A Really Good Question from a Reader

Owlet asks: “How do you make right after participating in a ritual or group that is disrespectful?”

This is a really good question and I’m glad you asked it here. It’s something that I’ve had to learn through a lot of trial and error, especially when I was much more open to participating in rituals outside my House, and when I was working in the interfaith world. My answer is two- fold.

Firstly, what you describe (which I quote further below) is the real danger of community involvement and I am so very sorry to learn that this happened to you. It hurts my heart to know that your own devotion was impacted by this. It can be very, very hard to come back from such a thing but I will say this: as we learn better, we do better. You’ve had a valuable experience about what is NOT proper community. That will serve as an incredibly useful lens through which to evaluate every other group with which you consider becoming involved in the future. That can be a great blessing. Hopefully, also, others can learn from your story as well.

Now, you ask what one can do. Firstly, ideally, don’t participate in those groups. It is far, far better to remain solitary than to pollute yourself. I think that the desperation to communicate and share with like-minded individuals sometimes pushes us into these situations and it’s so important, early on, to commit to not compromising where piety and respect for the Gods, ancestors, and land are concerned.  In this, compromise is nota virtue. Evaluate their theology, their politics, their values, their lifestyles, the choices they make large and small. Separate your personal feelings from these things, because a person can be nice and friendly but in the end, poison ideology leads to poisoning of the tradition and our lives. Do the choices they’re making serve the Gods and the tradition or do they seek to elevate the people and ego-stroking, etc. etc. Is it all about the human condition?

It is absolutely lovely to find like-minded polytheists, and to build communities – and in truth, I don’t think our restoration can endure intergenerationally without lived community. The thing is, it’s important that those communities prioritize the Gods qua Gods and if they don’t, shun them like poison.  I would add that we’re never really alone. We have our Gods, we have our ancestors and we can learn from Them and hopefully when we’re ready, They will guide us to working, solid traditions that will augment our relationships with the Gods, not shit on them. 

So first and foremost, I would say, avoid these senseless or impious groups. That means making conscious devotional choices about what to prioritize, and about your religious life, and with whom you share that. It means doing some research, asking uncomfortable questions before participating. It means being willing to walk away from groups and people that do not nourish  one’s piety. That means weighing everything and most of all being absolutely unwilling to compromise on the key fundamentals of polytheistic practice. I think with the influence of pseudo-progressivism in our communities, we’ve been indoctrinated to think of ‘compromise’ as a virtue across the board. It’s not. If I’m in a ship and the hull is compromised, that’s not a good thing. That is in fact, life threatening. It’s the same with the type of pollution that we can all too often find in certain places.

Owlet’s post continued: “I spent many years as a solitary pagan and polytheist, because I lived in an area where the culture was unusually hostile to such things. When I moved to a large urban center and university town, I immediately got involved in pagan events and groups. I was desperate to be a part of a community. To one group , in particular, I donated hundreds (or more) volunteer hours, a great deal of money, handcrafted ritual items…everything I could give. As I learned over the years, the people running and organizing these events and rituals often did not believe in the gods as anything more than thoughtforms or maybe archetypes, or were at the core monotheists or Christians with a thin overlay of pagan dress. Their disrespect spread from their relationship with the gods, to their relationship with the land, to the ancestors, and to other people, and I played along and became complicit. Now that I’ve left and can stand back, I feel heartsick at the compromises I made to please these groups. The service I gave to these communities distracted from and damaged my relationships with the holy powers instead of strengthening them.”

Again, it hurts to read this and my heart goes out to you, but look at it as a learning experience. It’s often difficult, especially when we’re all hungry for community and companionship, to recognize when something or someone is problematic. We learn, often from harsh experience. I would encourage you to not carry guilt over this. Go before your Gods and ask Their forgiveness if you feel the need, and do a ritual cleansing and then commit to doing better. Sometimes, it’s really, really important to have these bad experiences so we have a baseline from which to clearly and accurately evaluate practices. The most important thing in what you’ve sadly experienced is that now you can look on these things clearly and make better, informed choices. There’s no need for shame about any of that. You contributed to a community that you thought shared your piety. That’s a good thing to do. It’s not your fault that the community was not what you thought. Please don’t carry the guilt from this.  Sometimes we appreciate devotion and piety and right relationship all the more when we’ve had an experience of its opposite and the effects of that.

What I would suggest is prayer – we cannot pray too much—and regular cleansings. Whenever I find that I’ve been exposed or have inadvertently exposed myself (and sometimes my spiritual Work requires this) to pollution, I will pray and cleanse myself, sometimes using divination to figure out what type of cleansing is needed. I always suggest going to the Gods, going to the ancestors, going to the land and reconnecting. Ask Them for help and cleansing, ask Them for guidance and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with would-be communities.

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Posted on July 26, 2018, in devotional work, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Thank you so, so much. It was very kind of you to give such a detailed and thoughtful reply.

    I think I was so wrapped up in the grief and shame of the whole thing that I was not thinking about the good that came from it. I did learn a tremendous amount from the experience. Thank you for the reminder that this is also a lesson and a blessing. In a way, I am starting all over again from scratch. This is a unique chance to rebuild my practice from the ground up, in way that is guided by real faith and devotion. That is a true gift. 🙂

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  2. As much as I agree with this well-meaning and wise post, I would say that individual & isolated piety is a good means, but finding, cultivating, establishing, or aiming at a pious community should always be the good end. These words come from my heart as a well-wisher of polytheism and someone who refuses to despair in its continuity and growth, which can only be achieved by a proper community on the ground.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      absolutely but devotion and piety should never be compromised by submitting to a putrid, polluted community. better to be alone until like minded, devout people can be found.

      Liked by 4 people

      • There is great sense in that. But I fear the lack of proper community is dangerously alarming and isn’t emphasized enough. Certainly I have yet to do my active part towards such an end (especially being a crypto-polytheist now) but I will and must one day. Actually, I’ll choose not to practice private devotions purposely in order to force myself to settle into a community, for fear of becoming too comfortable alone. An oddity, I confess, but at least a purposeful one.

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  3. ganglerisgrove

    private devotion is the heart of one’s connection to the Gods. what we share in community is the result. a community that has people who neglect that private work is doomed to fail.

    Eventually, I do hope to see communities emerge, but with that must come culture and values and many of those will be opposed to our dominant culture now so I suspect it’s going to be a difficult (necessary but difficult) endeavor. The way our communities are now, i’m not holding my breath. I’ll start small, with my comitatus and build from there. But without the personal devotion, it’s pointless.

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    • Seeing polytheism in all its glorious traditions prosper and become revived & respected again is what I hope for most (as you certainly do also), however it begins. It is undoubtedly a cause I am *devoted* to. I do consider myself a collectivist, and I do think the individualism that the modern world has encouraged is weakening polytheism just as it has weakened all the other institutions of society. Now private devotion and individualism need not be related in this case, but I fear that too often they are. If we must have strong individuals, why then let them be strong leaders of community who can rally others on the ground and being growth by force of numbers. I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed or jealous when I see the Amish, the Orthodox Jews in New York, the Muslims, among other monotheist groups forming strong lasting groups while we in effect live in caves. Can’t we at least imitate the Hindu communities? There’s one here in St Louis with a large temple. The idea of a community is precisely giving up something individual for the sake of the common good. Well, why we can’t go forward with institutions and groups in these times of hyperconnection and the internet? What is holding us back? Is it the lack of books, or blogs, or theology? No. Perhaps it’s the lack of devotion, but in my opinion, devotion to the great cause of polytheism and it’s growth, not merely its continuity.

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      • ganglerisgrove

        if we’re not right with the Gods, deep in devotion to Them, what’s the point? The problem with wanting community is that we always make it so human focused. I wouldn’t want to be part of any community that put anything above the Gods. I agree with you though that we should be learning from the Hindu community — and i’d go further and say we should be supporting them in their fight to maintain their traditions. I would love to see us with huge temples, thriving communities, and neighborhoods that were thoroughly polytheistic. mayb eit won’t happen in our lifetimes, but we can work toward that but never, ever at teh expense of that personal devotion. The community should be an outgrowth of that, not a substitution for it.

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      • It’s self-evident that the idea of a community based on faith and ritual necessitates setting the station and power of the Gods above those of people. Christian communities wish for their jesus to be exalted above all, as do the Jews with their yahweh and Muslims with their allah. Now, there is always differing *interpretations* on how to attain such exaltation, and hence the differing traditions that arise. I do understand however what you mean by “human centered” and I must say your thoughts fit those of a community priesthood, and I mean that as a compliment. I believe firmly in the function and necessity of some sort of priesthood or religious body teaching and even regulating ritual (or devotion) for the community, and no community can be complete without them. Priests are also those who are most concerned with private devotions to the Gods, mainly because of their commitment to serving others. So, perhaps communities are best built by the individual inspiration and powerful vision of priests or religious leaders who rally the devotions of others to a common cause? I think so. I will continue to reflect on this matter carefully and I thank you for your thoughts. Whoever means well for the Gods and is known to exert great effort for them must be honored, even by those who, also by and for meaning well, may differ.

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      • thetinfoilhatsociety

        It’s not just the hyper focus on individualism. It’s the culture of passive entertainment as well. This encompasses video games even. Books seem to hard for people to bother with – it’s easier to find something on the internet, even though we don’t engage with the computer screen in the same way as with a paper in our hands. Individual devotion involves personal initiative and active participation. That doesn’t square with the “need” to be entertained. Public ritual does.

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  4. Hi Owlet, just wanted you to know that you are not alone in experiencing something in a community that afterwards left you feeling you heartsick. My tiring point was a large public ritual which I was taking part in but others did not seen to see the goddess called as a being worth respect. It was a powerful learning experience for me but one that was painful too. At a later time I sought Her out through a journey and made my apologies. That in itself was a deep experience. Now I am more cautious about what I am involved with and in smaller group rituals I insist that proper respect is given even when others don’t see the gods as I do.

    Oh and I was forgiven for my mistakes and have stronger relationships now as a result.

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  5. I have never had the opportunity to participate in a pagan community, and those I have met I would not be interested in joining. I live very rural and have a wonderful relationship to the Vettir here, all the while deepening and expanding my relationship with the Norse Gods who have come to me to work with, to train me… I still have a relationship with Christ, but not Christianity, and it seems to me that the entire lack in the dominant culture of any deep religious feeling whatsoever has lost the understanding that many Gods like many people can be held in one heart… I’m not dismissive of archetypes, because gifted medical intuitive and scholar Carolyn Myss has proven to my satisfaction that these are real powers in life… Maybe they are akin to the Gods in some way beyond my understanding. But I also would not dismiss the Gods as being archetypes… These are real, powerful beings who walk and talk with me, and I cherish their training and being in right relationship with them.

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