Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drinking at ritual

It seems like a lot of public opinion about Heathen rituals is that they are just excuses to get drunk.  Given that many Heathen rituals do involved ritualized drinking, and more consumption than the sip of wine offered at other Pagan rituals, it is easy to see where this stereotype originates from. 

While I have no doubts that some groups use ritual as a reason to get sloshed (just as some neo-wicca groups use ritual as a reason to have orgies or partner-swap), I don't think that all groups do this.  I don't even feel like most groups treat drinking in ritual like this. 

I've read quite a few accounts of Symbel, which includes ritualized toasting with alcohol.  While it can get extensive, with many rounds of toasts (and if you have quite a few people, this could definitely lead to being tipsy), if you do less rounds or have a smaller group, it is definitely possible to participate without being wasted.  And I would be willing to bet that some groups allow non-alcoholic drinks (just like some Pagan groups have switched to sparkling juice or other beverages instead of wine).

I'm not a teetotaler.  I quite like to drink, and I enjoy the feeling of being tipsy.  I don't really enjoy being falling down drunk (and I definitely don't like loosing bits of time or being hungover in the morning).  For me, it's all about finding that pleasantly drunk place.. and staying there.  But even than, for me, is too much for ritual.

I've been at rituals, not Heathen ones but Pagan rituals, where there was alcohol, and where people partook enough that they were pretty drunk before the ritual even began.  I personally don't feel this to be the right way to approach ritual.  When I go to ritual, it is with the intent of connecting to something higher.  I don't feel that being drunk helps with this, in fact I find it to be more of a hindrance (I'm way more easily distracted and less focused when drunk).  Now, after the ritual, if there is a feast and socializing, I'm fine with getting freer with the alcohol.

Where I really have a problem with other people drinking at ritual is when their drinking effects the other people at ritual.  That is just as disrespectful in my eyes as bringing someone who thinks that Pagan ritual is a ridiculous idea and constantly feels the need to point this out to everyone there. 

Back to the idea of Symbel.  Perhaps it is because I am not part of an actual Heathen group, and have never participated in one, but the feeling I get from Symbel is not the traditional worship type of ritual, but more a group bonding type of ritual.  It seems like the focus is on sharing of the self, toasting (to recognize and honor) deities, heroes and ancestors that are important to you, and setting intentions for the future.  In this light, even if the drinking got a bit heavy handed (and as the rounds went on, it has that potential), I don't see it as being as disruptive as the same level of drinking at a traditional ritual. 

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we feel is right in regards to intoxication at ritual.  And part of that decision should be the beliefs of the people you participate in ritual with.  As with any group gathering, sometimes your ideals will not mesh with those of the greater group.  If you are working with a group that prefers to take rituals to a place of drunken debauchery, and that is not something you feel is appropriate, you might need to look for a group that you fit better with.  Likewise, if you enjoy being a bit drunk at your celebrations, but your group doesn't seem to approve, you might want to talk with them.  You may not even realize that other people are uncomfortable with your level of intoxication.  Sometimes discussion can help clear the table, and compromise can be reached.  Sometimes you may need to seek out others who better fit with your own preferences.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Breaking the Mother Goose Code

Breaking the Mother Goose Code(link to amazon page)

I have been a fan of fairy tales since I was little. I'm not a huge collector, but I do have a small collection of tales, and I always thought it was both fascinating and strange how violent some were in different versions (and how tame the modern mainstream versions are). I was very excited to start reading Breaking the Mother Goose Code, as I have always thought of fairy tales as teaching stories, and learning more about what they taught, especially in a Pagan light, called to me.

I found a lot of new ideas in this book. I thought it was really interesting how Jeri starts by examining the image of Mother Goose herself. She details her journey of looking for and comparing different pictures of Mother Goose and how the depictions changed over the years. I had never really thought about the figure of Mother Goose much, and was fascinated to read about the many faces she wore. Jeri then goes on to try to uncover which Goddesses might be hidden behind the name Mother Goose. It was a very interesting read to follow these breadcrumb trails and to see the ways that different deities in different areas of the world might have been linked to fairy tales.

Being that her name is Mother Goose, Jeri also looks at the folklore and magic surrounding geese, ducks and swans (as they are often used interchangeably). Not only did I learn a lot about different deities with goose legs (which I hadn't been aware of!), but also the really interesting swan pits, and theories about what they might have been for. The image pained in my head, of women building and caring for these pits, while trying to bring new life into the world, is a beautiful and hauntingly sad one.

Where I really got drawn in was in her analysis of the tales themselves. Jeri looks at the structure of the tales, how most of them seem to follow a archetypal framework. I thought the connection to shamanic trance journeying was an interesting way to look at it. I also really enjoyed her connection between the progression of the main character of the story and the learning process that a magical practitioner might go through.

Another really interesting perspective detailed in this book is that fairy tales might be used as actual spells. By taking key passages, especially if they rhyme, as well as items that featured in the tale, one might use the story as the framework from which to enact a spell aligned with the focus of the story. I can definitely see how fairy tales could inspire this type of reconstructed working.

A lot of information was presented in this book. It is obvious that Jeri did an enormous amount of research, and she shared many of the things she found with her readers. She asks a lot of questions, and encourages the reader to continue asking questions. I am definitely going to be thinking about fairy tales in a different way after reading this book, and I look forward to revisiting some of my favorite tales through this new perspective.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Project Self-love

((Trigger alert!  There will be talk about self-harm at some point in this post.  I don't normally do trigger alerts, however I know that this is a very hard thing for many people struggling with it and I would hate to set back anyone's hard earned progress in self-control.  So if you feel you might be triggered by talk of self-harm, or if it squicks you out or if you just don't want to know that about me...don't read the stuff in ITALICS))

**edited to chance the font so the italics would actually show up

There is a movement, mainly in YouTube, on baring all and bringing attention to the body shaming issues that are running rampant in our society, especially on line.  It was started by NatetheK who inspired a good friend of mine, TheFabledPhoenix.  He then inspired two of my other good friends:  Papa O and GreyerJane (she has a part 2 to her post with pictures).

I think this is a hugely powerful thing.  There is so much dishonesty in the media about what people look like.  I have seen so many articles and reveal-all's showing how all the models are Photoshopped to look the way they do in the media.  The images we are bombarded with day in and day out are these unrealistic 'perfect' fake illusions, and this seeps into our brains and effects the way we think about ourselves and each other.

I think that a lot of the body-shaming comes from people who are insecure in their own selves.  If you feel good about your body, you don't go around telling other people they are disgusting.  You might express your concerns about loved one's health or happiness, but you would do it in a loving and supportive way.  The comments that you see in body-shaming are designed to shift focus away from the speaker and on to anything else that will divert them from their own feelings about themselves.

I am not a picture person, never have been.  It isn't so much a body image thing for me, not really.  I will talk about the things I feel about my body here in a bit.  But I just wanted to touch on the photo thing real quick.  I have never looked at a photo of myself and really felt it was me.  My mental image of self doesn't typically match the wrapping.  Sometimes it's an age thing (my mental age is so not the same as my body-age).  Sometimes it's a gender thing.  I'm fine being seen in person, I just don't like pictures.

So I'm going to paint some word pictures here!  To start with, I live in a 36 year old female body (and I still have to count the years to remember how old I am).  I stand 5 foot 10 inches tall, and the last time I weighed myself I was 230 pounds (I am probably about the same, my clothes mostly still fit the same as they did then).  I am not particularly body shy, though I do keep my private bits private (though I still can't understand why we think wearing a string bikini is just fine, but showing non-see through underwear is bad).

I am overweight.  I know this.  For a long time I didn't want to accept it.  I carry my weight well, and have always gone in around the waist, so I told myself that because I did I couldn't be fat.  But I definitely have extra weight around the hips and butt area...as well as up the waist.  It's just spread out so you don't see it as easily.  I can even tell that I've thickened all around my body because things like watches and rings that I wore in high school don't fit anymore.

I have a son, and I have stretch marks.  I have some shame about them, but not really for what you might think.  I never him (or my husband!) for 'ruining' my body.  Rather, I saw them as a mark of how ill-prepared I was to be a mother.  I didn't do the things I knew I should have done to take care of myself while pregnant.  I didn't put on lotion every day.  I don't know if it would have made a difference, but I do know that I regret not doing it.

I think that my self-image was set fairly young.  I took dance lessons in middle school, and I remember thinking that parts of my body were too big (I want to say thighs or butt, but honestly I don't remember).  And at that time, I was still more or less thin as a board, so I don't know if I was just comparing myself to other stick thin ballerinas or if I was fighting the maturation of my own body.

In high school, I started being aware of sex and boys and all of that, and it definitely effected how I viewed my body.  I was always a tom boy, and I had way more male friends than female.  I didn't do the makeup thing, rarely did the dress thing, and was much more likely to be barefoot than wear heels.  But I liked skimpy clothes.  I liked the feeling of power and the sense of attraction I felt when people looked.  I don't necessarily think it was healthy now, looking back, but it is what it is.  In a lot of ways, it set my mind's thoughts on personal interaction and sexuality, and I sometimes struggle with interpreting interpersonal relationships without that sexual lens (which definitely has gotten me in trouble over the years).  I am still very socially awkward in my own head, and a lot of social interactions leave me frozen inside.

I don't have a problem with casual touch.  I actual am a sort of touchy feely person.  But my mind will race over 'how do I respond appropriately?!?' and I will sort of freeze up and it gets very strange in my head sometimes.  I definitely don't want people to not touch me (okay, there are some people that I don't like touching me...but that is the exception, not the rule), I just muddle through it and take comfort in the fact that all the wierdness is going on in my head and no one else knows about it.

I also started to hit my first dark times in high school.  It's strange, I had a happy childhood.  My parents were strict at times, but definitely loving, and home life was good.  We were well off, and while I was probably borderline spoiled, I did have limits and rules I had to follow.  I was expected to be a good girl.  And it always felt horribly wrong to me.

I felt like I didn't belong in that life, like it was too good for me.  And I knew I had it good, and my brain knew there was nothing wrong with me, that I was a good person, so that made it sort of worse, because then I felt like I was being ungrateful for the life I had.  Perhaps it was just my form of teen angst.  I also have always been empathetic, and as a tom boy, I hated when things hit me so hard.  I hated crying, I hated feeling weak and 'girly'.  I would rather be angry than hurt.

When I was little, I always hated having scabs.  I would pick at them, even if it hurt, until the hard bits were gone.  I often made it worse, blood was common, and to this day, if I am not actively doing something, I may find my hands running over my arms or face, feeling for anything that isn't just smooth skin.

I remember when the first time I thought about hurting myself physically.  Two of the boys I knew were playing around, mock-fighting with some plastic knives from the cafeteria.  One of them slashed at the other, and we were all kind of shocked that he actually cut him enough to draw blood.  I don't know why my brain made the jump, but I know that was where I started.

Cutting with a plastic knife isn't easy and it isn't quick.  It is more of a sawing than a cutting.  And at first it wasn't deep, it was more like scratching at your arm with your nails, over and over.  It became a reminder to me, that I was strong, that I could do something like this, feel the pain, and function.  It was a security blanket, a bandage for the emotional stuff that I was struggling to deal with.  Physical pain was easy for me.  If I could make it hurt on the outside, I could ignore the inside.

At some point I graduated from plastic to metal.  We had serrated kitchen knives, and though they were sharper, it is still hard to cut with a serrated knife.  I liked that.  It was work, it was ritual, it was repetition.  It was slow and it took willpower.  And it lasted.  I would wear the marks for days before they would heal.  I cut the side of my wrist (not the part with the veins!  I swear I wasn't suicidal, just after the pain/endorphins).  I wore a bandana or other thick bracelet to cover it.  

I branched out after that though.  I got dumb.  I was trying to find places that I liked that were less obvious.  I have done the hip bones (where pants rub), and only once across the palm of my hands.  That one scared me.  You actually have to cut deep to bleed there, and I remember reading a book where a girl was accidentally cut across those tendons and almost lost the use of her hand.  I never cut there again.

After I got married, I tried to hide my cutting better, because of course my husband would see more of my body than even my parents.  I would just scratch at my arms with the tip of a blade, barely enough to leave a mark, but it would make it red and I would create patterns all up my arm.  Sometimes they were visible the next day, but often they would be gone completely by morning.

I also discovered razor blades.  This was a different thing entirely.  There was no build up, the pain was instant and it was precise.  I drew lines on my fingers, and designs other places.  I transformed some of what I was doing into deliberate spiritual practice:  creating sigils like a spiral on my shoulder.  And still it was something that I rarely talked about, because there is so much stigma on it.

I don't think that cutting is something that I will ever grow out of.  It is a part of me.  And I don't feel like it is something that I need to set aside.  I am very careful, and have been for many years.  I may have my roots in depression and anger, but it is no longer about that for me.  I don't cut as often, but I haven't set it aside entirely.  And I don't hide my scars.

Those aren't the only scars I have either.  I actually like my scars.  I have on on my arm from ballet class, when I got clipped by a high kick from another dancer.  She had a safety pin on her shoe, and it had come open and made a gash on my arm.  I have one on my elbow from where I tripped over my umbrella walking up some stairs.  I have some on my hand from where I got bit by a puppy while breaking up a fight when I worked at a pet store.  My scars tell stories of my life.  Some are dumb, some are interesting, but they are all me.

My body is not all that I am, but I am my body.  It is who I am, it is who I show the world, and I am not ashamed by it.  I know what power it holds, and I know what it is capable of.  I know it's strengths and I know what it is weak to.  Recently I've been exposed to the idea of treating one's body as an animal (or child..the subconscious mind, it responds to sensations but not so much words).   So I have been talking to my body, which is an interesting process.  I also love the mental trick of always thinking of your body as a temple:  how do you dress your temple, what do you put into it?

I could talk about body related stuff for hours and hours, but I think I'm going to wrap this up here.  All I can say is that I am happy with my body and if anyone else isn't, they can keep their opinion to themselves. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Downtime

So this month, the topic was Downtimes/slumps/Fallow periods.  I think these are things that we all face, in pretty much all areas of our lives.  Things move in waves, sometimes you are at the peak and sometimes you are at the bottom, but they are always changing and moving towards the other end.  I chose to title this post Downtime, because I think that slumps and fallow periods have a really strong negative connotation, and while it definitely can feel bad when you are in them, I think they are a vital part of the growing process and prefer to look at them as rest times, or downtime!

I'm sort of an obsessive type person.  Doing things in moderation is something I have to work at.  When I get drawn to something, I dive right in, and want to surround myself with it.  If it is a new show, I want to watch it all day.  If it is a new practice, I want to do it for hours.  If it is a new subject to study, I will look up everything I can find on it, devour anything I can read, and take copious notes.

Sadly this often leads to burnout.  I will get a bit brain fried, and have to step back.  No matter how much I may still be drawn to a thing, just the thought of doing it may make me feel like not doing anything at all.

It used to really frustrate me, these high and low periods.  I like things all tidy and finished and complete, and when I would rush in, and then turn away, it always felt like I was only doing things partway and giving up.  What I have found is that most of the time, this period of not engaging in the activity actually leads to a better understanding of it.

I think that when I am utterly steeped in something it's like being too close to something:  it's hard to get an objective perspective of it.  I am so consumed by the thing itself I can't see how it applies or interacts with other aspects of my life.  By take a step back, by letting it fall to the wayside as I do something else, it's like putting a pot on the back burner.  The heat may be on low, but it will still continue to stew, and the flavors will only intensify.  If you try to cook everything on high, you end up with lots of burnt outsides and raw insides.

This stepping away process works very well for me in regards to creative problem solving.  If I have an issue that is really giving me trouble, I will delve deep into it for a period of time until I have exhausted all my thoughts and resources on it, then I will deliberately turn away.  I will sleep on it, and not seek it out for a few days.  At the end of that time, I can come back to it and look over my notes or rethink it through and most times I have a good solution that comes to me quite quickly.

I also find it very helpful when learning new information.  A perfect example is songs or chants.  I can put a chant on loop, listen to it for a day straight, have the lyrics in front of me and chant along, and at the end of the day, I still might flub the words when I try to chant it on my own.  If I then put something else on to listen to, don't look at the lyrics for a few days and then come back to it, I can normally remember all the words just fine.

I think that we all have a certain amount of resources, energy that we draw on as we go about our day.  And not just one type of energy, but different energies for different things.  I can spend all day doing errands and running around, and still feel fairly energized when I get home and want to exercise, because, for me, they are different types of activities and they draw from different pools of resources.  And sometimes things are just so powerful they drain all your pools.  I find this very true when I am giving of myself or when I am very stressed.  If I am spending all day in a hospital or doing caregiver work, I will just feel absolutely drained and need to do something luscious for myself, something decadent that makes me feel refilled.

That is something that is key for me:  learning to listen to what my body, mind and spirit need and to honor the ebb and flow of the energies within me.  Instead of focusing on how empty I feel at times, I try to look at what would fill me up.  I have recognized this empty feeling since I was a child.  I deep hollow all encompassing feeling that would come over me.  For a very long time, I sort of sunk into it, and just wallowed in it.  Which only fed into the emptiness.

I definitely find that I can fall into a pattern, either of stillness or movement.  And either one, taken too long and too extreme becomes hard to break from.  If I am too busy, eventually I will sort of break down, and just have no desire to do anything at all.  Conversely, if I have spent a lot of days just sitting around, watching tv or wasting time, then I start to feel like I absolutely have to do something, anything, just to break free of the pattern.  And each state has it's own momentum, so the longer I have been still or busy, the harder it is to slow down or speed up.

Ultimately, I think that there is are two types of turning points:  there is a balance point in the middle, and then the apex point at the top.  Staying near the balance point and alternating states may keep you from the deep stillness, but it also keeps you from the great heights.  Pushing to the edge means you have more to climb and more to fall.  I still haven't figured out which one works best for me, but I do know that staying balanced is harder for me to maintain.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Clannishness

This might be late for C, but I really wanted to write about this and kept procrastinating...so here it is anyways!

A word I see tossed around a lot in regards to Heathenism is Clannish.  There is a very common perception that Heathens are very insular, and that they have very distinct ideas about who is in and who is out. To a great extent I think this is true, and it is one of the reasons that I don't identify as Heathen, nor have I sought out a Heathen group to join.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with being a Clan.  I think of Clan like an extended family group.  In fact, the local Pagans that I work with and socialize with often refer to our group as a Clan.  Much like a blood family, a clan has pretty clear lines over who is part of the Clan and who is not.  And, kind of like a blood family, you can become part of the group even if you weren't originally.

I don't think that this concept of group identity is a bad thing.  Our local Clan is very friendly, and we have no problem socializing with other people and interacting with them.  But there is a very real feeling of family for those of us who have been together for a while.  We support each other, and if I am having a hard time or need help, I know that I can turn to them and they will have my back.

On the flip side, there are a lot of negative stereotypes about Clans.  Living in the south, the first things that come to my mind are the KKK and some of the backwoods redneck clans.  Both of which have very negative connections.  And I think they take the idea of a clan to its most extreme and unhealthy level.  If you are so exclusive that you only associate with members of your own clan, you close so many doors on yourself.  And it does often lead to an 'us or them' mentality which can lead you to be very violent to anyone outside your own clan.

I have seen groups that act like this that bear the Heathen label.  They take the idea of a clan and push it to it's cultish side.  They isolate their members and some flat out cross the line into racial purity and other things that I have no intention of ever being a part of.  In fact, by many of these extreme Heathen groups, I am absolutely disqualified from being a member of their faith by my blood and upbringing (being half-Chinese and not raised in a Heathen household).

But like with many things, I don't think we should judge the entire group by these few bad eggs.  There is nothing wrong with being clannish, with wanting to create a family and to build a community of people who share your faith and ideals.  For many of us, we are isolated by our very faith from our birth families, from the communities we live in, and from most of the people we deal with in our every day life.  The idea of having a clan to turn to is very appealing.

I think that the thing to remember is that a clan is like a family.  Many families can live in the same neighborhood, and each family might have different rules in their own home.  But just because they have different ways of doing things, doesn't mean they can't all co-exist together and maybe even gather for a neighborhood picnic from time to time.  It just calls for a bit of courtesy.  I don't go into my neighbors house and demand they do things the way I do at home.  I also don't get offended because my neighbors want to eat dinner at home with their own family.

I feel there is a whole image of Heathens that needs to be broken.  Being Heathen doesn't mean you are a white supremacist.  It doesn't mean that you feel like every Heathen is better or more honorable than every non-Heathen.  It doesn't mean you think that your gods are better than everyone else's gods.  And it doesn't mean that you don't want to hang out with or associate with non-Heathens.  I think these are images that need to be broken and the way to do this isn't to keep pointing the light on those groups that make these undesirable examples, but rather to create new examples of healthy Clans and Heathen groups and to let those groups speak for themselves.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Coming out and Community

As I mentioned before, I don't consider myself Asatru, Heathen or any of the other Norse oriented branches of Paganism.  It's not that I have anything against any of them, in fact there are quite a few that I think would be lovely places to make a home.  However I know that my particular flavor of practice involves quite a lot of things that are outside the Norse sphere and these are things I hold near and dear to my heart and am not willing to give up.

This leaves me in a kind of a vacuum community wise.  A part of me really wants to socialize with other Norse oriented peoples.  I want to be a part of that community that shares practices, deities and social customs.  But I also know that it is those very differences that I embrace that would make me feel like an outsider, even if the community I was hanging out with didn't have any intention of excluding me.

But let's be honest for a second.  Or at least, let me be honest about my personal experiences.  I have lurked on several Heathen message boards, or checked out Heathen groups, and turned away because I get the sense that they are very clannish.  That is to say that they have a particular way they do things, specific definitions of what they feel is Heathen (or part of their way if they are one of the other Norse oriented groups).  And while they may be perfectly friendly with people who are outside their group, they are not going to invite you in unless you meet their requirements.

So many Heathen groups have such particular requirements that they have developed quite a reputation, both within the larger Pagan community and even outside it.  To those not in the Pagan community, many Heathens are indistinguishable from certain white pride groups, skinheads and flat out racists.  And I have seen some Heathen groups that definitely deserve to be in those categories.  Even within the Pagan community, there is often a judgement about Heathens and what they believe and how they treat non-Heathens.

Very often, this leaves me reluctant to identify Norse at all.  Not only do I not want to deal with Heathens or other Norse practitioners telling me how I'm doing it wrong, but I also don't want to have to break through any preconceived notions that people might have about what a Norse oriented practitioner is or does.  

Sometimes I feel like the Norse oriented are kind of the red-headed step-children of the Pagan world.  I have seen people put them just a step above Satanists (for those that put Satanists at the bottom of the Pagan umbrella or those who would rather Paganism not be associated with any form of Satanism at all).  And while I think that there are groups that take the Norse religious ideas and use them to support a political or racial agenda, I definitely don't think that all Norse oriented people or groups deserve to be judged by those extremists.  It's like judging all Christians by the measure of those loudmouths who end up in the news.

I have seen a lot of attitudes change in the Pagan community over the years.  I have seen a shift within the Norse oriented sub-group, where many people are starting to voice their objections to the more radical groups and try to show people that we aren't all that way, that we don't all hold those attitudes and opinions.  I truly hope that this continues, that people look beyond the stereotypes to the actual words, deeds and beliefs of the people they interact with, and that Heathen grows out of it's negative associations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bargaining, Beholden and Begging

As a Pagan, I call upon deities for aid, I pray to them when I am in need and I turn to them in times of turmoil.  And yet, I have never felt like it was me in the seat of power.  I think that there is a relationship between myself and any deity I work with, and that relationship flavors every interaction we have.

I think there are right ways to approach the divine.  I have never felt like I was less than, but definitely different than, the deities I work with.  I don't approach them as if I weren't worthy of being in their presence, but I also don't feel we are necessarily on the same level.  It's kind of hard to put into words, but it is like we are operating on entirely different wavelengths.  As a physical being, it is much easier (as far as I know) for me to walk over to my sink and fill a glass of water than it would be for Odin to make water appear in the glass.  I think that as energetic beings, deities are more adept at working on that energetic level that is both more subtle and utterly limitless.

But back to the topic.  There is a big divide in the way people deal with other people.  And by people, I'm really talking about how they deal with every being that isn't themselves:  deities, animals, spirits, humans.  Some people treat every interaction like a bargain.  If I give you this, what will you give me in return (or if I do this for you, what will you do for me)?  A similar approach is to think of everything you have ever done for someone and keeping a sort of mental tally sheet of all the favors they owe you.  Sometimes people play the pity card, and give you all the reasons why they can't do something themselves and why they need you to do it for them.

On the other side are people who do things for other people without a thought for what they might get back.  They make sure that when someone does something for them, they express their gratitude, either by doing something in return or simply by saying thank you.  They never think about relationships as a score sheet.  And they are more likely to just do something themselves than to ask for help (even if they need it).

These aren't hard and fast groupings.  Sometimes we act one way, and sometimes we may act another.  Our head may be telling us to act one way and our heart leading us the other direction.

So what does all this have to do with Paganism?  I think a lot of people see devotional actions to a deity as an act of bargaining.  Perhaps someone will take up a regular practice of honoring a deity or doing works in a deity's name, with the expectation that they get something in return.  And I feel that sometimes Heathen practice leads to this kind of exchange of energy.  That there is a sort of honorable duty to repaying any gift or service.  And yet, I don't feel that other people are obligated to me.  Rather, I see the obligation on my side, that if someone does something that is meaningful for me, that I should find some way to express that.

I definitely don't think of other people as being beholden.  Actually, I don't think of myself being beholden to anyone else either.  I am beholden to myself.  If I say I will do something, then I do feel an obligation to do that thing.  Outside of that, I am my own person and I don't owe anyone anything that I haven't chosen to give.  I have known people who try to use guilt to force others to do things they wouldn't otherwise, and it's not something I feel I need to fall prey to.

And while I do petition my deities for help when I need it, I don't feel it is begging.  I don't ask for things I am not working on myself.  I try very hard, actually, to ask for help when I need it.  I tend to be somewhat stubborn, and dig in my heels and try to do things on my own.  And we all need help sometimes.  Learning to ask for help and support is not something that comes naturally to me. 

I think that the more I build my relationships on honesty, the more solid they will be.  This means that there are people in my life that I don't do much for, because that would imply that I want to deepen the relationship, and I don't.  There are also people in my life that I spend a lot of time and effort on.  These are the ones that I feel are important to me, and part of what brings my life joy is bringing joy into theirs.  This is true of deities I work with.  There are deities that I spend a lot of time and energy working with.  And much like I may lend a hand by doing something that would help out a friend, I see sacred action in the same light.  So I do things that I think the deities I work with would like, just because I want to bring joy into their lives.  It's not always about what you get in return.  Sometimes the actions you do for someone else are a return gift in their own way because you know that you have made their life better.