Identifying a Deity

Recently I had to identify a deity who I kept sensing (and have been sensing for years, though I didn’t realise it). It wasn’t easy. I thought I’d set out my process for anyone else who might need it.

  1. First of all, is it a deity, or is it a local or regional spirit? This might differ based on your worldview, but essentially, spirits or regional deities might only manifest in specific locales or regions. For example, Arduinna is a goddess of the Ardennes forest. For some, however, she might be a deity of forests in general. Consider your own worldview. This will help you later in your search when you’re trying to narrow it down.
  2. Looking for clues. What specific things give you the sensation of this entity? What gives you the vibe/feeling? For me, it was forests; specifically, a feeling of darkness, richness of soil and moisture, and decay. The more specific you can be with these ‘clues’, the better. Try and get to the core of what gives you the sensation. Clues could be certain animals (for example, rabbits or bears), geographical locations (e.g. beaches, mountains), colours, seasons, or more abstract things, like “creativity”, “companionship”, or “romantic love”.
  3. Divination. Many people will want to try divination at this stage. If you can tap into the sensations you get from the entity, do divination at the same time. If not, just focus on the clues you’ve identified. Use whatever method you’re most comfortable with. I used runes. Try asking the deity for some symbols or associations of theirs. If you’re feeling lucky, you could ask for their name. Otherwise, you could ask them to send you some signs or dreams.
  4. The search. Time to search the world’s knowledge. Come up with search terms using the clue you identified. I used “forest deities” and “tree gods” to begin with. Again, the more terms you can come up with, the better. If you have a feeling what culture the deity is from, this can be a useful search term to add, although be careful not to narrow your search too early – you might overlook some important information. Use different terms in different combinations. Go beyond the first page of Google results. Don’t be afraid to use Google Scholar. If you have access to a good library, it’s worth checking out old-fashioned encyclopedias or other more scholarly books. They have good, solid info that the Neopagan web doesn’t. Write down any deity names or other information that ring true to you. Pass over anything that doesn’t ring true, but keep in mind that you might have to revisit it later in case your search doesn’t turn up anything.

At this stage, you might have pinpointed who it is. You might have a name – hooray! If not, start again, and branch out, think outside the box a little. Follow steps 2-4 again. I had to do this four or five times. When I thought I had it, I did some divination to confirm – success!

However…you might have done all your research and done your divination and still not have a name. You might have found an unknown or ‘forgotten’ deity, whose name was lost to history but who still remains. In that case, it’s up to you to find out more about them.

Fk the Haters: Question Everything

There’s a lot of advice out there on what to do in your spiritual practice. Some of it’s good, most of it’s bad. People throw around a lot of rules about what it is to be a real Heathen, or a real witch, or whatever else. Often these people will be self-proclaimed authorities of some sort.

Ignore all of that. Think for yourself.

What’s the point of your path? Why are you here, delving into different aspects of life and spirituality? Why are you pursuing what you’re pursuing? It’s for you, isn’t it? It’s not for anyone else. Your growth isn’t for anyone else. Your path is for you. And you have an obligation to remain true to yourself, because that’s the only way you’ll find your truth. Your path is there to serve you and you alone.

I’ll boil this down to three points:

  1. Don’t listen to people who tell you what you have to do to be a [good] Heathen. Follow your heart. People will tell you shit like “You have to be dedicated to your community to be Heathen”, or “you have to honour your ancestors”, or “you have to honour your ancestors”. Ignore this shithouse ‘advice’.
  2. Question things before you incorporate them into your practice. Question whether sources/facts are, in fact, true. Question things already in your practice to make sure they still work for you. It can be tempting, starting out, to lap up every piece of information you can find, uncritically. But you should be critical.
    (2a. Question whether you give a shit if your sources are good or true.)
  3. People will try to shit on you. This doesn’t matter.

Don’t let anyone discourage you from following the path you’ve been called to. If people tell you that you’ve crossed a line, listen to them openly and honestly. You might have crossed the line without knowing it. Be culturally sensitive and respectful, and keep an open mind.

Mostly, question everything. And keep questioning it.

You know what? Question this post, too.


Heathenry Is Small, and That’s a Good Thing

There’s a huge Jehovah’s Witnesses conference in town at the moment, and the masses of people wearing “God’s Kingdom” badges got me thinking: would I really prefer it if my religion were so large and organised? The answer, I decided after not much consideration, is no.

Heathenry, as a religious category in the modern world, barely exists. We have barely any members in comparison to other world religions, even those considered minorities. We’re not exactly present in most people’s minds, and most people haven’t even heard of Heathenry, even if they have a vague notion of other Pagan religions. We barely exist.

Maybe I’m just used to being a weirdo that can’t check any boxes, but I’m okay with being under people’s radar. I don’t get noticed or discriminated against. (Actively, anyway. I still get incidental flak when I happen to be in the same room with atheists or religious bigots who bitch about mindless sheep or faithless heathens, small ‘h’, respectively. But that’s barely something to complain about, which is another reason why I’m happy to be under the radar.)

The flip side of being so small that no one knows you exist is that you aren’t taken seriously, and this is the thing that takes second place in the list of Things About Being Heathen That Piss Me Off. The exchange goes like this: someone sees my hammer and asks what it is (assuming they don’t just say “nice anchor”). I tell them it’s Thor’s hammer. They usually either nod and say “cool”, or mention Marvel!Thor. At this point I either let it go, or go on to talk about Norse mythology and my interest in it. Occasionally we get to the point where I say I follow the Northern Germanic gods. This has only happened a few times. On all occasions, the person was respectful, and once, they were super interested.

Now, this is in person, where people are way less likely to be shitty, because their face and your fist both occupy the same three square feet of physical space. But on the internet, people let loose, and boy do lotsa folks think it’s dumb if you worship Thor. And they almost never listen when you try to explain that your religion is real and serious and worthy of respect. This also happens when you try to legitimise or legislate Neopagan religions in any way, at least in America. Because Heathenry is so small, it’s not taken seriously.

Also, because we’re small, there aren’t that many Heathens to talk to, even if you live in a hammer-dense area. You can feel a little lonely at times. There are roughly 300 Heathens in the whole of Australia, and where I am, there are only two groups to choose from. One is tiny; the other is racist. Take your pick.

But think of all the things we don’t have to deal with because we’re so small and disorganised. We don’t have religious leaders disagreeing and causing fights and creating their own sects (well, that has happened, but it’s not like Luther-scale, or Anglican Church scale). We don’t have a central body trying to force rules and regulations onto us. We tend not to have priests who know it all and who stop people from doing their own thing. We don’t have any official sort of code that says “you’re a real Heathen” or “they’re a fake Heathen”. It’s just a label and an identity and a culture that we choose on our own, for ourselves.

We don’t have to deal with all the crap. Yeah, we don’t have any temples. Yeah, it’s nice to go to a large, organised event for a festival. Yeah, sometimes it’d be nice to have some sort of informed, approved guidance from someone with authority. (Or would it?) I suppose the main thing Heathens have because of all this is freedom. And individual responsibility.

This era is the beginning of a religion. We are the birth. Or maybe the afterbirth, I don’t know, they never show that in movies. We have choices and flexibility. At the moment, we can do whatever the Hel we want for ourselves religion-wise because we’re on such a small scale. And that’s perfect for us Heathens, I think.

Wanting to Give Back

Why does my religion matter so much to me? Why do I love to talk about it to anyone who asks? Why do I feel this urge to build things here in our little Heathen corner?
I was thinking about my role in the community. It’s tiny. My role, that is. I recently took over admin of my kindred’s Facebook page. Sounds important, but all I do is post our meeting times when they happen. Still, I’m excited and honoured (and a little scared) to have that responsibility. I love it. I want to do more. The word “community” actually means more than a buzzword to me when it comes to Heathenry. I want to do stuff.
Why? It’s not because I want to proselytise. Gross. I mean, I love to see new Heathens and I like to let people know that we exist, in case they’re searching for something, but I don’t have a “Heathen agenda” to force on people.
I want to get involved because I’ve gotten so much from Heathenry. I want to be a bridge for new people on the spiritual search. I want to help people who are already here. I want to give something tangible back.
Because Heathenry has given me a feeling of wholeness. It’s given me strength. It’s given me pride. It’s taken away my bitterness. I care about Heathenry, and I care about the people who will find what they’re looking for here. I want other people to be helped as much as I was helped. Of course Heathenry isn’t for everyone. Some will dip their toe in the water and move on. But others might decide to jump in, and maybe I can tell them the water isn’t as deep as it looks.
I’m not old or experienced enough to be of much help. Someday I want to lead a kindred, or publish a devotional, or be a blogger for a religious website, or write Heathen fiction, whatever that might be (and I want to find out), but for now I guess I’ll keep on trucking and learning so I can be of more use one day.

Pros and Cons of Solitary Practice

Being solitary has its merits.

I’m more or less a solitary practitioner. For the first two years after I became a Heathen, I kept my religion strictly under the lid. The only interaction I had with other Pagans was on an online forum where I learned about various paths. A year after that, I became more public with my religion and actively sought out a group of Heathens in meatworld. We get together every month or so for discussions and blót. I haven’t found a more active group and even if I did, I don’t think I’d join up. Basically I’m solitary. With a couple Heathen buddies. So, here are the

PROs of being solitary:
1. You don’t have to deal with people’s bullshit. This is a HUGE one for Heathens. But also very important for Pagans of other stripes. Humans are very often petty. Humans can be judgmental and nasty and lash out at other humans because their practice is stupid or it looks stupid, or soandso people can’t do suchandsuch. You, dear solitary, don’t have to deal with any of this. You don’t have to deal with any other people. That is a blessing. You get to avoid the racists and sexists and bigots and people who criticise others’ practices for dumb reasons. Or at the very least you don’t have to deal with them in real life.

2. You don’t have anyone influencing your spiritual path. This might or might not be a good thing depending on how you look at it, but from my perspective it’s mostly good. Your spiritual life is allowed to stand on its own two feet and walk whichever way it wants. It might stumble, and fall, and get turned around in circles, but it also won’t be forced in some negative way by someone who thinks they know better (or worse, someone who is deliberately abusive). It gets to grow on its own. You can feel your way around and choose where you want it to go. You’ll have fewer influences to sift out.

3. You are protected. Whether you are out of the closet with your religion aside, there is a buffer between you and the Pagan community in general because you don’t socialise with them. You’re protected from the drama, first of all, but you’re also more in control of your religion and the way people can see you. You have more control over your public image, is what I’m saying. This can be valuable if you’re not in a place that is Pagan-friendly.

1. Not having anyone to discuss your religion with. Of course you might have friends and family you can talk about it with, if you’re lucky, whether it’s about religion in general or your religion specifically.  But if you don’t know any other Pagans in meatworld, and chances are you probably don’t because we tend to be a secretive bunch, you might feel very lost and adrift without anyone to share your concerns. Maybe you’re in a quandary about whether gods are even real or not, or in what way they’re real. It’ll be harder for you to figure it out on your own than if you have help or advice. That’s not to say it’s impossible. You also won’t have anyone to share your joys and revelations with.

2. Having no bloody clue what to do or what’s normal. Related to #1, but this can be so uncomfortable it gets its own entry. How do you do offerings? Do you even do offerings? How are you supposed to pray? Are you supposed to do something before meditating? Is it bad etiquette to do suchandsuch, or don’t They care? Am I supposed to hear gods and spirits in my head? Again, you might feel very lost, and these sorts of questions can make it very hard to even sort out a day-to-day practice.

3. Just feeling alone. You’re not the only Pagan in the world. You’re probably not the only Pagan in your area. You’re not the only person going through the troubles of the solitary. But you might feel like it. And having other people around who share the religion will remind you of that.

4. Missing out on the cultural nuances and the news. You can keep up with the religious politics and news pretty well online, I find. More about that later. But if you’ve never been in a meatworld community, you might not know how exactly, for example, a blót goes. You might not know the big names in your tradition. You might not know the people to avoid. You might not know how to pronounce a deity’s name because you’ve only ever read it.
Now that I’ve said all that, I’d also like to say that if you are solitary, and you find you need a hand, I recommend joining an online community if you haven’t already. This can alleviate a lot of your problems: needing to ask someone for advice, having questions about an experience, keeping up with the news, knowing the lay of the political land, &c.

If that’s not enough, you might try joining a group for your tradition or for more general Paganisms. Go there, meet people, ask questions, see if you like it. Get over the initial speedbumps you have and get your questions answered. At the end you can decide if it’s worth coming again, or if you’ve got all you need to feel comfortable being solitary.

As for deciding whether to be solitary or not, there are a lot of factors in choosing. Are you comfortable being on your own? Are you comfortable in a group, for that matter? Are you feeling stifled where you live because you can’t be open with your religion? Do you want more interaction? Is it safe for you to be more public with your identity? There may be other things for you to factor in, as well.