Who She Is – a new chapter in the Work

I’ve debated a bunch over how much to talk about my personal practice and about whether or not such a thing is even all that helpful. I have come to value and enjoy my privacy a great deal; it’s a way to keep myself safe and sane. It’s absolutely surreal to have in-person conversations with strangers regarding something I wrote online. I’s weird enough when it’s local friends talking about the Facebook post I made about a soup recipe; when it’s about emotionally-heavy spiritual issues it can be even harder to deal with. I often imagine myself having conversations with strangers and judging my level of disclosure based on my imagined comfort.

All this is to say that I’ve thought quite a bit about this particular subject and how to talk about it and if I should at all. Ultimately I feel that this information whose time has come and I’d like to help boost its signal as it emerges from intangible dimensions.

Like I’ve said before, the feminine Loki isn’t a different entity. She’s entirely herself, entirely Loki; She is as central, as “default” a form as Her masculine side. That He’s the face most people encounter is His own choice and doesn’t reflect that one aspect is more fundamental or authentic. As to why He seems to favor a masculine expression one needs only glance at the extant lore; His actions as a feminine being are consistently derided and spoken of in highly negative terms.

(This last part is perhaps especially relevant to those who understand the Lokester as a damaged, injured, or fragmented Power. Much of His trauma is situated in Her. She’s not damaged, per se, but She is a site of contested identity and value; one can interpret His reticence as a way of protecting this vulnerable and volatile self.)

Getting to know Her is, perhaps, predicated upon a willingness to accept Him precisely as He is. Though I think many of His worshipers would say that yes, they accept Him precisely as He is, this kind of radical acceptance isn’t limited to a comfort with, say, holding as equal both the worldbreaker and magician aspects of His personality. This kind of acceptance also encompasses patience with His absences, His distractions, and His variable moods. Acceptance of His nature is demonstrated by, for instance, genuine and wholehearted acknowledgement of His multitude of partners and lovers. (One doesn’t have to like them all on a personal level but acknowledging the reality of, or the potential reality of, these relationships without obstacle-level jealousy is an expression of one’s acceptance of Him.) The same goes for His myriad worshipers. Personal fondness or even agreement isn’t necessary; acknowledging the reality of another worshiper’s practice and emotional experience is.

There is also a level of personal strength that must be developed while learning to accept Him as He is. One has to learn to count on personal intuition, experience, and problem solving ability in order to approach acceptance. After all, authentic acceptance is probably impossible to achieve unless you trust yourself first. Otherwise there’s nothing but second-guessing and anxiety. (I’ve been there; I know what it’s like.)

No; accepting Him fully isn’t easy. I’ve encountered a lot of shadow work as I’ve striven for greater levels of acceptance. I still have much work to do.

Of course, there’s no formula to convincing Himself to appear as a feminine being. She does so at Her pleasure, to whom and when She wishes, for Her own private reasons. Though I’ve been aware of Her for a long time, it wasn’t until just a couple years ago that She became a regular fixture in my spiritual life and I’ve been a Loki worshiper for nearly 15 years. Though I hope you don’t have to wait quite so long to make Her lovely acquaintance (and if my efforts and others’ to draw Her more fully into this world are successful, you won’t!), there was a lot of work I had to do on myself first. I also had to complete various other work I was doing with other Powers.

Wait – what was that little parenthetical statement? Yes, it’s true. I do sincerely feel that the work I’m doing in my own practice and that I hope to inspire in yours makes Her more accessible to those who love Her. I hope to give Her a greater foothold here to make Herself known. The surge in open expressions of Loki veneration in the last five years or so might have various cultural drivers but there is a spiritual component to this, too. Loki worship has been going on since at least the mid 90’s and no doubt happened before then, too. (And people say we have no history!) All that is paying off in greater accessibility of this delightful Power.

So how to get started? I’ll talk more about this soon. In the meantime, here’s a collection of colors that I strongly associate with Her specifically. Imagine a bright, brilliant sunset with lots of coppery oranges, mauve pinks, and silky purples. There’s Her. Lots of vivid light somehow limned with deepening shadows. herself

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When Lines Blur

You might be aware that it happens but you don’t think it’ll happen to you: You think you know a Guy and suddenly He might be someone else. Perhaps the One you’ve been praying to for month or year – or decades – slips off the mask and a new face appears. A new form, unfamiliar faces, unexpected attributes rise to the surface of Their presentation and you’re left feeling confused, betrayed, and upset.

Have the emotions been lies? Have the words They’ve spoken been falsehoods to lure you into believing something that wasn’t ever true? What of the promises made, the vows spoken, the ordeals undertaken, the faith kept? Can you trust anything They’ve said at all? Can you trust yourself anymore?

It happens. It happens more than you might expect. In fact, for polytheists this kind of categorical disruption is almost – but not quite – entirely  normal.

Except that it’s not, you know? The books don’t mention that the Gods can change. Our kindred leaders and religious guides don’t talk about the time that Anubis was Coyote was Aphrodite. We don’t swap stories at meetups about confused identities and the complex knotted mess of faith and vows and promises left in the wake of Their coming out. This experience is turned into a solitary ordeal endured quietly in the most private corners of our hearts and minds. This happens because not only have we individually been chastised for being too emotional, too devoted, too enthusiastic in our embrace of a divinity, but because we now have to admit that – on some level – we were wrong.

In that admission is an immense ocean of tumultuous accusation. We should have known better. We should have studied harder. We should have joined an orthodox group instead of striking out on our own with our cat spirits and faery guides and dream life lived Somewhere Else. We should have stopped watching anime in high school. We should have read a scholarly book or two. We should have listened to our elders – you know, the ones who never told us that anything could go wrong on the path to spiritual growth.

It’s a lie, you know. It’s all a lie.

I’ll tell you a truth: You’re not wrong.

You’re not wrong to experience the Gods changing shape. You’re not wrong to experience the blurring of lines, the erasure of titles, the disruption of names and familiar forms.

The lie is that this never happens. The lie is that you’re doing it wrong if it happens.

That’s not a lie I’m willing to perpetuate.

This kind of disruption happens for many, many, many reasons, not all of which are even able to be spoken aloud. Some of these reasons are for the Gods themselves to explain to you, in Their own words, in Their own time. Some of these reasons are for you to discover yourself as you experience the unpleasant growth that is forced during this period.

You’re not wrong to feel this way.

You’re not wrong to want to pitch the whole thing, to toss it in the dumpster in the alley out back, to fling the books out of the window of a moving car, to delete your blogs and Facebooks and emails and mailing list memberships. You’re not wrong to want to change your name.

There is no easy way out of this. Sorry/not sorry. This experience is the path teaching you something that you need to know. I can’t tell you what that thing is because there are lots of possible lessons to learn in this. It might be that you need to get to know yourself a whole lot better. It might be that you need to exercise that backbone you just grew. It might be that you need to let go of what you thought you know, what you trusted because someone else told you was true. It might be that you need to grow the truth for yourself and that can only happen through personal lived experience.

Names, forms, attributes – these things are mostly convenient for us. The Powers don’t need them in the same way we do; they have a very different relationship to Their names and forms and attributes than we do. However, They have a degree of ownership over these things that gives Them permission to move them about as They wish. The Powers reveal chosen names and forms and attributes as They wish, when and where and to whom They wish. This isn’t done necessarily to frustrate or hurt us. Usually it’s to teach us something very important about how we should – or could – relate to Them.

Though I said that many, many possible lessons might come from this experience, there is one that I feel is especially relevant to any polytheist, devotionally-identified or not, and that is to let Them be as They wish to be. If we accept that the Powers have wills and desires of Their own, then it follows that They would have preferences regarding how They are related to by us (collectively and individually). The Power in your life might be getting tired of living up to the role of wacky sidekick, stern uncle, or distant mother. They might wish to express Themselves on Their own terms and so are leading you to acknowledge different sides of Them through the adoption of unfamiliar guises and behaviors.

You might discover that you really were talking to an entirely different Power than you thought you were. You might also discover that They were really only just Themselves all along.

Presenting at Many Gods West

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be presenting some brand new material at Many Gods West, a polytheist religious conference taking place in Olympia, WA later this summer. It’s a real treat to have the opportunity to explore religion, spiritual practice, ritual, and magick with such a diverse group of presenters and attendees.

I’ll be presenting a session called “The Labor of Love: (Re)Valuating the Purpose of Devotional Practice”. It’s my hope that this material will help further a consideration of what purpose devotional practice actually serves in our greater religious traditions and how the development of increasingly-articulate forms of devotional engagement actually contributes to the growth and maturation of the traditions that practitioners are part of. Some of the static surrounding a conversation about devotional practice is the opinion that this work is indulgent, delusional, or simply selfish; I hope to counter these attitudes by highlighting some of the physical and metaphysical advantages that this practice yields. (And to speak to a concern that I imagine a few of you have: No, I don’t think that devotion is important because of its concrete, measurable, or observable outcomes. I do plan to mention that valuating the human emotional experience at all is a problematic and potentially reductionist endeavor.)

Click here if you’d like to take a look at line-up of presenters and rituals. The precise schedule of events is still being determined but this is what the weekend has in store (though there’ll also be some musical performances, too).

If you’d like to know more about the event itself, visit the Many Gods West homepage. Registration is still open and last I knew there were still rooms open at the hotel.

I love teaching and sharing information and conferences are a great place to do this. I also get to meet lots of people that I’d never have the chance to otherwise. I’m by nature pretty reclusive – which is good since I can’t really afford to go far or do much. Finicky health also keeps me close to home and that can make traveling complicated, too. Needless to say I’m a little nervous about the trip for these and other reasons but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest and I’m very happy for the chance to spend some time there.

If you’re a little nervous about the prospect of going to such an event and, like me, kind of a socially awkward kid, perhaps think about coming anyway. We can stand in the corner and fidget together while thinking about the pets we left at home. (My cat, you guys! I’m gonna really miss my cat!)

Seeking Together (Pagan Experience Project March wk3)

Though this week’s original prompt, “What do you seek from the divine?” has been switched to a prompt about the types of relationships shared with the divine, I’m actually choosing to write about the first one. I’m doing this because I think being honest about our motivations within relationship, whatever configuration that relationship might be, is part of what helps that relationship develop in a healthy and productive manner.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the magico-religious theory that holds a specific action or petition is going to have an automatic result simply for having asked (aka, the cosmic vending machine theory), I am a fairly ends-oriented practitioner in many regards. That is, various religious and magical practices are engaged in with a particular desire in mind. These practices are chosen, in part, because they seem to offer what I hope to achieve and because the process seems compatible with my magical skill, my style of practice, the web of commitments I’m part of, and so forth. It’s the second part that sometimes gets left out in ends-oriented planning.

There’s the cliché story about the teen girl who wants to do a love spell and so heads off to the local witch shop with a shopping list culled from a love spell printed in a book. The proprietor suggests simply making an apple pie instead since all the same ingredients are used (and when I tell the story, I like to add that even if the protagonist is rejected, she still has consolation pie). The girl throws up her hands – that’s too much work! Baking is hard! Can’t I just do a spell for love instead? Yes, this story is a cliché and yes this actually does happen from time to time (witch shop proprietors can certainly tell you a few stories), but there’s more than one lesson to take away from this. First, of course, is the lesson that magick is work and takes effort and skill, just like baking a pie.

The second lesson in this story is about choosing between two paths that lead (ostensibly) to the same outcome. The teenager in the story might be quite terrible at baking and so knows that her efforts are likely to fail and alienate the object of her affection. The teen might also have also engaged in some personal magickal practice and already has a little skill built up. The point is that you have to choose the processes that are most compatible with your skills, aptitudes, experiences, and so forth.

Of course, if I were in this situation, I’d do both. I’d make a love pie and do a love spell. There’s nothing wrong with addressing a problem with multiple strategies to best leverage their respective advantages. This is why I meditate *and* cultivate a consciously more compassionate mindset. This is why I live quietly *and* petition Santa Muerte for a peaceful life. And you know what? The Powers are much more willing to lend a hand if you’re actually making an effort on your own. You will find that their blessings flow more freely and obviously when you make an accounting of what you’re going to do with those blessings.

Like some other magicians, I was never very good at money magick. I could magick up an extra $20 now and then but my success was sporadic and not really dependable. Then a while back I hit on the idea of actually saying what I wanted the money for. What exactly am I doing with the prosperity I’m asking to receive? What are my precise monetary goals? Once I started included this information in my petitions, the magick started working better. I still struggle financially and I’m frequently on a real knife edge of need but when the money flows, it flows – and it flows from me to many other ends that help further the Powers’ presence in this world.

Ultimately I guess I seek a partnership with the Divine that helps me become a better person. I seek to be more capable of helping others and serving the world because thereby do I serve Them. If they are present, here, now, in this world (and they are!), then expanding my efforts towards improving and serving this world is going to help Them. And it does.

But past that ultimate desire is something else, an arching vault of emotional resonance that keeps pulling me up and up. Relationship is not outcome. Relationship is not ends-oriented. Relationship is process, experience, the present moment. Losing sight of that is losing sight of the real power of sacred relationship. Relationship should not be forced into a value-oriented paradigm; we should not have to prove our emotional priorities by holding up the outcomes of our divine relationships. Once again: we should not have to prove our emotional priorities by holding up the outcomes of our divine relationships.

Sometimes – not frequently, but occasionally – there’s an effort in greater pagan and polytheist dialogue to make devotional relationship mean something. And this is fine because devotional relationships can and do have very positive outcomes – but that’s not really the point. It is, however, a place to start. Srila Prapupada replied to a question about the appropriateness of praying to Krishna for money by replying that any prayer was good prayer (I summarize; I can’t recall the precise quote. I believe it’s from a little book called Perfect Answers to Perfect Questions).

Faith is not necessarily automatic. We don’t generally offer our whole hearts to the divine without some indication that they’re there and that they are responsive to us. (There are of, course, major exceptions to this but we’ll set those aside for a moment.) This happens through an exchange of attention, gifts, and so forth. We seek their attention and blessing, which is recognized as evidence of their love and affection. We celebrate their power and presence, which in turn helps endear us to them. Eventually this exchange of energy (rather nicely typified by the rune Gebo) is less about any possible future outcome and more about a present saturated by sharing.

A relationship with the Gods generally begins with desire. We seek something – proximity, affection, refined awareness, knowledge, aid in magick, or the satisfaction of curiosity. Being honest about the fact of desire and trying to identify precisely what is desired is a good thing, a very good thing. Many of Them desire something of us – proximity, affection, refined awareness, knowledge, aid in magick, or the satisfaction of curiosity. Relationship helps achieve these and many, many other desired outcomes. But sooner or later, at some point, all parties of the relationship are participating in something much, much more.

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Why We Need Love Goddesses

I’ve said plenty of times that the deities in my life are all chaos and death. Chaos n death, that’s the pattern.  It’s not a matter of me being especially chaotic or deadly, but something about the way I fit into the giant clockwork jigsaw of the universe makes me especially compatible with these Powers. We fit well together. It’s always been chaos n death.

Many polytheist and pagan types find themselves aligned with Powers that share very similar domains or characteristics. A person might find themselves surrounded by liminal characters, lots of gatekeepers and crossroads types; another might find frequent allies in watery deities, deities related to animals, or deities concerned with health and healing. And of course, some people find themselves surrounded by Love Goddesses(TM).

I never “got” love goddesses. (And yes, I know there are male-type Powers associated with love and the broad category of concerns that love goddesses are also concerned with, but this actually isn’t important to the point I’m going to be eventually making.) I didn’t understand these love emotions or the beauty, art, or luxury that typically went along with love. I knew it was important, I just didn’t understand it on a personal level. I didn’t see how these things related to me.

A lot of this was very likely because I had a rock-bottom opinion of myself. I have always thought of myself as a fundamentally unloveable person – despite any evidence to the contrary. Not that I wasn’t worthy of love; I just felt that at some point, eventually, without a doubt, the people who loved me would discover that underneath the good stuff was a whole lot of garbage that wasn’t worth the effort. I have done considerable work on this front but it is still a mental stumbling block that needs constantly negotiated.

I also didn’t like myself. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was unattractive. I thought that I was repellent to others. I thought that luxury and pleasure were a waste, that they were a pacifying comfort against the reality of entropy and pain. I thought beauty was a waste because everything crumbles to dust sooner or later. Freya-norse-mythology-21934274-300-427

Freya was the first Power to step in and start to change all this. She was my first ally, in a way. She was the first Power to just up and offer to help when I was struggling with the emerging realities of life as a spirit worker and maturing devotionalist. To my mind, She had nothing to gain from this. Her compassion went straight down into me and rattled my emotional basement like nothing else had. I started to understand, very vaguely, that love was beauty and that beauty was healing.

A couple years ago I came across a Power that shook me right down to the emotional basement all over again. At the time I had resumed some very old work with Kali (like, stuff that I had started when I was 16) and was feeling it struggle to resolve. It wasn’t the wrong work, but it wasn’t quite right on some level, either. I persisted, hoping it would level out. I was puzzling over a very direct encounter of Her in an unfamiliar form. I fell into the research rabbit hole and came out the other side staring into the eyes of Kamakhya.

Shakta theology and philosophy is distinctive in the context of subcontinent religious traditions and global religious traditions. Encountering a radically different form of Kali was not actually a problem in the way such a thing might be in a different tradition or context. It was merely unexpected. That Kamakhya was identified with the yoni Shakti pitha, with Sri Lalita, with Tripura Sundari, and with the very Earth Herself was more surprising.

Sri Lalita

Sri Lalita

Sri Lalita had fascinated me for a long time but I hadn’t really done much about it (chaos n death, remember? I was busy). In her hands She holds a noose and goad, two minuscule instruments capable of exerting force wildly disproportionate to their size; a goad is intended to move an elephant. One instrument propels while the other restrains. Her other two hands hold arrows made of flowers (or flowers used as arrows) and a bow made of sugarcane (or a stalk of sugarcane used as a bow). The sugarcane bow is said to be strung with a string of beads. Imagine!

 

 

 

I called this goddess of plenitude forms Sri Lalita Tripura Sundari Sodashi Kamakhya – because She was. She was all these things and all these things are the same entity (you know, more or less. That’s just how Shakta theology works). Through Her divine grace I learned about love. I learned about just how powerful love actually is and how it can accomplish things that other emotions simply cannot. Her grace accompanied me at every step as I dove deep back into the bhakti current that had nurtured me so long ago.  No longer content with redigesting the lessons I had absorbed as a teenager, I set about trying to learn the deeper truths of this path and She helped me gain a fuller understanding of the power of devotional practice. And this is finally the point I want to make.

Devotionalists need Love Goddesses(TM). We need the Powers associated with love, beauty, joy, compassion, and companionship. We need to have these things in our lives because our path is completely saturated in a very particular sort of love. Petitioning a beloved Power who’s already on our side *because they have chosen love and power and beauty and compassion as their domain* is one of the most effective and profound things you could ever do on this path.

Devotionalists need Love Deities. We are already in Their precious and sacred domain. They already care about us. They already love our relationships. They already love our love.

My work with Sri Kamakhya is done – at least, this stage of it is. I was going to gently put away Her blessed altar because there is another Power that I am resuming work with and I have used up the very last bit of available horizontal space currently accessible. My little heart broke. My cold nasty cynical Lokean heart just broke. My beautiful, compassionate, luminous Goddess – how could I remove her visage?

And there it was – permission. Permission to keep the altar in place, permission given by a Power who has no sentimentality, but who does have compassion. Even She has to acknowledge the most blessed patron of my spiritual love.

We need Love Deities, you guys. We already have them.

My Life’s Top Priority

Almost fifteen years ago I gave oaths of loyalty, service, and affection to My Lord. This undertaking had more steps than I anticipated. When I first decided, “Yes, this is something I’m going to do”, He stopped me. My heart wasn’t in the right place. My motivation wasn’t right.

But isn’t this right? I asked. This is what you wanted from me. I’m just doing what you asked me to.

That was the problem and that was my very first lesson.

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Making Relationship Available

As you probably know, various traditions within the Hindu religious complex are very near and dear to my heart. These traditions have taught and nurtured me, and played a formative role in getting me to where I am today. Before there was Kali, before I was introduced to Wicca, before I even had any witchy friends, there was Krishna. Why wouldn’t there be? He’s become a global presence precisely because He’s so darn lovable. His name means “all attractive”; He possesses all attractive qualities and attracts all intelligences towards Him.

krishna-731To use spirit work terms, Krishna has one hell of a call center. He’s got an answering service that can do just about anything. In my experience, He’s intensely difficult to actually get on the line. But really, He doesn’t need to take His own calls. As the cause of causes, He can just sit back and hang out. His heavenly realm is one of eternal springtime, dancing girls, and happy animals. As far as His doctrine is concerned, He doesn’t need to do anything; He causes other causes, and those emanations do the rest.

Everything I know about Krishna, including my own experience with His call center, tells me that He’s a benevolent, easy-going guy who loves to have His friends around. So when I did finally encounter Him, the conversation didn’t go like I was expecting.

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