I joke that I became a polytheist because Odin hit me with a stick and told me to pay attention. That probably sounds euphemistic, or like I’m describing a vision or a dream or something, but I actually mean it pretty darned literally. It’s a story I’ve told, in greater or lesser detail, countless times, so I feel like I’m repeating myself when I tell it all over again, but Lon pointed out to me that I actually haven’t told it in much detail at all in quite a few years. It was only just tonight that I actually lined up all the pieces of the stories I’d told him before, and I’ve never elaborated at all in my blog here.
It seems I am remiss. So, without further ado:
How Ember Became A Polytheist (And Eventually, Vanatru)
I was aware of wanting to believe in the gods as early as high school. When I was 17 I started dating a handsome 21 year old man who was training to become a priest of Apollo with a Hellenic Reconstructionist group called Thiasos Olympikos. I’d been attracted to Athena as a mythological figure before, and thought I could join and study Her mythology, and participate to whatever degree was permitted a guest who couldn’t vow that I believed in the Gods as real entities.
Mind you, I tried to believe in the gods, in the fae, and other spirits. I’d had experiences from a young age that convinced me that humans could become trapped as ghosts when they died, and that other kinds of psychic phenomena were real. My basic faith was Pantheistic – that Divinity was the sum of all things. I’d been taught basic energy work by my parents, and I’d been interpreting my own dreams since I was a kid. By the time I was in my early 20s I was practicing various forms of magic, mostly without physical tools, and had some solid spiritual beliefs.
But I had no real religion. I could never choose belief in gods and spirits past the point of respecting others who did as having as legitimate a belief as any other. And I wanted people to share my faith with. I wanted people to share the mystery and the glory and the awe of experiencing the numinous immanence of divinity, regardless of what form it came in. I may not have been a polytheist, but I had always been a mystic.
I believe it was Spring of 2001 when one of my dearest friends, Terrence, got handfasted at a local Heathen campout. He was a 2nd generation member of Hrafnar, and his dad and stepmom, Andy and Laurel, were like Pagan Godparents to me. I figured that what I wanted in a faith community was people whose values I shared. I’d found out at the campout that I had many good friends among the regular attendees of Hrafnar at the time, so Hrafnar seemed like a good place to start. So I attended when I could, treating the ideas of the gods as respectfully as I could, easily accepting Them as metaphors, and as ways of looking at divinity, but not quite able to believe in Them as real individuals.
After about a year of irregular attendance, at the annual Ostara feast, where we hold several blots in a row to the most prominent gods, the priests who carried the horn around the circle happened to include a powerful trance medium who dressed in full regalia for Odin. I remember thinking as he went round that he had impressive stage presence as clergy, but it still didn’t register as anything unusual. As he approached, I knew my turn was soon, so I turned away to try and make sure my feast plate wouldn’t be in his way, since I was sitting on the floor. I was still looking down when my turn came up.
The gothi for Odin literally tapped me with the butt of his spear to get my attention and said, gruffly, “Pay attention!”
When I looked up… there was just… this FACE, with this one blue-grey eye staring at me, and it just… wasn’t the gothi.
That was a serious Gnosis moment: ~Oh shit, that’s ODIN~
I literally went from one moment considering the gods a wonderful idea that I just couldn’t make myself believe, to the next moment KNOWING I was looking at Odin, and I couldn’t not believe anymore.
Stunned and slightly bewildered, I took the horn, raised it to Him, drank, and handed it back. As He leaned in to take it back, He quietly commented in my ear, “Dump him. There are better fish in the sea.”
Now, I’d never met the priest before. Chien was not with me, being an Atheist. To my knowledge I had not said anything about Chien much at all in the priest’s earshot, and I wasn’t dating anyone else at the time. But I already knew I wanted kids, and Chien didn’t. We’d agreed from our third date on that we both felt that love and chemistry were worth the experience, even if it didn’t last forever. We decided to go ahead and dive in and see how deep the water went, whether it was a puddle, a deep well, or the wide ocean. And here was Odin telling me to let him go and search for a better fish? Not that I couldn’t imagine why, but it wasn’t what I wanted, wasn’t what my heart said I should do, wasn’t what I’d decided to do, but Odin was a GOD… right? And I’m just… me…
Between the sudden Gnosis and the unexpected, upsetting advice, I just started crying uncontrollably in the middle of the blot. I don’t think I was sobbing noisily or anything, I just couldn’t stop sniffling, or tears streaming down my face. It bothered people tremendously, apparently, that nobody took me out of the room to comfort me personally. Laurel was at my back, providing quiet, subtle comfort with a firm hand on my shoulder, but nobody tried to pull me from the room or talk to me. I wasn’t yet on the Hrafnar email list so I missed that conversation, and heard about it only later from Laurel when she prompted me to have my email added to the list. I hadn’t thought I was a real member, not believing in their gods, so I hadn’t asked before.
I spent months after that trying to get confirmation that no, really, that was Odin, but I mostly got back evasive non-answers, and more questions, for complicated reasons I won’t get into here.
Finally, I asked Laurel. She was a prominent Seidhkona in Seidhjallr at the time, so she was more than able to seek out my answers. But already being a polytheist herself, she didn’t parse my question correctly.
I was trying to determine IF that was Odin, and IF I’d heard Him correctly that He thought I should dump Chien. She took it as a given that it was Odin and went to poke at Him as to whether He thought I should break up with Chien.
He replied, through her, “Since when do you ask the gods, Little Pantheist?”
I was devastated. I wasn’t paying attention to His actual words, I just heard it as “Go away, the gods of polytheism don’t want a Pantheist. We don’t want you. You don’t belong here.”
I freaked out.
Not in the sense of having an emotional breakdown in the moment per se, but in the sense of having my worldview go askew. There was a lot going on in my life that this was only one piece of, and I’d kind of hit my limit on coping with it all for a while. I left Hrafnar, thinking I didn’t belong there and thus shouldn’t attend. I spent most of the rest of that year trying to find my place in the world and finding mostly dead-ends. I had bizarre dreams with religious themes all summer, ending on a sequence that made it quite clear Odin was involved. It wasn’t until the autumn that I made much progress at all.
It would be a couple of years before I could finally get a straight answer on the topic of Odin’s relationship advice.