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Question 1: Priest and Godatheow

March 2, 2013 Leave a comment

From Dreaming in Smoke and Fire:

How did you reconcile your transition with Odin from priest to godatheow?
– How has this changed your outlook on spirituality?

For me there was no transition from being Odin’s priest to godatheow; I am still His priest, and I am His godatheow.  I am His priest.  I am here to do His Work for others, as an intercessor, one who blesses, and helps those who seek Him as best as I can, among whatever else He gives me in that role, i.e. officiating rituals for Him/His people/followers.  There are sometimes great lulls in this Work, as there have been with Anubis, and sometimes there’s a great flurry of activity where people wanting to connect to Him, or to the Norse/Germanic Gods in general all come at once.  It is kind of haphazard, and I’m not quite sure one moment to the next where the Work will come from or where it will take me.  I just try to be ready as best I can, and to be honest when I hit my limit on being able to help someone, and point them in a direction to go before they go their own way.

Becoming a godatheow meant a lot of things that I had taken for granted were locked down.  I do not do magic, I do not do divination, I do not horse.  This is why my entire ‘Shamanic Services section is shut down.  While being godatheow to Odin took away these things, at least for the time being, doing this has instilled in me, through my work with my teacher and following Him closer, discipline, clarity, and a better sense of who I am, what I am doing, and especially important for me, boundaries.  So, while I am leashed it has given me a deep amount of freedom.  The collar may never come off, but as it was put to me, the best dog you can have is one that does not need the leash, but will do as is needed and come back to your side.

For the years before I became a godatheow it was this thing that other people did, something that would not happen to me.  I saw how demanding it was, and I really did not want that.  I felt I had enough on my plate.  When things in my life came to a crashing halt, and there He was holding the leash, I felt betrayed.  Why would He not have told me?  Why?

I was full of anger and despair, because when it happened to me I felt as though I had handed over my whole life to Him, and none of my dreams, hopes, or anything would matter.  It was true.  My dreams, hopes, and aspirations do not matter compared to what He has for me to do.  Handing over my life to Him is the best thing I have done.  I have clarity, I am happy, I have purpose, and I am a better father, priest, shaman, lover, spouse, and person than I have ever been.  While I say my dreams, hopes, etc. do not matter, it is not that they are unimportant per se, but that they are subsumed beneath what He prioritizes in my life.  Some of my priorities dovetail with His quite nicely, and those that do not but are not a hindrance to my Work He has, thus far, let alone.  My life, and everything I am is His.  Even now those words do give a fear to me, a kind of holy terror, knowing that He could call on me to leave everything I have behind and I would do it because He told me to.  It is not normal, but that kind of devotion to a God is not normal in this country.  Here, devotion to a God is going to church on the weekends and mouthing prayers while still doing throughout the week what is abhorrent to that God.  It is not, whatever they may mouth, taking up their cross and following Him.  The whole of this country would change quite a bit if they did.  Our Pagan communities might be very different if we followed our Gods to where They would lead us.

My outlook on spirituality, from what is ‘normal’ to what is ‘right’ has changed drastically.  Normal is a term that is often used to cage or assuage, rather than do the Work before us.  It is not ‘normal’ for a person to do prayers before meals, bedtime, a storm, an interview, or just because we want to connect and/or honor the Holy Powers.  It is not ‘normal’ for a person to dedicate themselves to a God or Goddess so fully that they would follow Them wherever They led.  Yet this is normal for me.  It is not disruptive to my life, but adds to its fullness.  Sure, it was disruptive at first and I had a lot of anxiety over it.  It was not so disruptive that I stopped going to school or seeing my son; if anything, it brought me closer to him, and in doing so, him deeper into my religion, and is a source of hope, comfort, and joy in his life.

What is ‘right’, as I mentioned above, has also changed for me.  ‘Right’ is really what gets the job done, and for my qualifier, with as little pain to myself and others as possible.  Yet it always comes back to the good old standby of “What does it do?  How well does it do it?”  If something is a roadblock to my journey, rather than hitting that roadblock over and over again in some stubborn attempt to just muscle through it, wasting my and Odin’s time, I find alternate routes.

I do not worry, for instance, about if chakras are based in the lore.  They are not, and I know that.  Yet they are a good shorthand for the concept, a kind of lingua franca of the occultist, Pagan, and associated communities.  It is far easier to say “I see a block in your solar plexus chakra originating in your crown chakra” than to go through an exhaustive explanation of “Your vili is in conflict with your godhi” and what that means, how it is manifesting, etc.  That is not to say at times that I should not give the full explanation, but if the idea is to clearly and concisely communicate an idea without the amount of explanation it would take for the meaning to ‘stick’ with the person, well, chakra-talk works.  Sure, nuance might be lost, but that’s the way of having a common language.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes you need to walk a person through precisely what you mean.

What is ‘right’ has also change in terms of morality.  When I first became a Pagan I was a non-denominational Wiccan following Brighid because that is Who my girlfriend, who originally introduced me to this working group, followed.  It has been a powerful relationship, one that I am very grateful for.  Yet ‘right’ at this point was the Threefold Law and rules familiar to most people, so I won’t go into it here.

‘Right’ for me, morally speaking, is more in line with Gebo: gift-for-a-gift.  I’ve heard the old saw ‘eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind’.  This is true, to an extent.  There are legends of families whose blood feuds raged on for centuries because one party or another had murdered and not paid the weregild.  Yet, ‘eye for an eye’ need not always be a negative; sometimes that eye is a necessary sacrifice for wisdom, for knowing, for peace.  Gebo is more than just reaction for reaction.  Gebo is also weighing the circumstances that an action takes, what the potential blowback is on a decision.  Sometime the correct action to take is reactive.  Sometimes it is to sit and ponder until the solution or the right idea comes to you that will resolve a situation for all parties.  Sometimes the decision is simply unfair for one party, and that party will need to deal with the disappointment, anger, etc.  In the end my baseline is reciprocity, and the reciprocity extends to all relationships, including ones with people I do not care for.  Do no harm is not part of that morality, but do the least amount of harm necessary to achieve an end would probably be the closest, philosophically speaking.

‘Right’ has also meant looking at all of my relationships and really going about categorizing and prioritizing.  There are some Gods I pray to for the blessings They have given, Who are no longer at the forefront of my life.  There are some Gods I have active Work with that are more toward the front.  At the front of it all is Odin.  In right relationship with my Gods, I had to put myself and my practice in order to better align with my God’s needs and demands of me, and it has rippled down my relationships with my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  I am better aligned and in tune with my Ancestors than I have ever been, and accordingly, with others’, because Odin has pushed me to do that.  The same with working with the Military Dead, which would not have happened with Odin’s, and along with that, my teacher’s influence.  Right relationship, whether giving the correct offerings, doing the daily prayers, and/or doing for others in the community, among a great deal of other things, is the core of what ‘right’ is now.  There is much more insistence on right relationship now, especially because Odin has my ear more attuned than when I was just His priest.  If I am not aligned with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that I serve, what good am I as a priest, a shaman, or godatheow?  Especially to Odin, as a godatheow?

As for my outlook on spirituality, I feel the word has become deeply diluted.  Nowadays people use it in the context of “I’m spiritual, not religious” which is one of the goofiest fucking phrases I have ever heard.  Some of the definitions for spiritual, according Merriam-Webster, are: “of or relating to sacred matters” “concerned with religious values”.  If your spirituality, that is, your experience of a religion or a religious figure is not anchored to its religious foundation, what, precisely, are you experiencing?

I think that experiencing the Gods is entirely possible removed from its religious foundations.  I have watched a Deist experience not the undifferentiated Whole he had thought was, but a singular God come down and speak to him.  They can rock our foundations no matter denomination, outlook, etc.  Yet he had no bedrock on which to place the experience.  There was no way for him to get his bearings because his religious upbringing did not even have a lexicon for what was taking place.  So spiritual experience removed from religious foundations are often confusing, taking longer time to process, to understand, to apply.  It is far easier to work off a foundation of some kind than to build it up from nothing.  It is also far easier to avoid taboos, missteps, and so on if you work from a more solid foundation.

Spirituality as a word and concept in the modern world is of limited use.  Much the same as the word Pagan, it requires that a person delve into the word to explain its meaning to them, which has its uses too.  It pushes for dialogue, in many cases.  Yet, when used as a shorthand, such as “I am a spiritual person” I say as an animist/polytheist “No shit, so’s the rock.”  It communicates a narrow band of information that becomes less useful the more it become removed from its place with religion.  I once looked at the word as very useful, but over time I have found it to be less so.  Better to speak with concrete words than undifferentiated sand; the former serves better as a foundation than the other.

Some of the main differences between my life as just a priest of Odin and now, as both His priest and godatheow, is that I have more responsibilities, more opportunities to help those He points out to me, and to do more with Him.  I am restricted but I am more free, denied more of my free will, perhaps, but pointed in more directions which will be in line with His Work, and, I have found, helps others.  I have had to do a lot of self-work as part of this Work, because if I am not clear, clean, and understanding of where I am and how I am, my usefulness as a priest, shaman, and godatheow to Him diminishes.  In this I am clearer in mind, spirit, and understanding of Him, and accordingly, the other Gods I serve, because He has pushed me to be this way.  Heck, I am even better in terms of my body, working out, eating better, and so on than I have ever been before in no small part due to His insistence that I care for myself so I can better do His Work!

I am closer to Him than I have ever been, and it has brought a kind of peace to my life I have not otherwise found, a purpose that is far clearer and more defined than I had known, and right relationship with Him, who has given me many, many blessings.  I am better for it as both His priest and godatheow, doing His Work, than I was meandering about without His guidance.  The Work has brought me closer to Him, and the closer I come, the more I find that Him holding the leash on my life, on me, is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

A Useful Teacup

August 22, 2012 17 comments

Boundaries are useful.  They mark out what is, what is not; what belongs, what does not belong.  Boundaries are, by their nature, discriminatory.  We do not want to live alongside bugs, animals, and other parts of our natural world, so we make houses.  If we lack the means or if we want to, we live in nature.

Utgarð, Innangarð.  There can be places between these boundaries, but sometimes there is a simple in/out binary that exists.  I would say there are few of these, but they exist.

I wish Pagans were more respectful of boundaries.  Take this to mean personal boundaries, such as being able to reject hugs, not get glitter-bombed at a convention, or getting ‘healed’ by a well-meaning but ignorant co-religionist.  Take this to mean between our  religions; I am not a follower of the Hellenic Gods therefore, I am not part of Hellenismos, as beautiful as this community may be.  They, likewise, are not Northern Tradition, Heathen, etc.  I respect this boundary by calling myself what I feel I am closest aligned with, and what my actual practice is aligned with.  Take this to mean ‘this is what makes a Pagan a Pagan’ and ‘this is what makes a non-Pagan a non-Pagan’.

An anonymous guest on The Wild Hunt asked of a poster there:

Yeah, how is all this labeling/limiting of Paganism (and others, too really) helping to create openness and understanding anyhow rather than just creating prejudices and misconceptions people got to work over?

This unwillingness to set boundaries is an issue in Paganism that needs to be resolved.  How useful is a teacup in a million pieces?  If the word Pagan, or Paganism has as much utility, how useful is it as a word?  Wiccan, or Northern Tradition are far more useful, (though I admit I get where Elizabeth Vongvisith is coming from in her irritation with the latter term) because they are functional.  They are words that have operational definitions within the Pagan religions’ umbrella.  Paganism, as a word and definition is so nebulous as to be almost completely unwieldy.  It is why I say Northern Tradition Pagan, or Heathen rather than just “I am a Pagan” most times.  They are intact teacups.  They hold the water of thought so that I can offer it to others.

The attitude of the poster assumes that openness is actually desirable, to whit Dver’s response was:

Who said the goal is always to create openness? At the expense of everything else? I’ve seen, for instance, many polytheist groups embrace openness and lose all their focus, intent and usefulness as they quickly filled with people of so many varying approaches that nothing could be agreed upon or accomplished. The “point” of paganism IMO is not to be concerned with making everyone feel welcome and included (which, as always, puts the emphasis on people and their feelings), the point is to worship the gods (emphasis on the divine). If being open doesn’t serve that, then it’s not going to be a primary goal, at least for some. Unsurprisingly, it is often the ones insisting on understanding who least understand this point of view.

Openness has usefulness, but so does limitation.  The negativity towards limiting the term Paganism, thus, increasing its actual functionality, is like saying “Well, I like my teacup in a million pieces.”  So how do we go about putting this teacup back together?

We start by limiting the definition of Paganism.  Perhaps to those who believe in Gods, Goddesses, spirits, etc.  Perhaps not.  Is Atheistic Paganism, for instance, a useful term?  If by Atheistic Paganism we mean ‘non-theistic’, that is, a person who believes in spiritual beings or in a form of deism or pantheism, perhaps that is functionally useful.  If we use the modern use of atheism, that is, a person without a belief in God(s) (usually included in this is a disbelief of the spiritual world), then I question how useful the term is.  Atheistic Paganism, as a straightforward term, muddies waters already fairly murky.  As a collection of religions we cannot agree yet on what the words Pagan and Paganism mean.  How much harder will it be to suss out Atheistic Pagans?  What of Humanist Pagans?

Brendan Myers, Ph.D., made this statement on Humanist Pagans as part of his guest blog post on The Wild Hunt:

Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore.  From what I have seen so far, Humanist Pagans tend to be uninterested in ritual, or energy work, or developing psychic powers…

But they love folklore and mythology, they love going to pagan festivals, and they subscribe to pagan moral values like the Wiccan Rede, and the Heroic Virtues. They’re perfectly happy to shout “Hail Thor!” with an upraised drinking horn. They don’t care whether the gods exist or do not exist: for as they see it, the existence of the gods is not what matters. Rather, what matters is the pursuit of a good and worthwhile life, and the flourishing of our social and environmental relations. They are a kind of pagan that perhaps has not been seen since classical Greece and Rome, and their place in the modern pagan movement may still be marginal and unclear, but they are a kind of pagan nonetheless.

My problem to begin with, is that he does not define what Humanistic Paganism even is in this passage.  Looking at the links provided at the end of his article, Humanist Paganism is as problematic a term as simply Pagan is.  It is nebulous as a term, and there is very little agreement on what it actually means (from what I have read) between various Humanist Pagans.  This quote from Humanistic Paganism especially irks me:

Humanism and Paganism are complementary.  While Humanism is well-adapted to address the latest intellectual and social issues, it lacks the kind of deep symbolic texture conducive to psychological fulfillment.  Paganism is positioned to fill that void, providing a field of symbolic imagery in which the modern individual can feel rooted and nourished.  Meanwhile, Paganism by itself is prone to superstition and factiousness.  Humanism, which embraces a vision of knowledge rooted in the five senses and verified through the scientific method, offers empirical inquiry as a means to sift the wheat from the chaff, as well as to mediate the varieties of Paganism without eradicating their differences.  Together, Humanism and Paganism keep in check and mutually nourish each other.  Humanism keeps Paganism true to the empirical world around us, while Paganism enriches Humanism with deep symbolic imagery.

What I read in this, is that Humanist Paganism seeks to appropriate the symbols, Gods, etc. of Paganism while lacking in belief in them, not living in Gebo with those Gods, symbols, power, etc.  All humans are susceptible to superstition and factiousness.  Humanism brings nothing to Paganism it did not already have.  I also do not see how Humanism nourishes Paganism in this relationship, so much as feeds off of it.    What wheat does Humanism hope to bring from the chaff of Paganism?  How can it keep the differences between traditions?  How does Humanism actually keep Paganism true to the empirical world around us, when even scientists, who are supposed to keep true to the empirical method, and follow the scientific method, with peer-reviewed and published papers may lead us astray or be intentionally dishonest?

Myers makes the point in his post that:

For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just.

Actually, rather than using Humanist Paganism as a tool, I would think that Pagans can and should be able to show themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and enlightened people, should they choose to do so, with or without Humanism or Humanist leanings.  The Fourfold Path of Humanist Paganism is already greatly expounded on in Pagan traditions.  As with Atheist Paganism, as a term, does Humanist Paganism add anything meaningful to the already admittedly murky definition of Paganism?

This is where boundaries are deeply needed.  If the term Pagan is a shattered teacup, then what good does adding more shards to it do?  How are we ever to come to an understanding of a term if we are forever breaking the teacup so everyone can have their sliver?  What tea does it hold?

Am I saying that Humanist Pagans are not real Pagans?  I am not sure that is my call to make.  I am one person in the communities that make up this great umbrella.  But real in what sense?  If we go with the definition “A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions” then I suppose Humanism works under that definition.

Then, however, there is the definition of humanism: “An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”

No.  This does not work for me.  I do not believe that humans are the do-all, end-all.  I do not believe we should or do come before the Gods, spirits, or Ancestors.  We are anthropocentric enough in America, and the devastation that has done to our environment alone gives me pause if not active disdain in supporting anything that encourages it.

I would far rather that Pagans come together to decide what Pagan means to them, than to have more users of the word take its meaning completely away from anything to do with our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  I would even prefer that the term remain nebulous to include polytheists, pantheists, duotheists, and henotheists, than to completely lose any attachment to the Gods at all in the name of inclusion.  I would prefer to repair the teacup, or find a new one so that it is useful once more.

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