Truth without meaning

eyes

For most of my life I had brown eyes. You can see what color they were, there at the center of the iris, near the pupil. A rich, medium brown with depth and beauty in equal measure. When I was a child I remember seeing flecks of gold in my mother’s dark hazel eyes. I spent many minutes staring at myself in the bathroom mirror trying hard to see spots of gold in mine.

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For most of my recent memory I’ve had weird gold eyes. You can see what color they are, that splash of bleached iris that picks up green so easily I might as well have green eyes. But I don’t. In natural light, as in this picture, I have a flat, bright, unnatural gaze. I look at myself in the bathroom mirror each day as I wash and after nearly a decade I still don’t know what to think about what I see.

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For those who don’t know, when I’m not writing I spend my days in an office moving around pictures of brains and eyeballs for a medical research collection. I have access to the entire body of English language medical literature on eyes and eye health. My experience is undocumented. It does not exist. It is unscientific. It is, all told, literally impossible.

But I hold up old photos of myself and oh, there they are. There are my brown eyes. Bright brown in sunlight but clearly a rich, medium brown.

There are still people in my life who knew me Back Then. Some are friends and say oh yes, I have grown myself a different pair of eyes. Some are family and they say nothing at all.

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Scientifically speaking, observable and measurable data does not necessarily yield meaning or explanation. You can know a thing and not actually know what you know about it.

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In my Advancing Devotional Practice session I talk about a few of the obstacles and problems that one might encounter when engaging in this work in the long term. One of the most interesting obstacles I’ve encountered is the rejection of the outcomes of practice. I have a grand analogy that I call “boxes from Cosmic Amazon.com” where suddenly there are packages on your mental and spiritual doorstep that you didn’t actually order. But see, our account with Cosmic Amazon is not private; we share it with the Powers we have aligned ourselves with (or who have aligned themselves with us). They contribute to the relationship we experience. Devotional relationship is not a thing solely created by the human practitioner. It is a shared process, a dual creation, and outcome partaking of multiple causal personalities.

My personal theme for PantheaCon this year was telling the hard stories, the stories that I don’t like to think about, don’t like to analyze, don’t like to dwell on, don’t want to know about. In my session I even talked about waking up from my psychic death experience a different person with a different gender. I talked about one of the deepest losses I’d ever encountered; even though I didn’t want to, at the time it was the right thing to do. Regardless of how much I don’t want to think about these experiences, they are part of a continual process of emergence; they contribute to the unfolding I continually witness expressed through my living being. Though I occasionally talk privately about my psychic death experience I have rarely even mentioned it publicly; that’s because it’s actually quite a traumatic thing. Even though it happened, oh, probably ten years ago this summer, I’m still shaken at the memory and chilled by the still-obvious repercussions.

But you see, I can’t tell this story – not really. I can talk about the experience and the effect it had on my life and how difficult it was trying to reject an outcome that I never sought or asked for or desired or even knew was possible. What I can’t tell you is what it means; this is what I’m still seeking. I had an experience that was entirely inexplicable and yet entirely, fundamentally, unquestionably real. Even people who didn’t know me in person noticed. Data was observed and measured but no meaning exists. There is no context for these factoids, no repetition to frame this pattern. Results have not been replicated and so no working theory can be tested.

I have searched and searched to find a meaningful explanation for this collection of anomalous data. Even in the context of my ever-unfolding spiritual life’s course I don’t see how these things fit. I don’t see how they make me better – only different. And that’s not a good enough explanation for me.

It’s almost time to seek a few more answers, to dive a little deeper into the pools I won’t look at. I don’t exactly know what to look for and I’m fairly sure I won’t enjoy what I find but ignorance does not sit comfortably with me. It might be time to pick up the dropped threads and find out which plucked strings of my wyrd continue to vibrate and hum.

 

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.

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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!

The Mouse’s Bride

When I was a child, my mother read to me a book called The Mouse’s Bride (at least, that’s what I think it was called). It was a picture book about a mouse who went off into the wide world to search for a bride. He wanted to marry the daughter of the most powerful creature on earth and so went looking for that creature. He went to the sun, the cloud, the wind, and finally to a tower before finally settling on a mouse bride. Over and over his protest was that if his bride wasn’t the daughter of the strongest creature in the world, he didn’t want a bride at all.

As a child I found this story frustratingly hard to understand. Family financial instability taught me early on that compromise and settling for less was simply the way life worked; if you couldn’t have the thing you wanted, you’d have to manage with something lesser or with nothing at all. The mouse’s insistence on something that was the very best of anything and his refusal to accept anything second was very confusing.

As an adult, I understand this story a little better.

Not long ago an acquaintance of mine expressed surprise that my home wasn’t simply swimming in altar icons. I suppose that’s justified; most pagan who’ve been around the community long enough accumulate all kinds of witchy shit. I have a lot of weird books but that makes up the biggest share of witch shit. I definitely don’t have icon figurines or even a lot of pagan-flavored artwork. I’ve used the same color printout for Loki’s icon for, uh, 13 years I think. His first icon actually printed out hot pink. I used that for a year at least, probably two. But bottom line, I really have comparatively few.

I’ve been getting to know Loki’s feminine aspect for several months now; this relationship has actually been intensifying over the past few years and it shifted to our main mode of interaction a while ago. She doesn’t have Her own altar exactly; Loki simply has Loki’s altar. Though Loki is only ever just Loki, I’ve found it useful to treat the two as distinct entities (not different, not separate, but distinctive). Loki’s altar has a feminine mode and a masculine mode; Her icon is veiled in feminine mode, generally uncovered otherwise.

I’ve thought about making an altar for Her because She deserves one. In this home, She’s pretty much entitled to one. Why wouldn’t She be? The icon was a bit of a sticky issue. I hadn’t ever seen images that struck me as both suitable for use as an altar icon and illustrative of Her character to a degree that it would be evocative of Her presence. Only one really came to mind and I couldn’t find a large enough version to make it worth printing out. (There are actually more potential altar images of Her out there than ever before, which is really excellent.)Loki

Clicking around through Etsy I came across a listing for a pair of prints by a California artist – andthere She was. The picture wasn’t perfect, wasn’t really HER, but it was close enough to be the reminder that icons ought to be and it was well-done enough to be worthy of a place on an altar. I saved some money and bought the pair. They were both nice, but one was especially ideal.

The little package finally arrived today. I hurried home from work imagining that I’d set up the altar cabinet I’ve been working on, find a nice frame, and have a welcoming home ceremony to integrate this new image into my spiritual home. But looking at the picture as it came out of the package something was wrong. Something was deeply, fundamentally wrong and I remembered the mouse and his all-consuming search.

My disappointed, sullenly angry reaction told me that what I was looking for wasn’t an altar icon. I was actually hoping to bring home in visible form something else entirely. When that didn’t happen, I was immediately sad.

The pictures are lovely, there’s no problem on that count. No, the problem was me and my expectations and hopes and desires.

In spirit work and in devotional practice, it is essential to learn from our emotional responses. We have to learn from ourselves, from our expressions in this world and our reaction to it, because we have no other doctrine to study. We are our own teachers. This might suck and we might feel resentful over the fact, but fact it remains. Our devotional relationships occur in the private spaces of the heart; no witness or guide is present except for Them. Spirit work too occurs in a place no human can follow. When we long for the presence of human teacher it’s important not to forget our very first human teacher in this work: ourselves.

This experience reminds me to be conscious of my motivating desires. What I want is Her. What I got is a picture. What I wanted was Her, so I decided the best way to get Her was by buying a bit of wood pulp and ink. What I wanted is Her and at some point I decided that She could be purchased and possessed and held and framed. I wanted Her and never noticed that I was trying to pay shipping for something entirely separate from Her.

You see how the breakdown between desire and hope and expectation and final result can occur? It happens an awful lot.

Contrary to what some detractors might say, idol worshipers generally don’t place the entire weight of divine presence into a single physical object. These items are at best a window, a vessel that concentrates a small portion of divinity into a time and place so we can better notice it. Someone actually familiar with the Power in question would not be inclined to think otherwise, I imagine. Therefore expecting such an object to be more than what it has an inherent capacity to be – a window, at best – is folly.

Well, no one has ever been able to accuse this mouse of excessive wisdom.

She will be welcomed home with full celebration. She will be loved and honored and cared for with as much attentiveness as my meager mortal mentality is capable of. Hopefully I will not make such a painful-to-me mistake again for a long time.

(Yes, there will be pictures but not until everything’s set up and I stop feeling sorry for myself.)

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

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.

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.

Catching up with…everything

After last week’s big announcement of the hand bound Loki devotionals, I spent the weekend trying to catch up with a few important things.  At last, taxes have been taken care of, laundry done, some cooking accomplished, medical stuff addressed, and my practice routine resumed. To tell the truth, I’m a little overwhelmed at all the projects I’ve got on my plate right now. The book project I’m working on for submission to a publisher has all but stalled, Heartroad 2 is gathering cobwebs, and the article I said I’d have drafted in a month is, eh, going to take a little more time. There’s also Many Gods West to prepare for, some other craft projects that have been languishing, and a custom project that I need to get back to. Oh and, you know, the day job.

I’ve created a little schedule to keep my writing efforts focused. I work at my writing job 6 – 7 days a week in addition to my day job employment so it’s very hard to predict where my creative energy is going to be. BUT my goal is to open a particular document on particular days of the week. I don’t have to do much – I just have to do something.

So! Tuesdays will be Many Gods West material (since today is Tuesday and I decided that’s what I wanted to work on today. Tomorrow will be the article, Thursday will be Heartroad 2, Friday will be erotica for the Kindle market (I’ve written a couple pieces and eh, every $.33 sale helps). Perhaps Saturday will be the Santa Muerte writing project. Perhaps Sunday will be prepping my 2016 Pantheacon submission (because that’s a thing that needs done, too).

I’m happy to have so much work to do, even if it’s going to be tough to accomplish. For several years I hid from most forms of community engagement in order to focus on school (and let’s be honest, because the Heathen groups I was involved with collapsed into infighting, murder, and allegations of child porn so there’s that). I prefer practicing privately; I’ve become very jealous of my time and energy. In many ways I don’t want to share, not when I’ve experienced such a long track record of getting very little in return for my effort. I’m not just talking about getting back a positive community experience; the energy exchange I trusted in simply didn’t seem to come about. In many ways, I feel like I got away without sustaining more damage. I also encountered a level of conflict regarding Loki that I simply couldn’t tolerate after a while.

Community engagement can be hard for all kinds of reasons and I think there are times in all our lives when we simply don’t wish to have it in our sphere. Coping with the anger and fear and distrust and yeah, even the disgust that comes up with dealing with humanity in general has been a challenging thing for me but it’s also been a very important lesson. We must engage with humans in order to understand humans, and we must understand humans in order to represent the needs of our species to the Powers that are concerned with us. Anyone who communicates with the Powers on behalf of any human – including themselves – can’t afford to be dismissive of the human condition, including all the suffering and hypocrisy and anger and violence. These things have to be confronted, recognized, named, and dealt with on personal, interpersonal, communal, and global levels. Checking out of this work can become a disadvantage. Checking out of this work can put a worker at a disadvantage.

Setting heavier thoughts aside, there are many things to look forward to this year but managing the stress and busyness of it all will be a distinct challenge for me. In the meantime, I’m also working on preparing a handmade devotional book for Odin. I actually started planning His the day after Loki’s was finally released. I’m really excited to work on Odin’s and I’ll probably start formatting it before the month is over. Is there any traditional material related to Odin that you’d like to see in a devotional book?

Back into the stream

I’ve had to take a break from my regular practice for the past couple weeks due to sudden and uncontrollable health stuff. One of my prescriptions has always been a little side effect-y and it ramped up pretty dangerously. Whether due to dangerously low sodium levels, neurotoxicity, or throat spiders I started having dizzy spells of increased frequency and severity. I fell down twice. It took a lot of preparation to move twelve steps from the bedroom to the kitchen and often I couldn’t do that much. Getting to various altars, stepping over mess-related obstacles, playing with fire and incense, staying standing for prayers, etc. was simply not manageable. I gave myself a medical leave for the most part. (Though I rather mourn the changing nature of my job description, I don’t miss being hauled out to Work, rain, sleet, or neurotoxicity.)

Finding a care provider on short notice was also unexpectedly difficult but I did finally manage to find someone to provide medication management. There might be a high cost involved but this was one of those situations where waiting 6 weeks for an appointment with another provider was equally dangerous in an entirely different way. I’ve also been trying to get my taxes together and once again I’m outraged and depressed at the high cost of being self-employed. In one way, having a job where I work from home is an immense luxury and privilege; on the other, health stuff/disability prevents me from having the kind of 9 – 5 job that I’d otherwise be able to. (I do have a part time desk job where I play with digital collections at a library but the pay is criminally low and it’s less than part time, so no benefits.) So basically I’ve been rather too sick to stick with my regular practice and rather too busy to let myself feel bad about it.

At the present time I’m focused primarily on building and maintaining connections with several different Powers. Different days of the week are given to Santa Muerte, the Newcomer, the Ancestors, and Hela. I’m also ready to begin (re)connecting with various entities in my neighborhood. Our garden spirit needs some attention, particularly because hir garden will soon be partially paved. The spirits in the green space down the block are quite feral but not terribly fierce. I worry about harm coming to them due to various destructive activities the neighborhood addicts and assholes engaged in (these categories don’t necessarily overlap but destruction nonetheless results).

I want to reconnect with these nearby Powers in large part because I love them and want to experience their proximity and because I’m hoping to engage in a little give-and-receive assistance. I’m concerned about the physical property I live on and what might be happening to it. I’m worried that it’s going to be sold to a party that won’t care for it the way we (the residents) do. I’m worried that the current owner is going to disregard its inherent precious character (like by paving the garden). I’m worried that rising rent is going to force me to move or to adopt an even more restricted lifestyle.

I’m also worried about reckless development, “improvements” made without regard for the wights, human activity that harms and distresses our Good Neighbors, and about their general well-being. I care a great deal for the land spirits, all of them, and for my most immediate neighbors in particular.

Ideally, a relationship with land spirits and related spirits-of-place is one that supports and promotes the interests of all parties. My goal is to create this kind of ideal relationship, or come as close to it as I’m able. Like every other human, I require a lot of help and support; unlike many other humans, I don’t get a lot of this support from other people. Since I’m limited as to what I can do for myself (we all are to one degree or another), I rely on the Powers for aid. Since the Powers are also limited in what they can do, I do my best to cultivate many different mutually beneficial connections. And this is how I imagine my life when I think of how I would most like to live.

I am not separate from the community of spirits. I’m part of their company. We are all different, distinctive entities with our own needs, desires, ambitions, fears, and teleological trajectories. At this time, in this place, we’re all together. We all benefit from aid shared; we all increase through the sharing of resources, effort, and attention. We all grow through increased understanding.

Maybe this all sounds outrageously utopian but you know what? It’s entirely possible. I’ve achieved this kind of community building with spirits and Powers before. It’s not actually that difficult. Sure, you’ll find locations with really pissed off land spirits that want nothing to do with humanity, but you’ll also find wights who are quite interested in forming beneficial connections with us. After all, you’ll find plenty of people who are disdainful of humanity, dismissive of suffering, unwilling to share, angry at the prospect of helping or providing for others, and resentful at any trend towards equity. You’ll also find people who are very willing to engage in sharing and a dialogue towards understanding, compassion, empathy, and aid. Spirits, like people, have to be met where they are, on their own terms. I look forward to this work and I am humbled by its magnitude.

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.

Things I Don’t Write About

I don’t write about spirit work – except for the times when I do.

I don’t write about the excelcius moments that arise from divine proximity – except when I do.

I don’t write about the grinding sensation of failure, of inadequacy, of intrinsic inability.

I don’t write about the stress, anxiety, confusion, or despair.

I don’t write about the messages I hear.

I don’t  write about the People I meet.

I don’t write about the calling or the response.

I don’t write about the currents, winds, streams, or rivers.

I don’t write about the whispers.

I don’t write about the job.

I don’t write about the joy.

**

I’ve become a reasonably successful recluse. I’m not known for these things because I don’t talk about them. I don’t talk about them because they are a greater piece of my heart than I thought anything could be. I don’t talk about them because despite having been given a hard reboot and a new OS, despite having eyes that are a different color than I was born with, despite having to relearn the finer points of embodiment, despite having the physical, lived experience of divine intervention I don’t always believe in the reality of the context I’m caught up in.

I don’t talk about these things because I don’t want to.

I don’t talk about these things because I owe no one an accounting (least ways no one that has to read a blog in order to gain an accounting). I have always served the Powers first – before there was even an awareness that serving the Powers constituted spirit work, I served them and knew what I was. Even when people who should have known better tried to tell me what, exactly, I was and wasn’t.

Did you know there was a time when devotion and spirit work were all but mutually exclusive? It’s true. I argued the point more than once. Love, I was told, wasn’t compatible with service. Love, I argued, was the very fuel of service.

**

I don’t talk about spirit work because I don’t want to talk about failure. I’ve frequently reflected that I’m on the path of failure. I will never not fail. Failure is the condition of the manifest world. Failure is the trajectory of disintegration, the path that absolutely all of us are on. We will fail because this is not a path that will ever reach completion. We will always be inadequate to the task. It’s therefore cruel to pick at the practice of someone else, inexcusably mean to criticize the work another is engaged in. We can and should encourage improvement, can and should demand accountability, can and should require redress and apology – but the work that happens within the sphere of one’s own interaction with the numinous and the expression thereof insofar as it doesn’t interfere with another being’s intrinsic and sacred sovereignty – including their teleology – doesn’t require commentary. We must be free to fail – else the path itself remains only a potential.

**

I don’t talk about my spirit work because I don’t want to talk about my failure. In defiance of everything I’ve learned about this path and everything the path has taught me, I got fired. Yes. That….that doesn’t really happen. It’s not supposed to. There are a very limited number of outcomes on a spirit work path, especially one that takes you further towards very specific ends. Getting fired is not one of those outcomes. But I am a Lokean and I will always be an exception.

**

I don’t talk about spirit work because I don’t want to talk about how much I want to go back to  work. I don’t want to describe the very many tastes I’ve sampled of this life in an effort to find something that satisfied in quite the same way. I found nothing. When the Work itself has put you back in this world, your software is fundamentally incompatible with other functions. It’s like trying to make a spreadsheet in Photoshop. No one’s happy.

**

So why am I talking about all this if I don’t actually want to? I’m talking about it because I might, just might, be going back to work.

I am what I am and I am responsive to this path.