Worshipping the Dark

Polytheists time and time again have written their own perceptions of the “dark” gods and goddesses we follow. Do we really need to add to that? Well, I sure am going to, anyway. So, here it is. Those of us who follow the gods that we do, generally speaking, we know what we’ve gotten into. We know that our gods can be harsh, Tricksters, even downright scary sometimes. It is not uncommon for some of us to be afraid of these deities before we decide to give Them a chance in our lives. The condescending tones of people who don’t even work with our gods is completely unnecessary. I’m not saying that their views are never valid or wanted, just that they don’t often see the full picture.

The thing is, pointing out that someone’s god is known to be “dark” or a “Trickster” with an air of judgment, as if it makes it wrong or foolish to work with or worship Them, is hurtful on multiple levels. It assumes that the person one is speaking with doesn’t have the sense to make their own decisions. It assumes that those who have a relationship with these deities don’t know Them as well as the person who says they would never work with or honor Them. Yeah, as if someone who doesn’t have experience with that deity is going to know better. Unless you have studied non-biased sources and/or worked with the deity in question, how in any deity’s name are you going to act like you know better than someone who has? That is what’s foolery.

Oft-times, these discussions completely miss the fact that “acceptable” deities can be just as harsh, just as much Tricksters, just as scary as the “dark” ones. Take Loki versus Odin for example. Some Norse Pagans act like Loki is some horrific being, all while pouring out praise for Odin. One has to wonder if those same people have actually read anything of the Eddas or retellings beyond the story of Ragnarok to come to that conclusion. There’s so much more to the mythology leading up to that point. It’s not a story of “good vs evil”. It’s complex. It’s about relationships among friends, families, and cultures. It’s about prophecy and the consequences (both good and harmful) of allowing it to lead one’s actions. It’s about the natural cycles of life, the earth, and the cosmos. And, there’s much more to it than I can discuss here. It can’t be denied that Loki does questionable things, but Odin also makes some pretty cruel decisions. Meanwhile, many of Loki’s decisions end up helping others. While I am more wary of Odin than Loki, I know it’s not okay for me to pass judgment on those who do work with/ honor/ worship Odin. I assume they know Him better than I do. I understand that both gods have equally complicated stories.

Flamehair, by B. A. McNeely (Alvinia). Watercolor.

The Odin example can admittedly be somewhat shaky for some. I’ve run into pagans who seem just as scared of Odin as they are of Loki. At least they’re keeping it somewhat fair. I’d even say that’s smart, in a way. Not that I’m defending any sort of condescension from them about either god. Again, those making condescending remarks are usually people who haven’t built a relationship with either deity. Their perceptions of them simply don’t include the experience to stand on. These are also people who often view the gods as less complex than what they are and don’t much consider the context of Their mythologies.

There are also deities who are considered “dark” not as much for any specific acts we modern people may find unethical, but for their associations with things such as death. Death is a frightening thing to many people. It is an ending, a separation from loved ones, and an unknown. Though we may have our beliefs about the afterlife, those beliefs aren’t always the comfort we hope them to be. It is, however, important to remember that death is part of the natural cycle of life. Among many pantheons, even the gods do not escape this fate.

The Morrígan is a goddess associated with both war and death. Thus, she is yet another designated as “dark”. It is important here to note that the modern conception of war is vastly different, much more cruel, than the concept of it that the ancient peoples knew. In addition, The Morrígan’s role in war seems to align more with death, sovereignty, and prophecy than any direct acts of battle itself. Among these things, it is only Her role with death as “Chooser of the Slain” that most would point out as reason to fear Herself. When left with that, it’s surely not more frightening than any other force that may play a hand with fate. Though The Morrígan is known among many of Her followers to be harsh, much of that is due to Her no-nonsense attitude. Being a goddess who has historically dealt with the things She has, it’s no wonder She’s not known for being particularly gentle. This deity isn’t particularly known among Her followers for being unnecessarily cruel, however.

The Morrígan by B. A. McNeely (Alvinia). Graphite pencil.

This brings us to the UPG of it all. Unverified personal gnosis. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, this can lead to shared UPG that many followers of a deity hold true due to similar experiences with Them. It is common for polytheists to attribute modern associations with our gods. For us, the gods are beings who are capable of changing with the times. They no longer exist solely in the world of our ancestors. They’re being worshipped by modern people with new problems and new things to celebrate. Because we see the world differently than the ancients did, the gods must come to us in ways that we can recognize Them.

Many of the deities that people today often label “dark” have now become associated with social justice issues. It is not uncommon for followers of these deities to be part of marginalized groups or to engage in social justice work as a way to honor their gods. Due to Ireland’s history of colonization by the British and The Morrígan’s association with sovereignty, those who worship Herself may feel called to spread awareness about the harmful effects of colonization and appropriation on colonized cultures worldwide. Loki has become a role model of sorts for those within the LGBTQIA+ community due to common UPG of Him being genderfluid/ transgender and pansexual. (This UPG being based on mentions in Norse lore of Him living for a time as a woman and birthing children.)

These associations with social justice can also tie in with shadow work, which the “dark” gods can be especially helpful with. I’ve previously touched on part of this in a post about shadow work. It is my opinion that social justice work is a form of shadow work on a larger scale. Acknowledging one’s privileges as well as one’s struggles is a part of both, after all. It is also my opinion that, perhaps a reason why so many fear “dark” deities, is because they may not be ready to face some shadows of their own.

I have worked with The Morrígan, Loki, Fenrir, and others long enough to feel that I know Them. I am not going to claim to be an expert on Them, either academically or spiritually. What I do know is what I have learned about Them through reading, educational content, conversing with others, and my own experiences. I am glad that They have been an influence on my life. They have given me things, from harsh lessons to joy and comfort and empowerment, that I am grateful to have received. Sure, my gods can be scary – if you don’t bother to get to know Them. They’re not always gentle – but gentle isn’t always what’s needed.

It’s okay not to work with any given deity if one doesn’t want to. It’s okay to have different beliefs about the gods, or to not believe in Them at all. What’s not okay, is talking down to someone about their gods from a place of fear. It’s not okay to talk in a condescending manner to someone about the gods they believe in, regardless of one’s personal beliefs.


Poetry: Unwritten Heart

Unwritten letters in embers
Passed from heart to the ethereal
Floating through rivers
That no mortal flesh may cross
I pray in whispered utterance
Knowing you hear me
When I cannot feel you
Unafraid of burning sweetly
When you return to consume
And return is inevitable
For you always do
Pulling me toward the flame
As I stumble into you
Pushing me into the sky
While I reach for you
Craving more until all is quiet
For what was once a dream
What I perceived as imagining
Was revealed to be truth
As true as any myth ever was
Divinity and humanity entwined
Your letters in my heart
My heart on your altar
Cherishing your presence
While you feel so far away

July for Loki

Many Lokeans have started celebrating July as a devotional month for Loki. This usually consists of a blog post each day for our mutual god. While I’m convinced that I can’t quite manage that, I did at least want to get one in this month. You know, instead of completely ignoring it.

If you’re not already aware of Loki as a god, you’re in for a real treat. Loki is a trickster deity hailing from the Norse pantheon. He does get a bad rep, but that’s just from those silly Christianized lenses that some people have. I can’t claim that Loki is always a model of goof good behavior. (See that? I could totally blame him for that typo if I wanted to. But, that honestly wouldn’t be fair. He can be a goof sometimes, though.) As a trickster, Loki often gets up to mischief. He also often solves problems, whether he created them or not.

For modern Pagans who work with him, Loki offers many lessons. Through his stories, we learn the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions, speaking uncomfortable truths, and not breaking our oaths.
Many view Loki as a god for the LGBTQA+ and outcasts. Loki does break gender stereotypes and may even be considered pansexual and gender-fluid. He is both Jotun and Aesir, trusted and mistrusted, a father to children who are judged based solely on fear and a prophecy.

As for my personal experiences with Loki, I have found him to be a caring and mostly patient god. Don’t go thinking he’s all sweets just yet. He has also tested me in ways that have forced me to rethink my biases, acknowledge things I wanted to ignore, and even outright frightened me. Loki may be a god that I love, but he does have his darker side. I have seen him as the ever-changing shapeshifter, the redheaded man who towers above me, the flame, and the angry/hurting figure in the shadows. He is a god with many sides to his story, many facets to his personality.

Loki is the blood-brother of Odin and a traveling companion to Thor. He is married to Sigyn of the Aesir and is a consort to Angrboda of the Jotun. Rather than taking his Jotun father’s name, Farbauti, Loki goes by the maternal “Laufeyjarson”. This may indicate that Laufey has a higher status than Farbauti, but that’s not proven either way.
Loki has 6 well-known children as attested in the mythologies. Fenrir, Hel, and Jormungandr are the wolf, half dead ruler of the dead, and serpent children of Angrboda who were each sent into separate places of exile by the Aesir. Narfi and Vali are the sons of Sigyn, the latter changed into a wolf by the Aesir to kill his brother. Sleipnir is the son of the stallion, Svaldifari, and is the eight-legged steed whom Odin rides. (Am I making the Aesir sound like dicks yet? Just stating mythological facts here… Okay, and there is more to these stories.) We also mustn’t forget the trolls whom Loki birthed after eating a witch’s heart, or the babes he birthed while acting as a milk-maid on Midgard.

He is a shapeshifter who knows how to use his cunning. He cut Sif’s hair, then proceeded to get the dwarfs to make multiple gifts for the Aesir as retribution: one was golden hair for Sif, another was Thor’s Mjolnir. In a less spoken of story, Loki helped to save a boy’s life from a giant (which the boy’s father lost a bet with) by hiding the boy as a fish’s roe and then killing the giant. That was after both Hoenir and Odin failed in the task.

Loki has many other names that he is referred to by. These range from relation-based to descriptive. A few of his kennings include Wolf’s Father, Loptr (airy or lofty one), Inn Bundi Ass (The Bound God), and the controversial Lodur (the god who gave blood and good color to the first humans). The names we know him by can give us clues to his roles in Norse mythology.

Love, To Date

I do not remember what date He came into my life. This god who spoke to me in ways that I could not, at first, fully believe. The “official” day that I offered my devotion to Loki was in June of 2016. This year makes 3 years, and it’s been circa 5 or 6 years since I first “met” this god. It’s not been long. Yet, it feels already as if I’ve loved Him my entire life.

The English language is funny in that it has only one word for love. Some languages have multiple words, depending on the type of love. I suppose the word “worship” would be the closest to the love I mean in this context. The problem I have with that word here is that it implies act, rather than feeling. Devotion is another that works, and still it does not seem enough. I worship and give my devotion to Him because of this love. This love that is similar to, but so strikingly different from what I have felt for others: My spouse, my child, The Morrigan.
The last example is the closest. She is, after all, another deity. One whom I feel has done much for me in this life. One who I think of as a Mother figure, though She is certainly not a Mother goddess in the same sense others are. I do not remember what exact date She came into my life or even when I officially devoted myself to Her. I know I first “met” Her little over a decade ago, but it wasn’t until a few years after that I accepted Her calling. I should have kept a journal, right?

Circling back to Loptr, I never intended to so much as get to know Him. When He showed up, I was determined that The Morrigan would be my only deity. Yes, I recognized that many others exist. No, I did not need or want to seek out another patron/ matron/ fulltrui. What a naive thing I was, to think that I would have any say in how He would spin my inner world around.
He caught my attention in little ways. Mentions here and there. A strange intrigue. Why was this particular god standing out so much, I wondered? Then, I must have opened myself up to Him. I prayed to Loki. And He was there.
I believe that the gods do communicate with us. In messages and signs, dreams and feelings, divination and meditation. He spoke to me in every way that I imagine a person can “hear” a god.
The Gift Bringer gave me many gifts, intangible as they may be. He taught me lessons about myself and the world, gave me an understanding that I struggled to find before.

I have often wondered whether He is a literally real being from another plane of existence (that’s one idea) or if He is a psychological manifestation. Even if gods are metaphor and/or psychological in nature, does that truly mean they are not real? Perhaps not in a scientific sense. I know there’s no evidence. I do not expect others to believe simply because I say so. Still, I have come to think that it doesn’t matter. The love I have for Him is real. It is real for all my gods, just as real as the love I have for anyone else.

June will be the anniversary of when I first really accepted my love for this god. Come what may, I can know that Loki will always have a piece of my heart for as long as He wishes.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a fluff piece. One that I felt moved to write. It does not mean that I don’t acknowledge the “darker” aspects of Loki, such as the Trickster (which can go either way) and the World Breaker.

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Hair Cutting As Sacrifice

In many cultures, hair is important. It could be a symbol of strength, spiritual power, or a symbol of who one is. For many, hair is a sense of pride and joy. Whether it is covered for spiritual reasons or left uncovered as if a trophy, some women (and men, too!) choose not to cut it.

The longest that I allowed my hair to grow was down to my hips. I had gone something like 8-10 years without cutting it. It made me proud. But, it was also mostly straight and couldn’t hold much of a curl. It wasn’t super thick, either, especially after my daughter was born. I finally cut it. It never got back to what it used to be in my pre-mother days. The natural curls haven’t returned as much and it’s still thinner than what it used to be. In a way, the loss of the hair type I used to have was a sacrifice for motherhood. Pregnancy and post-pregnancy hormonal shifts cause a great many changes.
At that point, the shortest it had ever been was to my shoulders.

Insert Loki. I won’t claim that He told me what to do. However, he was a major influence when I made the decision to go with a pixie cut and partial side shave circa 2015. The idea of cutting my hair so short and making an even bigger change to it enticed me, but also scared the shit out of me. I needed change of some sort and, being a working mom in college at the time, there was only so much major change I could handle. I made the decision to do so by deciding that it would be done with intent of sacrifice for this god in my life. I felt that Loki was pleased.

Ever since then, I have noticed that I cut my hair short on whim when any major changes in my life are occuring. And so, perhaps naturally, I still associate the act with Loki.
I devote myself to you, Gift-Bringer. I offer my heart to you, Trickster. I cut my hair, once a trophy of my womanhood, for you, Shapeshifter. And, yes, also for myself.

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Loki is known to his followers as a god of change. He will take your life and shake it out until you’re left feeling disheveled and wondering what the fuck just happened. He is not a cruel god. Not entirely, at least. He will put you in positions where you have to face your truth, an unpleasant life situation, or a decision you’ve been putting off for far too long. He will force you to take a step one way or another. Stagnation isn’t a pretty look to him.

It’s a bit silly to be a Lokean and say that you’re afraid of change. Yet, here I am. Change is scary. More-so when you don’t know what the domino effect from one change will turn out like. Want a new job? Now you have to get new health insurance, get to know new people, learn new policies, have a new schedule, so on and so forth. All of which could go one way or another… or another, or another.
I am finding myself in this position where I’ve been considering a change in my life. I am also terrified of what that could entail. Will I make things better or worse? I need change, but what if I end up with the wrong choice? I suppose I could pull out the tarot and/or pendulum for clarity if I weren’t so scared of what they’d tell me. Some witch, huh?

As a Lokean, I find that I often find myself questioning my truths. It’s a start. I know that I need to take a leap eventually. Baby steps can only get us so far, after all. Does Loki ever get tired of watching me and others like me? Perhaps I am lucky when he doesn’t take action to move things along. Or perhaps it’s just what I could need.

And what of The Morrigan, the goddess to whom I first devoted myself? I can’t imagine that she’d be too proud of my inability (or refusal, depending on how you view it) to make a decision. Surely, she must view it as a weakness. Of course, I can not speak for the gods. There is only speculation and UPG.

No, this topic is not something that The Morrigan or Loki has discussed with me so far in any form of communication. It could very well be that I need to learn this lesson on my own. It could be that I already know the answer. Change is necessary. Fears must be overcome. Nobody can make decisions for me. The list goes on.

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Poetry: Chaos and A Wolf

I may have shared this one on a previous blog, but here we go. Hail to the one with a crooked smile! Hail to the wolf!
Chaos and A Wolf by B.A.McNeely

Chaos made a friend of me
Somewhere in this mind
Sweet words burned through
Fire’s place within my heart
Before long, I drifted down
And promised my Self away
To the one with a crooked smile

A Wolf watched over me
In the darkness where I died
Silent as I rose again
And again, my protector
The chained one held me
Down as I begged to escape
From perils of the wounded room

I give my breath to Chaos
I grant my breath to the Wolf
That they may reach me again
For in burning I have risen
To see a spark of my Self
And in chains I have been rescued
From the monsters inside