**Before I get started, if you haven’t seen The Daily Show Draft – a movement to get Jason from The Wild Hunt (and the Washington Post) onto The Daily Show – please go there right now! This article will still be here when you’re done; promise.**
Not to brag on myself (okay, I’m bragging!), but I have many good qualities. I’m usually kind. I’m typically easy-going and great at forgiveness (well, for crimes against me anyway; I’m less great at forgiveness for crimes against my loved ones). And I think I’m pretty open-minded (sometimes I see so many sides of an issue it turns into a sphere). Overall, I am very much in line with the stereotypical happy-go-lucky, live-and-let-live right-brain type. However. I have me some traits that, well, need work. Like industriousness. Perseverance. Discipline. You know, like a stereotypical happy-go-lucky right-brainer.
My whole life I’ve tried to overcome or at least temper these potentially disastrous traits and find something that will help me get and stay on track. Especially now that I work from home and time is mine to organize (oy vey) it’s become absolutely necessary for me to reign in my easy-going temperament into something more productive – at least if I want to have a shot at succeeding at the things that are important to me.
As some of you may know, I have a life-long dream of being a successful fiction writer. When I was in middle school, I spent lunch breaks in the library outlining my first novel (a modernization of Anne of Green Gables) and it saved my sanity when I was “between friends.” (Middle school sucked, didn’t it?) In high school and college, I flirted with short stories, starting a million (and finally finishing a couple) and dreaming of my first Hugo Award until a creative writing professor told me I had no real talent, and I stupidly believed her. (After our first assignment, I stayed after class to ask why I got a B-. Her answer? “Because I don’t give anything lower. I think it discourages people.” Ouch!)
It wasn’t until about four years ago (and much encouragement by some fellow teachers who read my stuff in a teaching workshop – thanks Hilda and Ellen!) that I decided to take my writing seriously again. But you know those right-brained traits I mentioned earlier? While they may help megenerate a lot of fun story ideas and really feel the characters I’m creating, they don’t help with productivity. In four years I’ve written three novels and two short stories, and while that’s not bad… it’s not great either. And my track record for keeping query letters* out to agents? Hoo-boy. Abysmal. Even if I’m the best writer in the world I won’t get published if I don’t put my work in front of the right people.
So this is all very interesting *cough, cough*, you may be saying, but what does it have to do with paganism? Good question. To me, one of the major purposes of religion is to help us become better people. I know there are myriad other reasons as well, but for me that inspiration for self-improvement is vital. But most of my life I’ve practiced faiths whose primary virtues, like forgiveness and loyalty or open-mindedness and kindness, are things that, well, I’ve got at least decently down.
Then I started studying Heathenry, and suddenly all those values which I know are wonderful things, but damn I suck at them are the focus. So now I have Courage, Discipline, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance constantly in my religious life – all these things I need to be successful as a writer and have traditionally lacked. Every ritual practice I engage in now reminds me to be disciplined. The myths are almost all about the courage and perseverance of gods and heroes facing incredible odds and making the sacrifices necessary to get what they want.**
And slowly… I’ve found myself getting better. There’s definitely no magic Pagan pill (er, Heathen pill) that zaps new values into you, but I am noticing tangible changes in the way I behave. My house is clean. I just wrote a complete short story in two weeks to meet a deadline. My garden, the biggest I’ve ever planted, has so far survived the harsh Texas drought when even in easier years my spring planting has died by now.
It’s led me to an interesting question. What if instead of taking sides in the unfathomable debate of which faith properly plumbed the divine mysteries of the universe, people instead chose their religion based on what they needed to become a better person? What if instead of trying to fit everything “good” under one faith umbrella, we admit different faiths have different strengths and weaknesses – and therefore some people are going to grow better in some than in others? I think that would make a better world.
I declared at the last fall equinox I would spend the next year focusing on Heathenry, and I have to say that eight months in I’ve never been happier or more challenged. And I don’t think it’s because Heathenry is “the best” religion out there, but I am starting to think it might truly be the best one for me.
What do you think? Is religion about finding what’s right or finding what’s good? How does your faith help you to become a better person?
* Query letters are the first step in the process of getting published. It’s a one page or less letter summing up the premise of your book to (hopefully) entice an agent to consider representing you. (The major publishing houses only take queries from agents, so authors who want print publishing at a big house need an agent.) If an agent likes the premise of the book, they’ll ask to see pages (usually about 50, but I’ve seen anywhere from 10-100), and if they like the pages they’ll ask to see the rest of the book. If they like the book, and they think they can sell it, and they’re not already representing something similar (I’ve been rejected for that reason before), they will offer to represent you. To give an idea of the odds, The Nelson agency (a two woman agency) releases their numbers at the end of every year. In 2010, they received 36,000 queries, requested pages from 839, requested complete manuscripts from 98, and signed 9 new authors. My recommendation? Don’t get into writing to get published. Get into writing because you really like writing.
** In Norse myth, while there are definitely stories about sacrificing for the good of the community, some of the most famous tales, like Odin sacrificing his eye to learn how the world will end or Freya sleeping with three dwarfs to get her necklace Brisingamen, are about sacrificing to accomplish or gain something personally desired. Personal sacrifice for personal gain is also seen as a moral thing.
+ Main image modified from stibbons