I have loved Njord since I first had the intense UPG (shared by others too) that He adopted Sigyn and raised Her with love and care. Understanding that about Her was the key to developing a relationship with Him for me. When Raven shared this piece with me this last week, I wept like a child and then went and made offerings to Njord and asked permission from Raven to share this piece here. fortunately, he was willing. –GK
Learning from Goodfather Njord
by Raven Kaldera
Many years ago I took an intensive astrology course that gave me a number of really good tools for introspection. During some of the classes, we did long guided meditations in which we were encouraged to personify ten planets and five asteroids in our astrological chart. For those who don’t know or care about astrology, think of it as a meditation where you are encouraged to imagine, meet, and talk to fifteen different aspects of yourself, sorted by titles like “the part that does romantic relationships”, “the disciplinarian”, “the wounded part”, and so forth. As I went through the meditation, each aspect of myself congealed into a face, a body, and an environment. (Astrologically, their “home” was reflected in the “house” where that planet was located in the chart.) Some were male, some female, some shifted back and forth. Some were strong and powerful, others weak and hurting. I journaled heavily about this system of self-discovery, and over the years I found myself revisiting it again and again, checking in on my various aspects. It allowed me to figure out what parts of myself were complaining and in need of attention.
Probably the most pathetic one of all was the face that appeared when the meditation took me to “visit” the asteroid Ceres in my chart. For the non-astrologers, think “the part of yourself that nurtures others”. Mine is in Cancer, unaspected, retrograde, and in the twelfth house; think “hard to access, and hidden most of the time.” She appeared as a young woman, not even out of her teens, half-starved with dark circles around her eyes, living her life in a dark basement. I fled from the image, and besides writing about it in my journal, didn’t look at it for a long time. Nurturing had never come easily or naturally to me, even when I was co-parenting a child. I did my best to be a kind and reasonable parent, and to remember to be affectionate even when it felt forced, but I constantly felt like I was moving blindly through a role I didn’t feel, even as I loved my kid. My partners all knew that I’d willingly do things for them if asked, but caregiving just wasn’t my thing.
I should backtrack and recount that I come from an extremely dysfunctional childhood with ill and violently physically abusive parents. As the oldest child, I was expected to take on adult duties at a very young age, including caring for my younger sibling and sometimes even my parents themselves, and I hated it. I was forced to take over the cleaning of the house, even before I reached puberty; I deliberately screwed up and burned all attempts to force me to cook anything more complicated than toast, so that I couldn’t be made to take that on as well. When I failed in my adult duties, which was often, I was brutally beaten. Caretaking, to me, was a painful prison. It was no surprise that my Ceres, my nurturing part, was hungry and shut up in the dark. I just didn’t know what to do about it, because I couldn’t seem to break those associations.
Nothing changed for decades until this year, when suddenly Njord showed up. I’d had visionary encounters with Him before, but I’d always been the one who approached respectfully and asked for advice or aid. This time He showed up while I was lying in bed, just barely awoken in the morning. “So,” He said cheerfully. “It’s time to do something about that poor abused Ceres of yours.”
Earlier in the week, I’d been checking in on my various astrological “self-aspects” (with the exception of Ceres whom I’d ceased to visit because it was too depressing), and it had occurred to me that I’m a polytheist; were my different aspects drawn to my different Gods? Might they each be sort of henotheistic with one of the various deities in my personal Peanut Gallery? I visualized each aspect and asked the question. Some did, some didn’t. My Saturn has always belonged to Hela; my Pluto was enamored of Shiva; my Neptune is devoted to Fenrir; my Venus reacts to Frey like a schoolgirl with a rock star; my Uranus tends to prefer elemental or plant or animals spirits. Some didn’t have a deity-of-choice at all. But now here was Njord, speaking up for the imprisoned and least loved part. “I know all about astrology, you know,” He said. “We sailors spend a lot of time staring at the sky. It was one of the few things Skadi and I bonded over – she stared at a lot of stars out on those frozen fields. Give me your Ceres,” He said, “and I’ll do some healing on those old wounds. Let him make me his God and I’ll do right by him.”
“Him?” I said. “I thought she was a girl.”
“At the moment,” He said, “but you notice that she’s not a grown woman, some Earth Mother-type with huge tits who pushes out babies? The sort of woman you’d expect a nurturer to be? No, she was pushed into the job too young, without adequate feeding herself, which is why she’s so ineffective. I think she’d do better as a man. He’d have more confidence. And we have to get him out of that dark basement.”
“The twelfth house symbolizes places of confinement,” I said. “I’m just going with the symbolism here.”
Njord rolled His blue eyes. “Yes, it’s confinement, and dark basements, and hospitals, and prisons … but it’s also dream, and fantasy, and the wellspring of poetry. You came up with that image, in your pain. I’ve got a better one. How about a ship, for example? You can’t exactly leave a ship without drowning, once it’s at sea, but it’s a lot more comfortable than being locked in the basement. At least my ship is. There are stars, and sunset over the ocean, and camaraderie. Let me have him for my crew. He can sail off when you’re not enacting that part of you, and come back to dock when someone in your life needs him.” He paused. “And if he stays with me, I’ll teach him how to be a good father, in a way you never got to understand.”
I remembered how Njord is, in spite of His wanderings, very much a family man. He loves and is proud of His twin children, He dandles Freya’s daughters on His knee, He cares about His wife at home and is honestly glad She has other consorts to keep Her company while He is away. He is the Goodfather in a very real sense, with experience in frith-making that is honed on a ship, where people can’t leave and have to learn how to get along. Very much like a family, in its own way. What else could I do but agree? I needed some breakfast, because my blood sugar was falling, but I resolved to visit my poor incarcerated Ceres later in the day, and get her opinion of the matter.
It’s funny how parts of one’s self respond dramatically to the presence of Gods in ways that one’s own personal efforts can’t achieve. When I went down into that basement, my nurturing aspect had already shifted shape and was waiting expectantly. He was a bearded man in a knitted sweater and rubber boots, no longer young, but still thin and hollow-eyed. “I’m going to be the ship’s cook,” he told me. “Njord says if I work in the kitchen I’ll never go hungry.”
“Um, I don’t really know how to cook,” I said.
“You don’t,” he said. “Did you ever ask me about it?”
Later that week, I went into trance and formally brought this personified aspect of myself to Njord. I envisioned that the dark basement was in a shack within walking distance of the beach, and I brought him out and walked him to where Njord’s ship was anchored – not a Viking ship, but a full-rigged Victorian number with mast after mast of billowing sails. He got into the rowboat and was brought to the ship, where Njord pierced his ear with a gold ring and showed him to the kitchen cauldrons. The surge of joy from deep inside me was so intense it made me cry. It still does, when I picture him standing on the deck of the ship, hair blowing, well-fed, handing out bowls of food to a laughing crew with a twinkle in his eye that he’s recently learned from a certain old blue-eyed sailor.
The external-world manifestation of this internal shift was that I suddenly started cooking. Like, seriously cooking. OK, some of what I made wasn’t exactly great, but you have to start somewhere, right? I’ve always been lucky to have partners who were decent-to-good cooks, so I never really had to learn how to do more than a few token dishes, but now the Goodfather had that part of me working the pots and cauldrons. I eventually surprised myself by making more elaborate dishes like chicken korma – I wonder what port they pulled into in order to inspire that? – including grinding all the spices for it. And, just today, baba ganoush! My partners were told about Njord’s rescuing of my hesitant and newly-fledged nurturing self, and when I made a special snack for one of them and he said, “My compliments to the ship’s chef,” I got the feeling that he blushed and scuffed the deck with his boot.
Njord’s rescue is just in time. My adult daughter is working on having a baby, and I’ll be Grandpa. Maybe, the second generation around, I’ll feel something besides confusion and resentment. Maybe Goodfather Njord will show me the way. After all, His children are the most beautiful ones in the Nine Worlds. With a resumé like that, how could we lose?
(excerpted with permission of the author from a forthcoming devotional to Njord. Folks, i believe there are still a few days left to submit pieces –end of april if i’m not wrong. If you have something for Njord, please consider sending it as a submission to the devotional to cauldronfarm at hotmail.com).
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My friend Raven shared this piece with me over this past weekend. We were discussing many things and the subject of boundaries and traditions arose. This was, I believe, written in the wake of the Pantheacon debacle several years ago. I found it powerfully moving and asked permission to share it with you here.
The Third Voice
I lift my arms to the vaulted darkness of the Underworld, and call on my spirit-ancestors. “Kurgarra, galatur, those who walked the Third Path and rescued Goddess from Goddess, guide me on this journey.” For I will most certainly need every ounce of your aid.
I am a shaman in the Northern Tradition. Within the praxis of Northern Tradition Shamanism, I’m a particular type of shaman. There’s a word for me in Old Norse: ergi, argr. There’s some debate about exactly how that should be defined historically, but anthropologically it’s part of the same package as the male-bodied Siberian shamans a little further east who wore skirts, took husbands, and channeled female spirits as part of their spiritual path. When scholars throughout the ages have interviewed gender-crossing spirit-workers around the world, they ask them why they did it … and the answer is never “I was uncomfortable in my body.” When they actually get an answer, it tends to be “The spirits told me that I had to do it or I would die.”
I’m also a transgendered intersexual. I was born with an intersex condition – congenital adrenal hyperplasia – and raised female until the age of 30 when I chose to take testosterone and transition to a male presentation. I did it for a variety of reasons. One of them was straight-up nasty old body dysphoria. One of them was the fact that estrogen made me physically worse and testosterone made me significantly better. But the biggest reason was that the Gods and spirits told me that I had to do it.
When the many grad students who have interviewed me hear me say that, they get a funny look in their eyes. It’s the same look that they get when I talk about how Gods and spirits talk to me, work with me, help me to do the work that I do with the clients who come to me. And yet, for me, my gender situation is entirely wound up with my religious beliefs and practices. I couldn’t have one without the other. I am a Neo-Pagan, not because I once thought that it was a cool religion that wouldn’t tell me that I was sinful for being what I am, but because the Gods came for me and I had no choice … in getting sex reassignment or in becoming a shaman. The two processes are remarkably similar, although not the same.
Eighteen years ago when I was working towards transitioning from female to male, there was hardly anything about transgender in Pagan spirituality. When one transwoman wrote hesitantly into Green Egg magazine (this was before the age of the Huge Internet, and magazines were a big deal back then, children) about whether there was a spiritual place for her in Neo-Paganism, she received a raft of flak from people of both end-spectrum genders, telling her that there were men and there were women, like the God and Goddess, and she was clearly delusional. My anger at that mail exchange pushed me to write the book Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, the first book ever written on our spiritual paths, which has now gone into its second edition and is still selling steadily. The main message was simple, and is one that I still believe in: we are sacred, just as we are.
I didn’t know that this road I was traveling would lead to my becoming a third gender shaman. I didn’t know that I would face clinical near-death and meet my Goddess; that I would come back with Her orders ringing in my ears. You are the shaman for the tribe of those like yourself, those in the middle. There are enough of them now that they merit a shaman, and so I have given them … you. Whether you like them, whether you agree with them, whether they like or agree with you, they are still your people. Serve them as you can, in the way I have shown you.
I asked the Gods Of Gender Transgression to come to me and teach me their mysteries, and they did – Baphomet, Lilith, Shiva, Dionysos, Aphrodite Urania, Athena, Obatala, Ellegua, Loki, Coyote, Jormundgand, and many others. As I write this article in the wake of a controversy stemming from a ritual to Lilith, some of them stand forth and speak, and I write down their words as fast as I can.
In the northeast, Lilith comes, in her transgendered form of the hairy goddess. That’s what they called her in ancient times – the hairy goddess, covered in hair like the ass and goat and other animal forms she takes. Bringer of lust, bringer of infertility. Baby-killer. In this form, no one is quite sure what is between her legs. People try to deny this side of her, the side that so resembles the hairy, lustful, infertile intersex condition that I was born with. She whirls like a dervish, her curved sword slicing the air like the desert scirocco that is her symbol, and her owl-golden eyes meet mine. Her voice is like the lash of a sandstorm.
Woman’s power? Yes, I am woman’s power … and one of women’s powers is to step halfway away from being a woman, just as the opposite is true for men. I am also the power of truth, and of speaking that truth. There are truths here that women need to speak. The first one is this: We do not want you in our space, No-Longer-Man, not because we fear your chromosomes or your resculpted bodies. It is because we fear your upbringing, and that you will not have fully shed it … and as we do not wish to fully shed ours, why should we not assume that for you?
This is the first gate, the gate that no one speaks of, the gate that is not biology but culture. Women’s culture, the messy, slurry mix of women still only halfway out of all they have been taught that they should be, and only halfway to what they could be, and still unsure of where the lines should be drawn. You fear the woman who does not understand what it is to be raised female in this culture, who may say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, assume an entitlement that they were raised to expect, and that you have not yet convinced yourselves that you can demand. And yes, they will do this sometimes, because that is the way of things.
This is the first gate, O Women-Raised-Women, not the second one which is the mysteries of the body, of the womb that gives forth blood and babies. You point to the second gate and bar it, while pretending the first gate is not there … and then cry out when No-Longer-Man walks through the first gate unknowing. And to teach them how to pass that first gate? You would have to face how divided you are, how far each of you has left to go. You would have to go back to arguing amongst yourselves about what parts of how a woman acts should be – or can be – discarded. And this is the first mystery of Those In Between: They force Those Who Are Not to look at their own flaws, whether they will or no. Honor that Mystery, if you would have them honor yours.
And there is one more truth that must be spoken: the second gate, the gate of the womb mysteries, is not open to all who were raised women. Some have no wombs. Some have no connection to their wombs, nor is it their path to do so. To speak that this mystery is open to everyone with a vagina is to hurt those sisters of yours for whom it is not. Better, instead, to speak the truth: that no mystery is open to everyone who claims a certain word, but instead that Spirit cries out to like Spirit, and it is Spirit who should choose.
In any religious argument, there are three voices. The first two are the ones that everyone thinks when they imagine a theological argument: “But this is the way we’re used to doing it, and we believe the religious information spoken and written by others in the past which tells us this is the right way to do things!” and “But this practice upsets/disempowers/damages some people, and it would be more fair to them to change it in this way over here…” The traditionalist and the reformer are usually the two who go toe to toe with each other, and can deadlock for hours or years or centuries over their points … which may be equally valid in their own ways.
The third voice is that of the mystic, and it is universally hated by the other two. It’s the voice that says, “Well, I talked to God/the Gods/the spirits/the ghost of the dead guy last night, and I was told this…” Neither of them wants to hear the mystic’s voice, because it is elitist. It suggests that the Gods/spirits are talking to the mystic and not to them. (Which, historically and unfortunately, is sometimes true.) The mystic’s voice rarely says things that are comforting, and rarely says things that seem fair. There’s also that Neo-Pagans, in a religion largely of converts, are extremely distrustful of anyone who claims to be a mystic, or more of a mystic than every Pagan is promised that they can be if they only try. That voice is disliked equally as much as the Third Voice of Gender, the one who stands between male and female. Both force people to confront what they believe, and what possibilities the Universe may hold that they cannot yet see.
I am that Third Voice in both those contexts, no matter where I go. As the ergi shaman, it’s my job, and I do it because I cannot do otherwise … no matter how uncomfortable it makes everyone feel.
Instead of moving around the circle, I pass through the center, where Baphomet sits enthroned. There are some who say that he is the brother (or brother/sister) of Lilith. Goat-horned, goat-footed, hairy breasts and enormous erection with a toothed cunt beneath it, his yellow eyes are slitted dangerously at me. His voice is gravelly, like a she-male whore who has smoked for a thousand years, and he crooks a scarlet-nailed finger at me.
It is the same for the men’s side, you know. Those No-Longer-Women might come in with assumptions about how things are to be done. They might not understand how important the physical urges are, how much priority is laid on the cock and its desires. Having struggled so much with culture when they loved as women, they might remonstrate with men for not doing the same, at least not where they can see it. The truth that is spoken here is: You have no cock, not like ours. The truth that is unspoken is: You who say you want to be a man, how dare you come into this place and tell us that our male way of doing things is not right? How dare you tell us what our cocks should and should not want? Those are women’s words. It is not your place to say these things. But this is not spoken aloud. And how is change to be made if truth is hidden?
Sex is in it too, you see. Man or woman, it does not matter – Those In Between confuse the cock, the cunt, and because they are not fully listening with their whole bodies and their whole minds, they do not see how much of the discomfort comes from their fetish becoming confused, half-fulfilled and half-denied. Is desiring a male body, a female body, a fetish? I say it is. I say that all desire is fetish. I say also that until everyone faces the mumbling voice of the genitals, faces how much secret power it has over their response to the Third, we will never have true honesty or real change.
The story of Neo-Paganism may not start embryonically with British Traditional Wicca, exactly, but it marks its birth with that denomination. The whole theology of traditional Wicca is based on the sacredness of gender polarity, a duotheism of Lady and Lord. When it appeared, it was hailed as a huge improvement over a single male-only divine monotheism, sometimes with an ambivalent underclass-polytheism of male and female saint-figures who submitted to the male Godhead, and sometimes alone except for a son/avatar/gentler second self. The whole idea that God could be conceived of both male and female equally – and of equal importance – in a loving and erotic embrace was a stunningly heretical idea … and still is in many other subcultures.
Eventually, Neo-Paganism would fracture and spread and develop versions of Goddess-only monotheism, ungendered or multiply-gendered pantheism, and a host of vigorous polytheisms based partly on recreating ancient religions more closely and partly on a blossoming of personal contacts with the plural divine. To those who hailed a bicolor flag over a monochromatic one, the rainbow-watercolor blendings of pantheism and the vibrant many-textured patchwork of polytheism may seem like a confusing swirl, especially given what both of them say about the gender of the holy and the holiness of gender.
It’s been said that the Lord/Lady gender duality of traditional Wicca is such an overwhelming theological truth for Wiccans that it is equivalent to the resurrection of Christ for Christians. This makes it challenging for transgendered people in many Wiccan-based groups … and since Wicca is still the single largest Pagan sect (the comparison has been made of “Wicca is to Neo-Pagan as Catholic is to Christian”), it’s statistically likely that this is what the new seeker will encounter. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Wicca should ditch its Holy Grail. Instead, I’m suggesting that there should be religious materials for well-meaning but bewildered high priests and high priestesses who find someone transgendered in their circle. Perhaps they can be treated as someone who can play both sides and learn both mysteries. Perhaps they can be seen as a blending of Lord and Lady, the fifth point of the pentagram. Perhaps they are binary-identified enough to be fine with being seen as just another kind of man or woman. At worst, perhaps the clergy member in question can have the contact information for local non-Wiccan Pagan groups on hand. There’s a great deal of honor in saying, “You’re not right for us, but I’ll make it my business to help you find a place that’s right for you.”
I cross to the southwest, and I face Dionysos. Long hair tosses and girlish lips laugh at me in a boy’s face. His slender body is wrapped in a purple woman’s chiton, with a leopard-skin thrown over his shoulder. The chiton slips down, revealing one nipple on a flat, hairless chest. His feet are clad in red buskins with built-up wooden heels – the first high heels, representing the bull-footed god. Sacred drag queen, her breath is the first pressing of sweet wine in an Attic grove, or perhaps the whisky-sodden fumes of an alcoholic slumped down in the alley behind the bar. He’ll take them all, he doesn’t care. Her voice is musical, charming, like the hazel eyes that tease me.
Ah, my Third Children. What will you do when you think you have all the answers, and then all the questions change again? That is what happens when you mess with Mysteries. By their nature, Mysteries are not open to everyone. By their nature, Mysteries are not fair. By their nature, Mysteries are terrifying, frustrating, dangerous, transforming, and never what you expect them to be. When you rip off the veil and expose them to the light, they vanish, and you are left with a pile of ashes that is not worth fighting over.
Coming to a Mystery of any kind with the merest hint of the thought in your head: “This will validate some part of my identity; this will prove to myself or others that I am this or that” – it is a guaranteed way to make the Mystery refuse to show itself to you. Coming to a Mystery with the thought of “I am entitled to this; I should be allowed in on principle” will make the Mystery run from you. No one is entitled to a Mystery. Even those who are allowed in may not be shown its ways. There is no guarantee. The only attitude to have when approaching a Mystery is: I am ready to be torn apart, however You choose to do that. If you cannot come to the ritual with nothing but this in your mind, you should not be there. Go clean and stripped of desires, or the Universe will teach you something the hard way.
Remember that your own mysteries – and you do have them – can tear apart the single-gendered just as easily, if they were to come to them in other than a humble manner. Remember that there are many powers in the world, all worthy of respect, and sometimes respect means lowering the eyes and keeping a distance … and that includes the reaction of another to your own Mystery, even if you are the only one who holds that particular space. But, of course, you are never the only one.
The first time I ever ran into the issue of transfolk at a single-gender Pagan event was more than twenty years ago. I hadn’t gotten the courage to look at my gender issues yet, and I was one of the three priestesses doing a women’s ritual at a major Pagan gathering. There was a transwoman present, and during the after-ritual discussion she wept and thanked several of the nontrans women present for vouching for her, standing up for her, making sure that she got in. At the time, I didn’t know that years later, we would date and eventually marry. I didn’t know that she would show me, with her hands and body, that it was possible to be who I really was and still be loved.
I didn’t know that no one with gender dysphoria can sleep every night with a transitioned transsexual and not be forced to deal with their issues. Especially when the Gods are after them. Then I had to look at all these issues close up, and realize that I had to make choices. I would never again walk into women’s ritual space, especially after testosterone had irrevocably changed my face and voice and body. I would not walk into any men’s space where I was not known and welcomed by all. When “women and trans” spaces appeared, I realized sadly that I couldn’t go there either. A space predicated on the concept that all people raised male and choosing to remain that way are uneducable and cannot ever be trusted is not a worldview I can honestly immerse myself in. This restricts me to pansexual space and various trans-only spaces (and only if the boundaries around the trans-only spaces are self-selecting; a matter of “you are one if you say you are one and are willing to be treated that way, if only for now”). I’m not mourning this, however. After all, it does give me the whole rest of the world.
But I also have faith in myself to be able to hold the energy of any space that I create, and to keep it tolerant and open in spirit. In our Pagan church, we have a large segment of queer and trans people – and we also have folks who aren’t. We have farmers who appreciate the cycle of life and to whom “fertility” means not human procreation but plants and animals, and city people who have never experienced any of that. We’ve learned to walk the line between honoring the biological mysteries (which we all take part in, if only because we were born, and we eat food) as well as the mysteries that sidestep or override them. We’ve learned to honor both the “standard” and the “exception” when it comes to the sacredness of bodily reality. We’ve learned ways to include everyone at least some of the time, and calmly put forth that it’s impossible to include everyone all the time, and that this is fine. We’ve found that having areas of sincere and real inclusivity can go a long way toward tolerance of occasional rituals with a more limited demographic.
An example of this is our yearly Beltane ritual. We’ve been doing this for almost two decades now, and we can’t imagine doing it any other way. The men hunt for the pole, the women clear out the hole and make offerings into it, and the third gender people form a human chain to bring the two groups together. This gives the fertility rite an extra dimension: it also becomes a magical act to bring together the male and female principle all over the world, and binds that to an earthy reality. We also make it clear that the three groups are self-selecting; people can choose which energy they want to embody any given year, but they have to actually work at embodying it. (We’ve had teens in our church float from group to group over a period of years, finding themselves and their identities.) At the same time, our Green Man and May Queen are a gender-normative and anatomically-normative fertile male-female couple, because they embody the biological mystery of procreation and earthly fertility. By honoring both sides, we create a full spectrum of reality where people don’t put all their energy into resentment or personal mourning. In twenty years, all we’ve had are compliments.
I move widdershins around the circle to the southeast and face Shiva, sitting cross-legged on his mountaintop. The black hair on one side is drawn up into the neat coil of a high-born woman; the other side hangs long and tangled like a forest hermit. His eyes are closed, including the third one in the middle of his forehead, but as I approach the lower two slowly open. I am fixed, paralyzed, by the intensity of his stare. The snake wound around his shoulders lifts its head as he does, adding its gaze to his. The voice that comes from his blue-scarred throat is like the echo in a deep cave.
Illusions. These are illusions, these lines that are being drawn. They do not come from the deep truth. And the idea that there are no lines is an illusion as well. How is this so? Because in the end, it is the body of energy – not the body of flesh, not the mind, not the ideas, not the heart and its emotions – that counts.
You cannot see the body of energy? Learn. If you would learn the truth, learn how. Until then, begin to burn your illusions. Do not concern yourself with how they came to be. Just take your most cherished ideas about gender … and, one by one, see if you can live without them for a week, a month, a year. One at a time, consign them to the cremation ground. Those that survive a year of fires, they are real. All others are illusions. One at a time. It is a lifetime’s worth of honorable work.
What would it be like if our first questions in this matter were not political but religious? What would it be like if our first line of questioning was not to debate, or to research, but simply to pray? Imagine if the whole lot of us humbly knelt and asked, “Holy Powers, I cannot be objective about this matter. It burns in me too strongly; it touches too much old pain. Please, help me to get past that pain. Help me to see things as they really are, however that is. Help me to see things as You see them. Help me to see beyond myself and my limited horizons.” And then imagine us all listening, really listening, to what is said in the not-so-empty spaces between our self-involved thoughts.
What would it be like? If this last question has made you profoundly uncomfortable, that’s good. It means that you’re getting ready to look hard at what it means to have a faith, rather than a subculture or a philosophy or a political movement or a social group, or even a personal spiritual practice. Because of our unscrutinized theology, the question of gender is intimately tied up with the question of faith. Modern Neo-Paganism continually shies away from questions of theology, because people might disagree with each other, and what would we all do then? Most of our models for theological disagreement come from a history of murder and torture over the issue. We don’t have good rules for peaceful disagreement, and we are not yet ready to take on that challenge, so our solution has been to pretend that we don’t have theologies, or that we all have basically the same theology, so why bother to talk about it? Until, of course, they collide … and even then we pretend that the question is political or personal, not theological.
I cross the center again, but it is a bridge over a dark chasm. On the opposite side – the northwest – stands a figure clad in shimmering robes of blue-green, ocean shading to tree shading to starry heavens. Her face is that of a beautiful woman, but she wears a full beard like an echo of a sideshow lady. Her eyes and lips are painted, and her graceful hands are tiny and feminine, decorated with henna. Her voice is warm and sweet as honey, and she touches my arm gently. She is Aphrodite Urania, the Bearded Aphrodite of Cyprus, She Who Builds Bridges And Crosses Boundaries. She is a light in the darkness which has grown around me as I have walked the path of this problem, and I am grateful.
I beseech you, do not forget Love in all this! Do not forget that one never knows where the heart may land … or, rather, no one knows but me! Do not forget that it is always more honorable to build a bridge than to storm a gate, and that doing it with Love is the best way – Love, not pride, or determination, or anger, is the gentle water that will slowly erode the stone, almost without its notice. Be that water; be the ocean who yields unhurt when struck, but then flows again gently to fill all space. Do not let your pain overcome your ability to love, or you have already lost. Wherever there can be compassion on both sides, there the people have actually triumphed.
Also, do not forget the sacred work of those who take on loving those of your tribe. Let there be places in your rites of love not just for the couple of opposites and the two couples of sameness, but for all the beautiful combinations that mixing with your tribe creates. The sacred stories of those combinations were never written down, and so you must rewrite them. Where is the story of how the bonfire, sitting still in one place and unchanging save for its lifetime, drew to it the lightning that constantly transformed itself, and how they fell in love? Where is the story of how the moth who chrysalized loved the fly who did not? Where is the story of the two dragonflies and how they taught each other how to grow from larvae? If they are gone, reinvent them. That way you’ll know how they end, and will have something to strive for.
I am the Love that crosses all boundaries, even those which are most carefully kept. I am the most terrible of them all, for no one can resist me when I seize two who are far apart and bring them together. And yes, sometimes I do put people in a position where they must choose between their community and their heart … because the best way to change that situation is to tell that story, over and over again. Be assured, when I call you to my altar, you will choose for your heart. You will not dare to do otherwise … and all must see that Love triumphs over politics, inevitably and inexorably.
We may not always know what to do when we are faced with the great tangle that is Divinity and humanity and Nature and culture. We may hurt ourselves and each other figuring it all out. We may take many decades and many tears to work our way around it. But the Gods are watching us, make no mistake. They are watching, and this is a test … for everyone involved. This issue is more core to our future than we dare understand. Where our religion goes from here will depend on whether we pass or fail.
Raven Kaldera is a Northern-Tradition Pagan shaman, herbalist, astrologer, FTM transgendered intersexual activist, homesteader, and founding member of the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel. He is a speaker for the dead of the trans tribe, and has been presenting internationally on Paganism, transgender, and alternative lifestyles for many years. He is the author of too many books to list here, including Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, Pagan Polyamory, The Northern Shamanic Herbal, and Double Edge: The Intersections of Transgender and BDSM. His hub website is http://www.ravenkaldera.org. >Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.
(reprinted with permission of the author from the anthology “Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism” edited by Gina Pond).
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
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I was so moved when I read this, that I asked LVB for permission to share it here. One day, I hope the situations are reversed, or at the very least, that we have our shrines and temples and groves peppering our towns and cities too.
Something to Consider…
To all of my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim brothers and sisters: here is a slice of life from my point of view as a pagan/polytheist.
I think too many people take for granted how many churches line the streets, how many temples and mosques stretch across the landscape, how many people have spiritual advisors and pastors and priests and ministers for guidance, when all I have is a tiny shrine at home and a visit to a museum where Gods are treated as fascinating yet primitive antiquities.
It’s strange that, for some people, walking into a museum is a wonderful experience, an opening into a different world while still remaining in the the present. Looking at cool old stuff. For me, walking into a museum is a religious experience. That’s what it was like for me yesterday wandering through the Walters Museum as a polytheist.
There’s nothing like Sekhmet looking down Her gaze at me expecting a physical sign of reverence, or walking through passageways that are sacred spaces holding Gods behind glass, or feeling the watch of the Gods and spirits over me as They firmly command, “Do not disrespect Our Dead” when I take out my phone to take pictures of mummies and of Greco-Roman sarcophagi.
There’s nothing like the tender, encouraging gaze of a Muse who looked down upon me as She planted a seed of strength in my heart. There’s nothing like seeing statues of Venus, whom I worship, and feeling Her smile and laugh playfully in greeting, as if it were a funny sort of events that led us to each other by pure accident like a comedy.
To others, a museum is just a glorified showcase: a place with old, beautiful things that do not belong with cellphones and Netflix. Things that don’t exist anymore.
To me, it’s a temple: a place where my Gods sit behind glass and watch as I struggle to give some sort of offering, watch as They seem to know that I Love Them, watch as I process the bittersweet feeling that the people passing behind me see articles of faith in an act of tourism.
So many places of worship line the streets. There are so many resources for those who have spiritual troubles, who want to strengthen their faith, who want to be involved in community. Please don’t take that for granted, people, because for me, it is a great source of pain that I have to enter a glorified, collectionist showcase – a museum – to look at my Gods. I don’t have a support base. I don’t have an expert I can consult when something Strange happens. I can’t even talk to my friends who aren’t polytheist because, in the end, whether they like it or not, they really don’t get it and it’s not any help.
And it is an even greater source of pain for me that, when I come home, I am all by myself in a world of churches, synagogues and mosques. I am all by myself with my struggles and my troubles, and the people whose shoulders I can lean on aren’t here with me.
Love your Gods deeply, all of you. Love your God. Never miss an opportunity to love your God. And do not take your religious community for granted. Be thankful for what you have. Go to service. Talk to the pastor and to your community when you feel alone and unsupported, or if you want to make a change in society. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal.
Enjoy the privilege of people who believe that your God is real, is good, is loving, is powerful. I do not have that privilege. I really don’t.
So, my beloved non-pagans, come up to the altar and love your God. Pray your rosary. Hold your medals. Do your devotions. Live your way rightly. Read about your spiritual ancestors and read about your theologies that have been written, discussed, developed for over two thousand years – while, in my own faith, scholars are just making the ASTOUNDING revelation that ancient peoples actually did believe in their Gods, actually did love their Gods, actually did have theologies, too.
It’s times like these where I wish I were a Christian – because, then, I’d have a thousand places to go and a million people to talk to. I could turn my head and speak to my friends. I could hold hands during service. I can love my Gods in person whenever I want.
Christians, Jews, Muslims: reflect and love . You guys have it good. Despite problems and challenges, you really, really do have it good.
Because you don’t have to see your Gods behind glass, sitting quietly, catalogued as parts of a esteemed collection – presented as things that happened “once upon a time, long long ago, when people were more primitive and made these idols to cope with life” – provided as evidence that we, as a society, have clearly made progress.
Hail the Gods, forever and always, for all Gods are deserving of love and devotion.
(Reposted with permission of the author)
Keep the Mask On…
On the other side of space a star is exploding.
Your fire got under it’s skin:
expanding, transforming, destroying.
Your brothers reshape the dust of disintigrated worlds.
You are the keeper of all secrets of destruction,
Destroying in the name of creation,
You unlock all doors of change…
Is that why you talked me into dying my hair red, silly friend?
Millions of years ago, a dim ape grasped a torch
born from the bright serpent of the sky
crashing lustilly against your mother: the leafy one.
It changed the ape forever, it changed you forever.
You opened his eyes, he made the ancient giant a god.
You are the enemy of ignorance,
You are the light of gnosis,
Burning bright within our skulls…
But what I really want to know is, what’s your favorite icecream?
As we walk unremittingly to your daughter’s door
ou fill us with the mad fire of life.
Every aching minute savored,
Every pleassure experienced,
Every risk taken,
Madly laughing all the way to the grave
Because anything less is a waste of time.
Your joy is wild, manic, terrible, wonderful…
So do you want to play Skyrim with me?
The chaos of revolution is your breeding ground,
Your spirit thrives in the fire and gunshots.
You give power to the the voice that has been silenced,
You shine light on our shadows of lies and corruption.
For good or for ill, transformation for its own sake.
Exposing every hypocricy,
Laying us bare before our harshest judges:
But I love it most when you tell me I’m right.
Loki, of course I know that you are all these things and more…
But it’s easier to love you when you’re wearing my favorite mask.
My colleague Ellen graciously allowed me to post this. I love how it captures something of Dionysos’ presence.
If you guys are brave ;), write one for your Gods and post here in the comments.
(grace-full…i.e. full of grace, not graceful. Poet’s prerogative to play with language).
I’ve been under the weather the last few days and yesterday my friend, A.C. stopped by with tea and soup and gifts from her recent trip abroad. While not a spirit-worker per se, she is a very gifted Tantrika and maintains a full roster of both students and clients. As I was eating the lovely soup she brought me, she told me of an incident with a student and I begged her to share it online. Every single diviner, spirit worker, shaman — hell, for that matter every massage therapist, healer, or therapist–has at some point had to deal with the same type of thing. She was kind enough to write up her experience and send it to me with permission to share, which I shall do here before I go any further.
“It is Sunday afternoon, a nice lazy day. I’ve been to the Farmer’s Market, and to visit friends. I worked all day yesterday, first a class, then a new and very challenging client, so I was ready for a little quiet time.
I shouldn’t have answered the phone when I did not recognize the number. My bad.
It was a young man who had attended one of my group classes back in June.
After a lengthy and awkward silence, I asked him, “What’s on your mind?” And he said a lot had been happening for him over the summer and fall, and he wanted to talk with me about it.
“Great,” I replied. “Let’s look at the calendar, and book an appointment. My consultation rates are $100 an hour.”
Stunned silence. “Well, I was thinking we could just talk on the phone.”
“Yes, we can just talk on the phone. My rates are $100 per hour.”
He kept saying he just wanted to chat. And I cut him off from what could have ended up as a long whine fest. “Great,” I said. “After you’ve pre-paid for the first hour on PayPal, we can book an appointment.”
I think many of us doing this work – teaching, divination, coaching, etc. – seriously undervalue our time. Or, fall into the trap of ‘helping’ clients.
I am not a helper. I am a teacher. I co-create with my student an environment where learning and transformation is possible.
When we work with energy, energy must be paid. It is a balance that is necessary and inevitable.
It does not serve a student to make them dependent upon us. And ultimately, it does not serve the teacher, either. It will drain the resources of the teacher. An equal exchange of energy is necessary for the growth of both the student and the teacher.
Now, I fully recognize that charlatans do exist, and that there are those who do prey upon others for personal gain. I have carefully measured what I offer to students, against my education and preparation (39 years of study and practice), compared with what others of similar backgrounds charge. I am amenable to barter (hopefully, it is clear to the reader that the student has to offer something that I value).
I will accept reduced payment from those who genuinely cannot afford my fees. This is incumbent upon the student to request. I will not offer it, a critical piece to remove me from the care-taking/ helping role. And, if the student does request a lower fee schedule, I ask, “Knowing that my price is $100, what do you feel you can afford?”
Here is a guideline my teacher gave me, “The amount of payment should be a stretch for the student. If what you offer is of value, they should pay accordingly. If what you offer is not of value to the student, they will find someone else to work with. And you have to be okay with that.”
I do my best work one on one. And because not everyone can afford the consultation fees I charge, I offer small monthly group classes. These groups classes are on a sliding scale fee basis. This equals approximately $100 per hour. It doesn’t always work out mathematically. Sometimes, the entire class pays at the low end of the scale. Sometimes, the class is not fully enrolled. But I can live with that ambiguity. The small classes are an excellent way for a potential student to discover if they like the way I teach. The limitation of course, is that the individual in a group does not receive hands-on work nor do they benefit from my full focus.
After a student has worked with me 1:1 for a period of time, and when they have assumed the responsibility for their personal growth (as evidenced by a daily practice, for example), I may give them the option of paying me what they feel the work is worth to them, rather than a set fee.
In every single case where I have done this, the student has paid me more than I have asked.
This brief note is intended to encourage each of us to evaluate what we offer and why we offer what we offer and what the thing that we offer is worth. If we are not requiring equal exchange of energy for our work, we will become depleted. And then we will have nothing at all left to offer.”
A.C. is far kinder about this than I would have been. Any spirit worker, diviner, shaman, etc. has trained long and hard to gain skill in the services they offer. We are specialists, just like a surgeon is a specialist. Yet, and yet because we work in the spiritual realm all too often we’re expected to work for free. Once, when I worked at a seminary there was a problem with our salaries (as in getting the chair person to actually pay them) and overhearing me complaining to my friend, a clerk in a store shrugged and said ‘well it IS a seminary.” implying that because it was spiritual it should be *above* money. Excuse the fuck out of me but I don’t think so. Money is a good and powerful thing. Exchange is a good and necessary thing. Moreover, our time is valuable and the realm of the spirit is valuable. I am very much a firm believer in that we must give something to get something. I’ve also found that people value far more that for which they’ve paid than that which is given for free.
It can be difficult for spiritworker to hold to a firm estimate of their own working worth but I believe it is crucial both out of respect for our skills and for the dignity of our clients that we do this clearly, firmly, and well. There’s a lot more I could say on this topic, but for now, i will allow my friend’s account to speak for itself.