(How did so much time pass already? And: I thought I’d be somewhere different by now.)
The first question for the Heathen Round Table couldn’t be more perfect:
“How did you first become involved in heathenry? What started you on this path, and how has it changed you?”
I got a notion in my head that a certain Norse god had some interest in me, like a claim, or something – that He was my “patron god,” not that I knew what that meant – and after trying to fight off this silly idea, I started to take it seriously. It felt true in a way other realizations in my life had felt true, and following up on those had been good – in fact, I knew that trying to ignore feelings that felt like that often caused trouble, or at least really unpleasant inner struggles. However, unlike previous realizations (such as “oh shit, I’m polyamorous”), this involved a god, and I was a life-long atheist/agnostic. The fact that it felt true despite my certainty that gods don’t exist made me kind of outraged.
I was simultaneously dealing with an extremely intense fascination with a certain fandom, intense enough that I was a little weirded out by it; I’ve gotten obsessed with fictional characters in the past, but this was a bit beyond normal. It wasn’t really a problem; I was enjoying it, though I had been a bit surprised to find myself moving from disinterest/dislike in the film character (and a weird relief that I had found said character wholly unappealing), to, well, selecting fan fiction based almost entirely on whether or not he was in it. (Tumblr fandom analysis of this character had done a great deal to turn me from “do not want/why all the fannishness??” to “well, he’s a much more sympathetic character than I’d thought” to . . . well let’s just omit those thoughts, shall we?)
Loki had always been my favorite mythological figure, but by the time The Avengers came out, I hadn’t read Norse mythology in many, many years. I knew some of the Marvel versions of the gods were not quite right, but I couldn’t remember specifics. After a week or two of reading some fanfic that was blending Marvel with myth, I started looking up Norse mythological info via Wikipedia. Because I’m a nerd, and I hate not know which set of “facts” belong to which source.
Then I ended up with this bullshit “patron god” thing bothering me. Like, really bothering me. Like, I really wanted to figure out how I could find out if it was REALLY true. I needed to know (and the feeling of need bothered me, too). I went to a fan forum for the source I’d heard the term (the Malazan novels), but it yielded little insight into what the phrase meant. Later, a web search for “heathen patron” started turning up interesting results.
Then I got obsessed with reading up on Loki, the actual Norse god. Like, really really obsessed. One of the websites I found was Shadowlight, and what the author wrote on the “Rokkr” deities seemed really fascinating. So I added that to my search, and found the Northern Tradition website.
What was written there about worship of the Norse Giants was part of the “welcome home” I was looking for. I realized after reading a few paragraphs that these were my gods, the Powers associated with natural forces, not so much the Aesir or Vanir, and this was what I’d been looking for, without ever consciously looking. (I’d always known that if I ever became religious, it would be some kind of pagan, because I’ve always been some kind of nature worshiper, but I couldn’t consider trying paganism out while I was an atheist. The connection of the Jotnar with nature, rather than human civilization kinds of concerns, as the majority of pagan gods seem to be, is a big deal for me – and it helped me understand why I’d never felt much pull towards the Norse before, since the most well-known Norse deities ARE the Aesir/Vanir crew.)
Anyway, some poking around of a few places left me realizing the only way to find out if this “patron god” thing was really true was to ask. Ask Him. . . . That wasn’t a nervous-making thought ha ha ha. Why I have no trouble at all reaching out to complete strangers to ask them things why would a god be any worse???????
So the evening of Summer Solstice, three years ago, I stepped out the backdoor with: a candle, matches, a shot of gin, and a perfect strawberry from my last trip to the farmers’ market. I use the burnt end of the match to write a couple runes on the underside of the stone I decided would work as an altar, placed the strawberry and a freshly picked wildflower (weed) there, and, after rehearsing my little “so I had this idea, I always liked You best, so uh let me know okay?” speech many times over, finally whispered it out to the air, feeling really exposed and ridiculous.
I felt weird before I got to the speaking part. Kind of, but not exactly, lightheaded. I knew it wasn’t nerves, but. It was like reality had shifted in some way. In retrospect, I know what that really was, but then I had absolutely no understanding of how spirits can manifest, or what interacting with them could be like. It took a couple more weeks before I started realizing that certain things happening were Loki “talking” to me (or showing up in meditative experiences, or via other, more intense and weird situations).
I knew when I stepped out the door that what I was doing meant my life was permanently changed, no matter what happened as a result. I had already decided I was a “hard polytheist,” and clearly, praying to a god because I felt it might yield results was a pretty serious no-take-backs step. I wasn’t sure this was a reasonable thing to do, though, taking up religion; I felt like if I told anyone, they’d think I was crazy. But in the past few weeks, there was the new cashier at the local market, with his Mjolnir pendant, and there was the online course I was taking, where I got assigned a city in Sweden (an ancestral land), so, maybe those were omens and I should keep on . . .
I had no, zero, zip, nada idea of what changes might actually happen. I had probably read a thing or two at that point talking about a few people’s experiences, but even after reading more and more, I don’t think I ever thought I would end up experiencing any of that. Or that. Or those other things. Some of it I did have hopes for – major life upheaval, yes! I was on the verge of moving away from my then-boyfriend and starting up my job search in a major way again; I knew I needed some major changes. I knew people wrote about how Loki could definitely bring that into a person’s life. I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad, IF He did anything.
Well I definitely got the move – much farther than I’d been planning, but to the place I had really wanted to get to. I also got two (necessary) breakups, some unpleasant fallout related to both my relationship with Loki and one of the breakups, and several more months of joblessness after the move than I wanted. But it all worked out okay, and it seemed like all the “bad” stuff always just narrowly escaped being dire.
After the first two or three weeks of trying this worship thing out, I quickly became very devout (tell me of 5 or 10 years ago I would end up this way! HA). I went from weekly offerings and prayers to much more frequent. I developed/got dragged into a daily, even twice-daily, meditation/trance practice that lasted for quite a long time (I no longer do daily meditation), plus slightly more formal prayers on top of that. My relationship with Loki – who never felt like a stranger, but like someone I’d known years ago, and remained fond of – became extremely intense within just a few interactions.
He started pushing me to deal with a lot of emotional crap I had left over from (primarily) my relationship with my ex-husband, who was abusive. That process hasn’t ever really stopped, though there are long rest periods between the big pushes. It’s been very good, though some of the process to get the breakthroughs was/is absolutely awful. I’m largely in better emotional health than I was when this started, though there are times when I think I am more fragile and vulnerable to certain things than I used to be; many of those layers of protective denial are gone. I am far more educated on abuse now, and what the long-term impacts on a person can be from being abused; it’s been hard at times to really understand that things I’ve read about for years, relevant to other people, is actually relevant to me, and I’ll likely be dealing with this for many years to come.
He and Odin also got the message through that I wasn’t going to be going into architecture after all, I need to pursue something land/landscape-oriented. That’s been a hard loss to come to grips with, even if I always knew there was something not-quite-right about architecture, and even though I had asked Them (the whole Them, any Who were listening), early on, to redirect me if the architecture path wasn’t right, since I’d been struggling so much with it, and not making it to the next steps.
I never expected to have a whole spirit life alongside “normal” activities, to end up as involved with the variety and number of different spirits that I do. I didn’t think I’d end up a spirit worker, of any sort, even when a diviner indicated there were several other Norse deities Who were important to me in addition to Loki (“you’re going to end up with a lot of altars!” . . . oh you had no idea), or even when another diviner told me I needed to learn elemental magic. Whatever that meant.
It has made it harder to talk to my coworkers and various other people I run into. So much of my life is about the spirits – I haven’t had many strong desires to pick up extra crafts or hobbies, and watching TV has never been high on my list, so there isn’t a lot in my life to talk about that is work-acceptable. I’m an introvert, I’ve often been anxious about talking to people anyway, and this additional fear of being treated poorly if I talk about what really matters to me hasn’t helped.
The spring I got weird thoughts about gods, I had gotten myself out fairly well out of a long depression, though there was still a certain internal spark that I knew was missing. That was more than fixed within weeks of setting up that first altar, though it’s been an ongoing process to get farther out and stay out, and learn better coping methods.
Some of the changes haven’t been positive. I don’t like this extra concern about being judged; maybe someday I’ll get over it. I am also deeply uncomfortable with the level of uncertainty that exists about one or two of the most major aspects of my life, like, what the fuck career path am I really on now? What is the goal here?? Where am I being aimed? but on the whole, I am much more relaxed, healthy, and simply happy with where I am, both literally and more metaphorically.
Three years isn’t all that long, but things are so different now that three years ago feels like another lifetime ago.