May 17, 2011

Fulltruis And Fulltruas

I recently bought and finished reading Fulltrui: Patrons In Asatru. I'd rather let the book speak for itself than attempt to provide to any sort of detailed review. It has some poignant insights, and I am very glad to see that the subject of patron Gods--of having a fulltrui or fulltrua, being a dedicant, or however one might attempt to quantify these amazingly intense relationships with a Divinity--is getting the wider attention it so richly deserves. I do wish that the discussion of giants had been saved for another volume, as that can be a rather specific and polarizing interest.

The book is very clear about the serious nature of having a lifetime bond with a God or Goddess. That said, a connection can happen very quickly, and you still might be entirely certain that you've met your God. For me, I felt like a had a choice at the beginning: Loki seemed quite willing to be my closest God. But at the same time, I found that I kept on returning to something as simple as a Wikipedia article on a God with hardly any lore to His name. Every time I reread it, something else seemed to click. And then, talking to that God....

I'll always remember the first time my God, Forseti, asked for a formal offering. It was a simple enough interaction, and didn't last very long, but I felt His presence. Looking back, I think some of these experiences start off short for a reason: there's no small amount of acclimation involved when you've never been in the company of a God or Goddess before. Over time--with patience and shared experiences--the process becomes much easier.

Early on, I made the natural enough inference that the connection was about "service." From other blogs, it seems other Heathens with a fulltrui or fulltrua have run into this as well. But no, this is about truly relating to the divine. It's about the heart, about--quite simply and most profoundly--love. I haven't experienced anything indicating that our Norse Gods want servants. New family, new friends, and the deepest and most meaningful connections you can imagine, yes. And, certainly, They will sometimes ask tough things of you once you are Theirs. But approaching our Gods in terms of "service" was a false path, one I was quickly redirected off of. Dedicating yourself to a God or Goddess, on the other hand... that is an entirely different matter, with an entirely different meaning.  
As mentioned above, in the beginning, I seemed to have a choice. And then--I'm not sure exactly when--I passed a sort of subtle point where there was only the joyful inevitability of it all. There was a sense of this is right... this is home. I've met other Gods and Goddesses and been thoroughly charmed by Them, but I know Whom I belong to. It's not even a question. That verdict's been delightfully rendered.

Being close to one God will bring you closer to others. Having a fulltrui or fulltrua does not mean you become a proxy monotheist, though at first it can feel that way, when you're caught up in getting to know your God or Goddess. Being a dedicant opens surprising doors: to grow closer to one God or Goddess is to grow closer to Asgard. However, this bond can and does change how you relate to other divinities, for it goes to where loyalties lie. Much as I'm a friend of Loki's, I can't put certain of his interests first; not the way a dedicant of His might.

Ultimately, though, I don't think the Gods work against each other. They have different priorities--sometimes strikingly different priorities!--but, in my opinion, They don't go about trying to undermine each other. Our Gods are good Gods, and all that this means. We can always look for the very best in Them. Likewise, we can trust Them to bring out the very best in us.

May 7, 2011

On Spirituality

This paragraph from a recent ScienceDaily article about spirituality among Atheist scientists really caught my attention:

"In their analysis of the 275 interviews, they discovered that the terms scientists most used to describe religion included 'organized, communal, unified and collective.' The set of terms used to describe spirituality include 'individual, personal and personally constructed.' All of the respondents who used collective or individual terms attributed the collective terms to religion and the individual terms to spirituality."

For me, being Heathen is about spirituality. I'm a "progressive Heathen" (to borrow Uncle Thor's term) and a mystic. Frankly, I'll go so far as to say that I'm actually grateful to be in a faith that does not have a more formalized religious structure.

When it comes to the online world, you do not have to look far to find varying approaches to being Heathen that are distinctly religious. Some of these writings have a brittle, desperate tone to them. With spirituality, you have to be mentally prepared for deep-seated disagreements: someone's take on a God or Goddess or any other aspect of faith may really set your teeth on edge! With religion, there's a certain expectation of consensus: for example, the recitation of the Nicene Creed is a vital part of many Christian services. The spiritual Christian with personal experiences outside the majority-defined religious paradigm is in a position where he or she might be accused by others of not even being Christian.

What about people who are, well, "wrong?" You know, that hypothetical individual who offers up Thor a Shirley Temple, lovingly embellished with one of those little frilly cocktail umbrellas, when the rest of us all know He'd prefer a nice dark stout?

We can trust the Gods to speak for Themselves. Probably quite loudly, where the Shirley Temple is involved. The spiritual approach is to allow the individual that freedom to potentially stumble quite badly: the responsibility is on the worshiper. What comes of this is between him or her and the Gods. The freedom--the openness, the growth, the real connections--that can result are the most worthwhile of trades, even when measured against such a grievous "breach." We need not stand stiffly in front of an altar someone else designed, reading from a dusty liturgical book and nervously glancing over our shoulders, self-consciously wondering if we're doing things "right." That's religion.

Me, I'll take what's joyous, what's strong, what's of the heart and free. I'll take spirituality.

May 1, 2011

Amicus Brief In Support Of Loki

In law school, you'll hear a saying: "reasonable minds can--and often do--differ." If there were ever a case of reasonable minds being in disagreement, it would certainly be over Loki.

I present for consideration a few thoughts on Loki. They are by necessity incomplete--Loki has so many aspects and faces. All of the Gods and Goddess are delightfully, upliftingly complex--complex enough to nourish a worshiper through a lifetime and beyond--but Loki carries this especially far.

I'm not, strictly speaking, a dedicant of His (or whatever word might best apply). However, He's unquestionably the God I'm second-closest to. He is very much a friend. The Christian-influenced Prose Edda aside, we do have some positive sources on Loki, e.g., the Lincolnshire Hammer Charm and the Lokka Tattur Ballad.

The Lokka Tattur is a good place to start. In it, Loki goes out of His way to save a child from being devoured by a giant when two other Gods had given up on the task. One of the strong personal impressions I have of Loki is as a real protector of the innocent, especially children and animals. He's a prankster--very much so--but not a God of wanton cruelty.

Another way I've experienced Loki is as a God of the Shadows--or of the "Shadow," in the Jungian sense of the word (and here I'll quickly recommend "Why Good People Do Bad Things" by James Hollis. It's an excellent read, and the author quite forthrightly acknowledges the advantages of polytheism). If you're willing to set aside fear, to make the attempt to get to know and trust Loki, the rewards are immense. On so many levels, He is a God that brings great treasures.

On a similar note, He is a God for the outsider, for the ones who don't fit in and aren't willing to "fake it" to do so. Loki crosses boundaries of every sort (even stepping outside His own pantheon... I've met at least one genuine Lokean who does not worship any other Norse Gods).

He's a very honest God. Be careful with your expectations around Him: He might well oblige them. He's the God of  "don't be an idiot" and He reserves the right to prank you if you do insist on being one. But He's also very understanding and compassionate in His way. He gets the hardest parts of being human. Knowing Him can be profoundly healing, sometimes when you didn't even consciously realize something was wrong. My closest God refers me to Him periodically. There's no conflict there. Our Gods are grander than preconceptions.

On the subject of healing, Loki is the God of heartfelt laughter and a good story. What restores the spirit like a good tale? What brightens up the day like an honest laugh? He's the center--the catalyst--of so many of our very best stories.

Like Odin, Loki is also a God of shamanism. The introduction to Kevin Crossley-Holland's "The Norse Myths" has a great discussion on this. Dreams, shapeshifting, and meditation are all things that He is very good with. This is how I met Him--first, in a dream. Later, He introduced me to His friends.

I owe Loki in the most profound way. He's the God who guided me Home. While being respectful of the fact that everyone's experiences vary--that reasonable minds can and do differ--I feel that it is important to be honest about what He has done for me and to gently state the other side of His case when the circumstances are conducive to doing so.