Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!
Today we will be continuing with part 3 of our newest series: “Pagan Life Lessons”. This series is a bit of a break from our usual (community-centric) content. We are a people of stories, and how those stories influence our values and spirituality is an important part of who we are.
For those of you who may have missed the first two articles in this series, check them out!
Pagan Life Lessons – Hope
Pagan Life Lessons – Sacrifice
Each of us can find our own lessons to be learned from the old ways; these are just a few ways that those stories have helped to improve the quality of my life.
In the first article of this series, “Hope“, I mentioned our communities focus on the ideal of “Strength”. For those of us whose circumstances have already made us feel vulnerable, and want to reach out to our own community for help, that message can seem fantastically intimidating. However, I believe that same virtue can help us become better people by teaching us what to DO with those difficult experiences. The Lore teaches us that the value of strength is not simply a matter of shrugging off our problems. Real strength isn’t about some kind of brute force “TAKE IT LIKE A MAN” philosophy, it’s about learning to define your experiences rather than be defined by them.
Throughout the Eddas, Odin is constantly haunted by the knowledge of his own fate. He can see his own death coming, and can do nothing to stop it. We can see the toll that this knowledge takes on him as his story progresses, changing him into a harsher, and more skeptical, person. Yet the Allfather persists. Even mighty Odin isn’t unfazed by this trauma, but his strength can be seen in how he chooses to define his experience. He learns from his burden; he uses that experience to build something bigger than himself, that will live on when he is gone. He doesn’t ignore his problems, or try to escape them, instead he allows himself to embrace and use that which he fears most.
Life Lesson #3: Strength Out of Suffering
So this is the part of the article where I’m supposed to reveal some pithy little truism that can somehow make EVERYTHING better, right? I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people pass around meaningless little fortune-cookie-sized nuggets of spiritual advice on coping with life’s hardest moments. As if a cute little saying like “The gods never give us more than we can handle” is actually supposed to help us deal with the grief of losing a loved one, or the trauma of continued abuse. There is no cute little magic trick to miraculously just “get over it”. No aspect of our traditions or Lore can make those kinds of scars just go away. Instead, what I’ve learned from Heathenry is that it’s OK to have scars.
Living with an abusive parent stole years of my childhood away from me. The memories of most of my younger years are so tainted that the very idea of setting foot anywhere within THE ENTIRE STATE OF COLORADO fills me with a sense of dread and loathing.
Even nearly a decade later, those memories hold such an overwhelming sense of rage and frustration that they can jump to the surface at a moments notice, at the slightest of triggers. After nearly ten years of “recovery”, my wife and I STILL have to fight those demons of mine. Nothing will ever make those experiences OK, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that they will be with me for the rest of my life.
I choose to gain strength from those scars, rather than hide from them. I have a child who will arrive in almost exactly 4 months time, and I take joy in the fact that my child will NEVER share my experiences. No matter what may come, I know that I can provide a better life for my daughter than I had. I can use those experiences to help create something bigger than myself. Those memories will always be a part of my life, but I can ensure that they are not a part of my legacy.
The story of Odin (among many others) has taught me how to craft strength out of suffering. Faith can’t make all of the suffering in our lives go away, but it can help us learn to keep those memories from consuming us.