if you think I might be a Canadian who blots to give thanks for spring fever, you are right!). In autumn, Hela and her kin sit with the dead, and honour them. The winter brings both cold and a certain coziness, as I rest from the busier seasons.

The Hunt ends with rites to Odin. For two or three years now, I honour his Hanging in April, at the end of the Hunt. I have yet to figure out how His sacrifice specifically fits into the wheel of my year, but I’ll get there.

Monthly Hearth Rites

Finding more heathen community online has really helped me organize my hearth practice. I’m becoming much more organized than I used to be: I type up my rites, for one thing. I’ve also got a template for a monthly hearth cult and have modified it to suit my needs.

I’ve taken to sanctifying my altar space with a tiny Mjolnir keychain. (If I am doing a Jotun rite, I ask Jormundgandr to sanctify the space, using a little snake ring I have to circle the altar). I’ve also invoked Heimdall (or other entities) as a guardian deity to allow safe passage for prayers and offerings. I’ve been invoking Loki more explicitly as a hearth deity in the same way you might invoke Hestia, a Hellenic hearth goddess, at the start (and end) of a rite.

The monthly hearth cult rite I have invokes Loki, Hela, Freya, and Odin. Yep, I am slowly adding Hela as a main deity now. I’m debating adding Freyr too. The rite also thanks the ancestors, the land wights, and the house wights.

It feels appropriate in my ninth year of being a Norse heathen and polytheist, that my practice undergoes some great revolutions, such as an organizing rehaul. (nine being a sacred number in Heathenry)

Contract Magic

Well, that’s what I’m calling it. Basically I create contracts with spirits or deities to set boundaries, determine goals, have experiments, outline limits, and set timelines. I find it a really useful and practical process.

I read a lot of blog posts and pagan news articles on the dangers of oaths before experimenting with this kind of magic. I had a friend look over the contract to ensure I wasn’t getting myself into trouble. I also counted past oaths I’ve made and pondered, “Did I complete this successfully? What happened when I did? What happened if I violated a term?”

When I call this process “magic”, I’m not casting spells over the paperwork or anything–that, in my mind, would mar the consent for all parties involved. But the contracts themselves, as a living document, feel magical.

I realized that I actually tried to start this process when I was in deep psychosis five years ago. I have not bothered to look at these old contracts because they are too painful to see, but the seed of the idea was there. Those old contracts were a scarring failure of mine. But now, I feel this process could become a great strength. I hope you’ll forgive me, readers, for not outlining what those failures were–that time of psychosis was deeply painful and I don’t like to talk about it.

At any rate, I feel this new adventure will be successful. Amusingly, I am rather inspired by the warlock class in D&D 5th edition, who creates pacts with otherwordly entities to gain powers. It does feel a little like that.

I suppose it was my recent interactions with Lucifer that reminded me of this idea so he deserves a:

Hail Lucifer!

Become the Monster as The Undead Warlock from Van Richten's Guide to  Ravenloft – Nerdarchy

Image description: a young black half elf warlock wearing a marvelous red cloak trimmed in gold. There are purple flowy bits. He has navy pinstripe pants and knee-high boots. He carries a small skeleton pet. He has a sword belted at his right side. Source.

Sacred Texts

Books pictured in a stack from top to bottom: Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho; Memories, Dreams Reflections by Carl Jung; At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson; The Poetic Edda trans. by Lee Hollander; Radical Dharma by Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Dr Jasmine Syedullah; Tarot for Life by Paul Quinn; and the Bhagavad Gita trans. by Stephen Mitchell.

Stepping away from paganism has shown me that I have a lot of residual anger and loss. I feel heartbroken that I have cut myself off cold turkey. (I did do a tiny rite to say goodbye but that’s it.) I don’t feel ready to go back to devotional worship though. Somehow, I feel like I got too wrapped up in devotion. It’s hard to explain. I wish I had a priest to talk to!

In the bare bones of it, I know I miss my sacred texts.

I do have a small stack of spiritual texts I ordered but haven’t read yet: Loki by Dagulf Loptson; Wolf Milk by Martin Shaw; Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens; and the Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile. I am certainly not going to force myself to read these all at once.

Do I read them? Do I not? I’m not sure how to go about this. I think the easiest way to dip my toe in the water might be Casper ter Kuile’s book, since it’s a bit more focused on secularized practice. Or would it be better to go back to an older favoured sacred text? Hmm. I think I need comfort right now, so… hm.

Hm. I suppose having a multiplicity of spiritual texts to choose from is not a bad problem to have. Alternatively, I could choose a novel that is a comfort to me, such as Sabriel by Garth Nix, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and/or the Hobbit, This is How to Lose the Time War by Gladstone and el-Mohtar… that might be an easier way to go about it.

Books books books.

A (Covid-Influenced?) Fallow Period

This weekend, I rearranged the contents of my bookshelves. This was very satisfying! I will be rearranging them again, as I will finally be acquiring the LOTR trilogy this week, secondhand. Those tomes need space! So Wednesday evening I will be having a delightful time fussing with my books.

While I was dusting and tidying my room this weekend, my hands went almost of their own accord to my tarot altar. I started putting away my decks, crystals, animal statues, and trinkets. It felt like the right thing to do. Then I went to play Dungeons and Dragons (where my players fucking rocked at roleplay that day). The next day, I put away my Norse/Arthurian shrine. I didn’t feel a lot of emotions about it, beyond some vague guilt that I ought to do more.

But, I noticed two key struggles with my faith right now:

  • I want to have lower expectations of myself. And I need the gods, goddesses, and spirits to also have lower expectations too.
  • It’s starting to feel a bit like I’m worshipping the fantasy genre that I like to write, study, and read in. It’s weird.

And so my faith feels like a block to me writing fantasy stories, rather than an inspiration. Lately, I’ve been pondering: ok, if I take faith out of this story, or take faith out of the daydream/goal I am fantasizing about, what am I actually aiming towards in my life? I’m not sure what the answer is yet.

Combined with this difficulty is the ironic fact that my two batches of poems that got accepted as a submission this year are both at Norse pagan publications. So clearly, religious inspiration does get me somewhere. It just doesn’t seem to be where I want to be.

Last week, I joked to a new queer Unitarian Universalist friend that if I were to convert to another faith, it would be for the institution and structure. I wasn’t entirely joking though, and my friend agreed that that’s where they and their heathen spouse often bicker about being able to get heathens to do anything. Getting pagans to organize is tough.

I don’t think I’m necessarily going to upend my whole practice and join another religion. But I’m content to stay connected with UU–which is a new thing for me this year–and also with my Buddhist teacher, Lama Rod Owens, who is easing me back into meditation practices.

Meditation was probably borderline traumatic for me for quite some time, because I spent much of 2018 and 2019 trying to understand this new level of psychic power: receiving visions while awake. Queen Guinevere’s presence was overwhelming me: a particularly potent delusion came back and I was receiving way too many visions by trancing/sitting with Queen Guinevere almost every day. Or trying to, at least, because I thought that that was what a godspouse/spirit-spouse was supposed to do, right? Sit with one’s spouse, each day. A daily practice, as is so often touted in various spiritual circles. But it made me so sick.

Eventually, by the summer of 2019, trying to get myself to sit and meditate was like wrestling with a lion and I realized that… “meditation” kinda sucked?! I wasn’t actually meditating, I was lost in half-delusion, half-trance and being rather out of it. I wasn’t sick enough that it was preventing me from functioning or working, but it was miserable enough that I had a hard time talking to my friends about it.

But then again, my therapist has repeatedly affirmed that it’s really good to have healed from psychosis and that not everyone does that.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I am relearning how to meditate and it actually does feel good. I still hallucinate a little, and sometimes I get input from Deity when I don’t always want to be, because I struggle with boundaries with Them. But sitting with emotions, sitting with the body, the breath… it does help with a short guided meditation. I can’t do a long meditation, but I can manage a short one.

Having a priest/ess, minister, congregation, community, something would have been a great boon to me in my deeper illnesses. I did not have that physically, beyond the occasional visits to my grandmother’s church at her request (RIP <3) and an online kindred/pagan conversation group (that I’m still a part of actually).

I’m returning to my first practice: tarot. I’ve done a few readings. I’ve been reading about the Devil card a bit whose themes I’ve been contemplating. I’m debating selling a deck or two, and saving for a new one. I’ve made a wishlist. I’m starting to avoid tarot decks on Kickstarter because it’s just too damned tempting and there are so many decks on Kickstarter??!

I do have Lo Ken’s “Art and Numen” book sitting on my To-Be-Read pile of books. Martin Shaw’s “Wolf Milk” will come in the mail in a few weeks. And in June, I’ll have two pre-ordered books coming in: the new Loki book by …. some pagan author whose name I can’t recall (is it Morgan Daimler?)… and Lama Rod Own’s new book Love and Rage. So, I’ll probably still read spiritual stuff sometimes. And Kelly-Ann Maddox, a famous tarot Youtuber, just came out with a new video on how she got into tarot, so I don’t want to completely abstain for spiritual stuff.

Or maybe that would be good for me, idk.

I had such a weird hallucination the other day that my dad suggested abstaining from the fantasy genre altogether but that would honestly mean upending my whole life: no DND, no RPG video games, no books, no more magical poems, no myths or tales–I just couldn’t!!! I would be ridiculously miserable if I did that. But, it could be fun to read non-fantasy stories… maybe I should make room on my bookshelves for more scifi 😉

Updates, Writing, Spirits, etc.

I got laid off today, thanks to coronavirus. I haven’t really told my friends yet, since I finish next Tuesday. I expect it will come up in DnD tomorrow though. Really, I am sure lots of people in the field of ESL are getting laid off. 

A part of me is thinking, yeah, use this time to write rune poems and make runic paintings but Jolene Dawe’s latest post has me wondering if I ought to do lighter tasks. I’ll see how things feel the first few days.

Although really, I’ll still work on drawing that Norse/Celtic knotwork style regardless because learning this style is teaching me about acquiring my own.

I’ve been working on a submission to the Troth’s Loki anthology. It’s being edited this weekend by an old university colleague (she’s getting paid–never fear!) and I’ll receive the edits on Monday. I’m pretty excited to do something for Loki.

I need to pick a pagan name though. My online kindred encouraged me not to rush, even though I’d already thought of a temporary name. They told me to take it slow, think on it, wait for the name to come. That seems sensible. I didn’t rush choosing my name as a trans guy, after all.

Better to really give it a think. Still, I might need a temporary name just to go with this anthology, if the name doesn’t arrive on time. ^^

Last weekend I asked one of my elders about books on ecstatic practice. She nudged me, you know, why do I want to know this stuff,  what was my goal, especially since I already seem to have a handle on the mild ecstatic practices that I do have already? 

I told her I didn’t know and that I would need to think of a goal.

So instead, I bought Felicia Day’s book on inspiration (“Embrace Your Weird”) which I think could be a lot more useful to me as an artist.

If anything though, I was debating buying a book on druidic awen to see what Celtic practices there are around inspiration. The druids work with that pretty regularly so I thought I might get some good ideas. 

When I talked more with L, my elder, I realized my concern was more about boundaries with spirits at bedtime. I often hallucinate at bedtime (and indeed, the MRI to examine this problem this coming Sunday got cancelled today) and find my boundaries with spirits to be thinner. L really frowned at me in concern because, as she said, she is REALLY STRICT with spirits about stuff like that, because sleep is important.

This week, as I was more attentive to these boundaries, I have a funny feeling that I might be getting

  1. residual deity energy in my aura bringing up unnecessary stuff
  2. my desires or impressions of Deity being reflected at me

Somewhere on the Magick from Scratch blog, the author writes about all this stuff. I’ll have to review it.

Anyway, I did like a check-in with myself at bedtime and realized that my boundaries were pretty loud and clear. I really just think I am floating a bit in residue, illusions, and desires. And I wanna be clear here: my hallucinations are obviously hallucinations and are manifestly different from spiritual visions. I know what’s what.

BUT, just to avoid tangled communications as I go to bed, it’d be useful to clear stuff up. I hope to have a bath later on this evening to clear myself up–although it’s late enough now that I might not and just do it tomorrow. Additionally, I am thinking I need to regularly sit down with Deity, at least once a week, and open up to Deity to be like ‘yo I am here, what’s up?” so that way there is a container for trance. 

That way, I don’t feel an impulse to trance at bedtime. Lying down definitely makes me receptive but I don’t want to do it at bedtime! I’m not sure where I can lie down to do this. Maybe I’ll get a meditation chair?

Oh yes, that too. Gently guided by Lama Rod’s teachings, I hope I can slooooowly learn to meditate again. His 7 Homecomings meditation taught me that I could try again. He’s doing a lot of online classes right now, so we’ll see how that goes.

(also shout-out to Jolene. I’ve been reading her stuff… probably since I was a newbie pagan 8 years ago. Her friendly supportive vibe has always encouraged me! Her wife, Beth, and her writing have also long encouraged me in my practice.)

 

Teachers and Elders

One of the reasons why I contemplated leaving paganism last year was due to a strong sense that I had no elders or teachers. I promised myself that, if I were to return, I would have to find a teacher. And in a way, I did.

This year, I’ve really been taking the time to think about who my teachers and elders are.

There is Lama Rod Owens, a black queer Buddhist teacher, who teaches me about love, mindfulness, and community care. There is M, who might not consider himself my elder (as yet unconfirmed/does it need to be?) but is a lovely gay Hellenic pagan who has taught me a lot about weird, queer, and nerdy in the world. There is L, a medium, yoga teacher, and ancestor spirit worker, who guides me in energetic health and safe praxis.

L and I actually just spoke today where I confirmed with her that it was ok to think of her as my elder. She laughed, and made a comment that she kind of just has to accept that now, as a woman in her 40s. I’ve been in community with L since… 2013 where I met her at my very first heathen ritual and blot. Or it may have been the beginning of 2014. I am unsure. Anyhoo.

L and I were talking about a heathen ritual I want to make, loosely styled after Baldur’s death and rebirth. I want to do it to honour my past as a sick pagan who has now been reborn into a healthier practice. I want to emphasize here that I am technically still sick, but not in the dangerous way I was before. Now I am sick in a more physical way, but I have greater mental coherence and cognizance, and would not describe my practice as ailing or ill. So the ritual is going to take some brief time to be sad and remember the past, cocoon myself a bit, then, I think, do some sort of heathen baptismal thing as a rebirth/acceptance of my Norse faith.

I realize that could sound rather Christian to some folk, but I grew up Protestant, so if there are similarities, well, that’s ok with me. It’s my practice, for me.

Anyway, L encouraged me to reach out to heathen elders to ask for more info on Baldur, any UPG or SPG, and other lore that might aid me in this ritual. So now I am thinking, who are my heathen elders and guides? There’s two heathen priests I have done ritual with in my neighbouring province whom I could talk to. I don’t know either of them well but it could be a good moment to ask and have a touchstone for future questions.

There is one heathen priestess in my community here. She’s certainly taught me some things, and definitely knows her stuff, but we’ve never bonded as friends. And maybe that’s ok! L and I aren’t necessarily besties, but we certainly care about each other and inquire about each other’s lives. I guess it couldn’t hurt to ask this priestess. The worst that could happen, I think, is that she would direct me elsewhere. I’m shy to talk to her, but… it can’t be that bad!

Tyriel, over at RuneSecrets.com, now has a Discord group. I’ve been a part of it for a few months now. We all have some great chats! Tyriel has been kind, and is happy to educate. He seems to be plotting a rune course but I am unsure when that will happen. He’s definitely becoming a guide in my practice.

The last comment I want to make about teachers is this: I thought about taking some classes on tarot or psychic health classes or some such thing. I even looked into taking some online classes on those topics, but they’re pricey and, really, who knows if the teachers are good and true, or just hacks looking for money.

But you know what? That doesn’t interest me nearly as much as taking local art classes does. I’ve signed up for a calligraphy class in May, but given this coronavirus, I don’t know if that will happen or not. So, having art teachers is really good for me because much of my spiritual practice anyway, has become art.

I do want to be careful to ensure that I have “spiritual art time” and “fun art time”. L pointed out that if I only do spiritual art time, it will just feel like work. And that’s definitely something that helped in destroying my spirit spouse bond to Queen Guinevere. I had to let go of that whole path entirely to commit myself more deeply to my artistic practice as a whole.

So, ultimately, I do have teachers and elders! I was just too mad and hurt to see it before. But now I know the truth. 🙂

Ramblings on Ecstatic States

So… it occurs to me that I can get into trance states pretty easy. And I think they are a mild form of ecstasy.

This morning, I was rereading “American Gods” (Neil Gaiman) and I got to the part about the vigil.  After thinking loudly about some questions about Goddess participation & agency in this novel (because let’s face it, there’s lots of sexy or cute goddesses & dead people in this book and I’m not convinced this book passes the Bechdel test), I ended up on a series of… revelations, I guess, about some powerful Norse goddesses. I’m not sure if I want to talk about it, and am just sitting with that.

But, I was certainly riding some kind of energy there, and if it’s not called ecstasy then I don’t know what it is.

I guess the sensible thing to do would be to read some Diana Paxson and Jenny Blain.

It even occurred to me today, you know, could I visit the Nine Realms, and I Saw outlines of Muspelheim in the top page borders of an illuminated manuscript. (Bookbinding, calligraphy, petroglyphs, and Celtic knotwork being my methods of choice lately.)

So the Norse Pantheon has stepped up into some kind of Muse relationship with me as Artist. And I can look to sculptors and painters of the past who were also inspired by myth, and how that relationship is ongoing today with graphic designers and tattoo artists on Instagram.

There is a spirit in my life who guides me in navigating sex stuff. This week, he* helped me understand that, for me, spiritual and sexual ecstasy are on opposite sides of a spectrum and that it’s unhealthy to try to do both in a limited time frame.

That seems like a sensible boundary for me to have. I know some people can combine the two, but I am not sure I am wired that way.

*his default mode is male but he can switch to female when he wants to

I can listen to some Norse folk metal or epic movie music and feel moved to create. I don’t find that I can just sit with the inspired energy–it’s best to do something with it.

I think I could even be capable of Othinn’s frenzy when it comes to performing spoken word but I haven’t experimented yet because… well, it’s been a slow year so far, work-wise, so I haven’t had time. But I’d like to take the time at some point.

I’ve been very slowly drawing and colouring a quilt of runes with Frigga’s face in the middle. It’s just pencil and pencil crayon but it’s quite satisfying to think Frigga has her own runic mysteries through craftsmanship and art. (So far I’ve only coloured Hagalaz, Inguz, Kenaz, Jera, and Teiwaz which speaks to what runes I feel comfortable with, and which ones I don’t!)

I’ve also made at least four or more artist’s books out of rune-staves and Jormungandr serpent/dragon designs during my bookbinding class. That was rad. My classmates knew me for a black-and-white style, since I was using a lot of India ink for the rune-staves. I finished the class with a LeGuin-inspired full colour dragon book that I gifted to a classmate. I chose not to take pictures of the book, since it was explicitly a private gift for a mystery person. Totally worth it though. Those dragons were epic.

Anyway, this whole post is to say that Norse myth is really inspiring me these days and it’s AWESOME to explore it. I feel like I have a way healthier relationship to the spirits now that I am not oathbound to them in sickness. Woot!

Art rocks!

Oaths Made in Sickness

During my years of mental illness, I went through a phrase where I basically thought every deity was mad at me*. It was really painful. There are still some deities I don’t talk to, not only because it’s painful but they’re also not part of pantheons I actually worship. Some deities just happened to reflect or get caught up in various delusions.

Particularly, while ill, I made a series of rash oaths and contracts. Given the illness, they were not… it wasn’t like… thoughtful or sensible as an oath ought to be. There were no witnesses. The definitions were… hm. Even thinking about those contracts, it just seems like a haze of pain.

Honestly, I think I was just super lonely and isolated. I destroyed the contracts and ended what were, in the end, false oaths, or even just plain old delusions.

Now, as a healthier pagan, I can see what happened. I know the errors, the community failures, and more that happened to me.

Sometimes, I think that making an oath to a deity would still be nice, but really, I need to prioritize my career, my art, my love life, etc. I’m not ready for an oath. But as a long-term goal, it might be a nice thought one day. It could be a healing act, perhaps, once I gain the wisdom and experience to be ready for such a thing.

Or, you know, I may never make an oath to a deity or try out being a fulltrui. A fulltrui is like promising to be a friend and public representative of a deity, without necessarily taking on priestly duties. It seems to be a lifelong commitment, so I would rather ponder and praise the gods in a calm way for now, and then when I’ve been a pagan for several more years, think about the question again.

Maybe I’ll just be a chill devotee and artist. It is #nopressurepagan2020 after all.

It might be better to think about making promises to humans! I do daydream about marriage one day. That might be a better oath to make one day, huh!

ok ok, I have to go chill and do chill things and be no pressure.

NO BIG PLANS, OLIVER

GO HOME

*for clarity’s sake here, I will affirm that this was not true.