Monthly Archives: June 2015
Let’s bring these folks to Many Gods West — you can help. This is a really practical way of contributing to the cultus of Dionysos. If you have even two dollars to spare, please consider donating. I’m not going, but I”ll be chipping in to help these guys get there nonetheless.
A thing came up today amongst some colleagues: the difficulty of loving savage Gods. I belong to Odin: I know a thing or two about loving in the midst of Terror. A friend said “but He’s only ever kind to me. Why honor Him in His savage aspects, why not just focus on the beautiful?” Oh what a powerful question, and one that I have seen arise again and again and again.
We are fragile and sometimes hurting so deeply and the Gods are so big. We carry our hurts like a grey fever in our bones, and when there has only been hurt for so long in our lives, how can we not flinch and flee a Terror so much beyond any human fist or scathing word, or yelling voice? Gods are supposed to be nice and good and never, ever angry aren’t They? Why not just call upon Them in the sweetest of guises and avoid the cognitive disconnect (and fear) all together? Why risk one’s world of devotional safety being breached?
Well, there is an answer–at least I have found one loving Odin as I do– and I’ll share it with you now. In truth though, I suspect that this is a devotional hurdle that every devotee will likely have to surmount on their own. Why love and honor the Gods when Their face is terrible? Because not doing so truncates one’s potential relationship with that God. Because terror is subjective and for some of us, our Gods are most beautiful when They are the most terrifying.
When someone comes to me, either having gotten their first glimpse of their Deity’s more savage face, or having encountered someone for whom that is simply the way that same God is, this is what I tell them:
You are not alone in being disturbed when encountering one of the fiercer faces of a God. It is difficult to see such a different manifestation of a God so close to one’s heart. It doesn’t negate the gentleness and kindness with which that self-same God may come. It fulfills it. It enhances it. It renders those things an even deeper grace. That a God can be fierce and harsh but chooses not to be so with a particular devotee, oh that is a blessing. And likewise if a God does present a savage face, I think that is also a blessing – it is showing a tremendous amount of trust in the devotee that such a one is able to stand in the furor still rejoicing. Every aspect of our Gods is a blessing, as far as I’m concerned. I would not shut the door to a single one, even if it means I stand in terror until my bones ache. My heart will still be rejoicing because in doing so, I have glimpsed a Mystery.
A God’s nature is manifold and varied, and be He kind or be He savage, it is all part of the God Himself (and Goddesses can be every bit as fierce but the conversation I initially had today involved a God). To love and venerate a God means loving and venerating ALL of that God, not just the parts that don’t challenge us. That is what devotion is all about and it can be really, really scary.
You may never, ever be called upon to engage with your God – be it Odin, or Dionysos, or Sekhmet, or any other Deity as a ferocious and terrifying God; and that is perfectly ok. I very much believe that the Gods know best how best to come to us. We need different people engaging with different facets of our Gods … as many as possible because each of us is a window for our Gods onto this world. There is work and devotion that only you can give, and only I can give and only devotee X can give, etc. and if we choose not to do it, we will be failing our Gods. We will also be failing ourselves and maybe even failing our fucked up world as well.
So if your God is not asking you to venerate Him as a terrible God, awesome. But He does ask it of some because that medicine too must be loosed on the world. We need it, desperately. It is transformative in a different way from the kindness, liberating in a different way from the gentleness and there are some aspects of our world’s dysfunction and dis-ease that only such terror can cure; …
and Their terror is beautiful, breathtaking in ways I lack the skill with words to tell. We must be brave in our devotions, brave in loving Them, even when our souls quiver in terror. We must move from a place of trust. That is the core of devotion and if it is lacking then everything else is for naught. These things are Mysteries. Even if I am never called to engage with the Gods (other than Odin) I love in this way, I am glad these Mysteries exist. I am glad too that Odin has allowed me to see a whisper of His savageness. It is holy.
So this morning I was reading through my own book “Neolithic Shamanism,” which I co-wrote with Raven Kaldera, looking up some random information on the Norse Wind spirits and Gods which I’d forgotten and I came across this line:
‘In Northern legends, the shaman-god Odin gave humanity that final wyrd-giving and life-giving breath.” (p. 271)
After the initial “oh shit, I wrote that?” lol, I just sat back a bit floored. Now I’m an Odin’s woman; I know that Odin gave us breath. After the creation of the first mortals (Ask and Embla) from drift wood, at the beginning of the worlds, the three Brother Gods, Ođinn, Lođur, and Hoenir bestowed the gifts of breath, warmth and hue, and intellect/sentience respectively on them. Odin came last, (and yes I alternate between the Norse and Anglicized spelling of His name for convenience and out of habit) breathing that first life-giving breath into their bodies and this is what began the unfolding of their wyrd. I know that, but I don’t think I ever stopped to really think about what that means.
In my article “In the Beginning,” I start parsing out the deeper theological meaning inherent in our cosmological tales. I think all such stories are encoded means of narrating and conveying the worldview of a particular tradition. They help elucidate the lens through which devotees of that tradition engage with every part of their world. These stories structure our world so there can be a lot to unpack in each of them.
In looking at the creation of humanity, we are given a moment out of time, a moment in the narration of the creation of being, wherein the Gods bestow particular gifts. Each gift given fetters us to both temporality and materiality – corporeal being. These gifts likewise make the unfolding of wyrd possible. The gift giving is a process of animating corporeality and attaching it to wyrd – the gift not just of tangible gifts of breath, blood, and sentience, but of fate and the means to change and be changed by it. With temporality (and wyrd) comes the gift of evolution, of transformation, of death, and of the ancestors. Time becomes conceptual.
What caught me this time in contemplating Odin’s initial gift to us, is the direct link between that primal breath and life, and then life and wyrd. I’ve always assumed that the Gods were subject to Their own wyrd, but reading this makes me wonder. If active wyrd is tied to corporeal life, if it comes into play, if it begins to take effect on/for a person at the moment that person draws breath then it is a thing tied specifically to both corporeality and temporality – to neither of which are the Gods subject. Creation, which includes most specifically the creation of matter is a process, which in and of itself implies that linkage to temporality. In and of Themselves, the Gods have no need of that. They precede its creation. I know we have stories of the Gods being born, but I think what we’re really dealing with, at least with the Norse creation stories, is the moment a Holy Power takes on certain names and forms, parses out a portion of its own, independent being, narrows itself for communication and interaction with us, a necessary concession to beings fettered by temporality and corporeality i.e. humans. That…that is hugely profound. There is so much, after all, of what every Deity is that is beyond our capacity as corporeal creatures to comprehend.
To say that Odin breathed life into the first humans, and to equate that as binding them to wyrd (which I do and it does – a child’s wyrd begins the moment it draws breath. Until then, there is no point of connection. Until then, there is only potential and abstraction. Birth mirrors the initial moment of the creation of materiality and its yoking to time. Our ancestors can work off their wyrd, correct it, strengthen it, and help us to do the same, but there is no new wyrd being generated, no new layers being created. We can inherit wyrd from those who have gone before us, but they are not still creating further wyrd. There does seem to be a correlation between life and the beginning of active wyrd vs. death and its ending or tying off).
So if that is the case (and I believe it is), then all the stories we have hinting that Odin and the other Gods cannot escape wyrd, must of necessity be interpreted differently. The question must then be asked: whose wyrd?
If wyrd is the one force to which even the Gods must bow (as our lore teaches) and if wyrd is also tied specifically to temporality then we are dealing with cosmic law. We are dealing with a force that is not bound to the Gods, but rather us. We are dealing with a framework of causality and consequence generated by us, our choices, the choices of our ancestors, and descendants (and overseen by the Nornir). It’s the inherent infrastructure of creation. We’re also dealing with the loop-hole of free will. I posit that it’s not so much that the Gods are bound by Their own wyrd, but that they’re bound by the law of ours. They cannot undo that which we create for ourselves because to do so would completely undermine free will and one chip in the edifice of the structured order of creation would risk undoing the whole thing.
All of which demands reinterpretation of the forces surrounding Baldr’s death, usually presented as a matter of it being impossible for Baldr to escape His wyrd. (This may be another forthcoming article. I’m not going to dwell on it right now). It also demands reevaluation of exactly what Odin was doing when He gave us that animating breath. I can’t help but find it even more powerfully significant that one of the defining moments of the Odinnic canon occurred on Yggdrasil, when He hung for the runes. Yggdrasil is where Urda’s well lies, and where the Nornir lay and order the threads of wyrd we pattern. There is a deeper connection to Odin as shaman-god, creator-god, murderer of His ancestor Ymir, and bringer of fate and destiny to humanity. To be bound to wyrd, after all, is to be bound to that against which we may both measure and challenge ourselves. Be our wyrd good or bad, we are defined by how we meet it.
For those who are curious, we’ve post the table of contents for issue 2 as a sneak peak. Check it out here.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email requests asking how one should start honoring the dead, fighting the filter, or doing this devotional polytheism thing. I try to answer each and every email but sometimes I fall behind (especially toward the end of a school term when all my twenty + page academic papers come due!). I do try, and I am grateful for the patience of my correspondents.
Because I’ve been getting so many requests lately though, I want to post a brief list of some good basic resources, many written by me, some by colleagues that can help get a person started. I wrote a number of my books because I wanted something I could hand to my students, clients, and others, knowing that they weren’t going to be given bad advice. I got tired of not having written resources. I know it was the same with many of my colleagues who also write. When many of us started this work, there was nothing on spirit work and even less on devotional work and honoring the ancestors, and nothing at all on polytheism. I know personally, I’ve tried to change that.
So for those wondering where to start, here are my suggestions – and I’ve focused on non-tradition specific texts for the most part. These can be adapted to any particular polytheism. There are many, many tradition specific books, and also more spiritwork specific books that I chose not to include. There is a joy and a grace in building devotional relationships as a regular devotee and I think we overlook that way too much:
“Honoring the Ancestors: A Basic Guide”: this is my 101 book on ancestor veneration: what it is, why we do it, how to do it, why it’s so important, and how to troubleshoot issues that might arise. I wrote this because I saw a need, again based on all the questions I was receiving privately. The book itself came out of an online class that I taught (and a big thank you to all those who took those classes!). Ancestor work is foundational and crucial and this book gets one started.
“Spiritual Protection” by Sophie Reicher: I like this book. It’s hard-core. It is also one of the best breakdown of the foundational exercises common to metaphysical practices and esoteric ones that I’ve ever read. The author and I worked together for a number of years, and I was very, very happy when she wrote this book. Finally, one I can just hand people with “here, do these exercises.” LOL. This book really encompasses, along with ancestor work (which she doesn’t touch on), the first year (at least) of solid practice.
“Dealing with Deities” by Raven Kaldera: This is an amazing book that talks about what polytheism is and how the idea of many gods impacts praxis and all the many ways one can relate to the gods and so much more. I think that many of the books out there now on polytheism and practice are written by spiritworkers who unconsciously assume either a level of engagement that the beginner hasn’t had, or certain foundational knowledge as a matter of course. This book presumes none of that and provides the reader with a really solid introduction to what it means to be a polytheist in the modern world and how to do that well.
“Devotional Polytheism”: I like to joke that I literally wrote the book on polytheism. LOL. This book is part primer and part book of hours. It arose from another online class that I taught, one introducing people to the ins and outs of devotional practice. If you’re wondering what that means, how to get started, or more likely what on earth to do, this book is for you.
“Neolithic Shamanism”: by Raven Kaldera & Galina Krasskova: the title of this book is misleading. It’s not about shamanism per se (we had little to no say in the title. We wanted to call it “Fire, Frost, and Singing Sea”). It’s an introduction and two to three years worth of exercises (possibly more) to help the reader root oneself in an animist and polytheistic worldview, and to begin engaging at a deeper level with the spirits of place, the elemental powers, and the ancestors. If one does end up a spirit worker, then this book will have given a really powerfully solid foundation for the Work. If one does not, then one will still have that really strong foundation and be able to engage in devotional practice and veneration at deep and deeply challenge levels. I recommend reading the other books here first, but then this book is the next step. It is written from a Northern Tradition perspective, but the exercises and info inside can easily be adapted.
Finally, “Talking to Spirits” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera: this book will start easing one into ritual work and active engagement with the spirits.
I also rather like “Walking the Heartroad” by Silence Maestas. I don’t think this book has ever gotten as much attention as it deserves. Silence was, to my knowledge, the first to try to parse out a typography of engagement.
And finally, “Dwelling on the Threshold” by Sarah Istra Kate Winter, for those whose practices taken them down the road of the spirits.
That’s where I’d start and pretty much in that order. If you’ve gone through all of these books, really worked through them instead of just breezing through the reading, you’ll have a foundation that will help you in pretty much every aspect of devotional work. The only thing that isn’t covered in depth here, is ritual work. We talk about but there’s no way to convey the experience of a ritual, of being in a well constructed, piously run rite. One can read and learn about how to do rituals, but it’s no substitute for actually doing them. Still, that comes with practice and trial and error. After these readings, then one is well positioned to branch off into tradition-specific reading.
When: July 31, 2015
In remembrance of the over three hundred ancient and in many cases holy sites destroyed by Daesh.
In grief and terror over the damage to and potential destruction of the UNESCO city of Palmyra, and the Temple of Ba’al Shamin.
In silent protest against the attack and forced eradication of even the vestiges of polytheism across the world.
This is not a Syrian issue. This is not a Muslim issue. This is a world issue. It is a human issue. Daesh is purposely targeting memory. They’re targeting their history, and their own *physical* connection with their polytheistic ancestors. It is done to demoralize, terrorize, and desecrate.
We polytheists who have the freedom to practice our religions without fear of our lives (regardless of how much Christian hatred we may experience) have the opportunity to unite ritually, magically, spiritually in mind and will, with hearts and spirits in a cross-community day of ancestral reverence and remembrance.
Over sixty Deities were venerated at Palmyra alone, from multiple traditions: Canaanite, Mesopotamian, Arab, Greek, Phoenician, and Roman, as well as local and ancestral gods. Deities given cultus there included Bol/Bel, Yarhibol (god of justice), Malakbel (god of the Sun), Aglibol (god of the moon), Astarte (Phoenician Goddess of love and power), Ba’al Hamon, Ba’al Shamin, Ba’al Hadad, Atargatis, the Sumerian Nabu and Nirgal, the Arab Azizos, Shams, and Al – Allat, the native Gods Gad Taimi and Arsu, and even Dionysos.
What to do? :
Print out this graphic or copy it onto a piece of paper.
Meditate for a few moments, focusing on all the destruction, desecration, and damage, on the sacred places that have been destroyed, on the erasure of these ancient polytheistic spaces, and all the other horrors Daesh have committed.
Offer this prayer:
“May the holy places of the Many Gods remain inviolate for all time.
May the hands of the enemies of the Many Gods of be smashed and their efforts come to naught.
May the worship of the Many Gods flourish in many lands once again.
May those who hold true to the Many Gods be preserved and strengthened.”
Burn the paper in offering.
5.make whatever other offerings you wish.
If possible, do this NINE times throughout the Day.
Feel free to share about this experience on facebook, blogs, twitter – this is an act of evocation of all those Gods Whose sacred places have been destroyed and Whose people are being violated. The internet is a perfect way to keep this evocation going.
This is a way of holding space for polytheism, ancient and modern, it is a way of drawing a line in the sand and declaring to the world that we stand in solidarity with those whose voices once rang out in praise to a plenitude of Gods and Goddesses. It is a statement that for every stone of every temple destroyed, we will restore that cultus a thousand fold. It is an act of evocation, execration, and magic. We’re still here.
(art by M. Gage. The logo is one of the symbols of Ba’al, heavily stylized. It seems particularly appropriate with Palmyra. Divination was done to ensure that it was ok to use the image for this purpose).
Some friends were having a discussion with Sannion last night and as I was passing through (swamped with preparations for my upcoming trip), he mentioned one of the things they were discussing and it just blew me away. This is so spot on, so powerful, so incredibly profound that I, half way upstairs, stopped dead in my tracks and asked everyone’s permission to write about it here. (Obviously they graciously allowed me to do so, or I wouldn’t be posting this!).
The latest issue of Walking the Worlds discusses the importance of regional cultus to the restoration of our polytheisms. We talk about regional cultus a lot but I don’t think many of us (myself included) ever really stop to parse it out or to figure out how all of the various parts of our praxis are organically (no pun intended, I swear!) connected. Part of regional cultus is venerating the land spirits, what a Norse practitioner might call vaettir. Hand in hand with this goes a certain reverence for the land and the spaces in which we practice, which support our practice, be they cities or forests or anything in between. This is good. I think honoring the land is the third part of a very powerful trine of Gods, ancestors, and land that is foundational to polytheism as a whole. But I don’t think many of us take this any farther. My friends did and I’m still just blown away.
Essentially when you are honoring the land, over and above any individual spirits you may be engaging with, when we just talk about the soil itself, you’re honoring the dead. You cannot engage in regional cultus, you cannot really honor any piece of land, without also recognizing and honoring the dead. Why? This is basic to the way both geology and ancestor practice works. The dead are always with us, underpinning everything we are and everything we do. The Yoruba have a powerful maxim: “we stand on the shoulders of our dead,” or sometimes “we stand on the bones of our dead.” Well, we do. Literally.
What is soil but eons of dead matter? Many of us in the Northern Tradition praise the forces of decay because without decay and rot, without this process of transmutation what would our world be? With the grace of the gods and spirits of decay and rot, we have soil, soil made up of dead bodies, dead animals, dead plants, going all the way back to the beginning. We quite literally walk and live upon the remains of our dead and we are nourished by it physically just as ancestor work nourishes us spiritually. There is nowhere we can walk where the dead are not. There is nothing we can consume, that has not partaken of this blessing of death and decay (unless it is solely processed in a lab and then I don’t want to be consuming it!). All that grows in the soil and everything that devours that which grows in the soil, and all who devour those things…we are all physically nourished by our dead and in time our corporeal matter will fade into the blackness of the soil to nourish those who come after us in turn. I have said before that there is more life in a teaspoon of soil than in the greatest metropolis on earth and that is true, but in the soil itself, there is also more death. The two cannot be sifted apart.
We as polytheists and animists know that we are not apart from the natural world. We are in harmony with it (or strive to be). We are connected to all things that were and are and will be. The detritus of a small dead plant is as much part and parcel of our tapestry of being as those buried in a cemetery to whom we might be related by blood. We are literally made up of the dead. The soil is the stuff of our blood and bone. It’s all interconnected.
Check out Lykeia’s blog. She is selling devotional art. Her work is beautiful (she has been kind enough to contribute to several prayer cards too!) and inexpensively priced. I think it’s a sacred thing, a holy thing, a needed thing to bring images and art of our Gods into the world. There’s magic in that and it’s something I personally want to foster and support. there’s also something really neat about owning A) an image of one’s Gods and B) a piece of original art. I’m of the belief that everyone should own a piece of original art at some point. I know a lot of us have this idea that it’s well beyond our means, but it isn’t. Her prices are astoundingly low. Art is another way the Gods work on our world. Go. look. buy. 🙂
Although I do not talk about my art things much on here, that is probably something I should remedy. Or at least give weekly posts regarding anything new that is available for sale. I do devotional statues, paintings, drawings and whatever else I may feel compelled to produce.
There are several places where you can see and acquire prints and original artwork by yours truly. ***Note that even if it is not officially offered in a store I can usually make a print out of any of my paintings if you like one that I haven’t put up available as a print.
Currently I have several original paintings that are waiting for an opportunity to go to new homes, the newest among which is an oil painting of Serapis, and several more which are nearly completion. All transactions accept paypal for payment.
There is my etsy shop “Lykeia’s Botanica” at…
View original post 134 more words
I’ve received three more devotional mail art cards in the mail. (reminder; send me one, and i’ll send you one in return). These are lovely and very, very timely on a personal level. Thank you, folks.
Hestia by Sparrow
Ellen of the Ways by Ellen
Hestia by A.Conall. I so needed to read this prayer the day it arrived — it was such a significant thing for me. Thank you).
and i’m delighted to see devotional art being made and shared. Each one of these is lovely and a delight. keep ’em coming folks. 🙂