The Miraculous and Unexpected Happened

August 15th last year, I found myself on a table in a fluoroscopy lab as a resident, assisted by a lab tech, took directions from another doctor yelling from the other room on what would end up being the 4th or 5th attempt at a spinal tap with my body barely responding to the local anesthesia they were using on me.  To be fair to the resident, most of those jabs weren’t his, and he would have gotten it his first time if they’d realized I needed a larger needle than most people.  The pain shot and burned around my rib cage, following the nerves there like electric wiring; it pooled in my hips and ran down my legs over and over again.

I’ve been meaning to talk about that day before now, to talk about how the pain I experienced was nothing less than ordeal work that has changed me forever.  I no longer fear pain like I did before.  I no longer worry if anything they do to me medically is going to hurt (though I still am not that fond of having my eyes touched, which happens regularly enough that I know I can get through that, too).

What I remember, though, is that my God was there for me, and in that moment of agony, I felt his hand tightened around mine.  I heard his voice tell me that everything was going to be okay, but it was important for me to experience this.

A month later He would drop the bomb that He was leaving.  Somewhere in there I handed the management of my healthcare (note: not my health, but healthcare) to Odin, who promptly lit a fire under my ass and forced me to stand up for myself in a situation where I wasn’t getting heard.  The day I saw my new neurologist, I spotted a valknut hidden on the side of some hippie van covered in flowers in town.  I knew things would work out the way they were supposed to…  I was still skeptical.

I had another follow-up about my pseudotumor cerebri two days ago, and the days leading up to it were horrifically stressful.  The only thing they’ve found helps take some people into remission is weight loss, and since I have a history of eating disorder this has been the part of this experience I’ve struggled with this most.  And to make matters worse, I had managed to gain weight instead of lose it, though to be honest beyond worrying about getting lectures from well-meaning doctors, I haven’t cared.

My appointment on Monday came with me not being able to see one super subtle thing on one of my visual test.  There were some extra beeps on my visual field test.  I was absolutely certain that my vision was going, which is the big fear of the disease.  I was sure I’d gotten worse.

I commented to my mother that what I really, really wanted to hear was that there was no sign of pressure and that it was time to wean me off the diuretic that has started to effect my autonomic nervous system and give me more heart issues than usual.  But I’ve been at this chronic illness thing for 30-some years.  I said that I didn’t expect to hear any of that; I no longer hope for the best but accept that things may not change.  That is a hard thing for someone to understand who doesn’t deal with this level of illness, but it’s the very best place one can be in coping-wise as long as they don’t let the darkness of it all swallow them…  Because that’s the danger of it.

My doctor came in, read all the tests, and checked out my eyes.  And then the very last thing I expected to happen happened…

He said the words, “I see no signs of pressure today.  I think, despite your weight gain, that your neurologist can trial tapering you off the medication.”

I started to cry the moment I got out of the clinic.  Yesterday I was prone to weeping in joy.

But as the shock has worn off, I started to realize something…

Last January my friend acting as Volva yanked something off of me in the middle of seidr, and it was terrifying.  My friend who very obviously was introduced to me in a way that I still can’t entirely believe wasn’t orchestrated in part of this story by the Gods.  But what was even more terrifying in an exciting way was that I felt something open up and start to drain at the back of my head that night.  And while the process has been slow, looking over all the reports from doctors between then and now shows that in the last 7 months the pressure in my head had started to wane where before it had been getting worse.

I rarely share publicly words from my private journal, but I feel compelled to here.  What I had asked that night in seidr was what it was that Odin wanted of me.

The answer was knowledge, knowledge, knowledge (by the end she was yelling the word).  She said she saw me with a black veil over my head.  She saw the iridescence of black feathers.  My left hand was a raven’s wing, and in my right hand was a rock.  I was standing on a labyrinth that had been smoothed by water.

It was at that point that I asked where I was to start.  First, she screamed and doubled over in pain, which…  Everyone that has ever looked into my wyrd has had this sort of reaction, or they’ve at least spoken of pain.  Much pain.  It’s pretty fucking terrible to understand that the pain I feel reaches out that far.  Someday I may get enough bravery gathered about to ask why that is…

But she told me the labyrinth was my brain…  Not my mind, but my brain.  She said something was at the back of my brain blocking “it.”  It was effecting my arms.  Then she yelled, “Careful!  Careful!”  She proceeded to feel for me, and climbed onto the ground.  She found the woman next to me, and grabbed onto something in the air and yanked.  However, I knew she was aiming for me, because when she did that I suddenly felt something dislodge and pull from the base of my skull.  I felt the pressure in my head drain.  Later she said it was like a parasitic worm that had been wrapped about my chest. – from my personal journal, 1/13/2015

I hadn’t thought much about that night in my living room where I had my first experience with seidr until this morning over coffee.  The skeptic in me is hard-pressed wonder if this was just a coincidence, but the believer in me will win out in the end.  Checking over my neuro-opthalmology notes, in January the signs that I had pressure in my head had lowered slightly just a 2 weeks after this experience.

Now those who know me in my personal life know that when I talk of the Gods, it is with belief and all the conviction that goes behind it.  There are layers there, though, where somehow I didn’t believe as much as I do now.  My utter avoidance of all things Team Heathen turned into a brilliant line of where Odin (Woden?  He’s preferring Woden lately) tipped one domino stacked against a hundred more, setting off a chain reaction to reveal that He’d always been there.  Always.

Always.

I am a mystic.  I am a believer.  And I am a woman of both science and faith…  And perhaps that “and” is sometimes more of a “but.”  While the medicine and modern science was 100% necessary and the right choice, I know that in the end this disease that has no real treatment, no cure, no explanation as to why it happens is/was in the end is managed and treated by Odin.  I may not be in remission.  I may not be able to get off some of my pills…  But part of me rests in the comfortable place where Odin has this.

Out of what feels like a million novels about the Gods and Spirits stepping into the lives of others that I feel like I’ve read, I didn’t see this coming.  And perhaps that’s what this situation has taught me the most…  There are degrees of belief and faith in the Gods.  Sometimes those beliefs don’t have to be tested.  Sometimes the Gods metaphorically pull the tablecloth out from under the dishes without them breaking over dinner, and you’re left in quiet shock, eyes bugging, because your life has suddenly became the makings of fiction.

And your heart explodes with love for Them.  You can never go back to the way things were before, but no matter what happens you also realize that doesn’t really matter anymore.

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When Heathen Gods Crash Your Roman Holiday

Or: A Spirit-Worker’s Year in Review

I haven’t written much about the way Odin has really turned my world upside down in the last year. Not a lot, at least. I think partially, because I’m not really sure where it’s going in regards to where I fall within a religious practice. I think, perhaps, in my private practice I’m coming to terms with simply being a Pagan and Polytheist without a cultural descriptor ahead of it. But I’m not there yet. It’s funny to me that I’ve spent so many years debating the usage of Roman in my label that shortly after finally accepting it, I would be clinging to it and uncomfortable leaving it behind while Gods scream in my ear “Go Heathen, go Gaul, go somewhere else…”

December 17th was the beginning of Saturnalia, which was the first Roman festival I ever celebrated. But last year at around 1 in the morning on that day, I was up too late reading in bed. Suddenly I heard howls coming down the large stoney cliff and over the creek in my back yard. Then I felt a Presence standing outside of my window, which due to the split level is directly above my head. I got the very distinct message that I wasn’t supposed to peek out the window, and honestly I was too terrified to look anyway. In my mind’s eye I saw a pair of brown work boots and dark blue jeans.

My first thought beyond staying as still as possible, like a deer locked in the gaze of a predator was, Holy shit. It’s the Wild Hunt.

Slowly the howls traveled up my drive way, out into the street, and further down it.

The next day, I set about trying to figure out what had happened, because surely I had been in the presence of a God. But it wasn’t Hekate. It wasn’t Apollon.

By the time morning came around, I’d decided to not go with my original instinct, because at the time I was obsessing over Romanizing the local world around me. I quickly talked myself out of the Wild Hunt theory.  That was not my thing.

I asked Facebook. Coyote was brought up. Local Gods. Silvanus. I decided Silvanus was a good enough God for me, so I ran with it despite feeling like I’d gotten something wrong.

The following day, I caught sight of Someone standing on the hill, watching me. I felt Them in my home despite drawing the very specific line of You shall not come into my house. Mr Foxglove reminded me that he’d watched a man walk up the incredibly steep almost cliff-like limestone hill only to duck behind a tree and disappear. I’d rolled my eyes at the time, telling him that there must have been a small hill the man had gone behind.

What scared me the most about the situation, though, was that I had local apples that earlier in the day had been absolutely fine. Suddenly there was one that was so rotten that it was nearly seeping through the hanging basket it was sat in. I threw it out.

About an hour later I turned around and the apple was back again. Along with the Man on the Hill.

So I proceeded to flip out. It had been years since I’ve particularly terrified of things like this happening, because in my life these things happen far too often not only to me, but those who are have contact with me. Non-believers. People who have to believe on some level, because shit happens and Gods arrive. Gods come into my loved ones’ lives like ghost stories. Sometimes They stay. Sometimes They were just there for a fleeting moment. Hekate on a street in Los Angeles, letting an internet friend at the time know that She was watching; Her presence clearly giving me warning that I ignored at the time that another point on my spiritual path was about to be unlocked. The Man with a Hat, now understood to be Odin, chasing off boyfriends in high school as a ghost… Even Mr Foxglove saw Him in the house in Iowa the first time he came to visit me there; I told him it was simply an angry, drunken ghost who lived in the house.

Gods arrive in my life like a knife in the ribs; none of them particularly gentle in Their handling on first contact. I suppose my stubbornness is a strong bolt on the doors They walk through, and when They discover a gentle shake isn’t going to be enough to get my attention, They get out the battering ram…

They stand outside my bedroom window with howling creatures and cause me to panic. That is how you get my attention. I’m almost ashamed to admit it.

The following day, I grabbed up the remaining apples in my home, some pork I’d made the night before, and a jar of milk. I made the trek up and around the block to the hill at the back of my yard. I’ve discovered the logistics of living on the edge of the Ozark Bluffs makes even a small hill one you have to walk around the block to get to the top of. It screws with your spacial understanding… There’s a magic to it, though. Almost like the Tardis, a world bigger on the inside than it seems from the outside.

From the top of the hill, it is another world. It’s a place completely ignored by man, save for people occasionally making a jaunt up the steep almost cliff-like hill to cut across it. It’s surrounded by urban expansion such as a school, golf course, and homes, but for the most part it’s simply an abandoned .6 acres that was possibly meant for constructing houses upon before someone thought better of it. It’s filled with discarded street cement. It’s wasteland. And, amusingly, due to that fact it’s filled with native plants such as horsenettle, which I would have never learned about had I not gone on that walk. In fact, any time I wander up there, I find myself learning something new about the land. I notice a plant or a certain quality of stillness. Coyote droppings. A deer herd. This is the magic world of the liminal, and I understand that is why I love it the way I do.

At the top of that hill, my home looks a million miles away.

And now, randomly during meditation, I will find myself dropped into the middle of that space again and again. I’m a gray squirrel running up the hill towards it. I am laying in the weeds naked. And the Spirit of the Hill, who is wild and far too interested in me now that He’s aware that I’m aware of Him, regularly comes to show me something new.

On the day I left my first offering, I didn’t know any of this was coming. I wanted to be left alone. I asked politely to please stay out of my house. I promised to compost in offering, which has only manifested recently in a place I was shown would be where to take dying plants… A place my husband picked out one day after yardwork, and my mother followed suit. The neighbors, before they moved or died, put their own yard scraps in that place as well.

That day, the first day I was up There, I walked home with my eyes to the ground. These were the days where rocks were appearing as I found myself becoming more and more in tune with the land of my blood. I plunged my hand into the Missouri River 2 months before when It called me to the point where I could no longer ignore visiting it, and pulled out rocks to take home. While getting family pictures taken on a day the winds were ridiculously strong, a rock fell from the sky to my feet. The adults with me looked at it with confusion, wondering aloud where it had come from. When no one was looking I made sure to calmly tuck it into my pocket and carry it home. The golden limestone I brought home from the hill is large… Nearly the size of a baseball. That was the rock I was given that day.

It wouldn’t be until February that I woke up one afternoon from a nap, having dreamed that Odin came to me. We talked of obligation, the blood of my people, and other things I could no longer remember upon waking. He gave me a golden, jeweled cup to drink from that was filled with blood. We both drank from it. I woke up wondering what it all meant. I had spent my time avoiding the Norse pantheon, because I had no interest in it at the time… Or perhaps I was a little scared of it.

Slowly it started to occur to me that Odin has always been in my life. On looking over His Wikipedia page, a picture of Him peering from under His hat made my blood run cold. In my teenage years, I was haunted by a shadowy figure that was the shadow man in a wide-brimmed hat. At times I would catch glimpses of Him about the house, watching me in mirrors for instance. But most of the time I would smell beer or whiskey, feel Him around me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to Him standing over me and talking in a mumbled language I could never understand. Others started having run-ins with this ghost.

The day it really hit me this was a possible reality, I remembered that shortly after my daughter was born, my mother hand put a letter into my hands from a psychic in the United Kingdom I’d written to in 2001. She said, “I thought you might want to see this.” I remembered it spoke of the Man in the Hat, as I called him. I hadn’t actually re-read it at the time, but I scrambled to find it when it came to mind.

It read:

I do pick up spirit activity around you – You are especially susceptible – he needs to touch your hair he tells me. “You have such beautiful hair.” I know that he means you no harm and is simply there to watch. If you desperately want rid of him, tell him loudly and firmly to “Get lost.” It may take a few goes to get through to him, but he’ll get the message eventually. If you’re okay with him, let him stay. He’s harmless enough.

The other one is not like this. He’s dark and not so happy. He’s old and has beer around for a long time. He says his name is “an old family name in the village.” Sounds like Edward or Edwin. He has clean hands, so he’s never done hard work, but he says “All of this was our farm.” And if you go to the bottom of your land, you’ll see a boundary or a wall, which was a bit of the farm yard. (I would like to see this myself. Nice little bit of history.)

He speaks with an accent, which seems to be broken. Like Swedish or Norway by the sound of his “S” like “Ssss.” Take care, because he’s bossy and used to having his own way.

As a note, the house I was living in was a farm house, but the letter had always been a mystery to me. She was correct about the beer and the darkness. However, I’d spent a good amount of time researching. There were never any Edwards or Edwins that owned the land my house was built on in the town. There were no Scandinavian people. There was no boundary wall. And yet, I didn’t write off the letter; I just brushed it off at the time I was researching. Psychics are rarely 100% right.

Edwin, however, is one of Odin’s names. Reading it now with what little education I’ve gathered of Odin is an exercise in understanding His sense of humor. Finding the letter somehow confirmed momentarily that I wasn’t completely losing my mind, which honestly is something a person who is God-touched likely fears even more than the average person.

Things have gotten stranger and stranger… This last year has been nothing but an exhausting, wild ride as my physical health has turned from bad to worse to tolerably terrible yet hopeful. I feel like it’s just about time for me to start trying to piece it together into a chronological timeline… Like all the things I’ve been experiencing, things I don’t even have the energy most days to talk about let alone write about. Dreams I only have fragments of… The Gods who come to talk to me… Gods I’m not even sure I know who They actually are… An insanely complicated and convoluted language of symbols that I’ve yet to fully figure out what they all mean.

All this year has gotten me is the absolute deconstruction of the very core of my beliefs, friendships, and my body. And yet I have faith. Some argue that faith isn’t a Pagan value… That we don’t intrinsically hold faith as a polytheist value… But I do. Some days I’m not even fully sure that I exist, because more and more my life seems like some novel I should have read in my early teens.

But the Gods exist. The Gods are real. They are here. With us. Meddling. Forcing us to grow.

The Gods are here. That’s my message through all of it. They are real.

Two nights ago, a bomb was dropped that left me uncomfortable and alone. It ripped out my heart and caused me wonder exactly what the end game to this journey actually is. I’ve been told over and over again that the reward will be great, but sometimes I have to wonder if perhaps the reward will be great for someone other than me… And then I’m disturbed by my own internal urge to keep walking the path I am without actually knowing where I’ll end up.

I was told my time with Apollon is over, and I understood that the love is still there. Part of this journey is attempting to find this God’s light in the darkness again, but He is no longer Apollon…

I don’t know who the God I’ve loved all these years is anymore. My mortal mind finds this a hard concept to adjust to. Syncretism is painful, my friends, as much as it is joyous and beautiful. The same could be said about spirit work and mysticism… The Gods are not always beauty and joy. We carry this truth in the pit of our bellies, and despite our attempts to step away from the concept of appeasing the Gods we still seek Their hand in our life with each offering laid out to Them.

I can almost remember the point where I realized that I was to spend my life seeking to make each moment a prayer to Them. Each action a direct connection, an example of how They work through others. People may not know that I am a Pagan, but I try to live my life in a way that gives honor to the label and the Gods we carry in our hearts as if they did should they ever find out.

I said at one point that we shouldn’t seek to be martyrs of our religions, but I’ll openly admit that I sometimes wonder if that’s exactly what some of us are destined to become. Because if we touch the Gods, if we find ourselves woven into the fabric of the World where the Gods truly are, then we run the risk of being wounded by the truths w/We make with each other. We may not be made in the likeness of our Gods, but we are made of the same emotions… I would argue that, truly, our emotions are part of what makes a spark in each of us reach towards the possibility of our own divinity within us.

There is a path taken. The choice must be made on some deep soul-level to walk it. But walk it we must, because sometimes the only other option is to die. So perhaps it’s not a road but a river… Swim with the current or die. Or, in my case, give up and let the current take you where it will.

I don’t know where I’m going. But I know that, even if I wanted this all to stop, They wouldn’t let that happen. The Gods don’t always take no for an answer. There’s no point in being upset about it, because that’s not something that’s going to change. And that, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Why would I honor Gods who didn’t know better than I do?

Yet I can see why Odin would give His eye these days. I understand that desire to see everything, know how it all will end.

Hail, Apollon. Thank You for Your lessons. I’ll forever love You.

Hold on tight, y’all… I’m heartbroken, but I get the feeling this has just turned into a very interesting ride…

(Hail Florence, patron saint of godspouses everywhere…)

What 20 Years Has Taught Me

Missouri River by http://www.flickr.com/photos/shotaku/870553709/in/set-72157600194555080
Missouri River by http://www.flickr.com/photos/shotaku/870553709/in/set-72157600194555080

Warning: I swear in this a few times.  Please don’t be too shocked.  My mouth is well-versed in the sailor’s language in person.

I looked at my calender to realize that today marks 20 years with Paganism as a conscious choice in my life. I have officially self-identified as a Pagan for more than half of my life. I remember this type of experience being thrown around as credentials for being an Elder in the community when I first started. “I’ve been a practicing Pagan for 20 years,” someone would say to qualify their argument in online spats. And I would quiet my brain. I would listen to what they’d say, thinking This person has been doing this forever, and surely they’ve discovered many truths on their path.

Standing at 20 years, you know what I feel like I know about Paganism, Polytheism, Roman What-Have-You, and the Universe Around Me?

Absolutely nothing.

Seriously.

Abso-fucking-lutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Maybe I’ve been Paganing the wrong way. I have no community in the flesh near me; in fact, I’m starting to suspect I may be a bit of a misanthrope when it comes to finding a brick and mortar community. I have no special titles. No awards. No laurels and accolades.

Dear Little Camilla of the Teenage Years, how I want to kiss your forehead. How I want to let you know that gut feeling you had that measurement of time isn’t what makes an Elder was the correct one. What matters is the quality of their heart and the wisdom (which doesn’t automatically come with age or time) gained from experience is not a one-size-fits-all game. No one gives you the secrets of life at 20 years in or at 60 years of age.  You who were pissed off from day one about the Crone archetype making people feel that, just because they’ve managed to survive X amount of years that they’re suddenly wise and elders. You were right. It’s quality. Not quantity.

At 20 years, I’ve been doing it all wrong… I hold a firm understanding of my own understanding of How Things Work. Oh my Gods, I’m shocked when people tell me I seem to know what I’m talking about. Oh my GODS, I have an informal student or two lurking about out there in the world…

Oh my Gods…

Is there such a thing as a Pagan and/or Polytheist Quarter Life Crisis? Because I’m afraid I may be headed into one a little early…

Because here are the real secrets I’ve learned in the last 20 years:

The minute I assume I’ve got a firm grip on something, the Gods see fit to knock me off my feet. The moment I say “I am XYZ,” Someone grabs me by the head, spins me, and sends me off in another direction. The very second I publicly called myself a Roman Polytheist, I heard a little whisper in my ear of “No, you’re not. You are a child built of Missouri River clay, and your blood is the sweat of this land. Your heartbeat is the ghostly echo of the Katy in the river bottoms, rolling prairies, and forested hills. You are the yellow limestone bluffs you love so much. You are a Midwestern mystic. You are an American Polytheist, and that’s not a 4-letter word. Stop trying to be things you are not.”

Then Odin lays His hand down on the table in a game of cards I wasn’t even aware I was playing with Him, and all I can say is “Oh. Shit.” as suddenly a dozen mysteries, coincidences, and odd happenings from my life make sense.  Because where did Odin even come from?!

That is something else I’ve learned in my 20 years: When a God comes knocking, you answer the door. Even if you’re terrified of what it could mean. They tend to know when you’ve shut off all the lights are are hiding behind furniture trying to pretend you aren’t home. Imagine that.

So what does this all mean? I have no idea. Sometimes you just have to put your trust in the Gods and go where They take you.

That’s what 20 years as a Pagan has taught me.