3 Pagans and a Cat

Three Paths, One Journey, New Cat

Ode to: Breathing

Here is a thought:

I call myself a syncretic Heathen. I do this for the reasons I have already discussed, but also because I don't think reconstruction is the end of the road. For me it can't be, for one thing-- it doesn't have enough bricks-- and it shouldn't be, for another-- that roadmap falls off before it reaches my territory. It says: "here there be monsters", and it's not wrong, but it's also not useful.

(There's value in monsters. But this is a thought for another time.)

The world I live in is very different from the world my ancestors lived in when the culture I was raised in was young, and still more different from the world my ancestors lived in when the Eddas were written, and yet more different from the world my ancestors lived in when the Eddas were set, and incomprehensibly different from the world of my most ancient and ill-known ancestors, all of whom sit at the shrine I have built for them, all of whom I feed and love and honor, and all of whom must mingle and accept the differences between themselves. Should I imagine that they will not accept that I, too, am different? That my life is not their life, that my world is not their world, that my faith cannot be as their faith? (And this: they had so many faiths. My most recent ancestors would not recognize how I worship at all. Further back-- perhaps they recognize a glimmer. Further still-- they laugh at my weak mimicry. Yet further-- they wonder why I listen so poorly. Back, back, back, across, across, across-- layers of time, and distance, and blood, and not-blood, and the threads of reality. My ancestors are not homogenous! My ancestors stretch beyond my capacity to understand their great breadth and depth of being! They number in their hundreds, thousands, and so many are forgotten! Our worlds are different! But: I feed them, I love them, I honor them. These are things all men know.)

They must accept these things-- they are true. You may ignore what is true only so long before truth bites you.

(My ancestors are people, of course. Perhaps some of them don't accept truth. Those, presumably, are the ancestors who do not sit at my shrine, and who thus do not get fed. For all things: action, consequence.)

So: if my world is different, and I am different, and my faith is different, it holds that my worship cannot end with nothing but the evidence that remains, with what has been preserved, with dust and bone. (There is power in bone! I love it keenly! But it is not life.) Even if that evidence was full and bountiful (and it is not) I could not be content with it-- worship is breath. You do not hold it in your lungs forever, stagnating and dying, all its vital oxygen given over to the alchemical fire long ago and nothing but poison left-- you exhale, you inhale, you feed the fire of your life with new fuel, again, again, again. Your breath moves. Your blood moves. You transform. You are, every moment, a new thing.

A new thing! Do you understand?

Sometimes the changes are subtle. Sometimes you will be burned to the ground, and you will be built new atop the foundations of your self. Sometimes you will be unrecognizable.

Odin gave you ond! Odin gave you breath! Odin, who is the spark, the madness, the action of transformation!

You cannot hold your breath forever, unless you are prepared to die.

I cannot worship with dead breath, and still expect to transform.

The remnants of my ancestors are not worthless. They are good landmarks. They are good maps, where they can be found. But remnants is what they are-- they are not living breath, they are not living work, they are crystallized, they are caught in amber, they are photographs, they are memories. They are valuable, and I love them, but worship is more than love-- it is work, and devotion, and breath.

So I must be syncretic. I must find living traditions, and study them. I must learn how they breathe, what they feed on, what transformation looks like to them. I must learn what their worship is. I must learn who they feed, and love, and honor. I must do the work of devotion, and accept what I find. I must bring these things back to my shrine. And what I find may not be useful right away! It may need to change before it can be of use to me, before it can be part of work and devotion and breath. I may need to change. The action of my breath may need to change.

All things change, as all men die, as all lights cast shadows, as all sound becomes silence.

Religion is social. Faith is divine. Devotion is personal.

Not everyone needs devotion. There is no shame at all in not being devoted, and there is no prestige in choosing it. It is a thing for a particular kind of person. If all you want is kindred, and framework, and social order, then all you need is religion. If all you want is to believe that there is something Other than you, then all you need is faith. But if you want transformation, and knowing-breath, and alchemy-of-self, and relationship with Other, then you need devotion, in part or whole. You need the work, and the change, and the breath, and the moment-to-moment process of it. You may learn what drowning feels like; you may learn to covet breath. You may learn to feed yourself; you may learn to feed Them. You may scream; you may be silenced. You may weep; you may laugh. You will do; you will be.

Breathe.

Not everyone needs devotion. Not everyone needs syncretism. But I need them.

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