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Posts Tagged ‘Odin’

Taking a suggestion from the now-defunct (but excellent and accessible) Sponde: Hands-On Hellenism website, I decided to put together a personal calendar for prayer and worship. The idea was really to just get started and dive in, rather than to agonize over just the right way to set it all up. I can tinker later if I feel I need to, but nobody’s looking over my shoulder to tell me I’m doing it wrong (well, other than the gods). I have spent so much time dragging my feet and procrastinating getting serious about this, that it has been so refreshing to just get something down in a concrete form and start practicing. So, here’s how it stands at the moment: each day of the week I say prayers and make offerings to one (or two) specific gods and/or goddesses. I chose the gods that I did because of a combination of their personal meaning to me and their applicability to me (so, I chose Aphrodite and Dionysus because of significant mystical experiences, and I chose Zeus and Herakles because of their significance as household gods).

Monday: Herakles
Tuesday: Zeus
Wednesday: The Divine Twins (Apollo and Artemis)
Thursday: Aphrodite
Friday: Dionysus
Saturday: Hermes

Sunday is my day to choose a different god or goddess, for whatever reason, so I can rotate in whomever I need to (or even offer the odd prayer to Odin every now and then). In addition to my daily devotions, I add some other regular and irregular prayers and offerings. First, every morning, I light the tart burner in the living room (our hearth I guess–the trend among Hellenic polytheists seems to be to substitute the kitchen, but it just doesn’t seem central to our home) and say a short prayer to Hestia. Also, thanks to a reminder from my beautiful and sexy Christian wife who Pagan-pWn3d me, another prayer to Hestia goes at the end of the day when we blow the candle out to go to bed.

Second, when the opportunity arises, I also plan on praying to Hera with my awesome and incredibly supportive wife. I feel like it is important to pray to Hera as a couple, except maybe when you go to her with a specific particular concern. But general praise and honor seems like it makes the most sense coming from both of us, united and desperately in love despite our different beliefs. Third, since I do a fair amount of hiking and tramping about the woods, I plan on offering at least a quick prayer each to Dionysus, Pan, and Artemis whenver I do so. Finally, I will pray and pour out libations to the other gods and goddesses whenever appropriate (to Ares when I am headed out to military service, for example), and also in the context of seasonal rituals and celebrations, which are still seriously under construction.

So far, it has been pretty fulfilling. I feel like my faith is becoming better integrated into my life, even though what I do doesn’t really take up much in terms of time and effort. It gives me a sense of calm and of spiritual accomplishment, like I am building a real and meaningful relationship with the gods instead of just thinking about building a relationship with them.

I’m also thinking about composing a kind of set of written devotions/rituals to the gods that I pray to and worship, soemthing for me to use in my daily devotions but that will also let me change things up a bit. A sort of rotating program of Hymns and Devotions, maybe three to each god/dess in sets, one for each week to go in a three-week cycle. As I write them, I will post them here on the blog.

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Back in April when I first started to come out as a Pagan, I mentioned that one of my goals was to figure out some good ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year.  Although my emphasis is typically on the Hellenic gods, and my personal practice draws more from reconstructionism than anywhere else, I do not necessarily self-identify as a hard reconstructionist.  I’m suspicious about extensive New Age influence in Neopaganism, and I am cranky about eclecticism generally, at the same time I feel drawn to multiple strands of pagan worship and theology.  To make a long story short, I feel drawn to celebrate the eightfold Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) despite the fact that as a whole it is a recent phenomenon.  As John Michael Greer is fond of pointing out, the validity of a spiritual practice comes from whether or not it works, not whether or not it is ancient.

One of my earliest specific pagan epiphanies was with the Wheel of the Year.  As a teen, I was immensely interested in mythology and pagan religion (ancient and neo-), but was often nervous about telling other people about it, so I did a lot of reading and research in secret.  One day I was sixteen or seventeen or so, I was looking at a calendar with the eight pagan holidays on it, and I was calmly and peacefully but intensely struck by the rightness of it.  It was particularly significant to me because that kind of spiritual reaction was the kind of thing I had always been raised to believe would be the Holy Ghost’s witness of the truth of Mormonism.  And there I was having it over a pagan calendar.  I called up my best friend John (maybe he’s reading this?), and told him about it.  It was really the beginning of my secret adolescent religious rebellion.

Anyway, since I have felt comfortable ebracing my Pagan identity, I have let three of the eight major holidays pass by without doing anything about them, because I don’t know what to do.  I don’t really have a group of fellow-believers to practice my religion with, so most of my spiritual expression winds up being in a personal or family context.  Luckily, my beautiful and sexy Christian wife is more than willing to be supportive and take part, but since it is my thing, I really have to take the lead.

I like holidays and festivities a lot, and that’s what I am looking for here.  Not rituals, but traditions, the things that make the day and the season feel festive and special: decorations, meals, traditions, things to think about.  The eightfold year is a cycle, so it lends itself well to that kind of thing, but it can be hard to find resources about it.  Most of what is available on the internet is either too generally stated to be useful, or it is presented in ritual form, which is definitely not what I am loking for.  While ultimately I do plan on engaging in seasonal religious ritual as part of my Wheel of the Year celebration, I really want to also lay a festive foundation for said ritual.  Maybe I’m going about it backwards, but this is the way it makes sense to me, and it is the best way to share with friends and family.  Over time, I expect my religious and ritual explorations would influence and affect the festive traditions.  But I want something to start with.

The other consideration I have is the similarities between some of the holidays on the pagan calendar and Christian and civic holidays.  Christmas is similar to Yule, Samhain matches Halloween, the Spring Equinox parallels Easter, etc.  For most pagans, this is not a problem: they give rpesents on Yule instead of christmas, and they decorate eggs and such on the Equinox instead of Easter (shoot, the Easter Bunny actually makes a lot more sense as a part of a pagan holiday than a Christian one).  But my family is interfaith, which means we’re celebrating both sets.  So I don’t want two Easters.  I want to figure out how to celebrate Easter and the Spring Equinox, etc., in a way that makes them both not only enjoyable but also sufficiently distinct.

I finally sat down about a week ago to start hammering all of this out.  I showed it to my wife, and she thought it all seemed interesting and fun, but she also pointed out that the problem for her was that it was not always clear what all of these traditions actually mean.  It’s a fair question, and one that I can’t easily answer.  This list is really something I have cobbled together from a lot of different sources, whatever sounded good to me, and from things I intuited on my own.  Unfortunately, my own personal theology is still in development, so it is not easy to weave my own meanings into these traditions.  That gets us back to the long view: as my spirituality develops, I imagine I (we) will tinker with these holidays and alter or replace traditions that do not make sense in my own pagan context, and emphasizing those that do.

So without further ado, here is my Official Wheel of the Year Resource.  Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, insights, questions, whatever.

Beltaine
Date:
May 1.
Description: A time to light bonfires and revel, to celebrate fertility and sexuality.
Traditions: Most importantly… hot sex. Possibly sex outside if practical. Hot sex and huge bonfires, lit on a hilltop (toss juniper sprigs in the fire, and leap through it for good luck)..
Holiday Food: Rabbit, Strawberries (strawberry pie or strawberry shortcake), Mead
Decorations: Flame, wildflowers, rowan crosses, may boughs hung over doors and windows.

Midsummer
Date:
June 21
Description: A second bonfire—bonfires on the water (the ashes bring good luck), and active holiday where the sun is at maximum power and energy is strongest.
Traditions: The veil between the otherworld (or the un/subconscious) and the waking world is thin, it is a good time for resolutions, and for putting plans into effect. Keep vigil through the shortest night, waiting for the rising sun. It is also a good time to gether fresh herbs.
Holiday Food: Lamb, fresh produce, lemon merangue pie.
Decorations: Wheels, sun symbols, St. John’s Wort.

Lughnasa
Date:
August 1.
Description: The first harvest festival, Lughnasa is a time for being outside, for celebrating the physical world with games and physical activity. It’s a time for dancing and bonfires, for blessing the fields. And it’s a good time for marriages.
Traditions: Bread is baked in the shape of a man and eaten to represent the Dying God (Cernunnos, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Jesus, Arthur, the Green Man).
Holiday Food: Bread, beer, watermelon, barbecue.
Decorations: The Green Man, a flaming wheel.

Autumn Equinox
Date: September 21
Description: The second harvest festival—the harvest of fruit—a time of thanksgiving and recollection, the in-gathering of experience.
Traditions: Make and burn a straw or wicker man, to represent the burning of the Harvest Lord.
Holiday Food: Corncakes, Nuts, Berries, Fruit Pies (not apple), Wine.
Decorations: Pinecones, acorns, gourds, gold, red, orange, and brown.

Samhain
Date:
November 1
Description: A night when the borders between the living and the dead are the thinnest, the last harvest. Time is abolished and the spirits of the dead walk free. A time for remembering those who have gone before. The time of year when livestock were slaughtered.
Traditions: Leave an extra place at the dinner table for dead ancestors. A perfect time for divination. The day after Samhain is a day forcleaning and getting rid of old things.
Holiday Food: Pork Roast, Apples, Apple Pie, Cider, Hazelnuts, Pumpkin Bread
Decorations: Leave a candle burning in a western window to guide the spirits of the dead.

Yule
Date: December 21
Description: The shortest day of the year, this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. It is a time of rebirth and stillness, a time to celebrate intuition. There is a lot of symbolism between intuition, the Pole Star, the Great Bear, and King Arthur.
Traditions: A Yule log is burned for ten days (Yuletide lasts from December 20 to December 31), and then the ashes are strewn on the plantings in the spring. The wood from the log is yept to light the yule log the next year. Give libations to the fruit trees.
Holiday Food: Baked goods in sun shapes, and mulled wine.
Decorations: Sun wheels, decorated trees, candles, wreaths of mistletoe, holly, and ivy.

Imbolc
Date: February 1
Description: The holiday of the lambing, or childbirth (it is no accident that Imbolc is exactly nine months after Beltaine…). It is a time for initiations, and purification. It is a good time for meditation.
Traditions: Write and read poetry. Share it, have a poetry competition.  Leave a white cloth out a window for the goddess to bless, and when the first light of the sun touches it, it gains healing properties throughout the year. Candlemaking.
Holiday Food: Milk, honey, dairy foods (a massive cheese smorgasbord).
Decorations: Hundreds of candles, and pools of water.

Spring Equinox
Date:
March 21
Description: A time to celebrate planting and prepare for the gifts of the summer, and to recognize the power and presence of spring. A time of emergence, fertility, and balance. A time that is sacred to Persephone, to celebrate her return from the Underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter.
Traditions: Decorate eggs.
Holiday Food: Twisted bread, honey cakes, eggs, carrots.
Decorations: Flowers (honeysuckle, iris, peony, violet, lily, daffodil), in baskets or garlands.

FOLLOW-UP: I have put up a new post about trying to piece together the ritual and religious aspects of the Wheel of the Year, specifically from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

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Last night I had a dream about Jim Morrison. It was long, vivid, and disconnected, so this might not make a lot of sense. I also don’t remember it perfectly (sometimes I remember dreams better than others), but here goes.

I was going for a run at night, maybe in New York City, and my plan was to listen to L.A. Woman while I ran one way, and then to turn around and listen to it the other way, but someone stopped me, some friends of mine stopped me for some reason and it interrupted my run. I had a tattoo of Jim Morrison’s face on my leg (in my dream, that is; in real life I have a rad tattoo of Odin riding on Sleipnir on my leg), but I don’t remember when that really came into the picture.

I went with these friends over to an apartment where a bunch of other friends of mine were hanging out, including Jim Morrison. I was really nervous because in this dream he was theoretically my friend, but I completely hero-worshipped him, and I wanted him to like me, but I knew it was chancy.

In short, he let me down. He ignored me. He was busy hanging out with my other friends, having fun with them. He didn’t even wave or say hi, he was so wrapped up with having a great time that he did not even notice I was there. Later on, I kept trying to hide the tattoo of him, because I did not want people to know how I felt about him and thus how hurt I probably was because he ignored me.

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Two stories, both of which I have told before:

1. Last fall, I had a kind of spiritual upset after seeing Amon Amarth and Ensiferum in concert at Jaxx in Northern Virginia. I realized that the Christianity I had been flirting with didn’t really punch all of the spiritual buttons that I felt needed to be pushed. There was (and is) something about mythology and my ancestry and heritage that boils in my blood–something that means more than a hobby-interest. Something there resonates as Truth and Meaning. Anyway, I was in this frame of mind, and thinking about Asatru again, and the Norse gods (even listening to Ravencast), and kind of wishing I could have an experience with the Norse gods. One day, on the way to school, I got on the Metro and there was this smallish white-bearded old man with a fedora and an eyepatch. I am sorry to report that was too chicken to approach him and ask him if he was the All-Father. I thought it was just silly at the time: “haha, a guy that looks just like Odin, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if that wasn’t a brush with something bigger. Right there, on the red line on the DC Metro.

2. Last November, when I first started thinking seriously about Hellenic polytheism, I was reading about Dionysus in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and listening to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, when I had this intense spiritual epiphany. All of a sudden, it all seemed so real. Dionysus was suddenly incredibly vivid, and incredibly significant. The total effect was a bit overwhelming and incredibly powerful. I had this sensation of Dionysus’s massive divine presence, something holy but out of control, like a spiritual hurricane.

So in other words, I have arguably had two different encounters with gods on the red line. I wonder if there is something special about the Metro. It is, after all, a place between worlds: the subway is its own little environment that moves between other environments–different neighborhoods, even different states in the DC area. It is a liminal place, a world between worlds, a halfway world that exists in different worlds while also maintaining its own existence. It is more than a vehicle, because it is like a room that you can move around in, like a place as much as it is a thing. I wonder if the liminal nature of the Metro makes it into a place where gods can more easily come through and enter the world of humans? Or perhaps it is that the Metro puts my mind into a liminal state, which makes it more receptive to the gods and their emissaries. I wonder if it’s just me, or if other people have had significant divine or spiritual encounters on trains or subways?

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I have been giving some thought to theology as of late. I know I think about and talk about religion all the time; that’s not what I mean. What I mean is giving thought to my own theology in a constructive way. Something more than “ZOMG I just don’t know what I believe.” The thing is, I am starting to actually figure out what I do believe, and I am starting to think about how to put all of the pieces together. So here goes:

My philosophical foundation is essentially Advaita Vedanta. I have read the Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads and I am blown away by them. When I read from those texts, I feel like I am hearing the voice of God–not “god’ as in a divine being, but GOD, the entire universe, the ultimate divine reality that is all things and is beyond all things. I believe that everything is a part of this ultimate reality, but that in total it is something entirely beyond out conception. Nothing is like God, and so no analogy or metaphor could possibly do God justice. The differences we perceive, the identities we imagine ourselves as having, are all ultimately illusions. The world of sense objects and empirical data is basically an illusion, called maya. On one level, the creation of the universe as we know it was the creation of this illusion of separateness. Maya is practically necessary for us to function, but it is nevertheless illusory, and it can mislead us powerfully.

In the deepest parts of our own consciousness, we are one with everything, even the gods. But we spend most of our time identifying ourselves as the tips of the fingers, as entirely bound in the world of the five senses. When we dream we withdraw into our own consciousness, which is further back but still a world of deceptive distinction. In dreamless sleep we come closer to our essential oneness, which the Hindus call Atman, the Self that is all-self, the ultimate divine reality of Brahman.

From a practical standpoint, however, this knowledge or philosophy doesn’t do much. Maya is powerful, and it is difficult to even be sure of the Atman, much less to be able to fully identify with it. Because we are out on the branches, functioning in the practical maya-divided world of sense and identity, we need to be able to thing in those terms, even when we think about divinity. The Hindu Vedanta thinkers do this, but their gods are culturally alien to me. Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and Shiva are extremely interesting, sure, but they are not compelling to me the same way that Zeus, Aphrodite, and Odin are. And furthermore, the gods I have had personal contact with are decidedly Western.

So instead of thinking about divinity in terms of Indian myth, I choose to think about it in terms of the mythology that is compelling and accessible to me, and as an American of Western European descent, that basically points the way to three clusters of myth-tradition: the Celtic/Arthurian, the Norse/Germanic, and the Greek/Classical. The former two are the mythologies of my genealogical ancestors, and the latter is the mythology of my cultural ancestors. These three mythologies are extremely powerful to me. Their gods have spoken to me. I believe that their stories point to the ultimate divine truth that unifies and unites all of reality and that fundamentally explains and gives meaning to my existence.

In these mythologies, I find inspiration, wisdom, a guide to behavior, and a tangible connection to divinity. These are the gods that speak to me, and so when I try to connect to the Ultimate, these gods are my mediators. Why do I need mythology and mediator gods? I guess I could theoretically do without them, but practically, that’s not what my brain is hard-wired to do. And I need something practical that can serve as a kind of stepping stone towards the ultimate.

Even so, belief in these mythologies doesn’t fully carve out a path of action, at least spiritually speaking. I need a set of spiritual practices to serve as a vehicle to take me through the triple-lens of these mythologies and ultimately back to the Divine Self that lies behind everything. For that, I think I have chosen Revival Druidry. Revival Druidry is flexible enough to accommodate the theology I have constructed, and it gives me practices that take me places spiritually that I want to go. I intend to start with the AODA’s first-year curriculum, which includes meditation, regular celebration of the seasons and the position of the sun, and care for the environment leading to an increased awareness of my place in the natural world. In addition, I will probably do some extensive work on poetry.

Vedanta is the philosophy, my three chosen mythologies are together the conceptual lens that I use to construct meaning, and Revival Druidry is the way I will put it all into action. At least… that’s the idea.

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Or, other ways of explaining the experiences I have had…

So, having personally experienced the presence of two separate divine figures–Dionysus and Aphrodite–I immediately assumed that the next step was Hellenistic Reconstructionist Polytheism.  Simply put, it didn’t work.  I have an intuition about where to go from here, but I am still assuming some kind of variation of ful polytheism, that (probably, I guess, more-or-less) multiple distinct gods exist and can interact with human beings.  But that is not the only possible explanation–there are others.

Before Aphrodite came on the scene, I realized that in many ways the story of Dionysus has stong parallels to the story of Jesus.  I recognized the possibility that I was getting at Jesus through Dionysus somehow, that Dionysus was a pagan step on the path to Jesus Christ.  This would definitely be consistent with C. S. Lewis’s assertion that you have to learn to be a good pagan before you can learn to be a good Christian.  Even with Aphrodite in the mix, this isn’t out of the question–Aphrodite, a divine female figure, could easily be a shadow of Mary or of the Mormon Heavenly Mother.  I’m not sure what to make of all of this, though.  My intuition says that my experiences with Aphrodite have been too… much like Aphrodite, too sexual and too warlike, to seem like a plausible aspect of a Christian divine female.  In any case, I think that if my paganism is a step on the road to ultimate conversion to Christianity, it’s more of a wait-and-see thing than a suddenly-realize-it-was-Jesus thing.  I’m not closed ot the possibility that I’m really talking about Jesus after all, but I’m also not really convinced.

Another thing I am acutely aware of is the fact that I really haven’t strongly experienced the reality of more than two deities–Dionysus and Aphrodite.  I could certainly be dealing with a male/female dualism, which is a hallmark of Wicca’s fertility religion, and probably some other variations of paganism aswell.  Even to the extent that I have intuition about other deities–Hera, Zeus, and Odin–I might simply be talking about various masks or manifestations of an ultimare divine male principle and an ultimate divine female principle.  I am also open to this interpretation.  Although my immediate reaction is to reject it, I realize that the rejection might be a knee-jerk product of my long-standing prejudice against Wicca and my age-old belief (really a product of Mormonism) that only Reconstructionist paganism–marked by decidedly hard polytheism–is valid and legitimate.  And furthermore, I don’t necessarily believe in magic (hmm… future post?  you can count on it), or feel any desire to practice any kind of magic as a part of my spiritual life.

At the moment, those seem like the most significant and plausible alternate hypotheses.  On the other hand, my spiritual life is still growing and developing in its infancy, and so whether my hard/soft polytheism or one of these alternates hapens to be true may not ultimately wind up mattering.  For now I am going to act the same way towards the gods regadless of what they really are and how they relate to each other.  Most important to me right now in terms of my spiritual development is how I experience them and how they relate to me.

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In case it hasn’t been crystal clear yet, I believe in multiple personal gods.  I have personally had intense spiritual experiences with Dionysus and Aphrodite, but I am not necessarily set on specifically and exclusively honoring the ancient Greek pantheon.  However, I have also prayed to Zeus and Hera at different times, and I have some mental head-space reserved for Ares, Hermes, and some others.  Mostly, I am not trying to tackle too much at once, but to take the gods as they become important to me or relevant to me, or as I intuit that I should for some other reason.

I also have some hunches and intuitions about the Norse god Odin (not to mention a sweet tattoo of Odin on his horse Sleipnir on my calf), and I think I might have seen him on the Metro one time, but I was too chicken to ask.  He was an old bearded man with a brimmed hat and an eyepatch.  It was kind of spooky, and my brother was pissed off that I passed up my chance to talk to the All-Father.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that direct contact with Odin can be perilous.  I’ve read American Gods, after all.

I’m not sure how all of this necessarily fits together, although like I have said before, my wider position on cosmology and metaphysics is largely informed by a Vedantic interpretation of the Bagavad Gita, and I have some rough ideas about the nature of these gods that I am interacting with.  However, the whole thing is not developed enough for me to be able to define or label my religion/spirituality at this juncture, if I ever will.  But I have been grappling with “polytheist” as a partial spiritual identity, and I have come to grips with it.  I am cool with describing myself as a polytheist.

I realize that other people may bery well think I am uncool, delusional, crazy, weird, or pathetic.  The thing is, I’m not sure I care.  I mean, I care inasmuch as everyone wants to be well-liked and well-regarded.  But I’m not going to pretend to be something else so that other people are more comfortable.  I mean, I’m not going to wear a t-shirt that says “Hey You!  Deal With The Fact That I Am A Polytheist!” but I’m also not going to go to great lengths to conceal my spiritual position just because it is unconventional.  I am not ashamed of my gods.

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In response to the post wherein I declared my newly developed polytheism, some people understandably asked something along the lines of “Okay, you say you believe in gods.  But what do you mean by that?  How literally do you believe that?”  And it’s a fair question–one I intended to write about anyway.  To what extend to I believe in these gods, and to what extent to I believe that they are separate, distinct individual gods?

I don’t believe that Dionysus, Aphrodite, and other hypothetical gods actually live bodily on the top of Mount Olympus in Greece from whence they literally created the universe and currently control natural phenomena.  I am not an idiot.  I want to talk about other possibilities.

I am open to the possibility that these gods no not exist at all outside my head.  I’m not eager to believe that it is flat-out mental illness, but I am definitely open to the possibility that I am talking about psychological archetypes–either universal ones that transcend my individual experience or personal ones that are completely local to my own psyche.  Human beings think and reason in symbol and metaphor anyway, and I have no problem with the possibility that I am encountering symbolic representations of aspects of my own psyche or aspects of a universal human psyche if such a thing exists.

I am also open to the possibility–in fact, I actually believe–that these gods are actual spiritual beings that have independent existence beyond the borders of the individual human mind.  Nevertheless, I would still insist that the gods’ involvement in the natural world is largely metaphorical, but that such an arrangement is only natural since humans make sense of the world primarily in metaphor.  If I say “I believe that Odin made the world out of the broken parts of dead Ymir,” I think that is not necessarily inconsistent with the scientific explanation for the origin of the universe.  Again, I am talking about metaphor and the way we make meaning out of what we perceive.  And I also feel like there is more than one way to understand “the world”–it doesn’t have to be the natural world at all.  We inhabit a “world” that is composed by our own psychology, perception, and experience.  While I do not think that Odin carved out the natural world out of Ymir’s bones, I am interested in the possibility that Odin carved out a psychic, psychological, and/or mythic landscape in exactly that way.  It is still the creation of the world, just not meaning the planet.

If this seems vague and ill-defined, that’s because it probably is ill-defined.  Like I said, my understanding of the gods is still in the early stages of development.

In the end, I think that when dealing with religion it is important, on the one hand, to remember that your gods might all be completely fictional, but on the other hand, that they might in fact be real.  The former keeps you from being a fundamentalist (and a good self-check: are your religious convictions overriding your basic human compassion? because if they are, then you’ve gone too far over the edge, buddy), and the latter keeps you from being a secular humanist.  Not that being a secular humanist is the end of the world, but that there’s just no point in bothering with religion in the first place if you’re going to be certain that it’s all messed up.

The thing is, I believe in the existence of divinity.  I think that the divine is real, and I hunger for it.  I acknowledge the possibility that it’s all in my head, but because I am not a fundamentalist, whether there is in fact an ultimate reality to Divinity or it is all in my head is actually irrelevant, because I am going to act the same way with regard to it either way.  But for the record, I believe that there is a divine reality that transcends individual human experience.

In terms of hard polytheism (i.e., the gods, whatever they are, exist independently and in a fully distinct fashion from each other) versus soft polytheism (i.e., the gods are different facets or manifestations of a greater divine reality), my answer is that I genuinely think that the latter is more likely, as ultimately my cosmological picture is formed by the conception of Maya and Brahman in the Baghavad Gita.  However, that requires some more elaboration, because I am definitely not saying that the gods are simply masks of one true god (although since I have only personally experienced one male and one female god, I might actually be dealing with a Wiccan-style fertility dualism, but more about that later).  If this model of godhood holds, then I am only claiming that the gods are parts of the same divine whole to the same extent that human beings are all also part of that same divine whole.  And with gods as with humans, the compelling illusion of Maya–the deceptive illusion of separateness that enables us to function in the world of sense objects while also blinding us to our essential oneness–applies to the gods as well as to humans.  And that means that, like us, although they are facets of a greater whole, they act for the most part as if they are separate and distinct, if interrelated.

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I promised myself that I would stop going around and around with religion and getting nowhere with it, but it looks like it was a promise in vain. I went to see Amon Amarth and Ensiferum in concert last week, and it set me thinking about Ásátru again, catching me at a time when I was feeling frustrated with Christianity. So I’ve been thinking about O∂in, and reading a bit in the Eddas, and I’ve been thinking about the Nine Noble Virtues.

O∂in is a fascinating and complex deity. There’s a penetrating, haunting quality to him that I can’t easily set aside, and if I were to pick out a patron deity from world mythology, he would unquestionably be the one. I’ve even considered getting a tattoo of O∂in riding Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse, on my calf. I feel like it will make me run faster…

I’ve been reading the Prose Edda, and I have to say that Norse mythology is all very compelling stuff for me. On top of that, many aspects of modern Ásátru are extremely appealing, in particular the focus on kindred and community, and the Nine Noble Virtues. I think the Virtues compose a realistic and admirable ethical system. They are qualities that the world is generally in desperate need of, but at the same time they seem actually attainable (as opposed to Jesus’s moral teachings, which can be seen as setting an unrealistic and therefore impossible standard of perfection).

Ásátru’s norms also would fit well with my increasingly conservative (for want of a better word, but I most certainly don’t mean Republican) mindset.  The focus on kinship, oaths, property, and family ties is as appealing to me as is the focus on generosity and hospitality.  Or perhaps their appeal can’t be looked at separately: the whole package of Ásátru values is what I find appealing.  The fact that I have extended my enlistment in the National Guard, and am finally enjoying being in the military again, also plays a role.

Unfortunately, my reasons to not be an Ásátruar have not really changed since the last time I seriously gave it some thought. I’m not necessarily sure what to do with all of this. I like the idea of Ásátru, but realistically, I can’t see myself identifying as such. Maybe when I’m feeling particularly viking-y, but not the rest of the time. So really it comes down to this: I have to figure out what to do with these strong feelings I have about O∂in and Norse mythology, since actually converting to Ásátru is just probably not the direction I am going to go. That is, barring some sort of mystical experience or prophetic dream sending me that way.

For the record, Amon Amarth is kind of dorky-cartoon-viking but I like them and they put on an excellent show. Especially when they came out and did Cry Of The Black Birds as an encore. Ensiferum was absolutely amazing though, and I plan on procuring everything they have recorded (especially the stuff from when Jari Mäenpää was still with them–it will tide me over until Wintersun‘s new CD comes out). I bought Dragonheads, a short EP-style CD from Ensiferum, and it is fantastic. I also bought an Amon Amarth t-shirt, which I love.

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I’ve been moderately interested in Asatru for years, and as a Mormon I even often said and thought that if I wasn’t Mormon, I’d be an Asatruar.  But I don’t think it’s the direction I’m going to go, for a couple of reasons.

1. I don’t actually believe in the Norse Gods.  I don’t believe in any kind of literal polytheism (which means real Paganism in general is probably not going to happen–I’m more pantheistic or panentheistic in my ideas about what God is, if God is anything external to us at all). Furthermore, while I think the Norse Gods and Norse mythology are cool, and even compelling, that doesn’t translate in my head to the calling to follow and honor the Aesir as a religious practice.  Maybe if I had some kind of mystical experience with Odin, I’d feel differently enoh about it–perhaps even enough to overcome points 2 and 3 below, but since mystical experiences for me do not seem to be particularly forthcoming, there’s not much I can do to make myself believe something I don’ believe.

2. I like Vikings and Norse myth, but not at the expense of everything else.  I don’t really want to live a Viking-flavored life because I am a contemporary person, and I’m happy with that.  I don’t really feel constant yearnings for the past.  Formulated differently, this point is closely connected to my general dissatisfaction with the idea of Reconstructionist religion.  I’m not an ancient Norseman, so why is the religion of the ancient Norsemen the right religion for me?  Plus, I’d honestly feel like I was always LARPing.

3. I have serious problems with the “Folkish” strand of Asatru.  I realize that it can be phrased or looked at in a way that might not sound like overt white supremacy, but when you listen to the rhetoric of Folkish people like Steven McNallen, it winds up sounding an awful lot like just more racist tripe.  I also realize that there are plenty of universalist heathens out there (and there’s a kindred of them near where I live even), but I’m not necessarily comfortable self-identifying with a movement that has ties to white supremacy and neo-Nazism, even if it’s just be broad association.  The question is “am I willing, even in the broadest terms, to be in the same club as those people?” and the answer is no.  Especially given points 1 and 2 above.

There are a lot of things I like about Asatru, especially the heathen virtues, which I think are a more realistic and pragmatic ethical system than that which is offered by a lot of religions.  And like I said, Norse myth is extremely appealing to me.  But not so much that I think it’s the one way for me.

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