Monthly Archives: October 2016
What Early Christianity Can Teach Us About How To Be Good Polytheists
I’m taking a class this term on Medieval communities and in addition to the mass of social theory we have to read, we’re also reading some of the early Church Fathers and other theologians. This week it was Augustine, Jerome, and Peter Damian.
I like Jerome (something that causes several of my academic friends to raise surprised eyebrows): he’s curmudgeonly; I’m curmudgeonly. He writes in beautiful (for a Christian) Latin, I like Latin and wish I could write like that. He seems to value the spiritual well being of the lay people with whom he corresponded and didn’t condescend to them or truncate his letters, instead he included a substantial and nuanced theology in his responses, even when writing to someone as insignificant in the Roman world as an unmarried teen aged girl. I was very impressed by that, even though I might not agree with the positions he was espousing.
Apparently he was quite a bastard. Palladius in his Lausiac History comments that Jerome’s assistant Paula is much more spiritual and learned but will surely die soon “just to get away from him.” This only makes me like him all the more. I can relate.
I think reading him really impressed on me how important it is to wrestle with all the nuances our theologies present. I think we’re accustomed to both accepting but moreover wanting the easy, neatly compartmentalized answers. We like things orderly and I get that. I like things orderly too. Religious experience isn’t though, at least not at first. It’s messy, explosive, confusing, contradictory and wonderful and I think we need to not be afraid to delve in, to examine and accept those contradictions, to discuss and discuss and discuss. In a way I envy these early Christians. They had such a vibrant network of communication and support for their little death cult. This unknown Roman virgin was corresponding with one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day as a matter of course. When this girl had questions, she didn’t hesitate to reach out to this scholar. That unified sense of purpose, that willingness to work at understanding and faith, to sacrifice, to struggle, and to reach out in mutual support was one of the things that helped Christianity grow. I think this was especially true when they were a nascent sect wisely condemned by the Roman state.
It really highlights for me that contemplation of all the permutations of praxis and faith is not something just for scholars or theologians. It’s something for all of us engaged in and desiring a devotional practice. We should care about these things. We should want to know what those scholars and theologians amongst us are saying. We should want to learn more, to talk about it, to grow and expand our understanding of what it means to be a polytheist today.
Before I wrap this up – I don’t want to go on too long tonight – I want to note Peter Damian’s take on the soul. This is simplifying dramatically but in a nutshell, he talks about the soul as being an empty house. What he means by this, at least insofar as I’ve read to date, is that for a person of devotion (and I think this analogy can be applied to us as polytheists too), we are making, through the practice of faith and right contemplation, our souls a fit dwelling place for our Gods. For this reason, it’s important to take care with what we choose to fill that space.
There’s a discipline in these early religious reformers (for that’s what Damian essentially was) that served the development of a fierce faith. They believed it was important to take care over what filled one’s waking thoughts, what occupied one’s time, what honed the way one approached the world. That’s what it was about largely: creating a mind and heart that made the holy a central point of reference for living in the world (of course Christians often took this to a rather nihilistic place, never being particularly comfortable with the world, despite their god having taken human flesh).
To bring this back to Jerome, he wrote a letter to a young Roman woman who wanted to take a vow of perpetual virginity to Christ. He was offering this contemplative advice on how to do this well and cautioned against the habit of showing off, performing piety for the adulation of others, and most of all against putting herself in situations where she might be exposed to temptation. For Jerome, one could lose one’s virginity not with the deed but with a thought (the thought being parent to the deed, though Jerome is quoting the NT here – I forget which book—where Jesus tells his apostles that one who has lusted after a woman has committed adultery just as much as if he committed the deed in true – and boy aren’t we all screwed, if you’ll pardon the pun). He’s urging her to take care of her surroundings and to foster relationships that encourage and nurture her spiritually, to develop daily habits that do the same rather than fighting against a daily regimen that is in opposition to her religious goals. I think that part of laudable.
Doing devotional work right, remaining in right relationship with our Gods takes work and effort – ongoing work – on our part. It’s a process and a huge part of that process is completely within our control to do well, to ignore, or everything in between. It takes work not because our Gods are petulant, capricious, and punitive – I do not for one moment believe that They are. I think they are, in fact, anything but. It takes work because that is the nature of the soul. Because neither we nor the Gods are stagnant creatures. Because we are human beings with all of our faults and imperfections and we have been given the complicated grace of free choice in these things. Because service and devotion that is compelled has little value. Because the best things, the things most valuable in one’s life take effort. Because it is right and proper to want to become the best people we can be for ourselves and for our Gods too, and because that house of the soul, like all dwellings requires maintenance. (How’s that for a list of run on sentences?)
There’s a term that many of these early Christian writers used extensively: ἄσκησις. We get our word ‘asceticism’ from it but before you get your panties in a twist over what you think that word means, consider its original meaning, one which the early Christians, for all their terror of a proper education in literature and rhetoric, knew well: training, practice, and exercise, also ‘mode of life.’ They may have taken it to frightening (and inefficient) extremes, but this idea of spiritual life taking work is an important one. We must exercise our souls in the pursuit of devotion. The men and women who discussed and indeed practiced this weren’t clergy. They weren’t shamans. They weren’t specialists of any kind. They were lay people, lay people hungry to serve their God well. I know plenty of lay people within polytheism who share an equal hunger to do right by their Gods.
Now I’m not advocating ascetic practices (unless one feels so called – it is a powerful path for some). What I am advocating is that we take the time every day to recommit ourselves to this work, to the craft, practice, and mode of life of polytheistic devotion. The exercise of our souls, like exercise of the body, hones and strengthens: our devotion, our faith, our ability to serve our Gods well, our desire to do so – yes, most importantly our desire to love and serve Them well—and of course our discernment. These are good and necessary things and they are not things that should ever be reserved for the specialists. They encourage mindfulness and proper ordering of one’s life, so that one’s life reflects one’s values and priorities. Nor are they things that we should barter away for the ideological whim of the moment.
I think Christianity gained dominance precisely because it was originally marginalized. It was forced to network to survive. It was forced to come together in unity (such as it was – they did have a remarkable preoccupation with heresy) because it was unsupported at the State level. Those Pagans and Polytheists happily going about their business did not have to worry about their faith, or thought they didn’t. They had come, I believe, to take it for granted because it was the way of the world and had been for generations. Perhaps one thing we should always remember both in working for restoration and in maintaining it once it is firmly established: the world was not always as it is now. Take that as hope. Take that as a warning. Because it wasn’t always thus, it need not be this way in the future. That’s a convoluted way of saying that we should value our Gods and traditions and damn it, we should fight for them, first and foremost in the battleground of our own minds and hearts. If we are unwilling to do that, then perhaps we don’t deserve the Gods or Their holy traditions. We need, I think, to remember the lesson of that last Pagan generation: what you don’t consciously hold precious, what you take for granted (however understandable and good the reason), what you do not fight for you will lose.
A New Div. System
So Sannion just finished a fantastic book on divination — I think it’s probably the most important book he’s written. I’m chomping at the bit for it to be generally available (I got to read the file before he sent it over for formatting and I was blown away). Of course I’ll post about it here when it is available, but I want to share a system that I stole and adapted from his book.
Of course he stole it first from my people. LOL. He adapted this from Anglo-Saxon sources for use in a more Bacchic-Orphic practice, and I took it back and re-adapted it for a Mani-centric practice. This is what happens when you let a Southern Italian Orpheotelest loose in your library. Anyway, here it is (my version) for those who might be interested.
The Mirror of the Moon
When the moon is new on a Sunday, that signifies three things will happen during the month: rain, wind and calm. It also signifies barrenness of cattle and old men’s sicknesses – but health and fitness among the young men. Make offerings to the Mothers.
If it is new on a Monday, that signifies sorrow for those who are born and young men’s heads will ache in that month. Make offerings to Heimdall.
If it is new on a Tuesday, that signifies joy for all men, and grief for the young. Make offerings to Narvi and Vali.
If it is new on a Wednesday, that signifies that peaceful men will dwell among loyal friends. An end to ancient feuds and generational enmity. Make offerings to Mani.
If it is new on a Thursday, that signifies the health of kings through potent drugs. Make offerings to Odin.
If it is new on a Friday, there will be good hunting that month. Make offerings to Frey.
If it is new on a Saturday that signifies strife, and bloodshed, and whoever begins it with the south wind will have the victory. Make offerings to the Nine Daughters of Ran and Aegir.
It’s weird offering to Mani on Wed. and Odin on Thurs. — those aren’t the usual days but I did divination while adapting this and these are the Powers that stepped forward. The placement of the moon signifies the overall influences moving through the month. The diviner extrapolates from the information given. The offerings can be done as a matter of course when this is consulted or in order to better the outcome for the month.
Powerful Omen at Standing Rock
On my facebook I’ve been posting and sharing quite a bit about the attacks on Native People protecting their land at Standing Rock. It makes for rough reading. Today, for instance, I learned that Standing Rock medics have been shot and arrested by police. Medics. It sickens me. Today though, I also learned of something very powerful that happened: thousands of wild buffalo appeared at the site. It is such a powerful omen, I wanted to break my general rule of no US politics during election season to post here about it.
Check out the story here.
Also a good link on what’s going on and why it’s important here.
New Prayer Card: Aegir by L. Perkins
This will be available very soon. 🙂
So within NT shamanism we have a specific divination system to determine what type of purification will work best, in the event that we or our clients require purification. (Of course this isn’t the only thing we use but if all other types of div and discernment have failed, there is a specific system for this). That is more or less lineaged material but I happened to show it to my husband. His eyes gleamed and he got all excited and asked if he could use it as the basis for one of his own systems. Since while it technically is part of the lineaged material, it’s part that can be shared with non-initiates, I explained the extremely simple system to him. He nodded and disappeared into his office and emailed me the following about a half hour later.
It is an awesome system based on the Greek theory of the four humours. He gave me permission to share it here. This in turn has inspired a friend and colleague to do yet another riff on the system and I love the interconnectedness and mutually inspiring nature of this work. A Heathen makes up a system and it’s down, dirty, and simple. A Bacchic, southern Italian, Hellenic inspired Orpheotelest tries it and he gets all fancy. ^_^.
Here it is.
This is the method of prescribing cleansings.
You will need four stones, a die, and a pouch to keep them in.
The four stones represent the rizomata panton, the “roots of all things” or primordial elements which Empedokles described as follows:
Now hear the fourfold roots of everything:
shining Zeus, enlivening Hera, Aidoneus,
and Nestis, moistening mortal springs with her tears.
The stones should either have their Greek name inscribed on them or be of an appropriate color, as derived from the Galenic humours.
Fire = (πῦρ pur) = hot and dry = yellow
Air = (ἀήρ aer) = hot and wet = red
Earth = (γῆ ge) = cold and dry = black
Water = (ὕδωρ hudor) = cold and wet = white
Draw the stone out to determine where the root cause of the problem lies and then roll the die to determine the nature of the cleansing that needs to be prescribed.
1. Pass fire over the body.
2. Walk on coals.
3. Write your afflictions down on scraps of paper and then give them to the fire.
4. Burn an effigy of your enemy.
5. Keep a flame burning for a month.
6. Wear red clothing for a week and work on cultivating the fire within.
1. Fumigate with bay or other purifying herbs.
2. Cleanse using music.
3. Cleanse through prayer, singing or intoning words of power.
4. Burn incense every day for a month.
5. Devote yourself to intellectual study and practice mindfulness and meditation.
6. Cover your head, especially when you’re outside the home.
1. Apply sacred ash.
2. Cover with mud and sit upon the bare earth for three hours.
3. Make offerings to the ancestors.
4. Make offerings to the land-spirits.
5. Ground and center.
6. Thoroughly clean and put your home in order.
2. Cleanse with chernips.
3. Take a cleansing bath, with milk and appropriate herbs.
4. Bathe in a river.
5. Cleanse through tears.
6. Wear all white for a week.
It’s That Time of Year Again…
It’s that time of year again when most of us start thinking about our dead. Of course I’m of the mind that every day is the proper time to think about our ancestors, but many of our religions give special focus to them in autumn (Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, Winterfylledh, etc.).
One of the things that my ancestors like, and almost demand this time of year, is that I cook for them; specifically, that I cook traditional family/ethnic recipes. My German, Swiss, and British Isles ancestors don’t seem to care (They’ll eat anything LOL) but my Lithuanians really, really, really want me cooking recipes that I got from my father who got them from his mom, and so on. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have as many points of connection as I would like with that part of my line, or perhaps there are reasons known only to them, but they are most insistent that I cook for them in a traditional way.
Usually, they’re happy if once in awhile I make my grandmother’s bread, though they’d prefer if I made all the bread consumed in my house (not a possibility due to my health issues. It takes hard work and endurance to cook like that!) but around this time of year and generally through Yule they want everything: vertinas, apple cake, bow tie cookies, breads, soups, stews, everything. I started by making bread last night.
To honor them, I’m going to share some of those recipes here. I encourage y’all to share your own ancestor recipes too. The kitchen is the heart of the home. So much family lore, history, and bonding has taken place over the centuries in the kitchens, in the work that nourishes the family. It’s no wonder that our ancestors like us to remember that, as they nourish us too.
Weird Ancestor Porridge : )
The first dish that I want to mention is a traditional dish served for the ancestors in Lithuania. I don’t have an actual recipe. It’s just a porridge made from various heritage grains. I usually combine nine different grains, some oat flour, corn meal, etc. I boil them on the stove top adding a ton of honey, dried fruit, sometimes almonds, salt until it tastes ok to me. Then I put cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg on it, sometimes sugar, put it into a special dish I have and offer it to the dead. The combination of grains I use varies and sometimes I’ve substituted lentils or peas for one of the grains. Use what you have.
Mamoom’s Basic Sweet Dough
Bread is such a powerful thing, almost a sacrament in Lithuanian tradition. It represents everything good and holy, everything that nourishes life, and it can even be used in esoteric cleansings. (I can’t do a damn thing with traditional egg cleansings, but give me bread and I’m good to go). This is my grandmother’s favorite recipe.
8-9 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 packages of dry, active yeast
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup (two sticks) butter
½ cup water
- In a large bowl combine two cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
- In a medium saucepan heat the milk, water, and butter until very warm. The butter doesn’t have to melt all the way.
- With a mixer at low speed gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat for two minutes. Stir in the additional flour and the eggs to make a soft dough. (At this point you may add a cup or two of raisins. I prefer to use golden raisins. This is optional).
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about ten minutes. Shape into a ball and put in a greased bowl, turning all over so top of dough can get greased (I use butter to grease the bowl). Cover with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled – about an hour.
- Punch down dough. Cut into thirds or halves, cover and let rise fifteen minutes. Put in greased pans and let rise 1 ½ hours.
- Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes.
Dad’s Bow Tie Recipe
(eat them warm ^__^)
Every culture seems to have some version of this: dough covered in powdered sugar. It’s a little bite of bliss. They take awhile to make though so be prepared.
12 egg yolks
4 Tablespoons of sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon rum
1 pint sour cream
flour as needed.
- mix all this up well adding five or six cups of flour gradually. Roll the dough very, very thin and cut into rectangles. Cut a slit in the center of each rectangle and pull one end through to make a little bowtie.
- Fry until golden in oil 375 F.
- Roll those suckers in powdered sugar right away
(mine never look this good! They taste good, but never LOOK this fine)
I hate making these. I love eating them but I hate making them. They take forever but they are so very worth it.
Meat: four pounds of pork loin deboned (I don’t like pork so I use ground beef)
Dough: beat three eggs. 1-2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups milk. While beating add 5-6 cups flour until dough is soft enough to handle.
Prep the meat: 1 onion chopped fine, 2 slices of bread crumbled, 2 eggs with a little milk to soften, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.
Roll the dough out thin, cut it into circles, fill the circles with a teaspoon of meat, and fold over, crimping the edges with your fork, or folding and pinching the dough.
Drop them in boiling water for 20 minutes. When they rise, they’re done.
Later this week, I’ll share some recipes from my adopted mom and bio mom. Enjoy, folks.
Sanjay’s Super Team — such a cool short
EDIT: i fixed the link!
This is so cool. A good message for polytheists. 🙂