Courage: My Interpretation

For awhile now, I’ve been looking for a really good program of study for Asatru. I’ve read the Poetic Edda, the Norse myths, and some of the Sagas. I’ve also tried to read some of the historical texts, but I never really felt like I was doing anything productive. And then I happened to stumble across this study program. I like the way it’s set up, and I like that it’s a program designed to be done at  your own pace.

Still, I never even thought about starting with the Nine Noble Virtues. Probably because they seem so basic. But I am going to start following this program and see where it leads. So here’s my first essay. I doubt that the designer of the program intended for each virtue to have its own in-depth essay, but I personally feel like each virtue deserves its own special recognition.


Courage is the willingness to put everything on the line. It is the willingness to stand up and say, “This is who I am, this is what I believe,” and refuse to give in. It takes courage to be honest, and it takes courage to face life head-on. One of the quotes I was inspired by, growing up, was the quote “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” I don’t know who first said this, but I’ve found it to be an ample guide throughout my life. And I think it speaks to courage more than it does truth because the quote itself expresses fear. Being honest takes courage. Living up to your own ideals takes courage. Refusing to bend to the will of the masses takes courage. Everything in life takes courage.

Another one of my favorite quotes about courage is: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear,” said by Nelson Mandela. To me, this is exactly what courage is. Everyone is afraid of something. I have fears that I come face to face with every day. Fear is, perhaps, an intrinsic part of the human condition. I feel like I’ve been forced to confront fear on a daily basis since I was very young. I grew up in a house where my mother’s mood swings were unpredictable, and I was always terrified of her when she was in a bad mood. Especially because those moods were exacerbated by her drinking. I always felt like I was walking on glass around her, never knowing when I was going to find a shard stuck in my foot. I read, somewhere, that people who grow up around alcoholics grow up in a war zone, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description.

Growing up in that kind of environment, I had to learn how to survive. And I did. I learned that the best way to avoid being hit was to blend in. To never question my mother’s decisions, even though the lack of understanding I felt tore me up inside. I learned to stay on the “good side” of authority figures because that’s what I learned to do in order to survive. Stepping out of that role, out of that structure, was terrifying for me. But I still did it. And I didn’t do it because I felt a need to stand out or be different. I stepped out of the structure I was in because I realized it didn’t work for me. When my mom died, I no longer needed to survive. Instead, I was free to live my life. For the first time, I could live the way I chose to live without being absolutely terrified all the time.

Stepping out of a situation like that is difficult for anyone, so it was difficult for me. I didn’t grow up with a firm grounding in Christianity, but I was raised Christian. Insomuch as a person who goes to Vacation Bible School every summer can really be raised Christian. Breaking away from Christianity wasn’t difficult for me – I did that when my mom was still alive. She always encouraged me to find my own truths – up until they didn’t mesh with what she believed in, of course. I had a friend who practiced witchcraft when I was 10 years old, and when my mom found out that he’d been teaching me, she told me that I wasn’t allowed to do anything like that because it was “devil’s work.”

My mom was agnostic, but she obviously had a lot of Christian morals. So it’s no surprise she forbade me to practice witchcraft, but she didn’t care if I read fantasy novels. When the Harry Potter books came out and people made a big deal out of them being “of the devil,” my mom scoffed at that and let me read them. Everything about her confused me. On one hand, she was okay with magic, but on the other, it was evil.

Anyway, I decided to attend Sunday school once, and that was all it took. At first, the lesson was a good one – that people are judged on the basis of their deeds – but it quickly turned sour. The lesson quickly turned into a “but only if you’re Christian” one, and I hated it. I hated the idea of exclusivity so much I decided, that very afternoon, that I was going to be an atheist. That lasted for a few weeks until I met a Jehovah’s Witness and started speaking to her. When my mom found out about that, I had to be really secretive about my friendship with the girl, but I quickly learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in Hell. I also quickly learned that they really hated pagans.

I wanted to know who these pagans were that had inspired such hatred, so I started doing research. I needed to see for myself if this hatred was justified. I was surprised, of course, that everything I read seemed to point at exactly the opposite. In fact, paganism was life-affirming, and most paths were nature-based. So I immediately stopped discussing theology with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I poured myself into studying everything I could about paganism. I couldn’t get enough. I don’t think I ever told my mom. I’d finally found a life path that made sense for me, and I didn’t want to share it with anyone. I finally had my own identity.

It wasn’t until a decade passed that I found myself exploring Asatru. I tried Wicca for three months, and discarded it. Instead, I took up the mantle of eclectic pagan, and I pulled from every source imaginable. I did exactly what I’d been told NOT to do my entire life – I made my own “Bible.” I defined my own morality, set my own compass, and let life guide me. I was always questioning my decision, though, to throw off the Christian mantle. I wondered if I hadn’t been too hasty, considering I’d been all of 12 years old when I decided Christianity wasn’t my thing.

So I tried it out again, just to see. I went to some churches, and I read the Bible – all of it. I even did some study groups, and I tried to convince myself that Christianity made sense. But the more I read, the more wrong it felt. And I realized, finally, that I could never be happy being Christian. I wish, sometimes, that I could be happy being docile, because then at least I’d have a large community to belong to. The idea of having my own group is incredibly important to me, but I know I can’t be happy in the Christian faith – I’ve already tried.

I rejected Christianity because I was never happy in that faith. I always felt stifled, constricted – I read somewhere that Christianity promotes weakness, and I have to agree with that. The idea that someone else is responsible for my actions, that there is some “devil” that plagues me with ills – that is the very definition of fear. And rather than live under the yoke of that fear, I broke free of it. To do that, when I live in the middle of a Bible Belt, took more courage than I can recount here. To this day, I get nervous when people ask me what the Valknut around my neck means, but I always, always tell them the truth. When I swore myself to Odin, I knew exactly what it meant, and I have never refused to give him the honor he deserves. I always acknowledge him, even when I am shaking in fear that the person who has asked is going to mock me – or worse.

Odin’s Path: Wearing the Valknut

The Valknut is a symbolic representation of Odin. It has two other names – Hrungnir’s Heart and the Knot of the Slain. The reason the Valknut is known as Hrungnir’s Heart is that the Prose Edda mentions a legend that claims Hrungnir, a frost giant, had a heart as strong as stone that ended in three sharp points. It’s generally assumed that the Valknut and Hrungnir’s heart is the same symbol, so general consensus wins out on this issue for me.

For anyone who doesn’t know what the Valknut is, this is the symbol:

Image result for Hrungnir's Heart

A lot of mystery surrounds the Valknut, and it is known as the “Knot of the Slain” because those who wear it tend to die violent deaths. The idea that a piece of jewelry could cause you to die is ridiculous (unless it’s cursed, of course), and the Valknut isn’t cursed.

The truth is, the Valknut is Odin’s symbol – only those who follow Odin’s path specifically will wear this symbol. All Asatru/Heathen (whatever you want to call yourself) will pay homage to Odin, but there aren’t people lining up outside Odin’s door saying “Hey, your path looks nice and comfy. Let me have some fun and try it out!”

Odin’s path isn’t simple, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Odin’s path demands self-sacrifice – the part Odin plays in the mythology practically shouts that. But it is also a path of leadership, and leadership often requires you to make ruthless decisions that tear you apart. Leading has rewards, of course, but leadership is not easy.

Odin’s path is that of challenge. In quite a few of the myths, Odin goes out to wander the world in order to test himself against opponents – he wants to know where he stands in the world, and so, in that way, walking is path is walking towards self-identification through competition. Not only does Odin put challenges before you, but you are encouraged to seek challenge out yourself. A challenge isn’t necessarily a physical battle – there are other types of challenges, after all, and Odin is especially fond of wit-matching challenges. You definitely see that in the way he pits himself against Loki, Thor, and others in the lays of the Poetic Edda.

Challenge, of course, is where the real difficulty of walking Odin’s path comes in. Because challenges upset people. No one likes to lose, and there are a lot of sore losers in the world. Dangerous fights break out; people die. There are also people who choose to walk Odin’s path without truly understanding the path that they are committing themselves to walking. Odin’s path is probably one of the hardest paths to walk because walking it requires putting yourself out there where the world can make or break you.

The biggest danger people face when they choose to walk Odin’s path is that a lot of people misunderstand Odin. Odin is a warrior scholar, and it’s when you can wrap those two concepts together instead of separating them that he begins to make more sense. But then you have to throw in the fact that he’s also a god of magic, and well, chaos ensues.

This is why I personally believe that walking Odin’s path and Loki’s path together is necessary. Loki teaches you how to handle chaos. He throws change at you from every direction and says “here, catch,” and you adapt or die. In contrast, Odin teaches you how to prepare yourself for the unpredictable by educating yourself to the best of your ability. Odin teaches you how to face Loki, and Loki teaches you how to please Odin. After all, chaos is almost guaranteed when you start to seek out challengers (whatever type they may be).

So how does this all tie back to the Valknut? Well, that’s the easy part. The Valknut is the “Knot of the Slain” because Odin’s followers tend to die violent deaths. Odin’s followers don’t die violent deaths because of the Valknut. They die violent deaths because they follow Odin, and the only way to get into Odin’s hall, Valhalla, is to die in battle.

So while donning a Valknut won’t kill you, you shouldn’t wear one if you don’t plan to walk Odin’s path. Symbols are powerful, and the Valknut is an ancient symbol. It’s best to be respectful of ancient symbols – after all, runes are ancient symbols too, and they hold incredible power.

Now, I’m not trying to scare anyone away from Odin. I just happen to be an intense person, and I really want people to think about what they are doing before they give an oath to follow a God that they may regret. Because oaths to Gods – well, you don’t break those easily. And Gods don’t forgive easily, either. Better to know what you’re getting into before you get stuck.

As for me, I’m ready to take the next step – I am ready to transition from a Valknut pendant to a Valknut tattoo, once I can afford the ink. The Valknut is meant to be inked onto your skin. For a man, the Valknut should be worn above the heart – according to ancient lore. Women, on the other hand, shouldn’t get tattoos on their breasts. I don’t know why this is, and I wish I had the source for it now so I could share it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the link. When I do get it inked, I may get it on the back of my right hand. And, at the same time I get the Valknut, I will also get Jormungand around my wrist.

Tats aside, there’s an easy way to figure out whether you are fit for Odin’s path. Buy a Valknut pendant. Wear it for a month. See if you can handle what happens afterwards. And, until you are certain you can handle a life like that, don’t swear yourself to Odin. After all, Odin is the chieftain of all the other gods. If you piss him off, who are you going to turn to? Some might feel like being smart here and saying “Loki,” but I’ll tell you one important thing everyone should know about Loki – he doesn’t like being second choice. That’s why, for me, Odin and Loki are equivalent gods, and I try to dedicate myself to walking both of their paths as evenly as I can. It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t be following Odin and Loki if I wanted an easy path to walk.

Now, in conclusion, I’d like to share one of Michaela Macha’s poems, all of which can be found on the Odin’s Gift website. As a quick reference note, “valknot” is an alternative spelling of valknut. This poem is called “Wearing the Valknot.”

Wearing the Valknot

Michaela Macha

As I close the clasp of my valknot chain
I offer my neck to the noose again
And bind myself with the trifold triangle
To Hár, and wyrd´s tight-woven tangle.

With points and sides of three times three
As Ygg´s nine nights upon the Tree
It marks me willing sacrifice,
Rewarded as I pay the price;

As I pass ecstasy and pain
I lose myself, myself to gain;
This sign of fire, way and aim,
Leads me through darkness and through flame.

I pledge the fullness of my life,
My fealty to the Lord of Strife,
I choose to wear the knot of death
And give myself with every breath.

Striking Similarities

I believe that it is important to look at all stories in order to unearth the truth of things. For this reason, I don’t stick to simply reading the so-called “approved” lore. I read English translations of Greek and Latin poems and myths. I read fairy/folk tales. I read Indian stories – I am interested in all of it. To be more accurate, I am interested in finding the common threads that run between. Because I think that the truth gets scattered, breaks apart, and certain forms of it lodge in different faiths.

In some faiths, the truth gets distorted until it can no longer be recognized as what it once was. I had a conversation with one of my Christian friends the other day, and we were discussing whether or not Hell was even mentioned in the Bible. Because even though I’m pagan/heathen (whatever the hell you want to label me), I have read the Bible. Like I said, I try to read everything I can that relates to spirituality in some way. I don’t try to put myself inside a box when I am doing my own exploration – I will put myself in a box to make it easier to explain to other people what I believe because it’s a lot easier to say “I’m pagan” than it is to explain that I am a pantheist, polytheist, animist, eclectic pagan who primarily follows the Norse gods.

Anyway, as we were discussing the fact that the Bible doesn’t mention Hell – seriously, we researched it to make sure we were remembering correctly – and what we found was that except for 1 or 2 instances, the word “Hell” was originally translated as “Hades.” And “Hades,” for those unaware, was the Greek underworld, and was synonymous with the word “grave.” So, why are so many Christians so adamant about not going to Hell? Because a truth – the word Hades/grave – has been distorted until it’s no longer recognizable as the truth it originated as.

And that truth is that everyone dies, that everyone goes to the grave – that is pretty much the sole way it is used throughout the entire Christian Bible. But try to mention that to any Christian (who isn’t liberally minded like my friend), and they will either laugh in your face or go on this long spiel about the fire-and-brimstone type of hell that (especially) Southern Baptists are so fond of.

But the Christian Bible isn’t the only place we can find bits of truths. Every faith has something in it that is accurate, and sometimes the similarities can be striking. In the Poetic Edda, in the Voluspo, the Seer details the creation of the world. Below, this is what the Latin Ovid had to say on the matter:

OF bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with coelestial heat;
‘Till I my long laborious work compleat:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhimes,
Deduc’d from Nature’s birth, to Caesar’s times.
The Creation of Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
the World And Heav’n’s high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion’d, and unfram’d,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam’d.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois’d, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water’s dark abyss unnavigable.
No certain form on any was imprest;
All were confus’d, and each disturb’d the rest.
For hot and cold were in one body fixt;
And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
But God, or Nature, while they thus contend,
To these intestine discords put an end:
Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv’n,
And grosser air sunk from aetherial Heav’n.
Thus disembroil’d, they take their proper place;
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder’d, by a larger space.
The force of fire ascended first on high,
And took its dwelling in the vaulted sky:
Then air succeeds, in lightness next to fire;
Whose atoms from unactive earth retire.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num’rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
About her coasts, unruly waters roar;
And rising, on a ridge, insult the shore.
Thus when the God, whatever God was he,
Had form’d the whole, and made the parts agree,
That no unequal portions might be found,
He moulded Earth into a spacious round:
Then with a breath, he gave the winds to blow;
And bad the congregated waters flow.
He adds the running springs, and standing lakes;
And bounding banks for winding rivers makes.
Some part, in Earth are swallow’d up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu’d, are lost.
He shades the woods, the vallies he restrains
With rocky mountains, and extends the plains.
And as five zones th’ aetherial regions bind,
Five, correspondent, are to Earth assign’d:
The sun with rays, directly darting down,
Fires all beneath, and fries the middle zone:
The two beneath the distant poles, complain
Of endless winter, and perpetual rain.
Betwixt th’ extreams, two happier climates hold
The temper that partakes of hot, and cold.
The fields of liquid air, inclosing all,
Surround the compass of this earthly ball:
The lighter parts lye next the fires above;
The grosser near the watry surface move:
Thick clouds are spread, and storms engender there,
And thunder’s voice, which wretched mortals fear,
And winds that on their wings cold winter bear.
Nor were those blustring brethren left at large,
On seas, and shores, their fury to discharge:
Bound as they are, and circumscrib’d in place,
They rend the world, resistless, where they pass;
And mighty marks of mischief leave behind;
Such is the rage of their tempestuous kind.
First Eurus to the rising morn is sent
(The regions of the balmy continent);
And Eastern realms, where early Persians run,
To greet the blest appearance of the sun.
Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
Pleas’d with the remnants of departing light:
Fierce Boreas, with his off-spring, issues forth
T’ invade the frozen waggon of the North.
While frowning Auster seeks the Southern sphere;
And rots, with endless rain, th’ unwholsom year.
High o’er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
The God a clearer space for Heav’n design’d;
Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
Purg’d from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
Scarce had the Pow’r distinguish’d these, when streight
The stars, no longer overlaid with weight,
Exert their heads, from underneath the mass;
And upward shoot, and kindle as they pass,
And with diffusive light adorn their heav’nly place.
Then, every void of Nature to supply,
With forms of Gods he fills the vacant sky:
New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:
New colonies of birds, to people air:
And to their oozy beds, the finny fish repair.
A creature of a more exalted kind
Was wanting yet, and then was Man design’d:
Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast,
For empire form’d, and fit to rule the rest:
Whether with particles of heav’nly fire
The God of Nature did his soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain’d th’ aetherial energy:
Which wise Prometheus temper’d into paste,
And, mixt with living streams, the godlike image cast.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos’d into Man.

From Metamorphoses: Book I

Now, it’s important to understand that the Romans and the Greeks were pantheists before they were polytheists. A lot of people mistakenly assume that the Romans/Greeks simply believed in multiple gods, but that isn’t exactly true.

A pantheist is a person who believes in the idea of a single deity who can be found reflected in everything else. It’s generally referred to as the All-in-One and One-in-All theory, but I’ll try to expand on it a little in relation to the Greeks and Romans.

Most people are aware that the Greeks and Romans worshiped multiple gods, but what those same people don’t realize is that they viewed each of those gods as an embodied aspect of a greater being – the Source. In Indian lore, the Source is referred to as the Great Spirit. Very few peoples who we have been taught believed in a polytheistic pantheon viewed themselves as polytheists because they believed that everything was intertwined and interconnected. That each separated “deity” was simply an aspect of the Greater Deity.

It is for this reason that polytheism and monotheism are not really separate – people who identify as pure polytheists do not believe in the All-in-One (as a general statement). Most pure polytheists believe that there are multiple gods, perhaps related to each other, but separate in all the ways that matter. A pantheistic polytheist, on the other hand, believes that there are multiple god aspects of a single Greater Deity – the All-in-One approach.

Now that I’ve given you that background, if you review Ovid’s poem, then read the Voluspo in the Poetic Edda, there are striking similarities. Chaos is the Ginnungagap. The story of the giants is different, but it can be seen reflected in both places. And, if you are then courageous enough to review Genesis in the Christian Bible, you will see reflections there as well. (As a note, the “God created man in His image” is properly translated “God created man in OUR image” – do your own research if you don’t believe me).

And it is the startling similarities between the stories of different faiths that keeps me digging into them – because the stories, for the most part, are identical. Names change, the geographical locations change, but the plot of the stories, for the most part, is the same plot. To me, the fracturing of these stories – the lines that separate us – is an echo of the past. An echo that whispers to me of a time when there were no fractured lines – a time when people didn’t fight over what faith was “right” and what was “wrong.” A time when people lived in harmony. And it makes my heart ache. Because what was it that caused that splintering? What tragedy befell our world to throw us into this much chaos? The answer, I fear, is one that may forever elude me.

Loki: Catalyst and Fire God

I’ve found that the best way to comprehend Loki is to view him as the catalyst for change. He creates major upsets in people’s lives, leading them down new paths. And since few people adapt well to change, Loki’s reputation suffers. But every change that happens in someone’s life is for the better. Every change. No matter how negative or horrible it seems at first, all changes are beneficial ones. It’s learning to see the beneficial side of change that is hard for a large majority of people.

As for me, change is less something to be feared and more something to be sought. Perhaps it’s because I have an incredible amount of fire in my astrological chart (yes, I do believe in astrology), and fire is a catalyst for change in itself. And that may be why Loki is so often associated with fire, despite there being no “lore” to support the idea.

But think about fire – fire is comforting and terrifying, depending on the situation. On a cold winter’s night, curling up next to the fire to get warm is beneficial. Fire provides us with the means to stay alive during the hard frosts. But in a dry season, when a brush fire escalates quickly into a wildfire, fire is terrifying. In that situation, fire destroys life. So fire is both a creative force and destructive force, and it is one of the most intense elements (out of earth, air, fire, and water) that we face.

Earth, air, and water – all of these can be terrifyingly destructive as well, but we don’t immediately associate destruction with any of them. Most of us immediately view earth as nurturing and life-giving, and we often forget that mudslides, earthquakes, and cave-ins can cause an incredible amount of destruction. Air we view as life-giving – after all, we need oxygen to live. So we don’t immediately rush to think of the tornadoes or hurricanes that use air for incredible destruction. And then water, of course, we view as life-giving before destructive, because, like air, we can’t live without water. But floods, typhoons, and tsunamis are some of the most destructive storms we can face.

Yet it is fire that we always turn to as destructive first and beneficial second. Because fire is vibrantly alive with the force of life – the red-orange of the flame both bewitches us and terrifies us, so we often forget that it is fire that is the source of passion. When we say we have a flame inside us, or a spark of divinity, or anything else referring to light, we are talking about fire. But fire still terrifies us  – after all, the sun is the biggest fire we face.

How often have we been warned about sunspots and solar flares and terrified into thinking that the sun is close to burning out? The sun, though we don’t think about it as much as the ancients did, is the center of our world. We need the light of the sun to live because without the light of the sun, nothing can grow. And if nothing can grow, then nothing can produce the air we need to breathe – to stay alive. There is a reason that sun gods were the central gods of most ancient faiths – the people then knew how vital the sun was to their existence. Today, we have all but forgotten this truth.

Fire, however, is often more constructive than it is destructive. Even if we don’t think of that being true immediately, it’s easy to see the creative force of fire when we examine it more closely. The most obvious example is that the sun generates the heat needed to warm the ground to a point that life becomes possible. Fire is an initiative element – it gets things started. But it becomes a catalyst as soon as the earth takes over because the earth does all the hard work of actually growing the plants – the earth pulls the heat of the fire into the ground and spreads it around so that plants can grow. And fire is a destroyer – when the sun stops providing the heat necessary for growth during the winter months, the earth cannot conduct the heat into the plants anymore, and so they wither.

To understand why fire is a catalyst, rather than a cause, you have to understand what catalyst means. In science, a catalyst is a substance that causes change without undergoing change itself. When it comes to life, a catalyst is a person or event that precedes a larger event – a herald, if you want to look at things in that light. And I’ve learned that catalysts always exist – you always have warnings ahead of time, if you know what to look for.

Here’s an example: About a week ago, I stopped at a gas station to get gas, and a woman approached me and told me that my back driver’s side tire looked low on air. It was a very odd thing for her to do, and when I examined my tires, there was no problem with the air in them. However, I kept the occurrence in my mind (I tend to keep such things in my mind, as I have learned they tend to be indicators of future events), and a couple of days ago, as I was coming home, I felt the tread on my car slip a little. I had my dad check my tires – sure enough, the back tire on the driver’s side was low – it had an astounding 10 lbs of pressure left in it.

In combination with that, I had an online friend who continuously insisted that I needed to stay away from orange shirts. I thought that was rather arbitrary, but her insistence on it was weird. Granted, I chose to ignore this advice, and, ironically enough, the day I felt my tire slip like that I was wearing an orange shirt. Coincidence is rarely ever coincidence, and if we listen to the world around us, we can see the patterns of events approaching us. We just have to be willing to open our minds.

Now, what does all of this have to do with Loki? Well, in a word, everything. Loki is change. Loki is fire. Loki is a catalyst. Of all the Gods, he is, perhaps, the most predictable – in that he will always act in an unpredictable way. Change is bound by the law of change. So getting upset with Loki when change happens in your life is the wrong way to approach change. Because Loki is also the God who is perhaps the most benevolent. He doesn’t go out of his way to cause disaster – it’s a natural consequence of who he is.

A lot of people like to point out that Loki is the one who caused Baldr’s death, but it is in that story that we see his catalytic nature most clearly. Loki does not kill Baldr. He does not make Hod throw the mistletoe at Baldr. Hod is the one who says he wishes he had something to throw at Baldr. Loki simply provides him with the tools to do what Hod has expressed a desire to do. Loki initiates Hod’s actions – he works as the catalyst. But Hod is the one who throws the mistletoe. Yes, Loki guides Hod’s throw – Hod is blind. But Loki does not force the throw. 

There is a world of difference between forcing and guiding someone’s actions – Loki did the latter, not the first, so the responsibility for Baldr’s death should be laid squarely on Hod. Yes, Loki went out and found the mistletoe. He provided the artillery. But saying that the person who provides the weapon is the person who shoots the weapon is equivalent to blaming the man who sells a shotgun to an 18-year old who takes the gun home and kills his father for the death of the 18-year old’s father. A catalyst is not a cause.

And that is why Loki is so misunderstood, because he is a catalyst – and catalysts often bear the brunt of the blame. The shotgun seller I mentioned may not deserve the blame for the death of the kid’s father, but there are plenty of people in this world who will lay the blame squarely at his feet, whether doing so is reasonable or not. And that is why Loki is often considered the scapegoat of the gods.

Some Lokeans play this up far too much, however, and turn Loki into a pathetic, sniveling, whining figure, and that is beyond disrespectful. Loki is powerful, cunning, clever, honest (seriously, try to find one instance in a story where he ACTUALLY lies), adaptable, and funny. He is always aware of his purpose – the catalyst – and he embraces his identity without fear. He takes the path of least resistance because that is how change works. Whatever can change will change – and little changes occur more rapidly than large changes, unless a large change is easier to initialize.

When people get over their fear of change, they will get over their fear of Loki. And that is a hard sell for most people, because it is a rare individual who can handle the chaotic whirlwind of change that happens when Loki is around. For me, I love change. Maybe, like I said, it’s because I have so much fire in my chart (7 fire, 4 water, 2 earth, 1 air) that I can handle the whirlwind that Loki is, or maybe it’s because I have ADHD (which means I cannot tolerate boredom). Either way, Loki is a huge part of my life, and I have never experienced any change that has not ended up being a change for the better, in the end.

Yule 2014: Mother’s Night

There is a lot of debate about how Yule should be celebrated and whether Mother’s Night is heathen in origin. I honestly don’t care if it is a traditional Norse holiday or not. In all honesty, most pagan traditions are intertwined – the Celts, the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans – all worshiped different deities and celebrated at different times during the year. All we have to go off of now is the way we piece together what we glimpse of the past, but as I’ve stated previously, I’m not a re-constructionist.

I view my faith in a progressive way, and I believe the gods and goddesses change with the times. So, for me, Mother’s Night isn’t a day I celebrate because it was something that someone else celebrated long ago. But a day that I celebrate because I honor the life given to me by the earth – there is a reason, after all, that all people, regardless of creed, call the ecosystem we live within “Mother Nature.” Because there is an all-pervading sense of fertility and motherness that governs the earth. The planet thrums under our feet with vitality, producing the life-bearing oxygen we need to survive.

Some people dismiss the power of the Earth – try to convince themselves that humanity has conquered nature. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Mother Nature is much more powerful than the threat humanity poses. Sure, as a collective whole, we are disrupting climate and causing harm – but Mother Nature rises in defense of the planet every time – it’s why we’ve seen such an increase in natural disasters over the past few decades. Because Nature restores balance however she can, and I, for one, respect the earth I live on far too much to let the way I honor the gods and goddesses of my faith be dictated by the re-constructionists and nay-sayers.

For me, in a lot of ways, the Earth is the only true Mother I’ve ever known. Because my human mother drank, and when she drank, she was abusive. The Earth has always been the Mother I’ve turned to, long after everyone else has gone – the groves and the rocks around my house has offered me the solace no human has ever been able to provide for me. When I walk outside, the ground under my feet feels like home, and I feel like the whole world is underneath me, supporting me, not judging me – and that is why for me, Mother’s night is about honoring the goddess of the earth in all her aspects. And it is in honor of her that I have created this:

Frigga and her Handmaidens

On a Whim: Loki’s Way

Over the last couple months, Loki has become more insistent that I follow him properly. Or improperly, since he’s not exactly known for his conventionality.

Granted, most people think of Loki as dangerous and/or scary, but he isn’t. He’s more like the kid who pulls the fire alarm just to see what it does, and, in the process, manages to create school-wide panic. There’s no real cruelty in his actions, just a childlike wonder. At least, this is the side you see of him when you trust that he’s not evil.

The truth is, Loki has been hurt by the gods, by his family, in a way that few Heathens acknowledge. Perhaps that is the reason so many misfits are drawn to him. I understand him because my family has hurt me more than anyone else in my life, despite everything I’ve done to try and keep things from falling apart. And, considering human lives pale in comparison to the lives that gods lead, I can’t be surprised by the sadness Loki feels.

The story in the Lokabrenna, about him crashing the feast, gets taken the wrong way, and the majority of people side against Loki. But, reading that story carefully, it’s easy to see the bitterness Loki feels about being denied an invitation to the feast, and how that results in his acidic wit coming out to play. He’s deeply hurt, and his harsh words reflect the depth of the pain he feels.

There are tons of arguments out there for why Loki is the god of chaos, of fire, even of rain (that one I don’t get), but the way I understand him best is as the god of change. And being the god of change means he cannot help the disruptive influence he has – change is insidious that way. So, when the other gods refuse to invite him to the feast, they refuse him because of the very thing that defines him – his personality, his inability to not cause change.

When viewing the Lokabrenna from that angle, Loki’s nature becomes clear. He isn’t evil or someone to be feared – he’s actually rather eager to make friends with those who can see him for who he is. Because despite all the hurt he’s been caused, he still believes that there are people out there who will love him for who he is. So is it really any wonder that misfits are the ones most drawn to him? After all, us misfits are the ones who understand what that feels like.

Being able to understand Loki doesn’t make him easy to follow, not by any means. He is the god of change, so following him means that you have to be able to deal with a lot of change. He cannot help changing situations, and a lot of people end up resenting him and turn from his path because they cannot deal with the type of change he introduces into a person’s life.

Some weeks are more intense than others, and I’ll give an example by relating the week I’ve had so far:

Sunday, I got into an argument with a guild member on World of Warcraft that lasted 45 minutes about why I should change the raiding schedule to fit his schedule, even though doing so would not be beneficial for the other 9 people in the raid.

Monday: I left my house to go to the ESL Class (I help out with it on my campus; runs 10am -12pm on Mondays), got stuck behind a horse trailer before I got to town, got to town and got stuck behind an Appalcart (bus), got through town and got stuck in the middle of road clean-up. Ended up being 30 minutes late to the class, but that’s a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things.

Tuesday: After my English class, I was supposed to go to Developmental Psychology, but I was having trouble with the teacher all semester due to his overbearing, condescending attitude. On a whim, I decided to consult an Academic Adviser about the situation, and, despite holding a solid A in the class, I dropped the class.

That night, when I left the ESL class (runs from 6-8pm on Tuesday nights), it was raining pretty hard outside. I don’t have the best headlights, I live about 15 miles out of town, and there’s no good place to pull off the road until 13 miles into the trip. I wasn’t driving fast, due to not being able to see properly, and I slowed way down at the two passing zones on the road to encourage people to go by me. Some people did, but this one guy refused to pass me, no matter what.

When I got to the fire department – the one good place to pull off the road – to let the guy go by, he pulled in behind me, got out of his car, and started walking toward me. I’ve seen enough horror movies (and know enough about human rage) to know that I didn’t want to stick around, so while he was walking toward me, I peeled out of the parking lot and drove the 2 miles to my house. I have to go through two gates to get through my house (my neighbor owns the land beneath our property, and he uses the land for his cattle), so the whole time this was happening, I was terrified out of my mind that the guy was following me.

And when I got to the top of my driveway, a car pulled in at the bottom, and, since it was pitch dark, I didn’t know who it was. So I got my stuff and threw myself out of my car, ran inside my house, locked both the doors, and grabbed one of my escrima sticks (used in Kali, an open-handed mixed martial art), and waited. The person coming up the driveway ended up being my dad, but, given the situation, I knew I hadn’t acted irrationally.

In fact, when I mentioned the incident to a co-worker on Wednesday, she asked me why I hadn’t called the cops. The truth is, doing that never even occurred to me because I can defend myself, there was one assailant, and well, I don’t trust other people to handle my problems.

Wednesday: Not much happened Wednesday – I have this hunch it’s Loki’s day off because Odin was definitely around. I say definitely because it’s only when Odin’s presence is the strongest in my life that I start thinking in rhyme. Nearly every thought I had that day was in poetic form. The only time Loki showed up was during my History class, where my Monsters paper was due. We had an assignment to write about four monstrous criminals from the past and determine whether they were fact or fiction. The instructor said he had one girl who was bothered by the material, then another woman spoke up and said that the assignment had bothered her to because the criminals had committed such horrific, graphic crimes. She said that she didn’t understand the point of the assignment, that she felt it was too graphic, and so she didn’t put much effort into the paper.

As an Empath, who is extremely disturbed by violence, I had no problem with the paper because I was taught it is imperative for an Empath to understand what people are capable of in order to properly understand them. Understanding why someone is willing to go so far is more important than that they go so far – the motive is what matters. So, after she said that, I felt compelled to speak up – Loki had a huge influence on the paper I wrote because he directed me to source after source that demonstrated the innocence of nearly every one of the “monsters.” I told the instructor, in front of the entire class (so she would hear the words) that I didn’t feel he should change the assignment or give extra options just because people need to learn the truth about the world and what others are capable of in extreme situations.

Thursday: I got in an argument with my English teacher about the points she took off an assignment. She requires students write at a 10th grade level – I turned in a paper written at a 15.7 grade level, and she took off points because I chose to use the word “done” and used “as” where she would have used “because.” As a published author, I know when “as” can be used as a stand-in for “because” (rare, but it does happen), and “done,” while not the strongest verb, was the appropriate one for the sentence I used it in. Taking off points for word choice is NOT objective grading, and that pissed me off more than I can properly express here.

Thursday night, I talked to the officers in my guild and we decided to remove the person who caused problems on Sunday. He apologized, asked for a second chance, so we demoted him instead. Unsurprisingly, less than an hour later, he left the guild on his own accord. However, I managed to recruit a boomkin, and the guild overall has plans to deal with the loss of that member once the expansion drops.

Friday: I did math homework, worked on leveling my monk, and then decided to make food. What I originally planned to make was rice and broccoli, but Loki decided he wanted me to make something weird. Still cooked the rice and broccoli, but salt, garlic salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and AI sauce got added to the mix. Surprisingly, it turned out to be delicious, and I have the first recipe I can claim as uniquely my own (with Loki’s help, of course!).

Today, I have a writing workshop to run, so we’ll see how that goes. But, as you can probably tell from reading this (if you make it all the way through!), Loki’s path is full of twists and turns and plot holes, so if you can’t handle a lot of change in your life, don’t waste your time, or Loki’s, trying to follow him down it.

Odin and Loki

When I went to my optometrist last year, the woman who did the routine tests saw the Valknut necklace I wear and asked me about it. I told her it was Odin’s symbol, and that led her into reciting a story about cats.

She said that before she’d moved to Boone, she had met a woman who had two cats-one named Odin, the other named Loki. Apparently, the cats got along tremendously well, even though the woman had expected that, with those names, they would have fought.

Her story reminded me of the Odin and Loki that I am familiar with. Odin doesn’t “put up with Loki,” like I’ve seen others suggest. No, Odin and Loki are friends. Inseparable best friends who delight in each other, respect each other, and give each other the most crap. After all, that’s what being friends is all about.

When you can call someone on their bullshit without permanently offending them, and then turn around and have their back when needed — that’s friendship. And Odin and Loki have that.

Sure, Loki drives Odin crazy because he’s always getting into trouble and doing crazy things, but Odin doesn’t try and stop him. There’s one story where Odin and Loki are traveling to Jotunheim and are getting weak from hunger because nothing they try to cook will actually cook.

Odin decides to go back to Asgard and leaves Loki, who is getting angrier by the minute that the meat won’t cook, and stubbornly insists on continuing to try and make it work (even though the methods aren’t working). Because of this, a giant ends up entrapping him and forcing him to agree to kidnap Idunna before releasing Loki from the trap.

Loki is nothing if not a survivor, so he agrees, and keeps his word to kidnap Idunna. But then he also goes and retrieves her, and, while they are being chased (both of them in bird form) to Asgard, Loki manages to trick the giant into killing himself.

In the story, the reason that Odin and Loki are traveling to Jotunheim isn’t fully explained. With the tactical maneuvers at the end of the story, however, it’s easy to imagine that events could have enfolded in this way:

Odin and Loki are traveling to Asgard to spy on the giants because they are worried about the repercussions the oath they broke concerning the building of Asgard’s wall will be. When they get hungry and cook food (or try to), Odin decides it may be a trap and leaves Loki behind knowing this– and maybe even explaining this to Loki– and then Loki continues to act like an idiot (which he really isn’t) and get caught by the giant. He sees a way to turn the giant’s plot to kidnap Idunna into a strategic method for the Asgardians to defeat one of the giants, and takes a calculated risk. Then, back at Asgard, when Odin “discovers” what he did (and there’s every possibility Loki went and told Odin himself), Loki is then “forced” to recover her, and when he does so, kills the giant who was the most likely to cause the Asgardians problems.

A lot of the stories tend to portray Loki as the “evil guy” or the “bad guy,” because without a villain, stories fall apart. But when I read the stories carefully that deal with how Odin and Loki interact with each other, I feel that there is much more going on under the surface than is being told.

Odin can’t take the risks Loki can– he can’t be the sneaky strategist/tactician because that would undermine his role as the leader of the Asgardians. But Loki can take on that role, be the hated shadow (and really, read enough fantasy novels, and you start to realize how common it is for kings to have a shadow hand they can never play in public, but who always works to the benefit of the kingdom by the king’s behest).

Loki and Odin are closer than brothers; they know each others darkest secrets and most painful truths. That is alluded to in the Lokabrenna, and Odin is the only one who doesn’t take immediate offense to Loki’s words to him, but rather returns them in kind. That kind of volley is possible only between people who are close.

So I don’t prescribe to the idea that Loki is the “evil god” of the pantheon, or that he is the Heathen version of “the devil,” (which gets suggested a lot). Loki is a catalyst of change, and Odin is the leader who has the vision of a world Loki wishes to see as well.

As for the story about Baldur, well, I am not entirely convinced that it wasn’t written by someone trying to convert the pagan populace into Christians, as there are too many overtones of the Lazarus myth in it for me to view it as an accurate portrayal of Loki’s character.

Loki does what Odin can’t, and Odin trusts him. I mean, he’s the only god who Odin swore himself to as a blood brother, as far as I’m aware, and that’s not an oath undertaken lightly. Perhaps that is what people who tend to ostracize Loki should consider before automatically lumping him in with the so-called “bad guys.”

UPG: Loki and the Power of Names

A UPG is an Unverified Personal Gnosis. What that means is that a person has an experience with a god, whether it’s in a dream or in real life, that cannot be perpetuated by the Lore or historical precedent.

It’s pretty difficult to corroborate a UPG as they are unique experiences.

For me, the UPG I had was a physical one.

About a month ago, my sister bought a new puppy and couldn’t decide on a name for him. She bounced ideas for names around between me and her boyfriend.

When she asked me, the first thing that popped into my mind was Loki. Just looking at the puppy made me feel like that name was appropriate, but I couldn’t give you a reason. I’ve gone off gut instincts like that for years.

I suggested the name, of course, and it took her a few days to decide. I made sure to tell her, when I gave her the suggestion, that naming an animal after a god can have repercussions. I’ve always believed in the power of names.

She laughed it off, which is typical for the relationship we have with each other. She’s aware that I’m Heathen, but doesn’t particularly care as she has no religious leanings at all. Her response was that she didn’t believe in names holding power like that and I just shrugged it off.

My sister ended up choosing to name the puppy Loki. That puppy was mischievous and playful but there always seemed to be just a little something other about him to me.

After a couple weeks of having the puppy around, my sister’s friend offered to fly her and her boyfriend out to California to live. He said he’d support them by renting them an apartment and he’s wealthy enough to do it. She decided to take him up on the offer and ended up returning Loki to the Humane Society.

Loki, more than any other god, is the god of change. He is a natural shapeshifter, so it makes sense to me that my first physical experience with him occurred in this way.

My sister’s presence in my life has been a difficult one for various reasons I’ll not share, but the quick in-and-out Loki made has given me the opportunity to change everything.

Some people would write the event off as coincidental or accuse me of assigning meaning to things that I shouldn’t.

As to the first, I don’t believe in coincidence.

And to the second? A pup named Loki blows into my life for a few weeks. While he’s a part of it, my sister’s friend offers to move her to California. She agrees. Change for the better in my life occurs. Loki leaves.

It’s pretty hard not to assign meaning to something that blatant. And for me, it’s the event that has put to rest all of the remaining doubts I had about the existence of the gods.

They are very real, present, and accessible. The gods take care of their own. And that is something to cherish.

My View on the Lore

The Eddas and the Sagas, to me, are stories. Stories written by men in ages long past. Some were written to conserve poetic forms. Others were written so that the knowledge of the gods might not be lost.

And that is great. I love that we have access to the Eddas and the Sagas and that there are people out there who have done extensive historical research into the practices of the days long past.

But I don’t believe in following the practices of the long dead. Not because I feel their ways were invalid– in fact, I’d argue that the methods they used to honor the gods are some of the strongest because they were the closest to the gods.

The truth, however, is that copying someone else’s methods without understanding them just leads to confusion and spirals into arguments about what is or isn’t correct.

Most of the arguments I’ve witnessed in that vein have the same flavor. Person A knows all about the historical evidence supporting the method they’re using and wants to prove to Person B that it’s the best method to use, completely undermining the fact that Person B finds it easier to get close to the gods doing something unsupported by historical research.

Arguing over how to worship the gods is stupid, pointless, and disrespectful. Rather than argue over how to worship the gods, let each person honor the gods in their own way. What works for Person A won’t work for Person B.

I have a personal dislike for following practices based on historical research because historical facts based on archaeological digs come from guesswork. Educated guesswork, sure. But it’s still guesswork.

And there’s no way to prove that the gods want to be honored in the same way today as they did in the past. I’m sure even the gods get bored of hearing and seeing the same thing all the time.

That brings me to the second part of the unconventional view I hold towards the Lore.

To me, the Eddas and Sagas are stories. Just stories. Allegorical stories, perhaps, but still just stories.

I don’t like relying on books to tell me what to do, how to feel, or what to think. I’m capable of making those decisions on my own.

And the Lore, by itself, is harmless. Because stories are, for the most part, harmless. It’s when people start taking those stories and making claims like “Well it says this in this part, so it must be the best thing to do!” that gets to me.

There are a lot of Heathens out there who do this. I don’t know if they’ve forgotten, but the Sagas and the Eddas were written by Christians and therefore have a Christian flavor.

That, to me, makes them even less reliable. I turned away from Christianity when I was 12 years old (I’m now 26) because I couldn’t abide the idea of an exclusive God who punished and played with his “flock.” Not to mention the abject humiliation of being referred to as a “sheep.”

The truth is, I love the stories in the Eddas and Sagas. I love the insight they provide into the gods’ personalities. Their thirst for knowledge, their lust of adventure, their enjoyment of conflict both physical and verbal. It’s a great collection of stories.

But stories are meant to be told in new ways. They are meant to be rewoven, rewritten, respun. The gods have always adapted to the world as it changes around them, so I see no reason to refuse to adapt my practices to fit the world around me.

I’d rather change with the times than be stuck in the past, because it’s in the present that my life occurs. Present events may unfold because of the web my past has woven behind me, but it is still in the present that I must face the decisions I make and the actions I take.

My vision of the Lore is a simple, though unpopular one. The Eddas/Sagas give me a glimpse into the personalities of the gods I follow, but they don’t dictate the way I live my life.

The gods are complex. They are people, like us, on a much larger scale. There is no human being on earth that is exactly the same as another human being. Most humans share qualities with each other and that’s what creates relationships.

Gods are like that, too. They can be similar to each other, different from another, love each other, hate each other…they are people and they are complex.

Trying to limit a god to the personality they have in the stories stored in the Eddas/Sagas is, in my mind, disrespectful. 

Everyone has a life story, but we are all more than our stories. The same holds true for the gods. Stories can only tell you so much about a person. And gods are people.

The gods are our family. We don’t force our family members to exist within the stories that other people tell us about them. And I will never understand why there are so many Heathens out there that think trying to constrain the gods to their Lore personalities is anything but rude.

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