Category Archives: Divination
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Please feel free to share.
So I had a discussion this evening with someone about syncretism. Apparently, there had been some push back recently over certain Gaulish Deities having been treated to the interpretatio romana. It really made me think about the process of syncretization, how it works and why it’s an important way of engaging with certain Deities.
For the most part, the Romans were very respectful of indigenous religions. The times when they oppressed or legislated against a particular tradition it was never (despite how Roman propaganda may have spun the issue) purely about the religion. It was, without exception, due to political issues. For instance, four examples spring readily to mind: there was the persecution of Bacchic Cultus in the second century B.C.E. Southern Italy was a hot bed of resistance to Roman rule and much of that resistance was fomented by leaders of that particular cultus. Likewise with the Druids and the Isle of Mona. It was central to resistance to Roman rule. The cult of Isis was briefly prescribed by Octavian but this had little to do with the cult itself and everything to do with the aftermath of the civil war with Antony, in which Cleopatra (who positioned herself as an incarnation of Isis) was central. Then of course there was Christianity. That rather, in my opinion, speaks for itself. Romans were a bit horrified when they found out what the cultus of Cybele entailed but they never prescribed it. There was a period where Roman citizens were forbidden from becoming galli, but the cultus itself was otherwise allowed to flourish uninterrupted. For the most part, the Romans attempted to respect and engage with indigenous religion. They were very pious people. Quite often this was done through the interpretatio romana.
When Rome took over a province, they would often append the names of their Gods to that of local Deities. For instance, we have Sulis-Minerva, Mars-Lenus, and Tacitus in his Germania gives us an account of Germanic Deities where suddenly Odin becomes Mercurius, Tyr becomes Mars, and Thor becomes Herakles. This was not done out of disrespect but as a means of finding a keyhole, a window, a doorway to understanding and engaging with these Deities. This was especially true for those Romans who settled permanently in a territory. Looking at Britannia or Gaul or any other province, the syncretism became a meeting point for both the indigenous people and the Romans and it gave the Gods more power.
Moreover, insofar as the Romans went, this was done as a mark of respect, an acknowledgement of the Deity’s power. Gods are powerful and the Romans ever and always acknowledged that in their religious and military practices. They had several specific religious rites performed by their military to ensure that the Gods of those people they conquered would support the Roman cause, rites like evocatio, which invited those Gods to join the Roman side. In this respect, it seems the Romans used the names of Their Gods almost as titles. If they saw a particular aspect of an indigenous Deity that in their minds connected that Deity to one of the Roman Ones, then it was easy to augment that connection with syncretization. For instance, with the Gaulish God Lenus, there is significant martial symbolism. Therefore, the Romans logically
equated connected Him with Mars. In other words, They were putting Him in a place wherein He would receive the same attention and awareness as their own Deity Mars. It is almost as if the names were titles, markers, placeholders wherein the Gods might dance. It was also on the Roman point of view, a mark of respect. Rome was the greatest power in the world during its time, and to acknowledge a Deity with a Roman title was one of the most respectful things to the Roman mind that one might do.
Now, I will admit, as I once told my [academic] students: syncretism is not a simple term. When it comes up, it means that something happened. There was movement, interaction, migration, colonization and that might happen naturally and organically or it might be a matter of conquest. It should never be taken at face value. Where there is syncretism there is a story, and sometimes a bloody history. Like it or not, however, syncretism is part of the history of polytheism. Sometimes in fact, that syncretism was spurred by the indigenous peoples themselves and not always under duress. Points of syncretism became a point of weaving culture, religion, and a meeting point for the indigenous communities (be they Celts or Gauls or Britains, etc.) and the Roman people. Ignoring syncretism takes away a place of power from the Gods in question and ignores that complex history of Their worship.
All of this, of course, raises questions for us about whether or not we should include Roman imagery in our icons of various Deities and more importantly whether or not we should venerate syncretized Gods. I think it is important that we do. The syncretic form and space in which the God or Gods (because after all, we don’t know what deals the two deities in question might have made with each Other regarding that form) are honored is part of that Deity (or Deities’) history. It’s part of Their cultus. It is a huge part of how the ancestors for generations engaged spiritually. To cut that off, to ignore it, to demand that it be erased is deeply disrespectful not only to the Gods but to the ancestors as well. It is nullifying their religious experience of their own Gods. It is also nullifying a point of peace, neutral territory if you will, between the Romans and the various peoples they conquered. In some cases, it is nullifying the horror and pain our ancestors experienced (i.e. in the Middle Passage which gave us religions like Lukumi, Candomble, and Voudoun) and the fact that their Gods followed them into exile.
Returning to the question of specifically Roman syncretism, if nothing else, we should remember, I think, that we owe the Romans a debt. For Heathens at least, we know the names of certain Deities (including the Matronae) largely from Roman inscriptions. This is not because Rome destroyed sanctuaries (they didn’t) but because literacy was not widespread in the northlands until the Christian invasion. Knowledge of certain of our Holy Powers exists because Roman men and women were grateful to Them, prayed to Them, petitioned Them, and then left markers and offerings of thanks. They did this in their own vernacular. They did this via interpretatio romana. If the Gods in question could accept it and allow Their cultus to flourish, can we do any less?
Shutting that out and excluding all of that in the hopes of having some illusionary purity of religion shuts out all of these complex conversations that we could be having about the subject and ignores a very uncomfortable reality: there was never any such pure practice. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Religions and cultus always developed in conversation with each other.
If I were confronted with a syncretic form of a Deity I venerate, and I were uncertain as to whether or not I should venerate this God or Goddess via such a form, I would simply divine on it. That is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Polytheisms ancient and modern were always religions of diviners. In the end, this isn’t a difficult question at all. It comes down to one thing, between the individual and their holy Powers: what do the Gods want? That answer should define practice not the opinions of so-called community members you’ll never meet face to face, who will always find something to be critical of in your devotion usually reflecting the paucity in theirs.
Once a month I do readings at a local shop. The owner is a friend of mine, it helps her out, and I usually enjoy doing it. Yesterday was one of those days. Now when I do this, I don’t take my entire kit. I choose two or three systems and yesterday, I decided to make offerings to Hermes, Apollon, and Dionysos with the intention of reading with a sortilege system owned by Apollon, and the Dionysian leaves. I had one client. It was a clusterfuck.
The client Mikey (yes, his actual name. after what happened, fuck it. I’m not using a pseudonym) came in asking with what decks I read. I carefully explained that I would not be reading with tarot, and explained the systems I use. He asked me and the young man behind the counter several times, a little confused that I didn’t use cards. I’ve found that tarot is so well known that people often have trouble understanding that there are other systems of divination out there, so I didn’t mind the questions but I had a feeling that he was going to be an unpleasant client. Still, people don’t generally come to us when things are going well (though they should! It’s best to get divination quarterly – I do for myself as a matter of course and was always counseled to do so by my elders because it is preventative) and it’s our job as diviners to sometimes deal with people in crisis. He was supposed to have a half hour reading. It lasted about an hour and a half and from the beginning it was ugly.
I began the reading with a system dedicated to Apollon and, of course, as always before seeing any clients, I did my opening prayers, which included a prayer to Apollon. Mikey was unhappy and irritated that I was using a sortilege system and not cards. He kept getting frustrated when he received answers he didn’t like. He kept asking the same question or series of questions in different ways because he didn’t like the answers. He outright refused to do any prescription given to him to better his situation and then he started getting rude and rather aggressive. At this point, I told him that if he was unwilling to do the prescription then he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. He started to argue, becoming both whiny and belligerent and …that’s the point when Apollon gave him a seizure.
I felt Apollon reach through the crown of my head and push out and at that point Mikey had a seizure ( just when his level of disrespect for the ordered space of the mat, the divination process, the diviner and by extension the Gods involved reached a certain level. It didn’t help that he sort of insulted Apollon’s mother). I sat through it, gave him some further advice when it was done (more counseling than divination) and finally got him to leave. He staggered out and it is my sincere wish that he never, ever returns to plague any future diviner who might happen to be on the premises.
I found out from the young man handling the counter that Mikey has a long history of becoming verbally abusive to diviners and has even made one particular diviner cry. When he’s not told what he wants, he verbally attacks them. It never got that far with me (probably good for Mikey’s sake, because I’d have bodily thrown him out. I don’t take shit like that from clients or anyone else). Apparently, several diviners who frequent the shop have refused to read for him. My question to the shop: why do you allow him to keep coming in? I don’t find that particularly ethical.
At any rate, the level of pollution was so intense that I felt the need to do divination to see if I could keep seeing clients or if I needed to go home and cleanse. Pollution is one thing, and Mikey was riddled with it, but being hit with pollution (as when a client moves from passive pollution to active offense against the Gods) when in an altered state is worse. Ironically the diviner is extremely vulnerable when in that open headspace. I initially asked “Do I need to leave?” And the answer was ‘no.’ Then I asked “Does Apollon want me to leave.” And I got a definite ‘yes.’ So I followed up by using Apollon’s oracle to ask for confirmation and received the following verse:
“Take the tripod and carry it from the temple…”
I immediately packed up and went home, texting my husband on the way to prepare a cleansing bath. As soon as I got home I went through intense cleansing and then did divination to see if I could continue to read in such a venue. (I can, but I now have new protocols for all in person clients).
Sannion also told me something that I didn’t know or had forgotten: there are accounts of Apollon doing exactly this in antiquity when his oracles were shown disrespect. Some Gods are more forgiving of such violations than others, but in the end, it’s not a game, it’s not a parlor trick, and it’s not for entertainment. Divination is sacred and when the diviner is at the mat he or she is serving in some cases as a direct mouthpiece for the Gods and ancestors. It is sacred work. It’s unfortunate that most clients no longer realize that and I think those of us who do this work in our communities have the added burden and obligation of teaching people anew how to position this as a sacral practice and how to approach the mat with reverence…because there are consequences when one doesn’t.
It’s not our job, as I was told yesterday, to make the client comfortable. It is our job to do the work. It is our job to be clean interpreters and transmitters of what the Gods and spirits provide. It is however, a reality that we will deal with clients – many quite well meaning—who do not know how to behave. I’m still a little stunned by yesterday and I have no answers for that. My protocols have been tightened to give them better warning and I do prepare most clients as well as I can but still…as the saying goes, shit happen. Sometimes, that’s going to backfire on those clients. Apollon especially is not a God with which to trifle. He protects those in His service.
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Just a few things that I’ve been meaning to post about, necessary or, in the latter two cases at least, interesting updates.
I. Firstly, I’ve had several requests for divination and other services recently from new clients and I’ve likewise been contemplating revising my rates. I’ve finally decided to do that:
I offer the following services:
• Divination: $20/question (or 3 questions for $40)
• Commissioned prayer: $15 (I will write a prayer to the Deity of your choice – if for some reason I cannot, I’ll let you know and refund you).
• Prayer with offering on your behalf: $25
• Setting of lights (candle-lighting): $22
• 1 hour of spiritual direction (skype or slack chat): $25
• conjure, house clearings, other types of spiritwork = to be negotiated (will always include supplies, travel, and initial divination).
Payment may be sent via Paypal to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
II. I have joined an artist’s collective in Rhinebeck, NY where my work will soon be showing. My personal page had been added to the gallery website and you can see it here.
III. There are new prayers posted at the Scathach online shrine, which may be found here.
Finally, I’m in the process of finishing up a novena book to nine of the Mothers of our Gods and heroes. As part of the daily meditation, I’d like to have a suggested activity offering for each Holy Power (I’ll list Them in a minute). For instance, when I did my Eir novena book, one possible activity was to donate blood, another to make a donation to Doctors Without Borders or a similar charity. Do any of you have suggestions for devotional activities for the following:
1. Semele, Mother of Dionysos
2. Maia, Mother of Hermes
3. Leto, Mother of Artemis and Apollo
4. Metis, Mother of Athena
5. Thetis, Mother of Achilles
6. Leda, Mother of Helen and the Dioskuri
7. Danae, Mother of Perseus
8. Alcmene, Mother of Herakles
9. Pasiphae, Mother of the Minotaur
10. Penelope, Mother of Pan
If I use your suggestion, you may choose a prayer card of your choice (see the prayer card page at the top of my blog here for a pretty much up to date list of what’s available). I’d very much appreciate your thoughts. Please feel free to email me at krasskova at gmail.com.
That is all for now. I’m moving into crunch time at school so it’s a bit crazy here. (and yet I’m working on this novena book when I should be writing papers, LOL. Go figure).
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.
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.
I’ll be starting the online divination class on August 9.
Those interested need to be registered and paid up by August 6 so I can send slackchat invites to everyone and get folks sort out there. I’m excited about this class– it will give us the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of divination at a level beyond basic 101. We’ll be talking about developing protocols for before-during-and after divination sessions, trouble shooting, problems that can arise, and how to develop your skills as a diviner too (and probably more).
The cost of the class is $50 paypal to email@example.com. The course will run for six weeks.
I’m capping the class at ten so it’s very much a first come, first serve. If you’re interested, contact me at krasskova at gmail.com. There are six spots left.
So I’ve been having quite a few conversations recently on divination, how to use it as an ongoing guide, it’s place in our traditions, how I use it, etc. Now I’ve written a book on divination, titled (in partial homage to Cicero) “On Divination” where I discuss some of this, but there are more things that I think it necessary to highlight. This is an important conversation, and one that I think should be ongoing.
Divination was crucial to our polytheistic ancestors. It was a means of determining whether we were working in alignment with our fate and what the Gods wished for us, of determining what the Gods wanted, and of solving problems as they arose (if not heading them off completely). When we read the sources, problems typically arose not in response to ambiguous divination but as a result of prideful, overly enthusiastic, or relatively oblivious responses to divination. It was never just ‘fortune telling,’ but was—and is—a sacred craft that can guide us in developing and maintaining right relationship with our Gods and ancestors. That is a very important thing!
I’m a vitki, priest, shaman, what have you…and believe me, I’ve been called every name in the book. Lol. (That’s ok. I like to encourage people’s creativity). Anyway, as someone in that position, just as if I were a Boukholoi, or Druid, Bard, or even just a gythia (instead of also xy and z), it should be second nature to seek out divination, either that performed by myself or that performed for me by a colleague or elder A) quarterly and B) before any major life decision, particularly with respect to my work with my community. Not to do so seems misguided, foolish, and perhaps even an act of hubris.
Does that sound too strong? Maybe, but think about it. Divination is technology given by the Gods so that we can maintain a strong line of communication, so that we can check before we royally fuck up. We have plenty of people now in our communities who are skilled diviners and there are simple (but effective!) systems that even the most head blind lay person can use to at least indicate when they need to seek out a professional’s services. So …why aren’t we using it more? I don’t post or write about every time I perform divination to check myself but I do it quite frequently. It would simply be foolish not to, given the nature of my work. The same holds true for many of my colleagues.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a major retreat. Before I participated in the big ritual, I did extensive divination and it turns out it was not proper for me to participate. I was told not to do so and I really, really wanted to participate! Instead, I spent that time with my ancestors and received a powerful gift, one that I had been seeking and working toward for over a year and one that I would not have gotten had I not listened to the div. Furthermore, I was there to provide after care to those trickling up from the rather intense ritual. It worked out exactly as it should have, all because I had the sense to divine.
There have often been public rituals, conferences, and gatherings that I’ve wanted very much to attend. Then I divine and I’m told to stay as far away as possible, often because there is pollution, sometimes because the work that I do is not congruent with what is going on wherever it is I’m hoping to visit. Now, when something like that happens, I have several choices:
- I can assume that this divination holds for everybody but me and go anyway (and boy do I deserve what I get if I do that).
- I can prioritize my desire to participate or not make community waves (stop laughing, assholes :P) over what the Gods and spirits have directed (and again, I deserve whatever I get for doing so).
- I can do what the divination has instructed because really, what is the point of seeking the counsel of the Gods and ancestors and then ignoring it? I do not actually know better than They.
There’s always of course the option to not do divination, either because I am in alignment with the position whatever group I wish to join in with holds, or because I’m sure that they’re not carriers of miasma or for whatever reason…but there’s an old saying about what happens when we assume (you make an ASS out of U and ME) so it goes without saying that I divine.
Assume nothing. We can control ourselves and how we prepare for ritual, our level of cleanliness and miasma, but we cannot control anyone else and the moment you bring others into the mix, you end up with an awful lot of moving parts, often moving miasmic parts.
I tend to do divination for myself at the start of every week, nothing extensive but just a quick check to see what’s coming down the pike. Quarterly I will visit one of my elders for a session. I do this because it’s really, really difficult to be totally objective with oneself. I often sit with my ancestors and will use a special divination system (one that is only used for my dead) to see if there’s any messages that they have for me that I might not otherwise be picking up, if everything’s copacetic, etc. I check in regularly.
Of course one doesn’t want to get addicted to divination. Having this technology at our disposal does not excuse us from learning to make good choices. I don’t divine over every little thing. I do my work and work things out for myself. Sometimes I make mistakes and deal with that. I divine consistently though, and before important events, work, gatherings.
I’ll be writing more on divination over the next few weeks, maybe even days if I have the time. My next pieces is going to be on one of the most crucial elements of both divination and devotional work: discernment and learning to listen. After all, you don’t want to end up like way too many people I could name, not even being able to tell when your God is present as opposed to the sock puppets in your head.