I have this awareness that people see me as more confident and assured than I actually am, and I often wonder how it is that I can be so anxious internally and yet seem so confident to the people around me.
The truth is, I’m plagued by doubt. If there was a doubting disorder, I would have it. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be skeptical (I feel that falls more in the domain of atheism). I don’t have trouble believing that the gods exist – I can feel Them. No, my doubts center around whether I’m honoring the gods correctly and if I’m imparting the right messages to the right people.
Part of that worry – the “is it okay to do this in order to honor the gods?” is, admittedly, leftover from growing up in a Southern Baptist household. Part of it, therefore, is the remnant of fear of punishment for getting things wrong. That fear, however, is compounded by the fact that I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent and have to fight a daily battle not to succumb to the double-bind type of thinking that I never knew I was doing until I was in my 20s.
A double-bind, for those who don’t know, is a situation where the only choices you can make are bad ones (both outcomes are terrible) and having to still choose one of them. Double-bind thinking is always seeing things from the perspective of having to choose the lesser of two evils. Because of the way I grew up, I learned that no matter what choice I made – even when the choice, in a typical household, would be a good choice with a good outcome – I never won.
An example that comes to mind is my mother’s reactions to my grades. In general, I’m a straight A student because I love learning, so doing well in classes reflects one of my passions more than it does anything else (I could go on about how I think grades are incredibly limiting, but I digress). Anyway, I came home one day (I was in 4th or 5th grade) and I had an A- in a subject. Instead of being happy that I had an A of any type, my mom thought it was better to lecture me for two hours so that she could tell me how disappointed she was that I didn’t make an A+.
Most people can see how harmful that would be to a child – I took it at face value, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have maladaptive perfectionism. I also have ADHD, and with the combination of the two, my frustration level is incredibly low. I have to work incredibly hard to keep myself from being irritated by the little imperfections that are part and parcel of everyday life.
Because of that, I love structured systems. I love grammar and I love math because the structure is always there. Sure, both of those structures are complex, but both systems are very, very efficient. In everyday life, an appreciation of systems is fine. When it comes to religion, however, it is much more difficult to find a system that is both adaptive and rigid the way that the systems of math and grammar are both adaptive and rigid.
That’s one of the largest reasons that I’m a polytheist, although to describe it that way makes me sound like a nerd (which, okay, I readily admit to – I’m currently wearing a Hogwarts shirt with the logos of all four houses because it’s awesome). But monotheism is too rigid for me – one god with all these rules that have to be obeyed or be punished forever more in an eternal hell of fire and damnation (I’d like to point out to any Christians who read my blog that I live in a Southern Baptist bible belt, so that’s not an exaggeration of the attitudes of the Christians around here). Aside from the rigidity, the system is tyrannical – do it my way or else – and I’ve no need to return to the mental anguish that my mother’s insane expectations inflicted upon me.
Generic Paganism, on the other hand, is far too flexible. Anything goes, and there’s only one rule (generally pulled from Wicca, as most mainstream Pagans are Wiccans) – harm no one. Okay, how would you like me to go about making sure I don’t hurt anyone? What about situations where I have to hurt someone in order to help them? Doesn’t that invalidate the rule? If you say there are exceptions, then it’s not a rule – it’s a guideline. And guidelines are great, but using only “harm none” and “the threefold law” as guidelines isn’t rigid enough. There are too many questions those guidelines don’t answer.
Also, generic Paganism embraces all pantheons of Gods, and there are plenty of Pagans out there who mix pantheons and worship the Greek Gods alongside the Norse Gods. And that’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with that. But say something happens where it’s obvious that a harvest god/goddess has intervened – how do you know for sure whether it’s Demeter or Freyr? If it isn’t the one that you have assumed it to be, will they get offended? Will the one that actually helped stop stepping in because they are offended that you didn’t recognize their hand?
Yes, these are the kinds of things that I worry about. That’s why I primarily stick to the Norse Gods. I’m not adverse to gods from other pantheons; I would just really need to be able to distinguish their auras in order to feel comfortable honoring them. For example, Thor has a very particular energy that I could never confuse with, say, the aura of Hercules even though they are both gods of strength.
However, I am fully comfortable with the aura of Hercules because I grew up watching tons of shows about him. Still, I don’t honor him the same way I do Thor – Thor is the protector of the Norse Gods; in that sense, He deserves my loyalty, as the Norse Gods are my Gods. Perhaps making that distinction is unnecessary, but I am a fiercely loyal person.
We all have friends that we share everything with and friends that we just sorta talk to when they are around (and don’t really hang out with). I am fiercely loyal to the people I share everything with, but I can’t offer the same strength of loyalty to those people who are my friends but not my confidants. For me, that is the major difference between the Norse pantheon and other pantheons. Gods from other pantheons are interesting, but the Norse Gods have my undivided loyalty.
And, of course, the reason for that loyalty I have mentioned before – the Norse Gods came to me and essentially pulled me onto their path. When I discovered that Asatru existed, I was fascinated by two things – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” Asatru was my first exposure to Heathenry, but I don’t think I can claim to be a proper Asatruar because I’m not a reconstructionist.
With my love of systems, I’m sure there are those who find it ironic that I’m not a reconstructionist, but I find the reconstructionist system seriously flawed. For many, many reasons, of course, but the major ones are that 1) Truly recreating an ancient faith is impossible without having the exact environment that existed in the time period when it was practiced, and 2) Reconstructionism ignores the evolution of spirituality because practices like prayer, meditation, and anything that falls out of the blot/sumbel format is often rejected as inadequate forms of worship. Essentially, reconstructionism is too rigid a system.
I will call myself Asatru and Heathen as I see fit, however, because Asatru literally means, “true to the Aesir.” And that is true of me – I am loyal to the Aesir. I am also loyal to the Vanir. As a note, Loki is part of the Aesir, although there are a lot of Heathens who would argue that point. Odin and Loki are brothers-by-blood-oath – there is no stronger bond than that.
What I like about Heathenry are the two things I first discovered in Asatru – the Nine Noble Virtues and the creed “We are our deeds.” The Nine Noble Virtues are guidelines that create a solid foundation of living. Instead of being told “if it harm none, do what ye will,” there is a code of honor. To act with courage, to preserve through the hard times, to be hospitable even when it hurts, to be disciplined in action, etc. These are guidelines that work. They aren’t easy to adhere to, but there is no punishment for failing to meet them (except self-flagellation, which we all engage in from time-to-time, despite how terrible it makes us feel when we beat ourselves up). On top of that, we are defined by what we do; we are held accountable for our actions.
In Heathenry, I found a medium between rigidity and adaptability that is beautiful. There are consequences to my actions, and the only person responsible for those actions is the one living inside my skin. But there is no external torment waiting for me should I fail – I can recover from my failures and come back stronger than I was before. I can change without feeling like I’m doing something wrong because I’m not behaving perfectly according to some set of commandments. I don’t feel like I’m floundering because I have the virtues to guide me when I find myself confused.
So, even though I still have doubts sometimes when I go to make offerings – the type of doubts that ask “Am I doing this right? Will this God be mad that I’m not offering something better? Will this offering even be accepted?” – I know that my doubts aren’t about whether the Gods exist. That hasn’t been a question in my mind in many, many years. My doubts are about whether or not the path I’m walking is the right one and whether what I’m doing for the Gods is good enough. Perhaps I’ll always be plagued by doubts about not being perfect, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be perfect, and I’ve started to accept that.
That’s why I have such a hard time with Heathen traditions that insist the only correct path is reconstructionism or, conversely, that only hard polytheists should be allowed within certain traditions. Where does the lore say that believers must conform to certain practices? Where in the Nine Noble Virtues or in the creed “We are our deeds,” can you find a guideline that says only reconstructionists or hard polytheists should be allowed to worship the Gods? Don’t you guys get it yet? The Gods don’t care about the shit we make up to fight about. They’re too busy with their own problems.
I read an interesting article a few weeks ago about how Heathenry is Godless in some ways because there are many Heathens who have never even felt the presence of one of the Gods. The point being made in that article (I wish I had saved it to share the link) was that Heathenry is Godless because Heathens make it more about research than devotion. Heathens make it more about scholarly pursuits and academia and science than about the Gods themselves. And, because of that, it was no wonder that Heathens had trouble connecting to the Gods.
The author had a good point, and, to add to that: if you want to connect with a God, you have to connect with a God. You can’t just do research and hope to understand the ideas behind a God. The Gods aren’t just ideas and concepts on paper. They are real, breathing entities with emotions and desires of Their own, each more complex than a human being (and we’re pretty damn complicated). Trying to convey the essence of a God on paper – no, trying to understand the essence of a God through the written word – is impossible. Why do you think so many Christians have such a limited understanding of their own God? The answer is simple – they rely too heavily on the written word and too little on the spiritual connection.
So work on connecting more and worry about the how less. The best way to connect to the Gods is to learn to see them as people. Read the stories as if the Gods you are reading about are standing beside you telling you Their own version of things. Use your imagination. The Gods can connect to us through any path we choose to receive them. They are limitless. And, as learned earlier today in Calculus, it’s impossible to limit the unlimitless.