Lokasenna

I won’t be writing about my entire PantheaCon experience because it would take a long time to do so; plus, most of what I did at the con was chat and rest and neither of those things make for scintillating reading. However, on Sunday night I did have the opportunity to go to Golden Gate Kindred’s Lokasenna ritual drama and that might be worth sharing.

The event was schedule for 11pm on Sunday. I didn’t have any other programming that I really wanted to get to that day so I mostly took it easy, chatted with people, and then spent several hours resting and building up my reserves. (My cane helps me get around, so it’s always a good thing to have with me but it also takes a lot of energy to use. Even though it can moderate my pain levels somewhat, I end up pretty fatigued anyway.)

The ritual attendees were greeted with music and singing, a beautiful touch that set the mood. Ritual facilitators took time to explain that the drama was written as a satire to call attention to topics that cause contention in today’s pagan and Heathen cultures; further, the characters were not supposed to be interpreted as how they (the Kindred) perceived the gods. The space was set with the help of galdr and two costumed dancers illustrated the meeting of fire and ice that gave rise to the worlds. (I spent time wanting to take a close look at some of their costume pieces.) A guided meditation took people to Aegir’s hall. Live music accompanied the meditation. (The Kindred members are so creative and skilled!)

I didn’t participate in the meditation and it’s a bit complicated to explain why. (In fact, I wrote several sentences trying to explain all these reasons and it just got boring so I deleted it.) Nonetheless, drama has an altering effect on the consciousness, so a lightly relaxed state was achieved before very long.

The drama addressed several issues. I couldn’t name them all because I kept forgetting to pay attention; I was having fun watching Odin and Freya and Ran and Freyr and Loki bounce around. I do recall that sexuality, polyamory, disability, and social class were brought up and argued about in character.

Everyone knows how Lokasenna ends. I know how Lokasenna ends. Why then was I so disturbed? Not dropping down into meditation was supposed to keep me safe – and perhaps it did, relatively speaking.

Modern readers are sometimes entirely unsure what to make of Lokasenna. Why is Loki so entirely angry? In the drama, it seems to have been suggested that Loki was pushed to the point of anger and beyond by injustice, hypocrisy, and double standards. Haven’t you ever been so furious at oppression that you just need something to scream at? This was the state being illustrated in the drama. (In fact, I feel like there was some lines to the effect of, “If you’d just calm down and discuss your concerns calmly I’m sure we might actually be able to do something about them. We can’t make progress if you’re angry.”)

The ritual could have ended there but the Kindred chose to give people some kind of closure (which is good! don’t leave your audience injured and never leave your ritual participants in pieces). Small mirrors with bindrunes on the back were handed out to help facilitate greater self-honesty. These were intended to help us see the ugly, unpleasant parts of the psyche and to bring them to light where they could be dealt with instead of remaining hidden and continuing to cause extensive harm. I refused a mirror. I was entirely too upset to think about doing magic and at that moment I just did not feel like I wanted or needed such a dangerous tool. I left quickly. The ritual was sound and the drama was well-done and the Kindred was hospitable. I was just done, all done. I was sad and angry on a level I hadn’t expected. I was upset at myself for expecting to feel differently; what did I think I was going to feel?

I was very nearly to the elevators when I realized I had left my phone in the conference room. Turning back I found one of the tiny round mirrors glinting at me on the floor. Fine. I’d have a mirror but I wouldn’t take one in ritual.

**

Rituals have effects. This is no doubt one of the many reasons I don’t go to any that I’m not in control of. I always protest that I want something easier, something gentler, something less exacting but when I’m offered the chance for deeper self-knowledge and ever greater levels of refinement I always jump into the deep end of the pool. I am very greedy.

This ritual had very prompt effects. I began telling some hard stories about myself, dredging up the garbage that I’ve been carrying around for many years. Being honest in identifying these neglected trash heaps let me name them and know them; I have begun, slowly, to recognize how they influence my behavior, expectations, and emotional character. I am also very slowly starting to see how they harm me and how they cause continual problems in different aspects of my life. Telling stories became a major theme as PantheaCon wound to a close for another year.

The ritual is still having effects. I think (hope!) that I’ve gotten over feeling resentful and angry at having my covers pulled; honest self-knowledge is the greatest gift you can give yourself. A clear, unflinching knowledge of our own internal workings allows us to approach the Powers more effectively and to recognize Their proximity in increasingly subtle ways. With that at stake, I will empty my mental closets and drain every emotional cesspool. I will continue to embrace the light of knowledge even as it burns; such is suggested by the kenaz rune.

I’m still carrying the mirror in my wallet.

 

 

Look! Links! And a video!

My friend Jo has pointed out a couple times that I don’t have *any* links on my blog to *any* of the things I’ve done. No shop link, no book link, no other book link….yeah. I’ve fixed that finally. If you’ll look to the right you’ll see quick and easy links to the paperback and Kindle editions of Heartroad, links to the Coffee At Midnight shop on Etsy, and a direct link to the Etsy listing for Worshiping Loki. The first wave of these books are getting shipped tomorrow – finally. I didn’t consider that I’d come home with a case of con crud that would require a few days to recover from. I’m feeling better and will go to the post office tomorrow.

And speaking of Jo and books…here’s a video she made about a book.

Did you know that Heartroad is almost ten years old? I began writing it in ’07 as a college freshman. I’m thinking about releasing a second edition as a ten year anniversary thing; it would contain a new introduction and some bonus material and correct some of the formatting issues present in the first edition. Oh – and I’ll be doing an audio version of it at some point, too.

The audio edition of Worshiping Loki requires another 15 or so hours. Not terribly long but I’ll need to buckle down to get it finished over the weekend and into next week. I really want to have this available just as soon as possible.

Annual “I’m finally back from PantheaCon!” post and everything I didn’t get to say at my session

I’m finally back from PantheaCon! I arrived home last night and my home has never looked older or colder or dirtier and I couldn’t be happier. I’m by no means a veteran or even an experienced PCon attendee (this was only my third year) but I’m starting to get a feel for how best to survive the experience with my health in tact. Nonetheless, I’ve got a creeping con bug/airplane bug. Blech.

My session on Monday morning went well and I think it was well-received. Devotional practice is often a very private topic so that people are willing to come out and not just listen to a frank discussion of how complicated this work can be but share their own thoughts and experiences is very meaningful.

Of course, once the session was over I remembered all kinds of things I forgot to say. So here’s the Corrections and Omissions part of Advancing Devotional Practice: PCon 2016:

– The Kindle book can be bought here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615262155/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=

-The paperback can be bought here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/silence-maestas/walking-the-heartroad/paperback/product-4308209.html

Don’t buy the paperback from Amazon! There are people out there who’d like to convince you that this is a rare or valuable book. It is rare in the sense that there aren’t millions of copies floating around but this simple fact doesn’t make it worth paying a lot of money for. Pay $9 for it. When you do, I actually get a few cents. When you pay $40, $50, or $90, I get nothing. We both suffer – so I suggest not bothering.

-I have an article coming out in the next issue of Witches & Pagans! Watch for the Polytheist issue to hit newstands. Barnes and Noble usually carries it though people without chain bookstores hanging around may need to look online or visit their local indie bookstore or magazine seller. Unfortunately I can’t provide you with a copy; I think I’ll be getting a contributor’s copy but I’m not even positive about that so I’ll also have to make an exception to my “No B&N” rule.

-The topic of cultural appropriation was raised in the session. I’m not the person to guide this conversation for many reasons, not the least of which because I still have a great deal of work to do on this issue inside my own heart. Further, Kali worshipers are entirely capable of speaking on their own behalf and I love the Mother’s devotees too much to take that agency away from them. To avoid potentially thorny assumptions, I’ll state quite clearly that I am not Hindu. I do, however, worship the Mother as Kali in Her many forms. I approach this dimension of my spiritual life thanks to the teaching and ongoing support of people who provide both instruction and correction as necessary. Generations of devotees have created literature, music, and ritual instruction by and for themselves; that some devotees have in my lifetime chosen to share some of these things with me is an honor and privilege I don’t take lightly. I can’t answer questions about how, why, when, or if you should worship Kali because I am  not the Mother’s gatekeeper and nor am I the gatekeeper of Her devotees (except insofar as I love them and would be fully willing to help them if I was asked; I have not been). I might be willing to speak with people one on one about our experiences of Maa and of Her immense blessings but to drive home this fact in the my own mind if no one else’s I’ll say it outright: I am not an authority on Kali worship.

-I really wanted to state clearly in my session that devotional practice takes many, many, MANY different forms and that there’s no way I (or anyone else) could possibly say things that are going to feel universally applicable to all people, at all times, in all circumstances, in all relationships, in every configuration. As was probably obvious, my devotional configurations are of a very particular type and though things have changed over the years, the cast of characters not changed quickly or frequently. Additionally, my devotional practice is indelibly colored by the fact of my spirit work. They can’t be separated. I try to, at least mentally, because there are times that I want to talk about strictly devotional practice but then I find myself being unable to separate out the experience of myself as a spirit worker and the experience of myself as a participant in devotional relationships. This is not the case for everyone and it will become an increasingly rarer occurrence since there have always been more devotees than spirit workers.

(Did you know that there was a time when I couldn’t convince spirit workers that devotion was a thing that any of us were doing? There was a lot of shrugging and dismissal of the subject, then later a lot of surprise when someone found a book that mentioned the emotional dimension of religious engagement…..yeah. That’s why Heartroad rather specifically discusses spirit workers: because at the time it was written there was little to no acceptance of the devotional path as a thing that had anything to do with spirit work.)

I think that was everything I wanted to say but didn’t get to in my session. There was also like a whole page of notes on evaluating the changes that occur in this practice and how we can determine if these are things that are actually helping us in the long term. There was actually quite a bit of material that was left out of the session in the first place simply because I wanting to leave room for discussion. There’ll be more about this. I’m working on it. Trust me.

 

 

Annual “I’m Going to PantheaCon!” Post

I’m going to PantheaCon!

I’m actually schedule to present at PantheaCon, so I better be going. My session is at 9AM on Monday morning – yes, the hangover session. I’ll be presenting Advancing Devotional Practice in a combination lecture/facilitated discussion. This means that I’ll have a bunch of topics that I’ll introduce then let comments and questions open up a shared conversation.

This guided conversation will be about the things that happen in a devotional practice over the long-term. It’s not “advanced” devotional practice because I contend that there is no such thing. Rather, these topics are ones that tend to come up after several years have passed. What happens when your path stops being what you expected it to be? How do we talk about separation and loss? How can we discover personally relevant ways to refine our practice? How do we deal with unexpected outcomes of practice?

The whole thing has the potential to get a little heavy – which is good and is what I want, but it’s also going to be challenging in lots of ways. So yeah, maybe it’s good thing it’ll happen on Monday when we can all run away and process.

I’ll have copies of Walking the Heartroad and Worshiping Loki available ($9 and $8 respectively). I’ll also have two hand bound copies of Worshiping Loki and six Loki devotionals. I don’t know if I have any Odin devotionals just hanging out but if I do I’ll bring one or two copies. (Cash is great but I’ll have my Square reader on hand so card chargers are also perfectly fine.)

I’ll also be signing up to do readings for a couple hours on Friday-probably-afternoon. You can find presenters doing readings throughout the con down near the vendor’s hall. My con rates are $1 per minute (ten minute minimum). I’ll have five different decks with me, which is very exciting: Tarot of the Sweet Twilight, The Mermaid Tarot, Welcome to Night Vale Tarot(!!), The Wooden Oracle, and The Oracle of Arcane Bullshit. This last deck is especially suited to spirit workers so do hit me up if you want a taste of its amazeballs insight.

Where else might you find me? Well – that’s hard to say. The rotten neurological symptoms I was experiencing for 2 years years turned out to be severe migraines. This was super weird news to me because I’ve suffered from migraines since childhood and these were entirely different. But such is the nature of migraines. All kinds of things trigger them and in all kinds of conditions. Healthwise I was a wreck at Many Gods West; now that I have my meds and my management a little more under control I’m hoping that PCon won’t be so bad but the potential for debilitation remains. Between migraines that might drop me to the ground at any second and chronic knee pain/spine issues I’ll likely be resting for several hours a day. This means I have no idea what programming I might make it to or anything like that.

That said, I’m going to try to make it to the ritual performance of Lokasenna on Sunday night, the MGW meet n greet on Friday night (in a hospitality suite), Chinese Polytheism and Millenarian Movements on Saturday morning, and a number of devotional rituals occurring in the evening. (You can see the whole program here: https://pantheacon2016.sched.org/)

So yeah, I’m around. I’m kind of a socially awkward nerd, I may not look like you think I do, and I will be missing my cat and missing my altars. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Reflections on Many Gods West

(This is a blog entry that was drafted way back on August 10! I kind of forgot about it, then remembered and felt bad about forgetting, then forgot, and then finally remembered and decided to do something about it. Keeping in mind that the thoughts written here are about six weeks old, I’d like to share them. Thanks for reading.)

Some of you have possibly been waiting for my write-up on Many Gods West, the polytheist conference I recently attended in Olympia, WA. I’ve been delaying making this post because the whole experience has taken a while to percolate thoroughly through my brain and because only now, a week later, am I starting to feel recovered from the anxiety and fatigue of the whole thing. It was a very positive experience and I’d do it again in a second but, like many other attendees have expressed, an introvert nature is quickly exhausted with all the socializing and (at least in my case) with the stress of being away from home and familiar environs.

What? An introvert? With all the great conversations I had and socializing I did? Well, yes. You might have noticed me short circuiting from time to time and simply losing the thread of conversation entirely. That was stress. Also exhaustion. Oh, and possibly some long-term damage from psychotropic medication. Wheee….

(I’ll add that I was also dealing with persistent, near-debilitating symptoms of an as-yet-undiagnosed problem that has neurological components. I haven’t talked about this here because I’m scared of it and haven’t wanted to deal with it. I have an appointment in about 6 weeks and we’ll see what happens next. Anyway.)

Occasional challenges with communication aside, I had a number of exceptional conversations and it was nice to “talk shop” with a few people. I started to think that perhaps the spirit work path wasn’t so entirely finished with me after all. This is a very strange thing to think after all this time.

My session went well and I’m really grateful that so many people showed up and shared their thoughts with me. The presentation itself was a little rough around the edges. This was entirely my fault; I usually do a trial run of new material before presenting it but I simply didn’t have a chance this time around – and it showed. I have a great deal of confidence in my central message – that we can talk about the value of devotional practice in a direct and analytical way without detracting from the mysterious and emotional quality of these experiences – but the material needs some work. Still, many people thanked me for the material and I’m really glad that I was able to bring something valuable and thought provoking to their attention. The opportunity to share my work is always very special to me and I want to continue to refine this part of my community service. I really do love it.

People at the conference asked me if my presentation and/or PowerPoint would be made available online. I’m sorry to say that at this time neither will be. Because these presentations are often part of my writing work, I don’t wish to distribute material before it is ready for publication. Also, the speed that content can disseminate and the complete lack of attribution that often goes along with this spread makes me reluctant to release anything into the wild, so to speak; there is no way that I can keep my name on this material or prevent it from being hijacked by someone who might cast it in a very different light or attach it to an agenda that I don’t support or agree with. If you missed it or wish to revisit the material, don’t despair; there’s a chance that I will present this material again in the future and there’s a good chance that I’ll clean it up to the point that it’s ready for formal or informal distribution.

I did not get to attend as many sessions as I hoped to. I was dealing with varying pain levels throughout the weekend (I really should have used my cane more than I did) as well as marked fatigue as a result of stressing about travel for, like, two weeks prior to departure. I did get to attend Elena Rose’s session on Monster narratives; so many thinky thoughts and so many feely feels. This was a great session and I certainly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend this presentation in the future to do so. They keynote address was also very nice and I’m glad the text has been made available online.

John Beckett’s session was also quite thought-provoking, though in a different way. I appreciated him challenging us to think about the future of our tradition(s) in different ways and to consider the role that structure plays in longevity. He also touched on something that’s been turning over in my own mind for a while – that we should be more specific about what sort of work we ask for from our clergy and leaders. Stressing the essential involvement of laity was also an important part of his message. I have always appreciated John’s practical stance on the doing of religion.

****

My drafted entry ends here. Adding to it, I’ll say just a few more things. I got to have many conversations with many different people, some of whose names I’ve forgotten or didn’t catch so I can’t shout out to everyone individually. It was great to see Ember, who I’ve known for a while but haven’t gotten to spend any time with in several years. My dear friend Krei and her partner offered me hospitality before and after the conference; it was such a treat to see them both. Sharing a room with my friend Xochi was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better and I can’t wait to see them again. Short conversations were had with Danica (Skadi’s shrine keeper), PSVL, Anomalous Thracian, and several others that I hope can be revisited again.

One of the reasons that I chose to go to Many Gods West was because I needed a spiritual jump start and seeking the association of religious peers is a good way to accomplish this. I had some very important realizations, including the one about spirit work mentioned above; since then several important strides along this path have taken place and I’m still adjusting to my new normal. I also realized that at some point in my past I had made the conscious decision not to love myself. This explains quite nicely why all of my efforts at deeper levels of self-work have all run up against this screaming psychological block. I have to trust that this block was put in place for a good reason, but now that I know its name and nature, I can begin to dismantle it.

As of a couple days ago, MGW 2016 has been announced. Aside from the fact of its existence, I don’t know anything else about it yet – and I’m already planning on attending. I’m brainstorming a couple programming submissions, at least one of which will be entirely new (it will also be given a full spectrum of preparation, unlike this year’s – sigh).

I’m incredibly grateful to Nikki and Rhyd and PSVL and all the other organizers for making this event happen. It fills a distinct need in the community and has inspired a lot of thinking and doing on the parts of many people, including myself. I look forward to next year!

What’s in a Name

Several years ago I participated in a course of focused education offered by a local kink-oriented group. I chose to participate for several reasons  and found it educational in several ways, not all of which were necessarily positive. Near the end of my time with this group, one woman – ostensibly in a leadership position – chose to challenge us on the topic of names. Though I suppose her reasons for doing so were grounded in some sort of altruistic aspiration, that aspiration was also tinged with a deep ribbon of selfish desire for control and leverage.

Names in the BDSM and kinky communities have some similarities to names in the greater Pagan and polytheist communities. We choose the names we use in these circles to represent something very particular about ourselves and to communicate with our peers in a way that is specifically meaningful to us individually and us in a community sense. Names are also a safeguard against being outed and against plain old social awkwardness when two radically different spheres of our lives collide.

Though this instructor’s desire to help us strip away false fronts and confront our emotionally authentic selves was, in its own way, altruistic, it was driven by a desire for private knowledge. There are some people in this world who love a secret. They love to hold it and cherish it like it’s some kind of hidden treasure saved up against a day when a secret will be needed to leverage some advantage. And that’s exactly what this woman was doing. Her desire for our secret names was about much more than the moment we were sharing in this discussion.

This kind of behavior is actually quite familiar to transpeople. Though anyone who has deliberately chosen a name for themselves later in life might well face this sort of conflict, there is a particular malevolence surrounding the extraction of a “real” name from a transperson. Even if the coaxing is sweet, gentle, covered in lovely sentiment, the desire and the attempts to draw it out is virtually always at the expense of the person whose name is being challenged.

These attempts at naming are weird, rude, intrusive, and in my case at least, spiritually violent.

Many years ago I had a different name. Someone gave it to me and it stuck firmly in place. Even if it sounded strange sometimes and if I couldn’t mentally grasp its contours if I thought about it too hard, it was mine and I knew that fact when I heard it. I could encounter it written and that little cerebral jump of recognition would result. I knew what that word meant. It meant me.

Nearly ten years ago I took a basket of baked goods to Helheim. I handed it to Garm and continued on my way. Not much later I was laying on the hard rocky soil of the grey-brown-red underworld with an enormous spear stuck through my chest. My eyes were plucked out by slender white hands. I bled out and died.

My physical body woke up and I was empty. The meat was electrified but there was nothing inside. I seconds I was asleep and I don’t remember dreaming.

What followed were several years of slowly, painfully, gradually learning the finer points of embodiment. I learned how to reoccupy the mortal world and tried to get my spirit to fit my body. The mental journal of those years were exceptionally painful, not the least because My Lord was absent for a long period. I wasn’t the same person that had gone to sleep. I had woken up different. I didn’t recognize the memories in my head even if they were attached to me. The best metaphor I was ever able to come up with was that of inheriting an enormous and richly furnished mansion that had belonged to an elderly aunt I never even knew existed and it was suddenly my job to handle all her things after her passing.

Of all the things lost and found during that transition, perhaps the strangest and most fundamental was the loss of the name. I didn’t have one. Hearing it was the worst, most cutting insult, the most alien and inappropriate sound ever made. It slid off, bounced off, simply dropped away from my psychic person.

I tried on different names in my head but none of them quite fit, either. I discussed all this with the Lady In Question, who had conducted me through this exchange, who had taken my brown eyes and given me gold ones, who lurked in the corner like a lonely hologram when all other Powers went away. I knew I had to earn a name but that was the only guidance I was given.

I did, eventually. I pursued the course set in front of me and as soon as I took the first definitive step, I was given a name. And I knew that name was me and I knew that I was that name. It stuck firmly and would cut through any surrounding volume of sound and yank my attention. I would see it in writing and my eyes would flick to it; I knew it deeply and I recognized it.

I earned it. It was mine.

So when this unpleasant woman demanded my real name, I told her. She said no, and I said yes. I knew what my name was. I had earned it. The goddess of death and rebirth, of rot and renewal had given it to me. Anything less than that was a false front, a matrix for engagement in systems that would crumble into dust while Her appellation remained.

Today the name doesn’t work quite so well. As My Lady giveth, she taketh away. When I was kicked out of the company for failing at some task, she took the passcodes and protocols that let me journey with relative freedom and safety. All company property was revoked, including my name. It still functions in a very limited way but each time it’s spoken I hear the inauthentic quality behind it. No one believes it. No one believes it. It’s a hollow noise, not much better than any other word. But I still recognize it in writing. I see it on the page and I still know myself.

Last week Facebook took my name away. It took away the face I use to interact with a large portion of my social world. I hadn’t even wanted an account in the first place but in college I had a leadership position in the queer kids’ club and I needed to use whatever social media was most popular so I made an account. That was in 2008. For seven years I’ve used FB without ever being challenged on a first and last name that are both incredibly silly.

But see, it wasn’t just Facebook that took my name away. It was someone who decided that my name was inauthentic, unreal, false, contrived. Someone took it upon themselves to police the naming of others, to judge if our names – whether earned, given, or chosen – were real or not. Someone did this to me.

This isn’t the first time that someone has felt entitled to decide which name of mine is real. It won’t be the last. I accept My Lady’s right to give and revoke; I’m subject to Her decisions of what name of mine is real or not. Currently none are. That’s my own fault and my own problem. As far as human-level engagement is concerned, the name is still valid. It’s still real.

I miss my FB account because I miss my friends, their pictures, and their pets. I miss what they’re up to. I miss the convenience of knowing which social events I’ll be too tired to go to and I miss staying in touch with people who live a long way from me. But I lived many years without FB and I will live many more years without it. It is not necessary even if it is rather convenient. (It’s also an enormous time-sink!)

My relationship with names is somewhat unique and I imagine that the story of my name is not over yet. Maybe someday I’ll even earn it back. In the meantime, I don’t get to forget the complexity of the authentic and the desire of others to control the deployment of authenticity. I just shrug and know that when they and their systems are dust the fact of my naming will remain.

How I Prepare

As of Tuesday, I have begun working on my presentation for Many Gods West. Actually, that’s not true. I began working on it a couple weeks ago when I received my notice of acceptance. On second thought – I began working on this session a few months ago when I initially sent in my proposal. Nope, that’s not right, either; I actually started sometime last year when I first got an idea for this presentation. And now that I think about it, I’ve been thinking about the purpose and value of devotional practices for…a very long time.

I’m being a little silly, of course; still, this illustrates my point that preparing to teach or present on a subject takes a whole lot more time than many people realize. More than that, every educator has a different system. This is a look at my own process.

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