Tough Love Exists

I think one of the weirder things I have learned from Loki is how to accept tough love.

Tough love is a weird and unwelcome concept for a lot of people. A lot of people hide malicious intentions behind the idea of tough love. People with agendas, or a sense of selfishness they refuse to rein in, are often needlessly harsh and fall back on claiming to mean well to avoid consequences. In retaliation, other, better-meaning people want to claim that love shouldn’t hurt, ever. Under any circumstances. Even this crowd hides its own creeping agenda, as a refusal of negative experience is also often a refusal of consequences. All these people do is sour the concept.

Tough love in its true form is best known in the context of addiction recovery, as that’s where the concept originates. While I’ve never grappled with substance abuse, trauma recovery brings out many of the same symptoms, carries much of the same baggage, and results in similarly bad behavior.

I’m a traumatized person, and I need tough love.

The way I have managed my trauma before receiving professional and divine help…didn’t work. Recovery just isn’t something you can do by feel, when the entire problem is that your brain has betrayed you. What makes sense does not necessarily have any genuine logic to it. Just because something feels dangerous or impossible doesn’t mean it really is. Alternately, just because something feels justified in your fear, doesn’t make it so.

I threw hairbrushes at people and screamed unthinkable insults at the love of my life over the stupidest things. It was not sustainable, and I needed a change that I was unwilling to make.

Loki’s a pretty well established boundary-violator. That is terrifying when your trauma comes from violated boundaries to begin with. And you can always, theoretically, say no. Low-value efforts will not be pushed farther than you allow them to be. Our relationships with the gods are a mutual investment–and our gods have things to do, they’re not going to invest in something pointless.

But always saying no doesn’t get you places. You know this. Your therapist knows this. Your gods know this. Someone in this team has to give you a hard time when something is important. If Loki’s on that team, it’ll most likely be him.

And I needed to be used to the idea that other people are smarter than me and have a valuable perspective. A power dynamic is great for making you accept that. It’s hard to believe it with other humans, because we’re all theoretically on the same level and a lot of us are really stupid. I say this on the grounds that am a human who is really stupid.

And part of distinguishing tough love from malice is recognizing that there is a difference between fearing and being afraid. To fear is to know that there can be consequences if you step out of line, and trusting that these consequences will be survivable and done for a good reason. To be afraid is to fear consequences and to refuse them by any means necessary.

I fear Loki. But I am not afraid of Loki. He is often annoying, and kind of a dick. But he acts with good reason.

And when you are throwing objects at people because you refuse to take a joke, lashing out at strangers on the internet and dropping commitments, torching bridges for petty reasons and sabotaging yourself when you really need to cut someone out, refusing to leave your house…you can’t live like that. You need a loving kick in the ass.

And Loki is more than happy to oblige.

If I had not been pestered into doing some pretty heavy shadow work, I’d be in worse shape than I already was. By contrast, I’m a much more functional person who can recognize when the Bad Brains are acting up, and who has the skills to start addressing the problem and dig up the root.

Religion isn’t a substitute for therapy. But it makes a great supplement.

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Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air

By Bloodofox (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Snaptun stone is a hearth stone that was found in 1950 on a Danish beach, though the soapstone from which it was carved originated elsewhere in Scandinavia. It was most likely made around 1000 AD, and has two holes drilled into it that allow the user to insert the tip of a bellows into the front and pump air out of the top. This protects the bellows from the heat of the flame.

Now, we (by which I mean “everyone invested in knowing what this artifact is”) are reasonably sure that this is an image of Loki judging by the stitched mouth. I could absolutely do without the Dick Dastardly mustache, but it is what it is.

The idea that the Snaptun stone portrays Loki makes sense, especially given that there is an established connection between Loki’s lip scars and the working of bellows to keep a flame sufficiently hot in the Skáldskapármal. Namely, that Loki attempts to manipulate the outcome of his wager by sabotaging the dwarf working the bellows, and is punished by having his mouth sewn shut for doing so:

Then Sindre placed iron in the furnace, and requested Brok to work the bellows, adding that otherwise all would be worthless. Now the fly lighted between his eyes and stung his eye-lids, and as the blood ran down into his eyes so that he could not see, he let go of the bellows just for a moment and drove the fly away with his hands. Then the smith came back and said that all that lay in the furnace came near being entirely spoiled. Thereupon he took a hammer out of the furnace.


Then Loke offered to ransom his head. The dwarf answered saying there was no hope for him on that score. Take me, then! said Loke; but when the dwarf was to seize him Loke was far away, for he had the shoes with which he could run through the air and over the sea. Then the dwarf requested Thor to seize him, and he did so. Now the dwarf wanted to cut the head off Loke, but Loke said that the head was his, but not the neck. Then the dwarf took thread and a knife and wanted to pierce holes in Loke’s lips, so as to sew his mouth together, but the knife would not cut. Then said he, it would be better if he had his brother’s awl, (Note from me: Or his brother is the awl, if you ask Dr. Crawford) the awl and as soon as he named it the awl was there and it pierced Loke’s lips. Now Brok sewed Loke’s mouth together, and broke off the thread at the end of the sewing. The thread with which the mouth of Loke was sewed together is called Vartare (a strap).

The existence of the Snaptun stone is, for many, evidence of a link between Loki and fire. I’ve read Axel Olrik’s essay on the fire connection. (Mind, he pre-dates the rediscovery of the stone.) I’ve read Eldar Heide’s “Ash Lad” essay. I’ve read Dagulf Loptsson’s “Sacramental Fire” theories. I’m currently working through Stephen Grundy’s God in Flames, God in Fetters. But I’ve also read Jan de Vries’s The Problem of Loki, so I disagree, for a few reasons.

Continue reading “Loki, the Bellows, and Hot Air”

This Post is Sort of About My Hair

Back in 2014, I gave Loki my hair. It was going to be covered and not cut, dyed or otherwise altered for a fixed period of six months–equinox to equinox.

And I…never really took it back. It was mine the following spring, and I threw some red hair dye on it, but there was a shift in my mentality. I hadn’t bothered to bleach it beforehand, because I didn’t want to damage it.

This was abnormal, for me.

For a long time, my hair was just this tedious, scratchy nonsense that needed constant trimming, bleaching, coloring, combing, and especially constant washing, because it’s stick-straight. I treated my hair like garbage. Up to and including buzzing it off, because I lost my patience while trimming my bangs.

Oh yeah, there were Sinead O’Connor jokes for a while.

But I like it, now. I like how an act of servitude granted me an outward symbol of liberty and good health. I like braiding it, or rolling it up and fastening it with handmade hair sticks that sit on the shrine.

Most of all, I like how I have a constant mark of devotion that goes everywhere with me.

External Holiness is not really A Thing™ in Heathenry. Especially recon Heathenry. The only historically or mythologically proven example we have is the wearing of Mjölnir pendants, which increased after Christian contact. More multireligious contact begat more signalling of faith. But I digress.

I digress a lot.

I don’t think a lack of historical basis should be a deal breaker when it comes to showing devotion through our bodies. If doing something harmless (or minimally harmful) to our bodies make our gods happy, and is acceptable to us…why not? These are things that take effort, and in the case of body mods, cause brief pain and long-term changes in appearance. (Tattoos and piercings are decorative, carefully inflicted wounds after all.) Growing out my hair, and now planning to grow it to its terminal length, is a long term and high maintenance show of devotion.

But if I’m lucky, it won’t be dragging on the floor. No amount of ecstasy and devotion is going to make me tolerate dirty leaves in my hair.

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A Deal With Gods

For all of my fussing and gnashing of teeth, I’ve ended up going into this oath thing pretty serenely (for me) since March came around. Paranoias that I was possibly being duped by something masquerading as Loki (something I saw happening to other people when I was new) have finally started fading. Not gone, hence setting up a trial period before the permanent committment, but fading.

And anyway, I volunteered. I’m just…very high-strung.

Initially, the idea to offer up an oath happened on the 5-year mark of converting, September 12th. But I had just started a semester of college and realized it probably needed to be rescheduled. The previous April, I had asked, while digging through my rune bag, what Loki thought of a dedicated piercing.

I got Wunjo and Isa. “That makes me happy, but wait.”

While doing research on healing times for the piercing I had in mind (a helix, since lip piercings don’t really suit my face) I learned that it could take up to a year, and cost as much as a small tattoo without the benefit of being concealable. So we bounced the tattoo idea around for a while, with lofty ideas about falcon feathers or astrological symbols for Sirius, until I realized I was not going to realistically have the funds for either of these. Placement had been hashed out, but there was no progress to be made in that regard simply because of money.

I’d have to be old-fashioned about it. Hence, buying a torc.

The date was set for the 20th, a Tuesday. I wondered if we might invite Týr to supervise, but got a bad feeling off of that (go figure, that would be awkward with Loki) and suggested Vár instead. This one was accepted. I had experimented with fitting my oath ring to my wrist, figuring if this accidentally came off as an oath it didn’t really matter anymore. What difference is three weeks, practically speaking?

By day of, my supply list was written, my ritual and supplies were hashed out, and I stood in my kitchen watching crows harass every other bird in my yard (there was a lot of outrage from the blue jays), with my bag packed and my knees rattling. I had planned to wander off into the woods in search of an ideal location.

But man plans and the gods laugh, to paraphrase the Yiddish adage. The snow had already started, I couldn’t bring the dogs with me, and nobody was going to be home. I ended up setting everything up in my back yard on a log and hoping for the best.

“The best” involved sleet and wind. My feather fan for wafting smoke was repeatedly swept off the log, along with my match box, and Loki’s clove cigars, and my little evergreen twig for applying the libation to my face. (Not flicking, because it’s hard to cast an aspersion on yourself–I think I picked up the “painting” from Urglaawer.) Candles wouldn’t light, or stay lit, the cloves wouldn’t stay lit, my juniper smoke-cleansing stick wouldn’t stay lit. It was a hassle, especially because I had a wreath to burn for Vár to invoke the symbolism of an oath ring. I had an adorably symbolic bit planned where I would use both Loki and Vár’s candles to light one representing me. Didn’t work, because they kept being blown out, so I had to transfer the light from Loki’s candle to Vár’s with a match, and then finally light mine for the first time.

I stumbled over my prewritten speech, I went off-script, my teeth chattered, my hands froze, I got wax on my scarf. The painted wine dripped down my face more than anticipated, because I forgot little evergreen twigs hold a surprising amount of liquid. My wreath for Vár and my votive poem took five different attempts to burn most of the way through.

Close enough. You do what you can.

And I think doing it at home ended up making more sense, because it cut out a lot of extra effort and gave me the option to run back inside and warm up when I was done. It’s also easier to go through a transitional event, which this was, in a familiar setting. Even if the specific setting was familiar mostly because that’s where I set Loki’s stale spaghetti on fire last week.

That was not a metaphor.

I had expected to feel very different from how I do now, typing this. My impression of myself is that I don’t handle change well. Theoretically that means I’ve picked the wrong god, because hoo boy does Loki like shuffling things around. But, I suspect he picked me, and that disruptive tendency of his has done amazing things for me. I think that was absolutely vital to getting used to a change that, by all means, should have been intense and kind of terrifying once it was actually happening even if it was totally voluntary. Despite my constant frustrations in trying to keep things running at least a little smoothly, I felt myself settling and calming as the ritual went on.

By the time I had poured out my libations on the ash tree from which I’d cut my first rune set, and washed it off with water to keep the landvaettir happy, I felt content. I fitted my oath ring on, gathered up all of the remaining unburned supplies and brought them inside to set them on the indoor shrine. With five candles burning and keeping the space bright and sparkling (because of Loki’s faux-hammered-copper pedestal bowl catching the light), I get the impression that Loki’s rather pleased.

So am I.

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Counting My Feathers, as the Bells Toll

I hated the people in Austin, but I loved the birds. So with the exception of the loons, the big, shiny grackles and the feral parrots, I was relieved to get out.

I was also delirious from lack of proper sleep, and overwhelmed by the feeling that my heart was going to explode, which had stuck around after angrily pulling at my pashmina tassels for lack of prayer beads. No amount of study, prayer and trying to space out in the overly spacious bathtub at my disposal managed to shut it off. (Instead, this happened.)

It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s exhausting and extremely difficult to pass for a normal person when these feelings flare up. (And I’m already weird. Too weird for Austin, apparently.) I felt like a mistreated show dog any time I had to rein it in to shield my sister’s sensibilities.

But she’s never really grokked to my personality, so whatever…I guess.

After an encounter with a wonderfully helpful stewardess, I was staggering around my designated terminal, desperately trying to find a way to take the edge of the sensation of pulling apart at the seams. I wandered past a gift shop, and realized I hadn’t bought any souvenirs. I had lofty plans about Stetson hats, but I knew damn well I’d never be Dr. Crawford (or Dr. Quinn?) and the price of food in Austin had blown a hole in my budget.

But a collection of copper cuffs caught my eye, marked at around $12. That wasn’t going to kill me, and they looked like they were stereotypically Texan enough at first blush. I rushed in to get a better look, circling the rack for something that was bland enough for me to take home, when one snapped into focus.

Go figure.

I’d been eyeing bracelets like this to swear my oath on, and I no longer have the luxury of coincidence. I dug out my wallet, snatched it off the rack and tried to approach the till casually, even though my seams were ripping and I thought I was going to die.

The cashier did not pick up on this in the slightest.

“Whoah,” he said appreciatively. “This thing is gonna give you, like, plus-one-thousand coolness points.”

Don’t fucking DO THIS to me, I thought. I stopped talking like this in 2011. Was this person younger than me? By how much? What is it like to live as though Diablo Cody writes your lines and Edgar Wright fine-tunes the delivery? I was fascinated, and in my ridiculous state I was so oddly offended.

“Thanks! I think so too,” I said.

I left the newsstand-sized store, shaking off that weird and involuntary throwback to being fresh out of high school. I didn’t have the energy to be confronted with being in my early late twenties. Not right now.

Doing Weird Pagan Shit isn’t like in the movies, especially not ones that feel like Wes Andersen called the shots. The cuff didn’t glow, or vibrate, or tingle. I couldn’t worry about whether something had gone wrong because of my failure to pay attention, though in my floppy and highly suggestible state that was unlikely.

I got my first answer in Houston, when my jacket went missing after changing my shirt and changing my mind about washing the mustard off of my pashmina. It was the first week of January. The entirety of Texas was freezing. Philly is already like the surface of Mars this time of year, especially so when you’re landing there at night. I needed all four layers to survive.

There was no time to eat, drink, or nap, and definitely no time to go searching for the interfaith chapel. (Austin doesn’t have one.) I would have to find that jacket real damn fast.

After wasting valuable time walking around in circles, I eventually ran back to the bathroom to find it still by the sink, untouched. Given my strict time limit, I sprinted back to the gate, nearly bumping into people, to find that my flight had been delayed.

Cue a very loopy Sally Fields moment:

By now I was running on about 3 hours of atrocious sleep, dehydrated, and sweating like a racehorse. There’s a joke in there, somewhere. I stumbled getting onto the plane, and when a flight attendant saw me limply fanning myself, she handed me a cup of water. She even came back to check on me when the drink cart came around to make sure I was feeling better. I’m not sure if having my sleeves rolled up and the air conditioning on full blast was a ringing endorsement of my state, but it made her feel better.

After 5 hours of clutching the little leather pouch that held my pocket altar and new oath ring, I deplaned in Philly and walked right into this:

Never in my life would I have predicted feeling personally attacked by a Paul Santoleri mural.

The thing about signs is that they are always, at least superficially, mundane. Falcons hang out in trees because they’re birds. Airport stores stock bracelets because they make good gifts–with feather motifs, because it’s the Southwest. Planes get delayed for all kinds of reasons. There are murals in the Philadelphia airport because it’s Philadelphia.

The key component is that you notice them, or that the timing is suspiciously convenient. It’s often not the object of your gaze being manipulated, but your gaze itself. It is far easier to commandeer a vehicle that you already have permission to drive. (And, yes, Baader-Meinhoff phenomena factor in, too.)

Either way, as I was being sent on a detour around a glitchy exit gate, it all seemed like approval to me. When I finally got home, I awkwardly placed the cuff on Loki’s altar, and climbed into bed.

Part of my brain was still revving, thinking “what have I done,” but the rest of me was just relieved to be somewhere familiar, where my gods and I had personal space, and to have this step out of the way because my recon side called for a piece of metal on my arm. I would worry about that once I had some actual sleep.

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Sometimes Prayer Just Looks Like Prayer

I’m a little ashamed to admit I haven’t been as observant lately as I wish I were, and haven’t really taken the time to approach my altars longer than it takes to put on devotional jewelry before I leave the house.

And that does count as devotional behavior, because I almost always remember to do it, specifically with the idea that I am marking myself as a Heathen and carrying a reminder that what I do reflects on my gods and coreligionists. But it’s not the same as lingering by my altars and carving out time specifically for prayer.

I’ve allowed myself to get too sucked into the idea that indirect methods of devotion are equivalent to the direct, forgetting that these alternatives are alternatives, for when the direct isn’t an option. It’s good to gain knowledge in preparation for my oath, and for becoming ordained. It’s good to find ways to help marginalized and rejected people. It’s good to go into the various communities who consider me a member and try to be useful. These are all things that honor Loki. But they’re equivalent to sending a postcard when you’ve been meaning to visit. It’s not like I have to hide my faith from the people I live with, either. They think I’m a big ol’ nerd, but they’ve seen the good it’s done for me.

I had let the altar sit and collect dust, and recognized I needed to clean it. There was booze from Jol still sitting there. Altar cloths had to be shaken out. Cups had to be cleaned. I put it on my to-do list and watched that task migrate for several days in a row, being stupid and letting myself say I just didn’t feel like it, until a fly dove for my neck and I took it as a sign to get up and clean it. (That fly was…weird.)

The altar is dusted and the cloths are shaken out, and I lit apology candles, but that damn cup is still sitting on the dresser. It’s off the altar, but it still hasn’t been cleaned. What is my deal?

Aside from ADHD problems, probably fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of commitment and changing my mind. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of the consequences of lapsing, even though this is nowhere close to the first or worst time. (Remember that time I was incredibly stupid?) You’d think, 5 years in, I’d get used to this and get better at working past it.

I should give myself at least a little credit. I’ve gotten significantly better. Shadow work has done wonders for my anxiety. But I still let myself get roped into ridiculous trains of thought and tie myself in knots, acting like if I ignore the problem it will just go away.

(Stop trying to make that happen, me. It is never going to happen.)

I could do better. I should do better. An oath, especially one I offer, is not something I should keep making excuses about and prolonging. A date and time has been set to cut off any further excuses. The torc has been purchased and is sitting on the altar. I still have to work out the terms. This requires sitting down at the altar and having an actual conversation. Hopefully a looming time limit (eight weeks away) will get me in gear.

Loki can easily get by without me. He’s got plenty of other people to keep him busy when I’m not there. Ultimately, I just screw myself over when I don’t let myself relax and give in. But man, it’s rude. I’ve been rude. I’ve been playing a game with something bigger than me and an awful lot more clever. It’s foolishness. I have to get up off my tuchus and fix it.



September 12th was my 5-year convert-a-versary and I have been trying to work out how to approach the push I feel to go do a big thing for Loki.

Looking into the path for ordination as a goði right now. I want it to be something where I’m well-trained and legal (weddings, funerals, some…Thor-senings? on the side), and have found a promising way to go about it once I find a kindred to get established in the community. (Got burned by the last recommendation for a Lokean-friendly kindred.)

I offered to get a piercing or a tattoo, but right now am wearing a torq bracelet I made because I am looking into employment once I finish my associates and I want to be employable and established enough to get away with body mods come time. (No set time was involved in the piercing offer, so I’m not…overtly weasling my way out of anything, technically? You can have my head, not my neck, etc. etc.)

That’s blood. That’s an oath. That’s kind of terrifying. That’s permanent.

I’ve done temporary oaths after lots of negotiation, and honestly those have ended up being permanent and just slightly less intense in practice–like growing out my hair. It belongs to me again, but I still refuse to cut it. Even trimming the absolute worst of my split ends the other day made me want to cry because I grew that out for Loki and to some extent I feel like it still indirectly belongs to him as an outward symbol of my faith. I think it’s the idea of surrendering something as all-encompassing as my skin or my blood, for the rest of my life, that is so terrifying. That’s basically giving up the entirety of my being. I hate being controlled, even though giving in to faith is a very special kind of ecstasy (in the strictly religious sense).

EDIT: I also remembered the oath I made to quit smoking. Permanently. Maybe this concept isn’t as foreign to me as I’d previously assumed.

Hopefully there is a local goði I can consult when I find a kindred. Divination is giving a lot of “yes good pls continue” vibes, but for something this big, I need a second (and third, and fourth, and twelfth) opinion.