Dedicant

Eric O. Scott —  December 14, 2013 — 24 Comments
James Morris as Wotan.

James Morris as Wotan,
from the 2009 New York Met production of Die Walkure.

The first time I heard about Odin – really heard, or perhaps really listened – I was listening to Alaric Albertsson speak. That was never what I called him, then or now; he is, and always will be, my uncle Alaric, the person my god-brother was named after, one of the many people who had known me since the day I was born. I was eighteen years old at that time, attending a Pagan festival on my own for the first time. It had been some years since I had last seen Alaric, and his path had evolved in that time. He had embraced something he called “Fyrn Sedu,” or “the Old Ways,” an Anglo-Saxon form of Heathenry. I had never heard the word “Heathenry” before, not with that meaning.

That weekend changed my life in many ways. It forced me to ask certain questions, questions which I am still struggling to answer. It brought me my first genuine mystical experience, undergoing a seidhr ritual by the campfire, diving deep into the roots of the World Tree. And it was the first time I was ever really forced to think about Odin in any context besides how much I loved his turn as Mr. Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Alaric, being a Saxon Heathen, referred to Woden, the English cognate of the Norse god. But the Saxon names have never formed easily on my tongue; despite having a rich resource into Saxon Heathenry like Alaric at my disposal, I’ve always been called to the forms the gods took in Iceland, to the Old Norse tongue. To Odin. Óðinn.

“What you have to understand about Woden,” said Alaric, “is that he has plans in mind, and they’re bigger than you. And if you’re part of his plans, that might not always turn out best for you. It will be best in the end, sure. But Woden never tells you the whole story.”

It was a scary thought, the idea of a god whose plans were much bigger than yours. I had always thought of a relationship with a god as being a very individual, intimate thing. The language may be Christian, but it’s not a solely Christian reflex: the desire for your own personal god, a deity who places your well-being at the top of her priorities. And to hear that Woden – Odin – was not that sort of god, was someone who might like you and care about you, but still was willing to use you if that would further his ends… That was a discomforting thought.

And yet…

*

When I first felt comfortable calling myself Heathen, several years later, I did not think much about Odin. I thought of myself as Thor’s. I felt comfortable with him. When I went blindly into a Catholic midnight mass and felt nearly undone with fear, it was Thor who seemed to appear in the pew beside me, who calmed me with the warmth of his big, meaty hand. It was his hammer I wore around my neck; it was his hammer that I sanctified for my altar.

It’s not that I ignored the Old Man; I gave him praise and offerings in thanks for the occasional sips he allotted me from the mead of poetry, and I looked to him for wisdom in the Havamal. But I thought of myself as Thor’s man, even though I never took it upon myself to make that a formal bond.

It was just under a year ago now that I got the letter from the University of Missouri: I had been accepted into a PHD program at the only university I had seriously considered attending. I found out while on layover in Dallas between my home in St. Louis and the 2012 Pantheacon. I was overjoyed – I started jumping and weeping and laughing in the middle of the terminal. I could make it. I was the first person in my family to finish a bachelor’s degree, and now I would go all the way.

Doctor Scott. To hell with the odds. I could beat them.

This was what I had always wanted.

The problem, I realized as I boarded the plane to San Jose, was that I wasn’t sure I still wanted it.

This, you see, was to have been my farewell to the idea of graduate school. I had applied before, when I was still in my master’s program; I hadn’t been accepted. I applied again the next year, this time only to the school where I had done my master’s; I had been told I was a shoo-in. That didn’t work out either. I left the academy and thereby the plans I had made for my life. I went to work, and gradually, I got comfortable with that. I made okay money. I started to pay down my student loans. I had dinner with my family on Wednesday nights. I sent out the last round of applications on a lark; my test scores were all set to expire in 2013 anyway. I had planned on rejection. I hadn’t planned on what I would do if I got in.

And then I got in.

I started dreaming about ravens a week after that. They were not pleasant dreams; the ravens chased me down the sidewalks and alleys of my adolescence, their eyes filled with vicious gleams and their beaks sharpened like daggers. Every night I found myself starring in a somnambulant remake of The Birds. I don’t usually remember my dreams at all; I almost never have recurring nightmares. But this one kept reappearing. I kept waking up groggy and afraid.

I started to realize the details of the dream – the layout of the alleys and the streets, the landmarks, the buildings. I recognized the building where I went to high school – a loaded metaphor if there ever was one – and that’s where I went. The ravens followed me, but inside the building, their character changed. They didn’t attack. They watched.

They were waiting to see what I would do.

Even as I type this, it seems mad. You based your decision on whether to quit your job and move across the state on dreams of a Hitchcock cliché? Rationally, I don’t accept this at all. You didn’t make this decision because of a dream, my reason says. You were in a dead-end job and got a better offer. You took it. That’s all.

But reason is such a small part of my soul. The rest frowns in wonder: who sent the ravens?

As if I couldn’t tell.

What you have to understand, says Alaric, his voice a whisper in the folds of memory, is that he has plans in mind, and they’re bigger than you.

*

I rebuilt my altar a little over a month ago. The night after I put it all together – nailed the pictures to the walls, arranged the statues and the tools the way I liked – I did an impromptu ritual. I simply meant to re-consecrate the altar itself, a sort of magickal stamp of completion. That was the intention.

Instead, I found myself swearing my life to Odin.

I had not expected to do this, and I fumbled through the ritual, searching for the words to properly express the terms of this bond. We came to an agreement. I offered him five years.

I felt anxious, terrified, excited, doomed. It felt like the day I left home, or the night I first made love. I don’t want to make this sound like some heroic endeavor; it’s only graduate school. It’s not dragon-slaying. But I chose to sacrifice quite a lot for it: money, proximity to my family and my coven, any hope of “putting down roots.” I traded those things for knowledge, for another few sips from the mead of poetry.

It’s not quite the same as losing an eye. But yes, it will do.

Send to Kindle

Eric O. Scott

Posts Twitter Facebook

Eric Scott writes fiction and creative nonfiction from the unique perspective of a second-generation Wiccan. He earned his MFA from the University of Missouri - Kansas City and is a current PhD candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri - Columbia. He has published in a number of magazines and anthologies. He serves as a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha and writes the Real Pagan Geek blog at PaganSquare. His first book, "The Lives of the Apostates," was recently published by Moon Books. He once played guitar in a Taoist glam rock band.
  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Ƿæꞅ þu hæl!

    • Wyrd Wiles

      I recognize the intent, but not the vocabulary.

      What is “Ƿæꞅ þu”?

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Correct spelling of “Waes thu (hael)”.

        I’m old fashioned with my lettering.

        • Eric Scott

          By “old fashioned,” Leoht means “9th century.” :-)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I could type in Fuþorc… :p

          • Eric Scott

            But then who would know hwæt on eorðan you were talking about?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            This is true. Couldn’t even be sure if people’s computational devices would even recognise the runes, I know I had to install a bunch of extra unicode fonts onto my little laptop in order to get it to recognise all the characters I want to use.

        • Wyrd Wiles

          Ah! Got it :)

  • http://www.wolfden-designs.com/ Taren Martin

    Welcome and Hail, my brother! The Old Man is not too demanding of a task master…

    • Eric Scott

      Depends on what he needs, doesn’t it? :-)

      • Wyrd Wiles

        ^– Indeed

  • Erin Lale

    Wow! Thanks for posting this! It is so rare for a heathen to talk about our personal spiritual experiences. It’s a powerful story and it’s so nice to see someone standing up like this!

  • Ash McSidhe

    “What you have to understand about Woden,” said Alaric, “is that he has plans
    in mind, and they’re bigger than you. And if you’re part of his plans,
    that might not always turn out best for you. It will be best in the end,
    sure. But Woden never tells you the whole story.”

    So very true. Good fortune to you!

  • Emily McIntyre

    Thank you for posting this, Eric. I’ve known of your work for some time of course, but am just beginning to read it as I leave behind the strong chains of Christendom and attempt to open my heart to the old religions. Thanks for your openness–the language of devotion is not new to me, but new in this context and fearfully refreshing.

    Thank you.

    • Eric Scott

      If you ever need a sympathetic ear, you know where I am.

  • http://saracamis.blogspot.com/ Sara Amis

    “It’s not quite the same as losing an eye.”

    Wait til comps…

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Interesting watching you develop as a man, now as a Heathen. Meanwhile, by all means. keep on writing.

  • Mamadreads

    I’m at Mizzou, too! :-)
    Small world.

    • Eric Scott

      Say hello sometime!

      • Mamadreads

        Will do, sir. I’m an English major, a “nontraditional” student, (I.e. In my 30s). Still undergrad due to life circumstances, but loving Mizzou nonetheless. Say hi if you see me around! I’m the one with the long long dreads. :-)

  • Emily Haroldsdottir

    I have known Odin since early childhood, but have hesitated to attach the term Heathen to myself, due to many years of living carefully in a community composed of people who jealously guard their own religion. I may just begin wearing the hammer outside of my clothing, rather than tucked carefully beneath my garments. Thank you for sharing, and best of luck to you in your academic career.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      It can be hard to be outnumbered by the intolerant.