1/31, Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism &Your Path

For the sake of some structure, I will be trying to coherently answer the prompts in Ree na Réaltaí‘s 30 Days of Paganism/Polytheism (via tumblr)

1/31, Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism & Your Path – your story of how you came to your paganistic/polytheistic faith and what your current path is.

The story of how I got from there to here could be as long as a shelf of biographies, and include every single day, but I am good and can edit. I think human beings understand polytheism/animism innately: we are good at attributing agency to events, we are good at interacting with things that are like humans in ways that are like talking. We live in a world characterized by many things that are individual and distinct.

Which is to say, I spent my childhood talking to trees and picking apart plants, learning and elaborating on ghost stories set in my grade school, playing with divination and trance, and building what I would now call astral palaces with my friends. I know it meant more to me than some of them, unless they also went forward with feelings like, “I wonder if anyone else remebers those stupid kid games.”

But then I got smart, and liked to feel better than everyone else, and found both some of the most interesting edges of science, and atheism. I liked how radical it was, and it satisfied my spiritual-longing in an inverse way; there is no meaning but what you make, it said, and if there is a why to things, it is absolutely inaccessible; religious belief is human error to overcome. It was a faith like Kant’s – he believed so strongly in a god of Rationality, he had to accept that Rationality could never prove or access that very God.

It took me a while to fully integrate into that community, and if I am honest, I spent MUCH more of my time questioning-Wiccan, uncomfortably Christian, or agnostic. It took me until reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali to admit that no, you cannot put the good caused by a concept or institution like Religion or a religion and weigh it against the bad, and come to a conclusion about its value. I spent a long time, actually, in that period referring to myself as a “discordian Atheist” or a “mystical Atheist” because I thought and think there is a core of human experience that rationality cannot touch or explain or really have anything to do with, and I liked to gadfly my own community about the ways in which it was full of bias and privilege and magical thinking.

I am coming more and more to realize now that Atheism-as-a-social-and-political movement is primarily full of refugees from various Christianities (and other Abrahamic faiths), and is specifically anti-Christian/anti-Abrahamic (and therefore it has very little to say to polytheism-as-a-worldview) but that is a topic for a different day.

To transition between mystical-Atheism and where I am now, I want to start with Loki, but really there were some others that paved the way.

One of them was Elf. She definitely does not know how influential she was to me, but since I had abandoned Wicca in my teen years for a variety of reasons, she showed me a window into a Pagan practice that was both absurd and serious, moving and trivial, with a community of others who (despite drama) took their religion seriously.

One of them was Nisi Shawl.  A fantastic writer whose every work you ought to read, she was at a panel at a beloved Sci Fi/Fantasy convention of mine, talking about postcolonialism and magic realism. I paraphrase, but the straightforward way she said, “magic realism? Excuse me, this is just my reality.” baked my noodle for days. She practices, I believe, Lucumi. She and others “made it real” when I had swallowed the belief that my religion options were one of the monotheisms, one of the Buddhisms, or an aggressive nothing.

As uncomfortable as it makes me, I have to thank the aspects of internet fan culture without which I would never have gotten here. I am familiar with the boom and bust cycles of my own interest in media, and I am also familiar with loving a particular aspect of a tacky, unimpressive, or otherwise imperfect show or film; but comic!Loki hit hard and unexpectedly. Gregory Maguire’s Elphaba, the next-nearest green antihero with whom I identify did not absorb my life nearly so ferociously. Thanks to comics and fan culture’s certainty that everything belongs to them, I read aspects of mythic Loki as they were pulled into character analyses and stories, and sought out the myths themselves. I dove into writing criticism and analyses myself, and it took me quite a lot of words before I realized the being I was so ardently defending was the comic book guy only in name.

I started a cosplay in May. The feeling that I NEEDED TO was overwhelming. It was a little confusing to me, since, while I do sew and like to sew, and sculpt and like to sculpt, I vastly prefer natural materials, and a comic!Loki cosplay would be committing several months to my unfavorites, pleather and plastic. “Okay!” I said to that impulse, “Fuck it, I’ll do it!”

I would recognize that impulse as external, from where I am today. I don’t know if the note from Loki was a magnet-pull of “Pay Attention!” that I persisted in attributing to the more familiar feelings of fandom and obsession, or if I really needed to commit to several months of pleather and plastic and handsewing and staring at photos in order to be convinced of my own ability to follow through on a project and stick around, but that’s how it happened.

The searching and learning from there to finding other reconstructionists and recon-derived folks, the traditions and practices, the research, setting aside shrine space, is probably more familiar to anyone who might be reading this than all that other stuff.

Where I am now, I am trying to honor the Gods of the Northern pantheons. I am trying to revive a connection with my ancestors. I am trying to connect to a certainty of belief in the spirits of place all around me.

I am uncertain of the dividing line between an egregore of belief and an independent spirit. I am uncertain that long-abandoned traditions can be revived, and that some unworshipped deities have not faded away for good. I am uncertain, and I think I will always be, that I am not simply playing games inside my head, but I try to focus on positive change: that even if I am doing something vastly different in a year or ten years, that I will still call this period of my life good, as I call the Catholicism and the Atheism and the Wicca and the childhood divination games also good.

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