I saw an announcement about this posted on Tumblr and it reminded me about something I’d thought about writing up last summer, about why I feel drawn to the Rokkr, the Jotuns, more so than the Aesir or Vanir in the Norse pantheon, but – shocking, I know – never quite got around to.
I thought the way it was put was interesting, because in some regards, I fall into both/neither of the “extreme” ends of the spectrum:
Many Pagans have a spiritual practice that starts from the ground up (quite literally). For them, the lived experienced and the wisdom gained from their engagement with the earth, the land, or with their own sense of self is paramount.
Many polytheists (particularly non-Pagan identifying polytheists) have a religious practice that is deity-centric. For them, the relationship with their Gods, informed as it is by the precepts of their tradition, is of greatest importance.
But some of us float in between. Some of us are not so certain of how comfortable we are with either of the extremes. . .
And some later questions for thought:
If you are a person who structures your religious life around a devotional practice to your Gods, how is that informed by your values? Or, how does your practice inform your values?
If you do not see yourself as religious, but rather as a spiritual Pagan, what informs your sense of personal values? How are your values lived out in your spiritual life?
This bears some similarities to other essays and discussions I have seen, of some people describing different ways of being Pagan: earth-centered, deity-centered, and Self-centered.
I identify as a hard polytheist, but a great deal of how I live my life – have lived it for years – is informed by beliefs and values that are not drawn from my devotional practices or beliefs in deities. Those beliefs do, to some degree, affect how I relate to the deities I worship, and the deities I am most drawn to also reaffirm my commitments to those values.
In some ways I find some of these distinctions kind of perplexing, because very few of my values, in the way that I incorporate my spirituality with my life, changed when I became a hard polytheist, and developed a deity- and spirit-centered religious practice. Many of those values – my basic approach to life – simply interleaved themselves seamlessly with the discovery of Who my Gods are. Better than that – my pre-existing values and the Powers I am most drawn to seem . . . uncannily suited to be together.
Really I could just summarize my life, my religious and spiritual practices and values, as “living in right relationship” and be done with it. That wouldn’t be much of an essay, though.
Up until about a year ago, I identified, for my entire life, as either an atheist or agnostic, depending on my mood at the time.
And for about as long as I’ve been thinking about environmental issues (back to childhood), I’ve considered myself an environmentalist. I’ve always been drawn more to nature and not-human-centered spaces more than I’ve been drawn to human beings and their concerns. I feel a kind of wholeness, and peace, and rightness, when I am not in urban settings, or when I have a good visual connection to something not urbanized (mountains, open fields) while within a city.
A significant reason I decided over a decade ago to pursue a career in architecture (plans now terminated in favor of something else), was the discovery of sustainable design in buildings: the chance to pursue a career where I could do something beneficial for the environment as a whole, not merely human beings, was what gave me the emotional desire to go that direction.
Without putting a lot of ceremony into it, I decided several years ago that what I wanted to dedicate my life to was work, a career, that was supportive and healing of the earth. To live as much of my life as possible in accordance with my values.
I’m not going to go on a long rant about all the terrible destruction human beings have wrought on the environment in the name of financial gain, the many ecological disasters stemming from short-sighted and abusive treatment of the land and other animals, but there are reasons I tag some of my writing with “western civilization has a lot to answer for.” Read up on the Dust Bowl, the Hinckley Firestorm, and the Tillamook Burn, for some brilliant historical examples of how failure to understand and properly respect local ecology, to live in balance with it – by taking from it as though it would never run out, or would “always” recover – trashed some large, unique ecosystems.
I believe very, very, very strongly that it is imperative that we redesign our buildings, our cities, and our industrial way of life to not only be “sustainable,” but to be restorative. To integrate human civilization in a healthy way with the rest of the planet, and to give back to the ecosystems we interact with as much as we take. No – to give back MORE than we take, because at this point, that is what is necessary to begin to slow, and perhaps, in many many years, reverse, a bit, the appalling climate change and other ecological degradation going on almost everywhere on the planet.
I have considered these to be spiritual values for quite a long time, and this has informed how I live my life, from small actions to my career focus. Hilariously, in more recent years, I started thinking that, even if I didn’t believe in gods, I still had a “pagan heart,” because the non-human world was the most spiritually nourishing part of my life.
I had thought from time to time that, if I ever became religious, I would go pagan, because that that was about worshiping nature, right, . . . DON’T JUDGE ME I really didn’t look deeply at it, and that was about how deep my knowledge of paganism went. However, I couldn’t bring myself to look into attending any rituals or group events or anything, because I believed that deities and spirits and all that didn’t really exist, and I would have felt weird, disrespectful, showing up somewhere that gods were being worshiped, and not believing in that part of the whole deal.
So last year, I got it in my head that there was a deity (Loki) who had a claim on me, and in the course of looking for more information on Him, I found the Shadowlight site, which not only had a really intriguing essay on Loki, it had interesting information on some of the other “dark” Norse deities. Looking for more information on these Rokkr deities, I found the Northern Tradition site, and this:
Working with the Rökkr and the Giants gives a different slant to our politics as well. Those of us who work with the Giants find them to be strongly allied to the forces of Nature (as opposed to the forces of Civilization), and their values reflect this, and reflect what they ask of us as well. For the Rökkatru among NT Pagans, environmentalism isn’t just a hobby; it’s something that our spirit-allies ask of us. The best offering you can give to Ran and Aegir is to clean up a beach. Honoring Hela means that composting organic waste is more than a quaint idea. It’s an integral part of our beliefs.
At which point, I literally teared up, and I felt some sort of pull in my chest, and I knew these are my gods. Not so much the Aesir or Vanir, Who are allied more closely with civilization and agriculture, respectively, but the Giants, the primal forces of nature, these are the deities I am most strongly drawn to and need to pay the most attention to.
Over time, via divination and clue-by-four from at least two of Them (one of Them being from the Aesir part of the pantheon, because deities don’t respect being put into tidy little boxes), I have been informed that really, I need to forget about the architecture, and get to pursuing a career more strongly focused on landscape work. At this point, it looks like it isn’t going to be so much about designing gardens or pretty places for human beings to hang out, it is going to be more oriented towards restoring landscapes. Recreating habitat. Places not for humans, although of course we will benefit as well.
Now, most of my religious practices are very strongly deity-focused. I am a Lokean godspouse, so my religious practices, and a lot of my time, are focused on Loki. I also have regular, but much less intense, devotional practices for several other deities and spirits I have relationships with. Little of this has anything to do with my crunchy treehugger environmentalism, except that I buy organic whenever possible, so They get organic food, and I compost offerings whenever possible. I let what I learn from Them, and from resources written by other polytheists, inform what I do in that regard.
And when I read myths and other writing about the Norse pantheon, I tend to interpret some of those myths through my environmentalist filter, even if the story or the deities involved are not necessarily traditionally tightly linked to some particular thing about nature.
Some of my devotional practices, though, blend my environmental values and my religious practices. My primary devotional practice for Ran and the Undines is removing trash from the beach, which I was told by other practioners is a really good way to make an offering to Them. I started this relationship after getting some insight that, at some point, I would need to learn things from Them, and certain other strongly elementally-focused deities, related to . . . something down the road.
My incipient career looks like it may be a blend as well. (I’m very new to this part of my path, I really have no idea how much spirit stuff will be a part of it. “Some,” I think.) I do not think this is Work I am doing for any deity in particular, though some of Them are clearly helping me prepare for it, and it seems pretty clear that this is work that They value highly, but I would have considered this work – like my hoped-for architectural career – spiritually meaningful even if I’d never felt compelled to start talking to or believing in gods.
I am not interested in serving humanity directly. The work I expect to be doing will benefit us, but that is not my primary concern. My primary concerns in my life, which is inseparable from my religious/spiritual life, are my devotional relationships with Loki and certain Others, and my work to restore ecological balance.