I have been thinking about why someone like me would worship Odin. Or more rather, why a God like Odin would be interested in worship from someone like me. I suffer from a rather severe anxiety disorder. Sometimes it’s mostly under control and I can function close to normally. Sometimes … not so much. This question has occurred to me before, but it’s been quite prominent lately. This last month has been a BAD anxiety month for me. So I have been mulling this question around for about 3 weeks.
My anxiety is so bad that until last spring, I didn’t drive. I had a valid licence, and had driven off and on when I was in an mood upswing and my anxiety was not spiking. I paid 500 dollars of my own money last year to go back to driving school for a refresher, to get the confidence to begin driving again. It was a tremendous help and I am glad I did it. But driving is still something that makes me very nervous, and I try to plan my trips to avoid the worst traffic. Some days by the time I arrive home, my hands actually hurt a little from gripping the steering wheel so hard.
This is not the image typically conjured up when you think of a worshiper of Odin. One might think instead of the berserkers, the frenzied and fearless bare-chested warriors of old, so out of their mind with battle-rage that they cut their own bodies or chewed on their wooden shields as they waited for the order to attack the enemy. Even their fellow Vikings feared them; when battle came, it was wise to give them a wide berth, for they may not be able to tell friend from foe in their frenzy. It was best to let the berserkers loose, get out of the way, and let them go to work. They were the Viking shock troops, the first wave, and were believed to have performed shamanic rituals in Odin’s honor which whipped into their frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy.
I have very little in common with those heathens of old. Fear, in a very primal way, defines my life. I am learning to cope with it, I have strategies that reduce its effects somewhat, but it is a constant balancing act. My lizard brain is essentially always amped up, always on the lookout for a threat, ready to spring into fight-or-flight mode at the drop of a hat. My rational mind may be completely aware that I am not in danger and there is no need to respond like this, but it doesn’t matter. My nervous system is simply more sensitive than the average person’s, and even as I observe it happening, my anxiety builds, I start to get jumpy and distracted, my chest feels tighter and my heart starts to pound and it seems as if the walls are closing in on me and I just have to GET OUT of the situation, before I have a big, ugly-crying, hyperventilating meltdown. It is, to be completely frank, exhausting.
Odin is a God Who inspires terror, on a deep, primal level. And when Odin first began to make overtures towards me, I had a healthy respect – and also a healthy fear- of Him. I told Him no, at first. I told Him that I respected Him and His power, but that I had enough Gods in my personal pantheon. I didn’t want new religious duties. I didn’t want to have to learn an entirely new system or cosmology. And I had heard so much about what a difficult God He is to serve, how He will rip your life apart to test you, how like a drill sergeant He will tear you down in order to build you back up.
But, He refused to go away. And He was surprisingly gentle with me. I think the crucial difference was that I had already been broken down, utterly and completely. Life had destroyed me so totally that I (and my brother) had literally run away from society to live in a shack in the woods 3 states away from my home.
When I say Life had destroyed us, I’m referring to a complex sequence of events where I lost my job, the house we were sharing, my brother was struggling with rapidly onsetting panic attacks (usually 3 or 4 PER DAY at that time) as well as declining physical health which left me in the position of caregiver, and, oh yes, having to completely excise our father and only parent from our lives when it was discovered that he was a disgusting pedophile. Despite my trying I could not do anything about it legally. The cops were apologetic, but it essentially boiled down to his word vs ours, and he was respected in town. Yes, “life” broke me utterly, and at that point I never saw myself rejoining society.
I had big dreams about what to do with the 5 acres we managed to buy (land contract, and completely undeveloped). I wanted to make it a self-sustaining homestead, and to hold classes on everything from farming and permaculture to Paganism. I even dreamt of building extra cabins and of making it a shelter for homeless Pagans, who are often given an impossible choice – forced not to practice their spirituality in exchange for a roof over their head, as most homeless shelters in this country are run by churches. You might say this is unconstitutional, and it is, but what recourse does a homeless person have? None. You might wonder how often this happens, and I have no statistics, but I know of many personal stories of non-Christian homeless people being discriminated against in my local shelter.
Sadly, none of these dreams came to pass, for many reasons, including my brother’s steadily worsening health. (If you are wondering, he is doing MUCH better today, but if we had tried to stay the course at that time, he might be dead now.) I have mixed feelings about this time in my life. But I see now that the entire endeavor was necessary for our healing.
We had been torn completely apart. In Dionysian terms I had already been torn apart by the Titans and consumed, and was just awaiting rebirth through the body of Semele. I’ve come to accept that my grand plans, which I was so attached to for so long, was in part a justification to myself for my “failure” to be able to make it in society like a “normal” person, to hold down a fulltime job and support myself and my brother. I was desperate to find meaning in my situation, and because I have always had a strong desire to serve the Pagan community, this was the meaning I tried to craft out of that tragedy.
So, what does it mean to be a worshiper of Odin who also suffers from anxiety? Like all Norse Gods, He values courage. You might think that for someone like me, who is typically filled with fear, courage is something of a foreign notion.
I disagree. I’ve heard it said that courage is not the absence of fear – courage is to be afraid, but to do what you have to anyway. It’s not letting that fear control you. I am not a warrior. I think there is a sad tendency in modern Pagan communities to dilute the meaning of the word Warrior, to make it something milder, less primal and dangerous, as if it symbolizes merely the struggles of a normal life. This is a modern affectation, and I think, entirely wrong.
I am a worshiper of Odin, but I am not going to Valhalla. That’s okay. Valhalla isn’t heaven. Valhalla isn’t a reward for being a good little Viking. It serves a very specific theological purpose: that of collecting the best warriors to fight when Ragnarok comes, for Odin battles against the forces of un-Creation, as I think Galina Krasskova once put it.
A warrior is someone who has mastered their fear and chooses to return to the hell of battle again and again because their country needs them, because their buddies need them, because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think us civilians can truly comprehend what war is like. I have been a victim of violent crime and I have been in scary situations where I had to draw on Warrior energy in order to survive. But that’s not the same thing as being a true, full-time warrior. The warrior makes a very conscious CHOICE to go back into dangerous situation. I have a great draw to Warrior Energies and I think a warrior ethos can do a lot to improve the lives of many, many people. It certainly has for me. But that doesn’t make me a warrior.
I do have my own battles, which are mostly with the demons in my mind. As I’ve said, I suffer from severe anxiety. I have PTSD and panic disorder. It would be easy to give up. It would be easy to lock myself in my home and never leave. Bills can be paid over the phone and online. Amazon delivers boxes of food now: I wouldn’t even have to go to the grocery store, ever. I can completely live from my home and never have to put myself in an uncomfortable position. I have been this person before. I have had agoraphobia so severe that a quick trip to the store put me into a panic attack. It’s strange to think now that this neurotic messed up person is worshiping the same God as those fearless and terrifying warriors.
Odin understands fear, I think, and I think that is valuable to a person like me. Despite how gentle He has been with me, I can sense the howling storm underneath. And He does frighten me at times. In a way that occasional fear is a comfort, because I think it means I am dealing with the real Odin, an actual GOD, instead of just a sock puppet in my head. I think I’m allowed this side of Him because He never had to break me down Himself, by the time he came into my life I was already broken by life, by everything. Maybe He was already interested in me before, and He just sit back and let life do its work, let my wyrd play out the way it was going. Maybe that way I wouldn’t have to work through the resentment to Him that some of His worshipers seem to. I don’t know. I simply don’t. And there are times that I wonder what it is He wants from me.
I would never compare my battles with those of a true Soldier. I am not a warrior. But I do find great strength in a warrior ethos. Every morning when I get up, I push myself into situations that often cause me severe anxiety. At times I have broken down, crying intensely, hyperventilating so I was not able to breathe. It’s not fun in those moments. It’s absolutely terrifying. And embarrassing as well, if I’m in public. I’m a Leo, I can’t help it – I care about my image. But weirdly enough, I continue to fight, even though in many ways it would be easier to give up. Sometimes it gets better. Some things that used to be nearly impossible are barely a blip on the radar screen these days. Certain things still cause a great deal of anxiety, although less than they used to. But I still make my myself do them, as they are necessary to have a life and be useful to society, to myself, and most importantly to my Gods. There’s a saying in Heathenry, more of a joke but I think it’s extremely appropriate: “Jesus loves you, but Odin demands that you grow the fuck up.” Maybe it’s not so strange for someone like me to worship Odin after all. I can tell you that the last three years since He has come into my life and I have seriously pursued a relationship with Him everything in my life has been altered drastically. I am undergoing so much change sometimes it makes my head spin and I wish it would just stop. But it’s better for me. I can barely recognize the woman I was one year ago, let alone three years.
So I may not be a warrior, but I AM a fighter. It seems that even fear so extreme that it forces you onto your bed in the fetal position for hours doesn’t have to get in the way of developing a relationship with Odin. In fact, sometimes I wonder if my tendency towards extreme anxiety may actually be the reason He came to me. It wasn’t until Odin came into my life that I truly began to heal, to put the fragmented pieces of my life back together. I don’t know if that’s the truth. I only know that I have long way to go both in working on controlling my anxiety, and deepening my relationship to Odin.
I hope it’s not arrogant to say this, but I feel like Odin has a purpose for me to fulfill, and that’s why He seems to be working so hard on fixing me. I get a distinct feeling that He is tempering me, like a sword in a forge. What is in the Allfather’s mind, however, I haven’t the faintest idea. I only hope that I may prove worthy of all the attention He has given me.