Patreon Topic 18: Reflecting on The Culture of Intensity and Spiritwork

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From Fen’harel comes this question:

“I was listening to the AGF podcast episode with Chiron Armand and the topic of “the culture of intensity” came up. What does that culture, in your opinion, look like for spirit workers? Is it something like not feeling one is doing enough work? I hope that makes sense.”

When I first got this question the most recent TikTok stupidity had not yet come to my attention, but now that it has? It is a great, almost perfect example of the culture of intensity. Now, it looks like a bunch of folks are trolling other TikTok folks saying they’re going to ‘hex the Fae’ or ‘hex the Moon’ and similar stupidity. Then there are others how are rising to the trolling/baiting and saying they will counteract this. Keep in mind we are in the middle of a damn pandemic, we are supposed to be socially isolating, and this is probably as close to interacting with peers as some folks are going to get until this COVID-19 crap is done with.

For some, this is what the culture of intensity looks like. You get someone or you yourself get riled up and in arms about stupid shit someone else is engaged in that is not actually hurting you and cannot hurt the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits in question, just to have something to do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I find the notion that folks would even entertain the notion of hexing the Fae, Moon, or Sun incredibly dumb, funny, and requires more than a bit of hubris. That said? I have no reason to jump out in front of these folks. Go ahead, sew the wind and reap the whirlwind you dipshits.

For a lot of spiritworkers, myself included, the culture of intensity looks like “I need to be doing something important/powerful/challenging right now!” Sometimes it comes from a feeling of not being/doing enough. Other times we are in a transition period. Those are uncomfortable, and patience is not a virtue easily cultivated in a culture where instant gratification is so prevalent I can order a book, sink, or something else and have it arrive 1-2 days later due to just-in-time delivery options.

The culture of intensity can manifest as feeling like “I am not doing enough!” or “Shouldn’t I be doing more?” When your value as a person in the overculture is determined by what you do, eg the job you hold, and how ‘productive’ your hobbies are, eg “Can I turn this into a side-hustle?” then the overculture teaches things that are “not productive”, aka making you money or stepping stones on the way to that, are wastes of time.

Part of the reason so many have a hard time meditating, taking time out to do self-care, or just taking a walk, is that it feels like you are wasting time as it is not producing a product or making you money. It is a vile trap. It devalues peace of mind, reflecting on things, self-care, and a host of other needed things that actually require our input of time, energy, care, experience, and expertise to do well. It also devalues the time we spend with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, our communities, and by ourselves taking care of our needs and wants. The culture of intensity pushes us to keep seeking the highs while devaluing the lows that make getting there reliably and safely possible in the first place.

The culture of intensity is also quite ravenous, asking for our time, attention, and continuously feeding a variety of time-wasting beasts. For a spiritworker, just as much as your average Pagan, polytheist, and/or animist, spending time praying, communing, and worshiping the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and doing good self-care work is hardly a waste of time. Because these things are not valued in the overculture and so many of us are hungry for human interaction, it can be so easy to get sucked into go-nowhere conversations whether it be over Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, or other places that increasingly serve as distractions rather than points of connection. This is not to knock the very real use that Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, etc can serve, but that, as platforms, their primary purpose is to serve as data collection/networking/disbursement rather than connectivity. I find better and more consistently fulfilling connection over personal email, personal chat/text, and programs like Discord and Zoom where the people I am interacting with are not communicating with me through a reference medium (see this retweet, that like, that share, the For You page, etc), but about as close to face-to-face as I can get without being right there with them.

So how do we work to address this? We need to take time out each day so we have that self-care. That self-care does not need to take a long time, be particularly productive in and of itself, nor does it need to tie into anything any more than peace of mind, connection with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, our communities, and/or ourselves. I take about 10-30 minutes each day. I spend that time doing cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, checking on any wards I have needing maintenance. I also spend that time making prayers to my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and then making offerings. I recommend anyone, spiritworker or not, put that time in each day.

If I have a hard time engaging in self-care, I refocus on doing the preparation work (cleansing, etc) so I can do the prayers and offerings cleanly. It is easier at times for me to think of others over myself, and is a way I engage in self-care so I can do the connective work. Taking my needs out of the equation and engaging with the obligations I have helps my frame of mind at times, because it is no longer my emotions that are center stage, but the obligations I hold. If sitting and meditating is not working for me I may switch it up to walking around the garden and talk with the plants and trees. If my usual methods of cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding are not working for me, I switch it up. There is nothing wrong with fighting boredom or making adjustments so that whatever you need to do has you more involved in it. This is also why rote prayers and spiritual prep work are useful. Sometimes I do not have the brainspace to effectively make more involved processes and I need to do the motions that are most near and dear to me so I can do my work. Whether you need to switch things up or keep to how you have always done them, what matters is the efficacy of the spiritwork you engage in.

The ‘culture of intensity’ has a lot of ins to influence our lives. Excising those can be pretty tough, especially if you have grown up with a lot of the ‘culture of intensity’ as part of your own value system. So, instead of fully shifting or damming the river, working with its flow may be the more effective option. One of the keys for me is reminding myself that I need to do the ground work so the rest of the work is possible. That the small moments lead to the ability to do the big moments, and that whatever I experience, the moment is not the goal.

The goal is to do the work before me so that the work may be effective and see through to its end. It is like throwing a punch. Your aim is not merely the target, it is to blow past the target so the hit connects with the fullness of the energy behind the punch. In a sense, the blow is ‘behind’ the target. You follow through. The goal of planting a garden is not merely to plant, it is to lead to plants to grow, whether flowers, herbs, or food crops. Refocusing the ‘culture of intensity’ to serve our purposes is a needed repurposing. That ‘culture’, such as it is, is unsustainable and liable to destroy us quite quickly. The follow through of long-term planning is desperately needed more so than the short-term highs. We need to shift the culture from one of intense, short experiences, to one where we can build up from foundations into intergenerational communities.

It will take patience, work, and follow through. It will take concerted effort to refocus the ‘high seeking’ behavior of the overculture and to live our lives as valuable things regardless of monetary or social media gain. It will take us being willing and working to refocus our lives with different priorities than many of us were raised with so the ‘culture of intensity’ has less hold on our own. Intensity is a part of life, but the way things are wired right now to produce the maximum reaction on a consistent/constant basis is leading a lot of folks to burnout and quick. So, we need to channel these things and make them more effective over the long run so we have candles to spare when all the other lights go dark.

On Níðhöggr

A while back I was asked to share my understanding of Níðhöggr by a fellow Heathen. Vikings of Bjornstad lists the meaning for Níðhöggr’s name as ‘Malice Striker’. The first section of the compound name, níð, is related to malice, insult, and strife. The second is related to beheading, striking, blows, or chops. Not much survives on this dragon/serpent survives from the lore. Among the places to look for Níðhöggr are in the Prose Edda, both in Gylfaginning and Skaldskarpamal, and in the Poetic Edda Grimnismal and the Voluspa. While the lore refers to Níðhöggr as male, my interactions with Níðhöggr have leant me to understanding the dragon as female.

I relate to Her as a God of Rot and Death, and a God of the Gravemound as well, especially seeing interlinks between the rotting of death and the eating of poison. My family’s compost heap is dedicated to Hela and to Níðhöggr, as we see Níðhögg as eating the poison of Yggdrasil and the making of it into the healthy new earth that is renewed. The gravemound takes in the Dead and the new growth results within it, holding the power of the sacred items deposited within it and the new growth above.

Most of my understanding and beliefs regarding Níðhöggr is from direct experience of seeing Her and interacting with Her. When I was saw Her, She was chewing the corpses of the Dead, taking the poison of Their lives, Their misdeeds. She does the same with the root of Yggdrasil She chews on, not to damage it, but to prevent poison that is collected in Helheim and the Nastrond from killing It.

A powerful insight of dragon symbolism, at least in terms of how I see it in Norse/Germanic/Scandinavian culture/myth is that part of their destructive nature is what they sit on. In Fafnir’s case it is his bed of gold and the greed associated with it. In Níðhöggr’s case She is lying in the midst of traitors, oathbreakers, and is sitting with the rot and poison of Yggdrasil’s root. She chews on the traitors, oathbreakers, and outlaws, as well as the root of Yggdrasil. One of the passages in the Voluspa says She sucks the blood of the slain. I see Her doing similar, chewing and sucking on the poison in the root of Yggdrasil, removing the rot so it stays healthy. It also explains why Her/His hall is the Hall of Serpents dripping poison because that is Níðhöggr’s environment. My fellow Heathen likened it to a poison dart frog, and I think that’s a fair reading of Her too.

It is telling that the only time She emerges in myth is during Ragnarok and She isn’t destroyed, but takes up roost again beneath the ground. I find Her very purifying, as She has been in the midst of all that rot, poison, and uncleanliness, and yet, She has not lost Herself to it. She engages with this Work before and after Ragnarok. She is rejuvenating and dangerous, the Chewer of Corpses and Warder against Poison. As outlaws and traitors were among the worst one could be, and both were put into the utgard of society, I see Her as a boundary-keeper since She gives these dangerous and vile Dead a place to go to be contained, chewed, composted so they do not harm the community or rest of Yggrasil. She is the God that chews the rot beneath the Tree, rejuvenating both the root and the soil in which Yggdrasil’s root rest; necessary and holy.