Many Heathens and Pagans have a knee-jerk reaction to "Christianity" and anything which might be remotely Christian. (They still buy into many Christian preconceptions like dualism, the primacy of written texts, etc. but that's another story). How do you engage with Christianity in your practices?
Galina: Heathenry is still primarily a religion of converts and that carries with it certain baggage. I think it can take years to really sort through the ways in which our birth religions, or even the dominant religion of our culture (which in America, is Protestant Christianity) have patterned us to think about the Gods, ritual, ethics, even the place of religion in one’s life. It’s an ongoing process and given the way that Heathenry evolved in the US, spirituality gets somewhat short shrift and so that process of internal exploration often simply doesn’t occur. What we see instead are very fundamentalist Christian paradigms being transposed wholesale onto Norse culture and religion.
For instance, you mention dualism. Yes, there is a certain dualism in the Norse creation story, but it is not good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, but rather push vs. pull, expansion vs. contraction, yin vs. yang, if you will. It’s a dance, a balance of opposites with no moral judgment attached to that dance. I think you can see the influence of Christianity most especially in the way that contemporary Heathenry privileges “the lore” (certain medieval texts written well after conversion that are used to give insight into the culture in which pre-Christian Heathenry flourished).
These texts were never meant to be taken as religious guides and were in fact usually composed by Christians, yet modern Heathens, coming as they do from ‘religions of the book,’ have taken these texts and assigned them a normative authority that no written text would ever have had amongst the pre-Christian Norse and Germanic tribes (which were predominantly oral cultures). Then the questionable authority of these sources is used to challenge or block authentic experience. It would be an understatement to say that the state of Heathenry today is at best a work in progress.
None of this answers your question though. How do I engage with Christianity? Well, I draw an immense amount of personal inspiration from the writings of medieval mystics like Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and more contemporary mystics like C.S. Lewis and Therese of Lisieux. I find that their experiences in some ways provide a map to help me through my own experiences with Odin, Loki, and the other Gods. There is a commonality in the mystical experience of a Deity that I believe transcends religious borders.
I think there is much in Christianity, particularly Catholicism that can be beneficial: they took the idea of prayer and ran with it, in a way that the contemporary Northern Tradition should envy. There is also the ongoing idea that service to God is beneficial, natural, and good and that humility before the Gods is something to be cultivated, and in these things too I find a positive role model. As to the Jesus, Mary, and the Saints I respect Them. They are not my Gods, but I respect Them. Furthermore, as a shaman, I occasionally have clients who are Christian and have had to go to this or that Saint, or sometimes Jesus to intercede for them. That is what a shaman does sometimes.
Because honoring the ancestors is also a huge part of my spiritual practice, I am occasionally pushed to honor specific Saints, or to light a candle for the Virgin Mary because I have ancestors who had specific devotions to these beings. Sometimes I get the strong feeling that a specific ancestor wants a candle lit in his or her name to a particular saint. I’m ok with that. For what it’s worth, I also have an ancestor with a strong devotion to Ganesh, and so there’s a Ganesh on my ancestral altar who gets His share of cookies and sweets regularly. I made my peace with Christianity long ago and I am content to share space in my life as need be with those Gods.
My problem lies more with some Christians than Christianity. I find the arrogance all too often inherent in monotheism objectionable and offensive. I am a hard polytheist. I believe that the Gods are individual and powerful. I will respect yours. I expect the same in return. (Oddly enough, there is nothing in the Bible that precludes polytheism….if one actually reads the original text).
The idea of celibacy in service of the Divine is another hugely controversial one. (Abstinence is the last unforgivable perversion in some quarters...). As a Wife of Odin, what role do you think these practices can and should play in the community?
Celibacy can be personally very powerful but I do not think that it should ever be forced on someone by any human agency. If the Gods want one of Their servants or Godspouses to be celibate, that person will know it! Barring that Divine interference, I think it should be a personal choice. Odin no longer requires me to remain celibate, but I have found immense freedom in being unattached.
Celibacy teaches that nothing should come between a person and his or her Gods. Nothing is permitted to interfere with one’s spiritual growth and service. It is far easier to live a life centered around service to the Gods and ancestors when one is not wasting energy negotiating space and independence with a human partner. It allows one to live without compromise in an area where compromise is not something to condone.
Still, it’s a hard and lonely path. There are always sacrifices: the celibate may be able to focus more time and energy in service but lacks the very human comfort of a spouse and/or children. The person with a spouse and kids may lack the time and independence to serve fully. There are always trade offs. I think with celibacy, the skin hunger is the worst. We’re human, we’re corporeal, and we’re meant to share the gift of touch.
I think that some people would wither and die spiritually if they were forced to be celibate, or worse, might end up corrupt and lonely. For others, they would do well and thrive if they were able to learn to set a very physical boundary with themselves and others. Like ordeal, celibacy is a powerful tool of spiritual expression, an immensely powerful one. However, no one practice is right for everyone. No one way is right for everyone. I say honor the ancestors, honor the Gods, honor the land spirits and let that devotion guide your heart. You’ll be led to the practice that is right for you.