Paths Between the Pillars

prayer1-277x300I’m about to let you in on one of my dirty little secrets.

Back in high school, and even college, I was “blessed” with the ability to be good in just about any area I chose. I became very used to success: being concert master of not one but two high school orchestras, getting into the college of my choice, getting grants to fund my studies, graduating from said college (one of the Seven Sisters) magna cum laude with departmental honors. Chalk it up to my double Capricorn nature, but I love titles. If I believed in sin, this would probably be one of mine. I’m driven by a (often unhealthy) need to be the best, running at the front of the pack.

Now, at the ripe ol’ age of 32, I’ve been forced to confront that this is not the reality of my life. I do many things well, but I’m not a leader. Not any more.

I’m an awesome beta.

You need a ritual written? Let me get out my pen. You need some props for a ceremony? Hold on, I’ve got some papier mache, duct tape, and extra fabric around here somewhere. You need a divination about your job? I have my cards right here. A protection charm? Let me get my origami paper. How about an editor? I can do that, too. Let me support you in your vision, let me help you create something magical, wonderful, grand. Hel, I can even delegate on good days.

Sometimes, I’d like to think I could be a priest, maybe when I’ve grown up a little more–maybe even clergy. The question is, how much of this comes from a desire to help and serve others, and how much is because “clergy” is seen as the “terminal degree” in the land of Paganistan. (See? There’s that darned Capricorn tendency again.)  It’s a rough and ugly question to ask, but if you’re not asking it of yourself, and you’re on a cleric’s path…well, frankly, you’re not a person I’d want mediating between me and my gods. Nornoriel Lokason wrote a great piece on boundaries and belonging. The following quote particularly struck me:

It is unrealistic to expect and *demand* that everybody immolate their entire beings and become some robot-priest/ess where their entire life is about the gods. This is why there are too many people who feel inadequate as laypeople, by the way, because some folks pontificating from on high are calling for standards that would be taxing even for full-time dedicated priests, never mind Average Jane or Joe.  There’s something to be said about having a work/life balance, and the sort of devotionalism in others that inspired me some years ago now admittedly squicks me the fuck out, because it looks extremely unbalanced, unhealthily so.

That sort of fanatical, “look at meeee!” devotionalism is hurtful, not only to the attention seekers themselves, but to those who would draw inspiration from their experiences. Public displays of piety polarize Pagans and Polytheists into those who would be king, I mean, clergy, and the rest of us hoi polloi. These are not leaders elected out of love by their communities. These are self-proclaimed hierophants, whose One True Way smacks of the worst qualities of paternalistic Evangelical  Protestantism.  It’s a crying shame, because the devotional path could have been viable for the lay person, a way to be close to the gods without having to serve anyone other than oneself and maybe one’s family. That’s not the tenor of the most recent conversations, though, and it’s the reason why I break out in spots at the phrase “devotional Polytheist.” Devotion is quickly becoming the purview of so-called priests, leaving the rest of us where, precisely?

I don’t know that I can truly offer any solutions to the disease of devotion. Perhaps it’s all just semantics, but more and more “devotion” has come to mean an all-consuming obsession with the gods, to the exclusion of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. For my own practice, I use the term “veneration” or “adoration” to describe what I do. When I venerate my ancestors of blood and soul, I invite them into my life to participate in my world as it is, complete with children, pets, housemates, and neighbors. I adore my gods, experience ecstasy with my spirits, all within the container of this very real, very mundane existence.

Blogging and social media create difficulties for the ego. “Likes” and comments and followers create a subconscious popularity contest.  Self-worth becomes attached to the approval of strangers sitting on the other side of the webs of light that connect our keyboards and screens to one another. Maybe inherent nature of the blogosphere itself is one reason why again and again issues are couched in terms of either/or, black/white, chicken/fish. I’ve got to believe there’s another road between the two pillars of “priest” and “lay.”  Maybe there’s a whole highway system in there, just waiting to be discovered. We’re Pagans. We’re Polytheists. We can break the binary patterns of our mother culture and create a true plurality of belief and praxis.

There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again. ~Rumi

30 DoA #30: Overtures


30. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?  If you are just beginning to court Wayland, always start with the primary sources. Read the Eddas, the Anglo-Saxon poems, the later Germanic sources. Get a good grounding in his extant mythology as it will help inform and filter your own gnoses as your realtionship with him develops.

The primary rule in approaching Wayland in my experience has been “Take Your Time.”  While he’s not quite as slow moving as one of Tolkien’s ents, he appreciates small, consistent gestures over time.  One big flashy offering is unlikely to gain his serious attention. Show him your own capacity for patience and diligence.  Dedicate your crafting process to him.  Share your food and drink with him as kin. These are the best ways to approach him.

The second rule: be very, very aware that while the Smith’s most public face is as a god of civilization, a Maker, there is a very primal, very dangerous current that runs underneath.  I’ve had a difficult time making peace with that aspect of Wayland, the part that only wants to hurt others in retribution for what he has suffered. He destroys, not as easily as he creates, perhaps, but the proclivity towards revenge remains.

Of all the deities whom I honor, Wayland is perhaps the one to whom I feel closest.  His is a very human tale, full of love, betrayal, and freedom. I have to admit that I like my gods to be fallible–their tales of woe and loss satisfy more than the perfect prism proposed by the Abrahamic monotheisms. Flaws and all, Wayland is an approachable god for most who would seek him.

Just leave a coin at the smithy.

30 DoA #29: UPG

Because nothing says "UPG" like shots from the Hubble telescope.

Because nothing says “UPG” like shots from the Hubble telescope.

Sadly, the end of June hit like a ton of bricks. Happily, I managed to dodge it slightly better than Wyle E. Coyote slide-stepping an anvil, and blogging was hopefully the only area of my life that suffered for it. So, without further ado…

29. Any interesting or unusual UPG to share?  Interesting UPG, huh? I mean, isn’t all UPG interesting to someone? Otherwise, why bother with it?  Many of the posts in this series have contained bits of UPG here and there (hopefully clearly marked to distinguish them from TEH LORZ), but here are a few other gnoses that just seem to stick in my brain.

  • Wayland is clean-shaven, with white/grey hair, usually pulled back in a braid or low pony-tail. His eyes are black.
  • Post-laming, he fashioned a sort of magically-infused silvery filigree to encase his legs and help him get around.
  • There is some connection to the Eagles as well as the Hares (if you subscribe to the Vanic Tribe model).
  • He doesn’t talk much.
  • If you can travel, one of the best ways to get to know Wayland is to help him out with chores around the forge. Keep the chatter to a minimum, though. He’ll say something to you when he’s good and ready.
  • Peaty Scotch is appreciated–the more it tastes like forge coals, the better!