I never would have thought I’d be a pagan polytheist. I wasn’t very interested in European mythology and folklore while younger, focusing instead on Native American and Asian societies and stories (and I still am, such as in my academic work). I still loved learning about ancient European societies, especially those in Scandinavia, but my primary interests lay in the continent I grew up in. Despite the fact that I learned about many different pagan religions in school and in my own research (I was always a nerd, even as a young kid), I didn’t really think there were multiple Gods. My parents are both Christian, although not very devout-growing up, we only really went to church on Christmas and Easter. My mother, however, was and still has a strong new-agey bent to the way she approaches her spirituality, so she often touts the benefits of psychics, astrology, and the law of attraction kind of stuff. I was always a skeptic about the law of attraction, but her eclectic new age approach to spirituality rubbed off on me and so for my young life, that’s what I was. I eventually bought lots of books on astrology and new age topics, and that influenced my beliefs.
Moreover, I was a very strong “totemist,” I suppose you can say, and found the appropriative pseudo-“Native American” spirituality on the New Age shelves the most interesting. I call myself an animist since birth, because as a kid, I felt I could speak to the trees, hear messages in the wind, and was incredibly drawn to literally hundreds of plants and animals. I would become obsessed with certain species, wanting to know everything about them and research as much as I could pre-internet, and their presence would be constant. I still get this way, and I will still spend hours researching a particular plant or animal. It wasn’t because I was necessarily drawn to IT-rather, it was drawn to ME. It worked both ways, but I honestly feel like that they approach me more than I do them. So, the idea of “totem animals” and “power animals” appealed to me very much. Unfortunately, nearly all information on this is from New Age sources that culturally appropriate the idea from Native Americans. I didn’t believe everything I read, but many elements of this pseudo “Native American spirituality” appealed to me, and that’s where my spiritual life went.
Then, I began working with real Native Americans, and taking classes on real Native American religious traditions when I started university. There I learned of the terrible cultural appropriation that composes the New Age movement, and how it seriously hurts real live Indigenous people. I also learned how most of those elements are made up by affluent white people anyway, and are thus not real. The “Native American spirituality” presented in the New Age movement is incredibly superficial and is truly Protestant ethics disguised in fantasies of the Noble Savage. It sounds so silly now, but I was devastated learning this at the time. I felt like my worldview and everything I had known was shattered. I think many pagan and heathen converts have gone through this process, so I’m sure you can identify with it. Because I had easy access to the internet at college (and before I didn’t), I of course took my crisis of faith there. It was there that I learned of Native Americans addressing white folks who culturally appropriate their traditions, saying that we (white people) should look to our own ancestral traditions if we are seeking a tradition that looks to the Earth and Her powers. There, they said, we can honor our ancestor’s pathways rather than steal another’s. So, in an effort to pick up the pieces of my shattered ego and religious life, I did.
Here’s where access to the internet helped even more. I had a few friends who were Wiccan and had participated in a couple of holidays with them, but I wasn’t that interested in becoming Wiccan. So I delved into research about other pagan paths. I was most comfortable with the reconstructionist ones, or the reconstructionist-derived ones. I feared smearing my ancestral traditions by being eclectic, and I also wanted to be as far away from cultural appropriation as possible. At first I sought out British Celtic reconstructionism, but the very scant info on it drove me off. I was leery about participating in Irish, Welsh, or Scottish recon because some Celts from the homelands look down on the diaspora trying to revive their traditions, saying it’s appropriation also (I’m not familiar with the politics on that one now, but back then in 2009 I just wanted nothing to do with cultural appropriation given my past). I saw things about Asatru, of course, but it didn’t immediately grab me. I read about how some Irish have said that since most Americans are descended from the English, they should focus on that rather than on their scanter Irish blood. I have both Irish and English blood, but I definitely have more of the latter than the former, so that’s where I began looking. I researched about the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples, and their traditions. I never in a million years would have thought I’d have looked into Anglo-Saxon heathenry, being incredibly disinterested in English history, but life surprises you. I stumbled upon a website long since defunct dedicated to Anglo-Saxon heathenry, and something clicked in my head: this is it.
And, to the surprise of no one with a close relationship with the Old Man, He showed up. As soon as I read about Him on that website, Woden made His presence known. I could feel His eye looking at me, straight through my soul. I knew He wanted me. I knew He was interested in me and wanted me to follow Him.
And it scared the living bejeebus out of me.
Odin is scary, even to experienced polytheists and heathens. All Gods are scary, of course, but Odin is definitely one of the ones where you can really feel the scary vibes emanating from him even at first glance. I almost wanted to run away because of it. Since then I’ve heard of many baby heathens saying the same thing, so at least I wasn’t alone. But even though He kept showing up in my thoughts and visions, I still had a hard time accepting the idea of multiple Gods. I still had a huge hangover from the Protestant-derived New Age, where there is generally only one God, maybe a Goddess too, and they are the universe itself. I still retain some of those pantheistic impulses, and I truly think that all that exists is a Sacred Force. However, I do not think it can be defined unto itself, and is probably not that all personally invested in the lives of each of its living things, because we ARE it. The Gods and spirits, on the other hand, are, because they are individual beings just like us.
Anyway, I digress. At the time, interestingly enough (now I’m pretty sure it was a synchronicity) I had decided to switch majors to Religious Studies (another post about why later, perhaps), and so I took my first class in the field. It was about the main deity pathways in Hinduism, so we learned all about Shiva, Vishnu/Krishna, and the Mother Goddess. At first, I felt it was very interesting but I dismissed the idea of multiple Gods. But then as I opened up more to the idea of heathenry, I began to feel Shiva as we talked and read about Him. That was also disturbing. I’m not supposed to think that! I kept telling myself, but He as the Mighty Destroyer of ignorance burned a hole through me, opening me up to the possibility. I honestly think now as I type this that He helped to open me up to Odin and the other Gods. I suppose I should offer him puja sometime in thanks… 😉
Randomly too, I felt Ishtar talking to me that year, remembering her from my enthusiasm about ancient Babylonia. She just kept telling me to go out and have sex and enjoy it (I’ve never pursued a relationship with Her, but I’m sure a Mesopotamian polytheist wouldn’t be surprised at the message!) It’s your first year at college, She said. You need to go out and have sex! I kept dismissing her, as that wasn’t something I wanted to do without a romantic partner, BUT it seems that may have been a prediction about my confusion and confliction about my sexuality that I’d later on endure that year. Deities… they know more about you than you do, ya know?
Since I started accepting the idea of many Gods, and began deprogramming my former New Age self, I felt Odin more and more. He still scared me though, and so a push-pull relationship began… and I’m sad to say I did not truly begin to focus on a deep devotional relationship with Him or the other Gods until I got out of grad school. I suppose it was a lot of fear, and maybe still some unconscious resistance. I nevertheless studied about heathenry and began to rebuild my worldview in accordance to my ancestors. I do not exclusively focus on an Anglo-Saxon path (that feel away after a couple of years) because of the lack of resources compared to the Norse ones, but also because I strongly feel and know that I have Scandinavian blood, so I eventually learned there was no contradiction in practicing both paths, or even combining them. Now I just generally say I’m a heathen, and I really don’t feel that my ancestors care that I don’t stick to one cultural path therein, knowing that I have all sorts of strands of Germanic heritage, and more…
Now I have a regular devotional relationship to Odin, as well as to many other deities in our tradition. He takes up the most time, however. I still don’t know where He is going to take me, but as He is a God of the storms, I know it’s somewhere.