Sep 29, 2012

Reflections On Odin

I tend to enjoy writing about Gods and Goddesses who are a bit off the beaten track. As autumn draws near, however, I'd like to share a few personal experiences with Odin. There always seems to be a certain charge to the change of the seasons. The subliminal feels just a bit closer. It is a good time to think of the God of wandering and mystery, of blood and storms, of wise words and great tales... the God of so many names and faces, to whom there is always so much more....

Please note that this post will be largely personal UPG. There are many, many wonderful resources available on Odin, including various blogs written by devotees of His. This short personal account of Him at Hagstone is recommended if you would like to read about another individual's interactions with Him. I've found that some of the author's impressions overlap with my own.

Photo Attribution:

To begin: I am hardly the first person to write this, but Odin can be scary. All our Gods and Goddesses can be scary, of course. They have sides that are so fierce and so beautiful, so cruel and so comforting... so very much alive in all the senses of that word. Odin takes this sort of presence and power to His own heights. I am hard-pressed to think of a God who more denies and defies analysis and definition--and that is not an observation that comes lightly after one has interacted with Loki.

I've noted before that Loki was the God who reached out to me first in ways that I could not ignore. Odin, however, was the first Deity I met through one of Loki's introductions... and very early on, at that. While individual takes may vary, I did--and still do--very much experience Odin as the "Father of the Gods." Meeting Him felt like an "official welcome" in ways that are difficult to put into words. Indeed, my first attempt to make a formal offering to Odin actually turned into my formal dedication to the Norse pantheon. That had not been what I had been expecting, but it was what He wanted, and it felt utterly appropriate.

More often than not, I experience Odin as a father or a teacher. At times, His voice can be unmistakable: with one sentence, He can cut through so much floundering and nonsense. He's the God who has sometimes pushed me when I badly needed a push, but who has also inspired me incredibly deeply. The idea I come back to again and again with Him is passion. Passion to the point where it scares. Passion to the point where the soul feels raw and bruised. But in that passion, there is renewal and life. In all honesty, I am very much in the process of learning here. Odin is such a remarkably intellectual and wise God, but He will not let a person hide behind their presumed intellect or wisdom. He is the God of living, of experience... of opening to the terrors and pains, of knowing the truest joys and most beautiful freedoms. He is a God of feeling life and being. Merely getting through is not enough. He reminds us why we should seek more--greater passions, greater knowledge, greater depth.

For this reason, one of my favorite names for Him is Veratyr, the God of Being.  

Odin is also very powerful. He can sometimes shake up the physical realm (I've found that Loki sometimes does this too). Here, I will share a personal story. Make of it what you will. I can only state that the experience had quite an impact on me.

Perhaps a year and a half ago, I was standing in front of my altars attempting to pray to Forseti. Usually, I do get some sense of my fulltrui's presence, but that morning, there was a gentle but unmistakable current in another direction. I was feeling Odin's presence instead. I remember Him saying something about having the Gods' protection--and here I truly do not wish to convey overtones of either arrogance or of having some sort of license to act foolishly--and then immediately heard a crash from the next room. I rushed over to investigate and discovered that set of heavy wooden book shelves I had installed above my bed had all broken off the wall at once and fallen down, landing right where I normally sleep. Admittedly, I had entertained a few quiet concerns about these shelves, but they had seemed stable enough and had seemed to be holding up over time. My lingering suspicions had apparently been more accurate. If the shelves had fallen on me while I was sleeping, I might have been hurt. I really believe Odin did me an incredible kindness that morning.

It seems to me that Odin is very much a protector of the Gods and Goddesses, and of all Asgard--as much so as Heimdall, but with the willingness and ability to travel far, work trickery, and play different sides against each other, sometimes for what we might consider obscure ends. I get the sense that He has the good of His pantheon at heart, but that He can be quite ruthless when necessary. Certainly, He seems to have a bit of a reputation as a hard (but infinitely rewarding) God to have as a fulltrui. I'm not His in that way, though, and leave the subject to those who are better prepared to discuss it. 

There is so much more that could be said about Odin. There always is. His connection to spoken and written language is one of His aspects that fascinates me, so I will conclude here with a list of Odin's many names.

Sep 4, 2012

A Question Of Asatru

Lately, I have been reconsidering my earlier approach of not identifying as Asatru. I don’t have any definitive answers, and this post is pretty much me thinking out loud. 

Entire legal battles hinge on the definition of a single, seemingly static word. Questions of personal and community identity are bound to be at least as complex. If nine judges looking at the exact same laws and the exact same precedents cannot all reach one decision on what a term may or may not mean, well… what does that say for a subject as deeply personal as faith?

I’ll begin with one label I am very comfortable with: polytheist. This is my go-to term if I am having a cordial discussion with someone out in the everyday world. It establishes a belief in multiple Gods, and the conversation can proceed from there. Saying that I am Heathen works less well in certain circles. In my line of work, we're more likely to think of the biker gang rather than a spiritual faith. Even without that particular association, the word “Heathen” cannot travel just anywhere without bringing along some baggage (often the listener's). Nonetheless, Heathen has been my term of choice because of its history and because, early on, it was actually the word I was hearing from my Gods.

On a personal level, I don’t identify as Pagan or Neo-Pagan for a simple reason: for me, these descriptors do not reflect how utterly life-changing it has been for me to discover that our Gods and Goddess are real. Others may be quite comfortable with these terms and with variations on them. I only speak to my own proclivities here. In my opinion, Pagan is a remarkably general term (as well as the name of another biker gang). I could easily state that I have been Pagan for over a decade now. Some of the people I met in that time talked about the Gods, but usually in the context of them being either archetypes or aspects of a monotheistic or dualistic entity. I saw no point to worshiping “gods” like that. The most accurate label I could find for myself was “Panentheist.”  Pagan was not my term of choice. To my mind, it was an umbrella term that could include everything from Atheists who enjoy mythology to spellcasting Christians to Wiccans to… well, you name it. I've always been interested in precision.

When I finally did meet our Gods, I started looking into Asatru. This did not go very well at first. Initially, I seemed to be pulling up every implicitly or explicitly racist site out there. Fortunately, I decided to trust my own experiences over the rantings and ramblings of mere mortals. Soon, I found solid Asatru resources, like Asatru Ring Frankfurt and Erich's Hall. Not everyone out there was a nutjob, but I did have to dig and to have faith. Then too, I was also dealing with the fact that Loki was the first God to really reach out to me.

Despite the good websites, it did not take long to get a certain impression of how Asatruar sometimes conduct themselves. For example, I saw a post in one group by a young fellow describing a pleasant experience out in nature. It was quite a beautiful little reflection, discussing the intersection of light and dark. But immediately, a number of "more experienced" men jumped down his throat. They called him "brother" while giving him orders to disregard his own experiences. The not-so-subtle attitude I saw there and on some other sites was "keep your mouth shut for approximately the next five years"--i.e., new converts have next to nothing to offer. I can't say I found this "tough guy" approach particularly persuasive. Less so, being in criminal justice.

Sometimes, I envy those who can identify as Vanatru. However, my fulltrui is most definitely Aesir, so that term would not fit me particularly well. The stand-alone meaning of Asatru is actually quite beautiful and very accurate. There are many inspiring people out there who describe themselves as Asatru, e.g., Larisa Hunter and Glenn Bergen. So far, I have also not had any bad experiences with the Heathens and Asatruar I've met face-to-face, even where we differ heavily on philosophy and practice. Perhaps I've just been lucky on that last point. But I'm wondering--really wondering--if I should continue to shy away from such a perfectly good word.

"Asatru is a modern religion with old roots. It is not about imitating what 'once might have been'. Asatru is about living with the gods today, here and now, even though we do keep in mind what once was, and let the inspiration flow through the sources like the Edda." 

"We belief in the equality of all mankind. We strongly object any kind of misuse of Asatru by any extremist group or individuals. Any form of ostracism... has nothing in common with us. In the old times anyone who heard the call of the gods could follow them, and this is still true today."

Yes, exactly.