Disability Within Paganism

This is a post which I wrote a little while ago and meant to post earlier on this blog before other life events needed to be addressed first.  This post addresses a large part of why I identify as a Norse pagan.

Originally written September 18, 2014
I was born disabled. This ultimately makes my experience of disability different from someone with an acquired illness–although I have those as well. My experience of disability is that it is woven into my character. Being disabled means that I see things from a vantage point that others may not see. It often means that I also see darkness from people who would not be so openly hostile to me if they didn’t feel in the right making certain value judgments about me.

I’ve been drawn to paganism since I was a teenager, and realized only in the last few years that I’ve been watched over by the Norse pantheon for many years before that. I would say, now, from what I am aware of, that Odin has been popping his head in on me for a little under 25 years now. Only recently did I really make a connection between my disability pride and the disability pride that Odin displays. If we are to take the myths at face value, Odin chose disability in order to gain magic.

Tyr wears his disability, the loss of one arm, as a sign of victory in battle.

And these are things which mirrors my experience.

I am a soft polytheist. Odin has gone by more than one name while I have known him, but his energy remains the same to me. It does not mean that I don’t value all of the lore, but rather that I believe, and have been taught that lore goes in cycles, and so does the genesis of the gods. The energy of Spirit, however, does not change much across incarnations. I relate the best to Thor, Tyr, and Odin, but I know they are aspects of Spirit. Still, they are like family to me, people who I can call out to at any hour of the night in any circumstances and I feel them come close and offer comfort. They do not withhold anything because I am “imperfect.” In fact, the way that my life is structured allows me more time to learn from them, grow with them, and love them.

When you are disabled, you are somewhat outside of other experiences, but at the same time, people who are not disabled are outside of your experience. I find the most comfort among my peers, and I am not frightened away by flaws (though that is not the same thing as not having standards. My standards revolve largely around respect.) We can all teach each other, and I believe that the gods are perfect, yet perfect in their experience of imperfection as well.

Disability forces you to confront imperfection, but if I am here on the earth, there is perfection in the fact that I am here. I do not feel judged by the gods, merely given a different starting point and different challenges to meet when interacting with people. But I do at times feel judged by communities of people. I am not here to transcend disability, but rather, develop a spirituality which embraces exactly the challenges I was given. There is no judgment of me for this from spirit. Rather, spirit embraces me as someone committed to living a spiritual truth, and confronting ableism, or anti-disability value judgments, within spiritual communities. I am not afraid to do this. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that my disability has to be factored into my life. Physical limits are real and can only be ignored for so long. But physical limits do not translate into spiritual limits. In fact, they may be spiritual choices. Most certainly, I wouldn’t have quite the vantage point that I do about Odin and Tyr, giving us the closeness that I feel with them (and others) without my disability.

Pagans and Mediums Covertly “Reading You.”

I still have at least one other post written for this blog, but I’m still experiencing a bit of blowback from the situation I was just in.  You see, there were actually two players in that situation.  A woman who contacted me first and a man, the holocaust denier who she told me was her good friend.

There were a couple of personal red flags with this woman, some from me and some from her. For example, one red flag was that I had intended to keep to myself for a while, but I have a bit of a compulsion about answering certain kinds of private messages.  I didn’t want to be seen as not friendly, even though I knew I was better off without new friends just now.

A lot of back and forth resulted.  After a while this woman let me know, “Oh, I summarized this conversation to [my friend, a psychic reader] and she says <blah>.”  Now, I hadn’t given this person the whole story of my life.  The information given to me through this exchange was not that invasive in nature. (i.e. no predictions of terrible things, no real judgments coming across.)  But I hadn’t asked, “Hey, could you consult a psychic on my behalf?  Hey, I really need your assessment.”

I was making conversation because she was making conversation.  But one has to be careful in the circles of pagans, self-identified mediums or spirit workers, because if they are curious many of them will read you on the spot.  Some will admit it, like she did, but some will just do it and believe whatever they come away with.

I stopped doing any readings for pay shortly after being trained in mediumship because I do not want to read people for a variety of reasons and generally I refrain from doing so.  Although it’s a skill I possess, I would rather stick to myself and do what I need to do than be getting people’s psychic gunk on me continually, and I also definitely don’t do it for money for personal reasons.  So I definitely wasn’t reading her–besides the red flags she was giving off.

An additional wrinkle in this situation is that when she gave me  this advice from her psychic friend I noticed she had a few facts wrong about me to begin with–things she had summarized to her friend inaccurately.

I was annoyed that she had told someone else they could read me without my consent.  I chalked it up to, well, this is what dealing with “psychics” is like, people with low amounts of boundaries who want to know what they want to know. In other words, by confiding in this person I had walked into it.

I comforted myself with the fact that whatever they thought they knew was probably inaccurate because of the aformentioned wrong facts and I didn’t correct them.

Weeks later, I don’t feel so charitable about this.  Accusations have been made because I unearthed her friend’s dark underbelly. Certain areas where she frequents online no longer feel like places that I can be.

In the future I will either reveal everything with a “Do not read me,” or a “This is in confidence,” disclaimer, but honestly, I’m unlikely to be mingling much for a little while.

Behavior such as what I have outlined above is wrong. It is violating of boundaries. It fosters coming to false conclusions and a feeling that you know this person better than they know themselves.  It is dehumanizing to violate someone’s trust. Be careful out there among this crowd, because I can tell you from experiences during my training that the behavior is rampant.

Norse Paganism and Bigotry

As I write this post, I am pretty angry.  I had taken a break from this blog, but it didn’t mean that I stopped writing on the subject, my explorations just became more private.  I actually had another post prepped for this blog, but it isn’t time for that post now.  Instead, there will be this one.

I am primarily a Norse pagan. I do not take the labels any further than that, and there are reasons.  I try to avoid the actual religion of Norse paganism, just like I would avoid any religion about anything.  I am nonreligious, for a variety of reasons. I prefer a personal latticework of faith.  Religion and faith, or religion and spirituality, are not the same thing.  I have been working with Odin and Loki, more recently Thor, since I was a young child.  I did not pick them, they, in a roundabout fashion, picked me.  In essence I see them as demigods and also angels.  My experience of spiritual relation to them is that they wouldn’t mind.  If I believe in them, and I believe in more than one of their possible names or incarnations, it still equals more belief for them.  After over 20 years of practice with relating to them, I am pretty sure this is the part that matters.

Recently I met another Norse pagan. Like me, he wasn’t Asatru, and he seemed nice enough at first.  One reason I avoid Asatru is that I am nonreligious.  The other reason is that I am trying to avoid bigotry that is often tied to the Norse gods.

Norse pagans are often under the assumption that God is white.  Like white Christians who assume Jesus is white (which he wouldn’t have been, if he existed), people also assume Odin is white.

I don’t.  Why would a god have a race?

People use this assumption to fuel a lot of disgusting shit.  Antisemitism, white power bullshit.  Hitler associated his work with the Norse gods, and there are still neoNazis doing it today.

The individual I met was taking a page from the book of antisemitism.  He assumed that I would agree with him because, even though I am Jewish by descent, I don’t follow that faith directly.  I do try to respect it in my way, but my Jewish relatives are predominantly atheist.  This does not mean that I am not a Jewish person, however, except for the lineage being on my father’s side and my mother raising me Catholic.  The different levels of what it means to be Jewish are for another post, though.  The point is that he knew I was Jewish, after a while, but expected me to agree with him as he tested me on the subject of antisemitism.

Well, I don’t.  I don’t follow Odin out of some desire to demonize a group of people.  I don’t believe God is white or angry at Jewish people.   I don’t believe that Odin would be racist, classist, sexist, transphobic, or dismissive of anyone who believes in him.  (There was going to be another post on this, on what my experience of working with Odin is really like, but this is also not that post.  This is this post.)  If racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, or anything in between is peddled by Odin’s people, that comes from them and their personal beliefs.  Odin is a practitioner of magic, a manifestor, a creator, and some would say that he himself is transgender.  I don’t believe the gods are perfect, but I do believe they are loving.  There are Norse pagans of color.  The gods are only racist to you if you yourself are racist.  I refuse to endorse a vision of any god with those kinds of limits.  Gods are not going to turn away believers or elevate one set of people above another set of people. Those are human actions.  I will likely be a solitary practitioner for the rest of my life because of negative, antisemitic and racist attitudes of the Norse pagans around me.  And that is fine. My relationship to the gods is my own, not belonging to anyone else.  Anyone who makes their spiritual experience about exclusion is not having a spiritual experience, they’re just afraid of the alternative of letting other people into their supposedly exclusive club.

Well, it’s not.  Why in hell would a god work that way?  The only reason he would is if he were created in the image of a bigoted person, and the Norse pagans who believe this nonsense can take their lily white assumptions and shove them.

Starting From Zero

I’ve occupied many different labels on the spectrum of faith.  (Hang around me long enough and you learn that I consider everything to be a spectrum, or almost everything.)  The two that I’ve spent the most time in the vacinity of are agnostic and pagan.  Truth be told, I flit between these two and sometimes occupy both at the same time.  I am simultaneously one of the most faithful and the most doubtful people I know.  Just ask any of my friends how many times I come to them with a “But what if?”

On one hand, I believe that my agnosticism helps me.  At one time it was atheism, and I even referred to myself as “the atheist medium” for a number of years.  As I explained both to spirits and to my friends, all I had to do was believe in the spirits. Since I wasn’t there with them, it was up to them to do the work of believing in God.

Smaller gods are easier for me to deal with than Big God.  I believe in Anansi.  I believe in Odin and Thor.  I believe in Llew Llaw Gyffes and Gwydion.  Do I KNOW that they exist? Well, they do to me, because I believe in them. I believe Anansi would be funny and I’m pretty sure that Odin is pretty serious business.  I believe Llew would understand the experience of psychiatric survivordom.  These are archtypes I can tap into, and yes, I have, in a way, my own versions.

I believe this is how faith works at a base level.  We can begin with whatever we were pre-set with by our family and/or culture. We can accept or reject it (either is fine, as long as we aren’t hurting anyone with what we decide, of course).  If we reject it, we may stay in a situation of rejecting it for the rest of our lives (atheism) or we may eventually move to agnosticism (not “there is nothing,” but “I can’t know if there is or isn’t something.”) and from agnosticism we may do what I’ve done, which is to sort of home-brew a faith that makes sense.

Most of the time.

I’m still a heavily agnostic soul. I sometimes “lose” or forget what I’ve learned, in the sense that at times it’s all too much to hold in my brain. I occupy many contridictions in life, and when they collide I can lose my way.  But ultimately I see my agnosticism as a strength. I believe it keeps me humble.  I believe it also reboots me, effectively, to the white room in The Matrix, i.e. the construct zone.  From there I can build a more accurate, inclusive faith each time I revert to that place. I can decide what colors, out of every color I’ve experienced thus far, I want to carry with me.  I’ve already been atheist and agnostic, so at this point having faith is a choice.  No one is forcing me to have any faith.  And it waxes and wanes, like anything.  In fact, it may wane a little bit more than  you would expect for a person with a blog topic such as this.  But such is life.

I believe we all have a white room. We all have the right to a home-grown faith.  A faith that doesn’t hold all the answers, but holds our own personal answer.  I believe in questioning what we know and what we think we know, applying critical thinking, and seeing what we come up with.  Though it’s not the easiest path, it does mean that my answer has changed over time and I am relatively open to such changes.  There are small vestiges of the faith I was born into within my personal mythology, but compared to how much I’ve come to accept as my own personal creed, it isn’t too much.  My faith is mine, and it’s been hard work starting from zero.  But it has always been worth it.

In the coming months there will be a few guest posts here on the blog. If you would like to guest blog here on the topics of disability, faith, or where they intersect, give me a shout.

Law of Attraction, or, Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps and Think Positive, I Don’t Have to Help You

A large contingent of the New Age movement is enamored of the concept of the Law of Attraction.  It’s my sincere belief that quite a lot of abuse occurs in the name of this concept–not just abuse but dismissal of the experiences of the vast majority of the population.  It is by turns ableist (and inspiration porn-y), racist, classist, and perpetuates pretty much all of the isms.  Let me explain why.

The basic idea behind Law of Attraction is “you create your own reality.”  Now, let’s examine this for a while.  What this means is that one is assumed to be responsible not just for their own actions but the actions of others all around them.  If you just thought positively enough, that person over there wouldn’t be racist towards you.  If  you just thought positively enough, magical things would start happening and  you wouldn’t be a poor person anymore.  If bad things are happening, you just aren’t trying hard.

It’s important for me to say that I am a pretty positive person.  I believe no matter how dire things get that it doesn’t help in any way to assume that the human race is about to be toast.  I’m not a climate change denier, or in denial that in the US and Europe there is a lot of racist, reactionary stuff going on right now. I know that if the bees become extinct we are toast.  But I try to be positive and I believe some of that positivity comes from feeling a connection to my faith.  I don’t watch the news because to mire myself in manufactured newsbites designed to make me feel hopeless doesn’t help me. But I don’t ignore what’s going on in the world, either.

Here are some other things that I don’t deny: Law of Attraction encourages you to ignore the problems of others. It’s pretty much as anti-activist as you can get, and encourages American individualism to the point of craziness.  Law of Attraction is ascribed to by a lot of billionaires and it also ties into the falsehoods of The American Dream, i.e., if someone doesn’t succeed it is their fault.

It’s with this logic that we can lay blame at the feet of the poor, that  in the UK we can call the poor and disabled scroungers, that we can perpetuate an underclass.  If they were just trying hard enough they wouldn’t really HAVE problems, so why fix them?

I am a positive person, but I don’t engage in carte blanche “positive thinking,” in the sense that it’s meant in the Law of Attraction/American Dream sense.  I became a workaholic because everything I do and succeed at comes from hard work. When not working hard, I’m frantic that my rights are going to be taken away.  When I wrote about ableism in the New Age Movement, I discussed being discriminated against in an educational setting.  In a way I am still dealing with it, because I still have contact–decreasing less and less over time–with some of my classmates.  Even some who claimed to want to understand my experience ended up blocking me later on, and not just unfriending me but blocking me.

Listen.  I don’t have to tell my crip readership that crip life is hard.  I may have to reiterate to some of you that crip adult life gets harder. And harder. It’s worth it, but it’s not easy, and I did a ton to whitewash that kind of thing when I was around my classmates originally because I didn’t want to get into how it was all my fault. (And even though I did my best to not have those  conversations, they happened anyway, about how I was obsessed with my disability, how I was the class screwup who had needed saving, and all the rest of that stuff I wrote about in the last entry on this.)

It’s irritating sometimes, being an optimist and giving a lot of people the benefit of the doubt even when maybe you shouldn’t.  I try to be a positive force and I try to educate.  I won’t ram it down people’s throats, but I do stand up for myself.  Well, one thing about being immersed in Law of Attraction land is it also generates a lot of guilt. When those “Be happy!!!!” type Facebook graphics pop around and you’re depressed, you feel guilty and maybe judged.  When a Facebook “friend” posts something about how “there’s nothing really in your way,” you realize that they’re not at all paying attention to the idea of ableism or of poverty and that these are things people are stuck dealing with.  It’s essentially a way of saying no one really has to worry about anyone else at all, we’ve all got bootstraps.

While ascribing to these kinds of ideals, people are really exposing levels of privilege and ignorance to the realities of the experiences of their fellow man.

Be positive: I don’t believe the human race is evil.  I don’t believe the planet is doomed.  I believe humanity will find a way (with the US kicking and screaming while we do), because I believe in the goodness of the human spirit.  A lot of changes need to occur, but I believe they can.  Look what’s going on with solar roadways right now!  There’s nothing wrong with looking into the future with optimism.  There IS something wrong with blaming the entire rest of humanity for everything else that is wrong, and refusing to help anyone because oh well, it’s their personal reality to fix.

Screw that shit.  Reason 5 million I don’t fit in as a New Ager.  It perpetuates all the isms ever, and if you need help, congratulations, you are a member of the human race. We all do and there is no shame in this.  I challenge you not to accept the “Oh well, that’s their problem” mentality. See the humanity of the people around you, instead. We all struggle and we can all do a little bit to help with that struggle.  But not while we’re busy blaming everyone and their mother for their problems.  Not only is it dismissive of fellow human beings, it can and does lead to terrible bullying about how you just can’t get it together and think positively enough to fix your situation. Yes, bullying.  Most of the time I was involved in my New Age school, I was being bullied by one person or another.  I am not alone.

It’s just pretty gross, and I think it belongs here on the faith blog because if it bothers you too I want you to know you’re not alone either.  There are other ways to feel connected that don’t throw people under the bus.

Interfaith Overlap (Paganism and Disability)

As I’ve written before, I was born into a Catholic family although my mother was somewhat lax when I was younger and had married (and divorced) my father, a nonreligious Jew.  It was a strange way to grow up, as only in the last few years did I have the discussion with my father about how whether or not I was religious I was still inherently Jewish… and that’s true.  Growing up in New York City, I was privileged to absorb some Judaism by osmosis and I understand enough Yiddish for my own purposes.  If I were to pick a monotheistic religion, it would not be Christianity in any form, but Judaism.

But I can’t entirely pick a monotheistic religion.  My first experiences of God or a god involved the pagan pantheons.  When I was sixteen I met a group of four pagans–two Native shamans and two of their students–who proved to me without trying that something more was out there than I had previously thought.  They introduced me to the concept of polytheism and I went on my merry way researching gods. Being Irish, I began researching the Celtic pantheons but didn’t enjoy the goddess Brigid much so moved on to the Welsh.  There I found Lleu Llaw Gyffes  and his uncle Gwydion, and I felt instant kinship with them.  Although Lleu is considered to be the Welsh equivalent of Lugh, it’s not an exact match.  I preferred dealing with Lleu, because I was drawn into the story of his relationship to his mother, which was quite embattled.  It was no surprise to me that I’d resonate with the story of an uncle essentially saving his nephew from the unfair bondage placed on him by a mother figure who left much to be desired, but at the same time this is why I always had uneasiness with Arianrhod, considered one of the primary deities in that pantheon.  This may have been part of why I didn’t remain as a Welsh pagan.  I will always have a fondness for trickster gods, and in fact in my dealings with him I called Gwydion Grandfather, but something told me to move on to studying the Norse.

When I found Loki, well, I won’t say that I was in love, as many Lokeans seem to be.  I have always resonated with trickster gods because of the element of chaos I find inherent in having relatively crippy and unstable health.  I preferred Loki to Odin because his mythology made more sense to me, but the truth is that Odin has been a continual presence in my life from a very young age.  I haven’t felt a presence or heard from Loki in quite a number of years.

Maybe it has something to do with disability pride.  In my mind, the angels I have worked with have a reasonable chance of showing up in the “pagan” pantheons, in that I could easily see a “pagan” god taking on the form of an angel in order to garner more belief.  So I work with a mix, and it may mean that I am what is considered a soft polytheist, in which the polytheistic gods are considered facets of a larger god force.  I am not sure. I am still working this out for myself.

I can say that I have found myself a home both with what some would consider angels and those considered pagan gods. I gravitate to the ones now who actually present with either disabiities or at least cause for strife such as the seeds of what we might call being a psychiatric survivor–I would consider Lleu this, given the restrictions placed on him completely arbitrarily.  I am not sure how I feel about cross-pantheon work at this point so am mostly sticking to the Norse pantheon, when I work with them.

Odin and Tyr are two gods (yes, in lower case) who willingly walked into the disabiity experience in order to serve the world.  Odin gave an eye in order to learn his charms, and Tyr sacrificed his right hand in fighting Fenrir.  One could say that acquired disabilities are respected more than those that one is born with, but I am not so sure.  Consider the state that wounded veterans are often left in (i.e. homeless or subject to relative medical neglect.  Moving forward with the knowledge that you may become disabled–or in fact choosing it for the greater good, is rather in line with my feelings on the spiritual purpose behind disability–not as a mark of sin but as something one might be able to choose before birth to have an experience outside the norm.  I feel honored to know there are disabled gods in the Norse pantheon, and perhaps that’s why  I’ve always felt at home in the Norse lore.  I may not be a physical warrior, but I’m no stranger to being a warrior for the purposes of being seen, heard, and respected as a disabled person.

In my experience, I did not seek the gods–they sought me, through a series of experiences, not all of which I understood as they were occurring.  My experiences with the pagan or polytheistic community itself are sort of varied, but then again I am not really a community person. I am a solitary practitioner, and generally speaking that works for me.  So I can’t comment much on community inclusion, although I will say that so much emphasis on wandering around or dancing in meadows or woods or around fires can tend not to be too accessible.

Here I have a list of links found by someone a bit more knowledgeable which I will leave here to further any potential discussion.

Paganism and Disability Links

What Mediumship Is and What It Means To Me

You’ve seen some references in some places to me being a medium and I thought it prudent to define that in some way before I continue.  First of all because there are misconceptions, and secondly because it informs content which will be on this blog.

Try not to run screaming–I’m a pretty down-to-earth person and I’m not mired in New Age practices.

Psychic ability in and of itself is the ability to read energy. My abilities have taken various forms over time. I began as an aura reader pretty quickly.  My theory as to why this was easier for me to do has to do with my eyes perpetually being in soft-focus. It doesn’t mean that I go around in a migraine-esque visual haze, but that I can tune my inner eye to a certain frequency and read energy. I began this way but I grew to have a distaste for reading people in this manner.

I also dislike cards of any kind, in part because they are unwieldy for me to handle very deftly  with my lower level of overall coordination.  So I am not a reader of tarot or other cards.  But it would be impossible to separate myself from my mediumship ability or expunge it from myself.  I’m a highly honest person and I couldn’t imagine holding this information back on a blog like this.

The difference between someone who just reads auras or other psychic (or ambient) energy signals is that a medium communicates directly with spirits. Every medium possesses psychic ability but not every psychic possesses mediumistic ability.

This DOES NOT mean that I have some kind of magic ability.  I believe that anyone who wants to can be trained in mediumship.  That’s right, anyone.  Not everyone wants to do what I do, and that’s fine with me.  I find it an integral part of my life, and that’s why I do what I do.

But there’s a lot that I don’t do.  I don’t give readings anymore.  I don’t use mediumship for money.  I don’t espouse a lot of New Age beliefs–in fact this blog came out of a need to expose the New Age bullshit I have dealt with for the past 17 years since first discovering my abilities.  It grew into something more–exposing ableism and hipocrisy across faiths as well as articulating my own experiences.

My development has come in stages and looking back I would say I had my first mediumship experiences at age 3. But no one was there to tell me what they were.  They were frightening and unsettling, and I didn’t reconsider the situation until age sixteen when I met a pair of Native American shamans who trained me in basic energy work. I had some existing skill and I was given the task of tutoring some of their students but in other ways my development was not as well-rounded as it could be.  I floated through the stuff I found easy and ignored some other things, but I was sixteen so I pretty much have learned to give myself a pass for that.

Not all energy workers are mediums and I reported some experiences which my teacher didn’t really like to hear about, so eventually I shut up and put my mediumship away.  But it came back.  For the past ten years I’ve been practicing actively.

My specialty within mediumship is not traditional readings, although I was trained to do these by a woman named Laura Evans.  I spend much more of my time deeply investigating the spirit world and how it functions, especially in regards to spirit guides and angels.  I deeply believe in spirit guides, although life is certainly liveable without knowing yours.  I find my interactions with my guide team to be infinitely rewarding.  I learned the true meaning of unconditional love from them, and exposure to that after a lifetime without it has been a heady experience.

Not all mediums practice as I do, but I have come to the conclusion that as with spirituality our experiences of mediumship and psychic ability are individual. No two psychics practice in exactly the same way. (I don’t even like to apply  the label of psychic to myself because I don’t enjoy pure energy reading at all and I find it is a bit too lofty, but the truth is I can’t entirely avoid using it.)  I have known all manner of psychic people and I believe we all have some innate ability–gut feelings are one example.

I don’t believe myself to be “special” because I unearthed this about myself.  I assume that a series of unfortunate events in my life caused me to start reaching into spirit for comfort, and I do that to this day.  Day to day what I do is interact with my guide team and apply what I learn to my life and offer it in a limited way to my friends who are open to it.  The truth is I could talk about the spirit world almost indefinitely as I find it endlessly fascinating, but I don’t require anyone to hold the same beliefs as me to make my faith run.  I don’t hide it, but I don’t require belief from my friends–only a basic respect that it works for me and is a large part of my life.

If you have any comments, questions, or curiosities you’d like to lay to rest, feel free to leave them here or, if you know how, comment to me privately about this entry.  This is what this explanation is here for.