Recently, Jo wrote about Personal Myth Cycles, and how she’s been coming to terms with the fact that some of her own personal myths regarding Poseidon don’t mesh with known “lore.” The material we come to accept as lore, as she points out, is nothing more or less than shared/peer-corroborated personal gnosis/doxa (PCPG) with the weight of years or tradition behind it. Given this understanding, it might be important that your own personal myths and beliefs about the gods (and let’s face it, we all have them) mesh with those of others if you’re Working within a group, but otherwise it doesn’t much matter.
And yet. And yet. Occasions when personal myths conflict is one of the number one things I have seen polytheists (myself included) get bent out of shape over. As an example, I have set forth some of my own personal myths regarding Odin in two books that were published by Wild Hunt Press several years back. These volumes are both collections of short stories, some of them retellings of myths from Norse “lore” from a fresh perspective (such as “Blood, Sex, Honey,” my take on the Mead of Poetry story), some of them completely new myths showing Odin’s impact on individuals in modern times. As with the stories Jo is including in her current work in progress (Poseidon: A Narrative), the stories are of varying “weight.” In other words, some of them were told to me directly by Odin or other Powers, some were based on my own personal UPG/doxa of how things may have happened but were not direct downloads from entities, and a few were just a result of my playing the writer’s classic “What if____?” game. (For example, asking “What if a Heathen woman devoted to Odin was in a fatal car accident on her way home from a blot and He had to help her come to terms with dying and leaving her daughter behind?” led to the story “Last Journey.”)
Because I knew full well that many lore-based Heathens would object strongly to some of the content in these stories (and interestingly, the stories people found most objectionable—such as “They Speak to Me,” in which Gunnlod, now in Hela’s realm, turns out to be the volva who warns Odin about Ragnarok—were the ones with the greatest weight behind them), I became extremely protective of my UPG as depicted in them and would bristle whenever someone told me bluntly that they didn’t agree with my perspective. I’m a lot less prickly about these things now—at least in general.
As an example of this, the other day my friend Nono mentioned in his blog that “most people” feel Odin took up the runes relatively late in Asgard’s history, after the death of Balder. In my own personal mythology, I had originally understood the timing of this event to fall a lot earlier, after the Mead of Poetry episode and after Odin’s marriage to Frigga, but before Balder’s death. (In fact, I understood it as a direct consequence of the events in “Blood, Sex, Honey.”) However, after I thought about it, I could equally see this happening as a consequence of the events in “They Speak to Me,” when Odin learns that Asgard is under dire threat. One action He is forced to take as a result of this threat is the sacrifice of His son, Balder, as a stand-in for Himself, the Sacred King. (If you want to see another example of this classic trope of the stand-in, enacted for similar reasons to the ones in my story, watch the original “Wicker Man” movie. Historically, choosing a substitute to die in place of the King, when this sort of sacrifice was called for, was a thing that happened. A lot of people are extremely uncomfortable with this interpretation because it means Odin sacrificed His own son—but, well, Odin is Odin. He does what needs to be done, which doesn’t always coincide with what He wants to do.) But another action stemming from this threat could well have been His quest for the runes, for the mysteries that would give Him the power needed to protect His kingdom. Having come to this conclusion after a few moments of pondering, I was able to respond to Nono that I had heard the story differently but “eh, weebly wobbly, timey wimey.” To which he replied, “Godly wodly.” And no hurt feelings on either side.
Ah, but. Insert yourself into your personal myth cycle, and suddenly everything changes, and people (again, myself included) become a lot more sensitive. We all (or at least, most of us who are godspouses, or in some other type of close relationship with Them) have our stories that we treasure about our relationships with our Beloveds. Some of these stories were gleaned from visions or journeys, or imparted to us directly by Them; some were cobbled together through study and reading; some consist of all of the above, and have been corroborated by one or more other people, and confirmed by signs and omens through the years. Whatever the source and provenance, we all have stories of our past with Them, Their role in our lives, the nuances of the relationship, and perhaps our role in Their lives as well. I’ve talked, on this blog, about some of my own stories, my shared history with Odin, and have at least alluded to my how my spirit work Job/s connect to that. Away from this blog, I’ve occasionally talked more in depth about it with people who had similar—yet different—stories of their own regarding their own (different) Beloveds, stories that would definitely fall on the other side of That Line of Crazy in the eyes of most polytheists, which is why we ended up talking to each other about them, stories wound together with apotheosis, sacred queenship, divine avatars and goddess fragments, and other forbidden topics. All of these stories, taken together, are the kinds of thing that make up our personal myth cycles, for each of us. And each of us has had to (at least to some extent) let go of the Fear of Being Crazy in order to explore our personal myth more deeply and allow it to nourish our individual Work.
Minor points of conflict are generally not too much of a problem, when you discuss things like this with like-minded people, because there is (as noted above in my anecdote about the timing of Odin’s ordeal on the Tree) generally at least a bit of wiggle room when discussing the divine. I mean, let’s face it, even the bits of this that fall into the realm of PCPG are still subjective, personal, not subject to any kind of scientific proof. But then, religion is not about scientific proof, and insisting on it is a good way to kill a mystical experience. And discussing experiences in a group of people who have had similar experiences is not the same as being in a Working group; there is no need to come to a consensus (although people still tend to try to do so, anyway; that seems to be part of human nature).
And yet. What happens when one of your core, central UPGs comes into direct conflict with that of another person? I don’t mean encountering someone else also married to or romantically involved with your Beloved, because that’s common enough, and I tend to take this perspective on it. No, what I’m talking about is something that lies at the very core of your personal mythology–your story of your life with your Beloved, and your unique role and importance to Them. Be honest, we all have these bits—or again, I’m assuming that most of the people reading this post will, even if it’s something you’ve never confided to anyone. It’s generally something that you cling to pretty tightly and feel protective of, something you won’t surrender easily and may not even be willing to compromise on at all. It may even lie at the core of what makes you, you.
What happens when someone else also claims this particular story, in conjunction with your particular god, in such a way that a conflict is created? We’re all human (to one extent or another, anyhow); isn’t it natural to feel territorial about something so integral to our personal identity—to not only who we are, but who we are together with Them? (And yes, I know that the Make a Wish post I just linked to means that this kind of thing does not necessarily have to create an unworkable conflict. But depending on the people involved, and their willingness—or lack thereof–to respect boundaries as discussed below, it might do so, anyway.)
There are, in my experience, three ways you can choose to react when this kind of conflict ensues:
- Agree to disagree. This could be the easiest solution if you want to preserve the (human) relationship, but might only work if both of you agree to refrain from discussing the conflicting point of UPG. And if one of you insists on talking about it anyway, we move on to…
- Come to a compromise, or change/expand your own UPG so that it can now encompass the other person’s as well. My adoption of this perspective , in which we are each dealing with a distinct and individual version of our particular god (go read the post already) is one example of how I’ve personally done this. If Odin repeatedly and insistently tells me a thing that conflicts with what He seems to be telling other people, how can I reconcile this? By recognizing that my Odin (even though He shares a name, powers, and a job description with all of the other Odins out there) is His own distinct individual; They are all equally Odin, yet each one is different. (Really, go read the other post already, because someone else wrote the original and you need to read it to understand. I’ll be waiting when you get back.) This is what I mean when I say that my Odin is idiosyncratic, and that I see a face of Him that no one else sees—literally, no one else. (Well, except for Jo; we share an Odin.) It’s also why my Odin may be the same as Mercurius Rex (the Romans certainly thought so, after all), and other people’s Odins may not be.
Humans being community-centric animals, compromise is the solution most people seem to opt for, but it can also be a dangerous one. There are so many areas in which we’re asked to compromise in order to “get along”; at school while growing up, in the workplace as adults, at home if we have families, in friendships. “That’s life,” some of you may respond, but especially for women, it can begin to seem as though there is nothing we’re allowed to keep for ourselves, nothing we can keep as our One Defining Thing without having to share it and include others in it. For some people, this may be just fine; for someone as territorial and introverted as I am, it can be a problem, depending on how important the thing I’m being asked to compromise on is to me. I compromise plenty in my day to day life, but I’ve also set up my life to be a mostly solitary one centered around and devoted to my gods and spirits. There is tremendous pressure, within our various spiritual communities, to compromise and change when conflicts such as this occur, and the person who refuses to do so often becomes an outcast. Especially concerning Odin, people have the tendency to say things such as “His path isn’t about comfort” and “If you aren’t willing to be pushed out of your comfort zone, you shouldn’t be involved with Him in the first place.” Well, frankly, who the fuck are you to say that? (Says the woman who’s been married to Him for a dozen years, left her mortal spouse for Him, and has gone through a cross-country move—only one so far, but who’s counting?–at His behest.) If your god says to you “This is yours, you may keep it, this is at the core of who We are together, trust Me on this” while in the process of stripping everything else in your life away (yes, this happened to me), then who the fuck are you to imply, basically, “If you won’t compromise on this one thing, it’s because you’re selfish and blocked and won’t leave your comfort zone?” What you are doing in saying this is basically telling me that your UPG, your understanding of my god and my relationship with Him, is clearer and more true than my own. And by the way, fuck you for that.Ahem. Which brings me to:
- Decide to cut off contact with the other person and keep your UPG intact. This is a last resort, since we all enjoy having friends, but it has so far proven necessary to me twice in my life and I will do it again if need be. For many people, this would be unthinkable; after all, shouldn’t human relationships be more important than something as arcane as a point of UPG? Yes, for the vast majority of humanity. But no, if you really view Them as actual People and treat Them as such, if you don’t relegate Them to a lower level of importance than the humans in your life, if you actually place your relationship with Them at the core of your life to the extent that it is more important than your human relationships. If you, like me, fall into the latter category, this may end up being the only possible choice–if indeed your god is saying to you, “What I’ve told you is true and I want you to cling to it.”
I’ve written here, quite recently, about the trust issues I’ve had with Odin over the course of our relationship and about His insistence on having my trust, on my placing my trust in Him above and beyond anyone and anything else. I came to a turning point in this, at long last, in October, when He said “Trust Me” and then one weekend’s sales in the store generated enough money for me to buy the e-spinner I needed to enable me to keep spinning. (With my physical issues, it was becoming increasingly painful to treadle at a traditional wheel for long periods of time.)
Once I passed that turning point, it became easier and easier to trust Him as a matter of default, and there was—not surprisingly–a major test of this only a couple of weeks later, on Halloween itself, when the situation I’ve written about here happened to me. I’m not going to go into the specifics, but my response to this could have been #1 if I’d thought the other person was able to comply with that. (The circumstances in which this came about, and my history of asking this person to respect my Odin-approved boundaries and then repeatedly having them not respected, led me to believe this was not a possibility. Just the fact that I was made aware of the conflict was an example of those boundaries having been violated—and on more than one level.) #2 was never a possibility for me, because it went against everything Odin has been asking me to trust Him in for going on twelve years, and after having finally made some headway in that, I wasn’t willing to simply give it away. As mentioned, I lead a rather solitary life. I have my partner Jolene, but she is also a godspouse and we keep a rather cloistered household, centered on our gods. I have a grown daughter, but she lives back east. I don’t have a mortal husband, parents, brothers and sisters, or local friends I hang out with. My life revolves around Odin, and He and Jo (and the animals and other gods/spirits who comprise our household) are basically all I have.
I’m also not a young woman just starting out on this path who doesn’t yet know who she is or what she wants in life. I know I look young for my age, but I’m going on 50, and I’ve spent the last 12 years wrestling with a god as my life exploded around me and then the pieces began to fall back into place, one by one, into an entirely new and different pattern than the one I had known before. I’m not the person I was fifteen or twenty years ago (literally, not the same)—or even five or ten years ago, for that matter. When you belong to Odin, you live at the center of a storm, with hurricane winds whipping around you and destruction continually being laid at your feet. Surrendering to Him and giving Him your trust means you get to live in the eye of that storm rather than being battered by its winds, and believe me, that isn’t a state of affairs I’m willing to give up again. You think I should step outside my comfort zone? Sorry, this is the comfort zone Odin Himself shoved me into (while I was fighting to stay in the winds the whole time). You fucking deal with those winds. I’d rather be in here, with Him, where I belong.
In the final analysis, I will note that this entire issue is a rather strange one, peculiar to our own time and place in history in which technology has enabled us to form “communities” with people from around the globe and to communicate with them instantaneously. For the past few thousand years, if two spirit workers had conflicting UPG of this type, they would probably never even have found out about it. This fact underscores a lesson I thought I had learned a few years back when a different relationship imploded, but which I apparently need to keep learning: while you may occasionally find one or two people you can share things with (Jo would be one example of this, since we share the same Odin but have very different relationships with Him; Nono is another, as we have some important things in common but in such as way that we will never come into the type of conflict described here), but as a rule mystics and spirit workers do not naturally or comfortably fall into communities. They can get together and talk shop once in a while, or they can attempt to hold a community together through continual compromise, but at some point, if you are really doing the Work, it will isolate you. Or at the very least, you will come to realize that, at the core of things, you are alone in this with Them. If you’re really cut out for this type of Work, you need to find a way to be okay with that, because sooner or later, it will happen.