We come now to the fifth day of these 2012 dog-days, on which I’ve been feeling especially doggish in terms of heat exhaustion–while it’s nowhere near as hot here as it is in some places, those of us of relatively delicate constitutions aren’t always able to tolerate “not bad” in comparison to the rest of the population…And, on this day, feeling rather ragged, the honorand is likewise fitting in relation to Loki and the dog-days. But more on her in a few moments.
Following on somewhat from my reflections yesterday, I have a kind of confession to make. While I’m very comfortable admitting that Loki and many of the divine figures associated with him are ambivalent, I’ve fallen in the past into the notion that he’s somehow “evil” as well, and had on occasion thought badly of him for that. Of course, eventually, when I realized what I was doing and how ridiculous it was, I stopped doing it, but I do have to acknowledge that I’ve not always been as open to or receptive toward him as I should have been. (It’s no wonder that he wasn’t in my life, then!) Largely, I have to say that it’s because I was the victim of very bad advice and influences–but from people, not from deities.
A certain someone who used to be much more important in my spiritual life, and in particular in my devotional life with Antinous, once related an experience to me that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with. The individual in question started out his polytheist dealings in a Norse group (I don’t know if they were affiliated with Ásatrú or not–it doesn’t sound like they were, but I can’t be certain), which is where his relationship with Freyr came from, and which is why Freyr has a kind of relationship to Antinous even now in the modern world. (Giving credit where credit is due…) While I think there is (please pardon the pun) fertile ground there for further syncretistic exploration, as I explained in my post yesterday, there were some things that went on in this individual’s association with this Norse-related group that weren’t very positive, in my opinion.
In fact, his relating this experience to me rather put me off of two things: Loki and deity-horsing. Let me explain.
(Keep in mind, I’m also going to assume that this individual–while he isn’t in any manner a “reliable witness” a great deal of the time, and I wouldn’t trust his opinion on most things now, at the time I did think he was being genuine with me and had nothing to gain by lying or exaggerating. Of course, on a great deal of hindsight, that may not be the case…but, because my negative opinions were based on how he related the experience to me, I’m going to give it as he gave it.)
There was a ritual going on at their usual place outside of town, up on a kind of rocky butte, one night. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one of the devotees of Loki present became possessed by Loki. And, the first thing the possessed individual did was to try and rape the person reporting this experience. He wasn’t successful (thankfully), but nonetheless the entire experience shook the person reporting it to me very deeply, and it likewise impacted me in a more forceful way than I had at first imagined.
Not only did that narrative make me think very negatively of Loki, but it also made me think very negatively of the entire practice of mediumship, horsing, and various other practices that involve deities coming into and influencing the words and actions of individual spiritual practitioners–and this, despite me having done practices like that before and since. It made me very averse toward oracular practices, and toward the notion that something like that could ever happen in relation to Antinous and others.
For about a year and a half…
The year following this, I changed my opinions on that matter drastically, when I saw someone–the first Oracle of Antinous–doing oracular practices that weren’t a lot of hocus-pocus (as it were), and that worked and produced useful and effective results, and (and this is the big bit) that wasn’t an excuse for the person who is an oracle or who is horsing a deity to do a bunch of stupid and irresponsible shit under the guise of “well, the god made me do it.”
[Now, given that it is Loki, and it is possible for people to do things that may be very out-of-character for them when they're trancing a deity, I don't want to say that things like this never ever happen; but, at the same time, I think in the incident related, that's pretty certainly what was going on; and, in a number of other cases I've heard about or occasionally seen, I think that's what's been going on.]
My opinions on the matter of trancing and deity-horsing and so forth continue to shift (mostly toward positive positions) to this day, and the more I see these practices being carried out in responsible fashions these days, the more approving I am of them. (And yes, I realize that’s a majorly hypocritical position to be in, considering some of the things that have gone on with me when, for example, Set has been in the captain’s chair, but not always the driver’s seat, in my own spiritual experience over the last few years.) Unfortunately, the coupling of those bad opinions with the detail that it was Loki who was supposedly responsible for them was not uncoupled in my own thoughts on these matters, and a residual negative animus toward Loki remained that was not at all rational or sensible.
I’m happy to say, all these years later, that I’ve gotten over that–and if all that happened negatively as a result of all this is that a soda in my bag blew up rather inconveniently, then I think I have emerged from the whole thing pretty well unscathed, and much better for having done so.
So, all of the above to say: I’m sorry for having been stupid and taking other people’s words on things in my past for no good reason, Loki, and I promise I won’t do that ever again!
Now we come to our honorand for the day, which picks up the narrative a bit from certain parts of yesterday’s post: Garm, the hound of Hel. No matter how much some people might say that Cerberus is the original “hound of hell,” technically he’s the hound of Hades, which is different; so, Garm I think gets that distinction much more fairly and reasonably than Cerberus. (Sorry, your three-headedness…though he could equally well have a claim to a portion, at least, of this season of the year.)
Something that I’m finding, in doing what supplementary research I can on these various figures, is that there’s an awful lot of what I’d call lykotheomonism or kynotheomonism in scholarship relating to these various lupine and canine figures (though the canine distinction goes mostly for other cultures, as Garm is really the only hound of note in Norse myth). What I mean by this, essentially, is the notion by scholars that “all dogs are one dog” or “all wolves are one wolf.” I’ll talk a bit more about this tomorrow when I get to Skoll and Hati, because they seem to be fairly closely connected to Fenris via some shared epithets, but the same is also true of Geri and Freki, and certain scholars thus seem to be of the opinion that really, all of these are just forms of Fenris that were developed in literature in different manners later on by poets. And, the same is true of Garm, they say, since this famous hound of Hel will be unchained and run loose at Ragnarok one day–and since that same thing is also true of Fenris, they must therefore be “the same.”
They also say that the idea that Garm will devour Tyr at Ragnarok is just an innovation of Snorri Sturluson, and doesn’t represent an “authentic” tradition. But, even if it doesn’t hand down some tradition from the past, if it creates a new one, where’s the harm in that? New things get created all the time in polytheism–that’s how it works! But, these notions are lost on scholars for the most part, who prefer to have polytheism be something in the past, that is then frozen in amber and never develops further, since the gods are dead and never really existed in their minds…Of course, that’s not an adequate position for a polytheist to take, and it’s likewise not an appropriate position to assume that through those ages when another religion came to dominate in these areas, that the gods were somehow absent from the process of the further development of myth. I do not think that’s the case now, either…
The gender of Garm, to my knowledge, is never given in the original sources, and thus most people have assumed that Garm must be male. I’ve changed that in my previous poem, and in this poem, for a variety of reasons, including that other hounds of myth (in Ireland, for example, as well as Greece) were known to have changed genders as well. The reason for this is practical rather than linguistic: as time went on, nouns that meant “hound” or “dog” gradually shifted in many cultures from an originally masculine gender to a feminine one because hunting hounds, guard hounds, and other types of canid service animals tended to be bitches rather than males, because they were friendlier (to their masters, at least) and easier to train. Having had some experience with dogs myself, I can vouch for this–and for the ferocity as guard-dogs that bitches tend to represent to a much larger extent than their male counterparts! And, as you’ll see in the poem below, I think there’s other good reasons to consider her female rather than male. Just as modern paganism and polytheism has restored the honor of goddesses next to gods, so too should I think it likewise would restore honor to doggesses as well as dogs.
And, just an etymological note to end: it seems that garm or garmr means something like “rag.” I assure you, that consideration had no part whatsoever to play in my decisions on gender regarding Garm, but instead on the state of the dead when they arrive to meet her, and the fellowship they find with her once they have arrived in Helheim.
And with that, I offer you my poem for the day, in honor of Garm, and her mistress Hela, and of Loki as well!
The Ragged One
They arrive in droves at all times,
wearing tattered garments and dragging their feet
as they cross over the Gjallarbrú.
Módhgudhr makes sure none among them
are not shades, and still carry the weight
of the living in their bodies.
The tall enclosure around Hel’s house,
the Helgrind, has only one entrance
guarded by Hel’s own hound.
But like the bridge-keeper,
and like her own mistress,
this hound is likewise female.
A present from her father and mother,
a playmate for the best-beloved daughter
who came forth in the brood from the Ironwood.
To those within Helgrind’s precincts
she is sweet, tame, and a licker of palms;
to those outside, her bark and bite is ferocious.
For offenses against her mistress’ brother
and her own lupine consort
she will one day have the throat of Tyr.
Garm, hound of Hel, the half-dark lady,
daughter of Loki and Angrboda,
most loyal of hounds–hail to all!
Praise to Garm; and to her mistress Hel, and to her mother Angrboda, and her father Loki!