Shamans and Charlatans
I ran across a person who is making money hand over fist with her “channeling” archangels. Now, you might tell me that I’m just bitter because I don’t make tons of money like she does. Okay, you might be right there. But I think charging a lot of money for a “gift” from a supernatural entity smacks of charlatanism. Here’s why I think that they might be a charlatan.
What are Angels?
Of all the Christian constructs, I’m more inclined to accept angels and archangels over other supernatural beings. The concept of the angel, that is a messenger of the gods, goes back a fairly long ways in history. The concept isn’t linked just to the Abrahamic beliefs. The word, “angel,” comes from the Greek word, angelos, meaning “messenger.” The Sumerians were the first to have angels. They even worshiped a type of personal angel, similar to our Fygia that were, in essence, guardian angels. The Babylonians continued with angels and demons, which no doubt influenced the Jewish belief system, and thereby Christianity.
A UPG warning ahead (so you know). I believe that the so-called angels of Christianity are actually gods from earlier religions, and that our gods have occasionally taken their forms (as well as forms of the Christian god) to appear to people who eventually become Heathens. This is my experience, and you can take that with a grain of salt. I know, in my case, Tyr has done so, and I suspect Odin has as well. I also suspect other spirits and supernatural entities have taken the guise of a Christian angel to get their message heard.
Charging for Communing
The concept of communing with angels and archangels doesn’t seem that farfetched to me, as I’ve noted. But the concept of charging people a monthly fee for their insight sends off warning bells as being a charlatan. They claim that people won’t believe their message if they don’t charge something, but getting rich off advice given by the minions of a poor Jewish carpenter seems a bit hypocritical. Okay, a lot hypocritical.
I remember being in a panel at a SF convention and using runes on someone else, rather than myself. I was stunned to find people all around me who charged for doing that sort of thing with their Tarot cards. Never mind that I ended up being more accurate than they were. That’s really not a boast. I felt so out of my league with those people, that I ended up being stunned at my own accuracy.
Occasionally I have charged for my rune draws, but it’s a nominal fee — like $5. I am very cautious about it, because I really don’t know if it works well enough to change people’s lives. And quite honestly, the gods are the gods. The gods are not our bitches. They don’t come running when we call to them, nor do they do things we ask of them, unless they think it’s a good idea. I suspect angels–if they really do exist–have better things to do than counsel people on their day-to-day lives. Yeah, and if I recall archangels seem to have lots of things to do besides talk to our silly asses day-to-day. The gods do, I know that.
Yes, the runes are the runes. They may or may not tap into a god’s psyche. And one could claim, I suppose, that you spent umpty umpty bucks becoming a channeler. You know how much training I had with the runes? Zilch, other than books. You know how much training I had contacting gods? Yep, zilch, nada, none. And yet, I’ve gotten some interesting contacts.
Communing with Angels
So, do I think the people actually commune with angels and archangels? Probably not. In most cases, as much as I hate to say it, they’re charlatans like those people who did toll-free Tarot readings and advise people of their love life. Maybe a few of them were actually legit, but most were just trying to make a buck off of incredibly gullible people.
Of those who are actually legit, I don’t think they’re talking to whom they think they are talking to. For one thing, I don’t believe in the Christian god, and if he does exist, he’s not the god the Christians think he is. So, the angels and archangels could be damn near anyone or anything. Hels bells, it might even be a malevolent spirit. If I hazard a guess, I think they’re probably talking to a wight, if they’re talking to anything.
So, How Does this Relate to Heathenism?
For those getting into Heathenism, and for those who have been in Heathenism some time, it’s important to recognize when someone is blowing smoke up your ass. (As an aside, this term actually comes from an attempted “cure” by blowing smoke up someone’s ass. I know, TMI.) Basically if someone is demanding lots of money for something that isn’t particularly well defined, such as prognostication, you may want to ask a lot of questions. Questions include:
- How do I know that you’re really talking to <name that entity or god> and not just ripping me off?
- What do I get in return for my money?
- Who made you the Asa-Pope and why should I believe you?
I know, I know. I’m a wet blanket here. Look, there are plenty of major religions out there begging for money who have amazingly gilded churches. The Catholic Church is just one of them.
Where Does the Rational Heathen Fit in?
At this point, if you haven’t read a lot by me, you’re probably wondering what the fuck am I doing and what am I selling? Look, I know I’ve mentioned that I’ve had several conversations with our gods, but I give the information I think is pertinent freely. Yeah, yeah, I do have a premium version of this site and a pay wall on some pieces, but I’m pretty up front when I’m telling you that what you’re paying for is to keep me writing about the stuff you like to hear about.
I’m not lying to you and saying that Tyr has a special message for you if you only pay me $29.99 a month. (He doesn’t, by the way.) I don’t tell you I’m taking the money and saving souls while lining my pockets with the cash. (You’re going to Hel, by the way, if a god doesn’t claim you or if you haven’t died in battle.) What I tell you is that I could use some help monetarily and if you like what you’re reading and want to support my endeavors, I’d appreciate if you could at least pitch in a buck or two to at least keep the blog and the Internet up.
Maybe I’m not thinking big enough on this whole archangel thing. Maybe I need to channel those, charge people $25 a month, and have my own videos…
Nah. I’d probably get Weeping Angels. In which case, we’re all screwed.
5 Reasons Why Heathens Don’t Get No Respect
I was reading the pagan forums on Patheos the other day and I thought about how Heathens are underrepresented there when it comes to pagans. And then I started thinking about how much of paganism is really geared toward the Wicca crowd and maybe the Celtic crowd, if they’re lucky. So, I started thinking about why Heathens (to paraphrase what Rodney Dangerfield used to say) don’t get no respect. To this end, I’ve come up with five reasons why Heathenry isn’t represented in paganism more often, but I bet you can come up with more, if you put your mind to it.
Problem 1: We’re Tiny, Relatively Speaking
If you want to talk about a religion that has few numbers, Heathenism and Asatru are pretty small as a world religion. Sure, there are a few census that suggest we have maybe 100,000 to 200,000 Heathens in the world, but seriously, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Consider the 800 pound gorilla in the midst (pun intended) of Wicca. Wiccans may make up about 2 million in the United States alone, and who knows how many in the world? It’s easy to see just by that number why Heathenry is a footnote when it comes to paganism.
Problem 2: Association with Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and Folkish Organizations
Many Heathens aren’t racist, folkish, or white supremacist. But not all of them. One only has to take a look at the Neo-Nazis and the Odinists who support a whites-only mentality. Other groups such as the AFA have excluded other ethnicities and the LGBT communities within their Heathen form of paganism. Even though a number of very good Heathens and leaders within the Heathen community have denounced this behavior, we see time and time again Internet and news stories featuring Heathens as bigoted, racist, and anti-LGBT.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Just because you don’t count those folk as “true Heathens” doesn’t mean that the rest of the world shares your opinions. You can say “not my kindred” all you want, but the reality is the rest of the world is judging you. Plain and simple. If you don’t denounce them, everyone is going to take your silence as tacit agreement.
Heathenry isn’t for bigots. Even our gods didn’t stay within their own kind when it came to their kindred. Our gods took in Jotunn, Vanir, Light Elves, and humans. Many gods had Jotunn, Vanir, and Light Elf consorts and lovers. Hel, even Loki mated with a horse.
Problem 3: Our Magic is Minimal
When Thor and Tyr called me to Heathenry, I was relieved to find out that magic played a minimal role in the religion. That being said, a lot of people are more attracted to magic than I am, which is presumably why people are more attracted to Wicca than Heathenry. Oh sure, we have the runes and Seidr, but what else? Maybe skinriding? We don’t usually do magic in the form of spells or enchantments.
Our magic is through our gods, ancestors, and wights. (The fact that I’ve never seen a wight is irrelevant.) Many Heathens believe in the gifting cycle with gods and wights to obtain what they want. Some use Seidr, runes, or other forms of Norse magic. Others will blend in forms of magic from Wicca. Reconstructionists and others derisively call those who add more magic from other religions “Wiccatru.” More on that later.
So, people who are looking for magic tend to bypass Heathenry and go for something like Wicca that enables them to worship our gods while still adding magic spells. Hmm.
Problem 4: We’re a Stuck Up, Exclusive Lot
When a person first looks into Heathenry, they’re often met with people who are quick to deride and denounce that person if they don’t immediately join the recon trolls. In fact, you’ll find a bunch of misogynists and Asa-popes telling people how to practice Heathenry. When the person balks (as they rightfully should), the trolls start calling them Marvel fanboys (or fangirls), Wicctrus, or Lokeans (never mind that being a Lokean is a choice and not an insult). So, a lot of people with less commitment are going to leave and go elsewhere.
It stunned me when Tyr and Thor contacted me. But I knew what I had experienced and even when I entered the ugly world of the Internet recon trolls, I knew I was right to stay and deal with them. You see, the gods contacted me and (presumably) not the Internet trolls, so the trolls didn’t deter me. I just had to figure out a softer landing spot, which I eventually did. And I started writing The Rational Heathen just to put down my thoughts and feelings, not to mention some of my experiences. Apparently it resonated with some of you because you’re still here with me.
Problem 5: We Don’t Agree on Much and UPG is often an Ugly Word
A big problem in Heathenry is the overall ambiguity of our beliefs. We really don’t have a lot of stories to go on — not like the stories we have from the Romans and Greeks about their gods and goddesses. Islamic and Roman historians as well as Christianized northern peoples who lived two hundred years later wrote down all of our stories. We only have one depiction — and a Christian one — of the Irminsul. We have tales which refer to other stories which were never written down.
So, in light of the lack of evidence, there’s a lot of conjecture. And with conjecture is also Unverified Personal Gnosis or UPG which many people don’t take into account. Some Heathens are outright hostile to UPG as well. So, there is no consensus on what is correct and what isn’t, except among the different factions between themselves. That division and the accompanying hostility turns people away quickly.
So, there you have it: the five reasons why Heathens don’t get no respect. Do you have some thoughts about why Heathens don’t get no respect? I’d love to hear it in the comments.
How a God Inspired My Post
Sometimes I’m at a total lost when it comes to what I should write for the Rational Heathen. I look over my past writings, peruse the pagan blogs, then the Christian and atheist blogs, and then end up playing Age of Empires. See? I really do work on this.
The past several days I was beating my head against the proverbial writing wall, so I just gave up and worked on some other things. Then, in the morning when I was waking up, I heard a god…
How to Recognize an Unverified Personal Gnosis
Apparently my piece on Unverified Personal Gnosis struck a chord with many of my readers. So, I think we need to talk about recognizing what an Unverified Personal Gnosis actually looks like. Mind you, this these are not hard-and-fast rules, but they are ones I use when discerning whether this is UPG or someone’s overactive imagination…
Why Unverified Personal Gnosis should not be Dreaded
If you’ve been a Heathen for any amount of time, you’ve heard of UPG or Unverified Personal Gnosis. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain. It’s when you have contact with our gods in the forms of communication, thoughts, or inspiration that cannot be verified because they are personal. They can be little things, such as knowing that Freyja loves chocolate (she does, by the way). Or UPG can be big, such as the hand of Thor grabbing you and demanding that you become his gothi or gythia. (Far be it from me to tell you otherwise.) So, what’s the big deal with Unverified Personal Gnosis, and why is anyone fussing over it?
What’s All the Fuss?
People fuss over Unverified Personal Gnosis because it is something that isn’t easily provable. It’s personal, meaning that only one person has had that revelation. We can’t go back and quantify that the gods really did speak to that person. To use logic, it’s very hard to prove a negative.
Let’s take my assertion that Freyja loves chocolate. You might ask me how I know that. It could be anything along the lines that chocolate makes people feel like they do when in love, Freyja always accepts my petition when I offer a blot of chocolate, or Freyja told me she loves expensive organic, fair trade, 95 percent pure cocoa chocolate. Any one of those could be the reason I give you, and it’s up to you to decide if that really did happen, if I’m a bit crazy (or on mind altering substances), or if I lied to you. Maybe you talked to Freyja and she told you she hates chocolate. Or maybe she likes the cheap chocolate from two Halloweens ago.
Whatever. The point is that as Unverified Personal Gnosis, the knowledge obtained can’t be readily verified because it is personal. It’s my word against yours. And with some people, it’s in the realm of woo-woo and make believe.
Can Unverified Personal Gnosis be Verified?
The question then is whether UPGs can shift into the realm of being verified. That is a good question, but I suspect that since we just can’t call up the gods any time we feel like it, the answer is no. Even so, sometimes people can corroborate experiences. When I received some very amazing UPGs, I actually mentioned them to a gythia or two. They could confirm that the information I received fell in line with what they knew of those particular gods. Some of what I experienced were similar to what the gythias’ own UPGs were about. In other words, I felt fairly certain about my experiences. Whether anyone else thinks they’re real is another matter.
I’ve known people who have claimed to be god-wives. I honestly can’t say that I believe their experiences 100 percent, but that is their UPG and not mine. My UPG doesn’t conflict with theirs, so I really can’t say that it didn’t happen. But at the same time, there’s no proof that someone hasn’t married Odin or Loki or Thor, just as there is no scientific proof that any of the gods actually exist.
The Burden of Proof Lies with the Person Making the Assertion
Logic dictates that the person who makes the assertion is the one who needs to provide proof. For example, if I assert that there is a pink unicorn on my front lawn, I have the duty to prove to anyone that there really is a pink unicorn on my front lawn if I want people to believe it. Otherwise, it’s my lawn and my imaginary pink unicorn amusing just me and the rest of the world doesn’t care. Likewise, we can claim there is a Thor, Tyr, and Odin, but if we don’t provide substantial proof, their existence is a matter of faith. In other words, you won’t win any logic debates with an atheist if you pull out the faith card.
Proof in the gods’ existence doesn’t mean people had oral traditions about them and wrote them down some 800 to 1000 years ago. Archaeological finds that verify people worshiped these gods is not proof, either. Proof means that you can produce undeniable evidence of the gods’ existence which can be duplicated by others using your methodology. So, our Unverified Personal Gnosis is just that — unverified.
Enter the Recon (Or Why Accept Historical UPGs and not Modern Day UPG?)
(Oh shit, someone knew I was going to drag them into this.)
Some reconstructionists tend to be lean more toward the atheist beliefs (or lack thereof) and less toward faith. ( I say “some” because I do know some recons who do accept UPGs as part of our religion.) These so-called Heathens will tend to dismiss, and even make fun of, other people’s Unverified Personal Gnosis. This is a religion, not a LARP with extra study.
That being said, I have to wonder why they are quick to accept past Unverified Personal Gnosis and not modern day UPGs. At one time, every story we have about the gods and wights came from someone’s UPG somewhere. It stands to reason that we can’t possibly verify any of the myths and legends we have about our gods, so either we accept them as UPGs and move on, or we thoroughly discount them as having any basis in fact.
Just because we find some stories in the Eddas and other documents as being historical does not mean that the entire piece can be taken as purely factual. We know this because science proves that our world isn’t made from the body of Ymir, there was no giant cow licking rime ice to create the first gods, and earthquakes do not come from Loki being splashed in the face with venom.
Accept Unverified Personal Gnosis for What it is
UPGs are, by definition, personal. My UPGs may sometimes contradict yours, should you have them, and other people’s UPGS may contradict each others. Some UPGs will be shit made up by people, whether because they want to feel important, misunderstand what happened to them, or because they are mentally ill. I suspect that Unverified Personal Gnosis acted that way with our ancestors.
UPGs had to be the way our ancestors learned about the gods. Think about it. There wasn’t a giant classroom with a bunch of Heathens sitting around throwing spitwads at each other while Odin tried to teach them cosmology. (Or was it Tyr?) I can just imagine Loki teaching everyone how to misbehave while Thor comes in to maintain order. Yeah, warped mind. Deal with it.
But I digress. Our myths and legends sprang mostly from UPGs. People in certain kindreds accepted UPGs from others who were respected in the community and UPGs from those whose stories corroborated. Different places most likely had their own stories and even tutelary gods and goddesses, but their stories have morphed or outright disappeared with the coming of Christianity.
My point is that we should not shun UPGs, but we should embrace them. We have a chance to rebuild our Heathen past and blend it with today’s knowledge. We can do so by recognizing UPGs for what they are and accepting those that make the most sense.
The Dreaded Unverified Personal Gnosis
At some point, if we talk about our experiences in Heathenry, someone inevitably brings up Unverified Personal Gnosis. I’d actually would prefer to ignore the whole UPG side of Northern paganism, but seeing as UPG dragged me into being a heathen, I suppose I should talk about it in some rational manner. (Rational manner, Rational Heathen — get it?) So, I’m tackling the tough questions and looking hard at the section of UPG.
Warning: UPG Ahead!
The problem is how do you know?
Am I Crazy, or was that Thor?
Lots of people have what could be considered UPGs when it comes to their religion. The fact that there are some 5000 religions out there, each with people (alive or deceased) claiming they’ve spoken to gods, suggest that there are plenty of people who are either delusional or who actually have gods who speak to them. And a majority of people out there tend to believe these people, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, or any other -ism or -ity you care to name. The simple answer is often the most likely: we’re all fucking crazy and we’re all in some sort of state of self delusion.
But look at the numbers of Christians who believe that the wine and bread becomes Christ’s body and blood through transmogrification, or believe that Christ rose from the dead. Look how many Muslims believe that the archangel Gabriel spoke to Mohammed. Look at the people in other religions who believe in ancestor worship, such as in Shintoism. Then there are plenty of pagans who have spoken with their gods. What gives?
At this point, you’re thinking I’m probably recommending that you stick with atheism and be done with it. That’s really not what I’m thinking, although atheism would probably do some folks a world of good, methinks. At one time, I would’ve told you that it was all in your head, but having experienced UPGs, I have to reconsider them from a rational point.
What Changed My Mind
What is Reality? — the 64 Million Dollar Question
I realized by this accident that we really don’t know what reality is in the true sense. We can think we imagined things that were true, and think things that are true that we have imagined. The line can get extremely blurry from time to time when people witness something, as any good cop or detective will tell you. Unless you have a camera or a trained observer, people are likely to come up with all sorts of eyewitness accounts. My question is does it make it less true because someone saw it differently? Can the camera “fix” the state like the quantum physics experiment? Probably not, but who really knows?
Our senses tell us whether things are true or not, but our senses can be deceived in all sorts of ways. Our mind can think through things logically and still be wrong because we don’t have all the facts. So, I was left feeling incredibly insecure about what everything really was.
That’s when Loki showed up.
Enter Loki, Stage Right.
Apparently I wasn’t dealing with the entire concept very well, and I wasn’t really taking care of myself. I was out of the hospital and working hard to bring in money again. (You think you’re poor? Get injured when you’re self employed.) Loki showed up at Tyr’s request and nagged me to take care of myself. At first, it was amusing. Then, it got annoying. Loki took great delight in annoying me. Then, he got bored when I started to pay attention.
Loki is truly the ADHD kid of the gods. A lot of people see him as evil, but I don’t see it quite that black and white. He’s capable of great mischief when he wants to do it, but I recognize the times when he can be a great ally. This doesn’t make me a Lokean, but it does make me somewhat more sympathetic to him than some people are.
But Back to UPG…
My thoughts on UPG are kind of mixed. I’ve seen some shit others have also seen that I can only attribute to a god or goddess (or weird blind luck). My thoughts are if you get UPGs, and they help you along in this world, and harm no one, then who is to say they are bad? I mean it’s one thing if a god tells you to care for yourself, and it’s another thing if you think that god tells you to harm someone. As long as they are not hurting you or someone else (or don’t tell you to do destructive things), I’m willing to consider that you’ve heard them. And if your UPG matches mine and others, I’m going to think it’s a distinct possibility.
Is Thor Stupid?
It seems to me that there are two camps when it comes to Thor: those who think he’s at least average intelligence (for a god, whatever that is), and those who think he’s maybe not as dumb as a post, but would be challenged by one occasionally. Since I picked on Thor last week, I’m going to test his good graces again and tackle his intellect.
All Brawn and No Brains
I suspect that thinking Thor is stupid is a relatively recent phenomena which has to do with our current stereotypes. Although the stereotypes are changing, the common stereotype of the muscle man is the stupid jock. I think, rightly or wrongly, that stereotype has been crafted over the years. Although science disagrees that people who are athletic are stupid, it’s still a stereotype that is perpetuated. I did a quick look on the Internet in the quest for the search of why muscular people, particularly men, are considered stupid. I found a reference on that oh-so-accurate Wikipedia (that was sarcasm, for those not paying attention), and even a blog which mentions a study on it.
My Own Experience with Jocks
Growing up, I had the joy of dealing with bullies, and dealing with kids who were naturally better at sports. I had undiagnosed asthma which precluded me from doing well in physical activities when I was younger. This was during a time when people thought asthma was “all in your head.” It took years for me to admit I have it, and now that I do, life is much, much easier. But I digress. Most of those kids were, well — not the brainiest — and those who were smart, tended to hide it for fear of being bullied. To add to the stereotype, I grew up when nerdy guys in lab coats got people to the moon.
In college, I saw kids who got scholarships and were treated like gold because they were good in sports. While not all the jocks were stupid, many were not the sharpest knives in the drawer, because they often were given a pass. I went into the sciences, geek girl that I am. So, the stupid jock was commonplace.
My junior and senior year, I worked out and trained in martial arts. So, I got to know the weightlifters. Many had been the kids everyone picked on when they were small; a good portion of them were introverts. So, they did the best thing they could think of: not become a target. Many of the people I knew in martial arts were smart. Yes, there were the average and idiots in the group as well, but most I would categorize as being clever enough.
So, why the dichotomy?
When We Moved from Agrarian to Industrial
I think that the shift in emphasis started in the 18th century, but really didn’t take hold until the 19th century and early 20th century where people started separating themselves into white collar and blue collar (note: this is not a rich versus poor argument). My parents looked down on those who didn’t have office jobs as being unable to be smart enough to attain those positions. Never mind that many of the blue collar jobs paid better than white collar jobs. I suspect that this attitude was fostered though the colleges and through those who were able to work pushing paper for a living. I suspect that the GI Bill after WWII and emphasis into getting higher degrees also pushed more people into thinking that manual labor means you can’t hack an office job.
I’ve already mentioned the moonshots, which were a result of the cold war. In fact, I suspect that the emphasis going into science and other intellectual activities caused a bigger split, suggesting that you couldn’t be both strong and smart. Sure, we had our Hollywood heroes, but they emphasized not strength, per se, but beauty. Professional athletes were always admired, but they were never considered brilliant, except when it pertained to their performance
When Physical Prowess was Admired
It used to not be that way. Prowess in sports suggested you were good on the battlefield. Being physically fit has paramount before firearms became prevalent. After all, whether you lived or died, whether your family would survive, and whether you had enough food was largely dependent on your fitness and skill as a hunter, warrior, and farmer. Firearms replaced swords, pikes, maces, and knives, and armor went away. No longer did you have to carry some 50 to 70 pounds of armor and weaponry. While there were wars, most problems were resolved in torte.
Brains and brawn weren’t considered mutually exclusive. Many warriors were considered clever and intelligent.
So, What About Thor?
I feel that Thor has gotten a bad rap, not because he’s stupid, but because he has likable characteristics that make him more…well, human. Somehow he loses Mjolnir, and has to go in drag to get it back. He journeys with Loki to Jotunheim and yes, he is tricked by the Jotun’s magic, but then so is Loki. Then, there’s the story how Thor tricks a dwarf who is about to marry his daughter in the Alvissmal where the gods promised Thor’s daughter while he was away. Tricking a dwarf to stay above ground after sunrise (and thus turned to stone) doesn’t suggest a stupid god.
My UPG Take on Thor
I am not an expert when it comes to Thor, but what little dealings I’ve had with him shows me a strong and compassionate champion. Yes, he has a temper; yes, he is not beyond using his strength. But I have noticed that he is more likely to forgive if someone makes an error like Thjálfi did in breaking the bone of his goat and sucking out the marrow. As one of the gods who favors humanity, I can think of no better champion.
I don’t think Thor is stupid. I think that because his strength is so great, we sometimes don’t take into account that Thor is smart too. After all, he’s the son of Odin and Jord. Would Odin have a stupid kid? I don’t think so.
Use Your Brain–and Listen to the Gods
One thing early on in my switch to Heathenism was my discovery that the gods actually had a lot to say to me. As a scientist, my first thought was: “Okay, I’m losing it.” After all, if you’re hearing voices, chances are you’re suffering from something like schizophrenia. That’s probably why my patron god eschews just popping into my brain unannounced. I’d just check myself into the local psychiatric clinic and be done with it. Which is why when I do get responses from the gods, it’s usually in some form I can accept and one that won’t leave me wondering if I need to check myself in for a thorough psychiatric evaluation.