On Sif, Seasons, and Family

My alopecia is acting up again.

The day I returned from my honeymoon, and the day hurricane Sandy made landfall along the coast of the Northeast, I noticed quite a few of my newly four-inch hairs above my ears falling out in my fingers. I ran to the bathroom mirror, and, sure enough, it looks exactly like it did last December above my left ear–a small bald spot. And then I noticed another one, right on top where it’s always been the worst. Where I had only finally gotten rid of the bald spot three months earlier.

This time, however, I didn’t despair. My feelings were not even remotely as strong as they were a year ago when I was first experiencing alopecia, and there are good reasons for that. For one thing, I know what it is this time, so I’m not constantly thinking I’m disgusting for having some infection like I did last time when I was misdiagnosed with ringworm. For another thing, I have dealt emotionally with this loss. Last time, the concept of losing my hair was such an impossible concept that I had never even considered it might happen to me. But this time, I know that it’s something that happens to me, and so life goes on. But perhaps the biggest reason why I’m not as upset this time is that I no longer have to worry that I will be bald at my wedding. My baldness waned in time for me to have a full head of hair for my wedding and honeymoon, and now that it’s over, I have the comfort of that perfect memory, and life goes on.

It’s been two weeks since my baldness came back, and so far it’s not even really noticeable. A slight change in how I’ve been wearing my bangs, and even I can’t tell looking at myself in the mirror. Hopefully it stays like that. It won’t.

Last time, my hair fell out during Hurricane Irene’s Northeastern tour, and this time, it was just in the middle of Sandy. So I’m joking to everyone that hurricanes make my hair fall out.

But there’s something else to it, something that has me thinking a lot about Sif, wife of Thor, and that’s the seasonality of it. It is apparently not unheard of for those with alopecia to experience a worsening of their symptoms in the fall, with regrowth tending to appear in the spring. Of course, as with everything about alopecia, there’s very little research, so all of this is sort of speculative.

Many people liken Sif’s hair to the golden fields of wheat, and Loki cutting her hair off as a representation of the wheat harvest, which occurs in late summer. So at the end of each summer, Sif loses and then mourns her long hair, and is given a new head of golden hair by the dwarves.

This is the second autumn in a row that my hair has fallen. Which gives a whole new meaning to the season of “fall.” I feel like a tree, like my leaves fall out in the autumn and I am bare all winter, only for new growth to come once more in the summer. And today, while musing about Sif, I feel like my hairs are the golden fields of wheat that she grows until they are long and she is proud of them, then are torn away, leaving her bereft for the winter, only for new golden stalks to return with the strengthening sun.

There’s another aspect to my thinking about Sif and my hair loss today. With the gods, what thoughts aren’t multi-faceted? So for one, I am thinking of Sif and the seasons of loss and gain, but I am also thinking of how she is the wife of Thor, and how her name means familial or in-law relationships. How she turns the mind to love.* How she lost her hair, and in the process, Loki got her new gold hair from the dwarves, and the gods got the best of their treasures–Sif’s husband’s hammer, Odin’s spear and self-replicating ring, and Frey’s ship and golden boar. These allow the gods much more strength in their position among the worlds, particularly thanks to Thor’s hammer. I am struck that her loss leads to the gain of all in her family, not just herself.

It is so common in Norse mythology for a deity to be missing just the thing that gives them their power–Freyja is missing her husband, but has passionate love as her domain. Odin is missing an eye, and so gains vision. And so on. Sif loses her hair, and also her femininity, and so gives the gods those things that make them the most powerful. Her loss was powerful enough to transform the Aesir. And so I have have been thinking of her and my new marriage, and how we’re in it together now and that sacrifices I make and losses I sustain can have a positive effect on me and Gent and our whole family. And how, like Sif, I am an in-law, and how I am his wife, and he is now, for real, my family. How families are a whole web of connectedness, and how marriages tie a knot to combine two whole wyrd webs into one so that they always and forever affect each other.

*This is something that is actually said of Sjofn, but I believe that Sif and Sjofn are the same goddess. Sjofn is solely attested to in Snorri’s list of goddesses, in which Sif is not listed. Sjofn’s name means “relation” and so does Sif’s. 

On marriage and families

I’m feeling pensive tonight. No particular reason, but I can’t sleep, so I’m going to subject you guys to my rambles.

I can’t sleep tonight because all I can think about is how wonderful my wedding was, and how long ago it already seems. That two week whirlwind trip to Europe just made it seem like October could have been a wonderful year. Now it’s far enough in the past in my brain’s clock that I’m starting to actually process what happened, how I went from being a fiancee to a wife, changed my name (well, I’m working on that one, really. It will probably be a while before that’s done), and gained some family members.

For the first time in my life, it actually occurred to me that any children I have will have family members that my twin sister’s children wouldn’t. Somehow I had always thought of our future children as interchangeable. That probably makes me sound like a freak, but I guess it’s a sign that my new family is a real family now, instead of the ghosty vague forms little girls have in place of their future husbands and wedding guests.

Husband and I are starting to combine our finances, and we bought a new bed, and we have a whole set of china, and all kinds of adult things. So in a way, things seem different. In a way, I’m having a bit of post-wedding cold feet. Beforehand, it was so exciting and I love him so much, that marrying him was just the obvious answer. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying I wish I didn’t marry him, just that now that it’s done, I’m able to deal with the enormity of it in a way I couldn’t before. We’re married and I’m his wife and he’s my husband and we’re responsible for each other.

And then there are all those cultural narratives about what being married means and how we should be a nuclear family unit and I should now all of a sudden start wanting a baby. Not that anybody has outright said this, except my mom, but it’s one of those things people say “get married and start a family.” As if it’s something that happens all at once.

But what’s with the nuclear family ideal? How on earth can my husband and I “start a family” when we’ve just invited each other into ours? Don’t we already have a family and not need to start one from scratch? Why is making a baby starting a family?

I’m not really into the nuclear family structure. That probably comes mostly from my twin sister, who I love so dearly, and who lives with me and my husband. She and I lived together far longer than he and I have, and she’s lived with us the whole time we’ve lived together. I don’t really ever intend to live apart from her if I can help it. People are always telling us that it’s a necessity that she and I will part ways someday, as if it’s a given because all kinds of children want to live with their siblings when they grow up, but then everyone grows up and realizes that’s silly. But why not? If I love her and she loves me and she loves my husband and he loves her and we all three love her boyfriend, why shouldn’t we live together? Why should I ever live apart from either of the two most important people to me? I lived apart from my husband for 5 years, and that was horrible.

I once told someone I was annoyed because my sister’s boss and everyone have been asking her when she’s moving out, and then they are confused when she says she isn’t going to. He said, “She shouldn’t have to, as long as you aren’t starting a family right away.” Which just confused me even more, because why would you ever want fewer adults around when there’s a baby to be taken care of?

But there’s another reason besides my sister that I don’t really believe in the nuclear family structure. I don’t think it’s the way the human brain is built. We’re social creatures, and we tend to lean on different people for different things. I can go to my sister for gossip, and my husband for architectural design kinds of conversations. He doesn’t want the gossip, so it gives him a chance to watch the sports he likes but I don’t while she and I chat.

I was raised in the suburbs, and I saw the nuclear family making everyone lonely and depressed. If you only have one person who is supposed to be your everything, what happens when you and that person are fighting? What if it’s the two of you and a really unhappy set of teenagers? There’s nowhere to diffuse the tension, so it just swirls around the nuclear family like a giant ball of too many electrons, making it have a negative charge. But link up with more people, and maybe you get a stable molecule, and the electrons can swap around between atoms so that some of the tension from one place can diffuse in another, and the people can be happier. I just don’t see how one person could ever be enough for anybody.

My parents lived in a nuclear family my whole childhood. They rarely went out with friends, and we saw their families only once or twice a year. They were miserable. After I moved out, my brother and his son and his father moved to live near them, then my aunt went as well. And then instead of an unhappy two, they were six. And my mom could talk to my aunt when she was really upset with my nephew, or my dad could talk to my brother’s dad or my aunt, and everyone had someone to talk to, and they were all much happier.

So I don’t think my husband and I have started a family at all, or that we will when/if we have babies. I don’t think it’s even possible. We already have families. And I intend to keep our non-nuclear family structure together, me and my sister and my husband.

And that’s enough late night ramblings for today.

Indigeny and New Religious Movements

Hello! I’m back from my wedding and honeymoon! They were wonderful, and I plan to do a big, full post about each once my life settles down a bit again and I get my professional photos. But here’s a teaser for now, from our first dance as husband and wife.

I have so many pagan-related stories to share from both our wedding and honeymoon once I get around to it, I just can’t wait to share!

In other news, we made it through Frankenstorm unscathed, and spent Samhain eating a dumb supper in honor of my uncle and my favorite dance teacher, both of whom died in the last three weeks before my wedding. But I don’t like the term dumb supper. My husband, sister, and I decided that if we’re going to continue the tradition, we will probably rename it “Dinner with the Departed.” It makes it sound less dumb. (bah dum, ching!)

But for today, I wanted to respond to a blog post I read while going through catching up on my google reader after returning home. It’s P. Sufenas Virius Lupus‘ post on the Indigeny Debate within Paganism. The question he raises is whether it is correct to refer to Neopaganism as an indigenous religion, as some people do. To inadequately sum up a really good argument, he says that to call us that is to neglect the actual indigenous religions’ of the world their indigeny, to ignore the very real difficulties they face in terms of discrimination, and just a flat-out incorrect of the word.

I have to say, I’m with Lupus. Neopaganism is not indigenous. Indigenous beliefs have been the way they are since before anyone can remember. For indigenous groups, their religion is the religion of their forebears, including the immediate one.

Neopaganism doesn’t do that. It reacts against the religion of the immediate forebears and attempts to revive, recreation, or reconstruct some variety of pre-Christian, truly indigenous religion. But we don’t do it because that’s the way it’s always been done. We don’t do it to reclaim a land that has been taken from us by conquerors. We do it because, more or less, we think that hearkening back to that romanticized past will bring us a better future. Because we think that the modern world, with its belief that everything is better if it’s done by a machine that plugs into the wall, is profoundly broken. Modern paganism is a religion that says, at its core, “Screw Progress. Maybe it’s better if we leave it behind and become a part of the world that created us. If we remember that time is a circle and that what goes up must come down. Let us assert a radical humanity in this world that is increasingly built around machines.” This is not indigeny. Nor is it, as Lupus suggests toward the end of his article, a diasporic faith. We are not hearkening back to our homelands on any kind of massive scale. Yes, there are pagan groups who worship the gods of their ancestral line, but so many people today are mutts like me who can’t trace back to any particular group. We are not a group who were spread out over great distances outside of our ancestral homelands. We are people inhabiting a modern world that is smaller than any world in history, and where place is treated as if it’s simply a decoration.

We worship the land because it is a radical statement about what we hope the world could be. We don’t do it from a diasporic or indigenous place. We don’t believe this way or act this way because it was what our parents and grand parents and great grandparents did. We don’t do anything because somebody did, we do it because we, personally, want to. We want to make a statement about the meaning of land and locality and stability and cyclical time. It’s about a hope that someday our faiths could be indigenous, hundreds and hundreds of years from now. But today, we are a New Religious Movement, because the reaction against modernity that our religion represents is, at its core, a reaction against the status quo. A truly indigenous faith is not usually a reaction against, but a continuance of a tradition that spans as far back as memory.

What do you think? This is a particularly complicated subject, and there are few assertions I’ve made here that I can see counterarguments to. But I do think it’s an important question for us to be asking ourselves, because I think it’s easy to try to think of ourselves as indigenous because that’s what we want to be, instead of being honest with ourselves that it isn’t what we are.