Putting on the Wolf Skin

frontcoverIntroducing my latest book, Putting on the Wolf Skin: The Berserkergang and Other Forms of Somafera.

The berserkers are legendary: mad, hairy Viking warriors who fought like wild animals, giving no thought to fear or pain. How did they perform seemingly supernatural feats – and what did they have in common with ancient Greek women dancing to exhaustion in pursuit of their god, or Vodoun practitioners eating glass while possessed by spirits, or Pentecostal preachers speaking in tongues, or even mad scientists walking the fine line between inspiration and insanity? Although arising out of widely varying cultures and worldviews, all of these people used heavily altered states of consciousness to enhance the functioning of their bodies and brains.

Today the berserkergang is being revived, drawing not only on ancient accounts, but on similar traditions around the world and throughout history. Together these practices are called somafera, “the body wild.” This book explores the many variants of somafera – including its martial, religious and intellectual applications – with a concentration on the berserkergang. The author shares his personal experiences as well as the results of decades of research. Both theory and practice are addressed, and examined from a unique combination of spiritual and scientific perspectives.

Available for purchase on Amazon.com, or direct from Createspace.

Some Thoughts on Odin’s Path and the Modern World

Today is the anniversary of my berserker initiation. Fourteen years ago I stood in the ancient ruins of Dogtown, abandoned centuries ago and considered haunted ever since, and faced the ritual fire. In the years since that night, I have been asked why many times. I have answered that question several times, in other places. On reflecting on the experience today, I was moved instead of why to talk about the reason why the question gets asked at all.

The simple reason why people ask me this question is that today’s world is seriously lacking some of the Odinic values. Many people, even many heathens, do not believe that Odin has anything to offer today’s world. But it’s not as simple as that. You see, this is only one side of the issue. The other side is the other question I get asked by a very different bunch of people: why don’t I rely on the aggression of the berserkergang and the Odinic path more than I do? There are, broadly and stereotypically speaking, two kinds of modern heathens. Both of them tend to miss the true Odinic path in some ways, I think.

To understand the context of these questions, I have to share a little bit about my past. I was born in “The Armpit of the Nation,” that area of Massachusetts comprising the cities of Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and Lovell. It was an economically depressed area, all dying mill towns and gangs. My childhood was rather violent. I was shot before I hit my teens. It gave me a rather skewed understanding of the world, perhaps, but it also gave me a high tolerance for hardship and danger. It is a big part of what made me an Odinist. I needed power, and the ability to fight, and he offered me both. It also helped lead me to live the kind of life that I have lived since growing up.

I am, as I discussed in my last post, primarily a scientist. My life has largely been dedicated to pursuing my own scientific studies, even though there is no money in it. That is, after all, how I helped to redevelop the berserkergang as a living practice. As such, I know a lot of academic people, a lot of thoughtful philosophical types. Some of them are heathen. Many of them are atheist. Most of them are liberal. Many have been my friends. Most of them don’t get me, though. They find me scary, and violent, and they do not understand the “dark, risky” path that I have chosen to walk. They ask me why I am an Odinist. They ask me why I have become a berserk. To them, such things are insanities from a bygone era. And yes, this includes many modern heathens.

It seems that they don’t understand two things. One: the world actually is still a scary, dangerous place. Yes, they have the fortune to live in the better parts of a rich country, and can choose to pretend that such places do not exist. That does not make them go away though. A great many people aren’t as fortunate as they are. I got myself out of a bad beginning to life through the Odinic path. The things I have learned on that path have been of use to others.

Additionally, Odin is a god of much more than war. He is the god of inspiration, and also of science. (Which is just a specific form of inspiration-derived work.) Science depends on the eureka moment, the moment of insight when everything become clear and you realize how it all works. That moment can be deliberately triggered, through the practice of certain Odinic arts, and that is a skill of inestimable value to all forms of science. It is also difficult, and extremely stressful. The character development I have gone through pursuing the Odinic path’s more, er, vigorous aspects is of incalculable value in this too.

I have never much cared for the stupid little rules and popularity contests of society, so it was easy for me to make the decision to reject it all and live the way I wanted to. A big part of this has involved wandering the Earth. I live to see cool stuff. I live to discover secret things, and to set my eyes on sights never seen before. I have traveled all over the Americas and Europe, in both hemispheres. I have been privy to the secret rites of the Chanting Dervishes, and talked at length with an Isawiyaan elder, whose kind has long been thought to have vanished. I have walked through a necropolis on the other side of the world, explored caves running far beneath the surface of the Earth, been in a fortress with walls so thick they had internal highways, and seen places that look far more like alien planets than places from this world. I have partied with bikers and with crowds that contained fashion designers and Kennedies. (Bikers party WAY better.)

When you wander that far, you keep winding up in strange and even dangerous situations. I’ve had to intervene in domestic violence situations more than once. I’ve gotten involved in trying to get an idiot out of the dangerous situation with organized crime that she thought she could handle. I’ve been accosted by various street thugs and robbers. I have fought no holds barred matches against sumo-sized giants and special forces soldiers half my age, in a ring made of barbed wire. It hasn’t been a boring life.

Because of this part of my life, I have also come to know a wide variety of soldiers, professional sport fighters, thugs, borderline criminals, outright criminals, hookers with hearts of gold, lowlifes, noble hobos, vaudeville performers, and various other colorful characters. Many of these have been right wing. Many of them have been heathen. Many of them have been my friends. They don’t get me either, mostly.

I tend to end up having the same conversation with these people, too. For example, I was discussing my martial arts training with a younger fighter one day, and mentioned that my sensei had rebuked me sharply one night when I came to see him, expressing pride at winning a street fight. He told me that hand to hand combat, though a necessary skill, was a minor one, and only to be used as a last resort. He said that instead of pride I should feel shame, because I was not instantly aware of the situation well enough to manipulate it to be resolved without violence.

The kid found this puzzling. He asked for an example. So I told him about one of the more dangerous shifts I had as a social worker. I have been a security guard and a body guard, but I NEVER saw so much action as when I was a social worker. One night at the shelter for runaway teens, my kids came running in quickly, then sat down and behaved very well. This naturally made me suspicious, and I soon had the truth out of them: they had gotten into a gang fight with a gang that had proved to be more hardcore than they were, and they had fled. Upon further questioning, they revealed that they may not have lost them while fleeing the battleground.

Sure enough, the shelter was soon confronted with some 14 tough guys demanding that my boys come out and face the music. Calling the cops was no good. In that neighborhood, they never showed up in under 30 minutes, hoping things would resolve themselves first without risk to them. So I told my idiots that I was going outside and that if they didn’t stay inside, then if we all survived the confrontation, I would kill them myself. Because I had proved to them that they could trust me to look out for them AND to kick their asses if needed, they obeyed.

So, I went up to the end of the driveway and faced the other gang. Because I was alone, I had several seconds in which they would listen to me talk. After all, I obviously was not a threat. Because I have had, thanks to my sensei, extensive training as a Mentalist (read: Headologist, or Functional Amateur Psychologist) I was able to do what is known as a cold reading on several of them, particularly the leader. My single unarmed man bit bought me the time for it. So we chatted for a few minutes, while they aired their grievances and threats, and I selected a strategy. I berserked, but only a bit. Just enough to seem dangerous. And I told them, in a calm level voice, that they did indeed have the numbers and weapons to kill me. I also promised them that the first four across the line that separated us would die. I described how, in detail. And I promised them that I was not going to allow them to go after my idiots, even though, yes, they probably were the ones in the wrong.

Somehow, none of them wanted to be one of the first four. So they all held back. Once their hesitation went on long enough, I made it clear to the leader that he had lost control of the situation, and that it was time to move on. Not being a total idiot, he did.

You see, I had used a much better weapon than a gang of armed teenagers. I used Story as a weapon. I fed them a story that they would believe, that would make them choose of their own free will to behave as I wanted them to. What, a strange man confronting a gang of armed street thugs all alone, without any weapons? Talking like he has no fear at all? Well, they’ve seen that scene a hundred times, in movies and on TV. The obviously outmatched weirdo always turns out to be a vampire, or a legendary hit man, or something like that, and kills everybody. And, well, what kind of halfwit would BLUFF something like that, right? So they believed me just enough to lose their nerve.

The young fighter I was talking to asked why I took the risk I did. I am a skilled berserk, he pointed out, and could likely have simply scared them all off or actually kicked their asses (not bloody likely) rather than dissemble, bargain, and manipulate in a scheme that required me to be unarmed and alone. He thought it a foolish risk. He thought my sensei’s advice foolish. He said that I should have taken pride in my berserker nature, and my status as an Odinic priest, and taught them a lesson they would never forget.

I get questions like this from this crowd all the time. And similar ones, like why I pay heed to the moralities and beliefs of other cultures, or why I still hand out with elitist eggheads and never joined the armed forces and fought in a real war.

You see, this sort of heathen doesn’t really understand Odinic values in this modern world either. It is no longer enough to fight for the sake of fighting! That is a foolishness of the ancient world, a weakness that we would do well to leave behind. My left-wing friends are correct there. All lives are valuable, all lives should be cherished. An Odinist in today’s world SHOULD have handled that situation as I did. Odinists are expected to be heroes. Modern people are expected to have ideals. So I do not feel, as my right-wing brothers and sisters, that such sentimentality is a weakness. Indeed, I have found it a great source of strength. And because I am a hero, I will take risks to live up to those ideals. That means protecting the stupid teenagers I was responsible for from the consequences of their own actions. It ALSO meant protecting the attackers, if I possibly could manage it.

And you know what? I DID. I sent them all packing without ANYONE having to get hurt.

Particularly me.

All because I used a warrior’s BEST weapon: that 8 pound lump of grey goo in my skull. And this wasn’t an isolated incident. Since I graduated from my martial arts program, and got enough experience in the real world to have some worth as a serious fighter, you know what?

I’ve never had to fight. I have handled every situation that has arisen in the last several years by using my head and my words. And this is because I think I do understand a thing or two about Odin’s path and its relationship to today’s world.

My pacifistic, liberal brothers and sisters are wrong that only thugs and professional lawmen have need of the skills of war. Lawmen cannot be everywhere, and even privileged rich countries have many dark and bad things happening all over. Because I had the skills needed to fight for my life, I had the confidence to tackle a few of these situations. My more war-like right wing brethren are also wrong. Because I had the benefit of modern, peaceful, evolved ideals I could manage to resolve things, again and again, so that nobody had to get hurt. I survived to fight another day. My kids survived. Mission accomplished, minimum fuss, maximum efficiency. Because I could take the high road, and show that you could be a better person even in the face of danger, I could really make these kids listen when I told them that their lives could be better, even nobler, than the lives they were then living. It is because I see both Odin’s higher intellectual functions and his base warrior functions that I could do these things.

Of course, many of you dear readers are going to see this as a simple excuse to boast on my part. Somehow, whenever I have to talk about any experiences from either my scientific work or adventuring, most people leap to that conclusion. But I think that what I have to say here is important. Odin offers something unique to the modern world, something that it needs. Odin’s path allows everyone, even lay people, to receive some of the benefits of the warrior’s path, without the need to become a soldier. It encourages people to have heroic ideals. And it offers a way to uphold those ideals, without either weakness or compromise. Odinists can benefit from the perspective of both right and left wing, both liberal and conservative. Odinists can go far beyond the limits of either of these philosophies. And that understanding won’t be passed around unless people talk about something other than either the knee-jerk violence and warrior-responses of the right wing heathens or the often unworkable but still beautiful and all too necessary ideals of the left wing heathens.

I came to much of this understanding on a road that started on the night that I stood in the ruins of Dogtown, and held my hand in a fire, and understood what GOING BERSERK truly meant.

Odin and Science

Well, it’s been a while since I have been able to post. Life gets busy sometimes when you’re self-employed. However, after seeing this post on Odin and science, I got jealous enough to want to say something on the subject myself. I wish I’d written the post. The author covers the subject well, though, and there’s little I can add. However, because it is a subject that heathenry in general should be more aware of, I thought it appropriate to spread the word a little further.

I do relate strongly to Odin as a god of war, and warriors. The things that I have learned on this path are invaluable to me in all walks of life. But this is not the primary relationship that I have with him. Like the author of this post, I relate to him primarily as a god of science. The part I have played in the redevelopment of the berserkergang has been the part of a scientist. My primary interests in life are all scientific explorations of one sort or another. And it is Odin who guides me in these explorations.

Odin teaches understanding. He teaches being willing to make great sacrifices in exchange for knowledge. The skills that he teaches, particularly the transcendental awareness states of seidh and galdr, are of great use in the pursuit of science. His whole approach to the world is that of a scientist: exploring, experimenting, understanding. Odin is a god of the acquisition of power, and he well understands that knowledge brings power.

Anyways, read the post. It’s good.

An Odinic Book of Hours

As an Odinist, I keep getting asked about why I am one, and how I make Odin’s lessons apply to my daily life. This usually seems to be the result of someone only being aware of Odin as a god of warriors. However, while an Odinist should indeed have something to do with the arts of war, he or she must be so much more than that.

An Odinist must also be a person of knowledge in some way. Spiritual development must also be a constant part of the Odinist’s path. He is also a god of poets and, by extension, all of the inspired arts. After all, he is the god of inspiration. An Odinist should therefore also be something of an artist. An Odinist must also be a traveler, for his role as a wanderer is as important as his role as a warrior, if not more so.

This is a lot to do. Living in a way that expresses this path does not involve a lot of sleep or down time. As a poor working man, I cannot give myself to an entirely religious devotional path. Nor do I think I should. Odinists should be active in the world. So I try to make my life in the world also an expression of my religious devotion.

This combination of a lay life with elements of monastic devotion is something that Christians used to do particularly in the Middle Ages. To this end they wrote Books of Hours, that gave monastic schedules of devotional activities and prayers for each hour, with explanations of what they meant. Lay people could incorporate as much or as little monastic structure into their lives as they liked.

This is much what I have tried to do with my life as an Odinist. While I have a great many practices that happen once or a few times a year, or on special occasions, I try to arrange each day as an expression of all of the Odinic virtues, and keep to a devotional schedule appropriate for a holy man.

After I wake up I take an hour showering, dressing, making coffee, cooking, etc. My particular way of relaxing after this is to read the news while drinking my coffee. An Odinist should be a person of knowledge, after all. I increase my awareness of the world while waking up more fully. It’s pretty relaxing and an expression of my Odinic path.

After this I put on music. An Odinist should be involved in art, and that includes appreciating as well as creating. During this time I write blog posts, catch up on email, moderate the forums I run, write something more for my latest book, or take care of incidental business matters. (I’m self employed.) I am being creative during some of these tasks, and living up to my various responsibilities at the same time. The music puts me in touch with my inner self, as I generally choose music that will do that.

Which makes the time following this period perfect for meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices. On a rushed day I might have no more time than allows for a quick bow and “Hail Odin!” at my altar. Other days I might spend a half hour in meditation, or stadhagaldr, or seidh. I also get in a good physical workout at this time. Staying in shape is not just good for health, it is a necessary part of being a warrior. Even Odinists who do not fight professionally should live as if combat is always possible. Part of this means staying in shape. I also work martial arts drills during this time.

After the workout I take a break, sitting down to read a book. I cannot travel physically every day, but I can travel in my head. With a book I can visit world created in the heads of others. In its own way, this is as instructive as physical traveling.

Then I buckle down to work. On days when I am tending to my business, this simply means doing business work. On the occasional days I set aside for my true passion, the sciences, I pursue my scientific work. These days are best for me, in that science is also a creative endeavor, and it is also a prime opportunity for me to pursue knowledge.

During the working day (as I work at home) I take breaks to work some martial arts forms, or meditate. At the end of the day, some days, I unwind with a few drinks. This is not just a means of relaxation, it is also an Odinic sacrament. He is the god of alcohol, and its use as an entheogen was a large part of Odinic practice.

Every day I live is guided by my understanding of the Odinic path. It is not just a path for warriors, it is a path that can enrich and fulfill day to life as well. By taking a devotional approach to daily life, I can turn every day into a repetition of perfection, a broad, full expression of what it means to be an Odinist.

Hail Odin.

Immediate and Extreme Escalation

One of my nieces recently turned 18, and another turned 13. At the older niece’s birthday I reflected back on my time with them, and asked myself: “Have I taught them to be brutal and merciless enough when circumstances demand it?”

As their uncle and an Odinist, I have always figured that it was my responsibility to teach them how to defend themselves. Especially after I heard what their father taught them on the subject. While I would not normally interfere, he is estranged and has little part in raising them. Plus his advice was stupid, and could get them hurt or killed.

You see, he had told them that if they were ever attacked, then they had a moral obligation to only respond with the exact same level of force, to retreat if at all possible, and to never initiate anything or escalate the situation.

This sort of bullshit is the sure sign of an overprivileged middle- or upper-class idiot who has been insulated enough from the real world to never have been in any real danger or take any significant risks. The kind of person who makes moral codes based entirely on theory and not at all on real world considerations.

As a priest of Odin, my understanding of Odinic principles and teachings has bid me to do many things that some would consider risky. I have worked in shelters for homeless teens and adults. I have intervened in domestic violence situations. I have stepped into the ring with Navy SEALs, giants, and more for amateur MMA fights. I have learned a thing or two about violent, dangerous situations from actual real world experience.

Such advice as my nieces’ father gave them is seriously flawed on several levels. The most significant of which is that it gives the initiative to the attacker. NEVER do this. When you only respond and never initiate, when you let the attacker take the first move, you give your attacker complete control of the situation. If you do not have serious skills trained into you, do you know what your chances are of surviving an attack that is meant to kill or incapacitate, when your attacker is larger and stronger than you are, or armed? Pretty much zero.

Instead, I taught them that if they were ever attacked, or threatened with attack, their best chance of survival lay in immediate and extreme escalation. I taught them to scream, to advance aggressively. I taught them tricky attacks that were designed to avoid their natural limitation of small size, attacks that could end the situation immediately. I taught them how to shatter kneecaps, tear tendons and ligaments from their moorings, gouge out eyes, and more. I taught them how to use the contents of their purses as weapons. I taught them to do whatever it took to end the attack immediately. Anything less pretty much guarantees their defeat.

I taught them to be responsible about it, yes. But women in our society are too often programmed to be meek and to put themselves in danger rather than act inappropriately, and I made damn sure to counter this message. I taught them that if they did kill or cripple an attacker then the moral burden for it was on him, as the initiator of the attack, and not on them. I also pointed out that the philosophy of immediate and extreme escalation was also the most likely way to end the situation without anyone getting hurt. You see, predators want easy prey. When you make it plain that you will fight back, that you will bloody well kill them if necessary, then they will often leave without any violence at all.

Some people ask what use Odin’s philosophy is in the modern world. Such questions are generally the sign of privilege and isolation from the real world. However civilized the world gets, there will always be animals, predators, crazies, and monsters. It is the job of us Odinists to help people deal with them.

Hail Odin.

We Have To Have Standards

Right-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I value other religious and spiritual traditions, and many different points of view about our own traditions. Left-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I insist on maintaining standards, and not automatically putting every other belief on par with my own. Certain perennial debates have recently surfaced again in the larger pagan community, leading me to think that it’s time to remind the more strident and knee-jerk left-wing types why they dislike me.

We need standards, people. I respect that everyone has the right to their own beliefs and opinions. I believe that even beliefs and practices that I personally find ridiculous can contain genuine worth and even insight. These things do not, however, mean that all beliefs and practices are themselves worthy of my respect. I have a right to my own beliefs and opinions too, including the opinion that this or that idea is really freaking stupid. People have the right to believe any damnfool thing they want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend it isn’t a damnfool thing to believe.

There is a fair amount of mysticism of one sort or another in the heathen community. Seidh workers, berserkers, thules, godhis, and more practice some sort of communion with the gods or lesser spirits. Many private devotees experience a divine presence in prayer, or have their prayers answered through omens or revelatory experience. This is, after all, where the concept of the UPG (Unusual Personal Gnosis) comes from. This is a good thing. The ancients were a very spiritually oriented people, and wide embracing of the spiritual in daily life means that we are finding their ways again.

This does NOT, however, mean that any and every claim of mystical experience should be given equal weight. Any and every culture that uses a spiritual practice of one sort or another has very strict standards about what did and did not qualify as a genuine mystical experience. We need such standards as well. Because frankly, we’re drowning in drivel. So let me here offer what I think are a reasonable set of standards, mostly cribbed from those of traditional mystically-oriented cultures and supplemented by my own experience.

How To Spot Fake Mysticism

1) Actual historical mystics have experiences of speaking to gods, visiting other spiritual realms, and communing with spirits only after years and years of difficult, rigorous, and even dangerous training. Did you learn to travel to Asgard after a weekend seminar? You’re a fake. Did you set yourself up as a seidh-worker after a week-long intensive? Then you’re full of $&!^. Have you been studying out of Llewelyn books on your own for a year now? You may have some talent, but you don’t have the skills to be claiming anything, Buddy.

Yeah, yeah, there are powerful natural talents who don’t need training. But such people are VERY RARE. They are the Van Goghs of the spirit-worker world. You seriously claiming you are THAT good? Ha. And double ha.

Look at Vodoun. Vodouisants regularly have spirit-possession experiences. However, not every devotee has one, and even then, it is considered only to be possible with large, well-trained groups working in unison. Are you seriously trying to claim that you alone are more powerful and knowledgeable than every Vodouisant ever? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

2) Actual historical mystics, even the powerful and talented ones, have such experiences only rarely. The Buddha is held to have been visited by a particular god THREE TIMES in his entire life. And this was taken as proof of the Buddha’s great spiritual power and enlightenment. Even when everything is set up just right in a Vodoun ritual, even highly experienced horses cannot expect regular experiences. Even the greatest of heathen heroes have been visited by their gods only a few times in their lives.

Do you claim that you are more enlightened than the Buddha? Do you expect us to believe that you are more talented than each and every Vodouisant in the world? You think you are so much more awesome even than Sigurd the Volsung that Odin is in your social circle? Go away child, grown-ups are talking.

If you claim your practice lets you speak to the gods at will, if you blog about your spirits sitting down to watch TV with you every night, if you claim to get infallible answers from the Outgarths at will, then you are a fake. You are impeding both heathen progress and the overall progress of the human race.

3) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is THE gold standard of every traditional spiritual practice ever. Including ancient heathenry.

The ancient berserks claimed to become possessed by spirits under certain extraordinary circumstances. Not just anybody could demand that their claim to being a berserk be taken seriously, though. They had to demonstrate enhanced strength, reflexes, and combat ability. They had to demonstrate GENUINE fearlessness (think about what that meant to a Viking). They often had to perform extraordinary feats, such as fire resistance.

Seidh workers couldn’t just claim the honor of the title, they had to produce results. As in, actual relevant answers to questions, solutions to problems, etc.

Vodouisant horses claiming to be ridden, or possessed, have to demonstrate the actual presence of one of the lwa. After all, a god should be able to demonstrate miracles, so a claim of possession is only validated when the ridden one chews glass, resists fire, has hot pepper extract blown into the eyes without flinching, etc.

Tibetan Bon shamans have to demonstrate such feats as drying wet towels draped around their bodies while naked in the snow in sub-zero temperatures using only body heat.

You say you talk to the gods? Prove it. Put up or shut up. A person who claims such advanced spiritual powers and knowledge can back those claims up with actions. A person who can’t is a fraud, a buffoon, or both.

4) Actual successful spirit work requires constant practice. The mental state that is required is not at all easy to get into, even with a lot of experience. It requires maintenance with serious, regular devotional practices that involve a lot of time and effort. One sure-fire way to spot a fake mystic is if they have the free time to post daily blog entries about themselves and their supposed spirit work, or if their spirit work consists of watching TV while thinking earnestly about them. If you have such abundant free time then you probably aren’t doing it right.

5) If the gods look and act exactly like you expect them to, and if they reinforce the things you have already decided to believe, you are not having spiritual experiences. What you are experiencing is called “the imagination,” and everyone can do it.

Real mystic experiences are transcendental. They leave you in tears, or laughing maniacally, or passing out from the sheer overwhelming SUCHNESS of everything. They blow your preconceptions away. They force you to see things as they are whether you want to or not, and they constantly challenge your beliefs about yourself, the world, and the nature of the gods themselves.

6) Do you talk constantly about your experiences? Do you constantly demand validation of your experiences from others? You’ve had no experiences. The true spiritual experience is powerful and personal, and the person experiencing it almost never feels like sharing it. It is far too personal, and difficult to put into words. A person who has had a genuine spiritual experience KNOWS it, and does not seek to have everyone affirm that it was genuine.

7) Anyone who has become a god-spouse to Loki shortly after one of the Marvel Thor or Avengers movies has come out is a fake. This also applies to any other works of popular fiction that use names or images of gods and spirits.

It is possible for someone to hear The Call through such a medium, yes. But it is not bloody likely. In general, such characters are fictional characters used to tell a story. They usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual god or spirit portrayed.

Look at Marvel Loki. He has NOTHING in common with the actual Loki from the ancient stories. Marvel Loki goes into a lovely hammy speech about the evils of freedom. Actual Loki is all about freedom. He may even be THE god of freedom. Marvel Loki betrays his kin. Actual Loki pranks his kin and betrays outsiders, but does not betray kin who have not betrayed him first. Marvel Loki is an enemy of Asgard, actual Loki is an agent of Asgard. So to all you Marvel-inspired Loki spouses: you don’t know a thing about Loki.

We need to have standards when it comes to spiritual experiences in this religion. If we don’t then the traditional ways of personal and spiritual development will be hijacked by people who are deluding themselves, lying, or even essentially LARPING. There is a lot of value in the old ways, the spiritual approach to life. Anyone can benefit from it, anyone can take up the spiritual path. However, not everyone will succeed. Worth proves itself. Heathens believe that deeds are more important than words. Those who genuinely have something of worth to add to our spiritual lore will prove it. Those who will not are not worth listening to.

Post Script

And speaking of standards, I wish to add a word here about religious standards apart from spiritual practices. Not everybody who says they practice our religion does. We need to be open to other beliefs, other points of view, yes. But if these points of view are radically different from the traditional ones, then they are not representative of traditional beliefs. Humanist heathens, and chaos magicians, and especially xaos magicians, are not heathen. They believe that they can believe anything they like about the gods and heathen ideals. They believe that worshipping the gods is nothing more than building up thoughtforms in the head. These people will, for instance, worship Marvel Thor and demand to be taken seriously by traditional heathens.

They have a right to their beliefs. It is a valid enough spiritual tradition of its own. However, it is essentially atheist, and not in any way heathen. They are free to use our images and names, they are part of their heritage too. But this does not mean that they have the right to be considered actual heathens.

Poverty and Piety

With Christmas here, I get a lot of time off from work, and so have a little extra time to find out more of what’s happening in Pagan-land. The farce I just stumbled across seems to deserve a word or two, so that will be the topic of my blog post today. I’ve never read Tess Dawson’s blog before, but she seems like a clear thinker of a pagan, and she has recently written a valuable piece on how to interact with a god when you are not sure of the god’s identity. She offered the very traditional and level-headed suggestion that you leave out offering of food or drink that are not to be consumed, but devoted wholly to the god.

Totally traditional. This is how the ancients did it. Totally respectful and pious. Giving something to the god, something that you have to give up yourself, is a sacrifice, it is an act of devotion. Yet despite these facts, this simple commonsense recommendation has released a firestorm of petty bullshittery from a crowd of people with some serious cases of recto-cranial inversion. I’m not even going to bother addressing their complaints about leaving offerings you don’t consume, although I will mention that offering food to a guest and then eating it instead yourself would usually be seen as the very height of rudeness. No, I am going to have to address the comments made about poor people and religious devotion.

The worst offender seems to be this Aubs Tea person. She had the incredible effrontery to say a lot of insane things about poor people. But before I get started on that, let me mention: I’m dirt poor. Always have been. I am pretty much as poor as they come in this country. I sometimes go to sleep hungry. I often must choose between buying food or buying medicine. I cannot afford a car. I have spent a few weeks homeless, sleeping in some rough and dangerous places. So I know what I’m talking about when I talk about being poor and religious.

Basically, this Tea person is claiming that poverty makes it impossible for poor people to make any religious offerings at all, therefore having the expectation that the gods should receive offerings somehow classist and religiously inappropriate. She then goes on to declare that poor people are so emotionally beaten down that they cannot even be expected to perform simple devotional acts that do not require sacrifice. Apparently, in her view, poverty destroys the soul, so that things like prayer and temple cleaning are too much effort. This is, in her view, so endemic amongst the poor that even expecting religious people to be pious, and to devote some of their time and effort to the gods, is incredibly classist and offensive to the poor.

Seriously? Seriously??? WTF? I am calling bullshit on that, Ms. Tea. I am poor. I find your words to be incredibly freaking offensive. Not all poor people are beaten down, whipped curs who cannot even find enough spirit to honor the gods. Seriously, Ms. Tea, f*<& you. I have struggled all my life with poverty, and with keeping a devout religious practice in the midst of poverty. So have many others. Your lame attempt to paint us all as victims belittles our struggles.

Nobody but a poor person has the right to say this, but I am, and I do: poverty can be a great source of inspiration and strength. A terrible one, to be sure, but useful and even enlightening nonetheless. I am an Odinist. I use my religion to help me meet the struggle of poverty. Odin, my patron, teaches that hardship is valuable and I have held onto the teaching during those hard hungry times. I have seen it as a form of testing. I have used it to learn to do without unnecessary fripperies. I have used it to find enjoyment and beauty in even fleeting, small things. I have used it to find a center of spiritual equanimity.

I thank my gods for this. And as I love them, as I am grateful to them, I show them honor and respect. Even when I lived in the homeless jungle, as such encampments are called, I managed to pour out a little drink, or leave part of my own food for them. If this meant I went a little hungrier, then so be it. Wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice if I didn’t suffer a little. Indeed, I took PRIDE in this, I felt it made my sacrifices MORE valuable because they cost me so dearly.

Ms. Tea, poverty can beat a person down or raise them up. I am terribly sorry that it seems to have done the former to you. But don’t you dare go painting us all as having failed, like you, to cope. We are not all victims. We are not all weaklings. We do not all hide behind our poverty as an excuse to get out of doing anything meaningful for the gods we claim to love.

And seriously, you really think this: “If your heart isn’t in it, then don’t do it,” is good advice for poor people or, indeed, anyone? This is frankly the worst religious advice I ever heard. It is when your heart isn’t in it that devotional activity matters MOST.