Many Gods West

I’m an introvert. I spent last weekend at a conference where 180 people registered for at least part of the event, spent a lot of time talking with people I barely know . . . and I still feel kind of giddy and high from it all. Not that I want to do something like that again next weekend; I do need some alone time, and I still need to catch up on sleep, and laundry, but I was expecting to feel wiped out in the more typical introvert fashion.

It was so, so good to be around people with enough of a worldview in common – theologically, politically – that I didn’t have to keep up my introvert wall of carefully curating my words so as to not tell people anything meaningful.

When I converted, I had a girlfriend who was pagan – and who had absolutely experienced her gods as very real. It was fantastic to have someone in my life I could talk to about the weird stuff in my life! (My then-boyfriend was an atheist, with some unfortunately dismissive views; it put some limits on what I felt comfortable talking about.) But a few months later, we split up and she moved far away, and I no longer had a local friend who was also talking to gods. When I moved to Portland, well, I tried going to a pagan meetup, but it was obvious that a lot of the people there were pagans but NOT polytheists, and after a few attempts to even get involved in conversation there, I stopped going.

There are some wonderful pagan or pagan-influenced events in Portland that I’ve made it to, like the Plant Medicine Gathering and the Northwest Magic Conference (formerly “Merry Meet”), but I could tell from the way people at those events structured their ritual, and talked about their religious framework, orientation towards deities, the terminology they used to describe spirits and spiritual experiences, that most of these folks are operating within a very different framework than I am – even the ones who do seem to convey a sense of really believing in and experiencing gods. I don’t mind going to rituals that are Wiccan in influence, at all, but it’s felt a little alienating to realize I’m one of the few people in the room who doesn’t already “get” what’s going on, doesn’t know the songs, chants, etc.

So then there’s this conference that I hear is being organized, by some people who seem more like “my people” in religious orientation, some of whom I’ve read online, and it sure sounded appealing . . .

But it was in direct conflict with another conference (the Viridis Genii Symposium) that I had originally planned to go to, had heard about before this “Many Gods West” thing ever came to my attention, thought might even be more relevant to my interests, because plants! Magic/energetic stuff to do with plants!! I dithered and delayed making a decision, because on the one hand, I could potentially learn a lot about stuff relevant to some of my other spiritual learnings, but on the other, I might be able to make some good personal connections, have a chance to meet in person some of my favorite pagan/polytheist/etc. writers (which conflicted with some of my introverted, “networking” loathing self’s other opinions). I was torn.

So I did what any rational mystically-oriented person would do, and asked one of my divinatory tools to tell me what was more likely to work out best for me. I was not displeased when it suggested I ought to go to the place where I wanted to meet people instead of getting my education on.

And it was amazing.

Steven Colbert

It has been fantastic to feel more connected to people I’ve admired via their writing, to feel like even though many of you are too far away, there’s a real community of like-minded folks out there.

I’ve written before about how my conversion happened around the time I was making some positive changes in my life, and how the conversion itself helped pull me farther out of depression, and bring a real ability to feel joy-at-living back into my life. I’ve also written about how conversion ended up creating a constriction, too, because this is so important in my life and there are a lot of places in my life I don’t feel safe being open about it, and if I can’t feel safe being a little open about that . . . how can I feel safe expressing myself more generally? (There are other social bad experiences in my past that add to this, it’s not just about my weird spiritual life.)

Because I knew that many of the people I was talking with already had some basic perspectives on things, I didn’t feel like I had to guard what I said so carefully. I could just be myself. Perhaps a somewhat nervous version of myself (new people! the terror!1!), but I had no worries about whether I’d get blank looks or dismissive argument if I mentioned anything about feeling spirits, or, you know, the suckage that is capitalism. I could cry at rituals, or exchange a look with someone afterwards and . . . yeah.

It’s been too long since I could spend time around people like that: not being fearful, just expressing myself honestly.

I realized Friday that part of this joy I’ve felt since coming home from the conference, it is an absolutely unbridled joy of self-expression – I’ve lost some of that fear that’s been carefully held in place for almost 3 years. I’m still not going to talk to my coworkers about my religious practices, but last weekend helped crack that terrible shell I’ve had in place for years, and I even feel more comfortable engaging in just plain normal banter with them. It feels really incredibly good to be back in something of that space of feeling confident with who I am, to not be constantly on edge about every little social interaction.

I really cannot thank you all enough.

. . .

So that’s the “a big reason this conference was so important for me personally” piece.

On to the “what I did and other things I experienced” piece:

. . .

I had the good luck to be able to find someone to share a room with, though I viewed the whole thing with some suspicion, since it felt like conveniently good luck, and that feeling always makes me wonder what They might be up to, especially when that person also happens to live right here in Portland.

She was going to MGW to set up and keep the shrine to Skadi (there were open hours 2 days of the conference, so other people could come to the shrine – I know she’ll be writing a post-conference post about it), and I didn’t see any major reason that would be a deal-breaker for me. We met up well in advance of the conference to make sure we were basically compatible and the shrine situation was workable for me, since the plan was for it to take up a lot of space, had a really great conversation, and we both agreed that this was a workable situation. (I did have one realistic “concern” about that, because being in sacred space, or ritual space seems like opening yourself up to being contacted . . . and I already have so many deities I ‘know’ . . .)

The shrine room was amazing to be in. It was beautiful, and I found it very restful. I didn’t mind at all that most of the non-bed furniture was draped with cloths and set with altar spaces – it really made a fantastic space. (And I think it would be fantastic if the next MGW has more such spaces! I would totally visit them.) My “worst case” fear did come true – I did end up meeting Skadi and it seemed clear it was not a “one time” meeting – but it was/is positive, and I’m going to write about in a separate post, because this one is already immense.

I tried to make it to a presentation or ritual in every available timeslot, though there ended up being a couple times when I was just so exhausted that I went and lay down, or spaced out in the lobby. Every presentation or ritual I did go to seemed to go very well; I was really impressed with how well everyone presented their talks, or handled the rituals. As I feared/expected, there were a number of presentations that conflicted with other presentations I wanted to attend, but on the other hand, I think that is a positive sign for a conference, when there is enough there that you can’t see everything. (Among the “would have liked to but CONFLICTS” presentations were L. Phaedrus’ on “Anonymous Spirits,” Sobekneferu’s “Winning the War” (on deities Whose stories are written by Their antagonists), Jason Mankey’s “Wiccans are Polytheists, Too” (I know fuckall about Wicca, and I’ve heard it was a good presentation), and at least 2 or 4 others. It was seriously hard to choose, several times.)

One of the presentations/rituals that I found most affecting was Sarenth Odinsson’s presentation, with some accompanying ritual, on ancestor work. I would have been happy to just participate in hailing the ancestors, but it was lovely to make some contact with them, too. (I don’t reach out to them much regularly – I don’t talk to my MOM very often – but they know what I’m like, and they have not ever pressured me to do more, though they have indicated they’d like it if I talked to them more . . . just like Mom does . . . ) I am always overwhelmed by the feelings of love and support I have from them.

The opening ritual for the conference was quite good, too. I brought some deity images for the altar, as well as a small quantity of earth from the park where I do restoration work, and a little bit of tap water, for the land spirits. I wish there’d been just a little bit more explanation about why some Shinto ritual was included – I know the conference organizers went to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine to ask for a blessing for the conference, but I wasn’t sure how the inclusion of the Shinto element quite came about; I assumed some sort of act of reciprocity (was it a request of someone at the Shrine? did the organizers offer it up as a ‘thank you’? … ?), but without an explanation it felt a little odd to me.

At the closing ritual, PSVL did some divination to find out what should be done with the various offerings that had been made to the deities over the weekend, and the answer came back that we could take those back with us IF we would take these blessings and share them with our communities (or words to that effect). We were also welcome to take some of the combined earths representing all the lands.

I was really charmed that someone other than me had left an offering in front of the images I brought of Ran and the Undines – a lovely smooth stone, and some dried herbs (maybe sage?), mixed with a small feather. I haven’t had time yet to figure out what to do with these items, so for now the stone and some of the plant material is on Their space at home. Of the other offerings I’d made, I ate Loki’s chocolate (He said I should), and the barley offerings, along with the rest of the dried herbs, is sitting on another altar – along with the small bit of earth I brought back.

When I first read about the “combined earth” part of the ritual, I wondered how the land spirits would really feel about that, having bits of their selves all mixed like that. Given my (admittedly small) knowledge of the ritual creator/organizer, I trusted this wouldn’t actually be a problem (I assumed some divination had been done to verify it as a good idea), and the land spirit I asked permission from granted it; I gave something of myself in return, while offering acknowledgement that taking the small spoonful meant the death of the many tiny organisms in it.

When the announcement was made at the closing that we could take some of the mixed earths back, I had some eager, hopeful “oh I must take some” feelings about it. When I knelt in front of the bowl to scoop out a small amount, I felt like I was handling something incredibly delicate and precious (like I might feel towards a baby bird, something that needed tender care and handling and love and protection but was not my baby). I haven’t had time yet to inquire of any spirits what to do with the earth I brought back, but I am really looking forward to . . . whatever it is.

I also – somewhat unexpectedly – went to the ritual for the Matronae. I hadn’t had very strong feelings to attend either that or the other ritual taking place at the same time, which was a ritual for Freya, and Freya being Norse, that was the “more obvious” choice, right? But when I was pondering the schedule, my eyes kept getting drawn towards the Matronae and I thought maaaaybe I ought to pay attention and do the thing.

It was really incredible; I found it moving even before it moved into the part of the ritual that called Them in. I got overwhelmed with the feeling in the room, everyone singing to call to Them, and as I felt Her/Them arriving, I went from teary-eyed and choked up with how wonderful it was we were doing this to pretty much sobbing uncontrollably. (I’ve started to realize that’s just what happens when I feel a strong presence of love from spirits – it’s simply such a different kind of love than I’ve known in the past that it wasn’t easy to recognize wtf was happening at first.) One of the people helping run the ritual came up to make sure I was okay.

In the back of the room, I had a bit of a hard time hearing Her/Them at times. She/They spoke a great deal about threads, including the importance of weaving your own thread strong, and severing those that do not serve. And more.

I am getting choked up again thinking over it all.

Early in the ritual, we were told that there were pennies available, that we could make a wish on a penny – since it had Lincoln on it, that was even better, because his ear was showing, so whisper the wish into Lincoln’s ear so it would be heard – and put it in the well, and the wishes would be received. This was traditional, in that copper was a traditional offering, and the Matronae were appealed to for major wishes, because of Their great power as a collective. The pennies were passed around and I sat there wondering what to ask for. If the Matronae were prayed to for really big things, what on earth ought I ask for?? I thought about the drilling that might happen in the Arctic, and how very much I want that to not happen. I thought about a lot of things, including one or two personal requests, but those didn’t seem quite big enough or worthy enough. So I reached out a bit to Loki to see if He might have an idea, and He did (definitely something for myself – and something that seemed very much in keeping with Their theme of making your own thread whole), and after some further thought and fine-tuning, He agreed that I had it down. So I whispered that into Lincoln’s ear and dropped it in the well. (As the problem is something I don’t entirely understand myself, or really recognize – it is something another Power pointed out once, but without details – I don’t know how I will recognize it has been aided. But I trust His guidance.)

At one point when She/They was addressing us (and She/They said several times, “I am We and We are many”), She said that everyone there worshiped at least one of Them, even if we didn’t know it. I haven’t yet asked any of the goddesses in my life Who is in that collective, though I’ve had at least one name keep coming to mind. I don’t even know if I’d get a clear confirmation if I tried, or how much it matters. I’ve also thought that well, I could set up another altar because gosh They were incredible . . . (and I keep telling myself I already have a lot of relationships with a lot of spirits, and there are many gods with altars in the house already, and that just because I still have such feelings of love doesn’t mean I necessarily have the time and energy to start another relationship . . . here is me trying to talk myself into and out of something simultaneously. I should give myself some time to come down from the conference before making any decisions.)

That was the last of the big spiritual experiences, and fortunately it left me feeling no more tired than when I’d started, but the weekend started off with a couple big things.

One of the Friday evening talks was cancelled, and an oracular seidr session was held in its place. I decided to go because I have never been able to attend such a thing, and I didn’t want to pass the chance up, and besides, the other speaker said he was going to publish his presentation online. And I thought surely I could come up with something that’s been bugging me that maybe I could get answered more satisfactorily this way than by throwing runes, or scowling over cards. While I was thinking over possibilities, Loki got my attention and suggested there was something I ought to ask of Him, and He told me what to ask.

It was one of those terrifying questions, much like the dangerously open-ended “What do the gods want of me?” only it was specifically Him, and what He desired for me.

I didn’t know, of course, if the seeress would end up passing a message, or whether He would speak through her, though since He’d prompted me already, I had a suspicion, and when I mentioned I had a question for Him, the seeress instantly shifted posture to be leaning forward towards me, and I knew – and it was kind of an “oh shit” moment (a bit later I also noticed my arms felt like they were on fire). There was laughter (and I’d heard laughter as the beginnings of a response to another querent went up, and then the seeress’ voice changed . . . this laughter was very different from the other), and then the first words in response to my question were very loud – “JESTER HATS!” and I kind of wanted to /die/ because I often don’t know how to deal with /people/ when they are in a . . . whimsical joking-but-also-dead-serious mood and this was LOKI and how SERIOUS was He and /oh gods/ what did He /mean/ and was this going to make sense or would I just feel confused and dismayed and then I wanted to retort “So what should I make them from?” but He continued “I need you to laugh more, honey,” in a and said more on the “jester” theme about dodging blows/attempted blows and laughing at those who try to attack you . . . He kept up with the “jester” concept for a while, including some oh-gods-no-what-do-You-really-mean remarks about how part of the power of the jester is the ability to damn with faint praise, and I . . . don’t know really what all of the message meant (haven’t had time yet to do divination to clarify things).

Ordinarily, I don’t have any trouble responding to Him, and if a snarky or witty comment comes to mind I usually share it, but there I had the worst case of “omg so my serious crush is totally talking to me and I’ve forgotten how to talk omg” and so I could barely respond at all to Him, except to squeak out “okay” a couple of times. (“You don’t sound very sure!” well it’ll take me a minute “. . . That is true, it does.”)

He also said – and this seemed much more serious than the jester metaphors – not to let anyone write their stories on my skin, “you don’t want to end up like Me, and – heh – no one’s really sure where I ended up.”

Despite my deer-in-headlights nerves, it was a really lovely message and experience of contact; I walked away smiling, feeling very loved. (And oh, I do love Him . . .)

. . .

Other talks I went to included John Beckett’s, on infrastructure; Silence Maestas’s on devotion, Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote (on gods as beings with agency, not archetypes – it’s now published on polytheist.com), Kirk Thomas’ on reciprocity, Tony Rella’s on mental health and spiritual experiences (and I was SO TIRED when I went to this that unfortunately I can’t accurately recall much of it, but it was good and I hope he’ll be publishing some notes), and a presentation on the heart and your “soul purpose.”

The talk on infrastructure was in many ways the one I had the least interest in: I am not involved in, nor really desiring to be involved in, the work of building community the way so many people are (and I am grateful so many people DO that kind of work, because it is not really my skillset, and I don’t like playing reindeer games). While not deeply invested in it, I thought the presentation covered a number of good points, including the importance of NOT building physical infrastructure until you already have a community to use and support it in material ways.

He said some really interesting things about how we don’t know what the future will be like, and how we have to build now so that we can end up with what the future needs, rather than trying to just replicate what we already see . . . I am utterly failing to present this well.

It also made me think a lot about some community building I have been watching happen online, and the importance of that kind of “infrastructure.” I know a couple of Kemetics who are heavily involved in building community, and I’ve seen how that online community has grown over the last 2-3 years. I see them discussing the basics of what their religion is, providing support for personal experiences and struggles, reinforcing good social behavior, sharing holidays, and a lot more, and I think, “This is the kind of social/cultural infrastructure that a community needs to grow and to carry on.” I think more people would benefit from seeing how these folks are operating.

. . .

I was unhappy that the talk on Anonymous Spirits conflicted with the talk on devotion; I have a lot of spirits in my life Who are named in no lore, or Who have only minimal mentions. I met the presenter at breakfast both days, and heard his talk went very well, so perhaps someday I will find it published somewhere. I went to Silence’s presentation on devotion, which was very good; one of the points that sticks with me the most is the concept of “devotion” as being emotional interaction and context, which is a way of describing devotion as a practice that I am not sure I have seen written about.

I also got a lot from Langston Kahn’s talk/workshop on the heart, and the benefits and perils of listening to it, which also encompassed some conversation on knowing your soul’s purpose and the “right use of will” – or at least being able to identify if/when you are acting in alignment with it. I found some of this quite relevant to my recent impromptu card pull about “why the eff do I have this queenship thing in my life.” Some of the resources mentioned in the course of the talk for further reading were – and I hope I got these down right! – “Focusing” by Eugene Gendlin, “The Radical Acceptance of Everything,” Christine Pratt’s podcast (especially “Energy Velcro and the Hollow Bone”), and “Inner Relationship Focusing” from the Center for Shamanic Studies. All stuff I want to look into more (because my life is boring and I have nothing to do hahahahhahaaaaaasob I will never get to it all).

And then Sean Donohue gave a talk Sunday morning on the dead, “The Rattling at the Gates,” which I am thrilled he wrote in the form of “Restoring Life to Death.”  I’m not going to summarize it, so if you haven’t read it, just. Please. Go. Do that. It was so good, and so powerful, and so important.

There was some interesting discussion after his talk was done – I can’t recall all of it, but I know I asked if he, or anyone there, really, had any experience or ideas about whether the dead whose remains we are burning to make energy have expressed anything about that, what are the spiritual implications? (This has been bugging me for months.)

This lead to some delightful discussion about problems oil companies have had in certain areas, with the land turning out being too difficult for them to put a pipeline through because some of the plants are just impassable . . . plants that are of major cultural importance to the indigenous people there, or regions the companies were positive had oil showing no signs of oil from test drill after test drill, and how since many indigenous people are forgotten about in a lot of ways, any magical work they might be doing would likely also be unnoticed. Of course this made me think of – and mention, because it’s always worthy of mention – the wreck of the Kulluk. (I’ve also been thinking again about the ritual I did last Halloween (background). I feel like I need to do another, but I don’t know when, or if/how it might need to be changed.)

Now I don’t know what the fuck happened, but something happened during that discussion, maybe it was building over the course of the talk – I felt kind of tense in some subtle way the whole time; I think it was partly due to something I said (and I don’t know what specifically, if it was mentioning the Kulluk, or the “burning the dead” thing, or ALL OF IT), but I left feeling as if I’d done some pretty major energy work, or had a really intense encounter with Someone whose energy I wasn’t used to. I went up to my room, got prompted to pull runes, and got basically a “thumbs-up” reading but asd;fkjasdf what the fuck, Invisible People?! I did not make it to the next talk after that, because I needed the entire time to drink tea, eat something, and just be still and recover. I’ve been nervous to ask for further details, because even thinking about the whole thing after it was over that day felt like it would whomp me again.

. . .

I still have a lot to process. A lot of new connections, with human beings and Powers, new interesting ideas to pursue and figure out if/how they will work for me, more writing to do (including something for Gods and Radicals) . . . lots and lots of awesome new stuff, and continuations of previous stuff.

At the very end of the last day, I was in the lobby, and the priestess of Freya who’d led the ritual I’d skipped asked me if I’d like a “love note from Freya” – well, how could I say no to that? She had a bag with folded up pieces of paper – the love notes – so I reached in and took one.

It conveyed something I’ve been getting in bits and pieces from other directions, but in a way that still makes me tear up, in the best way:

“Love and warmth are necessary to life. Reach out for them, don’t push them away. They are your right and your inheritance. <3, Freya”

Advertisements

About Fjothr Lokakvan

More or less Northern Tradition polytheist.
This entry was posted in Polytheism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Many Gods West

  1. nicstoirm says:

    Hello! I was also at MGW, though I don’t think we had a chance to meet? I wanted to say that I had very similar experiences with how connected I could feel to everyone instantly. I really hope they do this again next year :)

    • Hi! I think we did not, because I didn’t talk to many people I hadn’t already spoken with in some fashion, but I have seen your username around the internets before. I’m glad you had a good time, too!

  2. Jack says:

    More than anything else I’ve read, I think this makes me wish I’d been able to go.

  3. celestineday says:

    I loved reading this, thank you for posting it! I didn’t get to attend MGW, so I’m living vicariously through all these wonderful con reports. :D

  4. Myriad says:

    This post is beyond lovely. I’m envious and deeply regretful that our (over here) contingent of polytheists is too small for such an event, but I’m happy for you that you had this wonderful experience there.

    “He also said […] not to let anyone write their stories on my skin, “you don’t want to end up like Me, and – heh – no one’s really sure where I ended up.” I choked up there, because man, do I recognise this voice.

    • I winced a bit inwardly at that part of the message, because . . . anyway.

      I’m surprised the polytheist contingent over there is too small, but I don’t know much at all about groups of European pagans/polytheists. I read a few blogs by people in the UK, among other places, and I’d got the impression there was quite a lot going on over there, but maybe it’s largely the wrong -kind- of religious practice to create something like MGW? That’s a shame :\

  5. Pingback: Reflections on the Many Gods West conference | The Black Stone Hermitage

  6. Pingback: List of Many Gods West Write-ups | Heathen Chinese

  7. Thank you for writing this up! It is fascinating to me to read what people’s experiences of the communal shrine were, and I’m also glad to get details on a lot of the events I didn’t get to.

    It was also wonderful to speak with you briefly on the last day! I hope we can do more of that at some point in the future–whether at MGW or in some other context! :)

Comments are closed.