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Who Mends the Broken With Gold

In my previous post, i gave names to some of the facets of Loki that i’ve gotten to know in the couple of years since i first found myself up to my eyeballs in Norse Trickster. But this morning i realised (okay, He nudged me and then i realised) that i’d somehow left one out. Oh, the hazards of hasty copypasta. But this actually works out well, since this side of Loki really deserves its own post.

In my first post of the Month for Loki, i called Loki “Lover of Broken Things, Missing Pieces, and Mismatched Sets”. As Miðjungr (which i translated as “Middle One”), He is the God of the In-Between—places and people both. And it’s certainly not a stretch from the lore to see why He would also be the God of Outcasts. He is the Patron of those oddly-shaped puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit, or the “spare parts” that don’t seem part of the design. He is a lover (and you might even say a collector) of things and people that others might cast aside. He seems to have a fondness for projects. All Powers do, really.

A few years ago, when i was still a Hindu-flavoured archetypal-ish theist, i wrote one night that

When i say that God mends our hearts, what do i mean? I mean that He carefully presses the jagged shards back together, adds the glue that will bind them—and then He holds them together, still and secure, while they take the time needed to knit back together.

(It was about nine months after that when i had my Holy Shit it’s Loki moment. My in-retrospect-not-surprised face, let me show you it.)

I feel i should say at this point that Loki is not unique in His loving care of the broken. I don’t know of any Power who disdains people in their brokenness—and i would not worship such a Power, if there were one. But Loki seems especially fond of broken people, seeming to go out of the way to find and collect them. You have to admit, we Lokeans are a motley crew, full of cracks and holes. We come with a lot of wear-and-tear. But then, in truth, that’s how all people are. Life does not treat any of us gently. To be human is to be born into a never-ending battle that will leave its scars. We are the walking wounded; we are never-not-broken. And, for me, Loki’s lessons regarding brokenness are these:

1. Brokenness, woundedness, these are not exceptions to the rule; we are all of us a little bit broken. That’s what life does to us.
2. Being broken does not detract from the sum of who we are, make us “less” than our best selves. On the contrary, getting broken is a necessary part of growing toward our best selves.
3. Our brokenness is an intimate part of who we are, who we are becoming. So the marks it leaves behind after the wounds have healed—the tender spots and scars—are not meant to be hidden in shame or fear; they should be celebrated. Without these scars, we would not be who we are.

There is a Japanese art form called kintsukuroi, which literally means “gold repair” (or kintsuge, “gold joinery”). It’s the practice of taking broken ceramics and repairing them with lacquer mixed with powdered metal, traditionally gold. But it’s more than just an art; it’s a worldview. Kintsukuroi says that a plate or cup or bowl or vase does not outlive its usefulness when it’s been broken, nor has it become flawed. The chips and cracks and missing pieces are a part of that work’s history—a part of its identity, if you will. It is not lessened by having been broken and put back together again, but augmented. It has Become more than it was before.

A large ceramic vase with a large crack that has been filled with gold

(photo © the artist, David Pike)

He Who Mends the Broken With Gold teaches not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the marks that show how life has broken us in the past. These are not lines of weakness, but of newfound strength. They are not flaws, but a fundamental part of the beauty of our true Being, perfectly imperfect.


A Month for Loki: Adorations

I’ve been terribly negligent of my blog the past few months, and this seemed like a good time (and a good way) to resurrect it: by taking up July as a month for Loki, as many others who honour Him are doing.

The idea was floated by my kindred that this might be a good time to “get to know” Loki better—to engage with facets of His that we don’t know well, if at all. But before doing that, it seemed to me that the best place to begin is to remind myself of Loki as i know Him now. So to that end, i present a series of adorations, giving names to some of the faces of Loki that are familiar to me.

A few of these come directly from lore, but most are my own words. But if any of these titles speaks to you, please feel free to take it and run with it!

I adore You, Sly One
I adore You, Cunning One
I adore You, Middle One
I adore You, Silver-Tongue
I adore You, Trickster
I adore You, Truest of Liars
I adore You, Grieving Parent
I adore You, Odin’s Blood-Brother
I adore You, Bringer of Sexual Confusion
I adore You, Magpie Lord
I adore You, Breaker of Boundaries
I adore You, Divine Transgressor
I adore You, Holy Fool
I adore You, Liminal One
I adore You, Sweet Seducer
I adore You, Magnificent Bastard
I adore You, All-Consuming Fire
I adore You, Heart-Eater
I adore You, Shape-Changer
I adore You, Way-Finder
I adore You, Treasure-Giver
I adore You, Web-Weaver
I adore You, Thread-Tangler
I adore You, Light-Bringer
I adore You, Mover of Stories
I adore You, Remover of Masks
I adore You, Who Loves Children
I adore You, Who Brings the Fire
I adore You, Father of Lost Children
I adore You, Breaker of Chains
I adore You, God of Outcasts
I adore You, God of the In-Between
I adore You, Mad God
I adore You, Ardent God
I adore You, Heartbroken God
I adore You, Not-Safe God
I adore You, Bound and Boundless God
I adore You, Flame to My Moth
I adore You, Still Waters That Run Deep
I adore You, Heart of Fire, Heart of Light
I adore You, Lover of Broken Things, Missing Pieces, and Mismatched Sets
I adore You, Stranger
I adore You Loptr
I adore You, Loki

Hail!


The Rider

In the halls of my heart there comes a Rider to the door.
I thirst, says He. What would you give Me to drink?

They say He eats no food, but only drinks
I would encourage you not to take that too literally
If you’re not careful, He will gladly gulp you down

I’m not necessarily saying you should be careful

If you part your lips with words of thanksgiving
He will drink His name from the cup of your mouth
He will swallow your sighs and supplications
And breathe Himself into the hollows left behind

If you open your flesh to Him in ecstasy
He will sink His teeth into you and drink you dry
Swilling down the sweet and fiery heat of you
And licking His lips in feral satisfaction

If you bare it to Him in ardent offering
He will gently lap the honey from your heart
Like a babe at his mother’s breast
Love made liquid, self-emptying reverence

Be mindful how you pour yourself out
Before offering up the stirrup-cup
For what the Hunter takes into Himself, He keeps
Twining you into His breath and blood and bone


Original Nature

Edit: Sorry this post disappeared after i initially posted it. Something had gone rather spectacularly wrong with the formatting, and i needed a couple minutes to sort it out. Yay technology!

I went to the Rune-Finder to ask for guidance. I’d become stuck in a mire, and unsure how to get out.

“Why isn’t this working? Where should i be looking? What should i be doing?”

He shows me a rune. (I suppose i shouldn’t be surprised)

“Uruz. ‘Strength’? I need more strength?”

He shakes his head, long dark hair streaked with silver swaying.

Ur, He corrects.

“I don’t understand.”

His gaze is twice as sharp, for having only one eye.

What is your original nature?

(This is why i never took jukai in Zen. Koans make me want to pull my lower lip up over the top of my head and then swallow.)

“I don’t understand what You’re asking.”

There is a braid in His hair; he twines it between two fingers, His head tilted thoughtfully to one side.

Before you began listening to the voices of others telling you who you ‘should’ be, who were you? Before family and friends and society began to heap high the burden of expectation that bends you now, when you could still stand straight-backed and look in the mirror and see—not everyone else’s hopes and fears, their desires for achievement by proxy and vicarious worth—just your own fledgeling self, with all its abundant promise. Just you. Who were you then?

I don’t cry in front of many people. It was taught to me very early that tears are a shame and a weakness, a failing, a flaw that if it cannot be destroyed should at the very least be hidden. But i’ve never hidden tears from Him; even if it were possible, it’s never occurred to me to try. His gaze softens only slightly.

I will not tell you who to be; you’ve had far too much of that already. But I will ask, who do you think you are?

“We are our deeds, aren’t we? But if i haven’t done anything worthwhile with my life, then that makes me nobody. I’ve wasted—”

He says nothing, and the look He gives me isn’t even remotely angry. It doesn’t need to be.

The words die and i fall to my knees because in this moment something shifts in Him, and i am resoundingly reminded that my Gods are many, but He is my King.

I do not ask who you want to be, who you would choose to be. You no longer know how to answer that question honestly; your wishes for yourself are so entwined with the internalised desires and expectations of others that you cannot separate them now. This is not necessarily bad—but, He adds with an almost-smile, it has become too much noise. You can no longer hear your own voice over the din inside your head.

“But how can i know what to do when i don’t even know what i want?”

Who you want to be is not the right question, yet. Who are you, right now?

Before i can even begin to go through the litany of identities in my head—who my parents are, who my spouse is, what i studied, where i’ve lived, where i’ve worked, and so on—He waves it all away.

Before all that; beneath all that. Who are you when there are no voices telling you who to be, when no one is watching? What is your first thought when you wake? What is your first feeling, before your mind remembers what you ‘should’ feel? What are you like when you are unafraid? Who are you when you don’t mean to be? What do you do when you cannot help it?

I am brought back to my feet, a weathered hand so large it makes me feel small pressed to the back of my neck, a heavy brow bending down to touch my own. He breathes; i breathe.

Begin there.


Breath and Blood

Greetings intrepid readers! Apologies for the very long hiatus; my husband and i recently moved from the US to the UK, and it’s taken me a little while to get settled in. I’m woefully behind on everyone’s blogs, but i promise to start catching up quickly. I wanted to come back to my Internet kindred with a gift in hand, so i thought i’d share a meditation I’ve been toying with lately.

A few years ago, i came across a meditation taught by a Hindu from the bhakti tradition (i.e., the branch of Hinduism that focuses on cultivating a devotional relationship with one’s ishta-devata). I’ve since expanded and adapted this meditation to suit my own practice. Give it a try, and see if it’s something that resonates with you.


Consider for a moment the creation of Ask and Embla from Völuspá:

Önd þau né átto,
óð þau né höfðo,
lá né læti
né lito góða;
önd gaf Óðinn,
óð gaf Hœnir,
lá gaf Lóðurr
oc lito góða.

Breath had they not,
Feeling had they not,
Nor flowing blood,
Nor comely hues.
Breath gave Óðinn,
Feeling gave Hœnir,
Blood gave Lóðurr
And comely hues.

(I know my translation’s a little loose, but i think it’s defensible)

Many cultures see the soul as being intertwined with the physical breath (önd, like Greek pneuma and Latin anima, carries a primary meaning of breath, and a secondary meaning of spirit/soul), with the soul entering the body on the first breath and leaving on the last. It’s no mistake that the word inspiration etymologically stems from the act of drawing a breath: Those things (or Powers) which inspire us literally breathe into us. It is the gift of Their breath which enlivens us, impassions us, compels us.

We know humans didn’t start as two chunks of wood on the seaside that three Gods felt compelled to turn into sentient hominids—anymore than the sky is the skull of a slain giant being held up by four Dwarfs. As modern Pagans, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do with the myths, these “just-so stories” that just ain’t so; we cast them aside, relegate them to something vague we call “the Mythic Past”, and with a bit of uncomfortable throat-clearing we move on.

Don’t.

The stories are true, and they are not-true. They are untruths that tell the truth about the Powers, about the world, and about ourselves. You breathe because the interstitial muscles tug at your ribs and pull the mostly-nitrogen of the atmosphere inside of you; you breathe because your ancient ancestors evolved the ability to convert poisonous oxygen into cell-fuel, and now the animal life of modern Earth reaps the benefits of that bizarre mutation; you breathe because you were born, because today you are alive. And you breathe because you have been given breath, because it is a gift from the Gods to you.

Don’t leave the story of Ask and Embla gathering dust on a mental shelf, filed away as an illuminating bit of old fiction without effect on your own life. It is your life. It isn’t only that Odin gave the first breath to the first humans; it isn’t even that He gave you your first breath upon entering this life and this world. It is every breath, from first to last.

Sit and feel the air moving in and out of your lungs—this breath, right now—as a gift, freely given, from the Divine. And don’t think of “breath” as some vague abstraction. Odin didn’t give the gift of önd by chanting some runes or waving a magic wand (though those images might be more comfortable, terrified as we often are by intimacy): He gave breath to those first humans by putting His mouth to theirs and breathing into them.

Some cultures and languages refer to kissing poetically as “sharing breath”; that’s exactly what it is. Try to sit with that image, try to experience it that way: It is not you breathing in; it is the Beloved breathing into you. Try to conceive of the simple act of breathing as such an act of intimacy shared between lover and Beloved. Every breath.


The Hindu meditation i originally learned taught to begin by focusing on the sensation of one’s heart—the physical heart, the tireless organ thumping away in your chest. We know how the physical heart actually works, the interplay of muscles and nerves and neurotransmitters and so on. This meditation comes from a time when we didn’t know—but, just as with the true-and-not-true nature of myths and lore, that doesn’t really matter.

Sit for a moment and simply attend to the feeling of your own heartbeat inside your chest. (If you can’t feel it easily, you can lay a hand on your chest, or feel for a pulse-point in your wrist or neck) Many people find just the act of attending to their own heart makes it change, speeding up or slowing down. For some it’s calming; for others it feels uncomfortably vulnerable. Some don’t really have a response; it just is. However you personally react is fine.

Excluding the occasional, very exceptional individual, the vast majority of people experience their physical heart as being beyond their control. Your body “remembers” to breathe without you when you’re busy attending to other things, but you can choose to exert conscious control over your breathing when you want to—this is what makes speaking and singing possible (potential content for a lengthy meditation on Odin, but that’s an aside we’ll have to save for another time…).

But the heart is something different. Even if you focus the entirety of your mind and will upon it, that will not enable you to control it. You can sometimes influence it indirectly, by virtue of what you choose to think or do or say (making yourself more calm or more agitated, for example); but ultimately your heart is beyond the reach of your will. It does as it does, obeying its own inexorable laws with or without your consent. It’s not surprising, then, that we sometimes feel as though our hearts are being compelled by a force outside ourselves: We often speak of intense emotions seeming to squeeze it, pierce it, break it. We speak of experiences that make it tremble, hammer, or race. There is a feeling that our own hearts are not really our own.

Take a moment and come back to the physical sensation of your heart. Feel it expanding and contracting, pushing the blood through your body. Our ancestors must have marvelled at that sensation: laying a hand over it, feeling the ebb and flow of their own life-force rolling on without either their understanding or control. How strange it feels to have something be so intimately yours and yet not, utterly indifferent to your own will, driven by some unseen and unnamed force.

To some Hindus, that force was conceived of as Divine. The heart was understood to be a muscle; but unlike every other muscle in the body, no act of human will could compel it. So then it was reasoned it must be the Divine Will that drives it. But again, like the gift of Odin’s breath, this was not thought of in an abstract way. Rather, it was envisioned as a  pair of Divine hands wrapped around every heart, carefully guiding its every movement from birth to death. Every beat of every heart guided by careful and loving, unseen hands, willed by an incomprehensible Power—both infinitely above and beyond the physical world, and yet also entangled in it with an intimacy beyond words.

This meditation originally comes from a monistic theology, but there is no reason it cannot be adapted by those of us in a more polytheistic frame of mind. Odin needn’t be the Power you conceive of as Breath-Giver. The Beloved, however you personally understand that term, is the Breath-Giver and Blood-Mover. The Beloved can be one, or many, or all.

The lore—whichever lore you hold—is true-and-not-true. You breathe because your ribs move and your chest expands and your lungs fill with air, and you breathe because the Beloved breathes into you. Your heart beats because a complex dance of nerves and muscles and neurotransmitters drives it, and your heart beats because the Beloved has it carefully in hand. Every moment of every day, awake or asleep, the Beloved is mouth-to-mouth with you, buried up to the wrist in you. You live because it is willed that you should live; because the Beloved ardently desires it be so. That is both true and not-true.

St. Augustine is often quoted as saying, “God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves”. But the original Latin, i think, suggests something a bit stronger, a bit more (frighteningly, thrillingly) intimate: Deus intimior intimo meo. I think a good paraphrase for our purposes might be, “the Beloved is more intimate with us than we are with ourselves”.


So the goal of this meditation is to see your life through this lens: that the Beloved moves your breath and your blood. That the Beloved is the source and sustenance of every moment of your life.  Now here’s the part where it gets interesting:

You are the same to Them.

Consider what Divine lips hang on yours, waiting for the next breath to be given. Consider what Divine heart rests trustingly laid in the palms of your hands, unable to move except by your leave.

To paraphrase from the Christian tradition, we live through, and with, and in the Gods. But likewise They live through, and with, and in us. They are our Elder Kin, bound as much to us as we are to Them. W/we sustain each other; W/we inspire each other. We are the breath and blood of the Gods, as They are to us.

From the Gods to the earth to us
From us to the earth to the Gods
A gift for a gift.


Surrendering

I had my Holy Shit The Gods Are Real moment just over two years ago. One day i was a monist who believed all deities were man-made archetypes representing facets of a singular Divinity, worshipping Shiva as my “chosen deity” and pursuing life as a Weird White HinduTM. The next, i was getting every last inch of my worldview rocked by a certain Silvertongue.

I can’t say that i was happy about this turn of events. I liked being the Weird White Hindu, having Shiva as my one and only ishta-devata. Loki’s sudden presence messed up everything, and i let Him know it. I told Him he had the wrong address, that i was perfectly fine with things just the way they were, and didn’t have room in my life or my brain for more than one Power. I told Him i didn’t like Paganism (i’d dabbled as a teenager and decided it wasn’t for me), and i wasn’t really the “Trickster” type.

When that failed to convince, i comforted myself by insisting that obviously He and i had crossed paths for only a short while, and that soon whatever shiny-object-ness about me had momentarily attracted His attention would wear off. He’d lose interest; He’d leave. And then i could get back to my life. My “normal” life, the life i liked.

As you can probably guess, that’s not how this worked out.

We found a way to make it work—the Weird White Hindu who also, occasionally, honored Loki. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes awkward, sometimes infuriating. But through it all there was a growing thread of sweetness to it.

When He first made Himself known, i didn’t trust Him as far as i could throw the Snaptun stone. I resented the way He’d crept into my life and added all these complications i hadn’t wanted. While i was grateful that His arrival had triggered my The Gods Are Real epiphany, enabling me to recognize the relationship i had with Actually-Shiva, at the same time i deeply disliked that Loki was inserting Himself in the middle of that. I was trying to be a good Shiva-bhakta, pursuing an ever more single-pointed focus on my connection to my ishta-devata. Loki was an unwelcome interloper in that arrangement, and i resented that. I continued to hope He would tire of His new plaything, and move on to other, more interesting pursuits.

I never wanted to love Him. It felt like a betrayal of Shiva, of my chosen path, of everything i considered important to my spiritual identity. I felt like confessing to Loki that i loved Him was crossing a point of no return—that my life now could never go back to what it had been before. And oh, i hated Him for it.

And then Shiva’s presence grew fainter, until it was made clear that He didn’t want to be my ishta-devata, didn’t want me to be Hindu. There were tears, and there were goodbyes.

“You did this,” i said to Loki, and not kindly. “You ruined everything. I was happy before You showed up. Why couldn’t You go screw up someone else’s life?”

The truth, of course, was that i felt terribly guilty—like an inconstant woman who’d strayed from her husband to pursue some short-lived infatuation with an interesting newcomer. I’d been proven fickle, unfaithful, undevoted. I decided that must have been Loki’s game from the start: to waltz His way into the middle of my lukewarm devotional relationship and reveal that the emperor had no clothes. And now that He’d proven His point, i expected Him to crow about it for a little while, and then leave me with the remaining pieces of my thoroughly broken spiritual life.

When i had encountered Loki in meditation for the first time, my immediate thought had been that i was playing with fire. Now Loki had gone and burned my house down, and i felt i had no one to blame but myself (because you can’t blame the fire; fire just is). I thought He’d done it to amuse Himself, just because He could.

When i confessed that i had grown to love Loki, there wasn’t even a passing thought in my mind that maybe He would ever love me. As i told Him recently, “I’d known You would be clever; i’d never imagined You would be kind.”

But kind He was. When Shiva left (not entirely left, mind you; i still feel His presence occasionally, at the edges of my mind), He was calm and comforting while i slowly sorted through my grief. Even as i ranted and raged at Him, He bore it with quiet patience.

But then He reminded me of a dream from a few weeks before i’d met Him—a beautiful and meaningful dream that i’d come to associate with Shiva, a memory that i treasured—and basically said, “That dream was real, but it wasn’t Him. It was Me.”

I raged again, with renewed vigor. How dare He come in the midst of my grief, dig His claws into the most vivid and precious memory i had of Shiva, and claim it for Himself? I raged and cried, called Him a liar and a thief and a thousand other angry things. He bore that quietly too, even as i felt a twinge of anger growing in Him.

I can’t really say what changed; i’m not sure exactly when i started to believe Him. But together we’ve sifted through my memories, and i see now what i had refused to see before: that He’s there. He’s in my dreams, in fever-visions, in half-written stories and childhood daydreams; he’s been hiding behind favorite characters and overly insistent plot-bunnies for as long as i’ve been drawn to stories. Everywhere i look in my past, i find Him.

Loki didn’t push Shiva aside, usurping His place in my heart (and anyway, as Loki told me two years ago, “the Heart isn’t a finite quantity”). He was there first. I have memories going back two decades that i’d simply assumed must have been of Shiva because He was the first of the Powers i’d recognized in my life.

There are still questions i don’t have answered, pieces to the puzzle that don’t yet fit. I don’t fully understand why Loki couldn’t just “show Himself” from the beginning, or why i got nudged in the direction of Hinduism for years before i found my way to where i am now. I don’t understand why Shiva (and a few other members of the Hindu pantheon) took an interest in me, if They knew (?) Loki was already around—and if They did know, why didn’t Anybody tell me?

I still have a lot of questions, some of which might never get answered. But this morning, Loki just gave me one:

“Do you trust Me?”

The answer is yes. For better or for worse, yes Beloved. I do.


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