Yeah, yeah, yeah, It’s been a while

I know. I’ve been really busy with the move and everything. For a quick recap: I am now working several jobs: teaching ballet, working in an office, and dancing for several companies. My social life is more active than it ever has been, my best friend from my childhood moved in with my whole big family of my sister, her boyfriend, and my husband, I met some local heathens and gone to a few events, and generally feel like my big move was the best thing ever for me.

Anyway, I’m here today because I want to write about a conversation I had with a new acquaintance of mine. We were at a Halloween party, and I told him I’m a pagan. He was interested and asked me some basic questions, and then got around to the one I always dread–“So, do you actually believe in this stuff?”

I don’t answer that question to people I’m not close to because the fact of the matter is that my definition of religious belief is so different from the common American I-literally-believe-every-word-of-the-bible definition that the only thing that can happen is that I come across like a crazy person. Especially considering that my social circles tend to be filled with either casual Christians or staunch atheists. So what I do instead when asked is tell the person all the reasons why it’s irrelevant whether or not the gods exist–my belief in them itself is a tangible force in the world regardless, that the human mind responds to metaphor and story and having gods whose stories relate to my own difficulties is incredibly healing, that having rituals to honor the dead fills a hole in our emotional needs that scientific society absolutely does not solve, etc. He was really interested in what I was saying, and said he understood where I was coming from that science and religion are for different aspects of life. He defined himself as an agnostic.

A couple of days ago, he brought it up again to my sister. He told her that I “claim to be a pagan” and that I want to believe in it, but don’t really, and that he can tell by my eyes.

Now, I’m a definitely frustrated that someone I barely know thinks he knows how religious I am more than I do. I’m annoyed that he thinks he gets to have a say in what my religion is. But what I really get out of this whole interaction is the ways that American religious rhetoric is so full of boxes that people want to put other people in, and then they get really confused when I don’t fit in them. No matter how many times I have this conversation about what my religion is, I can watch people put me in box after box after box trying to find where I fit. People I end up being close friends with finally just give up and let me be in my own radical place. But this guy decided that since I didn’t fit in a box, I must fit in one anyway, the box of the nonbeliever.

Normally, it goes like this. You’re religious? Crazy Christian box. You’re pagan? Oh, let me edit that to the Nutso New Agey Witchy box or else Satan Worshiping Devil box. You worship the Norse gods? Uhh…Girly Viking chick box. Do you really believe in them? Please say yes so I can put you in the “deluded” box. You won’t say yes? So you’re an atheist? No? An agnostic? No? Uhh…..Yep, I’m going with atheist who has deluded themselves into thinking they’re deluded. Or something.

It’s tiresome. But I do enjoy breaking down the boxes a bit. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that I’ve changed their perspectives of religious people because they’ve never met a religious person who is so logical and rational about their faith while still actually believing in something. But the longer I’m a pagan, the more I realize that I define pretty much everything differently than other people, and it can make it very difficult to have a conversation.

Kansas City Shooting

I am very upset about the news of the Kansas City shooting. I have family there. And then there’s the fact that reports are saying the perpetrator was an Odinist, which is just awful.

Heathens United has started a fund for the victims, and I hope my readers will consider contributing. It can be found here.

Also, I’m not sure I have ever publicly stated my stance on the racist asshole/folkish/universalist issue here, so here it is:

I am opposed to racism. It is wrong to tell someone they cannot be a follower of my gods due to factors such as skin color.

Why instead are we not telling assholes who go around shooting people at community centers that they are not welcome because they bring dishonor to us?

 

Getting to Know New Land on my Bike

I moved to a new part of the country in December, as many of you know, from Philadelphia to Charlotte, NC. It’s in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Philadelphia is also in the piedmont, and I have lived in the South before, but Charlotte is a different combination of things, it’s own unique place, that I am struggling to learn. It’s difficult, of course, to learn much about a place in only four or five months, but I am in the middle of watching my first seasonal shift, and I just bought a bike.

As a nature-centered pagan, of course, I look for ways to live lightly and to make my connection with the land. That’s why I have my worm bin and why I wear thrifted and refashioned clothing. But my husband and I recently made a purchase that’s probably going to make the biggest difference: bikes. We got them at the beginning of March, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already ridden 200 miles around town going to meetings and rehearsals. That’s 200 miles less of air pollution and oil reliance in only a month or so. That makes me feel like I’m really taking some steps to get in line with the world. The distances I was driving here were so short–fewer than five miles most of the time. But five miles is too far to walk for a two hour dance rehearsal, so I ended up getting in my car to be there for five minutes, all the while wishing there were some better way. My bike is that better way. Here’s a picture of me being super girly while riding her:

riding in a flowy skirt

But there are so many other things that have changed for me since I got my bike that have changed the way I relate to the land and living in this new city. Riding my bike helps to remind me that the city is an ecosystem and that nature is not a destination, it’s all around us. Part of that is the reduced distances to parks, and the fact that I ride on a greenway whenever possible. But it’s also things like having to ride around a crushed squirrel or startling a robin with the whirr of my wheels. It’s not insulating myself with a heater and air conditioner keeping me at the perfect temperature, noticing slight shifts in the light as the clouds move above, feeling the gusts of wind pushing me in one direction or another. It’s seeing turtles and ducks and geese and even herons as I ride to and from a dance rehearsal. It’s feeling my strength build as I realize I can climb hills that I couldn’t before. It’s in the small human interactions that happen when I’m not locked away in a car–people saying hello as I pass by or smiling at me being girly or even being grumpy because I’m passing them. The other people in the city are becoming actual people instead of traffic.

creek

It is easier to remember that this is an ecosystem with a new proximity to the creek or the forest.  I would never want to drive to see a creek, and the walk to the greenway would be fifteen or twenty minutes by itself. Now, I can leave my house and within ten minute find a nice place to sit and watch the water go by and put a new calm into my heart, feeling Sif’s peace as I watch the wind in the grasses and listen to the songbirds.

creek sectionn

The first time I rode the greenway to a rehearsal, when I arrived, I said that the greenway had changed my life. And the other dancers sort of laughed at me for being a hippie, but I wasn’t being sarcastic. In the five years since I was in college in the Hudson Valley, I haven’t had a chance to interact with beautiful natural spaces as a part of my daily or weekly routine. Then, I would see the mountains as I walked to class. And then there was Philadelphia, with its concrete and it’s brick buildings and its litter, and I forgot about the land. Every time I left the city, I felt this rush of sadness and nostalgia as I looked at the trees while I thought, “This is what I’m missing. How can I go through life without this?” And then we moved to Charlotte and it’s much greener and people have yards, but the drives are still strip malls and stoplights and concrete. The greenway is trees and creeks and grasses and meadows and flowers. How could anyone prefer the roads, when the land is just a hundred feet over on the greenway? When I can see the trees every day instead of waiting for that sadness to wash over me. I feel alive and human and animal and spirit.

This connection to place I have found on my bicycle is a surprise to me. I had expected riding my bike around town to be just a form of transportation that’s more fun than driving. But I feel free.

forest

I no longer feel limited to staying in my house when I’m bored, or only going the short few blocks that are a comfortable stroll. I no longer have to make the choice between cabin fever and pollution. The distances that make sense for a quick outing to get some air are farther, and that makes the creek and the forest available to me, even in my dense urban neighborhood. I can see a duck and a skyline in the same view as I crest a hill and remember that we are a part of the landscape. I don’t feel anymore like I have to be on guard all the time. The city is becoming home.

skyline

 

On Thor and Sif and Lofn

Lofnbard and I have been have a really fun speculative conversation regarding Sif (who, you may recall I believe is also Sjofn) and Lofn’s relationship, as well as Sif’s relationship to Thor in the comments section of my recent post “On the ‘handmaidens,’ my distate for the term, and Sif.” Ya’ll should go check it out.

The gist is that Lofnbard and I both had the UPG that Sjofn likes tea as an offering, and she had stories about Sjofn’s past, so we’re speculating about their lives. We seem to have come up with Sjofn and Lofn having come from the Ljoss-Alfar, but had a difficult time and ended up in Asgard (you’ll have to go to her blog and read her stories of their pasts. They are very interesting.) The two are lovers, but then Sjofn ended up marrying Thor, and she helps to calm down his storminess with her loving peacefulness. She seems to do something similar for Lofn.

Go check it out, and add your thoughts to the discussion.

*Obligatory UPG disclaimer. None of this is from the Lore even a little bit.

Happy Vanadis Day!

Here it is Vanadis Day again, and this year I decided to give the Lady a gift for her day.

As I’ve mentioned here before, lately, I’ve been lately taking ugly old clothes from the thrift store and turning them into cute clothes. Which, in general, I think is more up Sif’s alley than Freyja’s, what with Sif turning the mind to love and getting beautiful hair out of losing it all and all that. But Freyja would obviously never turn down a pretty dress. 

So the other day, I went to the thrift store with the express purpose of purchasing the ugliest red dress I could find to make Freyja’s dress out of. And boy, did the thrift store ever deliver on that.

red dress before front

red dress back beforeOh, where to start? The ugly sleeves, the weird womb triangle, the pleats around the womb triangle. 

We had a couple of snow days this week (Hey, Holda!), and so I spent one of them taking apart almost every piece of this dress except the neckline and making a whole new dress, which of course makes me feel like dancing for Freyja in a dress for Freyja:

red dress after 1 red dress after 2 red dress after 3 red dress back after

Hail Freyja, the wife of Odh, the beautiful Vanadis!

Hail to she who makes tears sparkle with her magic!

Hail Freyja, falcon-flier, who grants passion and beauty in all of our days, who gave me my husband and my faith, enjoy this dress on this day filled with the lovers’ embrace.

Happy Vanadis Day!

A (Blasphemous and) Funny Conversation with my Husband

Necessary backstory: My (Christian) husband and I are always joking that he’s basically a dog and I’m basically a cat.

So a few weeks ago, I was reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, and a section gave me the most blasphemous thought I have ever had. While writing about a Middle Ages chalice for use in communion in comparison to a bronze age cauldron that depicts human sacrifice, Cahill says:

It is the most extraordinary metal-work of the early Middle Ages, both barbaric and refined, solid and airy, bold and restrained. Like the Cauldron, it was forged for ritual, but it makes a happier statement about sacrifice, for the God to whom it is dedicated no longer demands that we nourish him and thus become one with his godhead. The transaction has been reversed: he offers himself to us as heavenly nourishment. In this new “economy,” we drink the Blood of God, and all become one by partaking of the one cup, the one destiny.”

So I thought, if in Christianity, it is God who gives the blood sacrifice to man, does that make God the worshiper and Man the Gods? I told my husband about my blasphemous thought. He laughed and said it was in fact the most blasphemous thing I’d ever said. He’s used to me blowing his mind with how much I can blaspheme by purposefully misunderstanding Christianity.

Anyway, my mother-in-law gets a daily joke email and sometimes forwards them to us when she particularly likes a joke. Today’s joke was this:

“Dog: You pet me, feed me, play with me, love me … you must be a god!
Cat: You pet me, feed me, play with me, love me … I must be a god!”

So my husband responded to me with this email:

“The joke is just like the blasphemous comment you made the other day with the sacrifice thing. Christians think like the dog and your thought is in line with the cat. :)”

And I responded to him with this email:

“The joke reminds me of my blasphemous thought. I guess the difference between pagan gods and Christian ones is whether they are dogs or cats. :)”

And then I responded with this:

“Hilarious. I sent that before I read your response. We must think alike even though you’re a dog and I’m a cat. :)”

And he finished the conversation with this:

“Yep. and that right there explains our whole relationship. Me the dog, you the cat. :)”

 

On Paganism and Christian Privilege

So here I am, getting settled in my new life, when the fact that I’m now living in the Bible Belt becomes quite clear. I was having a phone interview for a dance teaching position (Yay! I’m now teaching ballet to teenagers!), and the studio owner just dropped that she owns a studio because that was God’s plan for her life. When I met her in person, she was talking about Church.

And it made me think of all the ways that this could never be my life. I don’t have the Christian privilege to drop m faith into a formal conversation like a job interview, no matter whether I was the interviewer or the interviewee. And it’s strange for me because in Philadelphia, people’s religions were a private thing in a way they aren’t here.

One of my first posts here was on my desire for public piety, a way to show my faith without having to tell anyone about it. But now I see that a public faith comes with it certain downsides. The main one of which is that you are automatically subject to people’s stereotypes. If people know I’m a  pagan upon first meeting me, many here in the Bible Belt wouldn’t make any effort to get to know me at all. If, instead, my faith is something people learn after they already know me a bit, I can break stereotypes and encourage discussion.

So since I moved here, I took my religion off of my Facebook profile. I thought that with all the new people I’m meeting, there is no reason to make things any more awkward than they need to be when people first look at my profile. But it’s got me thinking about why I’m a Pagan anyway and why I have chosen to give up the Christian privilege.

There are a lot of people and forces trying to make me go back to Christianity–the mainstream, and especially my mother who has now stopped totally ignoring my conversion and is instead dropping snide comments here and there. But I have no desire to give up this beautiful faith. It’s been a long time since I wrote about why I chose (and continue to choose) paganism, and Imbolc is the seventh anniversary of my first good pagan ritual (even though I don’t celebrate Imbolc anymore) so I thought it would be a good time for a refresher.

I am a pagan because I believe that a multitude of stories for a multitude of people and experiences is a more helpful religious paradigm. I can find comfort in Freyja’s story when I miss my love, Sif’s story when my hair falls out, Holda’s story when the first flakes of snow fall in winter, any number of stories for any number of pains and joys.

I am a pagan because the gods and the land speak to me. I hear the beauty of the goddesses in the call of the birds, I see Freyja sparking in the sunlight glinting on the surface of water. I feel Sif when my hair brushes my lower back. I feel Thor when the thunder shakes my home. I remember that the trees are living beings who give to us. I remember that was also give something to the trees. I remember that the land is not something we own, but our nurturing mother who provides us with our food, our air, our homes, our bodies.

I am a pagan because the mainstream is not good these days. What is mainstream and conventional is a toxic and unhealthy relationship to the land and our bodies. It is toxic to our minds and our souls and our ability to spend time or energy on the things that matter in life instead of rushing from work to the store to home and to bed. I want a life that has time for leisure with my family, that has space for remembering my soul. To gain the Christian privilege of dropping bits about my faith into everyday language, I would have to give up so much more. I would have to give up Freyja and Sif and Holda and Thor in exchange for one story of redemption.

If every story must fit the narrative of sin and redemption, or of progress which is also redemption from backwardness, than there can be no stories of loss. No stories of stasis. No stories of change for its own sake. Not everything needs to be redeemed, most things and spirits and people and flora and fauna and planets and stars just need to tell their own stories. Stories as multifaceted at the universe, as big as the galaxy, as bright as the sun or as dark as the far side of the moon.

On Virginity

I’ve been sick this past week, so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching videos. I watched the BBC 4 part documentary on Pagans, which I was quite impressed by. The BBC really does produce much higher quality content than American made-for-tv documentaries, which always feel so redundant and basic.

Anyway, in the first section, “Sexy Beasts,” they talk about the Egtved girl, who I have talked about before. (Hilariously, when I just googled the Egtved girl to get the wikipedia link for you guys, there was that picture of me sitting like the bronze statue wearing that string skirt I made in the image suggestions. The internet is a weird thing, where I can google an obscure archeological find and see a picture of myself.) Anyway, while talking about the Egtved girl, they talked about virginity and how it meant something different in Pagan Europe than it does in Christianity. Since sexuality wasn’t seen as bad, virgins weren’t necessarily seen as more “pure” than non-virgins, they were seen as “ticking time bombs of sexual energy.” They think the Egtved girl was a virgin because she was 15 when she died, but dancing in that skirt could have been nothing but sexual. The idea being that a virgin is more sexually potent than a non-virgin because she can arouse and be aroused, but that energy is never released, it only builds.

Which got me thinking about Mary and Jesus in a very heretical way. What if Mary was capable of carrying the child of God not because her virginity made her more pure than other mothers, but because her virginity meant that she had more life source force in her?

And then I got to thinking about sex, and me, and my history with the Christian guilt and just how deeply damaging that idea was for me, that virginity was a pure state of being and sex was bad and women should be pure and so once I lost my virginity I wasn’t pure anymore, I was a whore. But no categories are stable, and as we see in the Egtved girl, sometimes the virgin IS the whore. The Norse gods are always missing that which they rule over because, as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Freyja loves Odh more when he isn’t there, Sif loves her hair more once it’s gone, and sex is better when you can’t have any (Sort of. sometimes.)

By the way, can we talk about how annoying the phrase “lose your virginity” is? How much it takes the agency out of the choice to begin a sexually active life? “Oh, whoops, my boyfriend came over and I lost my virginity. I can’t find it anywhere!”

But, in America, with all it’s problems, could this idea be a good thing? Could this idea be a healthier and more successful way of helping our daughters lead healthy sex lives and wait until they are ready? I think it could. We teach our daughters that they are helpless to men’s desire (because men are the only ones with desire and only want one thing out of women), and they have to be pure. So then once they’re rebellious or a man wants them or they find out that they want it to, which is scary because they weren’t supposed to, those ticking time bombs of sexual energy explode and it isn’t always healthy and they aren’t always prepared. I think it would have been easier for me if I had been taught that virginity gives a girl power and agency over her choices, that she can arouse a man or herself and know the power in that without giving in to it. That her virginity is hers to own and to give to a partner when she chooses to.

On the “handmaidens,” my distate for the term, and Sif

In order to go into more detail about my relationship with Sif, which is blossoming and which I intend to do on this blog, I first have to share something about Frigga’s “Handmaidens.”

First of all, I believe there is no foundation in the lore to call them handmaidens whatsoever. They are simply listed as goddesses in a list that includes Freyja right in the middle, but doesn’t include other notable goddesses such as Idunna and Sif. If the twelve lesser-known goddesses were considered some kind of group of Frigga’s handmaidens, it seems to me that they would have been listed as such in the Gylfaginning. Why stick Freyja right in the middle? I happen to believe that this grouping is just a modern way of dismissing the individuality of these goddesses. How many places online are they only mentioned as “Frigga’s Handmaidens,” their individuality forgotten? Conversely, how many places are they talked about as if going through each one and meeting her in trance (sometimes one per month for a year) is some way to explore femininity in heathenry as some kind of exercise in getting in touch with your femininity? In any case, they are treated as a group, always, for no reason that I can ascertain. As Lofnbard says, “This is in fact purely a modern convention of Norse Paganism and Heathenry, framing them as minor Goddesses because they are almost ignored in the lore.”

Furthermore, I cannot figure out where anyone has found evidence that all of these goddesses are necessarily tied to Frigga. Sure, Fulla and Gefjion have cases to be made, but what about the rest? I would love to be proved wrong on this if anyone can find me a lore reference that shows that most of these goddesses have a closer relationship with Frigga than with anyone else in particular. Where does this come from?

Alright, so back to Sif. What does Sif have to do with the “handmaidens”?

Once upon a time, after reading the list of goddesses in Gylfaginning, or perhaps after reading Alice Karlsdottir’s book on the “handmaidens”, I decided to dedicate an altar to Sjofn, who seemed like a goddess I would get along with very well, given that she is the goddess who turns the mind to love. Her name means affection. So, I made her an altar. For whatever reason, I had the sense that she liked tea, so I put a pretty teacup on her altar where I made offerings of tea. I also had this strange notion that she liked Baroque things more than the older, simpler Germanic ones. She seemed to like how golden they were, and how beautifully made. One night, while trying to learn more about her, it came into my head that I should learn about her through her husband. “Husband? You have a husband?” “Of course I do, silly,” was the sort of answer, and then my mind fell immediately on Thor.

Of course the idea that Thor and Sjofn had any kind of marriage was ridiculous, so I put it out of my mind a bit. Then a few people I talked to also mentioned that they have found Sif likes tea and baroque things and polite society and everything, and it seemed perhaps a bit less far-fetched. So I went back to the primary sources and dug and dug, and found that Sif is not included in the list of goddesses where Sjofn’s name is found. So couldn’t Sjofn could be another name for Sif? It’s very common to say that all of the lesser-known goddesses are by-names of Frigga, but why not Sif? Sif’s name means relation, Sjofn’s means affection. Could these not be the same goddess? Sif is a peace-keeper among the family, which seems to me to be just one method of turning the mind to love.

And so I consider Sif and Sjofn to be one and the same and treat them as such. My altar to Sif includes hearts and tea and my worship of Sjofn references Thor. I honor her by keeping the peace in my family, by looking for the positives in the loss of my long hair, and by turning my mind to love.

On our new home

It’s been a whirlwind of a month since I last posted. I visited the inlaws for Thanksgiving, spent three days with a sick and teething baby, caught the flu, moved 800 miles, decorated our new place, went home to visit my parents and my husband’s parents for Christmas, watched my husband get a job, signed up for health insurance, watched some of my hair fall out (we’re on year three of alopecia falling out in the fall/winter), met new dancers, flew back to Philadelphia to go to my former employer’s company party, and am evaluating what I want out of my career now that I’m in hiatus.

Goodness, everything is different now. No wonder there was no time for blogging.

I’m set up in Charlotte now, and I’m trying to learn about the land here. Of course I’m not all the way familiar with it yet, but I’m doing my research. Charlotte is in the Piedmont region, which is French for “foot of the mountain.” It’s interesting because in Alabama where I am from, my parents’ house is in the “foothills of the Appalachians,” which are the final ridges of the mountain range. But my husband’s parents’ house, which is 20 miles away, is in the Piedmonts. The piedmont region is a plateau between the Appalachian mountains, which have my heart, and the coastal plains. I’m not sure how I feel about the piedmont region. I love it in Alabama, and it turns out Philadelphia is also in the same region. So at least I’m not moving to an entirely different land. It’s hotter here, of course. But still, I will always miss those mountains.

So I was reading up on the Piedmont region, and I learned that it was formed when North America split off from Africa in the end of Pangaea, when the stretching caused the formation of a basin that was later filled in by sediment from the eroding mountains. That explains why our soil is so clay-like. I’ve decided to joke that we’re living on top of one of Mother Earth’s stretch marks.

Charlotte is nice so far. All the dancers seem to be very welcoming and accepting. The people here are so nice. I’ve gotten involved (online at least) with a group of heathens from around here, and hopefully I will meet them soon.