Raising Our Children in Pagan, Polytheist, and/or Animist Traditions

Inspired by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ recent column entry, It’s Hard to “Think of the Children“, I decided to sit down and write about why Pagans should raise our children in our traditions. E’s own column was in response to Patheos’ Symposium Passing on the Faith: Teaching the Next Generation. As second generation Pagans come up in our communities, and as many first generation Pagans have children through birth or adoption, it is something we all need to think about.

When the topic of raising children as Pagans has been raised, I have seen the objection that we, as Pagans, should not indoctrinate our children. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the difference between raising a child in a Pagan tradition and merely indoctrinating them. There is a steep difference between the two. Indoctrination’s definition tells us that it is “teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically” (Princeton). Raising a child in a Pagan tradition, by contrast, allows for questions, doubts, concerns, critical thought, and exploration as much as it asks that a parent teach and model the tradition’s worldview, beliefs, theology, orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Raising your children in your Pagan tradition is not indoctrination. It is parenting. If you do not do this someone else will. To not take an active role in shaping your child’s religious life is handing off that responsibility to another, whether that is their friends, other family members, or society itself.

To abrogate this responsibility is to give over control of the development of a good portion of your child’s worldview to someone else.

We are not a secular country. Our default lens, the ‘secular’ lens, is WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant); it pervades our media, our government, and many of our lives. It is the source of a good deal of madness that amounts to us shitting where we live and not complaining about the smell or illness resulting, i.e. fracking, oil production and refineries near bodies of water, strip-mining and dumping chemicals in or near sources of water or right into the soil, etc. After all, if the Rapture comes all that pollution won’t matter, and if you die before Rapture comes, (assuming you’re a good, God-fearing Christian) you’ll be in Heaven, so this world isn’t all that terribly important.

This worldview is one of the main sources for vile hate that determines that trans* people are freaks as opposed to people, that tells everyone other than straight, white, heterosexuals they are not due respect.  It is a worldview that, very often in the name of them being persecuted, seeks to put a boot on the neck of any religion and/or philosophies outside of theirs. It is the set of theologies, ethics, and beliefs that razed Native American peoples and perpetuates untold violence upon their communities, that oppresses indigenous people of all kinds all over the worlds today, and that makes people turn on their own children, such as LGBTQI kids who are thrown onto the streets or threatened with violence, or the victims who are accused of being ‘child witches’. It is a worldview in which women are often looked upon as chattel, and violence against them is earned. This worldview is one that perpetuates violence against women and all Pagans where and when they are given a choice, desiring our submission to their God, and destruction where we will not bow.

That, that is what you are asking to help raise your children and mold their worldview when you do not raise your children in the religion. You are having them to strap a monotheist, specifically WASP filter onto their lives and walk around as if it is normal to have their soul wounded, eyes clouded, ears muffled, and their voices choked.

For those who profess that those who raise our children in our religious traditions are being imprinting or presumptuous for our children: it is my job as a parent to be presumptuous of what would be good for my child. It is my job as a parent to imprint proper behavior, as well as worldview, throughout their lives until they come of age at the least. To do otherwise is to give over that responsibility to another person and/or entity.

Note that I am not, in any way, saying how one should raise their child as a Pagan. I would no more do that then tell a worshiper of Greek Gods how to conduct a ritual.  They may follow mainstream reconstructionism or have a particular means of worshiping their Gods. In any case, I actively worship most of my Gods within certain means that I and my family follow. In the end, the reason I am not saying ‘this is how we must raise Pagan/polytheist/animist children’ is because they’re not my children.  If someone were to ask me for advice, or even teaching, that is a wholly different situation.  I also respect that my view of what raising a child in a Pagan/polytheist/animist home should look like could be very different than another’s.  I am not calling for a size-fits-all method of raising kids, nor am I saying that mine is the only true and right way.  What I am saying is that it is the job of every parent to raise their child and this includes giving a firm foundation in worldview.

This piece is meant to call people of our polytheist, Pagan traditions who are parents to do their job as parents and raise their children. It is a call to all Pagans, polytheists, animists, and so on, to be good role models. It is a call for us all to show the upcoming generations, not just talk about or suggest, how to engage well with their Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. To be living examples, passing on wisdom rather than hiding it or not passing it on. To teach and model respect for our Elders, traditions, beliefs, views, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. To teach reverence for all we hold dear, and to show all the ways we can engage with the Holy Powers. To build and maintain living traditions that aid in all of this.

How many of us came to our path(s) and hoped and wished for a good teacher? Why would we deny the next generation our collected knowledge and gnosis, experience, wisdom, trials and triumphs? In what other arena would one generation demand that the next reinvent the wheel rather than learn from it and improve upon it?

We have the opportunity to build a solid foundation for polytheists and polytheism. We have the ability to give the upcoming generation a chance many of us never had: to grow up in a place where worshiping our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits is not only accepted, but seen as a good. To grow in the wisdom of our Elders, to grow well in our relationships with our Gods from a young age, and to develop these from a foundation clear of the trials Pagan converts have. Let us build that foundation, with care and determination, and let those who come after build upon it.

Critique of Harner’s Shamanism: Guest Post on Gangleri’s Grove

I wrote a critique of Harner-style shamanism in response to a blog commenter post on Ms. Krasskova’s Gangleri’s Grove.  It eventually grew into a long post that had to be reposted in several places.

Ms. Krasskova was kind enough to ask me to finish my thoughts, and has it up as a guest post on her blog.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

I am interested in hearing others’ views on this topic.

Keeping Faith and Science

Given I am in the B.S. Psychology program and Counseling will become my M.A., science is very relevant to my field.  That said, so is spirituality and religion.  Science, to me, help provide the framework to understand data, track trends, develop treatment methods, and so many other greatly beneficial things that it would take too long to list here.  Spirituality and religion, though, also has a place in understanding clients.  It helps frame the references potential clients will come to me with, and it may provide a window through what the client may feel, and what may be, a much more useful, and beneficial approach for them.  The current recommendation at my school is that everyone who goes into the Psychology field should minor in Sociology.  I feel this is wrong-headed, and belies the usefulness that understanding people from a more personal perspective is not as useful as understanding people from a macro perspective.  I have had Psychology majors look at me, confused when I tell them I am in Religious Studies as my minor, to have them tell me that to be more distant in terms of understanding clients, the better off you are.  I have even listened to lectures where subjective experiences are entirely discounted, and remarked on as useless or of little value in telling us anything about the state of the client, or of humans themselves.

Certainly, we can’t take a single case study and project it onto the whole human race, or even a population of a region.  Certainly, quantitative and qualitative studies and methodology tend to be different, and are definitely looking for different pieces of data.  Yet, at least as far of my understanding of modern psychology and especially my neck of the woods is concerned, there is a dehumanizing element that is growing.  It discards the subjectivity of many well-done research projects and experiments and merely discards them.  Not everything can fit into five easy columns, or even a couple hundred question and answer surveys.  The way I see it, the qualitative, and alongside it, the subjective, needs to stand alongside the quantitative and observable.

I understand that there is a place for discernment, and I think it is a good thing to have skeptical, and especially informed, inquiry.  I definitely understand why outliers are not counted in quantitative studies, though I feel that some outliers may tell us things that we often overlook, merely by dint of them being outliers.  Why are they outliers?  Are they useful in exploring some question about the experiment or survey, or whatever it is, at hand?  I am finding critical questions such as these simply being discounted, sometimes before even being entertained in classes.  I am not saying that qualitative studies are any better than quantitative; they both are looking for very different answers to the questions they pose, even if they pose the same questions.  I am also not saying that quantitative studies cannot provide us useful answers that qualitative studies seek to answer.

What I am saying, is that qualitative studies, and by extension, understanding a client from a qualitative standpoint, offers the opportunity to engage the person.  This engagement requires we listen to the person in their own words, withhold our judgment as much as possible, and seek to understand them.  Quantitative studies do not need to engage with a person to get the data they need.  Qualitative studies require you to dig into a person, even if from the outside in a distanced way.  It requires you to get to know them so you can distinguish between different features of the study.  Keep in mind I’m talking in great generalities; there may be a study I haven’t seen or don’t remember that goes completely against either way that I’ve portrayed these kinds of studies.

In the end, what I hope Psychology eventually gets to, regardless of specialty, is more towards addressing the whole person.  From where a person lives, their past, their present, to even what they eat, I hope that all that data is embraced and looked at.  It may tell us a lot that looking at things individually does not.  It may give us insight not  only into how the person relates to themselves, but to the environment around them, and the data there is only really just beginning to be mined.

I enjoy science, and I enjoy my religious path.  The two aren’t at loggerheads.  My pursuit of a science-based career doesn’t impugn my religion, nor does it need to.  Neither does my path as a shaman or priest, impugn my pursuit of science.  My practice as a Northern Tradition shaman, in my view, can be enhanced by training in Psychology and Counseling.  It does not take away from it.  Science can inform my path, give clarity to it.  It gives me more tools for my toolbox.  I also see my path as a shaman giving my Counseling tools from its own toolbox.  More Counselors are recognizing the benefits of alternative states of consciousness, mindfulness exercises, and similar things as positives for their clients.  Some Counselors, such as one that I was seeing at one point (though for different reasons), use Tarot cards to help people figure out their gender identity, or guided journeys for actual counseling work.

Keeping faith in both my religious path and the sciences I do pursue does not require some kind of twisting, either of logic or of my faith.  It does require me to be open-minded, observant, honest, and willing to reconsider old ideas, reject methods based on poor results, and most of all, learn and apply the new knowledge to what I know.  This is far easier for me to do with science than it is with my spirituality.  After all, by the time new data gets to me, its often been vetted by the scientific community, and is being contested or accepted, sometimes with new experiments or archival reviews to prove or disprove the conclusions reached in the process.  Yet, I find myself still having to have faith in the science: I have to have faith the study was done in good conscience, that the conclusion reached is not only viable but verified by the evidence, that the methods used to gather data were reliable, and so on.  With my spiritual paths, I have to receive, then vet the information first, and sometimes I am able to get direction from another person as to its reliability.  From there, I have to either choose to follow the advice, pick up the new spiritual tool, etc., and take a lot more on faith than what I do with a scientific study.

In both cases, my faith is really built on results.  If I pray, get an answer, follow through on it, and a situation is resolved or an end is reached, I tend to take that as a positive affirmation.  It won’t pass scientific muster, but science and religion, as I see them, really operate in largely different areas, especially as far as their basic questions are concerned, and where the roads they lead to go.  I approach my psychological studies differently because, given that I am not in my M.A. program yet, I won’t see the result of this or that theory’s impact on counseling a client.  However, I will admit I have preferences, and these are based on how I understand the theory, how I have seen it or it is used in practice, and the desired end or implications of the theory.  There’s a lot of parsing I do, regardless of which path I’m talking about.  It’s necessary; if I accept all religious experiences without critical thinking, I may not be following a God/dess at all, but a spirit who just wants my attention and energy.  If I accept all scientific studies without critical thinking, I may not be accepting good, reputable science at all, but a sham conducted by a company to show a desired end.  To me, you don’t leave critical thinking at the door with religion or science.   Good science, and good religion too, is gained by critical questions being asked, and sometimes, having the answer blow your mind while others, the answer is obvious.

Credentials

Since the trial for James Arthur Ray has ended in his conviction for negligent homicide, something that has really popped up in my mind a lot is the idea of credentials.  They can keep people safe, establish who has proper training in a discipline, art, science, etc., and who does not, and can communicate professionalism in an instant.  When I think of credentials I think of licensing, such as what happens with counseling, or with medical disciplines.  Having an M.D. or some other recognized credentials communicates a certain trust between the community and you, that you have had the training and experience necessary to qualify in the field you’re practicing.  How do we establish such a thing in Paganism or modern shamanism?

Some places, such as Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan ministry, and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies for neo-shamans, are trying to fill this requirement by giving classes, workshops, and a variety of training in disciplines and techniques for their path.  I have many criticisms of core shamanism, as well as misgivings regarding the practice of shamanism without a core cosmogony or cosmology.  That said, I find it laudable that someone is helping to set a standard of expectations, that neo-shamans to be answerable to some standard of expertise and training.  Still, there is something that bothers me about the setting of standards regarding shamanism.  I think it is something I was reminded of in this post by Kenaz Filan, that I worry regarding “the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.”  I’m not about to say that people should not have standards regarding their spiritual workers; quite the opposite, in fact.  The worry I have, is that we reduce the role of a Pagan priest or a modern shaman to a “one-size-fits-all-Truth”.  Community standards, and standards of practice are one thing.  Expecting the same thing out of every priest or shaman is quite another.  That, perhaps, is my main point of contention with core shamanism itself: that it reduces a good deal of practices, techniques, and so on, down into a distilled form of core shamanism that is billed as shamanism without culture, when it merely replaces a mishmash of cultures’ spiritual tools and practices with its own culture.

This is why I worry about, but am not completely opposed, to credentialed spiritual leaders, mentors, and the like.  That said, I have none.  I am not certified by any body, religious or otherwise, to conduct the rituals I do, or to deliver the services I offer.  I have only the blessings of my Gods, spirits, Ancestors, and those who believe in what I do.  I have only the experiences I have had as a shaman, and priest of Odin and Anubis as my spiritual background.  In a very real sense, it is a leap of faith for people who come to me for spiritual help or advice to trust me.  I have no training from an accredited seminary, nor do I have a certificate from the modern neo-shamanic organizations.  Am I still a priest and a shaman?  I emphatically say “Yes”.

I am of the mind that, while you can go through all the varied and well-made training workshops and classes, the Gods and/or spirits are what designate you as a priest and/or shaman.  Without the Gods and/or spirits, while you may have all the earthly credentials in the world, what does that matter if, when the time comes, you are called on to be a Divine mouthpiece and you cannot perform your function?  When someone needs to hear the guidance of their God/dess, and you cannot communicate it, what did the seminary lessons matter?  When a person is being bothered by spirits or Ancestors, if you cannot intervene and/or guide effectively, what good are all the workshops?  Anyone can screw things up as a matter of simply being human, and no spirit-worker, priest, shaman, or oracle I know of does what they do without screwing up.  I certainly have not.  That, however, is not my point here.  What is, is that the Gods and spirits with whom you work, in my view, are the ones that bestow the meaning, the core, of what it is to be a priest or a shaman.  If you don’t have Them behind you in your function, while you may be a great facilitator or organizer, you are not a priest or shaman.

There is also, to me, a large difference between being a priest or shaman of a community, and being a priest or shaman of specific Gods or spirits.  While the two need not be exclusive, they can be very different in their roles.  Having been a priest for a community for a small time, the role required me to fill a lot of shoes, and do a lot of working with others’ Gods, successes, failures, and times of trial, as well as times of joy.  There was a lot of work on communication, answering questions, writing lessons, and training that was done as part of that work.  A lot of my daily work during this time was community-based, from daily work with people on their relationships with Gods, to working on rituals, classes and presentations.  Being a priest of Odin and a shaman apart from a dedicated community, a lot of my work for the larger Pagan community consists of giving messages from Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, intervening when needed in spiritual crises, and being a go-to for people looking to contact Odin and other Northern Tradition Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  A lot of my work is individual-based, and I do a lot of more self-focused work, such as taking more time out for relaxation and meditation, and give more personal attention to the Gods and spirits I work with, whether it is working with my Ancestors, or working on deepening my relationships with my Gods.

Are credentials necessary?  In some cases, yes.  If you want to legally marry people, for instance, you need to have credentials that back up your ability to sign the marriage license.  However, I and a very good friend of mine, performed a wedding for a wonderful couple, and though it is not legally recognized due to the laws in my state, it is a strong marriage blessed by the Gods.  Are credentials beyond those for legal reasons a necessity?  I’m still out on this.  As someone who has dedicated his life to serving my Gods, I would say no.  Yet, at the same time, I see how credentials provide comfort, a sense of security, and communicate professionalism.  After all, I’m getting my degree in counseling for that reason, and when I’ve finished with that, I will go for licensing so I can practice what I’ve learned.

At this point I’m taking a middle road because Pagan priesthood and modern shamanism do not, by and large, have the background that professional counseling does, and beyond the two resources I’ve mentioned above, anything resembling professional training in either field is scant, or is specific to certain pathways, i.e. the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s seminary.  If we want more professionally-trained priests and shamans, whether for the wider Pagan or shamanic communities, or our own little branches in their trees, we will largely have to either a) support what is already there and increase its ability to be used effectively by its adherents, or b) invent these courses and methods of accreditation ourselves.  I find that accreditation can be a powerful, stabilizing force, but it can also be one that can strangle peoples’ ability or willingness to explore, find new ways, be touched by the Gods or spirits, or respond in ways that establishments may find chaotic, destabilizing, or unwelcome.  Here is hoping that as we move forward we can develop courses and accreditation that encourage individual and group responsibility, personal and transcendent experiences of our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, while also providing a solid structure to build our faiths, roles, and communities on.  Here is hoping that if credentialing gets in the way that we have the bravery and wherewithal to help it evolve with our communities’ growing needs, or if it will not, then to discard it.

Personal Work

It’s been awhile since I last posted, and a good chunk of that time has been to work on personal stuff.  Some of that personal stuff has been screwing around, relaxing, and finding a job.  My spiritual life has become a lot more low key, becoming more integrated in ways I didn’t think would be so effortless.  The work with the herb garden, which now has one of my Dad’s tomato plants in it, has drawn me closer to Freyr, Gerda, Angrboda and Eir, and in little ways they are showing me lessons.  The closer I pay attention, but to Them and especially to the plants, the more I learn.  My work with Frigga comes and goes, but She is a quiet, patience presence in my life that I am still feeling out.  A lot of my spirituality has gone away from my altar and now walks with me.  The volunteer work I am doing, the empathy model I have learned, pushes me to listen a lot more than I have.  A lot of time when I did spiritual counseling over the last seven or so years, problems were brought to me that were pretty clear.  Yet, with the empathy model I am learning to be a more effective shaman and priest; I’m relearning not just how to listen, but a new mindset in listening and engaging conversation.  The ‘intensity’ Odin promised me this summer for spiritual has been delivered in spades.  Sure, I’ve done a good deal of spiritual work with and for others, but the intensity doesn’t come from that as much as the down time.

Not having a community to look after took away a lot of the excuses I used to distract myself from thinking about how I feel about things, relate to things, understand things, and where I am emotionally.  When I lost the group, and my relationship with my fiancee, a lot of the barriers that I kept up that stopped me from relating to myself, from being empathetic with myself, broke down.  I was stuck inside my own head with my own thoughts.  For weeks, Odin forbade me from any astral travel, utiseta, seidr, and similar kinds of mind-altering work.  I was stewing in my own juices, at times in guilt and other times in anger, and at other times sheer sadness.  I was feeling real emotions without covering them up, allowing myself to put a veneer of bullshit over them, or tamp them down.  Who was I not going to express them to?  Myself?

This went on for awhile until I hit a breaking point, mercifully, among supportive friends who had a good idea that it was coming.  They both let me do something I had, up until that point, really denied myself full expression: grieve.  I had just sucked in all the mixed feelings I had from the week I left the group  and my fiancee and I broke up, and ran with it.  At that point, it was more about surviving exam week.  Afterward, it was because I didn’t want to deal with the feelings I had stuck inside me.  When I finally let everything out, it was a clearing point for my emotions and my head.  I’ve been able to look back with a clearer head, see where I made mistakes, where others made mistakes, and accept that I screwed up without skewering myself with guilt trips and emotional lashings any more.  I may not remember everything (I don’t have the best memory) but I clearly can see where I screwed up, and have changed how I do things.  I think that of anything, that’s really the important part.  That, and I’m more forgiving with myself than I used to be.

Part of the reason I lashed out at group members was because I held myself to very high standards, standards that I sometimes wasn’t able to meet.  So I’d push myself and push myself until I hit them, and expect everyone else around me to rise up to my standards.  Not only did I tend to have high expectations that were impossible to meet, I also reacted a lot to my fear that I was not good enough, didn’t know enough, wasn’t a good priest or shaman, and I felt I needed to help people because if I wasn’t useful doing something for someone then I wasn’t worth anything.  I put people down to feel better about myself, an insecurity move if ever there was one, and my insecurities about myself ate into everyone around me.  When I had more emotional highs, or when I wasn’t feeling the insecurities, I could be smug, glib, and condescending.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean to; I did it.  That’s really one of the big lessons I took away from all this.  It does not matter what you intend; it is important, but what happens from the impact of your choices, that is what really matters.  If I can say this about spellwork and spirituality then it is applicable to the practical and emotional realms as well.

A lot of my emotional work the last few months out of the group has largely been around my feelings of self-worth, which, from what I have seen, is at the root of a lot of the problems that erupted.  Constantly talking about it with close friends and family has helped a lot.  I get a new perspective each time that I share it, a new way of seeing it, and different ways of expressing my fears, anxieties, and other emotions I’ve largely buried or ignored.  By relying more on the Pagan community, I’ve come to appreciate not just the larger Pagan community, but my place in it being one of value, even if I was totally silent, because I am in it.  Something that Bona Dea’s workshop at Paganfest, Weaving Community, really drove home for me was that once you intertwine the threads of yourself and your community you’re together in the tapestry.  It reflected a deep truth I’d forgotten in and of myself, both in terms of my impact on people, and my value in it.  It also drove home the reason the group asked me to leave: when you weave in the workshop, you need to be mindful of others’ threads, of where they are, and be sure that your own respects theirs and the overall tapestry.  I didn’t respect the group’s tapestry; I talked a good game about Wyrd, but more often than not I wanted people to go this way or that way because I looked at people, saw a lot of raw potential, but didn’t respect where they wanted or in some cases, needed to take that potential.  In short, I didn’t listen to them, their Wyrd, or how I came off or sounded.  I was trying to have people fill up something in me I wasn’t filling up myself, something that other people couldn’t give me in the first place: self-esteem.  Self-respect.  Love.  People can’t fill you with those things.  They might trigger those things in you to show up, but they have to be there first.  I didn’t know how to take praise; it never seemed good enough because I didn’t respect or love myself enough to think I would be worthy of those things.  I didn’t know when enough was enough because I kept setting standards higher for myself, and then for others, thinking “this is what I have to do to earn respect in the community”, but I didn’t have enough respect for myself or others to see the limitations I or they had.

In my goofy way of thinking, I thought that by being silent and leaving people be this long, that I was doing right by them.  By not ‘bugging’ people, rather than speaking to them about what happened, and what has been happening, but just having them read this blog, I was encouraging healing because they didn’t have to ‘deal’ with me.  The other, then, is at least touching base with people from the group.  I told these people they were my family…and in my experience, you don’t just stop talking to family over disagreements or blow ups.  Things may or may not be able to be fixed, but at the end of the day it is my choice to leave things frayed or at least try to put the loom back together.

Since I began to hit these points of understanding, it has been a quick shove back into intensive spiritual work.  A few hours after my grief period I had my first trance possession for the first time in a few months.  I may have screwed up, and refused to do spirit possession for a long time, but at the end of the day I am still a priest and a shaman.  I had a job to do.  I’d talked with various people for a few weeks before this about fixing what I did about spirit possession work, and started to put that into practice.  Namely, telling the person to double-check statements, advice, and other things the spirit said in me with a trusted diviner, and approaching the practice as a sacred act, not like a regular occurrence, but something to be treasured and treated as holy rather than casually.  To me, this, coupled with a healthy respect for boundaries and using the empathy model after the God left me helped me avoid a lot of the problems I made or ran into with my old group.

A lot of my personal work right now is really geared toward learning to be comfortable in down time, to be happy in it.  To not have to push myself to ‘do something’ to feel productive, and through that, useful and worth a damn.  The ‘intensive’ work Odin promised me has been a lot of down time and relaxation.  I haven’t taken a summer off of school in a long time, and it has been a rather nice vacation so far.  Being comfy in my own skin is a test, at times, and to have so much down time, to ‘not be productive’ for so long, has been a challenge.  I’m finally able to actually relax, though, and for me, that’s a pretty big step.  Couple that with finally having self-esteem and confidence that comes from myself, and I’ve come a long way from where I’ve been.  To not have to need other people to prop up my ego is pretty big.  I may not be perfect at it, but I’ve made a lot of strides, and that alone is worth the work.

Call for Submissions: Ancestor Devotional Anthology

Hello everyone.  Given the interest and fantastic submissions that have started to come in, I am extending the deadline to October 31st, 11:59pm.  I hope that as word spreads there will be even more submissions.  Please, if you or anyone else you know does Ancestor devotions and/or work, or even has just started beginning working with their Ancestors, encourage them to submit their writing, or art to this project.  The details are listed below.  If you have any questions you can post them here or send them to Sarenth@gmail.com.

The Call for Submissions

Asphodel Press

Working Title:  Calls to Our Ancestors

Editor: Sarenth

Description:  An anthology of prayers, poems, devotional pieces, essays, personal experience, and/or artwork in honor of our Ancestors.  This anthology draws from a variety of sources and authors, and may include Ancestors worship in the form of spirits and/or Gods as well, for those whose beliefs encompass this.

What is not desired: fanfic, ego-stroking, self-aggrandizement.  It’s one thing if you believe you’re sired by a God/dess, it’s another to treat other humans as lower than yourself.

Word Length: 800-1500 words minimum for essays.  No specialized fonts, please.  All formats for written pieces should be in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format.  Any devotional pieces, artwork, etc. in visual format needs to be submitted in no less than 300 dpi format, preferably .tiff or .png for lossless quality.

Contributors will not be paid for this contribution. This is a one-time publishing opportunity, so you retain all rights to your piece and can use it as you wish after publication.

Any contributors need to give their legal names and addresses in the email for a release form for their work.  However, we can publish you under a pseudonym or community name if you would like.

The deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011 at 11:59pm.

Emails for interested parties can be sent to Sarenth@gmail.com.

Wandering in a New Direction

I’ve known that Odin would want me to wander at some point.  He’s told me that since He started working with me.  I’ve asked Him, myself, other Gods, spirit allies, and friends, physical and not, what roads this could go down.  Now I finally have the first piece of that puzzle.  It was a relatively simple click to get it into place, but it took me hearing it and seeing it for it to fall into place.

I believe in living as sustainably as one can, from recycling and reusing as much as possible, to living as much on the land as possible.  Yet, I have no job, and no training on how to do a lot of the things necessary for it.  Sure, I’m learning to grow vegetables and herbs (I finally have my own space for herbs!) and I am willing to learn how to raise chickens, goats, and the like.  I’d be willing to learn every aspect of life that my folks grew up with on their farm.  Yet I didn’t even know how to start; I kept thinking “what about the price of having a home?  The utility costs?  The costs of getting everything around?”  Then, some friends of mine from my local shaman gathering told me about training they are taking this fall with the Earthship project.  I asked about it, and as they spoke, I could almost feel that puzzle click into place.  Holy shit.  It made sense.

Don’t get me wrong, at first I was skeptical as hell.  I thought How can you live so completely off-grid?  What about water, food?  Turns out the way the place is laid out you actually can grow food year-round in-house.  Water is collected from melting snow and rainwater, and electricity is made by wind and solar means.  There’s a lot more, but the website goes into more detail and gives it more justice than I can.  To put it simply, my fears were laid to rest.  These people built shelters that are designed to be earthquake resistant for the people of the Andaman Islands, and they built homes for Mexican families in the wake of Hurricane Rita.  The walls were built out of ordinary materials that we Americans have in plenty: old tires, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and cement, with plaster for the outward finish.  It seemed unreliable when I first heard about it, yet they stand tall and strong against even monsoon weather, as experienced in the Andaman Islands.

I wasn’t just skeptical for practical reasons, but spiritual too.  After all, it was kind of convenient that the answer fell in my lap.  That said, I don’t much believe in ‘coincidence’ anymore; more often than not, when I do pay attention to them, positive outcomes ensue.  I tend to kick myself later when I don’t pay attention.  I did a few readings to confirm that I wasn’t just listening to sock-puppets in my head, while the next was for the next as-important question: why?  The two Runes that I remember best from that reading (it was about a week ago) were Naudhiz the Rune of Need, and Othila  the Rune of Ancestral Land.  Naturally, there are other interpretations for these two Runes, but again, these two may as well have hit me in the face.  Of course, I could have just read it as NO from their Futhark-to-English rough letter translation.  I didn’t read it like that because neither were merkstave, and there wasn’t anything from the previous Runes to doubt the message screaming from them to me.  Still, I had another person who I hadn’t had any of this explained to her to read my cards just to check.  This time the message did club me over the head, and several times.  I needed to do this.  I needed to go for training, and it was part of my next step in my life in all its forms.  Okay, message received, stop the clubbing.

I asked Him why this would be part of my Wandering.  He told me that I needed the skills before I hoped to set out on my own, that having all the spiritual tools were good, but I “needed to learn to live in Midgard”, and that is what has largely been missing from the past couple of years.  I’ve lived, by and large, on others’ resources, time, and good will.  If I am to live in the future as a person, father, shaman, priest, and Pagan, I needed to change my relationship to the world.  If I believe in sustainability as more than a pretty word, as a lifestyle and as part of my spirituality, then I need to live it.  By learning these techniques I hope to live sustainably.  By learning all I can, I hope to live closer, and in better relations with the landvaettir, the Vanir, the Jotun, and the Aesir, and other Gods who have called to me.  It’s my hope that by Wandering here, I am able to leave a land worth inheriting to my children, with a right relationship with the landvaettir, Gods, and people, who call it home with me.  This may not be the end of my Wander, but it certainly is the first of many steps.

Fast: Day Three

Today was a lot of kicking back and relaxing, much to my surprise.  It wasn’t until later in the day that Odin and I began to work on things.  Usually my Wednesdays are days I set aside for silence, meditation and communication with Him.  He told me to take a break today, no questions asked.  So I wrote on forums, played World of Warcraft, and watched TV until later in the day, when He finally told me what He wanted me to do with Him.  It came rather sudden as I sat in the basement on my computer.  I bolted up.  It felt like lightning had been shot through me.

My folks were getting ready for work, and He began to tell me things He wanted me to take out to the garage rapid-fire.  I headed out into the garage with one of my testing needles, two clean, unblemished and uncrinkled sheets of paper, my copy of Wyrdwalkers, the pen I was using to write the Hávamál-style poem we are writing, the notebook the poem is in, a year-old bottle of wine from Samhain, and my iPod.  He told me there to purify and sanctify the area, to lock it down tight for the work we would be doing.  At first I was confused, since He had neither mentioned nor even hinted at anything.  I did it anyway, similar to how I had done the previous night, taking the extra step of ‘locking down’ the door from the house to the garage.  Once the wards were in place, I went back to the altar.  This time, though, the candles were pink on the left, blue on the right, and purple in the middle.  He told me I would get later why He had me give the pink as Ve.

As the smoke rose from the charcoal, I put down Mugwort onto it, and cleansed myself with the smoke.  Something felt…off.  It felt odd, like the world was slightly tilted.  As I continued to cleanse myself, I breathed deep, and put a dab of the wine onto my Ancestors’ statue, then Odin’s.  The tilted feeling was still there, but it felt good. Then, at Odin’s request, I brought some of the wine into my mouth, swished it, and spat it out outside onto the ground, as He said, to share the wine with my Him and my Ancestors without actually drinking it, and offering a bit of myself to the landvaettir.  My mouth tingled a bit from it when I came back in, and looked to the altar.  He told me it was time, and to grab a chair.  So I brought one with me up to the altar, and sat before it.

Odin gave me a quick explanation, and demanded I start right away after telling me to put on The Lord of the Ring’s The Council of Elrond.  The song hit me immediately…I started to trance, and heard Him ask “What is the first thing you would get rid of?” and I wrote the Rune for it.  I kept writing Runes, losing track of time, until I had everything I could think of.  All the personal flaws I wanted to fix or let go of, all the problems I wanted to move through or remove as obstacles.  I checked the bindrune against my bag of Runes, and when They were satisfied, He told me why I needed the needle.  The Runework would not be complete without a bloodbond to it.  I sterilized and blessed the needle by the three candles’ flames, and poked my right index finger as He asked.  Then, He asked more of me: to give blood from each of my fingers to this, to seal up this bindrune with blood from all of them.  I did this, and when I finished I turned the paper over, and wrote my first name, Sarenth, in blood Runes.  I wanted these problems gone.  I wanted to move through these things, Hel or high water.  In thanks to Her taking on the dead parts of me, I smeared blood from my left index finger across Her skull’s teeth and mouth.

Then, Odin had me change the music to loop Hagalaz’ Runedance’s The Soul of a Hound, and still somewhat tranced, He told me to put the paper, folded up in a specific way on the charcoal disk.  Then, He had me pick up Wyrdwalkers for some bibliomancy.  A section on controlling and using my breath popped up on the first reading, and the second, a section on hamingja, and regaining it.  I took this as a sign: I had to help the paper burn.  As I breathed in long, slow breaths, I could feel the Runes pulling things from my spirit bodies, could feel the blood pulling out the inequities I felt towards myself, and as my blood Rune letters burnt, I felt a release, something of joy and relief mixed with a feeling of at last!  The paper crinkled into white and black powder on the disk, and I breathed a long, deep sigh.

Odin’s voice pierced my reflective relief, and I grabbed the other clean sheet of paper.  For this, He had me turn on Hagalaz’ Runedance’s Labyrinth.  On this piece of paper, He told me to write all of the Runes that I wanted to bring into my life.  After a long while, double-checking with Rune pulls from my bag, I had it done.  I will post a picture of the bindrune that resulted from Him and I working together some time soon.  This, He told me it would not be necessary to bleed for it because these were what I would be working on for the next year and may need to change as time went on.  The idea was not to get locked into these changes quite yet, from what I remember Him saying.

Once this was done, He instructed me to dump the ashes out of the censer into a palm-sized brass bowl I had on the altar, and to take the ashes outside and offer them to the land.  It was just starting to rain; I could hear it coming down from the roof.  The charcoal disk smoke and hissed when the rainwater hit it, sending little sparks that extinguished as soon as they left the brass bowl.  As I neared a tree, He told me to dump the contents right on the ground.  I balked; why couldn’t I just put them under the tree and offer them like normal?  Then a bolt of lightning arced across the sky.  I heard, very clearly, “Offer them and go!”, in an angry voice.  I dumped the ashes onto the ground, stomping out any little bits of stray hot charcoal disk, and hoofed it inside.  The storm was really getting going as I got inside, and winds hit the house loudly.  My heart was pumping hard, but I was grateful that I had listened when I did.  He chuckled and said “There’re reasons I say what I do to you.”  I apologized, and blew out what remained of the candles.  I prayed, thanking Hela and Odin for working with me.  I heard what, energetically, felt like a quiet nod of acceptance from Her.  She tends to have a more subtle ‘feel’ to me than other Gods, and I have to strain at times to ‘hear’ Her.  Odin accepted my apology, but didn’t stop chuckling even as I came downstairs to write this.

I think what hit me about as much as the Rune magic did, is how simple it was.  Compared to previous experiences I’ve had with working like this, this rite was relatively uncomplicated, and yet it hit me hard.  I feel like I was lead through some Runic restructuring of my soul.  I’m still settling into how this feels, like a newness tinged with relief.  It’s kind of like when you move into a new place, and all the furniture is finally arranged and you’re unpacked…that…”Ahh” kind of feel.  I think that’s what is closest to it.  I’m glad it happened.  It sucked while I was making the bindrunes for all the things I wanted to let go of, having to dredge up painful memories and little niggling problems and doubts.  I feel lighter, better for it.  The challenge ahead will be to bring the new Runes I’ve written into my life, and to move forward.  He refuses to tell me anything about any more upcoming rites or magic.  Perhaps that’s for the best; approaching these things raw has let me detach myself from them a lot easier, and has given me a lot less in the way of defenses when I’m hit with old traumas or problems.  I guess in a way, this sacrifice and moving forward is what I’ve needed for a long time.  I’m glad Odin is helping to lead me on this journey.

Fast: Day Two

I confirmed the fasting with my whole medical team was safe.  My doctor called me today to tell me not to take the metformin (aka Glucophage) until the day before I come off the fast.  I’ll still be checking my blood every day and taking my vitamins and lisinopril, but my blood sugars have been stable around the 79-85 range so far.  If my blood sugar drops much lower I may need to drink something sugary or a small bit of protein to boost me up.  If it continues for greater than a day I may have to break the fast.  I don’t believe I will need to, but there is the chance.

This is something that I talked with Odin over, and He said “The fasting is not here to kill you, but get you into a purified mindset, to get you out of the ordinary.  Won’t do us a bit of good if you keel over or go into a coma on me.”  Which shouldn’t have come as a shock.  It does mean that until something like that happens I won’t slip up, and will be sure if I have to break the fast that I actually have to break the fast.  It’s actually a comfort to have my medical team behind me, making sure I can do this fast safely.

A lot of the work I did with Odin was going over relationships, this time, how I give myself over to women.  He noted that I almost disappeared in some of these relationships, how I subsumed myself under other people.  He said it was part of the reason why I was not His God-slave; He wanted to challenge me to be my own person, drive me to be myself for myself, and not for anyone else.  I think that was a lesson I missed from the myth of Him Hanging on Yggdrasil: He did it as an offering “from Myself to Myself” first and foremost.  Only after that did He give the wisdom of the Runes to others.  It was not until He was able to do that, that He was able to even give the wisdom of the Runes to other people, let alone use Them Himself.

I used to think that this whole “doing this for myself” thing was selfish.  But in a lot of ways it protects other people, and keeps any fallout to you.  It also makes sure that you understand what you’re doing before you pass on the knowledge, and that you have a firm grasp of what you’ve experienced.  Doing it for yourself also makes sure you actually take care of yourself, kind of like how the emergency videos always tell you to take care of yourself before someone else.  Doesn’t do anyone any good for two people to be down when one could be up.  I admittedly have had a lot of baggage from this ‘doing for myself’ idea, first from my parents and my Catholic upbringing, and the general attitude I’ve held towards people for years, a lot of it learned from being bullied.  The main baggage I learned from Catholicism and my folks is that this ‘doing for myself’ is selfish, and takes from others when I could give to them, and the stuff I learned from bullying is that I really don’t deserve all the good things in the first place.  In the situation I’m in, out of my personal community and without a significant other, I’m having to do for myself first.  It’s been pretty…good, actually.  I’m happier, I’m more ready to face the day, and willing to do more to make things happen.  I don’t feel anxious or run down, and my self-perception has improved since Nicole and I broke up.  I’m wanting to do things for myself; sure, my son does factor in, but I want to do Psychology and Counseling for myself as much as those I could help…the former now, even more so.  I want the fulfillment that comes from doing that work rather than doing it for other people.  Sure, the people matter, and are a large part of that fulfillment, but if I look to them to fulfill me, I will come out disappointed.  I know from pastoral counseling that doing that sets you up for disappointment and heartbreak, and that being there as a vessel for change rather than an agent is what is often needed and distancing enough that if things fall apart you won’t be destroyed.

The work with Loki tonight was brutal.  He started off the night by having me purify everything in the garage with a handy stick of sage, from the doors to the altar to myself several times.  Then I set up the protective wards making a Valknut of smoke in the air, and using a modified version of the Hammer Rite.  He had me strike a match, light the three candles I had representing Odin, Vili, and Ve, (purple, yellow, and blue respectively) and light the charcoal disk for my censer.  When everything felt safe, and the smoke was rolling out of the censer from the lit charcoal, He had me add Mugwort, (the purifying plant in the Northern Tradition), after I thanked the spirit of the plant.  When it started going He had me root around in my boxes of Pagan stuff for something, and I wasn’t sure what it was at first.  Then it caught my eye: a bit of tissue Nicole had written a cute message and a drawing, something I kept on my computer all semester and looked at when I felt lonely.  Looking at it now, I felt my heart come apart.

I heard Him say “That is what I want you to offer Me.  Offer it to Me, let Her go, and I will help you heal.”  I stopped cold.  I hadn’t expected to do any magic to separate myself from her, just doing healing work and talking with the Gods to help me separate.  I hesitated and He said louder “You say you want to work with Me.  This is what I’m demanding of you.  Give it to Me, or go back inside and curl up in bed and cry!” then He demanded of me ” You want to get through this?  Then let her go.  What the hell are you hanging on for?”  He let the question hang while my mind raced a million different places.  Old, fond memories, making love, the funny times where I or she would trip and make fun of each other.  Hell, “chicken”.  So many things my mind flashed to…the future we’d once wanted to build together- then He interrupted my thoughts “They aren’t going to happen now.”  That acid ate away at the fantasies that played in my head.  It isn’t going to happen.  The words echoed in my head for a while, and I said to Him, “Alright.  Alright.”  I had had enough, and I was on the verge of crying.  I wanted to let go, not just say the words, not just mime the feelings.  I really wanted to let go.

So He had me take the tissue and toss it right on the charcoal disk.  At first, it wouldn’t light.  I picked up a candle and was going to light the tissue on fire, when I heard Him give me a resounding “No.”  I looked at the candle and then at the censer with the disk in it.  “Well…what then?” I asked Him in my mind.  He told me to light the disk with the candle, and I was to watch the tissue burn down to ash.  I was angry at first.  It seemed cruel to me, to make me sit that long looking at something that had once given me a lot of comfort, silly as it might have been.  I did what He told me to anyway.

The tissue took several minutes before it even browned a little.  As I waited, He said to me “You have to want it to burn.  You have to want to let it go.  Help it burn; don’t use the candle.”  So I looked at the tissue, and flopped it around a little, trying to get it to light, but the disk wasn’t having it.  It had a little red glow on its outside edge, but all it was doing was browning the tissue very, very slowly.  Then I sighed, and the glow picked up.  I breathed again, this time right on the disk, and the glow grew, and the edge of the tissue that was lying on it started to glow.  I kept breathing, blowing long, concentrated streams of air, not consciously starting to say the mantra that grew in my mind: “I want to let go.  I want to grieve.”

The glow picked up around the edges, and it grew more intense as it ate up the tissue, and the smoke stung my eyes.  I felt in that moment, as tears came streaming from the smoke, like I could cry.  Like it wasn’t shameful or stupid, like it wasn’t me being melodramatic or anything other than simply grieving a loss.  That mantra kept going “I want to let go.  I want to grieve.” even as I cried, holding the censer between my hands, blowing long streams of what I realized wasn’t just my breath, but my spiritual energy, my önd.  The creeping orange slowly ate more, gaining speed as I cried harder, the air flowing harder.  At some point I started kneeling, and knelt, trembling with the censer rocking in my hands as tears rolled freely down my face.  I probably looked like a damn mess…but I didn’t care.  I was grieving, I was in that moment ignoring everything else but that.  I was letting myself feel, truly feel, all the release I could.  At some point I picked up a pair of crow feathers and fanned them over the smoking tissue, asking Hunin and Munin to help me think well, but to commit this work to Thought and Memory.  When I finally put the censer down and let go, the ashes smoldered and then, turned black each in turn.  I heard Loki’s voice tell me to put Stinging Nettle on the censer to protect myself from going back to those old feelings, thoughts, and had me throw more Mugwort on for purification.  As the smoke rolled up in front of me, I threw it over my body, praying to Loki in thanks, and thinking in prayer “Thank you Nicole, for all we’ve shared.  Thank you for loving me.”  Then Loki told me, in no uncertain terms, to say it.  I did…and I felt a peace roll over me.  A deep-seated peace.

I took up the chalice of water I had on the altar, and drizzled some onto my head, dabbed it on my forehead, and every other chakra point.  Purified and still feeling that deep-seated peace, I dabbed water onto the heads of my Ancestors’ representation, a circle of four figures interlocking arms, and dabbed water onto the mouths of my Lupa and Lycrous representations.  Finally, I dabbed water onto the mouths of the statue of Odin, first to Geri and Freki, then Hunin and Munin, and finally, to His own mouth and His horn.  I felt good, like I had finally let go of a huge block in my heart.  I thanked Loki, and He said to me to give offerings to Himself and Odin, and to Hel, to honor my grieving for dead things.  I asked Him what, and He told me in turn what I could give of myself.  It had been nearly a year since any of my statues had received my blood, and the skull I used as a representation of Hel on my altar had never received blood from me.  So I took a needle I use for testing my blood sugar,  and sterilized it in the fire of all three candles.  Odin asked me to prick my right forefinger, and shared it first with my Ancestors, dabbing each of Their heads with a drop of blood in recognition of my bloodlines, and then with each part of His statue as I had before, except His mouth as He asked me.  To Hel’s skull representation, I first asked Her if this would blood-bond me to Her, and She assured me not, and that She would view it as an offering of thanks.  She asked me, rather than having blood from the right forefinger, to take it from the left pinky, which I seldom use.  The pain was vivid when I pricked myself, which She said was part of the offering, and I smeared the blood across the foam skull’s teeth.  The teeth went from white to red, and the gold teeth in the skeleton were tinged darker.

I gave a low bow to the altar, let the burning herbs finish up, and thanked the Gods who had been there for the rite.  I blew out the candles, thanked my Ancestors, and the spirits who had been there, and put away whatever I wasn’t leaving on the altar overnight.  Even as I write this, I still feel that sense of peace.  My heart isn’t aching right now, and I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere with being able to finally grieve.  Thank the Gods for Gods that push me beyond my self-perceived boundaries.  Thank the Gods for Odin and Loki both, and all the Gods who know me.  Thank the Gods for Gods who will push, pull, and fight with you to get you where you need to go, but will also equally let go when you are being a stubborn ass.  Thank the Gods for healing and love, even at the price of pain.  Thank the Gods.

Fast: Day One

Today is the first day of a Nine Day fast and Vow of Silence.  I did something like this last year with Hanging on Yggdrasil.  This time I’m not hanging on the Tree, but going deep inside, reconnecting with myself, purifying, and bringing myself back together.  I’ll be letting go of things, and developing a deeper connection with my Gods.  Primarily I’ll be working with Odin and Loki, with Odin tending toward work during the day, and Loki at night.  I would have thought it would be otherwise, but a lot of work I’ve done with Odin has been done at night, so I guess this is switch-up will challenge me on some things.

The first thing that really hits me is the hunger.  I’ve been hungry all day, and finally, after taking a nap, the nagging in my stomach left me alone.  Throughout the day I’ve been talking with Odin, going over some of the basics for the following days.  A lot of the work is going to be introspective, while other parts of it, such as writing the Hávamál-like poem we negotiated I would write for being able to start the fast after Mother’s Day, will be about creating or exploring.  A lot of the conversation is sparse, talking about what I need to really dig into these Nine Days.  How I approach relationships, my constant need to be there for people, my boundaries, sexuality, my self-esteem issues and self-denigration are all going to be lain out and one-by-one worked through.

Today, a lot of the work was focused on how I approached relationships.  During the day Odin and talked on and off about why I did things with Nicole that I did, exploring deeper where those feelings of “I need to be here” came from, and why I wasn’t honest with myself from the beginning when we started to see ourselves drift apart.  I found myself going back to my folks and what I learned from them, that when you find someone you love, you stick it through no matter what.  That loyalty is sometimes measured in compromising, sometimes on things you hold dear to yourself.  It’s about giving everything you are to that other person.  While these are, I think, good foundations in this theory, as I explored how those examples impacted me I found myself giving over to (before Nicole) emotionally abusive relationships, manipulative relationships.  With my first relationship I made much of my time with her about her, and was offered very little in return.  This became my norm for a long time.  I thought “Well, this person loves me, and that’s enough”.  Yet I didn’t actually examine my lovers up-close to see if they honestly loved me like I loved them back, or if I was even getting basic things out of the relationship like affection or help on things that I was going through.  I have made a lot of my relationships about the other person, to the near-exclusion of myself.

This trickled into nearly everything I did.  There’s a joke that Nicole and I share.  I usually left food decisions up to the other person; I’m not picky.  I mean really not picky.  So I was usually just defaulted to the other person (I did this with a lot of things) and didn’t make a hell of a lot of decisions.  One day we’re driving in her car and she looks to me, and asks “Hey, what do you want to eat?”  I fumble around; holy shit, what do I want to eat?  I hadn’t expected the question and started darting my head around looking for some kind of food place.  “I dunno,” I answered with a shrug.  “Well, you need to pick someplace.”  “I don’t know what I want.”  This goes on for another five minutes.  Then she asks me, exasperated, “Well, what do you want?”  I answer in deadpan: “Chicken.” She throws her hands up in the air half-yelling half-laughing “There are about five hundred places with chicken!  What kind of chicken?!”  I eventually fumble out Chinese and laughing, she pulls into the nearby Chinese food joint.  Gods, food sound nice right now.

In just thinking about this little incident, it made me think about how much I gave my autonomy over to the other person in relationships.  It isn’t healthy, and isn’t something I will be repeating in future relationships.  Nicole helped me to make a hell of a dent in this, but I still dipped into it, and still gave a lot of decisions I could make myself (like where to eat, what movie to see) and just compromised on the little things that could have made me happy.  It’s no small wonder I was willing to give the rest of my life over when I didn’t even have the spine to say “I’d like to eat here” or “I’d like to see this”.  What kills me is, I did this voluntarily.  There was no knife to my throat, no one ever threatened to leave me.  It was all about keeping the other person happy…while totally forgetting that “Hey, I don’t want to see this movie; I want to see that one.”  Totally forgetting, or ignoring, my own needs, wants, feelings and desires.  You can’t be honest with the other person if you can’t be honest with yourself…and I haven’t been honest with what I have wanted for a long while.

Part of figuring out what I do want is realizing how much that can change, or is in flux.  Something simple: Do I want any more kids?  I have no idea.  I thought at one point I wanted to have a house and kids and family.  The more I think about it, the more I ask if I will have the ability to do that, especially in the economy we’re heading into.  I wonder if that “American Dream” is even my dream to begin with.  These Nine Days may not help me decide that, but they will give me better ground to judge that on.  Yet once upon a time I would have answered off the cuff that I did want kids, I did want the 2.5 square acres and a wife and the house and the car and all the other stuff that goes along with that “Dream”.  It’s what I’ve been raised on.  So I haven’t really questioned that until lately.  What do I want?  I want, ultimately, for myself and my son to be happy and have a blessed, fulfilled life.  I’m not sure what that will look like.  I really have to destroy expectations.  After all, I expected to never have to live with my family again when I hit 25.  Yet here I am.

Something else that has bugged me lately is how my spirituality seems to have fallen off the radar.  I say ‘seems’ because I did a lot of spiritually exhausting, sometimes dangerous work.  I was ‘horsed’ (that is, possessed) a lot by spirits and Gods, I did a lot of journeying and seidr work, and much of my spiritual life revolved around my community.  Now that I am doing none of those things, I have been doing a good deal more meditation and prayer than I was doing…yet I find myself still looking for spiritual fulfillment.  When I ask myself “What am I looking for?” I keep coming back to community.  So I am happy that the Shaman Supper in my area is coming up.  It will be good to reconnect to people, share experiences, maybe even ritual.  I’m also looking into the Unitarian Universalist churches in my area, and connecting to more people on Facebook and through this blog.  I asked “Why do I need community?” and I came up with a couple answers.  The first is that I like to be around people, and share my spiritual path with people.  I didn’t do a terribly long stint as a solitary Pagan.  This is probably the longest I’ve gone without a group or someone else to practice with.  The second is that community tends to inspire me to go further and deeper into my faith.  This stint at going alone is proving to me that I don’t need community to do that, but it sure makes the journey easier and much more pleasant.  The third is that community provides a support network and a safe place where I can bounce ideas off of peoples’ heads.

As I have heard from a few Odinswomen being driven is part of what Odin likes in people, and sometimes will push in people.  My error is that I let that drive push into everything I do; I don’t tend to relax well, and feel guilty oftentimes for doing so.  That “I’m not being productive” is something I have caught myself denigrating myself for, even while enjoying a movie or a video game.  Part of the deflation that has come from more or less being apart from everything I’ve been used to is that it throws me into making me relax, into making me take more time for me.  This has been hard to deal with; if I keep busy I don’t need to stop, and take it easy.  I don’t feel ‘lazy’ or ‘unproductive’.  I’ve had to look at myself and realize that I push myself too hard, that I ask too much out of myself.  This isn’t something that is simple for me; I pride myself on doing a lot, and so much down time makes me feel out of place.  I’ve been keeping busy enough cleaning up the house or doing meditation and prayer…but it always seems like I have a lot of time.  I think a good chunk of this is simply learning to mellow out.  Until recently, I’ve been running around doing stuff non-stop.  It’s weird to have nothing to do like school or especially the work with the community.

So I am having to resettle myself a lot.  My work with Odin was largely getting into my head and rooting around about the stuff I’ve written about already.  Loki’s work with me today was about going into myself and letting go of the influences of my folks on how I approach relationships.  He took me into myself, and together, experienced times where I remembered lessons (and some where I didn’t) of where I learned what I know and practice when it comes to love.  It was like looking at my life on rewind.  I was sitting in a chair before my altar I’d just set up, smoking mugwort in my sacred pipe.  He instructed me that with each inhalation I need to go to a time, and on the exhale, blow it out.  I could feel the vaettir of mugwort come into me, help me dig out the pain or poor lesson, and carry it out.  I cried at one point as I passed through old hurts, and just as quick as I had started, I stopped.  I felt at peace, a kind of powerful peace rise out of me like the smoke.  I became still, and happy in that moment.  I’m not done…but taking out these harmful lessons from my folks helps.  Lessons that come especially from my Dad, like giving over his dreams to make our lives possible to the point where he never finished college, and never pursued his dreams from there.  I won’t go into much detail here; some of these are painful, and others uncomfortable.

The experience so far has been powerful, even if at times I feel like “I am not doing enough”.  Which is dumb.  I’m in the middle of a Vow of Silence, I am fasting, I am praying, meditating, and giving devotion, and going through painful and uncomfortable memories while also finishing up an at least 140-line poem to my God.  I’m also still filling out applications for jobs and will be going to volunteer orientation for a nearby crisis center.  There should be no reason I should be so hard on myself.  As the days move forward I have a feeling a lot of this will be brought into the light and dark, and dealt with in each realm as it needs to be.  I pray the journey forward is healing; I know I need it.