Film-related approxiversary

I have non-specific plans to go see the latest Marvel film in the theatre sometime soon, which has been serving as yet-another reminder of the passage of time.

It was 4 years ago this month that I went with my then-girlfriend to see “The Avengers,” a film I was ambivalent-to-annoyed about, but she was a comics fan, and I generally like action movies, so hey, why not. I don’t think either of us would have predicted the type of impact that would have on my life (or hers).

Part of my feelings about the movie – and keep in mind, I had next to no idea who any of the characters were, in the comics world – were driven by who the villain was. It annoyed me. I’d been annoyed by little threads of “Loki = evil” I’d been aware of since my teens, and here was yet-another. Puh-lease.

I also knew there was a lot of fevered enthusiasm for this character among fans of the movie, and I didn’t get the attraction, at all, and felt relieved when the film ended and I found I still felt 0 attraction for him.

But then online fandom hit, and hit hard, and one thing led to another and I found myself with the absolutely bizarre notion in my head that the actual Norse god might have some interest in me.

That still sounds totally ludicrous. I remember that happening, I remember what I did to deal with that (“deal,” ha), and the whole process still seems absolutely bizarre.

So, yes, in case you didn’t already know, I’m one of the Lokeans of the “Avengers” generation; my becoming a polytheist also prompted my girlfriend to get back into her religious practices more, and while I don’t know just how that affected what unfolded over the next several months, or in what specific ways her gods and mine were collaborating, our relationship ended as other relationships in our lives took major steps forward, and we both ended up making very long cross-continental moves (to different places) not long after.

It’s been kind of a strange four years, but that particular bit of it still strikes me as one of the strangest parts.

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Loki | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Looking back at changes in practice (if that’s even the right word)

Several weeks ago, I caught myself thinking “things have really quieted down around here” and then I thought about what’s actually going on and realized no, they haven’t, they’re just different than they were for quite a while.

What I was thinking of as “quieted down” was “Huh. I haven’t spoken with l o t s of Them in months” but what I’d momentarily forgotten is that there are 4 or 5 of Them I talk to at least once a week (sometimes for only a minute or two, but still, it’s there, on the schedule), and several spirits I check in with basically daily.

This new schedule has been a change since last summer.

Things have also been trending towards even less formality than previously.

I asked Skadi probably a couple times if She wanted me to set up an altar for Her, and the response I got back was something like: *shrug*. Okay. I . . . won’t do that, then. That relationship is super casual/informal, so it fits.

Later, after things with Odin took a sharp turn into what they are now, and He started checking in regularly/I started reaching out to Him regularly, I figured I ought to do the usual customary hospitable thing and ask if He wanted anything, offering-wise.

He suggested a form of alcohol I don’t have in the house. I searched through the cupboard, mentioning what I did have, but He was disinterested. When I said I could go buy a bottle of the stuff for next time, He didn’t seem enthusiastic about that, either!

The next week, He suggested a different kind of alcohol I also didn’t have in the house.

I stopped asking.

Then several weeks ago, I acquired/was aided in acquiring some new shelving for my houseplants. In making space for them, I needed to find space for the former shelving, and ended up stacking it on my old altar spaces, which meant rearranging altars. As I was about to start putting them all back, I got a strong message to “ask” first. Like, ask if they should go back. The answer was “yes” – with the exception of Odin’s altar. Not that He’s shown any sign of going away, but “formal space” isn’t a necessary thing right now.

He also indicated once that He wants me to take the lead (???!?) in that relationship. (A question of trust had come up, and that was how He responded. I suspect the trust issue may have been brought up intentionally to get to the other topic.) Not that I understand how to do that, lead, but things are generally pretty relaxed and pleasant. Informal.

I also got “just . . . leave it in the kitchen” vibes from Sunna and from the ancestors, on separate occasions when I was dedicated to the task of fixing a hot beverage as an offering, because that’s The Thing to Do, right? And it should go on the altar, right?? . . . No. Not any more.

I’ve felt a little awkward with this, dealing with the much-less-formal, more comfortable (??), familial tenor to conversations with Them. With Loki, informal has always been normal. And things with Skadi were like that right away. But there was a long period where normal offerings and formal stuff were normal, with all of Them, even if the conversations with Them felt more casual/familial than Handed Down from On High.

I don’t mind doing less work, except that I do, too, because like, I should be doing something? right?? not just . . . listening????? How do I do this. (I might ask “Do You want something?” more than once, but I’m also not going to force a cup of coffee on Someone who really doesn’t want it.)

I’m not as good at just-conversation as at doing-things, unless I am really really r e a l l y comfortable with someone. Formal traditional activities were a nice, comfortable framework for interactions. Me trying to do something formal for Solstice this past year and getting “how about you don’t . . . coffee’s fine, just leave it in the kitchen” from the goddess in question is not comfortable, especially when She’s someone I don’t talk to that often so don’t have a long-standing “casual” relationship with. (It wasn’t that She didn’t want me bugging Her; She had things She wanted to tell me. But any formal ritual this year? Naw, put that away.)

Hilariously, my routine for devotional activity where Loki is concerned hasn’t changed much in a long time; in fact I’m still doing a bunch of things I started up 3 or more years ago. I honestly don’t know what I’d do with myself if He decided to trash that whole lot of things. (No, I do know: Argue/express extreme skepticism, because sometimes He says things that seem intended to make me question Him. And then if He was serious, cry, probably.) Perhaps those are “safe” because I decided to do them more-or-less on my own, and not because I went to Him and asked for direction. Perhaps He even likes them. (Some of the routine does get tossed out from time to time, by me or Him, but that’s just a day-to-day choice, and then it’s back.)

I’ve looked at different definitions of “religion” from time to time and wondered if I’ve got any of that lying around, given the lack of ritual and so on and so forth. Well – with the exception of Loki, ’cause I’ve still got “normal” altar/offering/prayer type things I do where He’s concerned, but otherwise, it’s less “religion” than “relationships.”

This is uncomfortable enough that I wonder if He’s behind it.

(I don’t think so. And at any rate, if He is, the rest of Them are clearly in on it, too.)

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Loki, Polytheism | Tagged , | 3 Comments

General commentary; status report

I’d always intended to post “Life Support Systems” online, sometime after the journal was published, and finally figured it was a good time to do it, well, a couple weeks before it went live, I guess.

I was not in a frame of mind where I particularly wanted to reread it, and have all that fluffy nice uplifting stuff in my face, and after putting myself on the schedule, I got into a frame of mind even LESS wanting to reread it, and thought about cancelling posting it completely. Or putting it off for some future time, because I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to agree with any kind comments someone might leave. “Yeah, once upon a time I thought that was great, too, but now I kind of want to set it on fire. I don’t even recognize the person who wrote that. UGH.”

I didn’t have a very good time of things this past winter, and the thought of attempting to take my own advice was impossible (or Theirs, though They largely didn’t repeat any of the “focus on the good things” stuff this time; I was also very much not wanting to talk to Them, and things went very awfully several times when I tried). I didn’t even want to try to take that advice, that’s how angry and/or depressed I was.

It’s still lingering, but even awful moods don’t last forever, and we’ve had some unseasonably hot and very sunny weather, and that’s helped lift my mood up substantially (in some regards; I think some of this is going to hang around for months, because I’m still really bitter about how things went), but I still feel like I’m only just barely starting to emerge from winter.

I’ve also had some more reminders recently that yeah, it’s been right about 2 years now since Loki did the thing where I had that major breakthrough/breakdown regarding my ex-husband/his abuse, and hey maybe I’m still dealing with the results of that . . . two years on, for fuck’s sake (of course I know I’m still dealing with the results of the relationship). The massive wall got blown to bits, but I’m still tripping over the rubble, two years on, and what is there to do about the foundations? How long does it take to “recover” from that sort of catharsis anyway? I don’t know. How much is even from that and how much is just more awareness of crap I’d been carrying for many more years? (How much is job situation exhaustion on top of everything else? Fuck everything, that’s how much.)

A few posts and essays crossed my path, one I’ve read before but found a very needed re-read, about C-PTSD. I don’t know if I’d ever be diagnosed, but an awful lot of what people describe when they write about it sounds a little too familiar, so it’s useful to read and keep in mind. Helps remind me that this does take time, and maybe I should stop being surprised and confused that I feel so easily exhausted.

I haven’t felt much like writing much of anything here for a while (obviously); it all felt like too much effort. But I’ve been composing this stupid post in my head for like, a week or more, and now it isn’t behaving and staying brief or in the order I originally had in mind.

Anyway. I had a plan for this, and it was a good plan, it made sense! It flowed!! But I never could get up the energy to draft it up and so HERE WE ARE.

Since my original perfect segue is lost due to memory failure, one of the other things I wanted to bring up was a little bit more about writing at G&R, because that’s what started this whole post off, right?

Over the last several months, I’ve seen multiple people in different places who seem to have some misperceptions about how writing gets done there, and how much the 40-or-so different writers agree with each other.

There is no group decision about what specific topics get written about. Essays do not get approved in advance by the other writers or by Rhyd or the board or anyone – unless someone wants someone else to review a piece in progress, but I don’t even know how often that happens. The process for the regular writers is basically this: you want to write a thing? Okay, pick a date, put your name on the schedule, then write the thing and schedule the post to go live for that date. If you think you’ll miss the deadline, contact the people who are acting as editors so they can see about moving someone else’s piece to your date.

We’re not a hive mind. There’s something like 40 people who write there; I’d be shocked if any two of them agree with each other 100% of the time. I don’t know if I’ve read anything there that I was 100% in agreement with, or could find nothing in it to critique, and hilariously, that includes some of my own essays.

I don’t feel much need to engage in public disagreement in comments, however, or write my own posts disagreeing with someone else. That’s pretty much a general operating rule for me, not specific to G&R writers. I have to think things through pretty seriously before I will do that, decide if it’s likely to be beneficial or necessary or will help clarify something – and sometimes, I need time to careful compose (and rewrite) what I want to say so that I’m sure I’m communicating what I really mean to instead of just having an emotional reaction at someone (and often, by the time I get to that point, I no longer feel a need to express anything, or I’ve decided it probably just isn’t worth it, too much time has passed, something).

There is a lot I could disagree with, publicly – I’ve seen a lot of writing where I’m not sure the ideas stated really flow well, or make the case well, or [various and sundry other flaws] . . . it’s always been easy for me to see those things in writing, and I used to spend a lot more time pointing them out and arguing with people about it, especially if it was about something I really cared about.

But gods, I got tired. I got so tired of fighting, so tired of trying to express my perspective and have it be acknowledged instead of dismissed or invalidated or told (one way or another) that it wasn’t acceptable for me to have that view and anyway, the audience sure as fuck wasn’t interested in changing based on what I said, and he always found some way to be “right” no matter what I had to say (oh ex-husband baggage, I wish I could just lose you in an airport). I kept it up for years after I was tired of it, because part of me will always be that critic, and part of me will always want to point these things out, and while I slowed down a lot, I hadn’t decided to just give it up.

I got even more fatigued with standing up for things I believed in while part of a (non-religious) community I was involved with back in Boston. It was important then, to say what I felt was the best way for the group to handle certain things (there was physical space involved), because this would have very real, tangible impacts on me and everyone else. There were some fundamental differences in worldview between the “management” and management’s closest allies/working companions, and me and what felt like a tiny minority. (I think most people simply didn’t care about some of the hot-button issues.)

I don’t regret it; it did make a difference, but it was so tiring. Even though they didn’t go with some of the worst policy decisions, it really felt like they never really understood, or wanted to understand, why we-in-opposition cared about it. (Possibly they felt similarly about us. Like I said, there were fundamental differences in worldviews.)

So when I see the people I hang around these days talk about the importance of community, and building community, and I start to think about getting more actively involved in pagan/polytheist/whatever community, my first reaction is to recoil in horror and think “fuck everything about community, leave me alone with my plants and gods and stuff.” That’s not how I really feel about having community, but gods, I got burnt and burnt out, and there are a lot of people skills I’ve never had, doing the nicey-nice people stuff isn’t one of my strengths, and I didn’t get the right “girl training” to have developed it despite myself.

And since two years ago, I am way, way more sensitive to dealing with conflict than I ever was before. Sometimes a short conversation with a coworker, explaining simply how what they did didn’t follow process, and creates unnecessary work for me, please don’t do it again, leaves me shaking, even if they’re responding in a neutral or even positive way. And those are the simple “conflicts,” where nothing about it is personal, and I don’t expect anyone to gaslight me or invalidate anything I’m saying. (Though I have had some bad experiences where a coworker seemed to take the worst possible interpretation of my advice, and that’s been a set back. But I have to tell them sometimes. I hate doing that. I especially hate telling the same people the same things. . . I hate my job.)

Now on the other hand, if someone asked me what I thought about what someone wrote, and we could have that conversation one-on-one, I’d probably be willing to engage, because then I’d know they were interested in what I thought, so they’d be likely to be open to hearing an opinion that might be different from their own. Otherwise, that path of disagreement too often brings on a level of fear that I’m not interested in trying to push past unless I feel really strongly compelled.

And I’m just so tired.

Posted in Miscellaneous crap | Tagged | 2 Comments

Life Support Systems

Resistance and Resilience through Love, Joy, and Hope

Author’s note: This essay was originally published in the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance, and posted online last month at Gods&Radicals; originally I intended to post it here the same day but. Well. That didn’t quite happen. Anyway:

Many things in the world today seem very dire: species are going extinct, ecosystems are being ruined, humans are waging wars and oppressing each other; all across the globe are signs that the state of the world, everywhere, is terrible.

There are those who look at these events and say that, as our life systems continue to collapse and take our civilizations and other beings with them, now is a time to treat the world as if it has gone into hospice, as if not only our death as a species is certain in the relatively near future, but the rest of the world’s living systems as well.

It is true that things like global warming and its massive side effects will get worse before they can get better (we have not cut global carbon emissions enough yet); many species on the edge of extinction will cross over. Many ecosystems will be changed significantly — permanently, from our human-life-span perspective — into something different from what we have known for centuries.

But we do not have to react to this by falling into despair and hopelessness. And we do not have to tend only to the dead and dying, or to treat every living thing as if our primary concern is to help it pass on.

We can also use our magic, our devotion, and our relationships with spirit allies to help mend the holes in these damaged webs of relationships as best we can, to restore function and resilience.

If magic is making manifest your will in the world, then realizing (in the sense of causing something to become real) positive change– the conditions for further growth and the supporting of life — is a magical act with the intent to keep this going. It is to not let it be crushed by capitalism or kyriarchy or corporate greed, to defy and deny the people and processes that will destroy the life processes of the world, to say through action, “This world you create, dominators, shall not come to pass, it is not coming to pass. Another world is possible; I make it so.”

Life will go on. In abundance and beauty and joyousness.

We must honor and mourn the dead — species, ecosystems small and large, cities, ways of life … giving special care to those brought to wrongful ends by the dominant culture — but we must also build resilience, for us now and for those who will remain after our deaths, that we-and-they can better come through the harder times yet to come. This will take time, it will take care, it will take hard work — but this is a process of love, it is love-in-action, and of hope, and it can be very joyful, as it affirms the value and delight and small triumphs of life where it would otherwise be put down by the obliterators.

Building stronger networks provides not only hope and support for the future, it is an act of resistance against the forces behind our worst current problems. Working together, creating commons, valuing life for itself — these things are antithetical to capitalism, imperialism, to all forms of abuse and power-over that harm human beings and the other beings and life systems we are entangled with.

Resilience is strengthened through reciprocity, maintaining healthy networks of relationships in which members support each other (not necessarily directly:things can be passed on, or through, one member to another). Reciprocity can be viewed as a form of love-in-action – it does not require strong affection for other members of the network, but a desire for the overall network to live and thrive. Doing something beneficial for a person or a river is expressing hope they will benefit from it – and perhaps in turn pass good actions along to others, or back to you, as a consequence of having benefited themselves.

Wild systems (aka “natural” systems) function this way., though it does not appear to be intentional the way human cultural networks have intention built into traditions of gift-giving, mutual aid, reciprocity, etc. The members of a wild ecosystem support and feed each other, and the outcome of these processes, over millennia, has been an ever-expanding diversity of life forms, in configurations that, barring major geological events, tend to be fairly stable for centuries or more. But remove a part of the network, whether it is a plant or an apex consumer like a wolf, or dam a river, and the network becomes less stable, less resilient, more likely to change into a significantly different ecosystem. Some losses cause quick changes throughout the ecosystem; other changes take decades to become apparent. And sometimes a vanished species has its niche filled by another member of the system, but the biodiversity cannot be replaced without many, many more generations of evolution.

The dominant and dominating culture would flatten – is flattening – diversity, both biological and cultural. Anything that cannot be bent to feed capitalism and the kyriarchy is a threat to it, and has been ignored or attacked with intent to be destroyed. This flattening of diversity is the opposite of what life itself will do and has done for millions and millions of years.

We resist the dominant, dominating culture and its processes of obliteration of life’s great diversities by reaffirming the value of life and by supporting life-supporting processes to encourage greater diversity. Among our means of resistance are love and joy and hope.

Love, to act with love, to love as an act, is to direct your energy to the betterment of the recipient of your love (self or other), not to confine or limit, but to encourage growth.

Joy is to find delight in the other, in yourself, in existence, in whatever is here before you and with you right now.

Hope is to see, based on more than wishful thinking, that better is possible and achievable, and to create a way forward.

Love

Love is tricky. Love is an emotion but it is also a verb – to love someone is not just a type of affection, it is to act towards them, or with them, in a way that may not have any connection with how affectionate you feel towards them. It is to treat them with care, with respect, with a sincere desire for their well-being and desires. It is not to seek to dominate them against their will.

To love in this way, to take care with someone (self or other) and work with or for them for their betterment, is to break with the dominant culture and its reinforcement of the “rightness” of dominating and looking for power-over, to be the “victor” in situations defined to only be perceivable as win-lose (some have the potential to provide win-win solutions, if looked at differently). To love does not necessarily mean everyone lives together happily ever after with each other – leaving a harmful situation is being loving to yourself; loving a group or place can require setting boundaries and keeping harmful influences out.

Capitalism, having perverted commerce with its approach of power-over, of power through accumulation of material goods (or symbolic representations of same), both monetizes and weaponizes love.

It preys upon normal human feelings, like the need for reciprocation of feelings, signs of affection, jealousy, feeling like you fit in with others, and so on, and repackages them as symptoms in need of quick fixes, rather than processes we need to come to terms with in a more functional way. Romantic love, long held to a limited resource (one of the few resources the system believes IS finite! O the irony), is particularly targeted: the way to get it and hold onto it is to buy these things for your beloved to “prove” how much you care, so they won’t leave you.

In or outside of romantic partnerships, if you aren’t gaining enough under capitalism’s influence to be able to buy the latest trendy object, then you’re a moral failure, how can you face the rest of the social group without the newest widget? And what will you talk about?? (If you have the means to participate, but choose not to, then you’re another kind of outcast.)

Capitalism also perverts the practice of reciprocity by making gift-giving an excessive obligation that many people do not feel a need to be on the receiving end of, but feel forced into participating in and nobody is happy but the profit-counters; it creates social pressure through marketing techniques , not to help support a healthy social network based on the members’ and group’s true needs or desires or best possible outcomes – but to benefit the producers of the most popular trendy items. Things that will, of course, “need” to be replaced in a year or maybe five; they are made that way. Holidays that are theoretically about family, about strengthening social bonds, things that cannot be bought and sold, have been overtaken to focus on the things bought and sold instead of the people. The few federally-recognized days off in the United States are not days off for retail workers, because these “breaks” from work have become “special sale” days, shopping days, encouraging people to save money rather than go somewhere to relax or see friends.

Exchanges of gifts can be beautiful, wonderful things; this is a legitimate way to act in a loving way towards someone. Thoughtfully done, in the right proportion to the relationship, understanding what is really needed or wanted, it helps strengthen human relationships and networks.

Gift-giving, whether material objects or gifts of time and attention, also strengthens relationships between us and the non-human beings we interact with through devotional practices, devotion being love and love-in-action. We are not alone in this world, and by strengthening our relationships with our Neighbors, we strengthen all parts of our ecosystems, the human-made as well as the wild and the Other.

Caterpillar met crossing a hiking trail; photo by Fjothr

Caterpillar met crossing a hiking trail; photo by Fjothr

Joy

Joy is another form of resistance against the dominant culture, and a vital part of creating resilience to what that culture does to us.

I was depressed for several years, and it was nearly impossible during that time to find anything that brought me more than a temporary bit of joy; it was hard to even remember what that feeling was like previously. While the worst is gone, I know I’m not always that far from the edge of that pit, and some things make the ground tilt towards it. In addition, I have a bad habit of seeing something bad, or potentially bad, and working it up in my head into something that will be absolutely terribly awful, and then there’s the ground pitching towards the void again.

I am pretty sure this is one of the reasons that, when I’ve been in distress and sought advice for how to handle the situation, the People Upstairs have advised me to focus on things I have in my life right now that bring me joy. It has been a good way to keep away from ground-tilting thoughts, or to pull away from them. It doesn’t directly solve any problems, but it keeps me from over-focusing on my distress and fears, and gives me a greater ability to act on the problems.

I’ve also found the concept of joy an important, powerful thing outside of my personal life. It can be a transgressive act.

In Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside1, she writes,

“The researchers of brainwashing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resisted best. The Turks, for instance … the soldiers who faced their torturers with laughter sometimes survived when others did not. Fanatics don’t laugh at themselves; laughter is by definition heretical, unless used cruelly, turned outwards against an opponent or enemy.”

And in an article on openDemocracy by Michael Edwards, about Sister Megan Rice2 (serving time in jail for breaking into a nuclear weapons plant to protest), he states,

“In the face of bureaucratic authority, the expression of joy can be both powerful and subversive, partly because it is so unexpected. It disarms those in power through an absolute refusal to be provoked or humbled, and it provides great inner strength for the struggles that lie ahead.”

In the broader culture I am familiar with, expressing joy doesn’t really seem to be encouraged (my cultural context is a white American from a basically WASP background). Acting “positive” is, of course, but spontaneous expressions of delight – not so much, though you’re probably okay expressing delight about something among like-minded enthusiasts or friends. But generally, it really isn’t the mature adult thing to do much of, is it? Unless you present it just right, dress it up in the right toned-down language, so it shows you know how to present emotions in a socially-acceptable manner. In addition, there’s a nasty strain running through the culture that says if you’re enjoying something, you’re doing something wrong, not working hard enough, or you’re merely getting your earned time away from “real life.” Because real life isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, I guess, unless you earn your pleasure through drudgery or pain first.3

I’ve seen similar things come up from time to time in discussions of pagan/polytheist practices, since they are embedded within this same context. A lot of people believe that, if you write too much about being happy about what’s going on in your spiritual life, someone will”helpfully” point out to you that this is hard, and it is supposed to be hard and unpleasant. There’s often a sense of an implied “Why aren’t you suffering or struggling more?” and outright statements that if you don’t find the hard painful parts in your spiritual practices, then you’re not getting deep enough into your practice, you won’t get out of it what you ought to, you won’t ever really understand your gods, and so on. As in other parts of life, you risk being met with all kinds of skepticism, nonconstructive criticism, and outright scorn if you express happiness without also describing enough of the right kind of “hard work” and experience of pain.

Of course it is important to understand that life, work, spiritual practices, relationships, etc., will have their ups and downs, and what those might look like in order to be prepared, but the kindest thing I can say to the people who feel obligated to respond to an expression of joy by squashing it is, “Please shut up. Come back later, in a different context, with your helpful advice about how things can be hard.”

Listen: Joy is life affirming.

Lots of things in life hurt and suck. People know this. It is thoughtless if not cruel to respond to expressions of joy – or hope, or love, or other expressions of optimism – with what amounts to the message, “It is wrong for you to feel that, and to make sure you understand it’s wrong to feel that, I’m going to hurt you for admitting you feel that way.” Everyone must toe the cultural party line, or be brought to heel, attacked until forced into the right order.

The dominant culture, the kyriarchy, all the -isms that keep people down, they tell you/us: “You are wrong for being [that], and you are most definitely wrong for feeling joy or pride in being [that] or doing those stereotype-denying things. By the way, you’ll also get put down for enjoying the things associated with the stereotypes.” And so finding joy in life while being [that], in being alive as you are, defining for yourself who you are and what you enjoy, refutes the dominant culture and its abuses – and make no mistake, it is abusive to tell someone, “You are wrong to feel that way.”

The ability to again feel simple joy-at-living, joy in what existed around me, was one of the first gifts I received after converting, and I find it precious beyond words. I thought I had lost that. Around the time I converted, I had gotten out of the worst depression – I felt real motivation and positivity for my future – but I still had no idea how to find that spark, that particular kind of easy delight-of-being again. Finding small moments of joy, reaffirming the goodness in life, now feels so much more important as a result. This excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” expresses something about this:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”

Take pleasure in simple comforts that come from being alive, whether it is good food, a soft place to rest, or the enjoyment of the wind, ocean, trees, or company of others. The basic things around us, things that are part of all animal lives – if there isn’t joy to be found here, among the circumstances in which we evolved, then where? How could an animal evolved to live surrounded by these phenomena not find some of them comforting and enjoyable? And how could finding joy in these things be wrong??

Oliver’s poem concludes:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. “

There are so many amazing things in the world, all around us, all the time, and acknowledging that awesomeness acknowledges their value for simply existing.

Joy is life affirming.

We are surrounded by so many life-denying forces.

Joy is an antidote to their poisons and a reminder that there is more to existence than what they offer.

Fungus and tree; photo by Fjothr

Fungus and tree; photo by Fjothr

Hope

The kind of hope that is wishful thinking is needed to get started – without a desire of some kind, there will be no action – but there is also a kind of hope that is based on seeing proof that things like that which is desired are possible. This provides encouragement to try other things, and a necessary reminder that not all is lost.

We create hope by resisting the dominant culture, by unlearning its lessons of power-over and learning instead what power-with means, and manifesting that in the world. Any change made to undo caused-harm is an act of hope, of enacting hope: “another world IS possible, I-and-we make it so, one action at a time. There can be – there will be – more like this.”

It took decades for industrial, fossil fuel-based culture to create terrible climate problems; it will take a long time to correct the problems, to help heal acres upon acres of strip-mined or chemically-soaked land, to address harms done to colonized peoples and places. To hope under these circumstances is sometimes to take many, many small steps towards something that will not see large results for decades. But this progress also provides hope for others working elsewhere – and some things can change dramatically for the better in a very short time. The Elwha River was dammed for over 100 years, but within a year of the dams’ removal (which came after many decades of political effort), salmon returned, and long-absent sandbars and beach area are returning to the river’s mouth, recreating tidal ecosystems. Many wild systems have a great deal of resilience inherent in them, and will eagerly return to pre-industrial states. Some will need much more, or ongoing, human effort.

Take encouragement from what others have done and are doing – and show others what can be done; mend the holes in the networks that they will be stronger when damaging forces contact them again. Do not focus too much on the harms being done – also find sources that tell you about the healing work, reminders that a better world is being made, and you are not alone. Look to those stories to help find your own way forward and to find other people to work with. Strengthen bonds through reciprocity and loving action, thus creating resilience in your human communities, in your places, and in your own life.

While this work of love and creating hope now and for the future is about webs of relationships, it is vital to not neglect yourself in all this. You are also part of many webs. Love yourself, hope for yourself (find it, make it), find joy in your circumstances.

That does not mean putting aside the harder things: If you need to grieve, grieve. Express your anger at what has been done. We aren’t “supposed to” acknowledge “negative” feelings, either, if they are feelings about things the dominant culture has done, or what it tells us isn’t valuable – wild things, people of the wrong skin color or gender presentation, the ability to find self-worth outside of a “real” job, etc. If we DID really feel those things, and even worse, talk to too many people about it, that would be a threat to the dominator culture–we might start understanding more how desperately it needs to be replaced with something healthier. Really allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel what you really feel, without bottling it up making excuses, or putting it down is resistance. It is resistance to being silenced, resistance to falling quietly and obediently into the power structure, and it can help you become more resilient as well. If you have a handle on your feelings, they will have less power over you, and this is a great act of loving yourself.

Acts of resistance to the dominant, dominating culture that is behind the damage to our living systems and to our diverse cultural heritages are acts of love and of hope. And in the face of this damage we can – and must – look to where joy exists, to support us in this work, to remind us what it’s all for.

Wasp sheltering under salmonberry leaf; photo by Fjothr

Wasp sheltering under salmonberry leaf; photo by Fjothr

Sources/Footnotes

1: Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1987
2: Michael Edwards, “To remain in prison for the rest of my life is the greatest honor you could give me: the story of Sister Megan Rice,” openDemocracy.net
3: Why there is this notion that pleasure must be earned instead of being a birthright is another good question.

Posted in Environmentalism, General Religious Stuff, Values | 1 Comment

Politics and religion

I was 36 when I walked away from a lifetime of mostly-unquestioning atheism to worship the Norse gods; my political views and various values were pretty well set at that point, and had been for quite some time. As I’ve written before, my values don’t seem to conflict with my gods; in fact They seem to encourage me to keep doing the things I value (which includes more (and less) blatantly “political” things), and it’s hard to really separate those different spheres of my life, because they’re too entangled.

A few years before I converted, I had briefly – very, very briefly – taken a look at heathenry, because I’d met a heathen guy who seemed pretty cool and it got me thinking a little about it, though I think even before I turned to the internets for more information I had hesitations. And those hesitations were, for better or worse, enhanced by what I found online, because yeah, ugh, it all looked cold and rigid and then there was the racism pretty firmly attached. Nooooooooooo thank you.

I know I am not alone in that: I’ve seen many comments online from people who say things about how, the first time they looked into heathenry, the racism (and/or sexism, or homophobia, or ableism, etc.) put them off, really hard. Or that they are interested now in worshiping the Norse gods but they are worried they’ll wind up hanging out with actual real neo-Nazis (and/or less-scary racists, or homophobes, or . . . ), so how can they do one while avoiding the other? Is it even possible? Or: interested in Norse but not racism/sexism/etc. so just not going there. Which sucks but is not as bad as being someone who is a person of color, or gay, or disabled, and meeting people in person who worship the gods you worship and being told to go away or that you don’t deserve to worship these gods, or receiving threats of actual violence to yourself for having the nerve to worship the Norse gods while not meeting some narrowly-constructed shitty biases.

One of the reasons I decided from the get-go to not call myself “heathen” is that in the United States, “heathen” is, unfortunately, pretty strongly associated with all that hateful stuff. I know it’s kind of a pointless effort, because you don’t have to use that particular label to set folks’ warning bells off.

I wrote a post on Dreamwidth/Livejournal a while back talking about my conversion, and someone who commented on it remarked they were glad about the length of the post (I went on about a lot of things, including my dislike of the racism and related shit), because all they’d known previously was that I had converted and “not knowing anything more specific than ‘hey I’ve gotten interested in Norse pagan practice’ made me wonder if you were rolling with the sort of Asatru I personally would not interact with.”

There’s a lot of broader-community discussion I only catch bits of, but I do know that for months, anyway, there’ve been some pagan/polytheist people really unhappy about other pagan/polytheist people who are mixing religion and politics, and they’re being loudly enough unhappy about it again that I’m aware of it.

Sitting here with umpteen Norse-affiliated altars in the room, knowing that literally any and every day I might see one of my Norse/heathen online people talking again about the white supremacists (and transphobes and ableists and . . . ) who worship the same gods making all of us look sketchy, scaring people away from starting a meaningful religious practices or from an existing one, making people fearful to meet others face-to-face (because it can be literally dangerous) and practice in a community, and . . .

It must be awfully nice to be able to practice your religion and not have to worry about politics.

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Pagan Community | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Plant perspective

My job stresses me out and I want to leave. This would have been a true statement a month ago, a year ago; in fact, 2 years ago, going all the way back to when I first started. The nature of the work holds inherent stressfulness – I edit/proofread letters and reports and such, and most of them have to be ready within 1 business day. Or less! (Too often it is “less” and too too often those are the BIG documents . . . *aggravation rising*)

I’ve ranted at Loki multiple times since I started the job that I wanted to leave and find something better. I didn’t do complain like that for quite a while, because I really needed a solid, pretty decent job when I found this, and in many ways it is the best job I’ve had, and I was grateful for what it does provide (most of my coworkers are pretty great). However, I’ve also always known it was just “temporary,” that there are other kinds of work, and other kinds of organizations, where I want/need to be. When I asked Him once, after a particular bad bout of “hate this shit” for a several year look-ahead, it looked like I might be at the job for 4-5 years.

But then several months ago, Loki dropped a very strong hint/nudge/something that I would be leaving this job this winter. This joyful news relieved a lot of the typical job stress, and generally improved my mood, for several months. Then the office was closed for the holidays, I got nice and relaxed, and then . . . back to the non-stimulating, exhausting, occasionally extremely frustrating job . . .

Since Loki dropped the original clue, He – and some of the Others – have given me other hints about what’s next, and nudged me here and there to learn some additional things, but as of yet, I have no idea what the position I’m supposed to be looking for (or being lead to) will look like, or what the organization is. None of the information has been of the kind I could clearly map to my descriptions of such places, anyway.

A week or two ago I looked at my savings and I did some quick math and realized that I could actually just fucking quit and I’d be okay for a small number of months without immediately having another income source. And I’m sure I could get some temporary work while continuing my job search.

It’s very, very tempting.

I’ve experienced periods of 6-12 months of joblessness, did not enjoy the stresses that came along with that (some of it was quite nerve-wracking), and I’m not eager to reexperience anything like it again, but it is hard to weigh that against the absolutely known stresses of continuing my current job and have those be the lesser evil.

I’ve gone back and forth on this a lot. I really don’t want to be at my current job any more, but at the same time, I think a lot of my dislike/discomfort comes from reminding myself of how much I dislike it, so, you know, if I can district myself enough, it’s less bothersome.

Then I was at the co-op last night for my volunteer shift, and took a break to lie down on the couch in the staff area (it has been a tiring week+ at work) . I was thinking about this situation while trying to get some much needed relaxation going. There’s an asparagus fern overhanging the couch, and I was thinking about how when plants have shitty life circumstances, they pretty much have to tough it out, and what advice would they give me? Well, “stay,” is what came to mind, but it’s not quite that simple, because a lot of plants do have some ability to move on – or at least to expand their colony, and expand it towards better conditions.

This is from a lengthy page all about spathiphyllums (peace lilies) and what their lives are like in the wild vs. how people are typically instructed to care for them:

Obviously, these species can live in shade. Even though Spathiphyllum can and do tolerate poor conditions does not mean they prefer them. In nature it appears they prefer medium or bright indirect to direct light as well as adequate water and food. However, the genus is sometimes found in full shade …

Full shade does not indicate a plant should be eternally stuck in a darkened corner of a room either. In the forest tropical plants are living beings that are capable of slowly transporting their colony to better conditions when their current placement becomes inhospitable. Those that can climb trees just climb higher but Spathiphyllum must use another method.

It is not uncommon for the forest canopy to encroach on bright to moderately bright light to the point the understory plants that live on the ground cannot gather enough light to survive. Since Spathiphyllum species spread as they reproduce and grow they simply begin to reproduce themselves away from the shade and each new growth shares its stored sunlight with neighboring plants via their underground connections.

So. Stay – but also make movements toward better conditions, while maintaining connection to the place that provides known support. Which is basically the same (safe, practical, blah blah blah) advice I’ve been giving myself the whole time – but I feel a little more at peace with it now.

And as long as I am at the job, I have the option to say “fuck it” and bail, which, if I have misunderstood all the “winter” stuff, I might well do come spring, ’cause I’m past done with the job – and my previous experiences of not-entirely-intentional/desired joblessness, which stressful, did also come with some major benefits.

(The awful coda to this is I got home and found my spathiphyllum – recently acquired – drooping; it had been a few days since I checked its soil, and it had gotten dryer than it likes. AUGH :( I’m sorry!! It has been thoroughly watered and now I have a better sense of how often I need to do that.)

Posted in Animism, Land and Land Spirits, Miscellaneous crap, Plant Things | Tagged , ,

Looking back; looking ahead

Early last January, shortly after I decided I was going to write more often about environmental things even if it didn’t have any direct, obvious tie-in to my spiritual stuff, one of my gods asked me to commit to writing one such post a week, and, since I figured it was a reasonably good idea, I agreed. (I made the commitment very quickly and then spent much of last year grumping at myself for having done so, because as much as I liked reading all that stuff, and would have been reading it regardless, I hated having a weekly writing deadline, and also felt I never spent the time on it to do the topics justice.)

Last weekend’s post was the last one under those terms. I’m not likely to stop posting about those topics altogether, because it’s something of major importance in my life, but my posting “schedule” is now back to whatever it was before: sporadic and impulsive.

I have really valued the comments from people who were glad to see those posts – as much as I know, intellectually, there are A LOT of people who care about all manner of ecological concerns, getting that direct communication makes it feel more real, and I have been particularly grateful when it comes from other pagans/polytheists, since so much of the surrounding community doesn’t seem to have much, if any, focus on that topic, other than general concern for climate change, bees, etc. If you started reading this blog for those posts, well . . . I’m sorry the future here isn’t going to be like the past year was.

You may be interested in any/all of the following blogs; they are some of my favorites:

  • Biophilia Hypothesis, on Tumblr. This blog is a treasure; he reads many of the same sources I have been, plus a lot of others, shares lots of links with commentary AND ALSO posts some great landscape photos.
  • The Druid’s Garden. Permaculture, environmentalism, ecology, working with the land physically and spiritually. Great writing, great topics; my favorite blog that combines ecological concerns with spiritual practices. Wish I could find more like it.
  • A Heathen Naturalist also writes on blending religious/spiritual practices with the land.
  • Sarenth Odinsson also writes often about how these two topics work together, as well as more straight-up polytheism. He recently did several posts on “A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil .
  • Animist Jottings, “a space for reflection on animism in theory and practice.”
  • And there are several other writers at Gods&Radicals who write about environmental concerns.

So! That’s that.

Last year . . . when I start reflecting on what last year was like in terms of my spiritual practices, mentally starting to write it all out, I find myself going “Oh . . . that was kind of a lot, wasn’t it? ha.”

Much of the first half of the year was really quietly awful: Loki (and Others, but mostly Loki) was working, more/again, on some crap I need to deal with wrt some previous trauma, and while no instance of that was as simply horrible as past “work” has been, it just didn’t end. It was always there – or the threat of it was always there, the threat that this time, when I reached out to Him, or He reached out to me, there it would be, that would be there instead of anything else, including just the comfort of contact, and so of course that made it hard to reach out to Him (He was there, but it was hard to make the effort, because I was always afraid of what might happen). I often wondered if things would have been less awful, emotionally, if He’d simply up and vanished for several months. I’d have felt alone, but it would have been easier than being able to reach out and afraid, for good reason, to do so. When some of the Others started the same behavior He was using, it was even worse, because I was used to turning to Him for some level of comfort (I talk to Him about everything, right?), and now, there was always the possibility that instead of comfort, I’d just get more of the awful.

Finally in late June He said it was over. Well, it was (mercifully) and it wasn’t. He – and the Others – are still doing the same button-pushing thing, but somehow it doesn’t have the same impact as it did earlier. It’s less of a slow horrible slog. I suppose some of these issues take a long, long time to untangle, deactivate, whatever. A lot of my frustration and upsetness has been that I cannot figure out how to react or think about the situation in order to help work it out, and They have not been clear about it when I’ve asked.

The summer also brought some really major wonderful changes in other ways: I went to Many Gods West, and through that and my writing at G&R, I’ve met a whole bunch of really amazing people, many of whom live right here!!! IN PORTLAND. OH MY GODS. (And their gods. I think a lot of gods had Their fingers in the mix.) I have people here. (And then?? I found out via Tumblr there are like at least half a dozen Lokeans in Portland. AND THEN???? I went to one of the local ADF protogrove‘s rituals and found EVEN MORE LOKEANS. And then???!!!!!!!? Their Yule ritual honored Norse gods, and included hailing Loki as part of it. Best. Yule.

So last year brought many extremely awesome human-community things. I feel stunned, in a happy way, and I am looking forward to getting to know all those people better. I am not sure how much I want to do group ritual or worship – “occasionally” is nice, but beyond that, I enjoy sitting down and talking about what’s going on personally more than I like group ritual/worship.

On the spiritual community side of things, well, it got to be “more” as well. Early in the year, a “Council of Greenwights” showed up, spoke to me intensely and at length, and I have since then v e r y  s l o w l y, and with lots of advice from my gods, been working on getting to know some of Them better. I don’t know what-all Their goals are (though I know some of the outcomes the gods intend); They’ve pretty much refused to answer.

Plant Powers have, on the whole, made me far more nervous than any other kind of spirit I’ve met yet, and a lot of it is this not-answering thing. They also have an alienness to them that most of the gods rarely display; the plant Powers (who I think are gods in their own right, just, perhaps, not our gods) sometimes use humanoid forms, but They don’t wear the “humanlike” masks as easily as the more classic gods seem inclined to. They feel a little more emotionally distant, even while being emotionally supportive, even compared to some of the Norse gods Who I barely know. Maybe this is what it’s like to deal with aliens, for all that humans and plants literally come from the same stuff.

At the end of the year, I started to get spirit-bothered regarding house plants, too. (Is nothing in my life safe from this?) “You really ought to go to that store yes go do it, you need to get that kind of plant. Go on you know you wanna.” R U SRS. I already had a few dozen house plants – I like house plants, I don’t need encouragement to get more, why do spirits care about this???? Runes say: Yes. Go do the thing.

Some of the gods also started throwing in encouragement about what I’m doing with my plants, too. All I’ve gotten from the plant spirits is that a) this isn’t “required,” but it might be a nice thing to do and b) They aren’t plant spirits I’ve had a previous relationship with. I think. (Whoever has been speaking to me feels different than Anyone else, but. Doubts remain.) I’ve read vast amounts of information on keeping various kinds of house plants, and I am amazingly well-educated now . . . at least compared to 6 months ago. The ways in which I’ve killed too many plants in the last year should have been easily avoided, had I better knowledge at the time.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this ties in with other care-of-land/landscape/land spirit work, but I have more than a slight suspicion that They – ALL of the Them – are encouraging the house plant thing in no small part because I simply like plants, and keeping them, and tending to them, makes me happy and satisfies a need to have things to nurture. The gods have had a long-standing habit of reminding me to enjoy life, and focus on the things I have that make me happy, so why would They not be all “Yeah! Do more of that thing that makes you happy!” (and bring in other spirits to amplify the message).

Yesterday, when I verified that I had, in fact, completed the terms of my oath re:writing, I then got a long er, talking-to, of sorts, the main point of which was “You must stop finding things to be gloomy about, focus on the positive. Please.” It was very intense, and supportive, not an angry “you’re totally fucking up” talking-to; there was a strong sense of pleading to it. Like: They definitely want to help me, and They will if/when I ask, and They think my life is in good shape and my future looks good – but my automatic fear-reactions (imagined future-fears/worries: “if something good seems to be happening, there must be something awful built into it”) are getting in the way of things.

Not that I’ve been ignorant of this tendency; not that They’ve never brought it up before; not that I expect this is the last “conversation” to be had about it.

SO. Speaking of my glorious future! I expect to be changing jobs this winter; Loki started dropping major hints last summer (and did that improve my mood at work? DID IT. I THOUGHT I MIGHT BURST) and things have ramped up some since then. He/They have been somewhat short on details, but it seems like it will be something much more aligned with what I want to be doing with my life. (Have I allowed myself to fully trust this? hahaha.)

I’m also still looking for a house; I’ve been looking since last March. The market here is rough, especially in the price-range and location combination I want. I am trying to remain optimistic, since They keep encouraging it (and I had quite an interesting “dream” about it a few months ago), but that’s been getting challenging lately.

On the whole, I’ve been expecting some kind of major life upheaval, or two, this season for several months now – positive ones, desired ones, for sure.

The timing echoes the past: Three years ago I was just starting to pack for a major life-upheaval; I was leaving Boston to come back to Oregon. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around it having been only 3 years. When I first got here, I was so eager to get a move on with finding satisfying work, and so disappointed when that did not go how I had expected/hoped it to go: first I was Told to stop looking for work as an intern architect; then all my looking for jobs that were land-oriented (the new “assignment”) came to nothing, and I got my current job – which was clearly one They wanted me to have. It’s been supportive in many ways, but not on a deep emotional, values-matching level, and it has certain inherent frustrations that I struggle with, constantly. I knew when I got it that it was meant to be “temporary,” but the indications that I would be there for years were upsetting, even though I knew I had things I needed to learn before I could move on. In retrospect, the 2.5 years in the position haven’t been so very awful, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been an extremely long time before moving on, but I am so eager to move on to something better.

My life is extremely good right now, dramatically so compared to where I was 3 years ago, but there is plenty of room to make it even better, and to start seeing the spiritual piece (with the land), and the mundane piece (. . . also the land), drawn closer together.

Some aspects of what my Work is with the land/land spirits also became much clearer (though not “clear enough” to explain it all), a relationship I have with one particular land spirit got more intense and serious and lovely, and I got some hints that there are other land Powers that I need to do things for (“the trees,” or “some” trees? I don’t exactly know. Trees. Trees is definite). I expect more of that this year – more surprise “this is what We want! :D” messages, that is, along with a few more clarifications. Business as usual. Confusing as things are with the land work, I love Them/the land so much I . . . kind of don’t have the words for it, but I very much want more of it.

… That’s hardly everything, or even every major thing, but I think that is enough writing for now.

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Land and Land Spirits | Tagged | 4 Comments