It’s time to write about an unpleasant but very important event in my life as a Heathen that can only be termed a crisis of faith. It caused me to re-examine my religious beliefs and worldview, and while it was shitty, I came off all the better for it. If any of you are having a similar crisis of faith, I hope this is some small comfort to you.
(This was published on my tumblr four months ago, but I decided to post it here because it’s pretty important in my journey as a Heathen.)
I’d been a Heathen for three years. I’d started out, very solidly, with the idea of “gods as archetypes”. Somehow, my practice had shifted to treat the Gods as independent beings with their own will. I felt somehow that they were more than just archetypes. But my fundamental belief about what the Gods were hadn’t changed. There was a disconnect between my belief and my practice. Why was I treating the Gods as independent beings when I didn’t actually believe they were? I couldn’t reel myself back in to thinking about them as just metaphors, human constructs to understand the nature of the universe. I couldn’t go back. I was too emotionally involved and dependent on my religion to go back. Either I had to drop it completely and become an atheist again, or I had to go deeper down the rabbit hole and reconcile my beliefs with my experiences and my feelings.
My whole mental framework came crashing down one day. I couldn’t believe that gods were real, basically. They weren’t real. Heimdall wasn’t real. If that was true, then He hadn’t helped me, either. If that was true, all my perceived progress was hollow (not true, of course, but I felt it was all false). All the times I’d reached out to Him, all the times He’d stepped in on my bad habits and said, “you know this isn’t helping, don’t do this”, all the times He gave me second chances were all illusion.
So gods weren’t real. I’d been deceiving myself for I didn’t know how long and I was mad that I’d let it get that far, that my atheist rationality hadn’t stepped in and slapped me upside the head a few times. Because now I was stuck with one foot on either side of a crevice and no way to move.
I felt lost. I felt angry at Heimdall, for not being there to stop me going back to old habits of self-destruction. I felt childish for feeling angry at a God. I went back to those old habits to spite Him. I felt childish for thinking I could spite a God. It was ridiculous, and I knew it. I was ready to step back from my relationship with Him entirely, and work on the assumption that Gods were only metaphors or archetypes, even though I felt inside that they had a greater role than that. And then I received a sign. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Continue reading.)
A few days later, I was in a black mood, sitting outside nibbling at my lunch. I was thinking about Gods. When I got up to put my rubbish away, a man sitting at a bench nearby caught my eye. He had tattoos all over his arms; on one bicep was a Vegvisir; on the other, an Aegishjalmur. His forearms had the Elder Futhark running all the way past his elbows. I was deeply affected. Normally when something upsets me I can hide it completely – I am pretty disconnected from my emotions. But I didn’t even have the wherewithal to stop flailing my hands around defensively (they did so of their own accord) or keep myself from muttering. I felt like I was going some sort of crazy – I ran off to the toilets to collect myself in private.
While in there, I decided I would come back out and talk to him, ask him about his tattoos. I was only gone a couple minutes, but when I came back, he was gone.
It was a massive blow. And I thought: that was a sign. But I didn’t think it was a sign from a God, because I had given up on that. It wasn’t put there for my benefit. This sign wasn’t given to me. What I thought was that this man, with his Nordic tattoos, happened to eat lunch at the same place and time as me, and that I happened to be having a crisis of faith simultaneously. I didn’t think it was concidence. So something was up to something. What was it? I decided on Wyrd*. I was okay with Wyrd being the mysterious actor. That felt just fine. Gods? No. Wyrd? Yeah.
Why was it okay that Wyrd should be putting the puzzle pieces together? It was because Wyrd is impersonal. It’s not a being with a personality and ego and autonomy. It’s a construct. It’s a vast, many-layered thing that stretches across all mankind and all time. It pushes and pulls in all directions, and it’s not looking down at me going “Oh, Kettle’s feeling bad, let’s give them a sign”, it’s just doing its job, it’s just being what it is – a mindless system. Of course we its denizens have a certain degree of control over ourselves, and a certain amount of power over those whose lives we touch. But overall, the trails of our lives are much more interrelated than we can imagine. Where I intersected with that tattooed man was a huge thing for me personally. It was emotional and affecting. But Wyrd was just a mechanism. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. It was No Big Deal.
Does someone plan Wyrd? Make it function to an end goal? Plan out people’s lives, and set Wyrd to nudging them along? I don’t think so. I think this world simply is. I think Wyrd simply is. It’s a fundamental part of this world, just like hydrogen and earth and heat and the quickening of life. It’s a framework, and we move along it like pool floaties on intersecting slides at a gigantic, insane waterpark.
The point to all this is that Wyrd stuck me here. Or rather, I am here because of my own past actions in addition to Wyrd’s sensitive workings. It’s not that I was given a sign by a god, simply the idea of which I was having theological problems with. Whatever I believe the gods are, whatever They actually are, no matter what I think about Them at any given time, Wyrd is always there. Wyrd is always doing its thing. And it’s placed me here, now, with these Gods, whoever/whatever They are – so I may as well dive in and learn as much as I can. This is what I’m meant to be doing at this point in my life.
Even if I lose faith in my Gods, and wonder if I’ve been imagining everything, I have faith in Wyrd, and I have faith that I will be brought to whatever I’m meant to be doing. That doesn’t mean it’s always good things that will come to me. It simply means wherever I’m going, that’s where I’m meant to be. Whatever it is. I accept it.
Crisis of faith: 0/10 would not recommend. But good things came out of it for me.
* I realize Wyrd is the Anglo-Saxon term for a certain concept, and that looking at the sources, Urd or Ørlög seems to be the cognate term in Norse. I am primarily an Icelandic-based Heathen, and so using the term Wyrd is a little weird (ehehe), but since the modern understanding of Wyrd and Ørlög tends to paint them as two distinct things, I have gone with Wyrd in its usual understanding.